21. Learning English with Podcasts – Advice from a Chinese student at Oxford University

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Luke’s English Podcast is a free learning English audio programme for students of English as a foreign language around the world. Each podcast is about a different topic – music, culture, news, celebrities, current affairs, British life, etc. Use the podcast to practise your listening and to pick up lots of real, authentic vocabulary. Luke is a well experienced and professional teacher at The London School of English in West London.

Hello everyone, a few weeks ago I was contacted by a Chinese student called Vicky. She is studying a master’s degree in education at Oxford University (yes, the famous one) and so she wanted to interview me about teaching English and using podcasts to learn. We met, and interviewed each other. She asked me about the advantages and disadvantages of podcasts for learners and teachers. I asked her about how students around the world can use podcasts to learn English, and if she had any more advice about learning English. Vicky is Chinese, and speaks English as a second language. Her English is good enough to win a place on a master’s degree course at Oxford University, and she has been studying education and English language learning for a long time. She has some very good advice and useful comments about learning English. Also, it is interesting to hear a Chinese person’s perspective.

I’m feeling very generous today, and I have written a COMPLETE TRANSCRIPT for the interview.

Here’s some advice on how to use this podcast to help your English.

1. Listen to the podcast once without reading the transcript. Try to understand the general meaning. What are we talking about?

2. Listen again, and read the transcript. Check any words or expressions you don’t understand by using a dictionary. An English-English dictionary is better for your English, because it helps you to think in English, and prevents meaning being ‘lost in translation’.

3. Listen to the podcast for a 3rd time, but without the transcript. This time you will understand a lot more and you will remember lots of things we said. The expressions and comments will stick in your head. You will understand the details more easily. You’ll be able to use some of the words and expressions in your English conversations in the future, because hopefully the words will be stuck in your head.

So, here is the transcript to the interview. Enjoy!

Interview With Yun Xu (Vicky) on Wednesday 29th July, 5pm in Holland Park, London.

Luke: So, what’s your name?

Vicky: Vicky, and my Chinese name is Yun Xu. I know it’s quite difficult for English, British people to pronounce Yun, Y-U-N…

Luke: Right, ok, so why did you choose the word Vicky? The name Vicky?

Vicky: The name Vicky… actually my… the first name I picked was, it wasn’t picked by me. The first English name was picked by my teacher. The first day when I got into middle school, and teacher said that you had to have an English name. So, what we do, is like, draw lots…

Luke: You draw lots?

Vicky: …draw the lots. The first name I got is, I think it’s, erm… Victoria. And then I changed into May because Victoria is too long for middle school students to pronounce, and it’s quite… kind of, you know when people would like to… to… when they invite someone out, it’s like they say “Hi Sophie! Let’s go out. Hi Mary!” They would never say “Hi Victoria” – it’s too long!

Luke: Too many syllables. VIC-TO-RI-A – that’s four syllables

Vicky: and it’s hard for them to pronounce beautifully, so they will invite someone, like, called ‘Sophie’, ‘Mary’ or whatever. ‘Jane’ or whatever… so I just changed the name into May. M-A-Y

Luke: M-A-Y ‘May’

Vicky: But after a couple of years I think that Vicky [is] probably better. I would love to use the name Victoria, which is the same name as your Queen

Luke: Queen Victoria, yeah

Vicy: Queen Victoria… and I use Vicky as a nickname so that people will find it more convenient to call me

Luke: Vicky, it’s just easier to say

Vicky: Yeah, it’s just easier to say

Luke: So your teacher actually gave you the name Vicky, and you said that you drew lots. That means, obviously, that there were a load of names written in a hat… into, on bits of paper and you put them in the, a hat

Vicky: They don’t make you draw lots…people would walk in front of me and say “I will draw a lot for you and that name on the paper should be your name. Just pick on of the names and overwrap it [unwrap it]…

Luke: and you became Vicky. Right. How did that feel? To just randomly be given a name? You don’t mind?

