10 years ago to this day I published the first episode of LEP.
10 years later I can now say that I’m making a living from doing what I love.
Thank you for listening and making my podcast what it is today!
Recently I was reading a book about listening and learning English. This episode is a summary of what I read, including details of how listening fits in with learning English, some considerations of the importance of listening and also some tips for how to improve your English with audio.
This episode is all about the importance of listening in the learning of English. It’s full of various thoughts and reflections about this topic and my aim to a large extent is to give you ideas and inspiration to help you keep learning through listening and to keep doing it more effectively, also to consider some things we know about learning through listening, to encourage you to reflect and form some metacognitive strategies towards your listening and also to give you some practical tips to help you learn English through listening and to improve your listening skills. I suppose ultimately I’d like to develop your process of understanding the place of listening in your learning so that you can take more and more responsibility for that learning. So that’s what this episode is all about. It’s quite appropriate I suppose considering this is an audio podcast for learners of English and you’re listening to this as a way to improve your English through listening, it’s worth taking time to think about the academic points on this subject.
Before we start I just want to say to any premium subscribers that I’ve got a series of episodes probably coming out next week all about grammar, focusing on tenses. We’ll be looking mainly at present perfect, but also comparing it to other tenses. So it’ll be a sort of tense review, focusing mainly on present perfect. There’s also going to be a series about the language which came up in my conversation with James that you heard on the podcast earlier in the year. So, grammar stuff coming next week and vocabulary later. If you want to get access to that stuff and all the other premium content go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium
Recently I was thumbing through some books at work. One of the books was a copy of Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom by Tricia Hedge, which is something of a bible for English teachers. A lot of teachers use this book during their DELTA and CELTA courses as it is absolutely filled with insights about language teaching and learning, all based on academic studies done over the years. It is a great book and covers most aspects of the work of an English teacher, including how people learn English and how, accordingly, English teachers should adapt their teaching methods.
I remember reading the book intensely while taking my DELTA. You heard me talking about the DELTA course with Zdenek earlier this year.
So I remember reading the book very thoroughly when I was doing my DELTA. Can you believe it, that was 13 years ago! It stuns me to imagine that it was so long ago. Anyway, during that time, when I was taking the DELTA and I had nothing else going on in my life – I used to work, come home from work, make myself tea and then retire to my bedroom where I would listen to ambient music and desperately try to focus on my work without getting distracted by absolutely everything in the universe! Because, somehow, when you’re working – everything becomes a major distraction. Anyway, one of the books I used to pour over was this one. I had loads of post-it notes marking various important pages.
Anyway, the other day I was at work and I noticed the very same book on the shelf, so I picked it up and started thumbing through it. 13 years later my situation has changed a bit. These days I’m doing this podcast and the majority of the people I am essentially teaching English to are not in the same room as me, they’re not even in the same country and in fact the only way I can communicate with them is through the medium of audio. I can also write things and post pics and videos on the website, but most of my audience don’t check the website – only about 10% actually go to the page.
Anyway, the point is – it’s now all about listening, which is amazing.
One of my aims in the beginning was to get people listening more, and it’s working. I have always thought listening to English must be an essential way to learn the language. It’s got to be a vital part of the learning process, surely. It’s like music – there’s music theory, music technique and all that, but for most musicians the best way to learn how to play well is to listen to plenty of music, and to practise every day. Listening probably comes first, right? Then it’s a question of practice x 5 and trying to replicate what you’re hearing. But first you have to get to know what music can sound like and to hear the way it is produced. When I first learned to play the drums I became obsessed with listening to my favourite drummers, who were: Mitch Mitchell, Stuart Copeland and Ringo Starr. Playing the drums at the beginning gave me a sense of how the music was produced, so I could listen to those songs and hear what the drummers were doing. I knew how they were doing it – which parts of the kit they were hitting, how those sounds were made. It was all a question of practising until I could do it too. In most cases I couldn’t replicate what they were doing (except in the case of Ringo!) but in practising like that I developed my own style, my own ease, my own technique and ultimately I was able to do things on the drums, play the kinds of beats I wanted to play, fit in with a band in the way I wanted. Obviously, listening was vital. It sounds ridiculous, obvious, right? To learn music, you must listen to it a lot – pay attention to how it all works. It’s the same thing with learning a language.
Obviously there are differences – the thing about music is that you understand it from birth without having to learn it first, right? It’s just something you feel. But anyway, I think the point still stands – that listening is a vital part of the learning process, just like it is with music.
So, back to the book. Now I’m interested in listening and I’m interested in what Tricia Hedge has to say on the subject of listening. So when I had the book in my hands, I flicked straight to the sections about listening and I made a note of what I found there.
In this episode I’m going to explain some of the things I’ve read and reflect on them.
Think about the average English lesson. Most of the time is spent on other language skills and language systems.
It is one of the 4 skills and it is a very important part of Cambridge Exams such as FCE, CAE and IELTS. Those exams give equal weight to the 4 skills, so listening is 25% of the whole exam. Is 25% of your study time in class devoted to listening?
The majority of classroom work is devoted to other things, probably speaking and writing skills, grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. I totally understand why. I wouldn’t spend all my time doing listening in my English classes. It wouldn’t make sense to get a bunch of learners of English together and just make them do only listening. Class time should be spent on other things, like communication skills, speaking and remedial work by the teacher.
Listening is in a lot of course books but the focus still seems to be on scripted dialogues which are designed specifically to present certain language, such as vocab or grammar. There just isn’t time to do extended listening, using unscripted dialogues that don’t follow a pre-planned agenda, but this is the sort of thing people need to practise listening to. Normal speech, which is a bit random, contains things like sentences that don’t end, false starts, moments when people talk over each other, moments of humour or spontaneous reactions and tangents in the conversation. So, real listening is overlooked.
The majority of interactions you will have will involve you speaking to a person, and it’s so important to be reactive to what they’re saying, and this relies on your ability to quickly follow what’s being said. It’s like fluency in a way – being able to follow fluid speech without thinking about it too much. That’s very important, of course.
Raising your listening skills means raising your awareness of the connection between the written word and the spoken word – meaning that a good listener is able to recognise English as an oral language and this means being able to decode connected speech, elision of sounds, weak forms, how meaning is expressed through intonation and sentence stress. Getting good at listening means getting to know English as a spoken language. This in turn should help you make your English more natural, rather than just a version of the written language which comes out of your mouth, and that is a big problem. When I listen to learners of English (and I have met many thousands of them over the years) it’s amazing how often their mistakes are a consequence of them essentially speaking English as it looks when it’s written down. So many learners of English got to know English as a written language, to the point that the spoken version is so foreign to them that it’s almost like another language.
