Tag Archives: reading

440. This Pile of Books on my Desk

In this episode I just want to talk to you about this pile of 16 books I have on my desk. These are (mostly) books I haven’t read yet but which I picked up recently. I have lots of piles of books like this lying around and I must read them all but I can’t find the time! Anyway, I think they’re really interesting. I either received them as presents, was recommended them by friends and family or I bought them for myself when visiting book shops over the last year or two. I love books, and browsing bookshops is one of my favourite things. If only I was a faster reader!

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Part of the reason I’m doing this is because I just want to encourage you to read more and I would like to arouse your interest in books. Perhaps I can give you some encouragement to read a copy of one of these books, or perhaps this will encourage you to pick up a book (in English) from the pile of books that you probably have in your home too, and start reading it.

In any case, I hope you join me on this little exploration through this pile of books I have on my desk.

Here’s the list of books I talk about in this episode (also in the picture)

The Xenephobe’s Guide to The English, The French, The Japanese
The British Empire: A Very Short Introduction by Ashley Jackson
:59 Seconds by Professor Richard Wiseman
William Shakespeare: A Very Short Introduction by Stanley Wells
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Mo Meta Blues by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
The Call of the Cthulu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Sartori in Paris by Jack Kerouac
David Bowie: The Last Interview Various journalists and publications
The Ultimate Star Wars and Philosophy: You Must Unleard What You Have Learned
Terminator and Philosophy: I’ll Be Back Therefore I Am
The Girls by Emma Cline
The Valley of Fear (Sherlock Holmes graphic novel)

books

439. Reading Books to Learn English

Here’s an episode for you to listen to while I’m on holiday. I’m recording this the day before I go to Japan. So by the time you’re listening to this I’ll be on the other side of the world, trying to remember how to speak Japanese.

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Introduction

This episode is all about reading books in English. I probably won’t upload another episode for a week or two. That little break will give my listeners a chance to catch up on the recent episodes. Also, there are loads of episodes in the archive that you might not have heard yet and you might want to listen to if you are suffering from LEPaholism and you can’t get enough.

Every episode of LEP is available in the archive on my website, even if you can’t see them all on iTunes. They’re all still here. Just go to teacherluke.co.uk and click “Episodes”.

Just before we get started let me just remind you of several things:

  • Please vote for Luke’s English Podcast in the British Podcast Awards. I need every single one of you to vote. If you are next to a computer or you have your phone just go to www.britishpodcastawards.com/vote and vote for LEP.
  • If you’re in Toyko on 13 April, come to Gamuso in Asagaya for my comedy show. I will be performing comedy there with a few other people. It’s free to get in. Doors open at 7. I expect the comedy will start at 8. No idea if it will be busy. You can’t book in advance, so just turn up and get a seat!

Books

This episode is all about books. I’m going to recommend some self-study books for learning English, talk about the value of reading books in English and then go through some of the books which I have in a pile on my desk and talk to you about them – just to inspire you to do some more reading this year, in English of course!

Hi Luke! My name’s Matias, I’m from Uruguay, South America. Also, I’m a British English lover haha. I’ve been studying the language on my own for 7 or 8 years maybe, and English culture as well.
I found your podcasts just a few months ago and you gave me a whole new perspective on the language and I really appreciate that.
I emailed you because I want you to recommend some self-study books. I’m already using English Grammar In Use and doing exercises almost every day. What other books could I use?
Thank you a lot for all of your work. Have a great day!

Some self-study books for pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar

You’ll find the names and authors of all these books on the page for this episode on my website.

Pronunciation
Ship or Sheep by Anne Baker (minimal pairs) CUP
English Pronunciation In Use series – CUP
Work on your Accent by Helen Ashton (Collins )
Sound Foundations by Adrian Underhill (Macmillan) – for the teachers

Vocabulary
The ‘In Use’ series is good – English Vocabulary in Use
They also have Professional English In Use – different titles.
Practical Everyday English by Steven Collins
Also Advanced Everyday English and High Level Everyday English

Grammar
Grammar for Business by McCarthy, McCarthy, Clarke & Clarke
Practical English Usage by Michael Swan (reference book)
English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy

Writing
Email English by Paul Emmerson

The value of reading books

I did an episode all about this a couple of years ago – you should listen to it. It includes a list of recommended books. Check it out here teacherluke.co.uk/2015/02/01/reading-books-in-english/

There’s also a reading list on my website which includes every single book I’ve recommended or mentioned on the podcast. Check it out here teacherluke.co.uk/useful-websites/the-uks-favourite-books/

  • Practice practice practice practice practice practice practice
  • You can go at your own pace
  • It’s seriously relaxing – certainly compared to staring at a screen. Try reading for 15 minutes before sleeping, it’s very good for you. Also you can take a book anywhere.
  • Vocabulary and grammar development
    Perhaps the best way to work on your grammar and vocabulary is to see it being used in context. Reading gives you access to the living language. Simply interacting with it by reading it is a great way to learn it. You can practise being mindful while you read, which is a question of noticing features of the language as you see it. This can be more efficient than reading grammar explanations.
  • Often the most useful parts of grammar study are the examples where they highlight certain bits of usage. Grammar is often unsatisfying because ultimately there aren’t always logical reasons why the language is the way it is.
  • Stop looking for explanations and just accept it. Let the language flow through you and get to know it. Don’t expect it to follow the same rules as your language or to be logical.
  • Grammar books are great for reference and self study. So, if you notice a pattern or a feature of the language you don’t understand – you can check it out in the grammar book, like “Practical English Usage”. The same goes for vocabulary and a dictionary. But by interacting with the written word you will find that the grammar goes in as a consequence.
  • Exposure = developing your instinct for the language. Reading an entire book is very good for your grammar. Imagine all those sentences that pass before your eyes and go through your brain. It’s a great way to study structure without even studying it really.
  • The importance of visualising the written word
    A word exists in many different dimensions – the way it sounds, the way it feels when you say it, all the meaning associations you have with it, the way it looks and the way it feels to write it by hand or on a computer. You should get to know every single side of a word and that means reading a lot in order to fix the visual side in your mind.
  • Educational value
    Learning about the culture of the language you’re learning is vital. It helps you get into the mindset of the language so you can get a sense of the rhythm, but also the humour and how certain things are suggested, hinted at, referred to and so on. Also you just learn some information that will help you. It’s not just a question of learning the words, but learning the whole culture within which those words exist.
  • Books can be a great way into a culture.

How to choose the right book for you

  • Not too old (think of the style of language – although old fashioned English is rather beautiful – watch out, anything written before about 1800 is going to sound pretty outdated and might be difficult to follow.
  • Not too long – obvs, you want to finish it
  • Something you’ve already read in your own language
  • Something that just appeals to you – it’s vital that you like the book, so go with your gut.
  • Something with fairly ‘normal’ English e.g. beware of something like The Martian – it contains loads of technical language – but then again it’s also quite a riveting page turner. But be aware of the type of English you’ll be getting.
  • Go for page turners – remember, your objective is to read as much as possible and to get the satisfaction and motivation of having finished the book. Don’t be afraid to read some trash. It doesn’t have to be the most high-class book.
  • Consider graded readers, like the Penguin Reader series – and choose the advanced level books. They’re shorter, easier versions of brilliant novels in English. There are various versions of readers – but check out readers.english.com/readers for more info.
  • Consider reading graphic novels. They’re easier to read and the visuals help to move the story along. It’s a bit like watching a movie but with all the advantages of a book.

How to learn English from reading books

Study
You read with a notebook and dictionary with you. When you come across a new word you check it and make a note of it. Remember to write more than the translation. Write an example sentence and a mnemonic if possible. You could highlight the word in the book too and come back to it later.

Enjoyment
Don’t bother checking words all the time. Just read the book because you’re interested in the story. Focus on getting through the story because you want to know what happens next. You will naturally start picking up new words as you encounter them. But try to be mindful when you read – every now and then you can just slow down a bit and focus on some language. Perhaps read a quick passage again and think about the grammar you can see. Why is it written that way? What kind of grammar is it? What’s the effect of writing it like that? What about these words? Do you know them? Could you use them yourself for something in your own life? Ask yourself these questions and then continue. Feel good when you’ve finished the book. Take time to reflect on it. Think in your head, speak aloud, talk to your language partner or write in a diary your thoughts about the book. Move onto the next one!

Next episode: This pile of books I have on my desk

Your comments: What books in English can you recommend?

386. Breaking the Intermediate Plateau (Part 2)

Here’s part 2 of this episode about ways you can push your English to higher levels even if you feel that your progress is stuck or moving very slowly. Click here for part 1 of this episode wp.me/p4IuUx-6Wl

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Measure your progress – test yourself

Take a test, do an IELTS or CAE simulation. Speak to people and see how it goes. Try to understand a TV show without help. Read authentic material. Try to do exercises meant for a specific level and see how it feels. Take FCE use of english sample papers. Take the grammar test at the back of Blue Murphy. Download Duolingo and take their level test.

Use DIALANG dialangweb.lancaster.ac.uk/

DIALANG is an online diagnostic system designed to assess a person’s proficiency in 14 European languages.[1][2] Competences tested are reading, writing, listening, grammar and vocabulary, while speaking is excluded for technical reasons.[1]

DIALANG was designed primarily for European citizens to assess their language abilities in adherence to Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference – CEFR – as a basis for determining language proficiency. The CEFR is a widely recognized framework used to describe and measure the language proficiency level of a learner in a particular language.[1]

Dialang was funded by the SOCRATES programme and by some 25 institutions, largely universities, throughout the European Union.[3]

Also, ExamEnglish.com www.examenglish.com/leveltest/index.php

Practice practice practice practice practice (The 5 ‘P’s)

Practise using it! Again – a language partner on italki can help.

A note about using italki or any 1to1 lessons – make sure you know what kind of teacher you’re looking for. Be clear about what you want from lessons. If you want plenty of speaking, say so – be clear that you want a lot of language feedback. Bring topics yourself. Be imaginative and prepare questions, speaking tasks etc. If you need to do job interviews, ask to do that, and bring some materials to the lessons – e.g. job interview questions. The more involved you are the better. Know exactly what you want before you get into the lessons. In the first lesson or trial lesson, explain what it is you want to practise. This will avoid the trap of just talking aimlessly, or letting the italki teacher talk too much or make it all about them. I think a good italki teacher should do a lot of listening. Make sure you take time to show that you respect them as a teacher and that you’re glad to talk to them, but also make it quite clear what you expect from them.

Attitude

It’s how you perceive your progress. Where are your priorities? What’s making you feel like you’re not making progress? Perhaps you’re focusing on one thing too much that might not be that important. E.g. you might be frustrated that you can’t lose your accent, but in fact that doesn’t matter too much. Understand that some things will just never be perfect, and realise that you’ve made a lot of progress in other areas. Don’t get caught up on your accent – don’t let one thing hold you back. Keep pushing in other areas too.

Be positive!

Yes we can!

A lot of people just tell themselves they can’t do things.

A student of mine recently told me that she couldn’t speak English. She said “I think I can’t speak. I don’t know why but I just can’t speak English. What do you think?” I said – well, you can speak English because you’re doing it right now. What you mean is that it’s difficult.

When you experience resistance, don’t say “I can’t do this”, just say “this is difficult”. It’s all achievable with practice and the right attitude.

Goals

Give yourself little goals, not one big one. Learn English step by step. I know some students who have unrealistic goals, or at least goals that are too high. E.g. I want to become bilingual – it might be possible one day, but at the moment it’s probably best to scale it down to something more achievable, like I want to improve my accuracy, or I want to be able to speak on the telephone about my work more confidently. I want to improve my sales skills in English, for example.

Don’t create a vague goal like “I want to master English”. It’s built for failure.

Create specific goals that will allow you to define a specific set of actions to achieve it.

Goals are pointless unless you have a plan on how to achieve them.

Let’s use the CAE test as a standard. Cambridge English have put a great deal of time and effort into classifying and testing advanced English. Let’s use their test and their assessment criteria to create goals. You’ll see that there are a LOT of goals here! But the point is – they’re specific.

www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/cambridge-english-advanced-handbook-2015.pdf

I can/want to/will:

(let’s just use writing and speaking as an example or this will go on forever)

  • Writing
  • Write a structured ‘for and against essay’ in which I compare two opinions on a subject, write in the appropriate register, use the right linking phrases, develop arguments and give a persuasive point of view.
  • Write a business email with the appropriate style, including the right opening and closing parts and the appropriate phrases for making requests, agreeing, disagreeing, asking for and giving information.
  • Write a business report in which I give details of results, numerical data and recommendations for action to be taken.
  • Write a personal email in a friendly style.
  • Learn and use the appropriate phrases and style to achieve all those types of writing.
  • Speaking
  • Use a wide range of grammatical structures accurately and with the right amount of control (note that this aim focuses on being able to use the grammar not just understand it)
  • Use a wide range of vocabulary, especially on abstract areas which are unfamiliar. (again a focus on using vocab not just understanding it)
  • Produce longer pieces of structured spoken English with little hesitation, e.g. a 1 minute speech on any topic.
  • Speak clearly and intelligably (not with a perfect British accent!)
  • Use intonation and sentence stress to help me make a point
  • Interact naturally in conversation with others, including negotiating things, managing any breakdown in communication. (this is about effective communicative competence and comes from listening as much as from speaking but must be practised in the context of real communication)

You could even break those things down into more specific goals too. E.g. to be able to talk freely about finance, or to be able to write clearly about facts and figures, or simply to be able to say all the numbers and dates without hesitation.

That all might seem a bit challenging, but it has been proven time and time again that breaking down your learning into small yet achievable goals is the way to deal with the challenge.

Step by step

How do you eat an elephant – one spoon at a time. How do you climb a mountain – one step at a time. Don’t try to leap up it. Take it steadily – it’s a long journey but every step is a step in the right direction. Sometimes you take steps backwards and work out where you’ve gone wrong and then find the path again.

Repetition

Study the grammar again and again and again. Test yourself again and again. Learning a language is difficult. It takes time and effort. Accept that and just keep going day by day. In the end it will all pay off. When I first started teaching English I couldn’t understand a lot of the grammar. I had to study it for ages at the weekend before I taught it, but I learned my own grammar! It helps that I’m a native speaker, but understanding the rules was difficult for me too. Now I know it well and I think it’s because I put the time in and because there was pressure – I had to teach it. Also it’s because I studied and taught the grammar again and again. It’s the same with vocab, and with other areas like listening.

