Tag Archives: language

457. Conclusions about Language Learning from the David Crystal Interview (Part 2)

A follow-up to episode 455 consolidating the insights of Professor David Crystal including various pearls of wisdom about language learning.

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Notes & Transcriptions

Hamid
If English keeps taking on words from other languages, will it stop being English?
This is the story of English.
English is a vacuum cleaner of a language.
Something like 300-600 languages have influenced English with words. If you look at English today. Where are the germanic words? They’re only about 20%. The other 80% is from French, Spanish, latin and others.
There is no single dominating influence on English today.
How many Urdu words have gone into English? Maybe 100. But English has over 1,000,000 words. No new cluster of words coming in is going to come in all at once (tidal wave) they come in drip drip drip.
New words are assimilated to reflect a need – e.g. for new types of food.
This is no threat to English.
In fact it’s evidence of the power of English, that it absorbs so many other influences from other languages and cultures. It’s like the blob!

Jilmani
What’s the future of English?
Unpredictable! Absolutely an unanswerable question. You should never try to predict the future of a language. It’s all about events which just happen, e.g. the Norman invasion, Trump or Brexit.
Will Brexit reduce the influence of English in EU?
Not much. But it will change its character because it won’t be used by so many native speakers, so there will be more developments “Euro English” (I think it has emerged a bit).
But English will continue to change and diversify.

Jairo wants help managing the workload of studies.
Learning about language is a huge burden.
Learning about a language you have to learn about the history, society and events of the time to understand why people were using language in those particular ways.
What was it like to be an old norse speaker?
But most philologists don’t have a psycholinguistic background to their studies.
Philology can be a bit dry.
David prefers the socially aware approach to the history of language which doesn’t just ask “what happened and when” but “why?” – let’s explore the nature of the people who made it happen. This should ease the process.

Cat
English syntax – can you explain it?
Come on you’re asking for a book here!
English has a simple morphology compared with German (or French).
How many possible word endings are there for a verb in English?
The difference between English and German is morphological but also syntactic.
English and German are quite close. They only diverged 2000 years ago.
Word order is a bit different.
Everyone understood David when he went to Germany and spoke German with the wrong word order.
There aren’t that many differences, although the few differences are noticeable.
Cat, why are you worried about local areas of syntactic difference between English and German. Why has this become an issue?
It usually comes down to identity. German English (used by people who have learned it really well) still is distinctively German English.
The point is, don’t be too concerned about micro differences in syntax between your language and English. As long as we understand you that’s the main thing, although obviously style is important so I imagine you want to write in the style of a native speaker (but which one though!) You might have to accept that it’s important to find your own voice in English, which might be influenced a bit by who you are (it is your own voice after all) – which is someone who lives in Germany. That’s not to say your English can be totally different and like German with English words – that would probably be unintelligible and a bit ridiculous. But micro differences aren’t such a big deal.
Don’t sweat the small stuff, it’s just small stuff.

Wesley
Do people who speak different languages think differently?
It’s difficult to translate words sometimes because there are some words which don’t directly translate because there isn’t an equivalent word. 10-15% of the words might be untranslateable. But in Chinese it’s a lot more.
But when you do psycholinguistic experiments we discover that people can see the different concepts, but having those specific words makes it easier to talk about those things. You can see the colours but you might not have the language for describing it.
Different languages might not have the same word for something but it doesn’t mean they think about them any differently.
E.g. in English we don’t have a word for a certain thing in Japanese – natsukashii for example. But we find other ways of describing it. Ah, it takes me back or “good old” or “it feels nostalgic” or “it’s good to be back”.
So it doesn’t seem to be the case that languages affect or reflect different perception of the world.
*But I reckon there might be something to it Wesley. E.g. sense of humour, patterns of understatement, all contribute towards expressing a sardonic outlook on life (UK) rather than a direct attitude in the mediterranean for example.
The fallacy is that it’s words that translate, but it’s not it’s sentences. A group of words together are what hold meaning. So even if there’s no single word equivalent, you put some words together and make a sentence and that’s how the language transcribes.
“Snow that you use to build an igloo with” – he can still express that thing with a sentence and you can see that kind of snow.

Learn the vocabulary of a new language and you’ll see the cultural things that it reflects. It shows that to learn the language properly you should learn about the culture too – the mindset, the reference points and so on. You can see all those things too, but having certain words and expressions makes it easier to talk about them.
The result is that in languages it’s easier to talk about commonly occurring cultural phenomena because the language has the tools to do it, but people are all still basically the same, we might just take a bit longer to talk about a concept that in your language is very normal.

Mayumi
Why do Brits use indirect language?
It’s just a cultural difference. It’s the British temperament. The reason for that is hard to say. Maybe it’s because the UK is an island and the psychogeographic factors might affect that kind of language use.
Pragmatics – the study of why people are using specific bits of language.
Language norms reflect the cultural context – that’s the identity argument.
But why does the UK use this polite language? We don’t really know! You have to ask why British people want to be polite. (obviously it’s because we’re such nice people)
You just have to accept the cultural differences. Learn about them and accept them. “That’s who we are.” should be a good enough answer.
As ever, you must accept cultural differences. They’re not weird, they’re just different. It’s a good bit of advice for anyone coming into contact with another culture. You can speculate about why people behave the way they do, but ultimately you’ve just got to accept it and move on, like the way you often have to accept in English that “this is just what people say in this language” and that’s it.

Synchronic not diachronic method.

Wikipedia:
Synchrony and diachrony are two different and complementary viewpoints in linguistic analysis. A synchronic approach (from Greek συν- “together” and χρόνος “time”) considers a language at a moment in time without taking its history into account. Synchronic linguistics aims at describing a language at a specific point of time, usually the present. By contrast, a diachronic approach (from δια- “through” and χρόνος “time”) considers the development and evolution of a language through history. Historical linguistics is typically a diachronic study.

DC says we should use a synchronic approach to understanding these things – why is this particular person choosing to say it in this way, right now?
Some more modern dictionaries now contain essays about usage and pragmatics, which help us to identify how culture affects language. It’s worth reading the extra comments and information pages you find in many dictionaries.
Also, consider reading cultural guides as well as purely linguistic ones.

Antonio
Will AI replace the need for language learning?
Babel fish (Hitchhiker’s Guide)
In 100 years it’ll probably be perfect.
(I’ve seen auto subs have improved recently).
Imagine a situation where the babelfish is operating perfectly. It would solve lots of problems, but identity hasn’t been addressed. I still want to “be French” and the AI might not include those differences. People will still hold onto their languages in order to express their identity. It won’t affect language diversity.
But it might mean that AI might make the need for a global language redundant. Maybe AI will replace English. Why bother learning an international language?
But there are various answers to that – tech might let you down so people might not choose to constantly rely on it – some conditions in which there is no electricity.
Will AI manage to be perfect like a human, with the ability to translate with a view to expressing the culture?
Human translators choose between different competing nuances. I could say it this way, or this other way. We make those decisions based on complex social and psychological factors. A computer might not have that cultural sensitivity, maybe only in the long term.
The number of people learning languages might be reduced, but it’s also ignoring another factor in learning another language – the want to become aware of the culture, history and literature of the other language. There’s a personal satisfaction in learning another language and enjoy the pleasant things about it. People learn languages because they want to not because they need to. It’s a pleasure.
There are many reasons to want to continue to learn, it’s not just about intelligibility.
For the forseeable future he can’t see that it would be economically viable to create that technological solution for language when the traditional methods are the best way to foster relationships.

Jack – I don’t know where you come from.
First of all, David doesn’t mind being addressed in the Ali G dialect.
“Me” instead of “I”.
“Me wants to know…”
“I is well impressed…”
Subject verb agreement. “I is…”
“Booyakasha”
“It is a well big honour”
It’s quite a skill to be able to switch between registers. Sometimes we break the rules as a stylistic choice, like with the expression “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
It’s important to be able to switch between different styles and registers but you also have to know when it is appropriate to do it.
I’m not bothered by it in the comment section of my site, but you should be aware that some other people might find it weird or inappropriate, like for example if you write that in forums on other websites, in the comment section of Amber’s new podcast about Paris history, or in some business meeting. It’s going to seem really weird. So, you need to seriously think about the appropriacy of the things you’re doing and that means the style of English you’re using, or the decision to post dodgy pictures of cakes on my website.
Should the listeners learn the rules of grammar, or should they just focus on meaning, and let the rules look after themselves?
Both but in a structured sort of way.
In communicative teaching the structured side was a bit lost.
Just listening and working things out by being dropped in at the deep end is a bit of a big step – it takes a while.
It’s also important to do some structure work, but also to expose the learners to things that illustrate the language point being used in a functional way.
So it’s not just about form, but also about function and trying to balance the two.
So, as we’ve said before – do both. Some structured language work, combined with exposure in which you are really focused on following the meaning of what’s being communicated. Then probably some more reflection on the way it was done. Moving between grammar and pure meaning all the time. Juggling.

Back to the conversation with friends recently.

People get upset by failing standards in English.

Again, David doesn’t mind – as long as the language is intelligible then it’s a sign of changing identities – a sigh of the times.

Are we better at communicating than we used to be?

It is possible to measure, but not possible to give a simple answer. It depends on the situation.
Book: “The Gift of the Gab” How eloquence works.

