Monthly Archives: February 2015

260. Kingsman: The Secret Service

In this episode I read out some poems written by listeners, and then it’s time for another episode of LFC (Luke’s Film Club). This time I’m reviewing the film Kingsman: The Secret Service. [Download]

Thank you for your poems in response to episode 258. I read some of them out in this episode. You can find the poems under episode 258.

kingsman_the_secret_service_ver7Kingsman: The Secret Service Film Review
Message from Dongsik (South Korean LEPSTER)
Luke, how are you?
It’s so abrupt but may I ask a favor of you?
Someday in your podcast, could you explain British culture in the film ‘Kingsman : the secret Seervice’? or just tell the audience about your thoughts on the film? If you don’t mind. For example, accent, clothes, social class, colin firth, whatever related to UK in the film. The movie really brings me back to UK. It’s so impressive to me.
I don’t push you, I kindly ask you, so I hope I could listen to those things in your podcast someday.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (Trailer)

-What kind of film is it?
-Who directed it?
-Who is in it?
-What’s the plot?
-What did I think of it?
-Elements of British culture
Certain symbols or icons of Britishness or certainly London life.
Class: The upper class & the lower class.
Posh people & chavs/hooligans

Good Things
It’s fast & furious, it’s never boring, it is visually quite arresting, there are some great actors involved, some gripping moments of action, and some genuinely shocking and stunning moments. It’s pretty funny and entertaining.

Bad Things
It’s a bit too ‘laddish’ for me. It’s too violent (Did I say too violent? Me?) I’m okay with violence in films usually, but this seemed to go over the top, in one scene in particular – and seemed to just enjoy the cartoon violence a little bit too much, like in Kill Bill Vol.1. It has its cake and eats it too – it’s parodying all the clichés of spy films, but at the same time celebrating them, and bringing the genre back to a point before it was post-modern and deconstructed.

It seems to have the same values as an old Bond film from the 1970s. It’s stylish and very British, but also misogynistic and quite right-wing. The ending, for example, is like something from the end of a Roger Moore film, but even more suggestive and explicit. Perhaps I’m being old-fashioned or something, but I found it to be a confirmation of sexist stereotypes. I think it was misjudged and a bit clumsy to end on a moment like that.
*Spoiler alert* I explain the ending here… (no great surprises though)
Posh images: tailors on Saville Row and their suits, umbrellas, pinstripes, wood panelled offices and gentlemen’s clubs in Mayfair, glasses of whiskey, old school ties, the British Army & secret service, privilege, a sense of entitlement, disdain for the lower classes.
Lower class images: Council estates, pubs full of aggressive criminals, cockneys, young criminals & gang members, petty crime, drugs, alcohol, fast cars, domestic violence, an irresponsible Mum who is abused by a violent boyfriend, London grime music such as Dizzee Rascal (although this side of London life is better captured by Attack The Block), London youth dialect.

Culture clash – between working class and upper class.
Much of this iconography belongs to the world of movies, fantasy or simply to the past. Not many people dress like Colin Firth in this film, or indeed act like him.
Other film/culture references: James Bond, The Avengers, Michael Caine films like The Ipcress File, My Fair Lady, The Bourne Identity.

All in all, I think it will do well internationally. The audience in Paris seemed to enjoy it a lot. It will probably be a hit with young blokes around the world who get off on the values of old James Bond movies, and who like comic book violence and a bit of casual sexism too.

Have you seen this film? Would you like to see it?