Listen to episodes of the podcast more than once, like this comment from Mayumi

MayumiM 3 minutes ago

Hi, hope you feel better than the day you recorded this episode. Your voice is kinda sexy like you mentioned and I’ll miss that when your voice is fully recovered, though.;) Anyway, you always keep encouraging us to keep listening even though we have some difficulties to understand everything and listen again. That totally worked this time for me. I’ve repeated last Ian Moore episode maybe 3 or 4 times straight. I could do this because the conversation was just fascinating. Maybe I could understand 70% at first and next time, 80% or more and at the end of this routine, I felt I could get almost everything! After that, I did with different episodes and it went well, too.

Thank you for encouraging us as always and I’m looking forward new episodes.

Enjoy it! Take stock. Enjoy the small victories. See progress as achievable.

Grammar

Spend some time learning grammar but do it selectively. Use the murphy grammar test to identify things you need to work on. Notice the grammar you’ve been studying in the real world. You’ll start to notice it everywhere.

Don’t get blocked by your grammar knowledge

I suggest studying the grammar, but sometimes you need to know when to just put the grammar rules away and use the force.

Listening and reading a lot are just as important in learning grammar as focusing on the rules. You need to have seen and heard a lot of grammar to be able to judge if something is right or wrong and to make sense of the rules. Always remember to understand and analyse the language in a meaningful context, not just abstract grammar rules. Everything comes back to the way the language is actually used, not the so-called rules on paper. Understanding this can help you study grammar more effectively.

Notice grammar in the real world. Make your own rules. Test them. Check them with the rule book. Keep going.

Writing to get through the Plateau

I should also mention that writing is a really important way to get through the intermediate plateau.

You can use it to help you find errors that you make in your language, correct them and learn to stop making them. Often these errors are simple fossilised mistakes that you know you shouldn’t make. Your own knowledge of the language plus any research you do can help you identify and correct the mistakes, making it less likely that you’ll do it again.

So you can correct yourself by doing some creative writing and then checking it carefully on your own. But also you might need someone to correct your writing or give you feedback. You might have a native speaker, a teacher, an italki teacher or a relative who can check your work, or  you can you have your writing corrected through sites like Lang-8 and LingQ.

Different skills in English are connected and mutually beneficial. There are basically 4 skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking, and they’re all connected. There are receptive skills like listening and reading, and then productive skills like speaking and writing. Listening is connected to speaking because it is the oral version of the language, and reading is complementary to writing because of the syntax, the spelling and punctuation.

Writing is also different to speaking in that you have more time to reflect on what you’re putting down. When speaking you have to be spontaneous and it’s linked to body language. Writing is a solo experience and that allows you to think more clearly about the language you’re producing.

Also, as you correct your writing, this will benefit your speaking by giving you an inner monologue which can be converted to speech. All in all, it’s a good idea to practise writing as well as speaking in order to improve your accuracy and fluency.

Enjoy it 

Enjoy the English you consume and produce. Follow your heart and focus on the aspects of language that you enjoy and that will keep you coming back. Take pleasure in the act of learning a language. Remember that it’s making you a much more rounded and multidimensional person.

Here are some motivational quotes

Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can; there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did.
‒Sarah Caldwell

Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.
‒Chinese Proverb

To have another language is to possess a second soul.
‒Charlemagne

❝The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.❝ Ludwig Wittgenstein

Rapping with Fluency MC

253. Rapping with Fluency MC!

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385. Breaking the Intermediate Plateau (Part 1)

This episode is about ways you can push your English to higher levels even if you feel that your progress is stuck or moving very slowly. I’m talking about a very common phenomenon in English learning called the intermediate plateau. It usually happens at an intermediate level. I wonder if this applies to you? I would love to read your thoughts so please do write in the comment section.

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Jim’s Music

234. Making “Choons” with My Brother

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Mailing List, etc

Subscribe to the mailing list to get a link to the page for each episode sent to your inbox.

LEP Anecdote Comp is almost closed. It closes today. Any entries I get after midnight today (CET) won’t count, and remember you only have 5 minutes. I’ll upload an episode v soon about that to tell you what’s going to happen next, and you’ll be able to listen and vote for your favourites.

So now, let’s talk about the intermediate plateau and how to push your English to new levels even if you feel like your progress has stalled.

Transcription / improvisation

Breaking the Intermediate Plateau

What is the intermediate plateau?  Why does that happen and how can you get out of it? Generally, how do you keep making progress with your English?

People often get stuck at an intermediate level. They feel their English is not improving as fast as before. In fact it feels like you can’t progress further and your learning is blocked. It’s very frustrating.

This applies to moving from intermediate to a higher level, but much of it can be applied to making progress at a higher level too.

What is intermediate?

Moving from intermediate to advanced is a tricky phase and it often takes longer than moving from elementary to intermediate. It’s harder to make the distinction between intermediate and advanced than it is to make a distinction between intermediate and elementary.

CEFR B1 descriptions

  • Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.
  • Can deal with most situations likely to arise while travelling in an area where the language is spoken.
  • Can produce simple connected text on topics that are familiar or of personal interest.
  • Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

CEFR C1 descriptions

  • Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer clauses, and recognize implicit meaning.
  • Can express ideas fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions.
  • Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.
  • Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

How do you know if you’re at the intermediate plateau? How do you know if your learning is at a plateau in general (not just at intermediate level)?

We’re talking about 2 things – what your level is, and the progress you’re not making.

How do you know if you’re intermediate?

Take a test, use the criteria for the CEFR, consult your teacher. (See links to tests below)

ExamEnglish www.examenglish.com/leveltest/index.php

Dialang dialangweb.lancaster.ac.uk/

How do you know if you’ve reached a plateau – probably at intermediate level?

You started with a low level of English and have made some effort to pull yourself up to a functional intermediate level. Perhaps you studied, maybe you have lived in an English speaking environment in which you were forced to learn the language.

You can basically express yourself and get by in most situations, but when you’re under stress or when it’s a new situation your English crumbles.

Or perhaps you have a jagged profile – you might be good at one area, but other areas are really weak. E.g. you might be good at reading and writing but your spoken English is a disaster. Or perhaps you’re great at oral communication but you can’t write full sentences, can’t spell etc.

You can talk, laugh and have fun in English when you’re with fellow non-native speakers, but as soon as you’re with a group of natives, you suddenly feel lost and don’t understand the humour.

If you really concentrate and focus you can watch a film or TV in English and understand most of it – especially with English subtitles, but if you go to the cinema full of native speakers and watch a comedy film or something you realise how little you understand because everyone else is laughing but you’re just sitting there. You assume that everyone’s a bit stupid or that they have no taste. In fact, you just don’t understand the jokes.

Why do people hit an intermediate plateau?

You can basically survive with an intermediate level of English. In fact, you can get by with about 3000 words whereas the average native speaker is able to use about 20,000. This is the difference between a basic operational intermediate level of English and a fully rounded vocabulary of a native speaker.

Suspected learning curve. You expect learning to be linear. When you start you learn rapidly, the curve is steep. When you have got through the early stages and you can basically express yourself and understand others. It’s harder to see progress. Your progress becomes more shallow and there’s less stress involved.

People expect the learning to continue in a straight line of progress, but they don’t realise that it goes up and down.

The actual learning curve is more like a bell, and it involves many ups and downs too.

The more of a language you learn, the less there is to learn. It’s a process of diminishing returns.

Comfort zone.

Goals and study habits are not well defined. Often the first goal is just to get out of that painful confusion you experience at the start. When you hit intermediate your goals need to be more achievable and specific. Then you need to match them with an organised study plan.

How to break through the intermediate plateau and continue making progress

There’s no magic formula or single way to do it. It comes down to attitude, time and practice.

The study methods you used to get to intermediate might need to change.

Merely ‘getting by’ in the language is not enough any more. You need to explore, push it further, test yourself and increase the challenge.

Follow just one subject in a lot of depth

You want to develop a more advanced level of vocabulary and grammar, especially the vocab but there is so much of it! How can you cover it all? Instead of just scraping the surface of a few topics, try going into loads of depth in just one or two topics.

Following a subject you’re fascinated in will take you down a rabbit hole of English and you will learn a great deal of more complex language on the way. It’s hard to learn all the English of everything, so focus on one specific thing and let that be your entry point to advanced English.

This means finding loads of information on this single topic you’re interested in – reading articles and books about it, finding podcasts and videos about it, video documentaries on youtube and so on. For example, right now I’m reading about The Beatles in French and it’s much better than just reading stuff I don’t care about and it keeps me interested.

Learn how to talk and write about your specialist subject too. Learning one thing in a lot of detail is more achievable than trying to learn the vocabulary of everything. You will learn tons of vocabulary about the subject but also you’ll learn the kind of English you need to construct and understand complex and in-depth ideas – so, not just technical terms but also complex sentences, grammatical forms and linking devices.

Challenge

One of the reasons you made so much progress before was that everything was a challenge. You met a lot of resistance. It was frustrating but you pushed through. Now there is less resistance but don’t stop pushing. Challenge yourself, push yourself out of your comfort zone, teach the language to someone else – or at least prepare yourself as if you’re going to teach, find your weaknesses and push them. Don’t give up. Jump in at the deep end and try to swim.

Habit

Honestly – how many of you are going to do all these things? Not many of you. You’ll probably listen and agree but not take action. Right there – that’s where the difference is between progress and not progress. Choose to do even a couple of these things and you’ll be on the right path. Just make a few little changes and do them regularly and it should become part of your habit. Build habits into your life.

Exposure

Exposure to some comprehensible input combined with some stuff on the verge of what you don’t understand. Some stuff that’s fairly easy to follow, and some stuff that’s hard to follow. So, that means listening to podcasts like this in which you understand quite a lot, but you’re also challenged sometimes, but it also means reading and listening to content designed for native speakers. Get an audiobook, get some real books, listen to BBC radio, subscribe to some podcasts for native speakers (listen for some recommendations soon).

236. OPP: Other People’s Podcasts (Part 1)

237. OPP: Other People’s Podcasts (Part 2)

Vocabulary & Mnemonics

Keep an organised notebook for vocabulary and use some mnemonic techniques. They’re proven to work again and again, but how many of us use them?

Listen to an old episode of my podcast called Memory, Mnemonics and Learning English.

Basically, the trick with remembering vocabulary is to a) link the new memory to an existing memory and b) make new memories visual, vivid and attached to a space that you know in the real world. This sounds a bit strange, but it’s proven to work. If you can attach a new word to an existing word somehow, perhaps with a very vivid picture in your mind perhaps connected to a space you know, like your house, then memories will stick like glue.

167. Memory, Mnemonics & Learning English

Part 2 coming soon…

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256. Reading Books in English (and listening to them too)

This is an episode all about the benefits of reading books and listening to audiobooks in English. It contains lots of advice for using books for improving your English, and several lists of recommended books too. Also, claim your free audiobook from Audible.com – read below for details.

[Download] [Audiobook Offer]Small Donate ButtonThis episode is sponsored by Audible.com – the website for downloadable audiobooks. Audible.com has over 150,000 audiobooks for you to download, from almost any genre imaginable. If you like books, and you like listening in English, why not try an audiobook from Audible.com. In fact you can use a special link on teacherluke.co.uk to claim a free audiobook from Audible.com today – that’s right Audible.com would like to give listeners to LEP one free audiobook each to download. Where’s the link for this Luke? On teacherluke.co.uk on the right side, scroll down a bit – there’s an image which says “Download a free audiobook today” – click that to go to Audibile.com for your free book. For more details just listen to the rest of this episode. But now, let’s get started!

This episode is all about books and how reading books can really improve your English. I’m going to give you some recommendations for books you can read, and also tell you about some of my personal favourite books.

Before we start properly, let me tell you about how to get your free audiobook.

How to Get Your Free Audiobook from Audible.com
Amazon have set me up as an ‘affiliate’ which means they would like me to promote their audiobook downloads from Audible.com from time to time. What they’re offering to listeners of LEP is the chance to download one audiobook free of charge from their massive online selection.
Here are some reasons why you should definitely do it:
– You get a free audiobook. That’s any book you like. It could be The Hobbit, it could be The Lord of the Rings, it could be a biography of John Lennon, it could be some Charles Dickens, it could be Stephen King, it could be Harry Potter, it could be Jane Austen, it could be David Crystal or even Stephen Fry. Just click the link and add your details – and you can have any book you want.
– “What’s the catch?” – well, the catch is that when you get your book you also sign up for monthly membership with Audible.com – but the cool thing is that you can cancel your membership immediately after downloading your book, and you don’t have to pay anything at all. There is no legal obligation to continue membership, or pay for anything. So, if you don’t mind just clicking a few buttons, you can get your free book. All I ask is that you do it by clicking this link on my website so I can get a small reward from Audible.com.
Here’s what you do, and this is going to take just a couple of minutes – go to teacherluke.co.uk and on the right side you’ll see a pic that says “download a free audiobook today” click that, then click “Get my free Audiobook”, enter your details (and don’t worry about entering card details here – it’s just like buying something from Amazon, it’s the same company as Amazon – it’s extremely secure, and they won’t get any money because you’re going to cancel your membership) complete your purchase of a 30 day free trial, browse Audible and choose your book, download it by clicking on ‘library’ then ‘my books’.
You can download an mp3 to iTunes, or choose a number of different options for your audiobook, such as an audible app for android and apple phones and tablets.
Then, to cancel your membership, follow these steps: At the top is says “Hi, Luke” (not Luke, but your name) – From that menu select account details, then on the left it says ‘cancel my membership’. At the bottom of the next page, choose a reason for cancelling and then click continue. On the next page click “Continue cancelling” and then do it again on the next page, then click “Finish cancelling” then eventually you will be cancelled and you can enjoy your audiobook free of charge, and you avoid paying for monthly membership in the future. It’s even easier if you have an Amazon account.