Eloquence standards do vary from generation to generation, circumstances, individual to individual. E.g. Obama and Trump – differences in eloquence. Is Trump incoherent? Is Obama a better communicator? Some people say Trump is incoherent and inarticulate. But it’s not necessarily true considering Trump’s ability to communicate with his core voters.
People cite various things as examples of falling eloquence standards, e.g. using “like” but often these aren’t really examples of falling standards, it’s just a question of style.

How do we use “like”?
As long as it doesn’t get in the way, it’s just a question of style.
Again, people see language changes and they equate it with decline. It’s not.
Usually, people are giving examples of things that are just a different type of eloquence (again, change not death).

Trump’s English has a style with its own values. He avoids the rhetorical style of Obama with balanced, complex sentences. Trump uses everyday conversational strategies. “Look, believe me folks..” Every day conversational strategies. He doesn’t use carefully crafted sentences, he changes direction even mid sentence. These are all features of informal American speech.
Semantically it can be extremely difficult to understand what he really means. But adopting that style allows him to appeal to certain people.

These days he might have become a bit more formal, but during the campaign he was noticeably less formal and more colloquial than Clinton and the other candidates. As a result he clearly stood out from the crowd, during a climate of dissatisfaction with the traditional political class. People were fed up with the type of boring politician speaking in that boring old way. They thought they were out of touch with ordinary people, and part of a crooked system. Trump got in by presenting himself as an alternative to this established political system and the way he used English was a big part of that.

Thanks for listening! I hope that helps!

456. Conclusions about Language Learning from the David Crystal Interview (Part 1)

Discussing and clarifying what David Crystal said in episode 454. Conclusions about language learning and linguistics.

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Transcript

Here we are back once again with an episode of this podcast for learners of English. This one should contain insights about the English language and the process of learning that language, straight from the horse’s mouth.

That’s an expression, “straight from the horse’s mouth” which means you get information directly from a reliable and trusted source. In this case that source (or horse) is Professor David Crystal, who of course isn’t a horse – that would be very bizarre. No, he’s of course, he’s not a horse, he’s a great expert on the English language, the author of many books, known by anyone studying linguistics, he’s described as the world’s leading voice on language. I was very happy to have that leading voice on my podcast and there’s certainly a lot of good information to take in – whether you’re learning English or simply interested in languages and what makes them tick.

In this episode the plan is to go through some of the ideas David talked about and see if I can point out some specific bits of relevance for learners of English.

Let’s unpick the wise words of Prof David Crystal and really clarify some truths, tips and general conclusions about language learning, and perhaps explain some of the vocabulary you heard as well.

Essentially, I am going to repeat the main points DC made here, but the aim is to clarify it all and make it a bit more digestible. I will constantly be attempting to answer the question – how is this useful for learners of English? So, you should be able to take away quite a lot from this episode, in combination with the other two.

Is grammar glamorous?

Glamour and grammar come from the same word – because grammar, language etc used to be considered like magic. But grammar seems to have lost its magic these days, in the way people think about it. These days its considered to be boring, prescriptive and all about rules you learned at school.

It’s not glamorous if you study it like they used to in school. Just parsing sentences and working out what the part of speech is.

It only works if you ask why people are using those forms.

Semantic (focusing on meaning) vs pragmatic (why people say the things they say).

Understanding the motivations of the people who use grammar (the pragmatic side) is the interesting part and that’s when grammar really comes alive and becomes glamorous in the old sense of the word.

For learners of English this means exploring not just the form of the language you’re studying but also the reasons why each different form is used. The challenge is to get the semantic side and the pragmatic side into your studies.

So, don’t just study grammar rules on their own in a list. You need to examine the living language and notice those forms and the way they are used to perform specific functions.

Can you learn English without studying grammar?

Children do it, and you can do it too but it takes a long time for all the language to be assimilated by exposure. You can cut out a lot of that time by studying the rules. As adults we can apply what we already know and take apart the language by studying. So, studying grammar is an essential part of the learning process and goes together with a more long-term process of acquiring English through exposure.

But it’s no good just learning the rules and being able to explain it all on paper, you have to know when and why and where all the grammar is used. So it’s about applying yourself to the pragmatic aspects of the language you’re using and letting that guide your choice of language.

So, as I’ve said before – listen a lot, read a lot – like this podcast or any other material you fancy, but it’s best enjoyed as part of a balanced diet. Do some grammar work too, like self-study exercises in English Grammar in Use or another decent workbook, but make sure you are always asking yourself – why are these people using this language like this? How are the motivations affecting the choice of words and structures? When you’re doing your listening try to notice bits of language which you’ve studied. Could you say the same thing another way? What would be the difference and how is language related to that. Try experimenting with different ways to put something and get used to the slight nuance it adds. E.g. using a passive structure or an active one.

I know you’re not actually an English teacher, but do you have any tips for learners of English who want to improve their grammar?

No! Not a teacher!
Some linguistic-y tips – basically to know what all the grammar is, but also to be aware of the English that’s being used in the real world and how all that applies to the grammar you’ve studied.

I would add:
don’t be afraid of it, it’s more interesting than you might think, you might need to learn some abstract terms but don’t be put off, the more you learn the more you can learn, always look for examples.

Learning about why certain grammar forms are used really opens up the way you can see language. For example, learning that passive forms are used when you don’t want to mention who did the action allows you to see all those situations. You might want to write an impersonal formal letter, or give a general notice, or describe a process or simply talk about something that happened to someone without constantly talking about who did it. E.g. imagine a story about a guy who is a victim. People keep doing things to him but you want the guy to be the centre of the story. Like, John was kidnapped. He was bound and gagged and thrown into the back of a taxi. It took two hours for him to be rescued.

You wrote a political history of grammar in the UK (published online at www.davidcrystal.com)
What relationship does the average Brit have with grammar today?

Essentially, Brits have an up and down relationship with grammar, based on the fact that grammar study came in and out of fashion and grammar was learned in a two-dimensional way. People are often a bit prescriptive about grammar as they think it should be about rules and regulations, but they’re really only attempting to impose controls over something which evolves over time.

Knowledge of Grammar in the UK
In the 50s kids all learned basic grammar at school, getting examined at 16. Told to identify parts of speech in a sentence.
Then it went out of fashion in the 70s.
Several generations of kids who didn’t study any grammar at all.
Now they’ve grown up and some of them are teachers.
They don’t know any grammar.
The ones who grew up in the old style had learned grammar.
The younger ones were teaching but had no knowledge of grammar.
“The baby had been thrown out with the bathwater”
A language awareness programme was brought back, with a modicum of grammar back in the syllabus/curriculum.
David had to do lots of basic grammar training for these teachers. He wrote “Rediscover Grammar”.
Now, it’s back again.
Kids are examined for their ability to recognise parts of speech and do sentence parsing.
But the semantics and pragmatics aren’t there – it’s just mechanical analysis of sentences. Some teachers are very unhappy.

Now there are 3 types of audience.
The oldies who are in their 60s who know about the old style grammar teaching,
The middle generation, some of whom know a lot about grammar and some who don’t.
Then the modern generation for whom grammar is back. They have to come to terms with it.

One positive thing for learners of English is that you probably know more grammar than the average native English speaker. You should feel quite good about that.

Questions about language from Amber & Paul

People complain about the decline of the English language. Are standards of English declining?

That Q comes from 2017 but you can see exactly the same question being raised at any time.
The English language is in a state of terminal decline. (according to people)
This also applies to spelling and pronunciation and punctuation, plus discourse politeness. Grammar gets more mentions because there’s less of it to complain about than say ‘vocabulary’. Grammar has only 3000 or so basic points of grammar to master.
So, people feel that if you can’t manage that then there’s something serious to worry about.
People look to contemporary examples to justify their complaints.
IN the 1860s it was because of Americans.
Today the internet gets a lot of the blame, especially texting, tweeting, SMS.
Uneducated people will blame what they sense to be a reason for what they perceive to be a decline.
But when you study it you realise there’s no correlation between the signs of decline and the features they mention.
Usually people cite old prescriptive rules.
You should never end a sentence with a prep. You should never split an infinitive.
The English language has survived very well even though people have been breaking these so-called rules for 200 years.
This is the man I was talking to. – Any modern person realises it’s a stylistic distinction. “To whom” is more formal.
The informal usage also has a history as old as the English language. It’s in Shakespeare. “To be or not to be, that is the question… Or fight others that we know not of.” (ending a sentence with a prep – Hamlet)
It’s a huge puzzle to understand why the old grammarians decided to be so prescriptive.
They were blinded by their views.

For learners of English – realise that the language is always in flux. Keep up with it. Remember also that some people have slightly traditional views about language. E.g. more people in the world say “schedule” with a /k/ sound, but I continue to say “Schedule” with a /sh/ sound because it annoys people to do it the American way. Similarly, I think there’s nothing too bad about splitting an infinitive, but I tend to avoid it because it makes people a bit annoyed too.

They’re grammar nazis who don’t know what they’re talking about, but as far as they’re concerned, they’re right.

It’s not such a big problem for learners of English really. You have your own issues with accuracy. But remember that everyone struggles a bit with the language, even native speakers. We should have a progressive view of how language rules evolve, but a lot of people don’t share those views.

If you encounter people who say “It’s the death of the English language”, they’re talking out of their bum. Remind them that English is alive and well and shows no signs of dying, quite the opposite. They’re just being reactionary and hyperbolic.

Language Death

Almost half the languages in the world are endangered.The reasons are many. It could be linguistic genocide – forbidding the use of the language, or opting not to use it for political reasons (e.g. because you want to side with a particular faction on your country), but when a language is endangered, when another language starts taking over the functions of that language, people no longer find themselves able to use that language for everything – certain facilities kind of disappear because people have got used to doing it in the other language.