How much time do we spend on listening, when we communicate, compared to the other 3 skills? Research has been done into communication in English, focusing on the average time spent on the different skills of writing, reading, speaking and listening. How much time, on average, do we spend writing, reading, speaking and listening when we are communicating? The research shows that 9 per cent of communication time is devoted to writing, 16 per cent to reading, 30 per cent to speaking and 45 per cent to listening. (Rivers & Temperley 1978, Oxford 1993, Celce-Murcia 1995). There’s no doubt then that listening is really important and is perhaps the first thing you must master when you’re learning the language, followed by speaking. That’s if we decide that time spent during communication is the most important factor. Of course it depends on your situation. Maybe you work in an office and you have to write a lot of emails in English but you never speak it. I guess for you, writing would be the most important thing. But anyway, the numbers speak for themselves. We seem to spend most of our time listening. But we don’t spend most of our learning time on listening. The result is that when we are learning, we focus on learning words, learning structures and so on, but when we actually interact with the spoken version of the language, it all seems totally weird because the way we deliver those words and structures with our mouths often bears no relation to the English we have become familiar with during our studies.
Listening will only get more important. It’s almost definitely true that society in general is moving away from print media towards sound, so listening has become and continues to become more and more important as we move forward. Much more of our information comes through audio than ever before. With the internet a lot of the news we’re exposed to on social media is small video clips, we send each other audio messages, talk via Skype, FaceTime or WhatsApp, there are frequent audio and video conferences at work, we have a plethora of podcasts available to us and much more than ever we are tapping into entertainment on a global level with platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime where there are loads of English language TV programmes in the original language version, perhaps with subtitles in your language. The internet has allowed us to use listening as the primary source of information transfer today. So, listening is more and more important all the time.
But what do we know about how people can learn English from listening? How does this affect the way I can produce LEP and how my listeners can consume LEP?
This is part of the theory of language acquisition which is very popular. The principle is that if learners listen to English which is understandable but slightly higher than their level, and they focus on understanding the message within a meaningful context, that they can then pick up the language as a by-product of the process. This is good news for LEPsters. It means that you can pick up the language from my episodes by listening carefully to the main message being communicated. By interacting with English like this, you’re just naturally exposed to language and learn the functions of phrases and grammar through context. The argument is that you learn a language when you can understand it, and the process of getting to fluent speech comes first through a lot of exposure to the language, at the right level. It’s important that you understand most of what you hear, and that allows you to learn the new things you are hearing.
This is the principle that people only learn from the bits which are genuinely important to them. Learners won’t learn everything they hear. They’ll be selective, based on their own personal motivations. For whatever reason, each person will value certain parts of the listening content more than others. This is the stuff they’ll really learn. This means, there are certain things that will make the listeners prick up their ears, and a lot of that is based on the preconceptions of the listeners, their values and so on. For example, learners might believe that they can only learn from an authority figure like a teacher, and therefore their words will carry more value and will become part of the intake. On the other hand, words spoken by someone they don’t respect will just go in one ear and out the other side. It’s not just respect of course. It could be other things. E.g. if a listener is an engineer, they’re naturally going to be more motivated towards the language of engineering. What this means for my podcast is that I have to constantly think of ways to keep you engaged in order to turn most of the listening input into intake. It also means trying to cover a wide range of topics, which I try to do. But I also think it’s something to do with being personable, real and relatable while talking. I try to always address my listeners and think about what it’s like for you and hopefully this keeps you focused, which is good for your English.
The point is that the language should be understandable yet not without challenge, and the content should be presented as valuable but with the understanding that you can’t please everyone all the time – that each individual brings their own personal motivation to the listening experience, which means that different parts are valuable to different people. Each person will focus their attention on slightly different parts based on their feelings and attitudes.
What I can try to do is make each individual feel personally involved, in any way I can. I believe this is done best when I address the listener directly and sometimes avoid speaking from a script. It’s more human and engaging to talk ‘off the cuff’. Also I should keep the topics varied and also have a variety of people on the podcast.
The language is transient – I mean, the words are only audible for a moment before they disappear. You can’t normally go back and listen again, unlike when reading when you can simply read the sentence again or scan the text to find something again. Listening comes and goes into the ether very quickly. You need to learn to think in a slightly different way and get used to interacting with the listening text by remembering what is being said, predicting what’s going to come next, and so on.
The written word has a standardised spelling system which everyone more or less follows. Also there are gaps between words on the page, and punctuation to show when one sentence begins and ends etc. With listening you don’t get any of these things. It’s not standardised like writing. You’re dealing with a lot of diversity in terms of accent and different ways the language can sound (and English is an extremely diverse language in which there are many, equally valid, versions of the spoken word).
It’s important to bridge the gap between the spoken version of the language and the written version. One way to do this is to do plenty of listening and reading, so that you’re familiar with the conventions of both versions of the language, but also there are other things you can do.
Another thing is this – if you listen to podcasts a lot, then you’re immediately pushing yourself ahead of your peers who don’t do this. Think of the advantage you’re getting over other people who just don’t do any listening.
Motivation, reducing anxiety and building confidence. Listening a lot can really help you with these things, because you become friends with the spoken word. Imagine if you’re a regular and long term LEPster and you have to do a listening test. While other people are probably panicking because listening is a nightmare for them, for you it’s like you’re entering your comfort zone. Make listening your friend. Get to know the spoken version of the language and get a leg up on the competition.
I am sure that many of you have some interesting things to add here – either stories of how you’ve improved your English through listening, or specific things that you do relating to learning through listening. So please, add your comments under this episode. Your input is extremely valuable because as well as all these academic studies that underpin many of the things in this episode, it’s the testimony and personal experience of people who have learned English to a decent level that is what counts. So, please, tell us your stories, give us your thoughts regarding learning through listening.
And thank you for listening to this!
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Testing Paul Taylor again on his knowledge of Britishness with several alternative British citizenship tests and some very British problems.
Welcome back to the podcast. I hope you’re well.
In the last episode you heard me talking to Amber and Paul. I hope you enjoyed that. It was lots of fun. I recorded it last week and after doing that mammoth episode about poshness Amber had to go but Paul stayed and so I thought we would return to the topic of the British citizenship test. We talked about this last time in episode 527 when Paul took the test on the podcast and failed.
I still had some other bits and pieces that I wanted to cover in the episode, including a stand up routine about the citizenship test and also an article in The Telegraph. Both of those things include their own citizenship tests, so let’s see if Paul can pass them. Be prepared to be either shocked or amazed by Paul’s knowledge about British things in general. Also we end up taking a citizenship test for the USA and to see if we pass or not, just keep listening.
So this episode is a chance for you to listen to Paul and me in conversation, but there’s also loads of stuff to learn in terms of British culture and certain words which are often pronounced wrong by native speakers of British English.
Check the page for this episode, where you will find links to the various tests and videos we’re talking about.