I just did it, right now, and bought “Revolution in the Head” by Ian MacDonald – which is a brilliant book about every single Beatles song ever recorded and features amazing insights into all of their work. The audio version is recorded by actors such as David Morrissey, who starred recently in The Walking Dead as The Governor – he’s actually an excellent British actor from Liverpool. It’s in my iTunes now and I can listen to it whenever I want. And just in case you were thinking that this is rather a complex process for basically some audio that you can download free somewhere else – let me remind you that this is a whole book, read out by top actors, in English of course. A whole book – that’s a massive amount of work that you can just get for free, and Audible is the world’s number 1 provider of audiobooks, so they have a very complete library to choose from. This one about the Beatles I just downloaded is about 12 hours long. I just got 12 hours of listening, absolutely free. I strongly recommend that you do it. It’s good for you because you get a free book, it’s good for Audible because they get some publicity, and it’s good for me because I get a little kickback from Audible – only a small kickback of course, but a man’s got to make a living somehow! Little bits of income like that help me to keep doing this free service for you, and I’m edging in the right direction. You could send me a donation, but this is quite a good alternative to doing that, and you get a whole book out of it too.

The book that you download free is worth about 15$ in fact, so I am basically giving you a $15 audiobook for free, and to get it you just have to click a few things. Imagine if I’d sent you a gift through the post but you had to pick it up from the post office? Walking to the post office would be a lot more inconvenient than just adding some details on the computer, downloading and then cancelling your membership! By the way, you don’t have to cancel your membership to Audible, you could keep the account open and download more books. If you do nothing, your account stays open and for about $15 a month you can download more books

Right, you might now be thinking of which book you would like to get. Well, let me go through a list of some recommended books for learners of English, some of my favourite books too, and here’s an idea – perhaps you could buy the book itself, and then get the audiobook version too – that way you can read and listen at the same time!

Also, I am sure that I have some voracious readers listening to this podcast and I am always very keen to get your input too. So please, if you have some good book recommendations then please mention them in the comments section.

The Benefits of Reading for your English
There’s a lot of academic research which shows that reading is really good for your English. It’s no real surprise that students who do extensive reading outside class, perform a lot better in tests. In a 1992 article in College ESL, “Let Them Read Books,” Martino and Block mention studies in which students who are in courses involving extensive reading perform better on reading tests than students who are in courses that deal mainly with skill-building strategies. So, that seems to mean that just doing lots and lots of reading is the best way to improve your English, rather than studying lots of different strategies about reading. It does reinforce what I’ve said about listening in the past. It’s the seven P’s: practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice.

I’ve often noted over the years that the students who are reading books outside class are almost always the ones who progress much faster and get better test results. It’s the same case with podcasts and things. When I question my classes about their reading and listening habits, it’s always the great students who reveal that they have a novel in their bag, or some podcasts in their phone.

By reading books, you are fast-tracking English into your brain! Simply by reading and following a story, you are practising a number of key reading skills. Firstly, you’re having to deal with a number of unknown words, but you don’t let these individual words prevent you from losing the story or the general context of what’s happening. You have to just fill the blanks in what you understand, and usually that’s enough to keep you going with the story. What happens is that your mind creates unconscious strategies for dealing with new words. You start to guess the meaning of new words, especially if they are used again and again. It’s exactly the same as when we are children. I remember growing up that I would often come across new words, and I’d just have to carry on and work it out. The more I came across these words, the more the meaning would be defined – by a process of elimination really, until I’d have a good sense of the word. This still happens if I’m reading particularly old books with words that aren’t used any more.

Another skill is that you improve your spelling, although pronunciation is not directly developed by reading alone. You should listen and read at the same time for that – a lot of books have audiobook versions.

By reading a lot you’re exposing yourself to pages and pages of language, so that reinforces collocations, grammatical structures and other lexical patterns.

Also, you learn to detect differences in general meaning, attitude of the writer and so on. These are all reading skills tested in Cambridge exams.

If you read lots of well-written work you will, sooner or later, come across almost all the different communicative strategies which are used to perform all kinds of functions in English. Persuasion, tension, joy, description and so on – these will all be part of what you read. How can you really expect to be able to use a language, without actually knowing what that language is? You need to see and hear a lot of English in order to know exactly what you’re dealing with, and what you can equip yourself with.

It’s also just a pleasing and motivating process.

You know that feeling when you first start reading a book. Usually the first few pages are a bit tricky, and you feel like you’re not really into it, but there always comes a point with any book that you suddenly get gripped by it, and you can’t wait to continue reading. I love that moment, and I think you should look for that moment when reading a book in English. Imagine how motivating it could be to get that feeling with an English book.
Some students believe it’s not possible to read books in English and enjoy them, and so they don’t. But wait a minute – it definitely is possible. Are you not reading books in English for some reason? Wise up – open a book. You can read it. In fact, if someone asked me: “How do I read a whole book in English?” my answer: “Just keep going. Just read it!” You might surprise yourself and understand a lot of it and really enjoy it too!
I just love the whole atmosphere of a book. Just imagining that someone has spent so much time working on it, and it’s such an ancient form of art. It’s so personal, because only you are reading it, and it’s like a one to one with the writer, and yet you feel connected to the common mindset of everyone else who’s read it.
Listening to an audiobook can also be great because essentially someone is doing the tricky part of reading the words and is reciting it for you. Often the readers are great actors themselves, so it’s a bit like being a privileged king who has his books read to you by the best storytellers in the land. In fact, before books were written down, stories would have been told by word of mouth. So, listening to stories is an even more ancient tradition than reading.

My Recommendations
The main thing is that you read a lot. That should be your main aim – just do a lot of reading.
Also, you should pick something that you really enjoy. According to experts like Stephen Krashen, the more you enjoy what you’re reading, the more you learn from it.

You do need to consider what kind of English you’ll be reading. Ideally, you want something which is in a neutral style/register, which contains some conversational English, normal every day English, up-to-date English and so on.
So, you’ll need to make your decision based on what will keep you reading, and what will be enjoyable.
In terms of length, choose a shorter book, just so you can get that satisfaction of finishing it and moving on to something else. Ploughing through a huge tome in English is likely to be a very long process, unless it’s a book you are particularly fascinated by.

So, choose short, engaging books that you’ll enjoy reading and which are written in a plain form of normal English. The main thing though is: a book that you’ll enjoy and that you’ll finish.

Here are some other tips:
Choose page turners & best sellers – books that encourage you to read at speed, desperate to get to the next page to find out what happens. You need something that will catch your attention and have a story that is easy to follow. So I do recommend that you read some popular novels by authors like Stephen King, Agatha Christie or even the Da Vinci code series. I don’t particularly like the Da Vinci Code books, but they are very easy to read and you can fly through them pretty quickly.
You need books with lots of action and a clear storyline. Again, page turners – mysteries, crime dramas and so on are good for this. I do consider Harry Potter to be a page turner.
Pick a book you know in your first language. This can prevent you from losing the plot and you can just focus on the language being used. In fact, why not read your favourite book in English. If it’s your favourite you will probably want to keep reading it, and you’ll know what happens so you’ll just be able to focus on the English.
Watch the film of the book, in English, then read the book. But watch out because they often change the books, like with the Hobbit series and other examples.
Read graphic novels. There are plenty of great graphic novels with intelligent stories and ideas. It can be a new way of reading, and you certainly fly through them quickly. I’ve added a few graphic novels to my list.
Watch out for the type of English being used. Some books set in the past will involve an outdated form of English, like Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Tolkien – they tend to use an old-fashioned register. You might want to focus on something clear, modern and up to date. But then again it can be a lot of fun to explore different aspects of English. Generally, British writers in the 19th and 18th centuries wrote beautiful texts, and dialogue between people is particularly enjoyable.
Consider Penguin Readers. www.penguinreaders.com
Some books use lots of fantasy language, like Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings. Watch out for that.
Non-fiction can be a great alternative to fiction, and there are many very practical and useful books on a range of subjects. You could also choose the self-help sections, history or other specialist subjects. IN fact there are so many books about improving your life, your memory, your spending, your career – and they are often the most irresistible books you can read. They’re written in an incredibly direct and engaging manner, often because they are holding your attention in order to sell you an idea.
Biographies of people you respect can be very fascinating, especially auto-biographies, written by the people themselves. They are some of my favourite books. I love reading about musicians and the crazy lives they had.
I did mention earlier that you can guess unknown words by reading, but you can also actively study with a dictionary while reading. IN fact, there’s nothing stopping you from writing notes in the margins of books so that you can see them again next time you read it. Reading and checking words in a dictionary has been a tried and tested way of developing your English for years. As the saying goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” In fact, you may be able to improve on this method by using technology such as the Amazon Kindle.
I’ve talked about the Kindle before – about 4 years ago, when I ranted about how nobody really needs Kindles. I still agree basically with that point, but I do now see the value of Amazon Kindles for learners of English, and I’m not just saying that because I’m an Amazon Affiliate (I get no kickback from Kindle sales), but because it’s true. The Kindle has a built-in dictionary, so you can immediately look up new words when you find them.
I think you’ll find that as soon as you get drawn into the story, you’ll stop picking up the dictionary all the time and you’ll start guessing or ignoring unknown words.

Easier Books that Non-natives Can Read
The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon

Page Turners
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Anything by Agatha Christie
Any James Bond books (Ian Fleming)
The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
The film adaptation is worth seeing. It’s unusual and moving.

Just Good and Appropriate Books
Nick Hornby – I like High Fidelity (and there’s a film version) or indeed About A Boy.
Anything by Roald Dahl, like for example Fantastic Mr Fox, or a collection of his short stories. Revolting Rhymes is particularly fun as well.
Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding. It’s personal, it’s informal, it’s funny, there’s a film version, and girls tend to like it.
Animal Farm by George Orwell – it’s short and it’s brilliant.
The Beach by Alex Garland – it’s gripping if you’re into travelling

Non-Fiction & Biography
Watching The English – Kate Fox
Revolution in the Head – Ian McDonald
Freakonomics – by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
The World According to Clarkson (if you can stand Jeremy Clarkson that is)
Mr Nice by Howard Marks

Graphic Novels
There’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t go for some graphic novels.
There’s a great series of Sherlock Holmes cartoons which are really well made.
I find almost anything by Frank Miller to be great – especially the Sin City series or Batman Year One or Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. They don’t have to be superhero comics. There are plenty of comics for other topics.
For childish ones, I love Japanese manga, translated into English – The Dragonball and Dragonball Z series, or Dr Slump.

My Personal Favourite Books
These are just some books that I love. There are so many books that I have enjoyed over the years, and I can’t remember them all now, but here’s a selection of books which come to mind as I write this.
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. I read it when I was a teenager and it meant a lot to me then. I love the ‘unreliable narrator’ and the fact that this kid is lost. He’s also quite funny, but it’s sad and lonely at the same time. I love that version of New York – big and scary and a bit dangerous.
Lord of the Rings
Nick Hornby – High Fidelity
Keith Richards – Life
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
Factotum by Charles Bukowski
All The Pretty Horses by Cormack McCarthy
The Road by Cormack McCarthy
The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Fight by Norman Mailer
Miles by Miles Davis (but watch out because this one is written just like the way Miles used to speak – in a kind of dialect)
I’m also a big fan of Kurt Vonnegut- Slaughterhouse 5.

A website for e-books
english-e-books.net/

The LEP forum thread about reading books
teacherluke.co.uk/forums/topic/what-is-the-last-book-youve-read-so-far/

In conclusion
You can read novels in English, and you should. They provide tons of “comprehensible input” and if you believe in the studies of Stephen Krashen, this means you’ll be on the right track when it comes to acquiring some really great English.

Now, don’t forget – if you want to claim that free audiobook from Audible.com – just click this link

PLEASE ADD YOUR OWN BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS IN THE COMMENTS SECTION!
BooksPODPIC

254. IELTS Tips & Tricks

An episode full of advice for those taking the IELTS test. [Download]

Small Donate ButtonHello and welcome to Luke’s English Podcast and this exciting and edgy new episode. I hope you are ready physically, mentally, spiritually, because this is going to be epic. I’m attempting to make this sound slightly more dramatic than it actually is. This one is all about the IELTS test, which is not normally an exciting subject, but with the use of this background music and my tone of voice hopefully I can convince you that this really is edge-of-your-seat stuff. If that isn’t enough, and you still need to be convinced of the dramatic tension at the heart of this episode, to keep you fully engaged, I am also expecting a delivery from the post office at any moment. A few days ago I ordered a pair of trainers online – a fresh pair of old-school addidas sneakers, and at some point this morning I expect them to be delivered to my door, by the postman. There could be a buzz at my doorbell at literally any second. I can hardly contain myself, and I hope it’s the same story for you. This is a truly riveting and adrenaline fuelled experience for me, and I hope it is for you too. And it is in this highly tense and gripping context that I bring this episode of LEP to you right now. Now if we can just keep up this level of focus throughout the rest of the episode, that would be great. If it helps you to concentrate, imagine that at any moment my addidas trainers could be delivered. I may even open the package live while recording the podcast. Will they be the right size? Will they be the right colour? Will they suit me? Only time can tell! But one thing’s for sure, it doesn’t get more dramatic than this, as the tension rises ahead of this groundbreaking new episode of Luke’s English Podcast in which we deal with the almost frighteningly engaging subject of the IELTS test, a test which, if you fail it, the penalty is instant death.

Just kidding. It’s not instant death. Usually you have to wait about 3 working days.

Obviously I’m just joking – you don’t die if you fail the IELTS test, and anyway, you can’t fail IELTS. So, that was just a light-hearted introduction to this episode, to make it exciting – because I’m a bit worried that a whole episode about IELTS may be a bit dull – but then again, I’m sure that loads of you out there will find this extremely useful. So let’s get on with it.

Introduction
In this one I’m going to go through all parts of the IELTS test, giving you some tips and general advice. I’m recording this because it is one of the most commonly requested episodes. People are always asking me to do episodes about IELTS and I have never done one until now. So here it is, the eagerly awaited IELTS episode. Loads of people around the world take the IELTS test to get a grade of their English. More and more it is becoming the world’s #1 test of English level. It is a notoriously tough test which challenges many people around the world every day, so what wisdom can I impart to my loyal LEPsters who are hoping to prove themselves in the IELTS challenge? Well, quite a lot I hope.