Welsh is quite successful these days because of activism, but a few years ago English was taking over Welsh, and also some rules of Welsh grammar weren’t being used. You get a sense that the structure of the language is declining. Certain Welsh structures stopped being used. It looked like a kind of structural erosion of Welsh, because of the influence of English. Vocab is more common – many foreign languages contain English words. #Franglais

But there’s no hint of decline in relation to English which is actually going from strength to strength. Spoken by 2.3 billion people. It’s nowhere near death.

They just mean it’s changing, it’s not death.

Language change is difficult for lots of people to take and they talk about death but it’s irrelevant. The only languages that don’t change are dead ones. They go in very unexpected directions and you can’t predict them.

Petty language gripes don’t bother him. They don’t bother me either.

Partly it’s to do with identity – people are annoyed that British identity is changing or being influenced by American identity. But getting annoyed at the language usage, which is a symptom, is a bit redundant.

Some people don’t like change at all, but David sees it as a natural part of the way languages develop. Be like David.

My mate Paul often says that we’re actually using the language incorrectly because there are more non-native speakers than native speakers of English. Is he right or talking nonsense.

Error: Talking about right and wrong.
Correct: The perception that there are more non-natives than natives.

It’s a global situation now, not local (e.g. North vs South England). Global language differences are the same as local ones – equivalent – just different communities using English differently, on a global scale.

Now it’s Irish English, Indian English, Australian English, New Zealand English, South African English, Singaporean English and many many more including French English, Japanese English and so on – all versions of English spoken by people who have learned it to a proficient level as a 1st or 2nd language.

It’s just different communities that are right in their circumstances.

Standard English and non-standard English.
Standard English is traditionally viewed as the correct version, but NSE has it’s own justification. There are reasons why non-standard English exists and they’re perfectly good ones. Non-standard English and standard English are equal in terms of their status.

A standard promotes intelligibility. Standard English has lots of users, but there’s also a huge number of dialects (international), many different kinds of English reflecting community backgrounds. You can’t say “right and wrong” in these circumstances. It’s just a number of different communities using English in a way that is appropriate for their conditions.

When you start looking at individual cases like a foreign learner is breaking a rule of standard English, then you’ve got a transitional situation. BrE and AmE. They coexist. It’s not possible to say “wrong” or “right” when millions of people are using both versions.

In China there are very fluent speakers of English, not learners but proficient speakers, who have developed a certain usage which is basically Chinese English. Local features of grammar and vocab don’t keep communities apart, we just learn to understand each other.
“Informations” vs “information” – no problem of intelligibility.
Anyway, Chaucer wrote “informations”.

These small differences are expressions of identity and rarely get in the way of intelligibility. This is one of the reasons the UK has proud diversity in its English accents. They’re all statements of local identity, and although we see the differences, we are able to communicate with each other.

It’s a Q of whether it’s appropriate or inappropriate for that circumstance and the two criteria are
Intelligibility – do we understand you. If we understand you, it’s appropriate.
Identity – differences are an expression of local identity. Lang is adapted to reflect the locale, especially the vocab – all the reference points to important things in culture. Local terms, idioms, expressions etc.
If the English you use is wrong for that context because of the way it expresses a certain identity then you have a problem of appropriacy.

If Ali G went to the Houses of Parliament to speak with politicians and civil servants, his English would be considered inappropriate (even if intelligible) because people would think it’s not the proper way to address people and so on. Similarly if Theresa May went to a skatepark and tried to talk to some locals, she’d have a hard time as well.

English is always in tension between intelligibility and identity (against global anonymity)

Local versions need to be different enough to express their identity, but not so different that nobody understands them.

My French students feel a bit bad about their pronunciation.
Do they need to worry?

This is perhaps the #1 concern of my French students who judge each other harshly for their accents and also feel bad about it. It may be the same in your country, but I find in France people are very disdainful of a strong French accent. I don’t mind that much.

The bottom line is, once upon a time they would have felt bad because people would have said “you’re speaking English badly” and that’s not so long ago.

Now, there is no such thing as a single version of universal English accent. RP is spoken by less than 2% of the population of England. It’s a minority accent but a powerful one.

Why should people be expected to speak this minority accent when other accents are now considered acceptable in their own right.

RP is important because of tradition but miniscule compared to American, Indian and so on. It’s no longer possible to condemn an accent because it doesn’t fit in with this small version of the language. You have to analyse it on its own terms, with its local identity. As long as it doesn’t interfere with the need for intelligibility.

So the main thing is – can we understand you? If “yes” then no worries. Does it matter if you sound a bit French? What’s wrong with sounding French?
I was very impressed by Emmanuel Macron who made a speech in English. It wasn’t perfect, but he got his message across and it showed him to be a really open, confident, modern person. Compare that to Francois Hollande who couldn’t string a sentence together. You don’t need to speak English perfectly in the traditional sense, but you do have to speak it. Stop worrying about being 100% accurate – concentrate on being 100% intelligible. The main criteria is “can you express what you want to say?” not “can you express this flawlessly?”

“But my accent isn’t good”
Well, develop a different mindset. Start thinking more positively about all this!
“I don’t speak received pronunciation” (french accent)
“Well nor do I!”
Mixed accents are the norm everywhere.
English accents are much more mixed than ever before.
There are now hundreds of millions of people who understand each other but have local accents as a reflection of their national pride.
Why are the French worried about sounding French?
There’s nothing wrong with sounding a bit French. (But it’s hard to convince them of this – French people can have very negative views about some things, especially their position on the world’s stage – they beat themselves up quite a lot, which is odd. In comedy, they seem ok about being insulted about their national character. They quite enjoy the masochistic approach it seems! Either that or their just happy to have a foreign comedian talking about French things during a show, even if it is criticism. Making fun or insulting people is quite normal in French comedy – I think this is linked to the way French people often beat themselves up about stuff like English.

The main job of the teacher is to expose the students to a wide range of accents. Let them hear the English in different accents, to prepare for the real world, to develop a sense and an awareness of diversity which inevitably will help to change their mindset.

*By hearing lots of different types you get more of an overall understanding of the entire language and how it can have a core structure which is changed slightly in different versions of English.

So – I should keep playing you extracts of English spoken in a variety of accents so that you can hear the whole range.

But also, don’t get hung up on your accent too much. It’s very hard to cut out the traces of your origins, and it’s unnecessary. Just focus on being intelligible – fix your pronunciation, vocab, grammar, punctuation etc following this criteria and you’ll be on the right path.

END OF PART 1 – PART 2 COMING SOON

455. David Crystal Interview (Part 2) Questions from Listeners

Talking to the world’s top writer and lecturer on the English language, Professor David Crystal. In this episode, David answers questions from listeners.

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Episode Introduction

Here’s part two of my interview with the famous linguist Professor David Crystal.

In this one I asked him some questions from my listeners. I didn’t get a chance to ask all the questions I received, so if your question isn’t included then I do apologise. I left out some questions because I think he had already answered them in one way or another, or because we just didn’t have time.

But the questions I did ask him covered quite a wide range of different topics, including the way foreign words get absorbed into English, predictions for the future of English, how to deal with the workload of studying linguistics at university, the nature of English syntax, how languages affect the way we think and see the world, why British people use indirect and polite language, the influence of AI on language learning, the effects of Brexit on English in the world, whether it is appropriate to speak like Ali G, some study tips and some comments on the English of Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

Don’t forget to check out www.davidcrystal.com where you can see a reading list of David’s books, read his blog, see videos of him in action and even contact him by email.

I would just like to thank David for his time again, and I hope all of you out there in podcast land enjoy listening to our conversation.


QUESTIONS FROM LISTENERS

Influence of foreign languages on English

Hamid Naveed (Pakistan)
I’m an English language teacher. My question for David Crystal is: www.oald8.com (The Oxford Learners’ Dictionary) has a lot of new words from Urdu such as ‘ badam’ ‘ chai’ ‘ aloo’ ‘ bagh’ ‘ dharna’ and many more. If English keeps on taking words from Urdu or any other language, then what will be the future of English? I mean English will no longer be English. What is your take on this ? Thanks.

The Future

Jilmani
My question for David Crystal is what is the future of the English language? Will it be the same or will it be a little bit different since we know that english has changed over the decades?
How do you think English will develop over the next few years?
How will non-native speakers be part of this?

Tips for students of Linguistics

Jairo Trujillo García (from Tenerife)
I am studying an English and Spanish linguistics ( and philology ) degree , and even though I like it , it can be really hard at times ;
What recommendations would you give me to make the burden of vast information more manageable in the time allotted ?