Let’s now join Paul and me after we’d just finished a cup of tea, ready to talk more on the podcast and let’s see how much he and you know about British life, culture and language.
Amber & Paul join me to talk again about poshness, posh accents and posh celebrities. This episode is full of different British accents – posh, RP and regional differences. It’s also full of comedy and I found myself laughing out loud while editing this, especially the interview with the football player that Paul tells us about. I hope you enjoy it.
Stephen K Amos
Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling
Jacob Rees Mogg (again)
Analysing the English in a sketch by Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and considering British communication style relating to apologising, making complaints and minimising language.
Luke rambles about folding seats on public transport, the spring equinox, saying goodbye to winter and the recent posh or not posh episodes.
Here’s another British comedy episode.
We’re going to listen to a comedy sketch by Monty Python.
This time we’re looking at British manners, politeness, communication style and just some madcap comedy too.
Similar episodes in the past have been things like my episode about British communication style (What Brits Say vs What They Mean), What is this British comedy? How to learn English with comedy TV series, and the episodes I’ve done about Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
We’re going to listen to a clip from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and also consider the cultural values behind the sketch, and how that relates to things like making complaints, saying sorry and making requests.
So, cultural stuff and also linguistic stuff too.
There’s quite a well-known series of postcards called the How to be British Collection. You might have seen them. They contain little cartoons illustrating life in England from the point of view of learners of English. There are some classic sketches in that collection.
The “How to be British collection” #8 – Being Polite (c) IGP Cards – Buy the books on Amazon here.
One of them is called “Lesson 16 – How to complain”.
It shows a couple in a restaurant, in England we imagine. They don’t look happy with the food. The man says “This meat is as tough as old boots” and the woman says “It tastes off. And these vegetables are cold.” (some nice vocab in there already)
In the next frame the man says “this wine is awful – I asked for dry and they’ve given us sweet.” and she says “and look, there’s a worm in my side salad…”
Ah, a typical English restaurant.
Then the waiter comes over and says “How is your meal? Is everything all right?”
Now, what would you say in that situation? How would you respond? Would you complain? How would you do it?
Well, in the sketch, after the waiter says “Is everything all right?” the man says “Oh yes. It’s all lovely!” and the woman says “Excellent, thank you!”
The point here is that British or English people avoid saying the bad thing, making the complaint, because they’re too polite and don’t like to cause a problem, so they say it’s all fine.
Is this a stereotype of English communication style? Partly. As we’ve seen before.
What would I say?
I would say that the food was no good, especially the part about the worm. Obviously those extreme details are added for comic effect, like a worm in the salad. But if my food was just not up to scratch, would I complain? I probably wouldn’t complain if it was something minor, but a big thing would be an issue, but what’s definitely true is that I don’t like getting into a situation of conflict or confrontation and so I would probably be very reasonable about my complaint. My wife is more direct about these things. She’s French. We often notice a big difference in the way we deal with things like this. She’s much more direct about making a complaint and getting what she feels she is entitled to. For some reason it’s more difficult for me. I don’t like getting into those confrontations. Is this just me, or is this British people in general? I think it’s a bit of both. I’m perhaps not the confrontational kind, but also Brits are like that too, more than other nations, as far as I can tell.
Of course there are plenty of British people who complain vociferously if there’s a problem, a lot of Brits (certainly English people) will avoid an awkward situation if they feel that nothing can be done about it.
Why do people want to avoid confrontation? What’s the worst that could happen?
Let’s find out in this sketch.
Listen to the sketch – just try to understand what’s going on. It’ll help if you watch the video because there are a couple of visual elements, but if you don’t watch it – just try to work out the details. Essentially, you’ll hear a couple in a French restaurant. They have a problem, and then they are visited at the table by various members of the restaurant staff including the waiter, the head waiter, the manager and finally the chef from the kitchen.
Let’s listen to it and see if you can work out what’s going on. Then I’ll break it down for you so you understand it just like a native speaker.
Bonus: Watch out for the punchline at the end.
A man and woman are in a fancy restaurant. The French waiter is very keen to make their stay satisfying. The man asks for another fork because his is a little bit dirty. The reaction of the waiter is extreme. he apologises profusely. He fetches the head waiter who comes to apologise. He makes over the top apologies. The restaurant manager comes out and his apology is serious and dramatic. Finally the chef comes out. He’s a huge angry man with a meat cleaver. He’s furious with the customers because they made a complaint which has caused so much sorrow to the staff of the restaurant. He shouts revenge as he tries to kill them.
“Lucky I didn’t tell them about the dirty knife!”
The main point is
I think this sketch is making fun of people who keep quiet about little complaints or use language to minimise problems, because they’re scared about making a fuss. This seems to be what they imagine could happen if they point out a problem. This is the worst nightmare of every British person who awkwardly makes a complaint. They’re terrified of making a fuss or causing a scene.
It’s not “I’ve got a dirty fork”, it’s “I’ve got a bit of a dirty fork”.
It’s ridiculous really – either you’ve got a fork or not. You can’t have a bit of a fork. Your fork can be a bit dirty, but it’s a bit silly to say “I’ve got a bit of a dirty fork”. However, this kind of minimising language is very common when people want to make something sound less serious than it is.
E.g. 1 “We’ve got a bit of a dirty table. Could you give it a bit of a wipe for us please?”
E.g. 2 Imagine someone announcing to someone that there’s been an accident, but they’re trying to minimise the seriousness of it because for some reason they’re embarrassed about it or they want to reduce the shock.
“Can I have a bit of a chat with you. Just a bit of a chat. It’s no big deal, it’ll just take a second.
It’s just that we might have had a little bit of a problem downstairs. There’s just sort of been a little bit of an explosion in the kitchen. Just tiny little bang really – more of a pop really, just a tiny little pop – you’d hardly notice it really. I heard it though and thought “Did I imagine that? Did someone just pop a balloon, or fart or something?” and then I picked myself off the ground and had a look downstairs and, yeah, the restaurant is a bit err, it’s a bit scratched and there’s a slight hole in the wall, and in the ceiling and a few puffs of smoke. At first I thought – “oh is that the chef having a cigarette out the back? I thought he’d given up!” But no it wasn’t him – I guess he won’t be smoking again in a hurry! Can you speak to him? Well, he’s a bit tied up at the moment, no he can’t come to the phone he’s… just resting. I think he fainted or just fell over after the thing, the thing that happened in the kitchen, and his head might have fallen off slightly and he might have lost a couple of other limbs in the confusion but anyway, no need to worry too much, it’s basically under control more or less, I just thought you might , want to pop down to the kitchen to have a look and maybe call an ambulance. Yeah, I would but I’ve lost my legs and I’m feeling a bit sleepy so I’m going to have a bit of a lie down, but I thought you might like to know… OK?