Vicky: No, well at that age I wasn’t [didn’t] mind at all, but now when I think back I think the teacher’s kind of manipulating

Luke: You mean, just, sort of, the teacher was a bit inhumane just giving you a name

Vicky: Yeah, but it’s the fastest way for her to give a name for every student

Luke: Yeah, they have to do that

Vicky: Yeah

Luke: They

Vicky: But she has also got lots of problems because all of teacher, the students came to her and complained about their names, “I don’t like this name, I want [to] change a name”, she would say “just go home, just go home and find a name for yourself … and just tell me what your new name is”. But seldomly the students would do that. Students will have a problem finding a proper name for themselves

Luke: Yeah. It’s basically… I can imagine in China it’s just easier for the teacher to give you a name. It’s easier. I can imagine it would be very difficult to ask every student to choose their own name, because no one would know what to choose.

Vicky: And every time when they choose a name, they’d ask you whether it’s a good name for me. How can I answer a question like whether it’s a good name for you?

Luke: Yeah. Ok.

Vicky: And it’s over 30 out of 40 students in one classroom

Luke: Yeah, it’s a lot

Vicky: Uh huh

Luke: So just for practical purposes they just, sort of, randomly choose word, names for you. OK, well Vicky, that’s good, y’know. Quite a common name. My cousin is called Vic – Victoria.

Vicky: Ok

Luke: So, you’re from China, right, so are you studying here or…?

Vicky: Studying here. In Oxford University

Luke: Ah, Oxford. The prestigious Oxford University

Vicky: Kind of…

Luke: Wow… And what are you doing?

Vicky: Erm, Actually now I’m a student in… and MSc student in education, and I’m kind of doing research in podcasting and English learning as a second language

Luke: Right, so you’ve… and you’ve found me…

Vicky: Yeah. Randomly.

Luke: Randomly, ok

Vicky: Should be randomly, because I interviewed Ben, and he introduced you to me so, could be, should be called randomly

Luke: I guess so, I guess so. Erm… now, so you’re doing a master’s degree on podcasting and learning English as a second language

Vicky: I’m doing a master’s degree on education, e-learning

Luke: e-learning

Vicky: Yeah, and I am writing research on podcasting

Luke: Ok. Your dissertation is about podcasting. Ok, right, now obviously you speak Chinese as your first language, so erm, first of all, before we talk about podcasts briefly, do you have any just, ‘quick tips’ for learning English. Because, obviously, you’re studying here at Oxford University so your English is very good, so how… can you just give, like, a few quick tips for my listeners…

Vicky: The first one is that you have to be brave enough to speak. You have to be bold enough to study. And, as a Chinese I think you have to be, umm, you have to push yourself a little bit.

Luke: Push yourself

Vicky: Push myself

Luke: So you need to be brave, and you need to push yourself

Vicky: Push yourself a little bit, to memorise those vocabularies [the vocabulary] . But I think the most important thing is to study, to learn how to communicate with people. Because I still remember one thing when I, I actually, I didn’t, err, I didn’t use a lot of time, I didn’t spend a lot of time on memorising those words, and reading. I love watching movies and I love listening to audio material, because I think the, you, you have to have the input of language, of a second language, but not only the paper work. You have to have the audio things, the video things, so that you could get, umm, you look, you read, you listen, and that’s making… and that is actually making your input diversified. That is making you… you actually… I learn quicker than my peers

Luke: so, because you learn by getting audio, getting video, by reading, by having a diverse erm, kind of, erm exposure to English

Vicky: to English, and I kind of expose myself to the English speaking environment

Luke: yeah

Vicky: Erm, that’s better, and probably that’s the best way for Chinese students.

Luke: You have to, kind of, live in English

Vicky: Live in English

Luke: Don’t just learn it from a book. You have to go out there and be brave enough to try and live in English

Vicky: That’s it

Luke: It’s about taking risks isn’t it?

Vicky: Yeah, kind of

Luke: being strong enough to take the risks. But it’s also about enjoying the language isn’t it?

Vicky: Uh huh

Luke: You have to try and get some sort of pleasure out of what you’re listening to, or try and enjoy the experience of speaking the language and improving it, isn’t it?