English Syntax

Cat (Originally from Russia, moved to Germany)
I’m very confused about English syntax. I spent many years studying German grammar and syntax but it is of little use for learning English. German and English appear so similar (especially the words) and yet so different (for example, the sentence structure) at the same time. I just feel that something is completely different, but cannot point out the difference. Could you please tell us a little bit about the sentence structure and logic (the syntax) of English? (Perhaps you could compare it to the syntax of other languages)
As I don’t like doing grammar exercises at all (I’m sorry!), I was wondering, are there some more enjoyable and fun ways to learn English syntax? Maybe some shortcuts and mnemonics what you can offer us? Also what about the punctuation rules between the main and sub clauses? They can be a real pain in the neck for our transcribers. Thank you!
Cat

Language and Psychology

Wesley
I have several questions for Prof. David Crystal. The first is whether people who speak different languages think differently, I mean, if they understand and perceive the world in different ways. For example, I’ve heard that while in some places people perceive two colours and give each of them a name, somewhere else there might be others who perceive those same two colours as only one because they have only one name for them. Another example I have in mind is how we position adjectives in a sentence in English compared to in Romance languages. In English, adjectives usually come before the noun they describe. Romance languages, on the other hand, tend to place adjectives after the noun. So in English we first refer to the characteristics of something before we say what it is, and in Romance languages we start with a noun and then describe it. Does it affect, in any way, the way we think?
If we learn a second language, do we start to think more like the native speakers of that language?
Thank you very much!
Wesley

Language and culture

Mayumi (Japan)
Why do British people tend to use indirect language, hesitate to say “no” and also frequently say “sorry” in various situations? Is there any story from linguistic history?
In my Japanese culture, as far as I know we also find similar tendencies because we’ve lived in this tiny island and if people said whatever they wanted, behaved without caring about other people in this small area, or even argued with each other, they could possibly end up being expelled from this small society. This can be one of the reasons why we have these tendencies as well. This is something stuck in my mind for ages from the university class.
Did British people had similar experience when they established their culture or could it be an absolutely different story?
Cheers!

The Influence of Technology

Antonio (Spain)
My question for David Crystal: Apple, Google, Microsoft and other companies are working on translators in real time based on AI. So we can speak in Spanish with a French person and he will hear French while he speaks in French and we hear Spanish.
Skype has this option for 8 languages.
What do you think about about the AI related to language learning?
Will AI replace our need to learn other languages?

Advice for learners of English

Jack – Origin Unknown
(I don’t know why, but Jack always writes comments on my site in an Ali G dialect. I actually think it’s evidence of how good he is at English, because he can clearly write in normal style, but he chooses to adopt this specific form of English – if he can do that it shows great ability to shift between different registers and dialects – if he can break the rules I presume it means he knows that the rules are there in the first place – for some reason he chooses to write comments in this lingo – are you ready?)
I is not that learned but I also has got questions for Professor David Crystal.
Dear Sir,
Booyakasha, It is a well big honour to have you ere on da podcast, you is da only person me respects in the field of linguists after Norman Chomp The Sky and Stephen The Crasher (Naom Chomsky and Stephen Krashen).
What advice would you give to an English language learner to improve his / her language ability? Should the student focus on form (grammar, vocab etc) or should the student focus on meaning and let the subconscious do the rest?
Well that`s me questions there Big man. I has to say you is the shining crystal in the field of linguistics.
Big up yourself Prof Crystal
Respek, Westside.

 


Outtro

There was so much interesting content in what David Crystal said in this conversation and so much to take from it. These two episodes are really worth listening to several times so that you can really get a grip on what he said and really absorb it all.

If you sent in a question that I didn’t ask, then I’m sorry about that.
I should do follow-up episode in which I consolidate a lot of what DC said, and highlight various things that you can apply to your whole approach and attitude towards learning English.
Watch out for that.

Check out David’s work at www.davidcrystal.com
He’s got books about grammar, spelling, pronunciation, accents, Shakespeare – pretty much any aspect of English – he’s got it and he always writes in a clear and entertaining style.
I’m not selling his work or anything. It’s just genuinely good stuff that I’d like to share with you. This is why I’m so happy to have spoken to DC on the podcast – he’s ace and you should read his work.

Thanks for listening! I invite you to leave your comments below.

452. A Conversation About Language (with Amber & Paul)

Discussing language with Amber & Paul, including issues such as errors made by native speakers, language change, whether language standards are declining, the effects of technology on language and how to cut an avocado without injuring yourself.

[DOWNLOAD]

Click here to check out italki and get your $10 voucher

Introduction

The other day Amber and Paul came over to my flat do a podcast. We were having tea, chatting and getting ready to record something, and we just started talking about language, I think because Paul said that he found it weird that even though he can speak 3 languages really well, he knows nothing about language – he doesn’t know the grammatical terms, the rules of what makes something right or wrong or somewhere in between, and we were talking about it, and I quickly managed to press the record button and ended up recording about 50 minutes of us rambling on about language – all totally unplanned and spontaneous.

You’re about to listen to it. This is an Amber & Paul episode so you’re going to hear an unscripted and natural chat between friends so there might be a bit of swearing.

Before you listen to us discussing language-related issues, consider these questions, which are at the heart of our conversation.

  • What are some common errors native English speakers make in English?
  • How do native English speakers feel about mistakes in English, particularly mistakes made by other native speakers?
  • Are some errors worse than others?
  • How does a language evolve? Are errors a part of that process?
  • Has your language, or English, changed much in the last 100, 200, 300 years?
  • Is your language, or English, getting worse than before? Are standards of language declining?
  • Has a language ever totally broken down and died due to falling standards?
  • Why did latin die out as a language?
  • On a slight tangent, what’s the safest way to cut an avocado?
  • Back on track, how does Charles Darwin relate to language development?
  • What effect is technology having on our language? Is it making us better or worse at communicating?
  • Are we better at communicating than we used to be? Are we getting better at communicating? How do you even measure that?
  • Do you know more about English grammar and so on than most native speakers of English?
  • Do you know more about English grammar and so on than Paul Taylor?
  • Are you better at cooking than Paul Taylor?

Watch out for answers, and general rambling on the subject of those questions as you now listen to our conversation about language.


That’s it! Leave your comments below.

So there you are, that was our conversation about language.

I invite you to take part in the conversation by getting into the comment section.

Let me remind you of those questions from the beginning. (see above)

There were a few unanswered questions in there, and I think I might be asking David Crystal about some of them.

Remember that? I’m going to interview the world’s leading voice on language – Professor David Crystal. It’ll be a chance to ask him various questions about language. I’ve already collected some questions from my listeners, and I have loads to ask him too, but feel free to offer up a question or two and if I get a chance I’ll ask him.

Actually, I’ve already interviewed David Crystal, so it’s too late to send me your questions! Episode coming soon.

LEPMFP

I was interviewed on “My Fluent Podcast” by Daniel Goodson

Hello website people and email subscribers! Here’s some extra content for you.

In this post I’m sharing a conversation I had recently on someone else’s podcast. I thought you might enjoy listening to it.

Would you like to know about how my learning of French is going? How about some more behind-the-scenes info about how I make LEP, and my plans for future projects? Listen to my conversation with Daniel Goodson on “My Fluent Podcast” here. Click the link below to check out Daniel’s podcast.

E28 – interview with Luke Thompson / Luke’s English podcast

If you enjoyed listening to my recent interview on Zdenek’s English Podcast recently, you might also enjoy this one.

I was recently interviewed by another LEPster with his own podcast. This one is called “My Fluent Podcast” and the concept of the series is that you can “learn with a learner”, in this case that learner is Daniel Goodson from Switzerland.

Daniel is a dedicated language learner, and in his short episodes he talks about his goals, habits and methods for learning languages. I’m sure you could pick up some tips from him and enjoy sharing his journey towards genuine fluency in English and other languages.

In our conversation Daniel asked me about these things:

  • My current level of French and how I feel about it
  • What I would do if I could go back in time and start learning French again
  • Some inside info about how I do Luke’s English Podcast

So if you want to hear about those things, just check out the link below. Enjoy!

E28 – interview with Luke Thompson / Luke’s English podcast

 

435. Catching Up With Amber & Paul #5 [Video]

Amber & Paul are back on the podcast in this episode as we respond to some questions and comments from the website and social media. Video available. Some swearing and rude language.

Audio


[DOWNLOAD]

Video

Amber Minogue

  • Amber is from London in England, but she’s been living in France for ages and she speaks fluent French.
  • She has the loveliest voice in the known universe, causing hundreds of thousands of listeners from around the world to melt as soon as she begins talking.
  • She has a son called Hugo who makes dinosaur noises and poos under tables (well, once).
  • She sometimes has nightmares about fish.
  • She loves listening to audiobooks and BBC Radio 4.
  • She sometimes works as a teacher with kids, but also has a background in theatre. In fact she studied mime for 2 years (actually it’s “physical theatre”)
  • She is a tour guide in Paris sometimes. In fact she is very well read and knows a lot about the history of this great city.
  • One of these days she’s going to produce her own podcast about the history of Paris and everyone is waiting for it expectantly. No pressure.
  • She recently learned the words burlap, gaslighting and Hobson’s choice. Listen to episode 431 for more details.
  • She’s probably more intelligent than either of us.

Paul Taylor

  • Paul is from Canterbury in England, which is in Britain, which is in the UK, which is in Europe (sort of).
  • He’s from England but also spent some time growing up in France where, as a child, he once nearly burned down his house and stabbed himself in the face with a kitchen knife while pretending to be one of the teenage ninja turtles.
  • He has a funny, infectious laugh which causes my listeners to make fools of themselves on public transport when they can’t help laughing too (which is one of the aims of this podcast)
  • He has naive eyes (a reference to a comment by a listener called Olga a couple of years ago.
  • He doesn’t know any words. (kidding of course)
  • He speaks French with “no accent”.
  • He also speaks Spanish, and has a bit of a talent for doing accents in English.
  • He used to work for Apple but quit his job to do comedy. It’s going pretty well.
  • He does his one man stand up show #Franglais twice a week to sold out audiences and his TV show “WTF France?” is a hit on YouTube and Canal+
  • He used to do a podcast called “Becoming a Comedian” which was all about the challenges of becoming a comedian, but now he’s become a comedian so the “Becoming a Comedian Podcast” is now redundant!