If you’ve never taken the test, and never plan to (quite a wise move), hopefully there will still be plenty to gain from this episode because advice for the test often works as pretty good advice for study skills in general, and I will be talking throughout the episode about linguistic skills, challenges and advice – so there is bound to be loads of useful language which you can pick up by listening to this, and yes – because I had to prepare this episode in advance, pretty much all of this is transcribed and available for you at teacherluke.co.uk. Just find the page for this episode and away you go!

The IELTS test is administered by Cambridge University and is the UK standard test of English language level. It is used by academic institutions and employers as a way of gauging the English level of potential students or employees. It’s an infamously difficult and is a complete test of your English skills. Many people have to take it before making progress in their career, their studies or just in their life in general, others take it as a challenge or a way to find out their real level in English. In this episode I’m going to impart as much advice as I can for those who are planning to take the test. It is a complex and broad-ranging test and I would need a whole series of episodes to deal with it fully. Here I’m going to give you as many hints and tips for each part of the exam as possible in just one single episode of the podcast. Many of the tips I give here can also be applied to other Cambridge exams like FCE, CAE and BEC as Cambridge tends to use certain question types and techniques across all those tests, although the test formats and levels of challenge are different.

To be completely honest, I wouldn’t normally have done this episode because it requires quite careful preparation, a lot of this advice is quite valuable and I’m a bit reluctant to give it away for nothing, and some people may find it a little dull. That’s why I wouldn’t normally have done this episode, but I am doing it simply because so many people have requested it, and I know that there are some people out there who have no access to affordable resources for IELTS preparation.

People normally pay for this kind of advice for the IELTS test, but I’m willing to give it to you here for nothing. In return please consider making a donation to me if you can. I’ve had to spend quite a lot of time preparing this episode, it includes some wisdom that I’ve developed after years of teaching IELTS classes off and on, and I’ve done it out of generosity and as a favour to many of my listeners who have requested this information. I am not in the business of giving away all my advice and counsel free of charge, as I’m sure you can understand. So, if you find my advice useful, please consider making a contribution by clicking the PayPal button which you will find on the page, and then making a donation. You can choose the amount. The most common amounts are 5-10 pounds but you can give as much or as little as you like. Small Donate Button

Where did I get this info?
A lot of this stuff comes from my own head and my experience of leading students through IELTS preparation, but I haven’t taught IELTS in a while, so I asked my British Council colleagues for their advice, and I looked at some BC published material which also includes lots of good tips.

By the way – I get quite a lot of teachers listening to this, as well as great students who have good IELTS scores. I’m sure you’ve got some great insights and tips as well. Please share them in the comments section. Certainly, if something occurs to you that I have missed, just add it in the comments section.

Download this useful stuff
If you’re serious about taking IELTS you will need study materials. You can buy preparation books from Cambridge University Press, and you should also consider getting one of their books of practice tests too.

Here are some other useful things for you to download:
The IELTS teacher’s guide – contains an overview of the test, explanation of the levels, assessment criteria for the speaking and writing sections (very valuable) www.ielts.org/PDF/Guide_Teachers_2013.pdf

IELTS test sampleswww.ielts.org/test_takers_information/test_sample.aspx This is invaluable because you can see the real tasks you have to do. Particularly useful are the sample writing tasks and answers. You can see the tasks, then read some answers from candidates, and then read the assessment feedback by examiners. I find this to be one of the best ways to get my students to reflect on what makes a good piece of writing. Click here to go straight to the writing part, and the sample answers are the last item in this list www.ielts.org/test_takers_information/test_sample/academic_writing_sample.aspx

What is IELTS?
IELTS stands for the International English Language Testing System. It is developed and administered by Cambridge University, The British Council and IDP Australia. The main point of the test is to determine language level. It is impossible to pass or fail the test. Instead, you are given scores for your reading, writing, listening and speaking skills and a global mark which is an average of all the other scores.

It’s a difficult test and everyone finds it challenging. Even native speakers have problems with this test and it is very very rare to get 100%.

The score you get from the test is a reflection of your English level. Many people use IELTS levels as a standard for talking about language level. 1 – 9.

There are two types of IELTS test – the general exam and the academic exam. The format is very similar between the two, in fact the listening and speaking sections are the same. For the academic test in the reading and writing sections the topics are more academic, and you have to write a description of a diagram. The academic one is more popular and I have only ever taught that one, so that’s what I’m focusing on.

Universities and employers will often require you to have a certain score (e.g. minimum level 7) to gain access to a course or a job. Many people around the world are attempting to take the IELTS challenge – usually to prove their level of English as part of a university or job application, or just because they are masochists who like to make their own lives difficult!

The American equivalent is TOEFL, which is a completely different test.

IELTS has a task-based approach, and tests you on what you can do in English rather than what you know. For example, there are no grammar gap-fills. Instead your grammar is tested by your ability to achieve tasks in the written and spoken parts of the test. So, basically, you have to do certain tasks in all parts of the test – understand the general or specific meanings of some texts, be able to follow lectures and conversations, write several types of text, and speak about different things on your own or in a dialogue with someone else.

The listening, reading and writing parts happen in the same session. The speaking test is done at a different time but often on the same day.

The whole test lasts just under 3 hours.

General Advice
Before you take this exam you must be prepared. Do not walk into the exam without having at least tried a few practice tests before. You need to be familiar with the format of the test so that it is not all new to you. It’s q complex test. To a large extent, taking an IELTS course will train you on how to deal with the test itself as much as give you English training. So, you need to know the test before you start. Practice tests can be found online.

Know the assessment criteria. You need to know what the examiners are looking for, especially in the writing and speaking parts. Assessment criteria can be found online at the Cambridge IELTS website too.

Do some practice. Do each part of the test a few times separately, and do a whole test in exam conditions at least once before you do it for real. This will help you practice concentrating for a long time, and it will help you learn about timing, and your strengths and weaknesses. Real test practice is vital.

Time yourself when doing exercises. You should always be aware of how much time you have to do each part of the test, and you should know how much time it takes you to do each part.

Get yourself properly ready on the day and do what you can to remove problems so that you are calm and in a good mood. Get a good night’s sleep before the exam! Eat a proper breakfast. Know the route to the test centre. Make the journey before you do it for real so you know how to get there. You don’t want any unnecessary stress, because the day may be pretty stressful.

When you’re practising, stay positive! Remember that this is a difficult test and everyone struggles with it, even native speakers.

Set yourself a goal – aim for a certain percentage (e.g. 70%) for each section.

When you check your answers, learn from your mistakes. Where do you lose points? What do you need to do to fix that?

Maximise your English input generally. Listen to lots of authentic English, or podcasts like LEP. Read a lot of magazine and newspaper articles. Fairly long magazine articles are best. They’re quite similar to IELTS reading texts.

Read some reports on data – anything with a graph, diagram or table and accompanying report. This will help you with writing part 1.

Keep an organised record of vocabulary. Write new words in a notebook, and write whatever you need to remember those words. Add examples to your notes, that’s important, but also add mnemonic notes – just any associations that will help you remember them. They could be vivid images, or connections to things you already remember. For example if you want to remember the word ‘plunge’ – you could connect it to an existing word in your language (plonger for example) or perhaps the sound of something dropping into water from a height. Add anything to help you remember the word. Test yourself using your word list regularly. Cover the word, make example sentences, check the pronunciation in a dictionary etc.

Attending an IELTS preparation course is always a good idea – it will almost certainly help you, but you must remember that you are the only one who is responsible for your success in this test. Even if you have a teacher or a tutor – it comes down to you. The effort, concentration and time you put into it will pay off later. Take responsibility for your own progress.

Don’t forget the 7 Ps: Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice.

You’ll probably need to get hold of practice test materials – published books or stuff online that you can find.

Reading Paper
Don’t read the entire text from start to finish before dealing with questions. You don’t have time and it’s unnecessary. Instead, use the questions as a guide and then skim or scan the text to find the relevant answers.

Use the title; introduction and final paragraph to get a general gist of the text to help give you context.

You don’t get transfer time in this section, so make sure you add your answers to the answer sheet properly as you go.

Don’t bother marking your answers temporarily in pencil before finalising them later. Just add your final answer there and then. You won’t have time to come back and confirm later.

You get 60 minutes. If you finish way too early, there’s something wrong. If you struggle to complete in time, there’s something wrong too! Ideally it will take you exactly 60 minutes to complete the test.

Don’t get stuck on one question and dwell on it for a long time. Move on to the next question and come back to it later if you have time. Sometimes people with very good reading skills will lose lots of points because they let one or two questions ruin the rest of the test.

Do not panic! It’s never that bad. Stay positive throughout the test, even if you feel like you’re not doing very well. The test is not designed to make you feel like you’re doing well. It is not supposed to be pleasant and rewarding, so it probably won’t be. Just pick the answer you think is right and move on. Sometimes you’ll need to choose the ‘least bad’ option. Sometimes it will be a question of cancelling out the wrong answers until you are left with just one.

The reading test often tricks you with distractors. You may find many synonyms in the text, but be sure that they are the right answer. Expect distractors and tricks and notice them when you see them.

Synonyms and paraphrasing are often used. Watch out for words or phrases with a similar meaning.

Watch out for reference words – especially when you’re adding sentences into paragraphs. This kind of task tests your understanding of text cohesion. There are lots of words in English that refer to other parts of a text – words before and after. These are words like ‘this, these, that, those, it’ and other devices that allow the writer to repeat him or herself by using different words. Watch out for reference words and identify which other words they refer to.

Like in the listening section, look at the gaps you have to complete and use your knowledge of grammar to predict what kind of word is needed.

Imagine you are a ‘text detective’ looking for clues. It’s more fun that way.

Read in a clever way. Skim for general understanding. Scan for specific info.

Hold the question/sentence in mind while reading the text. You have to multi task a lot. You should be constantly going from question to text, keeping the question in mind while searching for the relevant section of the text with the answer.

Use a highlighter pen to highlight key words in the questions and in the text.

Use a pen to break up the text to help you navigate it.

Remember – the answers must come only from the text, not from your knowledge or deductive reasoning. It’s just based on what is written in the text, even if you disagree with the information or know better. It’s a reading test not a general knowledge quiz.

If a text is on a topic you don’t know, it doesn’t matter. You do not need to be an expert on the subject. It’s all just about language, and no specific terminology or jargon is used in the test.

True/False/Not given is probably the hardest section. Remember: Does the text directly contradict the sentence? If ‘yes’ then it is false. If the text does not specifically deal with the point in the sentence either way, it’s not given.

If you’re guessing the answers in the true/false/NG section, don’t choose NG because it is the least frequent answer.

If you don’t know a word you can pretty often just guess what it means from the context. You’d be surprised at how accurate my students guesses are when I ask them to guess from context. Is the word positive or negative? What kind of word is it? Make an educated guess based on the context of the word – you’ll be closer than you think.

Tolerate a bit of ambiguity and some level of confusion. It’s normal to be confused and you will often be out of your comfort zone. Learn to operate in that place. For practice you should be reading magazine articles that are difficult. You’re not reading for pleasure here, you’re reading to practice reading in adverse circumstances in which you’re guessing what a lot of it means, tolerating not understanding some things, filling the blanks in your head, and doing it all in about 20 minutes.

Texts are often divided into sections. These could be dates, or types of thing, or people. Highlight these so you can navigate the text easily. For example, it could be a scientific article about key discoveries. The text could deal with each discovery one by one. You can then divide the text into sections that deal with each discovery. This will help you scan for specific details.

You can write all over the question paper if you want to.

You need to do loads of reading practice. Read – every – day. Pick magazines or websites that are not too specific. For example, not financial papers or fashion magazines, but magazines that have articles on lots of subjects. Articles should be quite long.

Yes, it is a long test, which confirms to me that episodes of LEP should also be long. I’m convinced that it’s good to practice long-term listening – that means listening for longer periods, but also listening long-term in your life. Regular listening to extended periods, is bound to have a great effect on your English! If you are a regular LEPPER then you’re already at an advantage. Remember that when you’re taking the test. Look at the other candidates and think “Poor them, they don’ listen to LEP. What chance can they possibly have?”

Listening Paper
Usually you have to complete some notes or sentences based on conversations or lectures.

Make sure you know what kind of thing you’re going to hear. Be prepared. Look at the notes you have to complete to get an overall idea of the challenge you face.

Make sure you’ve seen all the gaps and notes you have to complete so you don’t miss anything.

Predict the answers. Use bits of time to look at the questions and predict what kind of thing you’re going to hear. Look at gaps and predict what kind of info goes in each gap – is it a noun, a verb, a number, a date, a name. Maybe you can predict the answers yourself.

Scribble notes on the exam paper.

Sometimes later questions will give you clues about earlier answers, but be careful of jumping ahead or backwards too much. You need to stay with the flow of the listening and follow it in the notes you’re completing.

Don’t get left behind. Keep up with the recording.

If you don’t know an answer don’t get stuck. Move on to the next one and don’t lose the recording! You can use the notes to make sure you are synchronised between listening to the recording and reading the notes. Make sure you are at the right place in the notes.

Again, if you miss an answer just forget it and move on. Don’t let one bad question ruin all the others. Keeping up with the recording is vital.

Pay attention to what is written around the gap you’re expecting. You may find that words in the notes after the gap will help you get the answer. I mean, the recording may refer to some words that follow the gap you’re looking at, and a couple of gaps may be covered by just one sentence in the recording. So be aware of the general context around the gap you’re looking at.

Remember that the answers are based on the content of the listening only. You might know the answer from your general knowledge, but it is vital that you give the answer that is given in the listening.

Watch out for distractors and tricks which are designed to fool you. Listen carefully at all times and be sure your answer is right!

Use your knowledge of grammar to help you predict answers. For example, does the gap contain a noun, verb or whatever, and is it in plural form or third person or whatever?

Pay attention when completing your answer sheet. Make sure you’re doing it correctly. People sometimes switch off when doing this but one simple mistake can make all the answers wrong.

Never leave a blank space on the answer sheet in a multiple choice situation. Put something, and then you’ve got a 25% chance of a right answer.

Remember that you will probably not hear the same words in the recording as you can see written in the sentences you are completing, so you must always be on the lookout for synonyms – different ways of saying the same thing. This is really important in IELTS. It’s all about synonyms – at a lexical and grammatical level.