Vicky: Yeah, so that’s why I don’t like the news. I don’t like listening to news, especially the ? news or international news which is all about sensational news, all about bombing, bombing or

Luke: Yeah, terrorism

Vicky: or about the recession. I don’t like them because…

Luke: …it’s depressing

Vicky: yeah, a bit depressing, and what is, what, actually [how does] it relate to me? It’s nothing with… it’s none of my business [it’s nothing to do with me], and I would like to, would love to listen to lecture[s] and the educational or academic things about the people I like, about the movie[s], about life, actually about life

Luke: So it’s kind of like, finding, thinking about your interests, and following them in English. I mean, I don’t speak Japanese, I speak a little bit but used to, when I lived in Japan, I used to have a radio, I bought a radio just so I could listen to Japanese radio. Because there was a radio station called ‘Shonan Beach FM’, which was the local radio station where lived, and they played, sort of, jazz music and, sort of, nice, err, y’know, soul music and jazz music and I thought it was the coolest thing to listen to, err, jazz music on a radio station in Japanese, because the DJs would speak, they’d talk about the records in Japanese and then they’d play the record. And I would listen to them speaking Japanese and I just loved hearing Japanese people talking about jazz in Japanese. I didn’t understand what they were talking about but I enjoyed the rhythm of the conversation and I enjoyed identifying who they were talking about, and I used to listen and try and guess what they were talking about, and I honestly believe that sometimes I understood. I did understand what the conversation was. You know, they’d be saying things like “well that was Miles Davis and, Miles Davis is really nice isn’t it, yeah” and err…

Vicky: You’d just guess

Luke: Yeah, and “he recorded a record with John Coltrane in 1948, and erm…” You know, just by listening to a few things I can kind of try and guess what they are saying, but I just enjoyed ‘how does a Japanese person talk about jazz music?’, and it was just nice listening to it, so if I was learning English, I would be on the internet, finding podcasts about The Beatles, and finding listening and video things about stuff I’m interested in…

Vicky: …and there’s one way, the last way, the ultimate way, if you find no way to study English, one of my friends just made this joke: If there’s no way for you to learn English better, no better way for you, just go to a bar, go into a bar and grab a British boyfriend

Luke/Vicky: Hha ha haha ah ah ahah ahah ah ah !

Vicky: Can we put that into the…?

Luke: Yeah, you can say that, yeah yeah! If there’s no other way, then just find a boyfriend of girlfriend who speaks that language, yeah. ‘Learning by doing’, I think it’s called…

Vicky: Yeah…

Luke: Just the other question actually, that I wanted to know about is erm… So we talked about how I can try and improve and, and get more out of this, but just advice for my students, or advice for learners of English who are listening to this podcast, how can they use podcasts on the internet to improve their English? Is there any, have you got any advice on that?

Vicky: Two [pieces of] advice actually. The first one is that you, first time, the first time you listen to it, don’t depend on any transcripts. Just listen to them. You could get the general message what the podcast is talking about, what this episode is talking about, even though you couldn’t understand it, it’s better not [to be] dependant on the transcript.

Luke: Yeah, ok

Vicky: And then you could turn back to the transcript if they have one and to read them. Do not read from word to word because it’s not the natural way you read things. Just pick up the general message and pick up those words you don’t understand, and check it and pick it up in a dictionary. And then you listen to them again. So, you could, without a transcript. You listen to them again. So you could see you’re actually making progress, and, that’s, which, is quite essential, it’s quite critical for those students. They could get the idea that I am making progress, so they will love it. It’s like, they’ll kind of be addicted to it because they are making progress. They’re happy with it.

Luke: yeah, yeah, I see…

Vicky: And the second one is that you could play the podcast whenever you want, even though you’re taking a bath, because one of the students I interviewed said, he just play it, he just plays it, plays the podcast whenever he’s at home, like taking a bath or cooking or whatever. Because, kind of, he just, erm, erm, how to say that? He just exists in this kind of English, just expose himself, exposes himself to this English speaking environment, so randomly he will pick up some words and memorise something and he will think… because it is inputted randomly, he will produce it randomly, which makes his English more natural.

Luke: Right. Great. Thank you very much Vicky.

Vicky: Thank you

Luke: It was nice to meet you. Thanks very much, particularly for your comments about what I could do to develop it, and I’m always thinking about it. I need to become entrepreneurial, and become an entrepreneur. Err, yep, I hope that my rambling comments were useful.

Vicky: Oh, really

Luke: Good

Vicky: Thank you

Luke: ok

Vicky: ok

Luke: That’s it