Comments & Questions from Listeners

Nick (on our recent ‘restaurants’ episode)
I was missing Paul’s laugh while listening to this…

Anonymous (on an episode from few months ago)
Amber’s voice seduced me

Eri
No!!!!!
I just found this comment now…
Oh, dear… [thinking it’s too late]
If I could add some message for both Amber and Paul…
☆To Amber
I am looking forward to listening to your podcast with the most lovely voice in the world!!!
☆To Paul
I have been checking all video of “What The Fuck France” and can not wait next episodes and other videos on YouTube!!!
And please join in LEP sometime when you have time…

Alexandr Shnaider
Hi, Luke. I wonder when we should expect the release of Amber’s podcast and how we can find it.

Sylvia
I am looking forward to Amber’s podcast. I love her.

Naomi
Hello,Luke,Amber and Paul! How are you doing?
My questions are
1.You are very funny. Did you use to make jokes in the classroom when you were students?
2. If you could have a special power, what would it be?
3. What food would you bring to a desert island?
Sorry for my silly questions.
Have a nice recording. I’m looking forward to listening to the Pod Pals!
And I can’t wait for Amber’s podcast!

Pavel Rybalko
Do you guys have favorite YouTubers?

Paul: JaackMaate (angry rants by a British guy in a shed)

Amber: Diane Love (not really a YouTuber but she does have some lovely hula-hooping videos)

Luke: Nerdwriter1 (Brainy video essays)

Jairo Trujillo García
Good luck for the show tonight!!! 👍
Question : What do you admire the most about the people you are sitting with right now ?
and why ?

oksipuskya (Comment on the TripAdvisor episode – episode 431)
One day about 10 years ago I’d a supper with my future husband and his father in a roadside cafe on the way home. The waiter brought my meal and we three noticed a small insect lying on the plate. In spite of this I ate all the supper. Then my husband’s father said that his son had to marry me. If I hadn’t been frightened to eat it I wouldn’t be struck by family routine. (?)

This image from Chris Benitez for fans of the Russian Joke (don’t know where it was originally posted)

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 15.10.20
Boy Trent (On YouTube)
Are you the same luke english who bid on a PS4 PRO system on ebay at the last minute? Then. Didn’t pay or leave me with any information as to what was going on? Ebay are now going to issue you with a non payment mark on the 19th March. 2017.
I should state that many honest people were bidding on this item and strangely – you appeared out of nowhere at the very last minute. After I had blocked bids from the usual eastern european fraudsters et al.
I am a person of integrity and honesty and am really sick and tired of people making false bids on items. Destroying the core purpose of ebay and leaving me with an unsold item and without £300 from the honest bidder you dishonestly won over.
Yes. I am angry. etcetc…

Sorry mate – you got the wrong guy! I’m not Luke English, my name’s Luke Thompson!

Wesley
Hello Luke, Amber, and Paul,
Are you doing all right? As the French presidential election is drawing nearer, I was wondering what the three of you think about the candidates. After Brexit and the Italian constitutional referendum result, Marine Le Pen being the next French President could be the final blow for the European Union. In your opinion, does she stand a good chance to win the election? In this so-called ‘post-truth era’, do you consider opinion polls to be reliable enough?
All the best,
Wesley

431. Restaurants & Hotels / Really Strange TripAdvisor Reviews (with Amber)

Talking to Amber about experiences in restaurants & hotels and some truly bizarre TripAdvisor reviews.

[DOWNLOAD]

Introduction

[No video for this one – next time, probably]

The other day I was on Facebook and I came across an article called “21 Really Strange TripAdvisor Reviews”, which was a collection of funny and strange reviews of restaurants and hotels on TripAdvisor, a website where customers can leave reviews and ratings for restaurants and hotels.

I opened the article and I read a couple of the reviews and found them funny, bizarre and in some cases quite horrifying, and generally just amusing.

For example, one of the reviews goes:

Tripadvisor review

Eugh! He scraped off the mayonnaise with his hand!

A: Hello, I’d like a chicken burger please, but with no mayo. Thanks…
B: OK sir, here’s your chicken burger.
A: Oh, sorry, I said no mayo.
B: Oh right. Here… (scrapes off with hand) That’ll be 1.99 please.

There are about 20 other reviews like that on this page I found, and most of them are much stranger and more horrible than that one.

I thought “This could be a fun thing to talk about on the podcast. Restaurant and hotel experiences.”

Now, I’ve worked in hotels and restaurants before, in my time. I’ve had various dead end jobs working in kitchens and bars and restaurants and hotels and stuff, and so has my friend Amber Minogue who you know from this podcast. I did ask Paul to join in as well but he was too busy filming so it’s just Amber and me.

I went over to her place to talk about this and to see what she thought of some of these bizarre TripAdvisor reviews that I’d found, and that’s what you’re going to hear in this episode.

You’ll hear lots of conversation about that subject, which will of course include vocabulary relating to the hospitality industry in our descriptions of working in restaurants and hotels. You’ll hear some bizarre and slightly disgusting anecdotes and various tangents in our conversation as we end up talking about all kinds of other things, as usual.

Some of the scenarios that are in these reviews are quite disgusting, so just bear that in mind. Some of the stuff is a little bit gross.

You should also know that the episode does contain swearing. There’s quite a lot of swearing in this one and that’s for various reasons, partly because we imagine the scenarios, imagine the situations that these people were in these reviews and act them out, and that does just involve some swearing, plus we talk a little bit about the British TV chef Gordon Ramsay and Gordon Ramsay is famous for his bad language. He’s probably one of the world leaders in swearing. He’s probably the best in Britain. He’s one of the best swearers in Britain I would say. So, talking about Gordon Ramsay also involved using some ‘F words’.  And also, for some reason, Quentin Tarantino, the Quentin Tarantino movie Reservoir Dogs comes into our conversation as well and that naturally involves lots of swearing as well. So, the episode contains swearing.

I know that you might not expect a teacher to use swear words, but on this podcast (as you know if you’re a long-term listener) I do try to present you with the kind of normal informal English that friends use when they’re talking to each other in private, and people do swear when they’re together with their friends, and that is the kind of English that I’m choosing to present to you on this podcast. Now, it’s usually not appropriate to use swearing in public situations like in classrooms, at work, with host families, in comments on public social media forums etc. I feel like I should say that because sometimes learners of English aren’t completely aware of the rudeness and inappropriacy of swear words in English and how swearing fits into the culture of the English language. Just bear that in mind before you decide that swearing is a sort of short cut to sounding natural in English.

Before we get onto the subject of restaurants and hotels there is a bit of rambling chat about some English phrases that Amber keeps noticing recently. Amber has been doing some research for her own upcoming podcast project about the history of Paris. Apparently she’s been preparing an episode about a famous murder that happened, and in her research she came across the word “burlap sack” – something about a couple of murderers hiding a body in a burlap sack. If you remember, this word “burlap” came up several times in our recent episode about the Victorian detective story. In that one, a kidnapper wore a burlap sack over his head to hide his face. So, burlap is a kind of material which is used to make sacks, like the kind of sack or bag that you would use to carry loads of potatoes.

Burlap is quite an obscure word and you’ll hear us laughing about this because neither Amber nor I were aware of that word until we did the Victorian detective story on the podcast recently (“hessian” is the word we knew) so it’s sort of a coincidence that Amber read the word again in a book recently, and that leads us to talk about how it’s strange that when you learn a new word you suddenly start to notice it everywhere. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced that. You learn a new word that you didn’t even know existed before, and then suddenly you notice it all the time.

Amber then gives a couple of other examples of that happening to her recently, with the phrases “Hobson’s choice” and “gaslighting”. “Hobson’s choice” basically means “take it or leave it” – it’s a choice of one thing, or nothing – so it’s basically an illusion of choice. It’s not really a choice at all because there’s no alternative – either you take this one thing, or you take nothing, and that’s known as Hobson’s choice. To be honest, it’s not a very common phrase so I wouldn’t worry about it too much. The other one was “gaslighting”, which means to psychologically manipulate someone into doing something by making them doubt their own sanity – so you make someone think they’re going insane in order to then take advantage of them. Like, stealing biscuits from your housemate by somehow convincing him that he’s just going mad and that maybe he’s just been eating the biscuits and forgetting about it. We give a couple of examples in the conversation.

The point is, you’ll hear us talk about how Amber recently became aware of these phrases and then started noticing them everywhere, and we have a laugh speculating about how they came into the language in the first place, but then we do start talking specifically about restaurant and hotel experiences after all that!

Right then, that’s enough of an introduction, now let’s get started properly and by the way, you can see a link to all the TripAdvisor reviews we’re talking about on the page for this episode.


Hobson’s choice

www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/hobsons-choice.html

Reviews of Archie’s in Looe

www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g186237-d1158226-Reviews-Archies-Looe_Cornwall_England.html#REVIEWS

Really strange TripAdvisor reviews

21 Seriously Strange Tripadvisor Reviews


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the collection “How to be British” by LGP www.lgpcards.com/cards-1.html 

Outro

So, that was Amber and me talking about hotels and restaurants.