So, it’s always “A slight problem” or “A bit of a problem”.
Go through the paragraph again and highlight the minimising language.
Back to the comedy sketch…
This sketch is making fun of our culture I think – the way we are afraid of causing a fuss. Also it makes fun of the over-the-top way that fancy restaurants might apologise for small problems. They’re so keen to welcome and satisfy their customers. The sketch also gets completely carried away, especially when John Cleese’s “Mungo” comes out.
To an extent it’s a little bit pointless analysing Monty Python’s comedy because they make fun of absolutely everything, but I feel that they’re definitely poking fun at stuffy, polite culture.
Why do people minimise negative things? They want it to sound less serious. They don’t want to make someone feel they’re complaining. They want to show that it’s no problem – but why would it be a problem?
If you had a dirty fork you’d just say – “Excuse me, can I have another fork please? This one’s a bit dirty” the waiter is not going to be mortified. He’ll just get you another fork. This sketch represent’s the customer’s worst fear – that there will be a problem or a fuss.
“We don’t want to cause a fuss! Don’t make a scene!”
Now let’s go through the sketch again and understand it in detail.
RESTAURANT SKETCH: COMPLETE SCRIPT
|Lady||It’s nice here, isn’t it?|
|Man||Oh, (It’s a) very good restaurant, three stars you know.|
|Waiter||Good evening, sir! Good evening, madam! And may I say what a pleasure it is to see you here again, sir!|
|Man||Oh thank you. Well there you are dear. Have a look there, anything you like. The boeuf en croute is fantastic.|
|Waiter||Oh if I may suggest, sir … the pheasant à la reine, the sauce is one of the chef’s most famous creations.|
|Man||Em… that sounds good. Anyway just have a look… take your time. Oh, er by the way – I’ve got a bit of a dirty fork, could you … er.. get me another one?|
|Waiter||I beg your pardon.|
|Man||Oh it’s nothing … er, I’ve got a fork, (it’s) a little bit dirty. Could you get me another one? Thank you.|
|Waiter||Oh … sir, I do apologize.|
|Man||Oh, no need to apologize, it doesn’t worry me.|
|Waiter||Oh no, no, no, I do apologize. I will fetch the head waiter immediatement. (immediately – in French)|
|Man||Oh, there’s no need to do that!|
|Waiter||Oh, no no… I’m sure the head waiter, he will want to apologize to you himself. I will fetch him at once.|
|Lady||Well, you certainly get good service here.|
|Man||They really look after you… yes.|
|Head Waiter||Excuse me monsieur and madame. (examines the fork) It’s filthy, Gaston … find out who washed this up, and give them their cards immediately.|
|Man||Oh, no, no.|
|Head Waiter||Better still, we can’t afford to take any chances, sack the entire washing-up staff.|
|Man||No, look I don’t want to make any trouble.|
|Head Waiter||Oh, no please, no trouble. It’s quite right that you should point these kind of things out. Gaston, tell the manager what has happened immediately! (The Waiter runs off)|
|Man||Oh, no I don’t want to cause any fuss.|
|Head Waiter||Please, it’s no fuss. I quite simply wish to ensure that nothing interferes with your complete enjoyment of the meal.|
|Man||Oh I’m sure it won’t, it was only a dirty fork.|
|Head Waiter||I know. And I’m sorry, bitterly sorry, but I know that… no apology I can make can alter the fact that in our restaurant you have been given a dirty, filthy, smelly piece of cutlery…|
|Man||It wasn’t smelly.|
|Head Waiter||It was smelly, and obscene and disgusting and I hate it, I hate it ,.. nasty, grubby, dirty, mangy, scrubby little fork. Oh … oh . . . oh . . . (runs off in a passion as the manager comes to the table)|
|Manager||Good evening, sir, good evening, madam. I am the manager. I’ve only just heard . .. may I sit down?|
|Man||Yes, of course.|
|Manager||I want to apologize, humbly, deeply, and sincerely about the fork.|
|Man||Oh please, it’s only a tiny bit… I couldn’t see it.|
|Manager||Ah you’re good kind fine people, for saying that, but I can see it.., to me it’s like a mountain, a vast bowl of pus.|
|Man||It’s not as bad as that.|
|Manager||It gets me here. I can’t give you any excuses for it – there are no excuses. I’ve been meaning to spend more time in the restaurant recently, but I haven’t been too well… (emotionally) things aren’t going very well back there. The poor cook’s son has been put away again, and poor old Mrs Dalrymple who does the washing up can hardly move her poor fingers, and then there’s Gilberto’s war wound – but they’re good people, and they’re kind people, and together we were beginning to get over this dark patch … there was light at the end of the tunnel . .. now this . .. now this…|
|Man||Can I get you some water?|
|Manager||(in tears) It’s the end of the road!!|
|The cook comes in; he is very big and has a meat cleaver.|
|Cook||(shouting) You bastards! You vicious, heartless bastards! Look what you’ve done to him! He’s worked his fingers to the bone to make this place what it is, and you come in with your petty feeble quibbling and you grind him into the dirt, this fine, honourable man, whose boots you are not worthy to kiss. Oh… it makes me mad… mad! (slams cleaver into the table)|
|The head waiter comes in and tries to restrain him.|
|Head Waiter||Easy, Mungo, easy… Mungo… (clutches his head in agony) the war wound!… the wound… the wound…|
|Manager||This is the end! The end! Aaargh!! (stabs himself with the fork)|
|Cook||They’ve destroyed him! He’s dead!! They killed him!!! (goes completely mad)|
|Head Waiter||(trying to restrain him) No Mungo… never kill a customer. (in pain) Oh . .. the wound! The wound! (he and the cook fight furiously and fall over the table)|
|CAPTION: ‘AND NOW THE PUNCH-LINE‘|
|Man||Lucky we didn’t say anything about the dirty knife.|
|Boos of disgust from off-screen.|
Can you identify which UK celebrities are posh and which are not? Let’s listen to some British celebrities speaking, check their Wikipedia pages and work out of these people are truly posh or not. You’ll hear samples of lots of spoken English in this episode and we’ll focus on accent and pronunciation.
This is episode 582 and it’s called “Posh or not posh? (Part 2) Guess the Posh British Celebrities” and in this one we’re going to listen to a lot of famous British people and work out if they are posh or not.
This follows on from the last episode in which I talked about what makes a person posh and what posh people sound like when they speak.
You should listen to episode 581 before listening to this I reckon.
In the last episode you heard me say that a really important thing is to listen to people speaking and to hear lots of examples of posh speech. In this episode you’re going to hear loads of different people speaking. Some of them sound posh and others don’t. So you’re going to hear a mix of different accents. I could probably break it down like this – posh RP, standard RP and regional accents.
We’re going to go through a list of British celebrities. Can you identify if these people are posh?