259. Eulogy for Dennis

Welcome to Luke’s English Podcast. This episode is entitled “Eulogy for Dennis” and it’s devoted to the memory of my Grandfather Dennis, who died at the end of December last year. The music you can hear is by Al Bowly, one of Dennis’ favourites. I hope you find this episode interesting to listen to and if you feel moved to do so – you are welcome to share your thoughts by leaving a comment on the page for this episode which you can find at – “Eulogy for Dennis” [Download]

A ‘eulogy’ is a tribute – either written or spoken, usually celebrating and praising someone who has just died. This episode is a eulogy for my grandfather Dennis, who died recently at the age of 94. Much of what I am saying has been written in advance of recording, so I’m reading from a script. I’ve said plenty of times before that I prefer to record without a script because I think it makes my speaking more natural and authentic, however in this case I felt I had to write a script before recording because I wanted to prepare my thoughts and comments carefully. So this episode is scripted – which is good in one way because it means that it’s there if you want to read what I’m saying. I expect I will go ‘off script’ at times, and express my thoughts as they come to me, so there may be some unscripted parts. Either way, you can follow the bits that are written by going to and finding the page for this episode.

I hope that you don’t find this episode self-indulgent, or overly personal. I invite you to listen and share some memories of my Grandad, who I regrettably never featured on the podcast in person. I hope this episode can be a sort of celebration of his life, as well as a respectful tribute. I’ve been preparing this episode all morning, and ideally it would be more detailed, with input from the rest of my family, perhaps some readings of his favourite poetry or literature and anecdotes from his childhood. In the end, I realised that I just couldn’t spend too much time on it, and so I’ve just decided to start recording. If I don’t record this episode today, I might never do it.

If you want to make a comment in response to this episode showing some sympathy, and you’re wondering what to write, the appropriate things are usually “I’m really sorry for your loss” or “Condolences to your family”. It’s okay though, don’t feel obliged to write anything unless. I’m fine of course, although I do miss him, and so does the rest of my family. He had a pretty good innings.

Comments are always welcome, and if you feel like sharing similar experiences or ideas, go ahead. This is episode 259 “Eulogy for Dennis”.

I’m not entirely sure if my podcast is the appropriate place to give a tribute to Dennis – this is a podcast for learning English, but at the same time my podcast is a way for me to communicate and share thoughts with an audience of intelligent people around the world. If the content of each episode is interesting for you to listen to – great. It’s good for your English if you are interested in what you are listening to, and even though I’m not directly teaching you language in this episode, there’s still a lot to be gained from just engaging with what I’m saying, intellectually or emotionally. I hope you can get a lot of comprehensible language input from Luke’s English Podcast, and hopefully more than that too. For me, I want to be able to tell people about my grandad, because now he’s gone and his actions are consigned to history. I just want more people to know what he did, and that he was a good guy.

Although I want to be respectful, there’s no need to be overly sombre or sad in this episode. My grandad had a great sense of humour and he wasn’t the sort of person to dwell on dark and depressing thoughts. I imagine that he wouldn’t want me to take this episode too seriously, and he’d just want everyone to be happy and glad for what they have. It makes me happy to be able to share memories and knowledge about this member of my family.

So, I’m just going to talk about Dennis, just so you know about him too. He was a really popular man, and I hope his quiet charm comes through in this episode. He was also a modest bloke, so if he was here now, he’d probably find this a little bit embarrassing and unnecessary. But he’s not here, so I can do what I like, and I would like to spend some time talking about him! So, that’s what I’m going to do!

I don’t know that much about his childhood really. He lived opposite a church. He grew up in quite a large house, and I think he really enjoyed growing up there, with quite a lot of space to play. I can’t really tell you more about his early life, because I don’t know enough. If he were here, I would ask him all about it. Suddenly, I want to know everything about his life story.

So, in 1939
-No choice but to fight
-He didn’t tell us about the really dangerous and traumatic stuff he must have done
-His report
-Military Cross

Dennis’ Report
This officer has commanded a platoon in a rifle company continuously since D-Day, showing throughout outstanding gallantry and powers of leadership, especially on patrol.

On the 23rd October 1944 outside VENRAIJ he was leading a daylight patrol which was ambushed at very close range; with complete disregard for his own safety he controlled the withdrawal of the patrol in the face of heavy fire and remained behind himself within about fifty yards of the enemy keeping up a constant stream of smoke grenades until he was certain that everyone was clear. But for his coolness and initiative a large part of the patrol might have been lost.