  • I’d just like to say a couple of things and ask a couple of questions at the end of the episode here.
  • What is your best or worst restaurant or hotel experience? Let us know in the comment section.
  • Thank you to all the members of the Orion Transcript Collaboration team – you’re doing a fantastic job. A google document for this episode should be available soon so you can put your name next to a 3 minute chunk and start transcribing it. We spoke pretty quickly in this one, so – may the force be with you! If you want to join the transcript collaboration then you are welcome to – everyone’s welcome. Just go to my website and click Transcript Collaboration in the main menu, all the information should be there.
  • We mentioned Gordon Ramsay in this conversation and since then I’ve started preparing an episode about him and his TV show “Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares” – I have used clips from his TV show in my lessons before and it was very successful, entertaining and interesting and Ramsay is quite an interesting and impressive person, not just for his approach to cooking and restaurant management, but because of his creative and compulsive use of swearing. So, expect a Gordon Ramsay episode of this podcast soon (although I haven’t actually recorded it yet).
  • I’m glad to see that the episodes about Limmy were popular. Do check out more of Limmy’s videos on YouTube. You’ll get used to the Glasgow dialect after a while, and I kind of think – if you can understand these different dialects of English your listening will become a superpower. Imagine being able to understand all the different versions of English, it would be amazing, and it is possible – it’s just a question of exposure and practice.
  • How’s your English coming along? If you set a new years resolution in January, are you keeping it up? Sometimes we all need a bit of support with our language learning, so I hope to do something motivational about that soon.

OK, time to end the episode or it’ll never end will it?! Nice one for listening to the end, have a biscuit or three, and next time you go to a hotel, make sure you check inside the kettle before you make a cup of tea…

Oooh, what a weird thought. Perhaps it’s best not to leave you with that thought. Instead you can just imagine being in the safety of your own home, where you know the kettle is completely safe and you can gaslight your housemate into buying some cake or biscuits or just cook a delicious Gordon Ramsay recipe and then settle down to watch Reservoir Dogs on the TV and then go to sleep in your own bed and just dream the night away.

Alright, speak to you soon, bye!

430. Discussing Language Learning & Life with Fred Eyangoh

Talking to Fred about history, geography, comedy, learning English and cutlery.

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Introduction

On the podcast today I am talking to a friend of mine called Fred Eyangoh. English is not Fred’s first language but he’s learned it to a proficient level – enough to complete a Master’s’ program in Business Management and Marketing in English and to do regular comedy shows in English too.

I’ve invited Fred onto the podcast because I want to talk to him about, how he develops and maintains his English, what life is like in the country that he originally comes from, and we do talk about those things – Fred says some interesting points about how he’s has pushed his English on his own, but also we ended up talking about lots of other things like history, geography and cutlery (that’s knives, forks and spoons).

You’ll hear that Fred speaks with an accent which is quite difficult to put your finger on – it’s hard to identify exactly where he comes from, and I’m not going to tell you right now, because I want you to guess, based on his voice. Where do you think he comes from?

You’ll see that although it’s his second language Fred’s English is precise and accurate in terms of grammar and he uses a wide range of vocabulary, and to a large extent that is down to the way he has applied himself to his acquisition of English.

We ended up talking for about an hour and fifteen minutes in this conversation, and I’ve decided to publish all of it in this one single episode, rather than dividing it into two episodes because I think it’s best enjoyed without interruption, as one continuous flowing conversation.

OK, let’s begin. The first thing you’ll hear us talking about is the First World War, because Fred has been listening to a podcast called Hardcore History, and he’s been listening to an episode of that podcast about the First World War. Click here to check out Hardcore History with Dan Carlin about World War I.

And that is the first thing that we talk about.


Recap – What Fred said about Learning English

Let’s recap some of the things Fred said about improving your English.

Now, I know some of you are thinking – but he had some English lessons when he was 4, that’s cheating! Sure, that must have helped, but I know people who had English lessons from childhood at school but they still don’t have a great level of English. It’s not just that, it’s also the other things you do in your life.

  • Immerse yourself in English content that you really like – in the case of Fred it’s comedy and films. We all know about this, but it’s worth repeating. Get some English into your everyday life and make it some content that you’re fascinated by.
  • Notice/Track vocabulary and go the extra mile. This doesn’t just mean watching films with subtitles on. That bit of advice has been said a million times, and it is true. But while you’re watching, listening or reading you should ‘track’ the language or ‘notice’ the language while you’re consuming it. Make a point of noticing specific bits of English, like vocabulary items and then research that language by investigating it online, reading around it, finding more active examples of it using google or wikipedia. As Paul Taylor has said “Just Wikipedia it!” and it’s good advice of course when you’re doing self study. Find examples of new words and expressions, not just definitions and read plenty of examples (e.g. by using the News tab in Google search results, or by exploring Wikipedia) until you’ve made plenty of connections and associations with that new word and you know it well enough to start using it.
  • Work with audio and transcripts. Listen and then check out some words that you don’t know by circling or highlighting them and then researching them as we just said. For example, most TED talks have transcripts on the TED.com website. Now, we all watch TED talks from time to time, but how often are you playing around with the interactive transcripts and really exploring the vocabulary that you can find there?
  • Broaden your range. Push yourself to use the language you’re picking up by finding new ways to say the same thing – e.g. avoid just using the simple verbs like ‘be’ or ‘have’.
  • Be creative – write down your ideas. You could write some comedy, some poetry, some stories and if you feel like it, find a place where you can share your work, like a spoken word open mic night or something like that.
  • Socialise and be outgoing. Go out and meet people who you can speak English to. Find your own peer group for socialising in English.

OK, that’s it! Go the extra mile and push your English, but do keep enjoying it – that’s one of the most important things.

Check the website for some videos of the comedians Fred mentioned.

Join the mailing list!

Speak soon, bye!

Comedians Fred Mentioned

Fred is a great fan of comedy, and I always think that stand-up must be a great source of English you can listen to, and there’s so much of it on YouTube, and if you have Netflix you can find lots of great stand up comedy shows and they all have subtitles, so switch them on and go for it!

Here are some of the comics Fred mentioned.

Maria Bamford
She’s one of the top comedians in the USA right now. She tells stories using different voices to let us understand (and laugh at) the problems she experiences in her everyday life. She has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, and she deals with both of those subjects in the most adorable and hilarious way, changing her voice to represent the different people in her life, cleverly revealing their attitudes and treatment of Maria. This video is a good example of the way she changes her voice to become a different person in her routines.

Chris Rock
An absolute mega-legend in comedy. Brave, sharp, honest and one of the funniest stand-up comedians ever. *Warning: rude content*

Louis CK
He’s generally considered to be one of the hottest standups in the world at the moment. Comedy is a question of taste of course (and Louis talks about some quite dark, edgy and offensive subjects) but Louis is really great. *Warning: rude content 

fred

402. The Rick Thompson Report: What’s Going On? Nov. 2016 (Post-Truth Politics, Cricket and Tetris)

Last week I asked my Dad for his opinions about recent news and we talked about Brexit, post-truth politics, the US election, the right-wing press in the UK, the political landscape in the EU, the rules of international cricket and the music from Tetris. You can listen to the conversation in this episode. Introduction and and ending transcriptions available below.

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Introduction Transcript (script begins 1 minute into the episode)

My Dad is back on the podcast in this episode and in a few moments you’re going to hear our conversation which I recorded last week on Thursday 17 November 2016.

In the conversation we touch on these subjects: the weather (naturally), a bit about the rules of international cricket, then a Brexit update including details of the recent UK high court decision regarding the government’s power to trigger Article 50. Article 50 is a piece of legislation (part of the Lisbon Treaty) that when triggered begins the legal process of the UK’s exit from the EU. We’re not actually out of the EU yet, despite the result of the referendum. We have to wait for the government to ‘trigger article 50’ and then it all starts.

“Trigger article 50” – it sounds like something from Star Wars episode 3 “Revenge of the Sith”. In fact it feels like the political narrative these days is getting more and more similar to the plot to a Star Wars prequel, with lots of complex negotiations with shadowy trade federations, insidious political manoeuvring and the general sense of an impending journey towards the dark side, which is a pity isn’t it? “Trigger Article 50!” In Star Wars episode 3 it’s “Execute Order 66” which is an order by the evil emperor Palpatine to have all the Jedi assassinated by their own soldiers. “Execute order 66” “Trigger Article 50!”

But no, this isn’t Star Wars – we’ll have to wait until December for that.

You’ll also hear my Dad’s views on the presidential election result in the USA, some stuff about the UK’s right-wing press (newspapers), the OED’s word of the year – ‘post-truth’, ‘post-truth’ politics and general political trends across Europe and other regions at this time.

At one point the podcast gets interrupted when someone rings my Dad’s doorbell and it turns out to be a lost postman (which is actually quite a welcome break from all the depressing post-truth politics), then we somehow end up talking about the idea of a giant flea jumping over St Paul’s cathedral, a bit more about the joys of international cricket, the music from the classic Russian videogame Tetris and how a cup of tea is sometimes the best solution to almost any problem.

Language-wise this episode gets quite technical in places, especially when we talk about the UK’s constitutional, legal and political frameworks. So, watch out for lots of big words and big phrases relating to constitutional law, the inner-workings of government and even more complicated than both of those things: the rules of international test-match cricket.

Depending on both your level of English and your familiarity with these topics, this might be a difficult conversation to follow, but we all know that these challenges can be good for your English.

You might try transcribing some minutes of the episode (go to the transcript collaboration page to get started) or try some shadowing or any other techniques for active listening. Alternatively, just sit back, relax, have a cup of tea and enjoy the company of my Dad for a little while, as we try to work out what’s going on in the world.