I’ll name the person. We’ll listen to some audio of them speaking and see if their accent is posh. We’ll look out for some little clues that kind of give it away. Then I’ll have a look at their Wikipedia pages to get some more info and find out if they really are posh.
Remember the 7 types of poshness we talked about before.
The key things in the Wikipedia biography are: educational background (private schools, boarding schools, single-sex schools, prep schools) and family background (any connections to nobility). Also we’ll pay attention to the way they speak.
So it’s basically – poshness of birth, poshness of education and poshness of accent that we’re looking at here.
Remember that hardly anyone has all the traits of being posh. For example, I expect that most of the people in my list don’t score very highly in the “poshness of assumed superiority” because most of them are humble actors but maybe some of them actually are arrogant enough to assume that they’re better than everyone else. Anyway, the main things we’re looking at are birth (family connections) education (which school) and accent.
Again, it’s not very fair to judge people, and I’m just trying to help learners of English to be able to identify certain things about people from England.
As we go through these video clips which are on YouTube, the focus for me is on just the way the people speak. We might have to skip past some of the language (vocabulary) while doing this. Normally when I use audio like this on the podcast I break it down word by word so you can understand everything. There might not be time for in-depth analysis like that. We’ll focus on the accent, I might explain what’s being said a bit, and then we’ll check the Wikipedia page for that person and move on.
So, are these people posh or not? Let’s go.
Prince Harry (duh)
Jack Whitehall (and his Dad)
Everything you always wanted to know about posh people, but were afraid to ask. This episode is all about poshness in people, posh accents and what it really means to be posh.
Today I’m doing an episode on the theme of British accents and culture by focusing on the notion of ‘poshness’ in people. I’ll explain everything I think you need to know about what the word “posh” really means, and then I’m going to go through a list of famous British people, give some details from their Wikipedia pages, perhaps listen to some samples of them talking and you’ve got to work out if they are posh or not posh.
I’ve decided to name this game “Posh or not posh?”
This will probably take several episodes, so to be honest I might not actually get to the “Are they posh or not?” quiz until part 2, but we’ll see.
As I’m talking about how posh people speak you’ll probably be wondering what their accents sound like so I’ll do some posh accents throughout this episode, and you’ll have a chance to listen to lots of speech samples of people – some posh, some not, in probably the next part of this episode.
The reason I’m doing this is to help you understand what ‘posh’ really means, and how to identify poshness in people.
The thing is, that as an English person, when I meet another English person I can work out in just a few minutes quite a lot about them based on the way they speak, look and behave. Now, perhaps I shouldn’t because you’re not supposed to jump to conclusions about people or judge a book by its cover, but in my experience English people are able to identify things about each other, like social background and so on, and probably make certain judgements about each other by noticing clues that non-native speakers of English often are not aware of.
In many cases the most revealing clues are the linguistic ones – like speech patterns, accent, choice of words. So, I want to help you to understand this whole subject and to notice these clues so that you understand this whole thing like someone from the UK.
I don’t want to teach people to be judgemental, or encourage you to make assumptions about people based on the way that they speak – but I do want to just help you learn how to identify certain cultural and linguistic clues that you might otherwise be unaware of.
In the process you’ll learn details about upper-class society in the UK, what makes a person truly posh (or not) how posh people really speak, and you’ll learn more about some famous UK celebrities and the ways they speak English.
I should say too that I don’t believe being “posh” is automatically a good or bad thing really. It depends on the behaviour and attitudes of people as individuals, and it’s not fair to make generalisations about everyone. So I’m not saying being “posh” is a bad thing, even though posh people are sometimes disliked by people in the UK for various reasons. I’m also not saying that “posh” people should be looked up to for any particular reason. I’m just trying to help you learn what “posh” English really sounds like.
So first we need to clarify exactly what “posh” means and what makes someone truly posh. I have mentioned this word quite a few times before on this podcast, but anyway, here it is again.
“Posh” when referring to people
Collins Dictionary Definition
If you describe a person as posh, you mean that they belong to or behave as if they belong to the upper classes.
I wouldn’t have thought she had such posh friends.
He sounded so posh on the phone.
Not just ‘rich’, there’s a lot more to it than that, as we will see later.
Some of you might be thinking of Victoria Beckham at this point, because her nickname in the Spice Girls was “Posh Spice”. (Ginger Spice, Scary Spice, Baby Spice, Sporty Spice and Posh Spice) The press in the UK gave her that nickname because she had an air of sophistication and class about her, and she liked to wear quite chic clothes, but in terms of her background she wasn’t posh at all. Now you could argue that she is now more posh than she used to be, in some senses of the word, because she has achieved quite high status and is probably very rich and quite well-connected in the fashion world and so on, but there’s more to it than that, as I’ve said, and so she still isn’t truly posh. You can hear it in the way that she speaks.
The same applies to David Beckham, who although he is rich, successful, high-status (in the sense that he’s a successful celebrity footballer), well-connected and brushes shoulders with royalty and so on, is not really posh either.
So that’s the word “posh” for people. Upper-class, basically. That doesn’t really explain it though because now we’re into the whole concept of the class system and what upper-class really means – if indeed it still means anything these days, since we’re living in an era when, arguably, class distinctions don’t really exist any more, although I don’t really agree with that, or at least you can still see traces of the class system running through society in terms of power and the attitudes we have about each other. I’ll come back to this stuff about poshness in people in a moment.
I also want to say that we can say that ‘things’ are posh too, not just people.
“Posh” when referring to things
If you describe something as posh, you mean that it is smart, fashionable, and expensive.
Celebrating a promotion that my wife got at work, we went to a posh hotel for some cocktails.
That’s a posh car.
They’re having a posh dinner party in the house over the road.
We also use the adjective for anything which is fancy or high-quality. E.g. I’ve got a posh new laptop.
Back to poshness in people now.
How do we define upper class or high class? It can be a question of perspective.
“Posh” can be used to just describe people who you think are of a higher class than you, and this makes it a little bit subjective because what is posh for one person isn’t necessarily posh for someone else.
For example, if you live in a hole in the ground and you see someone who lives in a cardboard box, you might say “Ooh, you’re a bit posh aren’t you, living in a cardboard box! Oooh! Look at you with your fancy lifestyle”.
Similarly, if you live in a little terraced house in a slightly rough part of town and you meet someone who has a detached 3-bedroom house in the countryside, you’d say – “Bloody hell you’re pretty posh”. And if you live in a 3-bedroom house in the countryside and you meet someone who lives in a huge stately home like the one in Downton Abbey you could say “Wow, you’re really posh”, and that person visits the Queen and thinks “This is a bit posh isn’t it?” So it does depend on your point of view to an extent.
But, it’s not just your living conditions though. There are other indicators of poshness. You could be homeless and yet still very posh indeed. It’s also not about being rich. You could be penniless and still be posh.