Prior to the capture of HELLIGENRODE on the 16th April 1945 he led his patrol deep into the enemy’s positions and by deliberately drawing their fire was able to pin-point posts which materially assisted the planning of the subsequent attack.

Following the capture of GR.MACKENSTEDT on the 16th April and again during the mopping up of Bremen, his dash and aggressive action in the face of continual sniping inspired his platoon of very young soldiers with a determination which quickly gained them their objectives.

On the 18th April outside DELMENHORST his company and its support troops were held up by an 88mm gun and an enemy position on their left flank, but with superb initiative LT. Hallam led his troop round a covered flank and by the speed of his attack overwhelmed a position equal in strength to his own and accounted for the entire garrison and the gun.

At all times this officer has been an outstanding source of inspiration to those around him and has shown powers of leadership above his rank.

Family Life
-Photos of him and my Gran. They were younger than I am now. They looked so sweet together. She was gorgeous – very pretty and elegant. He was handsome, and elegant too in his own way. Clever, with a dry sense of humour, and a decorated war hero (although I think Gran was not so impressed by that – I imagine by the end, they both hated the war and just wanted it to end so they could be together. She never really mentioned his war experiences either.)
-Post traumatic stress? They didn’t really believe in that sort of thing in those days.
-My Gran bought a house during the war, and they settled down there. Again, seeing pictures, I feel like I would like to meet them. I can’t help thinking that we would have got on. Well, we did get on of course, really well, but it would be amazing to meet them when they were the same age as me – on the same level of status etc. This makes me think of Back to the Future – a film which I’m hoping to talk about on the podcast soon.
-He didn’t talk about the war much. I expect he wanted to put it behind him.
-My Mum says he was a bit removed at times, and not always emotionally engaged. Maybe this is related to how he dealt with his wartime experience, or maybe he was just an emotionally reserved person. That’s not to say he wasn’t warm – he was. He was kind, loving, and thoughtful, but perhaps a little bit reserved when it came to expressing those things openly. His warmth came through in different ways – like in his humour, his obvious enjoyment of being with the family, his interest in our news and so on. It’s almost impossible to imagine him in a war zone, fighting as a soldier. He was most at home in his armchair, reading, doing crossword puzzles, watching cricket and laughing at jokes or making jokes. Like many other men and women of his generation, he was pulled out of life and forced to engage in bloody combat. Forced, by the need to go to war against the enemy, to fight back against the Nazis. He was forced by events outside his control, which swept him away from his otherwise peaceful life. Conscripted into the army, I imagine he found himself wondering how it had happened. I’m sure he was well aware of what had happened to so many other men of the previous generation in World War 1 (nearly 900,000 of them died) and so I can’t imagine how it felt to be walking into a similar situation. I suppose he took on the challenge like everyone else. He was only one of thousands of other soldiers who were asked to fight for their country. I think he had a sense of national duty, and duty to the king and so on. That probably helped him, and I don’t think he questioned or challenged the allied command, or the general fight against the nazis. I expect he saw it as a necessary move, albeit one that he wished was not at all necessary.

It does make me angry that those who wage war force people like my Grandad into such horrific situations. Many many men lost their lives, and the others suffered in other ways – physical injury but also mental or emotional trauma which must have affected these young men deeply. I think of the powerful men who, motivated by some twisted and distorted sense of justice decide they have the right to decide who lives and who dies, and with a sweep of the hand, cause untold suffering and consequences around the world for generations. What supreme arrogance and small mindedness is it, that causes some power hungry maniacs to believe they can do that? What kind of egomaniac thinks they can play with the lives of millions of people just to satisfy their own hunger for power? What on earth makes one guy think he’s the one to rule the world? It’s sick and it disgusts me that certain autocratic dictators will stop at nothing to satisfy their bruised egos. Anyway, there’s no need to go into it any more – I think enough has been said about war and the causes of war, and I know it is complicated, and I don’t want to open up some debate because there are many shades of grey, and what looks like the actions of a power hungry psychopath to one person, may look like righteous leadership to another person. It depends on your point of view, and what kind of propaganda you’ve been exposed to, but ultimately, with great power comes great responsibility, and in so many cases, those who seek great power rarely manage to behave responsibly. Spiderman taught me that. I’m sure there are leaders who do a great job, and are both powerful and responsible, compassionate, and caring – and it is really hard to keep the peace sometimes. But when you go out of your way to slaughter millions just because you don’t like the way they look, dress, pray, or otherwise live their lives – get a grip on yourself. If I met Hitler, I’d ask him “Who the hell do you think you are, mate?” He’d probably tell me that he was someone special, but it would be the wrong answer. He was just another schmuck. One of the biggest twats in recent memory, along with a bunch of other people who I’m sure you could name.