“He wants to get on but he doesn’t have enough money to pay for university.”

On the answer sheet you might see:

“He wants to advance.”

“Get on” and “advance” are synonymous. When you are thinking of what key words to listen for, think of synonyms you might hear along with the word used in the question.

Watch out for paraphrasing (like the previous point) e.g. “Less than a quarter of university students took part.”

On the answer sheet you might see:

“Only 23% of candidates actually sat the examination.”

Get used to listening to numbers in English, like the difference between 13 and 30 etc (expand on this in the podcast)

Watch out for spelling and punctuation – especially capitalisation of names and places. If in doubt, write everything in capital letters because you won’t be penalised for it, but you are penalised for failing to write a capital where appropriate.

Listen a lot!

There are tests available online, but you could make your own tests. You could copy +paste an LEP transcript into a word doc, then gap a bunch of random words, then listen and fill the gaps – but there will be no disparity between the notes and the listening. Alternatively, surf the web for IELTS listening practice exercises.

There are no short cuts – just practice and positivity.

Writing Paper
Overview – you have 1 hour to do 2 tasks. You should spend about 20 mins on part 1 a nd 40 mins on part 2. The second part gives you more points and requires more time to do properly.

Time is the big challenge here.

Practise doing writing papers again and again if you can. Practice is vital if you want to do your best. You must get used to the timing, the task types, concentrating for a long time, and dealing with the visual data in part 1.

You also need to practice part 2 in order to get used to organising your ideas into paragraphs and developing your ideas.

Remember, what I’m giving you now is an overview, as I can’t go into massive amounts of depth. To be honest though, the best thing you can do is practice a lot.

– – – – –

It also helps if you can have access to the marking criteria for the writing and speaking parts. This does contain some jargon, but it is very helpful to know what the examiners are thinking while reading your work, and exactly how your English is being judged. I must try and add in some details about the marking criteria.

Make sure you read the instructions for the task really carefully – make sure you know exactly what you are expected to write. Don’t make a stupid mistake and write about the wrong thing. Always read the instructions carefully.

Don’t write in note form or bullet points in either essay. You should write full sentences and paragraphs.

Don’t memorise a standard model answer that you can just repeat during the exam. This just won’t work because the data will be different.

Always check your writing for little errors when you’ve finished. Proofread, every time. It can save you some points.

Useful Links
Check this link because it will give you sample writing tasks, and sample answers with examiner’s feedback. It’s very useful indeed because you can see what the examiners are looking for. www.ielts.org/test_takers_information/test_sample/academic_writing_sample.aspx

Part 1
You’ll be given some visual data, and you have 150 words to summarise it. Imagine you’re writing a summary for your teacher.

It always helps to imagine you are writing for a real person – either the teacher, as it says in the task, or just the examiner who is probably a middle-aged man or woman who has a massive pile of exam papers on his/her desk – he/she has seen hundreds of these papers before. So, first impressions do count – try to write neatly, make sure you leave clear spaces between paragraphs, spell correctly, use the right punctuation and capitalisation, make sure your margins are straight. Make your writing look nice! Also, considering your reader can help you to create better writing which is more readable, pleasant and engaging. In fact, ‘effect on the reader’ is one of the criteria used by Cambridge. Good effect on the reader means that the reader has quite a pleasant experience with your writing – it’s clear, it’s a smooth reading experience, it’s coherant, it doesn’t require lots of effort to understand and the style is appropriate.

By the way, the style for your IELTS writing is quite formal. Formal to neutral. That means – no contractions, it’s not overly familiar like an email to a friend. Put it in the kind of style that would be appropriate for a potential business partner, or an older teacher, or a superior in your company.

So, you have to summarise some visual data. it could be a table, it could be a line graph, a bar chart, a pie chart or even a diagram for a process. There’s also a title and a short explanation of the diagram.

Study the diagram carefully and make sure you understand basically what it represents. Take some time to understand it, because this is a really important stage. if you don’t understand the data, your writing will stink! Study each axis on a graph, make sure you know what the factors are in the data. Make a note of the main trends in the data too. You can’t explain absolutely everything, so you need to find the most significant aspects of the data and then explain that.

You may want to use a highlighter pen to highlight the key words in the task and data.

How many paragraphs? about 2. A quick introduction and then a description of the data. No need for a conclusion.

You’ll need linking phrases for addition and contrast – particularly for contrast as this often involves explaining two sets of data, including their similarities and significant differences.

You will probably need the language of trends – that’s verbs and nouns like climb, rise, shoot up, drop, plunge, level out etc.

You can find examples of linking language and trends language for IELTS by clicking this link juliaenglishinmanchester.blogspot.fr/2012/05/useful-language-for-ielts-writing-task.html and this link www.ieltstips.com/ielts/ielts_writing_test/task_1:_how_to_use_linking_phrases_effectively_-_answer_key.html and just by doing google searches for “IELTS part 1 writing useful language linking trends”

In the introduction you can paraphrase the description given in the task. Do not copy phrases from the diagram or task instructions. You must paraphrase every time. In your intro, just explain what the diagram is about.

Then in the next paragraph, explain the data so that the reader can copy the graph without seeing it. If the data is complex, just focus on the most significant details.

You don’t have to explain why – just describe what you see.

Plan your writing quickly in advance by noting the basic points you will make.

You should never start writing without planning, even in a simple way, what you’re going to write.

20 minutes.

Stick to the word count of 150 words. This should be possible if you’re explaining the main points with the right level of detail.

Again, doing lots of reading can help you a lot. Try reading magazines or newspapers which have diagrams and graphs and things. Scientific magazines, things like that.

Part 2

As always – READ THE INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY AND UNDERSTAND THE QUESTION!

Sorry for shouting, but students commonly lose points by not answering the question. One of the assessment criteria is task achievement. You have to do what the task tells you to do.

In part 2 you have to write a short discursive essay in response to a statement or question. For example, you may be asked to write about whether you agree or disagree with something, or to consider arguments related to an issue. it could be the environment, or reducing crime, or the effect of video games on kids.

Again, plan your answer. Spend a bit of time thinking about the question, making sure you definitely understand what you have to do, consider your points and how you will develop them.

You’ll probably write about 4 paragraphs.

The examiner is checking for these things: Did the person complete the task? Did the candidate explain whether they agree or disagree with the subject, developing their points clearly? Is the writing clearly structured and coherent? Is there a wide range of vocabulary and grammar, used accurately? Are the words spelled correctly?

The answers to all those questions should be “yes”.

Remember to show the examiner what you can do – use a good range of language, don’t repeat yourself too much, don’t just use simple words like ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘nice’.

By the way, it’s not all about idioms – they are just a part of the vocabulary that we use. Don’t feel the need to write in idioms only because that can come across as unnecessary and even unclear. Be clear, be specific, be understandable. Achieving the task is your first goal, not showing off your English (but you should show off a little bit).

Once you’ve properly understood the subject you’re going to write about, carefully consider your point of view. Try to come up with several clear arguments on both sides. restrict yourself to one or two points on each side of the argument. Add one or two points to each paragraph, and make sure the points are clearly and logically developed. Do not add new points randomly at the end of paragraphs or with no development.

Don’t write anything without planning first. Choose the points you will state and develop, and make a little plan. You can write on the exam paper. Sketch a plan with notes on how you can develop your idea. You can follow the plan when you write. Don’t try to plan and write at the same time because it results in incoherent writing.

Paragraph 1: Introduction: Do not copy anything from the task. Use your own words to explain the topic of the essay. Keep it simple. Explain the issue and then how you are going to deal with it.

Main body of the essay: You could either cover both sides of the argument in a balanced way or just argue in favour of one side. Personally, I prefer the first one, and if you take the second option you’ll probably have to mention the other side of the argument anyway, so let’s choose the contrastive approach – contrasting both sides of the argument.

So, paragraph 2 (two arguments for) – start with a topic sentence. This summarises your point of view. (note to Luke: come up with an example) then develop that point over the next couple of sentences. Go deeper. Tell us why this is a point for or against. Go further into the issue. See the bigger picture. You could use an example. Remember you don’t have many words, so just use a couple of sentences to develop your point.

Then add your second point for. Topic sentence, development. You may need to use a linking word for addition here, like in addition.

Make sure all these ideas are logically linked.

Paragraph 3: Arguments against. Again, begin with a topic sentence before developing the idea. You’ll probably have to use a linking word for contrast, like However, which usually goes at the beginning of a sentence. Sorry, I can’t go into all the details of specific linking words and stuff like that in this episode. No time.

Then you finish it all off with your conclusion in which you give an overall summary of what you’ve stated already. Remember to answer the question in the task. That’s a good way to focus your attention. Just directly answer the question – do you agree or not. You could use a phrase like ‘on balance’.

So, that’s pretty much it for the writing. Don’t forget to click the links and get that useful stuff from the IELTS website. That’ll help you a lot.

If you’re not taking the IELTS test, you can just feel very relieved and happy.

Speaking Test
So, the speaking part is in 3 sections and lasts about 11-14 minutes.

Part 1 (about 5 mins)
The examiner introduces him/herself and asks you to introduce yourself. Here you don’t need to go into massive detail about where you are from, but it’s good to add a bit of extra info. “E.g. I’m Luke and I come from Birmingham, which is a big city in the centre of England”

The examiner will then ask you some general questions on familiar topics. Just relax and be sociable. Answer the questions and give some extra information. Do not give too little – this is your time to shine!

The worst thing you can do is be silent.

Don’t worry about errors – fluency, and communicative competence are more important. Make an effort to engage with the examiner, and yes, use a bit of charm! It’s a natural conversation. Enjoy it a bit too ;)

This is not too tricky. Just be yourself, warm up, don’t be too quiet, don’t talk too much.

Part 2 (about 4 mins)

Describe something you own which is very important to you.
You should say:
where you got it from
how long you have had it
what you use it for
and explain why it is important to you.

The examiner gives you a card with a topic and some ideas and you have to talk about if for about 2 minutes.

You get some time to prepare, so it’s a good idea to plan your talk, and make a couple of notes.

Try to illustrate your points with examples. This is really important and helps to bring your speech to life.

Have a little introduction – maybe one sentence which just introduces your talk “I’d like to tell you about my laptop, because it is something that I couldn’t live without”.

Then go through the points, adding any details you noted before.

Close the speech if possible, by saying one line.

The examiner will then ask you a couple of other questions based on your topic for part 2, before going on to part 3.

Part 3
This lasts about 5 minutes and involves the examiner asking you discussion questions based on the topic of part 3.

Whereas part 1 was a nice little chat about familiar things, part 3 is more challenging because you’re expected to talk about more abstract topics. This is your chance to show your ability to engage in a discussion, agreeing, disagreeing, giving opinions, showing off your range of grammar and vocab. Again, don’t worry about accuracy the whole time. Being understandable, getting your points across, and being able to achieve the task are far more important. If you’re worried about being correct, or even forcing in some idioms or specific vocabulary you won’t be thinking about the task at hand – expressing your opinion and discussing the questions. Don’t forget the importance of communicative interaction and task achievement.

Of course, remember the 7 Ps: Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice.

Find a partner and discuss some topics. Use IELTS Speaking Part 3 samples which you can find by googling just that.

Try recording yourself, if you can bear it.

Just get used to responding quickly, giving examples, speaking from personal experience. The more you practice, the easier it will be in the real test. It should be like second nature. You should go into the exam room feeling ready, feeling like you’ve done this shit loads of times before.

The golden rule: stay cool fool! You gots to chill!


So that’s the end of my IELTS episode. BYE!
IELTSPOD

230. Can You Learn a Language in 6 Months?

Small Donate ButtonThis episode is based on a TEDx presentation by Chris Lonsdale, who claims that any normal adult can learn a language within 6 months. Is that really possible? What method of learning does Chris propose? How does this relate to listening to Luke’s English Podcast? You can see the video of Chris Lonsdale’s talk, with a transcript below. [Download]


Chris Lonsdale’s TEDx Talk (transcript below)