American writer, resident in the UK for nearly 30 years, Guardian columnist Tim Downling @IAmTimDownling identifies 7 rules of being posh
After 25 years of living in Britain, US-born Tim Dowling believes he has finally worked out the class system. Here’s what he has learned
“There is no one kind of poshness. There are actually seven distinct types: poshness of birth; poshness of wealth; of accent; of education; also, the poshness of excellent taste, as well as the poshness of eccentric and exuberant vulgarity (e.g. over-the-top excessive and showy expressions of bad taste – bling); and, finally, the poshness of assumed superiority. Some of these are inextricably linked, and some quite naturally overlap, but almost no one is possessed of all seven.”
I think The Queen possesses all seven qualities. (How, Luke? Pray, tell us.)
Just to restate and slightly redefine:
1. poshness of birth [This relates to your family connections to the aristocracy, which has a clear hierarchy of status – the higher you are in the family, the posher you are]
2. poshness of wealth [the richer you are, the posher you are]
3. poshness of accent and register [the way you speak]
4. poshness of education [the school and university you went to]
5. poshness of excellent taste – the fine arts, fine wine, fine food – anything with ‘fine’ before it
6. poshness of eccentric and exuberant vulgarity (e.g. over-the-top excessive and showy
expressions of bad taste – bling) (in contradiction to point 5)
7. poshness of assumed superiority
I might add poshness of eccentricity to that too, marking it out from point 6.
What are the indicators of poshness?
Applying the 7 Rules/Indicators
I think the seven types of poshness described by Tim Downling are pretty good actually.
For example – let’s apply it to my family. I had a friend once who was convinced that I was posh. He was actually quite disdainful about it. He was from a working class or lower middle class background, and lived in an urban area in a terraced house. I knew him from college and we were in a band together. He used to come to my place for band practice. My family at the time lived in a house in the countryside outside the city. He had a car. Our house was quite big, admittedly. 4 bedrooms. I don’t think I’m that posh, but I can see how some people might think I am, like this friend of mine – let’s call him Ian.
Ian thought my family, my house and my life were posh – but I reckon that was just from his point of view.
Also there’s a bit of politics involved and if you’re left-wing in the old fashioned “up the workers” kind of way, you would view the upper-classes as the elite establishment who serve themselves at the expense of ordinary working people. This kind of attitude runs through some people, who sort of sneer at things they consider to be of the upper or upper-middle class.
I also got the impression Ian was a bit resentful of these things, and the fact that my parents were approachable and nice, and I always felt a bit bad when he tried to make fun of me for being posh – because I didn’t see it that way at all. I thought he’d got me wrong.
Here’s what he thought made me posh:
My family didn’t speak with a brummie accent. We spoke with RP. They were also quite cool and groovy parents who shared similar tastes as me.
We had different words for some things. He called it the living room or sitting room, we called it the lounge. He called it the settee or couch, we called it the sofa.
Our house was just bigger, which meant that we had more money – but only because my Dad had managed to get a good job at the BBC, perhaps because he went to Oxford University…
Hmmm, those things do make me sound a bit posh. But he got into Oxford because he worked really hard when he was younger, because his parents just brought him up well and because he’s clever. Nobody else in our family went to Oxford except my Dad and his brother went to Cambridge, but my grand parents and great grandparents never went to Oxford or anything. My Grandad was a civil engineer who served in WW2. I think Ian’s Dad hadn’t gone to university for whatever reason.
But Ian would do that “ooooh, in the lounge! Why don’t you lie down on the sofa in the lounge then!” all that stuff.
I don’t think he was right in thinking that I am posh. I’m not. I went to a state school not a private one. I didn’t speak with a proper posh voice – just RP with some brummie (video footage shows I had a brummie accent at the time!) because I wasn’t actually born in that area – we moved there from West London when I was 9. So I might have sounded posh to him, but not really posh! There is a difference between my RP and posh RP (hopefully we’ll hear some of that later). And, crucially, there is no old money in our family – no landowners, nor the slightest hint of a connection to the nobility. The fact is, although he would sometimes comment or make fun of me by going “oooh, the lounge – aren’t you posh! Ooh, you’ve got a gas AGA stove in the kitchen!! Ooh look at you”. None of that mattered to me at the time. I was more interested in how he played the guitar and what kind of music he was listening to. I probably was from a slightly higher class than him – perhaps I’m middle or upper middle class and he was lower-middle class or something, but it’s ridiculous isn’t it – to split hairs like this. I think mainly it was the environment I grew up in and the lack of certain working class tropes, like the kinds of brands they’d buy and even the way they’d talk to each other. And our house was full of art on the walls and books and stuff. I just felt like it was mainly my parents who had education and were interested in literature and things.
These distinctions are quite petty, but I have to say – they are undeniable. There were differences between us, but I like to think they don’t really matter. That probably confirms that I’m from an upper-middle class family. I don’t know!
I’m not in touch with Ian any more by the way.
All this can get pretty complicated, and I wonder if things are similar in your countries. I can’t really imagine what it’s like in China, Russia or anywhere else for that matter.
But to keep it as simple as possible, for me, genuine poshness is associated with truly upper-class people. You can act posh, sound posh, look posh, even smell posh, be considered posh by other people, but the only true sign of poshness is your family background. Family connections.
True “Upper-class” really means having connections to aristocracy, even quite remote connections. The more family connections you have to the aristocracy the posher you are.
These connections need to be hereditary ones, meaning things you’re born into. As long as you’ve got that, everything else you do doesn’t matter. You can speak like anyone else, look like anyone, live like anyone, have no money left and still be super posh if it’s in your blood.
Levels of aristocracy
Aristocracy = Royalty and The Nobility
The aristocracy is the genuine upper class, in terms of inherited social status, or poshness by birth.
The Royal Family is the direct blood relatives of the monarch. So this includes the King or Queen, Princes and Princesses. Dukes are also part of the royal family. Well, the Royal Dukes anyway (like The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip). There are also Noble Dukes too, who aren’t royalty. They’re nobility. Complicated isn’t it? Yes, it is a bit.
There’s a level below royalty too, which is still a part of the aristocracy. That’s the nobility.
There are 5 levels of nobility or peerage. Peerage means the system of inherited titles of nobility. Again, something you’re born into.
The ranks of the peerage are (in descending order)
There’s also the word “Lord” which you will have heard of. The term Lord is used in several ways. The general word “Lord” is another way of referring to a member of the nobility, like a baron. You’ll have heard this in Downton Abbey – the main character is known as Lord Grantham, but his real title is The Earl of Grantham. So “Lord” is just a term of address for anyone in the nobility.
But also a “Lord” is a political title given to someone who sits in the House of Lords, in Parliament.