I’ll talk to you again briefly on the other side of the conversation, but now you can listen to the Rick Thompson report.

*CONVERSATION*

So, there you go, that was my Dad and me going on about what’s going on. What do you think is going on? Get stuck into the comment section at teacherluke.co.uk if you’ve got something to share.

You can hear the Tetris music in the background. This one is Theme A – which I believe is a version of a Russian folk song called Korobeiniki. I’m sure many of you out there know more about it than I do, so I will let you explain the meaning of the song, and indeed the correct way to pronounce it.

For me, it reminds me of journeys in the back of my dad’s car, trying to get to level 9 on Tetris.

I actually prefer the B theme. It still gets stuck in my head to this day as I find myself humming it even when I haven’t heard it recently.

If you know about this tune as well, you can write a comment on the website.

Comments: Let me know what you think of these things

  • What do you think is going on generally in the world today?
  • On a positive note, what are you looking forward to? What are you optimistic about? Is there anything coming up that you’re impatient for? (On that note, I am looking forward to seeing the new Star Wars film, which is a prequel to the original trilogy, as many of you will know. This one isn’t a sequel to episode 7, it actually takes place between episodes 3 and 4. Yes, they still can’t count in the Star Wars universe. So far they’ve gone in this order 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3, 7, 3.5 and after that it will be 8. I’m looking forward to it just because I love the SW universe, and the trailer looks pretty good – although I’m a bit concerned by the script which seems a bit dodgy in places (“This is a rebellion, isn’t it? – I rebel.” It’s not Star Wars without a bit of clunky dialogue) I expect I’ll be talking more about this soon. Anyway, what are you looking forward to exactly?
  • Are you a fan of cricket? Have you ever heard of cricket? Do they play cricket where you live? Do you understand the rules at all?
  • Going back to Tetris – Did you use to play Tetris? Do you still play Tetris? What do you know about the history of this classic game? Do you have any stories to share about Tetris, including how it was developed and the people who created it? Or stories about how you played it, and how you used to get that tune stuck in your head, and how you’d play it until you got ‘Tetrisitis’?

So, feel free to get involved in the comment section.

Listen to Australian comedian Jim Jeffries trying to explain cricket to some Americans *contains rude language*

Join the mailing list

It’s the best way to get access to the page for the episode where you’ll find notes, transcripts, videos, links, other useful bits and pieces, as well as easy- access to the episode archive, the comment section and lots of other things.

Another note about the transcript collaboration team

This is now called The Orion Transcript Collaboration Team, which is cool. I didn’t name it – the name was chosen by Antonio because “Orion” is a constellation of stars in the night sky, and the members of the team are also a group of stars – so the name seems appropriate now. I like it anyway.

The team have been doing a great job. Go to the website -> (hover the mouse over TRANSCRIPTS -> TRANSCRIPT COLLABORATION and click the red, yellow or green buttons to access the google docs.

Episodes are divided up into 3 minute chunks. You transcribe your 3 minutes. Other people check your 3 minutes and make corrections. Eventually the whole episode is transcribed – it might not be completely perfect, but it’s done. Next, I have to proofread them all! So actually, this project rapidly creates more and more work for me. I am going through them *extremely* slowly, and publishing the full scripts on the website. It might be necessary to employ some proofreaders to check the finished scripts. Perhaps I should launch a kickstarter campaign for that or something, because it’ll cost money to get a pro to do the final proofreading.

I got a message from Antonio about this recently and he said this at the end:

I laugh a lot when someone corrects my chunk and I see certain mistakes I do. But I have improved a lot my understanding and can watch the BBC TV, not only the news, understanding much, much more than before I started transcribing you episodes. Maybe in this area, I am experiencing the famous breakthrough all teachers speak about. See you, Luke and thanks again for your commitment. Antonio

BENEFITS OF TRANSCRIPT COLLABORATION
Catherine Bear
Since I’ve been proof-reading a little bit of the transcripts, I have the feeling that my short term memory has improved considerably.
So, guys, I would encourage each of you to do little bit of transcribing.
Also shadowing is a nice way to improve not only the short term memory but also the sentence stress, intonation and pronunciation.
I used to speak with a kind of American accent, but since I started actively listening to Luke’s English Podcast back in August and doing lots of shadowing (like 5 minutes in one go, a couple of times a day) — my English accent suddenly started to switch towards the British RP English. :)
Guys, let’s share some personal success stories related to Luke’s English Podcast.

Yes, please do share some personal success stories of learning English!

Take care and I’ll speak to you soon.

402

401. ‘Switch off your editor’ to improve your fluency in English

Welcome back to the podcast. This is episode 401 and it’s about developing your fluency in English. I’m going to talk about creativity, open and closed thinking and about how turning off your internal editor can help you to make more progress in your language learning.

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Episode 401. It feels like the beginning of a new season of the podcast. Season 4 of LEP is here. If you’re new to the podcast, then welcome. My name’s Luke and I’m an English teacher from England. That’s Luke – not look, not luck, Luke – L u k e, like Luke Skywalker from Star Wars.

A lot of learners of English get my name wrong – both the pronunciation and the spelling. I’ve been called some pretty funny things in my time. Luck, Look – “Look Luke” that’s very common. But some others names – Rook, Duck, Like. Luck is the most common. In fact I can see from stats on my website the google searches people make when they find my site – a lot of people are searching for teacher luck or teacher like and postcard or potcast and even podcats.

So, it’s L U K E, ok?! (just L U K E – don’t add the ok at the end).

This podcast is here to help you to generally improve your English – specifically British English. The subtitle of the podcast is “Real British English”. British English because I’m British  – I grew up in England – in London and in the midlands – in Warwickshire not far from Stratford Upon Avon, and I speak a standard from of British English. “REAL British English” because on this podcast you can listen to the kind of natural, authentic English that people actually use in the real world. I try to present the English language to you in a meaningful context, often by just talking to you in what I hope is an engaging and hopefully entertaining manner in order to help you to keep listening to English regularly over long periods of time, and plenty of research has shown that doing exactly that can be a really effective way of improving your English long term. So, if you want to develop natural, communicative English, listening to my podcast can certainly help. There are also a number of other things you can do beyond just listening to this and I sometimes talk about those things in my episodes in order to give you some ideas, some motivation and some general advice about how you can get a grip on how to learn this language.

How are you? Are you doing alright?

Transcript Collaboration

Before I start properly I just want to mention the Transcript Collaboration project.

There is a team of listeners who work together to produce transcripts of my podcast episodes – and they need your help. You can get involved in this project – yes you! It’s good for everyone – it helps me because I can offer the scripts on my website, it’s good for lower-level listeners because they can check the finished scripts to help them study the English more easily, and it’s really good for you because transcribing is a really intensive way of improving your English. Listening to every single word and writing it down is intensive practice that pushes your English in a number of ways – it’s good for listening, pronunciation awareness, vocabulary and grammar too. Intensive listening is quite different to general listening. It’s like looking at the living English language under a microscope. You can learn a lot more, and in a lot more detail. Don’t worry – you don’t have to transcribe a whole episode, just do 3 minutes. Yes, just 3 minutes. Each member of the team does a different 3 minute section and together you create the whole transcript. It’s surprising how quickly a whole episode gets transcribed using this method, but the team needs willing participants. The more people get involved the more effective the whole project is. There’s no alterior motive for me here – it’s a good project and the project manager Antonio recently asked me to encourage you to take part because he knows it can be a big success. Find out more and contribute your 3 minutes of transcription by clicking on “Transcript Collaboration” in the menu on my website. You can also email Antonio at ptholome@gmail.com

Switching off your editor to unlock your creativity and how this can help you learn English

In the last episode I told you a long and very silly story. The point of that was to celebrate my 400th episode by having some fun and hopefully making you laugh a bit, as well as giving you more English listening practice. Also, it was kind of an exercise in creativity for me.

I began the episode by talking about this idea of ‘switching off your editor’ in order to allow yourself to be creative, then I switched off my editor and improvised a comedy story for you. Now, in this episode I’d like to reconsider the idea of ‘switching off your editor’ and clarify that in the context of learning English.

You might think “what’s this editor?” and what do you mean by “switch off my editor”? What are you going on about?

First of all I should credit this idea of “switching off your editor” to Logan Murray, who is a bit of a legend in the London stand-up comedy circuit (and elsewhere) because he does comedy writing workshops and has written a great book about stand-up which is called “Get Started in Stand Up Comedy”. It’s not about language learning, but about being a comedian. For many of us Logan is sort of like our comedy mentor. For me personally the idea of switching off my editor really helped me to come up with lots of comedy ideas when I first started and I find the idea is still very true today and it’s something I keep in mind a lot.

When I say “your editor” I mean that voice in your head which edits your work while you’re producing it. It’s the part of you that says “No, you can’t say that” or “That’s ridiculous, you can’t say that” or “People will think you’re stupid if you say that” or “Don’t say the wrong thing, don’t make a mistake” or “You’d better not say anything at all because you might make a fool of yourself”.

Making an effort to switch off that voice, like the way you switch off a light, can help you become very productive as part of a wider creative process – and I think it applies to many things that involve creativity, including language learning.