Transcript of Chris Lonsdale’s Presentation
How to learn any language in six months: Chris Lonsdale
Have you ever held a question in mind for so long that it becomes part of how you think? Maybe even part of who you are as a person? Well I’ve had a question in my mind for many, many years and that is: how can you speed up learning? Now, this is an interesting question because if you speed up learning you can spend less time at school. And if you learn really fast, you probably wouldn’t have to go to school at all. Now, when I was young, school was sort of okay but I found quite often that school got in the way of learning, so I had this question in mind: how do you learn faster? And this began when I was very, very young, when I was about eleven years old I wrote a letter to researchers in the Soviet Union, asking about hypnopaedia, this is sleep learning, where you get a tape recorder, you put it beside your bed and it turns on in the middle of the night when you’re sleeping, and you’re supposed to be learning from this. A good idea, unfortunately it doesn’t work. But, hypnopaedia did open the doors to research in other areas and we’ve had incredible discoveries about learning that began with that first question.
I went on from there to become passionate about psychology and I have been involved in psychology in many ways for the rest of my life up until this point. In 1981 I took myself to China and I decided that I was going to be native level in Chinese inside two years. Now, you need to understand that in 1981, everybody thought Chinese was really, really difficult and that a westerner could study for ten years or more and never really get very good at it. And I also went in with a different idea which was: taking all of the conclusions from psychological research up to that point and applying them to the learning process. What was really cool was that in six months I was fluent in Mandarin Chinese and took a little bit longer to get up to native. But I looked around and I saw all of these people from different countries struggling terribly with Chinese, I saw Chinese people struggling terribly to learn English and other languages, and so my question got refined down to: how can you help a normal adult learn a new language quickly, easily and effectively? Now this a really, really important question in today’s world. We have massive challenges with environment we have massive challenges with social dislocation, with wars, all sorts of things going on and if we can’t communicate we’re really going to have difficulty solving these problems. So we need to be able to speak each other’s languages, this is really, really important. The question then is how do you do that. Well, it’s actually really easy. You look around for people who can already do it, you look for situations where it’s already working and then you identify the principles and apply them. It’s called modelling and I’ve been looking at language learning and modelling language learning for about fifteen to twenty years now. And my conclusion, my observation from this is that any adult can learn a second language to fluency inside six months. Now when I say this, most people think I’m crazy, this is not possible. So let me remind everybody of the history of human progress, it’s all about expanding our limits.
In 1950 everybody believed that running one mile in four minutes was impossible and then Roger Bannister did it in 1956 and from there it’s got shorter and shorter. 100 years ago everybody believed that heavy stuff doesn’t fly. Except it does and we all know this. How does heavy stuff fly? We reorganise the material using principles that we have learned from observing nature, birds in this case. And today we’ve gone ever further, so you can fly a car. You can buy one of these for a couple hundred thousand US dollars. We now have cars in the world that can fly. And there’s a different way to fly that we’ve learned from squirrels. So all you need to do is copy what a flying squirrel does, build a suit called a wing suit and off you go, you can fly like a squirrel. Now, most people, a lot of people, I wouldn’t say everybody but a lot of people think they can’t draw. However there are some key principles, five principles that you can apply to learning to draw and you can
actually learn to draw in five days. So, if you draw like this, you learn these principles for five days and apply them and after five days you can draw something like this. Now I know this is true because that was my first drawing and after five days of applying these principles that was what I was able to do. And I looked at this and I went ‘wow,’ so that’s how I look like when I’m concentrating so intensely that my brain is exploding.
So, anybody can learn to draw in five days and in the same way, with the same logic, anybody can learn a second language in six months. How? There are five principles and seven actions. There may be a few more but these are absolutely core. And before I get into those I just want to talk about two myths, dispel two myths. The first is that you need talent. Let me tell you about Zoe. Zoe came from Australia, went to Holland, was trying to learn Dutch, struggling extremely … a great deal and finally people were saying: ‘you’re completely useless,’ ‘you’re not talented,’ ‘give up,’ ‘you’re a waste of time’ and she was very, very depressed. And then she came across these five principles, she moved to Brazil and she applied them and within six months she was fluent in Portuguese, so talent doesn’t matter. People also think that immersion in a new country is the way to learn a language. But look around Hong Kong, look at all the westerners who’ve been here for ten years, who don’t speak a word of Chinese. Look at all the Chinese living in America, Britain, Australia, Canada have been there ten, twenty year and they don’t speak any English. Immersion per se does not work. Why? Because a drowning man cannot learn to swim. When you don’t speak a language you’re like a baby and if you drop yourself into a context which is all adults talking about stuff over your head, you won’t learn.
So, what are the five principles that you need to pay attention to? First: four words, attention, meaning, relevance and memory, and these interconnect in very important ways. Especially when you’re talking about learning. Come with me on a journey through a forest. You go on a walk through a forest and you see something like this. Little marks on a tree, maybe you pay attention, maybe you don’t. You go another fifty metres and you see this. You should be paying attention. Another fifty metres, if you haven’t been paying attention, you see this. And at this point, you’re paying attention. And you’ve just learned that this is important, it’s relevant because it means this, and anything that is related, any information related to your survival is stuff that you’re going to pay attention to and therefore you’re going to remember it. If it’s related to your personal goals then you’re going to pay attention to it, if it’s relevant you’re going to remember it.
So, the first rule, the first principle for learning a language is focus on language content that is relevant to you. Which brings us to tools. We master tools by using tools and we learn tools the fastest when they are relevant to us. So let me share a story. A keyboard is a tool. Typing Chinese a certain way, there are methods for this. That’s a tool. I had a colleague many years ago who went to night school; Tuesday night, Thursday night, two hours each night, practicing at home, she spent nine months, and she did not learn to type Chinese. And one night we had a crisis. We had forty- eight hours to deliver a training manual in Chinese. And she got the job, and I can guarantee you in forty-eight hours, she learned to type Chinese because it was relevant, it was meaningful, it was important, she was using a tool to create value. So the second tool for learning a language is to use your language as a tool to communicate right from day one. As a kid does. When I first arrived in China I didn’t speak a word of Chinese, and on my second week I got to take a train ride overnight. I spent eight hours sitting in the dining care talking to one of the guards on the train, he took an interest in me for some reason, and we just chatted all night in Chinese and he was drawing pictures and making movements with his hands and facial expressions and piece by piece by piece I understood more and more. But what was really cool, was two weeks later, when people were talking Chinese around me, I was understanding some of this and I hadn’t even made any effort to learn that. What had happened, I’d absorbed it that night on the train, which brings us to the third principle. When you first understand the message, then you will acquire the language unconsciously. And this is really, really well documented now, it’s something called comprehensible input and there’s twenty or thirty years of research on this, Stephen Krashen, a leader in the field has published all sorts of these different studies and this is just from one of them. The purple bars show the scores on different tests for language. The purple people were people who had learned by grammar and formal study, the green ones are the ones who learned by comprehensible input. So, comprehension works. Comprehension is key and language learning is not about accumulating lots of knowledge. In many, many ways it’s about physiological training. A woman I know from Taiwan did great at English at school, she got A grades all the way through, went through college, A grades, went to the US and found she couldn’t understand what people were saying. And people started asking her: ‘Are you deaf?’ And she was. English deaf. Because we have filters in our brain that filter in the sounds that we are familiar with and they filter out the sounds of languages we’re not. And if you can’t hear it, you won’t understand it and if you can’t understand it, you’re not going to learn it. So you actually have to be able to hear these sounds. And there are ways to do that but it’s physiological training. Speaking takes muscle. You’ve got forty-three muscles in your face, you have to coordinate those in a way that you make sounds that other people will understand. If you’ve ever done a new sport for a couple of days, and you know how your body feels? It hurts. If your face is hurting you’re doing it right.
And the final principle is state. Psycho-physiological state. If you’re sad, angry, worried, upset, you’re not going to learn. Period. If you’re happy, relaxed, in an Alpha brain state, curious, you’re going to learn really quickly, and very specifically you need to be tolerant of ambiguity. If you’re one of those people who needs to understand 100% every word you’re hearing, you will go nuts, because you’ll be incredibly upset all the time, because you’re not perfect. If you’re comfortable with getting some, not getting some, just paying attention to what you do understand, you’re going to be fine, you’ll be relaxed and you’ll be learning quickly. So based on those five principles, what are the seven actions that you need to take?
Number one: listen a lot. I call it Brain Soaking. You put yourself in a context where you’re hearing tons and tons of a language and it doesn’t matter if you understand it or not. You’re listening to the rhythms, you’re listening to things that repeat, you’re listening to things that stand out. So, just soak your brain in this.
The second action: is that you get the meaning first, even before you get the words. You go “Well how do I do that, I don’t know the words?” Well, you understand what these different postures mean. Human communication is body language in many, many ways, so much body language. From body language you can understand a lot of communication, therefore, you’re understanding, you’re acquiring through comprehensible input. And you can also use patterns that you already know. If you’re a Chinese speaker of Mandarin and Cantonese and you go Vietnam, you will understand 60% of what they say to you in daily conversation, because Vietnamese is about 30% Mandarin, 30% Cantonese.
The third action: start mixing. You probably have never thought of this but if you’ve got ten verbs, ten nouns and ten adjectives you can say one thousand different things. Language is a creative process. What do babies do? Okay: Me. Bat(h). Now. Okay, that’s how they communicate. So start mixing, get creative, have fun with it, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to work. And when you’re doing this you focus on the core. What does that mean? Well with every language there is high frequency content. In English, 1000 words covers 85% of anything you’re ever going to say in daily communication. 3000 words gives you 98% of anything you’re going to say in daily conversation. You got 3000 words, you’re speaking the language. The rest is icing on the cake. And when you’re just beginning with a new language start with the tool box. Week number one in your new language you say things like: ‘how do you say that?’ ‘I don’t understand,’ ‘repeat that please,’ ‘what does that mean,’ all in your target language. You’re using it as a tool, making it useful to you, it’s relevant to learn other things about the language. By week two that you should be saying things like: ‘me,’ ‘this,’ ‘you,’ ‘that,’ ‘give,’ you know, ‘hot,’ simple pronouns, simple nouns, simple verbs, simple adjectives, communicating like a baby. And by the third or fourth week, you’re getting into what I call glue words. ‘Although,’ ‘but,’ ‘therefore,’ these are logical transformers that tie bits of a language together, allowing you to make more complex meaning. At that point you’re talking. And when you’re doing that, you should get yourself a language parent. If you look at how children and parents interact, you’ll understand what this means. When a child is speaking, it’ll be using simple words, simple combinations, sometimes quite strange, sometimes very strange pronunciation and other people from outside the family don’t understand it. But the parents do. And so the kid has a safe environment, gets confidence. The parents talk to the children with body language and with simple language they know the child understands. So we have a comprehensible input environment that’s safe, we know it works otherwise none of you would speak your mother tongue. So you get yourself a language parent, who’s somebody interested in you as a person who will communicate with you essentially as an equal, but pay attention to help you understand the message. There are four rules of a language parent. Spouses by the way are not very good at this, okay? But the four rules are, first of all, they will work hard to understand what you mean even when you’re way off beat. Secondly, they will never correct your mistakes. Thirdly they will feedback their understanding of what you are saying so you can respond appropriately and get that feedback and then they will use words that you know.
The sixth thing you have to do, is copy the face. You got to get the muscles working right, so you can sound in a way that people will understand you. There’s a couple of things you do. One is that you hear how it feels, and feel how it sounds which means you have a feedback loop operating in your face, but ideally, if you can look at a native speaker and just observe how they use their face, let your unconscious mind absorb the rules, then you’re going to be able to pick it up. And if you can’t get a native speaker to look at, you can use stuff like this: [slides].
And the final idea here, the final action you need to take is something that I call “direct connect.” What does this mean? Well most people learning a second language sort of take the mother tongue words and take the target words and go over them again and again in their mind to try and remember them. Really inefficient. What you need to do is realise that everything you know is an image inside your mind, it’s feelings, if you talk about fire you can smell the smoke you can hear the crackling, you can see the flames. So what you do, is you go into that imagery and all of that memory and you come out with another pathway. So I call it ‘same box, different path.’ You come out of that pathway, you build it over time you become more and more skilled at just connecting the new sounds to those images that you already have, into that internal representation. And over time you even become naturally good at that process, that becomes unconscious.
So, there are five principles that you need to work with, seven actions, if you do any of them, you’re going to improve. And remember these are things under your control as the learner. Do them all and you’re going to be fluent in a second language in six months.
Thank you.

Comments Thread from YouTube

sorin86yt

Incredible stupid ideas. An incredible collection of sophisms. A stupid guy who has no idea about language learning. And it is supported by “studies”. Of course, you can “speak” Chinese in 10 days, but that will be “hello” and “thank you”. This video is a mockery. This moron cannot even understand the role of grammar. Grammar is not some torture that you sadistically apply to students. Grammar is the short(est)cut to make students understand how that language works: This moron doesn’t even know that there are a lot of people who can’t even speak their mother tongue properly. But “EVERYBODY” will learn a foreign language in 6 months. Will they go to their jobs in the mean time? Take care of their family matters? Sleep? Follow his advice and you’ll speak that language the way lowly-educated immigrants do.

 

 

Marcus T Anthony

Have you considered the possibility that you don’t understand the subject matter? What would happen if, instead of opposing ideas which contradict yours, you tried embracing them?

 

 

Radouane Rabei

I don’t know how or where you get the nerve to be able to say something like ‘Incredible stupid ideas’ and ‘A stupid guy who has no idea about language learning.’ when everything you say after that proves, you actually know absolutely nothing about language learning. How many languages did you have to learn other than English?

 

If it takes you 10 days to learn “hello” and “thank you” in Chinese, or any other language for that matter, that’s called a learning disability, you might wanna have that checked.

 

I learnt to speak English a while back in less than six months, but English is not the best example because it is such a practical language (you use 30% less words in general to say something in English than you would if you say it in French), I honestly think it is one of, if not the easiest language to pick up, I love it

 

Here is another genius statement

 

‘Grammar is the short(est)cut to make students understand how that language works’

 

I was perfectly fluent in French before I knew anything about French grammar, and in fact for French that would be the long(est)cut, French is a very impractical language, with ridiculous grammar rules.

 

This man in the video talks a lot of sense, if you really apply everything he says it would take the average person less than six months to speak any language pretty well, I have done it myself twice, and seen it done countless times with friends I grew up with .

 

Does this mean we should all start fires at our local libraries, and ban language classes, no of course not

 

Are you gonna be perfect in that language in six months, no, but it will be much easier for you to learn grammar after if you still really want to.

 

sorin86yt

+Marcus T Anthony Actually, no, I haven’t. I have 20+ years of experience in language tutoring. I tried some of the new stupid fast-food methods and they are what they are: deceptions. All these fast-food ways have appeared for commercial reasons. They fool potential clients that learning can be miraculously shortened, and also that any moron can learn a foreign language. This way language teaching businesses attract more clients willing to take short-cuts. There are also a lot morons exited by “revolutionary” ideas, like teenagers, and really believe that the man who will live 300 years is already born.

 

 

Jaime Benito de Valle Ruiz

For your information, Chris is almost native-like in Mandarin (I’ve heard him), so I am sure he knows a thing or two about learning a difficult foreign language well, regardless of what is trying to sell us. How about you? I guess you must have mastered dozens of languages to make your claims about how stupid these methods are, right? What he is saying overlaps a lot with the advice I’ve heard from others polyglots, so I don’t think it is as silly as you think… unless you are the indisputable king of languages, that is.

 

By the way, while I first had a placement in a language school, I saw a few students becoming reasonably fluent in other languages within 4 months, to my surprise, and a lot of them within 6 months, and I don’t mean saying hello and goodbye, but maintaining a fluent conversation for hours on topics as complex as politics or sociology, or discussing their cultural or banking problems, as well as being able to read a newspaper without effort and comfortably watching movies without subtitles. Granted, some occasional mistakes here and there sometimes, but good enough to function efficiently in a professional working environment (where they also say hello and goodbye too).

 

One last thing: almost no native speaker in any language has any conscious knowledge of their own grammar. Grammar is great for understanding how a language works, if that is what you want, but it won’t even guarantee that you’ll be able to speak or even understand the language. Grammar is to languages a bit like a book of human physiology is to playing a sport. And I know because I am a grammar freak.