Most of those Lords in Parliament are given their title by the government – they’re selected because of their expert knowledge, so they’re not nobility.
If you have someone in your family with one of those peerages or titles – Lord, Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount or Baron it means you have connections to the nobility, which is part of the aristocracy.
I wonder how many aristocrats I have listening to this podcast. Perhaps you have connections to aristocracy in your country (of course you might use different titles and stuff).
If that’s true and you are connected to the nobility, then “Hi! You’re really posh!”
Here in France where I live at the moment, there was a revolution of course, which ended the reign of the royal family when the country became a republic. But there are still noble families here and some very posh people. I taught a few of them at University. Some names came up in my register that were clearly very posh – usually in French these are names featuring the name of a place somewhere in France. I even had one guy who was a Windsor, and I’m not kidding – he was half-English and was related to the royal family on his father’s side. He was some kind of aristocrat. He told me that he knew Prince Harry and that he lived on a barracks in Westminster. That was both interesting and awkward because I didn’t find out until the end of the course, and one of the topics we’d covered was monarchy in the UK.
It was an English class at university, but this guy was basically bilingual. He still took my class though. I knew he was posh because he told me he lived in Westminster (when he spent time in London) and almost nobody lives in Westminster – in Zone 1 of London, except the Queen, the PM, some civil servants, some soldiers, and various super-posh people. So we’d spent some time dealing with arguments both for and against the abolition of the royal family in the UK, just as an exercise in academic writing and debating skills. I wonder how he felt. He said he enjoyed the class, which was nice.
There’s actually a list of peerages (hereditary titles), where all the family connections are published. It’s called Burke’s Peerage and you can get it online www.burkespeerage.com/
There are a few listings for Thompson – knighthoods mainly, it seems. Apparently knighthoods are listed in there. A knighthood is an honorary title, given by the Queen. It does not make you part of the nobility though. Really, a knighthood is just a title (Sir or Dame for a Damehood) and doesn’t give you any advantages really, although I’m sure it helps book restaurant tables and so on!
It seems so complex because there are loads of complex volumes and lists. I’m not in there, and neither is my Dad – OF COURSE.
If you don’t have those connections, you’re not really, truly posh. But you might be described as posh because you might have some aspects from other categories or people might just judge you to be from a certain background.
A few other signifiers of poshness:
Education – The school they went to, especially if it’s an exclusive ‘public’ school. Boarding schools. Top university educations from Oxbridge Colleges.
Wealth – especially in the form or property and land – possibly farmland, a stately home in the family for example.
Habits and lifestyle – cricket, golf, tennis, horse riding, polo, hunting, fine art, theatre, ballet, opera, gastronomic food. They’re not exclusive to posh people, but you often find posh people are into those things, definitely the ones involving horses. They’re very horsey, posh people.
Speech – certain words, a certain accent.
Here are some features of how posh people speak. It’s a combination of accent and choice of words.
It’s actually pretty complicated – there are several types of posh speech, I have to say.
Old fashioned posh (like the old BBC accents, The Queen’s accent) – you could call it old fashioned heightened RP.
But there’s also a modern posh accent that upper-class young people might speak – like Prince Harry, Kate Middleton or the guy in the Gap Yah video (more on that later). Modern posh young people might actually borrow certain words or features of colloquial speech from lower class culture, but there are still certain aspects of pronunciation that will reveal their poshness – particularly certain vowel sounds.
So modern posh people, like William and Harry, can sound really similar to middle class people like me, but they give themselves away with certain little clues in word choice, pronunciation and just a general attitude too. It’s parodied really well in a YouTube video called Gap Yah, which I’ll deal with later on when we look at some examples of speech.
I need to do more episodes that cover these types of speech in more depth. The best way for you to notice these things is to listen to a lot of samples of people speaking in these ways. So what I should do is other episodes that feature: William, Harry and Kate, comedy clips parodying modern posh people (like the video called Gap Yah) and perhaps clips from Made in Chelsea. Also, episodes with some old fashioned posh RP – like clips from Downton Abbey, The Crown, or comedy parodies of old upper class people speaking. That’s a lot of content! You could also check these things out online.
But here’s an overview of some general features of posh heightened RP.
Heightened RP, or “posh RP” – or RP with certain features.
To a large extent it’s clear English with every sound clearly enunciated. You will probably love it, just saying. Usually learners of English love hearing “posh” English because it’s clear (which really means it matches the old fashioned English that was used to make old learning materials for decades) Mostly posh English is just like normal RP and you might not notice a big difference with my accent, but there are little features that mark out posh speech from just standard RP.
These things are probably very difficult for learners of English to notice, but an English native speaker would pick up on them almost immediately.
Some features of posh speech:
Consonant sounds at the ends of words are not dropped, like ‘t’ or ‘d’.
No glottal stops – dropped T sounds
Imagine Tom Hiddleston as Loki in the Marvel films.
But having said that I can definitely imagine a posh guy in a pub ordering some drinks and intentionally dropping his Ts in order to sound cool, or when talking to a mechanic.
“Yah, can I get another couple of sparkling waters, yah, thanks Toby”
“Right, yah so you reckon the carburetor is fucked. Ok chaps. Well let’s bloody well make it unfucked, pronto! hayahyahyahya!”
TH sounds are pronounced fully not as /f/ or /v/.
Thirty three thousand months of Thursdays thinking thoughts”
So far, so normal RP…
Tripthongs are flattened. E.g. power – shower – riot – hire – fire – gap year – layer – mayonnaise – player.
“I’m terribly grubby after playing some rugger. I’m not much of a player – more of a spectator really. Never was particularly good at sport, you know. Had a bloody hard time at school I must say. I always found it so awfully competitive. But look I’m going to go off and have a shower I think. We’ve just had a rather good shower installed in the 8th bedroom in the north wing actually. I think it’s a power shower as a matter of fact. I tell you what, if Daddy saw me like this he’d be bloody furious. Not the done thing at all, hohhoh. It would be somewhat… awkward let’s say. He does get, exceedingly ticked off at that sort of thing. Rather an angry fellow you know, my my my my father, you see. He’d probably do something drastic like get me fired from my job again and I’d have to get hired somewhere else. So this is a podcast is it? Jolly good. It’s an absolute riot this internet stuff. I did a bit of English teaching on my gap year actually. Oh yeah, it was bloody great fun actually. Anyway, I must dash…”
Certain words -e.g. These adverbials: terribly, awfully, rather, not at all, exceedingly, somewhat, frightfully.
Calling their parents Mummy and Daddy (especially the girls).
Saying “yah yah yah” and “you know” quite a lot.