Creativity is a big part of the mastery of a language

“Language is creative by its very nature. We can express or communicate one idea in many different ways. … Every single sentence, phrase or word we say or write is created in a unique moment of communication and can be recreated, reformulated, paraphrased or changed according to the goals of the speaker or writer.” – LIBOR STEPANEK (Prof of English from the Czech Republic)

“Linguistic creativity in particular is so much part of learning and using language that we tend to take it for granted. Yet from the ability to formulate new utterances, to the way a child tells a story, to the skill of a stand-up comedian, to the genius of Shakespeare, linguistic creativity is at work.” – Alan Maley (Legend of the TEFL world – former chair of IATEFL and editor of Oxford published teaching materials)

These quotes show that creativity is very much present in our ability to use language effectively. It’s true – when you’re producing English, you are using words or sounds in combination creating utterances, sentences, paragraphs, arguments or any kind of complex message. You take the materials and you build it into something that represents what you’re thinking. It involves your imagination, ambition, vision and everything – in a small way when you’re just stringing a sentence together and in a larger way when you’re constructing a larger point in a conversation, expressing a complex idea or writing an email, essay or report.

So, how is “switching off your editor” an important part of this creative process?

There’s a really great presentation by British comedian John Cleese (one of the Monty Python team) about creativity. He did it for a company called Video Arts some years ago. It’s excellent – very clear, true and funny. Here’s a quote in which he talks about how creativity is not a talent that only some people have, but that it is a mode of operation – a way of working.

John Cleese’s presentation for “Video Arts” on Creativity

Click here to get the transcript and audio of Cleese’s presentation genius.com/John-cleese-lecture-on-creativity-annotated

“[Psychologist] Brian MacKinnon showed [in his research] that the most creative people had simply acquired a facility for getting themselves into a particular mood — “a way of operating” — which allowed their natural creativity to function. In fact, MacKinnon described this particular facility as an ability to play. Indeed he described the most creative (when in this mood) as being childlike. For they were able to play with ideas… to explore them… not for any immediate practical purpose but just for enjoyment. Play for its own sake.” – John Cleese’s presentation on creativity.

To paraphrase John Cleese, creativity comes in two stages. There’s one stage in which you just let everything come out without limitations – he calls it the open mode and it involves no limitations, a spirit of play and the motivation to do things just for their own enjoyment. The next stage is the refining of what you’ve created. He calls this the closed mode. That mode is characterised by time deadlines, quality standards and other necessary limitations. For example, when working on a comedy sketch, Cleese and the Monty Python team might just let any old crazy idea come out, and have a hell of a lot of fun while doing it (the open thinking stage) and then later refine those ideas, tidy them up, order them, edit the whole thing down and produce a script or screenplay (the closed thinking stage). The first stage is about letting all the ideas spill out, the second stage is about tidying them up.

How does this relate to learning English?

I think creativity has a part to play in our language development. When we just speak, in conversation, we are constantly producing language and editing it while we go. When writing this is perhaps even more evident because we type, we stop to think, we delete things, we rearrange the paragraphs etc. When we’re speaking, both parts of the creative process are working at the same time. There’s fluency on one hand, and accuracy on the other hand.

The accuracy part is dealt with by your editor who lives in your head and has a copy of a grammar book. He frowns, points out errors, corrects you and shouts out grammar rules and things like that. He’s important for avoiding mistakes and saying exactly the right thing but he can kill your fluency. He can kill your inspiration and confidence – and confidence is vital. It’s the fuel and the lubrication that keeps the wheels spinning at all times. Confidence is what you need to keep your fluency flying high.

Your internal editor is definitely important, there’s no doubt about it. And of course accuracy is massively important too when talking about the end product of your English. But sometimes you have to work on different aspects of your English independently in order to make big steps that allow you to make big steps in other areas.

So in this episode I’m not talking about accuracy, I’m focusing on the fluency. I’ve done lots of accuracy-related episodes before in which I talk about grammar and things like that. What I’m talking about now is how you can develop your fluency, how sometimes it’s good to stop listening to that inner editor and how my crazy pink gorilla stories can help illustrate this point.

So, if we just look at developing fluency – with a focus on spoken fluency in particular (you could apply this to writing, but I’m mainly talking about speaking here), it’s a question of practising the creation of fluid English in which ideas are turned into speech without much hesitation. If you’re interested in building your fluency it can be useful to switch off your editor in that situation and just focus on freely producing English – maybe in a safe environment for practice – a speaking situation which has been agreed with other participants first. For example you could suggest with a language partner, friends, study group, class or 1 to 1 teacher that you spend some time without a particular language focus just freely producing some English – probably a conversation, or a speaking game or speaking club or something. It could be offline in an appropriate place somewhere or online on Skype for example. Then after some practice of just producing English with your editor switched off you can examine what you produced and then let the editor come back. You analyse what you did, you notice mistakes, you learn from them, you make progress.

Switching off your internal editor for a while can allow you to just be really creative allowing you to practise your productive skills and build your fluency. You can then develop the accuracy later by analysing and correcting the English that you produced earlier.

Here’s another example of the use of ‘switching off your editor’. Sometimes writers get writer’s block. It’s that feeling of staring at a blank page because you can’t produce anything. Or starting a paragraph and then constantly going back, editing it, deleting it, re-writing it. It’s hell. Sometimes I experience that at the beginning of a podcast – I hit record and can’t quite get it right in the beginning. The internal editor keeps stepping in and I get that feeling of “oh no that’s ridiculous” or “no you paused for too long there” or something.

One approach that people use to break writer’s block is to switch off the editor and just write, without worrying what you produce. Because you’ve got to get some content on the page before you can refine it. It’s very hard to make progress when you can’t even start. So start with no limitations, just produce whatever that comes into your head, and then refine it later. Some people dim the screen of their computer, or cover it, so they can’t judge their own work and edit it. That helps them to keep writing. Then when you’ve finished, you brighten the screen and reveal what you created. You’ve got loads of stuff there. It might not be the best in the world, but surprisingly enough – there it is. Now, you’ve got something to work with!

The point is, it’s hard to develop work which doesn’t exist yet. Switching off the editor allows the work to manifest itself, then you can work with it and develop it.

For your English this can mean doing speaking sessions in which there’s no correction, or no concern about perfection, but there is lots of imagination, creativity and vibrant ideas being turned into language. It’s good for your fluency, your productive skills and your sense of confidence. Next is the analysis stage where you work to identify room for improvement.

If you have a teacher or language partner, this person could note errors and feedback during the production stage, then go through that feedback. You could also record the speaking session and listen back to it, if you can bear the sound of your own voice – nobody likes their own voice, so don’t worry, this is normal. Listen and notice room for improvement. Don’t judge yourself too harshly! Notice good things too, and feel good about them.

Obviously you will probably need a teacher or language partner to help you with the feedback and error correction. Anyone with good English can be that person, but of course it’s better if the person is a teacher because they’ll be able to help you more easily because of their experience and knowledge.

Then do more focused practice on the areas that you think need improvement.

So, that’s how you can use the technique of ‘switching off your editor’ to improve your fluency in English speaking and later your accuracy too.

If you’re going to do that in a class or one to one, make sure everyone understands what you’re doing and agrees to it. If you have a one to one teacher, you might need to explain briefly that you’d like some practice without correction, for the teacher to note your errors during a natural conversation without interrupting you, and then to go through those errors and perhaps spend some time improving the areas where you were making mistakes.

Hopefully your teacher will agree to do this! Remember that often, teachers have their own ways of doing things and they might not be receptive to other techniques. That’s up to you to discuss with the teacher, but try not to rub the teacher up the wrong way by telling them how to do their own job! Let me repeat that – beware of telling your teacher how to do their own job, we don’t like that. So, approach this by making a respectful, polite suggestion of what you’d like to do in your lesson. If it’s a group class, you’ll obviously need to take into account the preferences of everyone else and they might not appreciate you trying to dictate the class.

Anyway – that’s a suggestion for how switching off your editor can help you build your fluency, and how you can use that as a means of then reflecting on your English and finding room for improvement.

As for me, well in episode 400 I switched off my editor and had a lot of fun creating The Pink Gorilla story. Now, you might not have found it that funny – I don’t know! That’s up to you! (I have had comments from people saying they laughed their heads off – I hope your head is back on now) I feel pretty proud because I came up with a lot of material and content! Here’s how that’s good in my opinion:

  1. More content for the podcast, created efficiently! I made a full episode, which should be quite entertaining, without doing a lot of preparation in advance!
  2. It produced tons of spontaneous language which I can use as the basis of language analysis in other episodes. There’s a lot to learn from episode 400. I could go through the story and pick out the phrases, double meanings and other references which I could then teach and clarify in later episodes of this podcast.
  3. Comedy material! I could now go through the pink gorilla episode and turn it into a one-man-show for the stage! It will need editing, re-writing, production etc but I think I could get quite an original one-hour one-man comedy show from what I produced. I’ve got the first draft.

You see the benefit of switching off your editor sometimes? It can make you very productive!

Also, I find ‘switching off my editor’ to be quite healthy. We all judge ourselves quite harshly. This can make us a bit unhappy and depressed. Switching off the editor can be liberating and can make you feel good about yourself. It’s cathartic and therapeutic, and I think that is really important in today’s world.

But be careful – choose the right moment.

Don’t just switch off your editor all the time, in every scenario, of course. Don’t do that in normal social situations and conversations. You still need to respect general customs and social norms and if you start coming out with ridiculous free-form comments in your conversations, people might think you’re weird! There’s an appropriate time and place for switching off your editor, for example when you’re trying to produce some work.

So, there you go.

Thanks very much for listening to the episode. I’ll talk to you again very soon. :)

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