Just one point, which may be me just stating the obvious, but it wasn’t the Germans that were the enemy, it was the nazis, or whatever you want to call those people – you know what I mean. There were plenty of Germans who suffered at the hands of the nazis. So it’s not ‘Germans’ – it’s facists. The fascists came from all sorts of countries. It was a battle of ideas, not based on where you were from.

Also, I know that Britain doesn’t exactly have a perfect past either. We were a huge colonial power, and Britain/UK/England has done some messed up stuff in history too, in India, in the middle east. Everyone’s involved in war to an extent. But I do believe it’s possible for mankind to exist without war. I know this sounds a bit cheesy, but there you go.

As John and Yoko said, “Give peace a chance” – just entertain the idea for a moment that perhaps war is not the answer, and that the whole world could decide to just get on. I know it is naive, but why not? Communication, diplomacy, talking to each other, using words, listening, finding compromise and trying to solve problems – that must be the way forward, unless you believe in the end of the world and in fact somehow fantasise about it happening. I don’t believe in the end of the world. I think the world will go on for many more years, as long as it is not hit be a huge asteroid (like when the dinosaurs were around). Did you know, the dinosaurs lived way way longer than us? We look back at them as a failed species, but they were around for about 135 million years. We’ve been around, as the dominant species, for about 200,000 years. So, the dinosaurs were around 675 times longer than us. Just to put that in perspective, that’s the equivalent to about 1 day compared to about 2 years. Imagine your first day in a new job. Just the first day – you’re nervous, you don’t know anyone, you find it hard to get along with the other people who work there, you don’t like them at first, you don’t know how to do your job very well, but it’s just the first day, and you’ve got 2 years ahead of you. So for humans, it’s still our first day on the job, as the dominant species. We’ve achieved nothing compared to the dinosaurs, if staying alive is the objective, that is. For us humans, we should learn to get along or we won’t make it as far as the dinosaurs. We haven’t even started really… I don’t really understand what’s going on in the world. It seems so confusing sometimes. Why are there wars? Why does human kind feel the need to smash itself up from time to time? Isn’t survival on the planet hard enough? Perhaps we are hard-wired to fight against each other for our own survival, but we have only recently invented weapons of mass destruction. Our instinct, developed over years of evolution, has maybe equipped us with a keen sense of survival, which includes the will to fight each other, but now we have massively destructive weapons so isn’t it time to use our brains to control those basic instincts towards violence? I mean, just play a video game or go to the gym if you have that much aggression inside you. Do some sit ups maybe, rather than getting all angry and causing world war 3. Just have an ice-cream and chill out. OK, rant over.

How did I end up talking about that? I was just expressing anger about those powerful individuals who wage war. I know I might sound naive when talking about this subject, like you might think “Yes, but war is a necessary evil and blah blah” – well, I’m just saying it’s a pity. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

Oh and by the way, my grandfather was not bitter about the people he was fighting in the war. He never spoke badly about anyone really. I think the most outspoken thing he said was that he didn’t agree with women being priests in the Anglican church – a pretty old fashioned view, but there you go, and that’s nothing to do with the war. Other than that he didn’t have a bad word to say about anyone really. In World War 2, Japan was an enemy of the allies, but Dennis was so pleased to meet my Japanese friends when I invited them to my parents’ house at Christmas a few years ago. He was really friendly with them and we had a really great Christmas. Of course we did! Why would he bear a grudge against people who were clearly nothing to do with a war that happened generations ago? There’s no good reason for him to have done that.