Obviously posh people are going to wear expensive brands, but the posh look is probably like this: Hunter boots, or boat shoes, chinos, corduroy or stonewashed jeans, a checked shirt, with a boating sweater on top, perhaps a polo shirt, a rugby shirt, possibly a blue blazer, an old-school tie, a wax jacket or a puffy jacket, possibly a puffy waistcoat, possibly a flat cap but not necessarily. Women might wear a fur waistcoat. Floppy hair. Dressing like they’re either going to spend the day on a boat, or spend the day hunting in the countryside.
Formality and smartness
You can imagine posh people dressing up in expensive evening wear but also having some eccentricity (like affectations) and scruffiness.
Double-barreled surnames – surnames with more than one part, especially if the pronunciation and spelling of the names are really different. Politician David Lloyd George, composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, astronomer Robert Hanbury Brown, actors Kristin Scott Thomas and Helena Bonham Carter.
Not trying to be posh.
Genuine posh people have nothing to prove and therefore can be pretty eccentric.
To be honest, posh people are just as likely to behave badly as non posh people. The image of the “hooray Henry” is a well-known one. It’s basically a sort of posh hooligan of sorts. Hooray Henries might populate towns like Oxford and they’ll get drunk and do stupid things. Some very posh schools have secret members’ clubs that involve nasty initiation rituals, eg the Bullingdon Club which was famous for smashing up restaurants and then throwing down money to pay for the damage. Former PM David Cameron was a member, so was Boris Johnson and various other members of the Tory party establishment.
It does depend on the individual, and there are some extremely charitable and wonderful posh people, but at it’s worst the attitude of posh people is one of disdain for the lower classes and an assumed sense of superiority.
Where are posh people to be found?
In Chelsea, Sloane Square, Kings Road, Oxford, Cambridge, Home counties, Henley on Thames, Ascot, Wimbledon.
Let’s go through some categories of poshness again. Which one is the most important (I think you’ve got it by now)
The school – but non-posh people get into top schools all the time.
The wealth – but plenty of non-posh people are rich and some really posh people are broke.
The lifestyle – anyone can fake it and live like a posh person without being truly posh.
Relationships with family – pressure from parents to live up to high standards, perhaps distant relations with parents due to growing up with nannies or in boarding school, monetary support from parents.
Politics – the majority of posh people vote Conservative, although occasionally some are socialists.
The accent – anyone can fake that too, and many people do.
Eccentricities – this is quite a good indicator. You might find that truly posh people are a bit odd. Think of Prince Charles talking to trees and wearing timeless clothes.
Owning land – often posh people own large areas of land and might be involved in agriculture.
But ultimately – it’s about family connections.
As you might expect – it’s complicated, it depends and it’s a matter of perspective.
There are attitudes towards truly posh people, and then attitudes to people who act posh but aren’t.
Also it’s a case of how people behave, rather than which social class they belong to.
Quite a lot of people don’t like the aristocracy because of the associations with a lack of democracy but it depends if they have personality. E.g. it’s possible to disagree with the concept of aristocracy, but to get on with an aristocrat.
We like eccentric, down-to-earth, kind and jovial posh people but there’s a feeling that many posh people, such as the people in the reality show “Made in Chelsea” are snobbish, arrogant, small minded, privileged, selfish, judgemental, elitist, patronising, superficial and cut off from reality. But maybe the thing about the people on that show is that we all know that in many cases they’re not fully posh, just the product of social climbing. It’s not just a question of disliking people who have money, there is something about the attitude and the behaviour too.
Also there’s a sense of injustice that these people enjoy high-status lifestyles and privilege not because they’ve earned it, but because Daddy paid for it. People argue that these people live in a bubble and don’t understand the struggles of most ordinary people, and also that they look down on other people and consider themselves superior.
Also, people tend to dislike those people who are social climbers – perhaps people who aren’t truly posh, but who are desperate to raise themselves in social status and class, and perhaps who are very snobbish about people lower than themselves – as an expression of their class aspirations.
E.g. Hyacinth Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances. She’s middle class, or perhaps from a lower class family in fact – but she is desperate to appear upper-class. Ultimately, she’s fake and she’s a snob.
But honestly, I think what people really don’t like is if people are faking it and acting superior when they’re not, or if people are just being mean in some way – e.g. assuming they are superior to everyone and talking down to people.
When a person is genuinely posh and has proper connections to nobility, you might find Brits are a bit more sympathetic to them. But people who are trying to show off their wealth and who have aspirations to being seen as posh, but aren’t actually posh – we dislike that! They don’t know their place! Don’t get above yourself!
It must be the same in your culture. Don’t we all dislike it when people are fake, condescending, conceited, disrespectful and snobbish, regardless of their social background? Equally we will like people who are charming, respectful, amusing, kind and so on, regardless of what their background is.
Class is hard to explain to people who haven’t had exposure to the culture, grown up here, met all kinds of people, you might not have the same feelings about this subject. It’s also related to politics. A lot of the time people visit the UK and are absolutely charmed to pieces by people that the rest of the country might dislike.
E.g. A lot of Americans just fall over themselves when they hear a posh British accent. Even someone who isn’t really posh – but who just speaks with RP, like me, is immediately given something like noble status by many Americans. Like “Oh my gaad I love that Briddish accent you sound so regal and sophisticated”.
Foreign people are often fond of the stereotype of British people as being very posh – as if that’s normal. But it’s not really normal. E.g. the image of the gentleman in a suit with a top hat or something, or the family from Downton Abbey who spend a lot of time drinking tea and talking in quite a formal and polite way. Most of us aren’t posh and we see genuinely posh people as a bit weird and disconnected from real life.
Are those stereotypes about posh people true?
Partly, but I think that most truly posh people also face plenty of challenges and hardships of their own.
There’s also a certain amount of upward snobbishness and generalisation going on. People from middle class backgrounds might resent upper class people. E.g. fox hunting
Some of the dislike of posh people is jealousy, but not all of it.
It’s not really fair to generalise. We should judge people on an individual basis. I’m sure plenty of upper-class people are really great.
We shouldn’t judge all posh people by the people we see in Made in Chelsea.
It’s probably not fair to tar them all with the same brush. Just in the same way we shouldn’t generalise about any group in society.
E.g. you wouldn’t say all working class people are hooligans just because of the actions of some football fans on TV.
Nevertheless, a lot of people take the piss out of posh people, resent them for their privilege, and even hate them for the fact that they’re rich because of old fashioned elitism and the so-called Eton mafia.
So, now that you’re armed with your new knowledge about posh people, do you reckon you can spot a posh person?
End of part 1?
poshness of birth
poshness of wealth
poshness of accent
poshness of education
poshness of excellent taste – the fine arts, fine wine, fine food – anything with ‘fine’ before it
poshness of exuberant vulgarity (e.g. over-the-top excessive and showy expressions of bad taste – bling)
poshness of assumed superiority
I might add poshness of eccentricity to that too, marking it out from point 6