 

Paul Coffey

+sorin86yt Given your 20+ years of tutoring experience, I’m curious to hear what alternative methods you would propose.  Like many of the people who have left comments here, my lived experience of getting to fluency in two new languages (Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese Chinese) matches very closely the methods that Chris is talking about.

 

For example, he talked about acquiring the language based on prior understanding (i.e. the comprehensible input approach).  Based on my experience in China, I found that watching movies in their original English, and then repeatedly watching them with the Chinese audio dubbing, was very useful to me.    Watching them in English allowed me to first understand the story, and then re-watching them in Chinese enabled me to take advantage of the comprehensible input environment.

 

Having said that, I’ve only got my own personal experience to go by.  Clearly, your own experience is somewhat at odds with what Chris is saying.  Could you share a little more about what has worked for you?

 

 

Truthseeker1961

People like ”sorin86yt” who have been deeply entrenched in their respective fields ALWAYS have knee-jerk reactions to new ideas and new methods because THEIR way is the ONLY way, and they don’t want to hear anything about it outside of their norm, and the 6 people who ”liked” his comment are staunch defenders of the status quo no matter what advances are introduced now, or anytime in the future.

 

 

sorin86yt

I kinda knew I was going to stir up such comments from delusional people. However, Youtube comments is not the right place for scientific debates.

 

Almost each minutes of this video contains something stupid. We can only try to point out some of the cheats. The most obvious one is the arbitrary duration: 6 months! Why 6 months and not 6m and 1w? Or 5m and 2w? What exactly does that person do during those 6 months? Only travelling by train in that country? Do they sleep? Do they have a job? Do they see after their family? Are they healthy?

 

Any competent language teacher will tell you that “6 months” is meaningless. The learning process is estimated by professionals in HOURS!!!! Take my intermediate-level English course. The “average” student (“average” – another approximation that kills the idea of a fixed time) will need about 80 hours of instruction with the teacher, and then about the double in individual study (homework, practice, listening etc). A rough total of 240 hours. What is that in calendar time? Nobody can foresee!! If the student happens to have a lot of time to dedicate to the foreign language, let’s say 6 hours/day, we calculate 40 days, which happens to be about 5 times faster that the moron in the video claims. :)  (Not mentioning that 240 hours mathematically equals 10 full days!). However, this doesn’t happen in real time. That “average” student has a job, a family, a hobby, (a disease maybe?), he has to sleep, to eat, to drive… Eventually, it comes down to about 6 hours/week (2 in class and 4 outside), which suggests 40 weeks (a little more than 9 months, not bad, huh?). However, that too rarely happens in real life. In a nine months’ time both the student and the teacher will have holidays, or business travels, or sick leaves… It may go up to 1 year and beyond. BUT the orientation line is always the number of hours. Not X months.

The next level of deception in this video is about the student. Who is that student? Whoever has ever taught anything knows students are of various “speeds” (because of talent (of course, talent matters hugely, morons!), previous knowledge, motivation, practice environment, how serious the student is about learning….). What is “6 months” for a student might be “3 months” for another one or “12 months” for another one (or even “never”!).

 

This video looks just like a stupid teleshopping presentation where they want to make us believe that the kitchen knife is the most spectacular invention of mankind.

 

174. How to Learn English with Luke’s English Podcast

This episode contains lots of ideas, advice and suggestions for ways of improving your listening, reading, writing and speaking using Luke’s English Podcast. A transcript is available below. ;)

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This should be a useful episode. I’m going to go through a whole bunch of ways that you can improve your English with Luke’s English Podcast. You’ll find a list of these points on my website. I’m going to expand on them here.

I’ll be talking about key areas: listening, reading, writing, speaking, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and discourse. Much of what I’m saying is written on my website. Just find the episode called “How to Learn English with Luke’s English Podcast”. I’ve written a lot of this down because it contains lots of specific bits of information which I wanted to make sure I included. I try not to do too many episodes in which I read things to you. I promise that the next one will be unscripted. Anyway, I’ll do my best to make this sound as natural as possible, which is an art in itself. Actually, you could use this script to help you practise your pronunciation, you could record yourself reading this too, and compare it to my version. What are the differences in your version and mine? What can you learn from that? Record yourself doing it again, and compare that to your first attempt. It’s bound to sound a lot better. In fact, I guarantee that you’ll sound more natural and convincing with each attempt. More on that later.

For now, here is a list of tips and advice for learning English with LEP. ;)

Just listen
First of all, you don’t really have to do much more than just listen to the episodes. I realised some time ago that a lot of the students of English that I met at school in London did not listen to enough authentic English. They were willing to spend money and travel across the world in order to improve their English, and yet most of them, for some reason, were not prepared to take a bit of time every day to listen to something in English. Why? I think partly this is because they didn’t know what to listen to. A lot of people watch TV and movies in English. Fine. But honestly, that might not be the best way to improve your English. Film is very visual. A lot of what you understand from a movie is the visual storytelling. It’s important to just focus on the audio – on the language. So, a lot of students didn’t know what to listen to. They thought that they didn’t have much choice. Actually, there’s plenty of choice out there. The BBC has plenty of podcasts, there are loads of podcasts on different topics on iTunes – but they’re all made for native speakers. They’re too difficult to listen to, and ultimately, that’s not motivating. There are some podcasts out there which are made for learners of English, but a lot of them are just focused on language learning, at the expense of entertainment. They’re useful, but they’re a bit dull. This is less the case now, because 5 years after starting this podcast, there are more interesting things out there for learners of English, including my podcast. So I decided that I’d try and create something for learners of English to listen to that they would actually want to listen to, beyond just learning English. Ultimately, I think to listen to English for extended periods of time, you have to have an interest in what is being talked about, or you have to find it entertaining. Otherwise, it’s hard to really sustain your concentration and it becomes like a chore. There is real value in listening to English for extended periods of time, but it’s difficult to achieve because you get put off by not understanding things, or because the recording is a bit patronising and dull. I don’t want to blow my own trumpet here too much, because I’m sure that my podcast is not always as entertaining or as engaging as it could be, but I think the only way to get people to keep listening, is to try and make it entertaining as well as informative about English. So, I record this podcast with you in mind, but I try to keep it as authentic as possible. I try to avoid being simplistic. I try not to grade my English too much. I know it might be challenging for you sometimes but I attempt to hold your attention by talking in an enthusiastic way about subjects which I personally find interesting. Hopefully, the result is that you keep listening, and that you feel personally involved in it somehow. Then, by exposing yourself to lots of English in this way, you are able to acquire the language – to pick it up, in a variety of ways.

Stephen Krashen & Language Acquisition Theory
Let me now refer to the language acquisition theory of Stephen Krashen. This theory is very well known among language learning theorists, and it underpins a lot of what we know about learning and teaching English. Krashen believed that there are two ways to develop our language learning skills. One is through language acquisition and the other is through language learning. Language acquisition means that it is possible for adults and children to learn language in a subconscious way – meaning, in a kind of passive way – by simply engaging with the language. The important thing is that you focus on the message in a bit of language. So, when listening to Luke’s English Podcast this means focusing exactly  on what I really mean, rather than just on the specific items of language I’m using. The primary focus is to just understand what I mean (hopefully at a fairly deep level – in order to laugh at something I’ve said, or feel moved by it) and then you kind of ‘pick up’ the language as a result of that. You might not be immediately aware that you’ve learned some new language in this way. In fact, this kind of acquisition probably informs your passive knowledge of the language. According to Krashen, another type of language development is language learning. This is when you focus on learning specific forms  – like studying grammar rules for example. It involves having some instruction by a teacher, perhaps in the form of error correction, or from a grammar book which explains the ‘rules of English’. The downside of this kind of learning is that it is rather dogmatic, can be boring, complex and abstract. It doesn’t necessarily replicate the organic way in which we pick up language as children, and doesn’t quite allow the subconscious acquisition of language that occurs from just engaging with the language in order to understand a message being communicated.

Alright, so how does this apply to the way you can learn English? Well, I think it’s pretty important to get both aspects of language learning into your life. This is what I call “having a balanced diet”. You shouldn’t just study the grammar rules in a dogmatic way, although that is undeniably important. You should also attempt to just engage with the language as it is used in natural, authentic and meaningful situations. How can you do that? Ideally, this would mean going out into the world and doing things in English. In fact, this might be the best way to improve your English. If you get a job that requires you to use English all day you will improve quickly. It’ll be really hard, but you’d be forced to improve. That’s like a boot camp for language acquisition because you’re not really studying the language, you’re just attempting to survive in it. You’re really focusing on the communicative acts you are trying to achieve. You’re really focusing on meaningful messages, and you naturally learn the most direct and effective way to understand and communicate meaningful messages. You might not be able to do that in your life. You might not have access to native speakers in that way. So, my podcast can be a substitute. It’s not really the same as attempting to work in an English speaking environment, but the key point is that you can replicate aspects of that experience by just attempting to follow/keep up with what I’m saying, and do that regularly, over long periods of time, and you’ll pick up massive amounts of English.

So, just listen, try to follow everything I’m saying, try to enjoy it and engage with it, listen regularly, listen for extended periods. This will all contribute to your acquisition of English, as described by Stephen Krashen.

That’s language acquisition, but you can also do more traditional language learning alongside Luke’s English Podcast. First of all, outside of listening to the episodes, you can do your formalised language studying from a book or in class, and use LEP as a companion to that. Study the language, and then try to notice aspects of the language that you’ve studied in episodes of the podcast. For example, if you’ve studied verb tenses, you can listen to a story I’ve told on the podcast and try to notice those verb tenses, how I’m using them, how I’m pronouncing them, and so on. It can back up, confirm or clarify the language study you’ve been doing. You should always refer to authentic language usage as a way of checking language that you’ve studied.

Also, you can study the things I say in the podcast more directly. The podcast can be a study tool. Here are some ways you can do some active language study with the podcast:

Use transcripts
You could read a transcript and check new words in a dictionary as you find them. Pay attention to the way I use the words, including the grammatical context, collocations between words and pronunciation. Any new words or structures you find, make a note of them and practise using them yourself.

You could attempt to write your own transcripts. This reveals a great deal about the gap between the English you know, and the English that I use in the podcast.  Try transcribing a section of one episode. You could do an episode that has already been transcribed. Listen carefully to it, and try to write down every single word. There may be certain utterances that you just can’t identify. Mark them with question marks. Listen again and again. You could just focus on a specific 5 minute section of an episode. Keep listening until you’ve done your best. Now check the proper transcript for that section and compare it to what you wrote. What are the differences? Now you can identify the gap between what you understand, and what I said. Try to close that gap. Check the words you didn’t know. Identify why you missed the pronunciation of something. Think about how I say these words and phrases, and their definitions. Then you can start working them into your English when you speak. We’ll look at ways of developing your speaking in a few minutes.

A note on transcripts. You may be aware that a lot of my episodes have transcripts, which can really help you to study the language (although you shouldn’t read them all the time). But you can also contribute transcriptions to my website. If you fancy transcribing a few minutes of an episode, please send it to me and I’ll be able to correct it and publish it on my website. I have a transcript collaboration going on using Google documents. You might already know about this because I did an episode on that subject a couple of months ago. You can go to my website and click “transcripts” to find out more. Basically, writing transcripts of my episodes is not only a great way to use the podcast to improve your English, it also helps me to provide an even better service to my listeners.

So, Luke’s English Podcast is best consumed as part of a balanced diet. Listen freely and just try to enjoy and understand what I’m saying, and let your mind naturally acquire the language, but also mix this with more formalised language study to get the full 360 degree effect.

You might think the formalised language study part of that is boring and time consuming. That’s fine. You don’t have to do any of that, but as a compromise, what you can do is just be mindful when you’re listening. Your first aim is to focus on the message, but you can also try to notice specific aspects of the language too. Try to identify words, phrases and grammatical structures. You don’t have to formally study them, just notice them as you hear them. Like “oh he’s saying depend on” so it must be “depend on” in English, not “depend of”. Things like that. Just be mindful when listening.

I record different types of episode here. My main aim is to engage you and keep you interested, while presenting English to you in an authentic way. In some episodes I try to draw your attention to the language more specifically. For example, I teach/explain/demonstrate vocabulary items referring to a topic, or bring your attention to an aspect of pronunciation. In those episodes, you can just chill out and follow what I’m saying, but you can be more active, and make notes of the vocabulary, try to remember phrases, listen again and pause the recording to test your memory.

Listen in comfort, and enjoy the experience. Krashen also writes about the affective filter hypothesis. This relates to the conditions in which learning takes place, and how these can have a big effect on the successful acquisition of language. Basically, good conditions for learning are: motivation (the listener really wants to hear what’s being said, and is keen to learn the language), high self-esteem and relaxation. These things allow the flow of acquisition to move freely, without being blocked. Mental blocks occur when the learner is stressed, anxious or feeling bad about themselves. This creates a mental block to the acquisition of language. I guess this relates to one of those situations in which you’re in an unhappy language class. You feel stressed because of pressure from the teacher or from the judgement of your classmates, you feel low self-confidence because you don’t get any positive reinforcement from taking part in a communicative exchange and you’re just not enjoying the experience of being there in the classroom. As a result, there is a kind of mental barrier which really prevents you learning anything. In fact, it might even make it worse because you associate learning English with painful or boring classroom situations. The advantage of Luke’s English Podcast is that the emphasis is on fun, a lot of the time. You have nothing to fear or worry about when you listen to this. In fact, it can be an extremely pleasurable experience. I’m not just bigging myself up here. I know what it’s like to listen to your favourite podcast. It’s quite a personal experience. I listen to Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo’s Film Review Podcast on my way to work, and I can’t begin to explain the joy of listening to it. They’re like my friends, and I’m sharing a really nice conversation with them. I listen to their voices in private, through headphones, while I’m sitting on a smelly underground train with miserable people all around me, but I’m in my comfort zone. In fact, sometimes I’m disappointed when I reach my metro station, because I just want to keep listening to the podcast. Hopefully, listening to Luke’s English Podcast is a similar experience for you. That’s certainly the idea. This should be a personal and enjoyable experience for you, and I invite you to just enjoy being part of the podcast community, and remember that all around the world there are other people like you, listening to me ramble on about stuff. There’s no chance of the affective filter giving you a mental block in this situation because you should be in your comfort zone. That’s the advantage of podcasting. You really can listen to this whenever and wherever you want, and you are free to get as comfortable as you please. As I’ve said before, feel free to listen to this in the bath, on the loo, or as you softly and slowly drift off to sleep at night. Of course, you can also listen at your desk, with a pen in your hand, or while typing, in order to make notes or write transcripts. You can also sit up and read transcripts. It’s up to you. The main thing is to just enjoy yourself and let the English go into your head. Just imagine that my voice is bouncing around inside your mind, and lots of the words, and sounds are sticking in there.