I don’t want to go on about war too much. It’s annoying that his generation will forever be associated with it. It was only a small chapter in his life really. There’s no need to dwell on it. It didn’t make him who he was. He was more than that. He did so many other things, including having a family and raising two children. That’s worth celebrating as much as anything else. Of course I’m going to say it, but I love my uncle and my Mum massively. They’re just great, and that’s it.

This is the Eulogy I read out in church during the funeral service. It was written by Dennis’ children – my Mum and my Uncle.
They felt they wouldn’t be able to read it out without getting emotional. So, they asked me to do it. I was so proud to be asked. I didn’t feel too nervous. I was happy to read it. I didn’t get emotional until right at the end, when I my voice started shaking a bit.

Things we will remember about our Dad (words written by my Mum and my uncle)
His quiet, modest, ironic, witty and amusing presence.
His intelligence, erudition and knowledge.
His love of reading, especially Dickens and Trollope, who he re-read many times.
His ability to write – short stories, poems, articles, wonderful letters and inspirational little magazines which he produced during the war to boost the morale of his platoon.
Going with him to the public library to be introduced to the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson, Conan Doyle and PG Wodehouse.
His diverse musical tastes; encompassing Beethoven, Gilbert and Sullivan and Al Bowlly.
His facility for mimicry and pastiche.
His phenomenal memory – “ask Dad he’ll know” was frequently said by all members of the family.
His love of, and pride in, Yorkshire; its cricket team, its landscapes, towns and villages and all the happy memories it held for him of his childhood with his older brother and cousins; and later his pleasure in taking us on family holidays there, climbing Pen y ghent and Ingleborough, brewing up coffee on a primus stove, sheltering from the rain under bridges. And recently his enjoyment of visits with Shirley to Cononley, getting to know and love the village where his grandparents lived.
His affection for his school, Queen Elizabeth Grammar, in Wakefield where he obviously had a great education and whose headmaster A.J Spilsbury, was a life-long hero.
The cardigans he used to wear, the pockets of which always contained stubs of pencils with which he completed the cryptic crosswords he loved and was always so expert at, even up to the last few months of his life.
His love of France and the wonderful holidays he and mum had; travelling the length and breadth of the country, camping or staying in rather primitive gites. And, after Mum died, the holidays based on French courses he attended in various parts of France.
His amazing facility for languages, most particularly French, Spanish and German, the talent for which he has not passed on to us!
His skill with a watercolour brush.
His public spiritedness – volunteering to work at the Cheshire Home every Monday evening for 23 years.
His hatred of computers, but his amazing facility for texting on his mobile phone!
His characteristic silent laugh in which he closed his eyes and threw his head back, while quietly expelling air through his half open mouth – not a sound escaping!
His resilience and, sometimes infuriating, self sufficiency.
His even temper which he only ever lost on one memorable occasion, with very good reason!
The skill he displayed in cooking after Mum died, taking pride in hosting lunch and dinner parties.
His luck – sustaining only one injury during his very active war – a cut lip which he got while playing football! the good health he enjoyed during most of his long life, up to the last two or three years; and, after mum died, to have the companionship of Shirley with whom he had some very happy years; not least because, thanks to her Sky subscription, he was able to watch cricket all day long! They also went on many holidays and trips, and she looked after him so lovingly during his last months.
The modest bravery he displayed in his youth. When we asked about the MC which he won in the war he would say, airily “oh, they were ten a penny..”
His stoicism in the face of his death saying just a couple of days before he died “what will be will be”.
His quiet religious devotion, no doubt instilled in him from the day of his birth in a house just over the road from Beverley Minster, where his father was a chorister.
He was an exceptional example of a past generation.
As Hamlet says of his father:
I shall not look upon his like again.

As a Grandfather we only got the best of Dennis, and that was a lot. I remember him as just a great person to share a joke with. He was always up for a laugh, and as Mum and Nic mentioned, he was brilliant at doing impressions and characters. He was just a lovely, intelligent, mild-mannered and warm presence and we have nothing but joyful memories of our time with him.

My memories
Here are just some of the things I think about when I remember my grandad.
His tone of voice – it was soft, and comforting, humorous.
His general knowledge, and knowledge of history and literature.
His memory.
His love of cricket.
The glasses of sherry he would drink when he came to our place (served by my Dad).
Drinking whiskey with him at Christmas.
His friendly “Hello Luke” and a good firm hand shake.
His slippers which he used to wear.
His sense of humour – he could copy different voices, and he was always funny when he did this.
His style (and the style of my Granny – she was really elegant).
His French cars.
His love of France – and the language. He spoke fluent French and even wrote a few short stories in French too, which were published somewhere. My girlfriend and I used to sit with him and chat in French sometimes. Well, mainly them because my French is a bit limited, to say the least.
His love of Sherlock Holmes stories. We had this in common, and we would sometimes chat about Holmes & Watson. I played him my mystery story from episodes 29&30 of LEP. He enjoyed them. I’m sure he could have written something better.

I could go on. There’s so much to say and I’m sure I have missed some details, but there you go.

My Gran died in 2002, and my Grandad was always there for her. It must have been really hard to lose her after all those years, but he was a survivor, and he kept going, living alone for a while, before after about 6 or 7 years he got himself a girlfriend, called Shirley.

At the time, I didn’t even have a girlfriend, so I was pretty impressed with him.
Shirley & Dennis lived together in the last years of his life, and she looked after him really well. If it hadn’t been for her, he might have ended up in a care home, and he wouldn’t have wanted that.

Grandad stayed mentally alert all the way up to the end of his life. He was brilliant at crossword puzzles, pub quizzes, TV quiz shows and games. In the end, he died as a result of a heart condition. It wasn’t completely unexpected or a shock, but it’s still unavoidably moving and difficult to deal with when a member of the family dies. My Mum was with him when he passed away, holding his hand.

That’s it. He’s gone now. Where did he go? I don’t know.
Some people have their answers to that question, but I can’t be sure.
But it’s okay. All things must pass, it’s the way things are – better accept it.

Here’s a song by George Harrison.
Artist: George Harrison
Song: All Things Must Pass
Album: All Things Must Pass
Tab from

A D/A E** D
Sunrise doesn’t last all morning

A D/A E** D
A cloudburst doesn’t last all day

E A/E E** A**
It seems my love is up and has left you with no warning

E A/E E** A**
It’s not always gonna be this grey

Em D Dsus4 D
All things must pass
A D/A A D/A E** D
All things must pass away

Sunset doesn’t last all evening
A mind can blow those clouds away
After all this my love is up and must be leaving
It’s not always gonna be this grey

Em D Dsus4 D
All things must pass
Em D Dsus4 D
None of life’s strings can last
So I must be on my way
E** A
To face another day

Now the darkness only stays the nighttime
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
It’s not always gonna be this grey

Second Chorus:

Em D
All things must pass
All things must pass away

A D/A E** D A D/A E** A** E***

258. Award Win / Thank you! / Poem

This is a very short podcast episode because I don’t have much time, but I just wanted to say a very sincere THANK YOU to everyone who voted for me in the 2014 Macmillan Love English Awards. I’m proud to say that I won my category: Best Blog 2014 for the 4th year in a row! I am absolutely delighted, and as a way of expressing my delight I’ve decided to write a poem (extremely quickly – it’s no masterpiece!) I hope you enjoy it, and thank you again! [Download]

Small Donate ButtonPlease write your own poems in the comments section. Just have fun and try to make the words rhyme. You can write a poem about anything, and it can be as short or as long as you like. Thank you! (If you can’t think of a topic – try writing something about LEP or learning English).