You should certainly listen to episodes more than once. In fact, if you’re interested in really learning English from this podcast, I think it’s vital to listen several times. Once is not enough. In fact, you might only scratch the surface if you listen just once. Listening again and again will allow you to get really familiar with what’s being said. You’ll notice and remember things that you didn’t catch the first time. Repetition is really important as a way of helping your brain notice patterns. After a couple of listens, you’ll remember certain phrases, bits of intonation or responses and they will be reinforced when you listen again. It might be asking too much of you, but you could even start to remember and repeat some of the things you’ve heard on Luke’s English Podcast. I don’t necessarily expect you to repeat everything I say, but perhaps you could memorise the lines of a comedy sketch that I present to you, and then repeat the lines to yourself or your friends, or just while you’re listening again. I’m a bit of a geek and I love Star Wars. When I was a kid I used to watch Star Wars on heavy rotation. I’d watch it again and again. Now I can remember all the lines from the film. In fact, I don’t just remember the lines, I remember the bits of music and sound effects too, as they occur in the film. It’s the same with Monty Python films and sketches. I’ve watched them so many times that I can repeat a lot of the script from memory, and in fact some phrases from those movies have found their way into my vocabulary. You can do that too, by listening to episodes more than once, and listening to some comedy sketches which I present to you many times. Soon I’ll be doing an episode about Monty Python. For some reason, Monty Python’s sketches are very memorable. In fact, there are several generations of people in the UK and America who grew up watching Monty Python films and who are able to recite whole sketches to each other. Again, you can do the same thing, realise that there are some terrifically funny things in English, and use that as a way to pick up language.

There are a number of different areas to focus on with English.
4 skills:
Listening
Reading
Writing
Speaking

Language systems:
Grammar
Vocabulary
Pronunciation
Discourse

Listening
I’ve already talked a lot about the benefit of just listening for fun, or listening in a more active way. I did mention that it’s good to be comfortable when listening. I should add too that I think it’s important to try and listen to things that you don’t completely understand. It’s fine to listen to things that you don’t understand completely, and the general opinion on this seems to be that you should push yourself when you listen, and don’t get put off if there are things you don’t understand. It’s in that challenging experience that your brain is really piecing things together. For example, if you struggled to understand my conversation with Daniel Burt, that’s fine – in fact, that struggle is good. Listen again, and keep trying. Don’t give up. Push through those moments when you don’t understand. Keep going. Don’t let confusion stop you.
Also, try to identify subtle differences between accents. You may only notice little differences at first, but eventually you’ll be more and more aware of the differences between accents. Eventually, you’ll be able to say “this guy is from the north of England”, “This one’s from Australia” or whatever.

Reading
Reading transcripts on my webpage.
Outside of the podcast – read a variety of texts. Again, try to find things that you enjoy. You should also be aware of your purpose for learning the language. What are you going to use English for in the future? You may need to read emails, or business reports. It may be worth reading articles that talk about business trends. Otherwise, just reading any well-written text for enjoyment is a really good way to improve your literacy. I must add a page on my website with recommendations for reading. There’s loads of reading you can do – blogs, newspapers but also books which you can download free online. I haven’t done it yet, but I’m planning to give you a list of some good things to read.

Writing
Again, this is not one of the things that I focus on a lot on Luke’s English Podcast. The focus is mainly on spoken English. However, transcribing podcast episodes can be good for your writing. You could also write your own blog which contains your opinions or your outlook on a topic. Feel free to write a response to episodes of my podcast in the comments section. You should aim to concisely express your opinion, in a structured way, using the most appropriate words you can find (perhaps including some words you’ve picked up from that episode of the podcast). Think about the person reading the comment – make it easy and enjoyable for them to read, and focus on stating very clearly and efficiently exactly what it is you want to say. Considering those ideas can help you to make your writing more effective.
If, however, you need to practise writing for the IELTS test, you will need to do more specifically focused writing practice, probably using an IELTS preparation book, or following an IELTS course of some kind. My podcast can help you with general skills (vocab, etc) but for specific kinds of writing work, you should do some specific writing practice. Practice practice practice. As I said before – to get the best out of Luke’s English Podcast, use it as part of a balanced diet.

Speaking
Perhaps the best way to improve your speaking is to actually practise it in real-life situations. The requirements of that situation will train you to say the right things at the right time, with the right tone. You should certainly be aware of how intonation is important in affecting a message. These are things you can learn from trying to enter into meaningful acts of communication and learning from your mistakes. You might also need a teacher to actively correct your errors. But, you can definitely use Luke’s English Podcast to improve your speaking too. Let’s look at some ways to do that:
Just try to take some aspects of my speech and apply it to your speech. You could just add some words or phrases you’ve heard from me, and use them yourself. Or you can pick up some speech patterns, pronunciation from me and add that to your speech too. If you like, you could use my speaking as a kind of model for your own speech.
More specifically, you could copy and repeat some of my sentences. Listen to a line I say, and then repeat it and try to sound exactly like me. You could listen to phrasal verb episodes, and whenever I present an example sentence, pause the episode and repeat it after me. Keep doing that until you feel you’re version is pretty similar to mine. So, just listen and repeat until you’ve worked out how to make the same sounds as me. Think about vowel & consonant sounds, combinations of consonants and how to make those sounds with your mouth, think about connected speech – what happens when words are pronounced fluently together in a sentence – they might get pronounced differently, certain sounds may be dropped when words are linked, and some sounds may be added when words are linked too. Pay attention to these aspects of pronunciation. I should do a whole episode on connected speech, and it’s one I’ve had in the back of my mind for ages.
Pick an extract from the podcast, with transcript, and record yourself saying it. Compare your version with my version. Then, work on the transcript. Underline the stressed words, add lines to represent pauses for emphasis, identify word links in pronunciation. Listen to me saying that extract again, and check your ‘sound scripted’ transcript. Now record yourself doing it again, this time adding the intonation, pausing and sentence stress. Compare that to the original. This can help you develop awareness, and control of speech patterns.
Record yourself just talking in response to one of my podcast episodes. If I’ve talked about UFOs for example (not yet, but I will!) then you could record yourself talking about UFOs too. Try to include any words I’ve presented to you on that topic. If you like you could leave an audio comment on my Audioboo page, and let the world know how you feel about something.
Or, you could start doing your own podcast, like Zdenek from Zdenek’s English Podcast. He’s not a native speaker, but following a suggestion in one of my episodes he decided to do his own podcast. He now has followers and listeners and he’s really into it. Listening to his episodes I get the sense that his confidence is developing and he’s finding his own voice. It must be very good for his English (which, of course, is already excellent). You could do it too if you want.
The main thing is practice. Use as many opportunities to practise as you can. Join clubs to meet English speakers. Use the internet. Find groups on Meetup.com in which people are doing language exchanges. Put yourself outside your comfort zone. Don’t be shy, give it a try. Take the initiative. No-one can do the speaking for you. There’s no shame in making mistakes. You have to be in it to win it, so open your mouth and get talking. Remember that English is about what you can do, not just about what you know. Be active, find your voice in English. If you’re in a classroom – don’t be one of those quiet students. It’s completely up to you to start talking, and why not do it in the safety of a language class. That’s the whole point! Speak up in class and use that as a safe place to experiment and make mistakes. Experiment! Switch off your editor! Don’t listen to the voice in your head which is telling you to keep quiet, or telling you that you can’t say something because it might be wrong. It does not matter if you’re wrong. Remember that you have to say something wrong about 5 times before you get it right. Get through those 5 times nice and quick, and then you’ll be fine! Sometimes, opening your mouth is the hardest thing to do, but once you’ve started speaking it gets easier. Keep up the momentum. Keep your voice warm. Stay positive, enjoy expressing yourself. Your teacher will love it if you are an active member of class. In fact, you need to prove to your teacher that you’re making an effort. We always like those talkative and positive students. Use that to your advantage – you’ll be more likely to get good grades, and get levelled up. Be nice, be friendly, be talkative. But also listen to others and help them too. That’s a recipe for success for any language learner!
Actually, I just sent Zdenek a message and asked him for his comments on the subject of using LEP to improve your English (particularly speaking) and here are his comments, which I agree with wholeheartedly. In fact, before I read his comments it may be necessary to remind you that Zdenek is a well-qualified teacher of English from the Czech Republic who lived in the UK for a number of years and who has got a master’s degree in English Language. So, he definitely knows what he’s talking about. I’m sure many of you listening to this have similarly good advice and comments on this subject. I am very keen to encourage you to share that information – you can leave text or audio comments under this episode. So here are Zdenek’s comments:
How can listening to LEP improve your speaking skills? It can mainly improve the following skills/subskills:
1) listening (obvious)
2) reading, spelling (reading scripts, additional notes)
3) writing, spelling (script, feedback or thanksgiving emails to Luke),
4) grammar (listening to grammar patterns as part of exposure theory)
5) vocabulary (learning new vocab also guided by the exposure theory),
6) pronunciation (passive listening)
As for the speaking, it is a different question. If you want to improve your speaking through LEP, you have to approach this actively. Not everyone is willing to do this. Some people tend to be shy, have approach anxiety etc…and prefer listening to the podcast as passive recipients. That is fine. However, here are some suggestions on how you can actually improve even your speaking skills.
1) Contact someone via LEP community. There are a lot of interesting people eager to learn English from all around the world. Contact those who have a similar level as you – this way you can both benefit and learn from each other and no one will get bored. Ideally, have an interest in common (sci-fi films, sport, you already have one important topic in common = LEP)…try to befriend these people, add them on facebook, start skype conversations with them or something.
2) Record yourself speaking about a topic. Ask yourself questions related to LEP. Answer these questions or just practice vocabulary Luke teaches you. Listen back to yourself. Try correcting your errors. Re-record. Compare your recordings you made some time later to see your improvements.
3) Record comments in Audioboo (max 3 minutes) –why is everyone so shy? Is everyone afraid that they will be judged? Who cares? Just be friendly and you should be accepted by the community. Luke is a teacher. He deals with mistakes every day. We all make mistakes. Never be afraid to make mistakes. A man who never made mistakes, never made anything. Are you afraid to take on a challenge and face our greatest fear – public humiliation? Well don’t be! If we fight it actively without fear, we can significantly improve our speaking skills this way.
[I just want to add a couple of points here about making a fool of yourself, my experience of speaking French, and of fear of public speaking]
4) Try running your own podcast. Most of you can do it. Again it is only about facing your fears of making mistakes and exposing yourself to the public. This podcast can be just for you and your friends. I make loads of mistakes in my podcast and I am a teacher. I feel ashamed; I have to edit them out. But if you are not teachers, why worry? And even as teachers? You shouldn’t worry.
5) You can always speak to yourself in the mirror and go crazy. Become the next Hamlet. Speaking is not about passivity so move your arse and find some interaction
Note: By following these tips, you will work on your English speaking skills, pronunciation (actively), grammar, vocab (you can focus on trying to use expressions Luke has taught you), listening skills (as you listen to your friends talking for example). There are so many benefits to active speaking practice.

Thank you Zdenek. As I said before, I welcome your comments too. Let’s share our thoughts on this subject together. It’s time for my LEP ninjas to come out of the shadows and deliver some powerful advice! LEP NINJAS – ASSEMBLE!!!

Regarding language systems, I have some things to say about grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and ‘discourse’.
To be honest, I’ve already spoken enough about grammar & vocab. Let me just remind you of the theory of ‘exposure’. I have talked about this before. The idea is that by listening to lots of English over extended periods, you’re feeding your subconscious with all the patterns of English usage. Your brain is hearing all these patterns of English, including frequent word combinations (like prepositions), tenses, features of pronunciation etc. Ultimately, it all goes into your head, and informs your sense of instinct for the language, so that when you come to do a test in English, you feel the answer. You know that this particular preposition goes with this particular verb, just because you’ve heard it a number of times before and so it feels natural. Feed your head with English. Feel the English rather than knowing it. Use the force young jedi, and remember, the force will be with you… always. Oh, and don’t forget – you’re never too old for this. Language study is a great way to keep your mind fresh and supple. My grandfather is over 90 years old and he’s still really sharp. Perhaps this is because he’s still going to French and Spanish classes on a regular basis.

Regarding pronunciation – a lot of the tips you’ve been given here will help with that. But, I just want to add that improving your listening skills will naturally improve your pronunciation skills too. The two things go hand in hand. The more you’re able to understand natural spoken English, the more you are able to decode the sounds used to make it. Understanding this natural sound code can allow you to start using it too. There is a direct connection between listening and pronunciation, but to fully reap the benefits, you need to need to actively practise pronunciation. The methods I’ve mentioned already in this episode – repeating, recording, re-recording, comparing, speaking in front of the mirror, etc – they’re all good approaches to practising and improving your pronunciation. Don’t be shy, give it a try. You’ve got nothing to lose, just things to gain. Go for it!

As for discourse, this is really about how you structure your speaking. How do you link your ideas up? When you listen, try to notice any specific phrases I use to link my ideas together, move from one topic to another, deal with moments when I don’t know what I’m saying and so on. What are the tools I use to perform certain functions. Can you identify these things and take them on yourself? Try talking about a topic for 5 minutes. See how difficult it is to talk on your feet. Do it again and again until you develop methods of thinking and talking at the same time. Listen to discussions and focus on the ways in which people interrupt, agree, disagree or whatever. Think about the way we use the language to be polite or indirect. How is humour added to what we say? How does intonation affect the hidden meaning behind our words? Explore these ideas when you listen, and then test them out in your speaking.

That’s it for this episode. I hope you have found it motivating, and inspiring. Leave your comments, and I wish you all the very best of luck keeping up your English. I’m sure you’re doing great. Well you must be, because you’re already listening to Luke’s English Podcast – and long may it continue.

BYE!