My Epic Masterpiece of a Poem – POEM OF THANKS!
I won the award
It’s thanks to y’all
I hope you’re not bored
by me talking about the award
All in all
It’s great to have you on board
You’re all from abroad
And you felt inclined
To take the time
To go online
And vote in kind
for the podcast that’s mine
It makes me feel fine
Like the sun that shines
Thank you to you
For doing what you did
And I hope you consid(er)
You’re the real winner
Because by voting for me you bring more attention to the site, raising the profile of the podcast, broadening the audience, and ultimately helping me to keep doing this with confidence, which then feeds into the way in which I record episodes, and encourages me to continue doing this project which I started 5 and a half years ago and which continues to amaze me in terms of how popular it is, how useful it is to many listeners, and how I could possibly turn this whole venture into a career.

The rhyming broke down, but I did say that I hadn’t prepared it, right?
It’s hardly a masterpiece, but it doesn’t matter. It’s just for fun.

Here’s the rejected part of my poem
And voting for who
You felt was more true
“I listen to you
when sitting on the loo”
Is a sentence that you
might use to describe
a side of your life
that involves listening to me
while you do a pee
because, you see
your time is quality
I mean you can see
That you have to multi task

Here’s the video of Eminem talking about rhyming

Why don’t you try to write a poem in the comments section?
You could try to continue my one (can you think of something that rhymes with ‘multi task’?) or you could create your own poem.
Remember: Just try to have fun and make the words rhyme. No pressure to be the next Eminem!

257. Be Positive

This is an unplanned episode which contains some general thoughts on a range of different things. There is no specific agenda or language focus, but it does contain some news, a few film reviews as well as the usual spoken English and natural phrases which you can pick up if you’re listening carefully enough! The overall theme which emerged during the recording was that of being positive and making the most of what you’ve got. [Download]

Small Donate Button
An LEP listener has transcribed this episode. Click this link to view the transcript. To view more transcripts for other episodes, click here to visit the transcript collaboration page.

In this episode I talk about lots of things, including:
Welcome to new listeners.
Getting used to living in Paris.
Going with the flow.
Looking on the bright side.
Seeing where life takes you.
The future is unwritten.
The benefits of staying positive and looking on the bright side.
Don’t let negative thoughts drag you down.
Take responsibility for the good and bad things you do.
Don’t beat yourself up if things go wrong.
See things as learning opportunities. (This is the self-help section of the podcast!)
No regrets.
Is the cup half full or half empty?
Philosophical Conundrums, such as “If a tree falls in the forest and there’s nobody there, does it make a sound?”, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” and “How long is a piece of string?”
What is the word for a philosophical conundrum? I couldn’t think of it, but do you know the word I mean? Leave your comment below.
Macmillan competition news.
Please tell a friend about LEP.
The transcript collaboration.
Thank you to certain Lepsters who have contributed to the podcast – you’re super-special LEP ninjas.
Some quick film reviews: Imitation Game, It Follows and Foxcatcher.
Eulogy for Dennis, my grandfather.

Please do leave your comments here on the page. I look forward to reading your thoughts, conversations and responses.


p.s. the word I was looking for was… a paradox. Thanks Edgar for jogging my memory.

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 – read below for details.

[Download] [Audiobook Offer]Small Donate ButtonThis episode is sponsored by – the website for downloadable audiobooks. 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 In fact you can use a special link on to claim a free audiobook from today – that’s right would like to give listeners to LEP one free audiobook each to download. Where’s the link for this Luke? On on the right side, scroll down a bit – there’s an image which says “Download a free audiobook today” – click that to go to 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
Amazon have set me up as an ‘affiliate’ which means they would like me to promote their audiobook downloads from 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 – 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
Here’s what you do, and this is going to take just a couple of minutes – go to 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.
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

The LEP forum thread about reading books

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 – just click this link