Author Archives: Luke Thompson

About Luke Thompson

I've been teaching English for about 16 years in London, Japan and France. I also do an award-winning podcast for learners of English called "Luke's English Podcast". In my free time I'm a stand-up comedian who regularly performs shows in English in Paris and sometimes London.

586. The Importance of Listening

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.

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Episode Transcript

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.

Academics often write that listening is overlooked in ELT

Think about the average English lesson. Most of the time is spent on other language skills and language systems.

Listening is one of the 4 Skills

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?

We don’t do much listening in class

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.

We often listen to scripted listenings in class

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.

Listening is vitally important in everyday life

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.

Listening is linked to pronunciation and speaking

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 communication time do we spend on listening?

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 be more and more important

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.

How do people learn English through listening?

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?

Input vs intake

Comprehensible input

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.

Intake

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 can I do on LEP?

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.

Why listening is more difficult than reading

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).

What can you do?

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.

  • Listen and read at the same time
  • Dictation or listen + repeat dictations (use audio with a script)
    This allows you to turn an interconnected stream of sounds into sentences, words, syllables, phonemes.
    I’ve talked about this on the podcast before and I will no doubt talk about it again because I think it’s a great technique and in fact I’ve been working on some content which is designed specifically for this technique. Basically, listen to some audio, repeat what you hear bit by bit, then compare it to the script. You can then do things like use a pen to mark emphasis, intonation, connected speech, pauses on the script, then record yourself reading out the script, then try and replicate the main ideas without reading (it doesn’t matter if you say it differently – it’s not a memory test, you just have to communicate the main ideas in your own voice – and you might find that you remember some of the lines that you repeated before. You can also try writing down what you’re hearing and comparing that to the script as well. All of it can help you turn fluent speech into individual words, phrases and sentences, helping you work on pronunciation and speaking skills too.
  • Engage with the subject, not just the language. We know that we tend to understand what we hear more when we are engaged in the subject. This means that you should think about the topic being talked about and perhaps predict some of the things we’re going to hear. Basically, before you listen to something, just take a moment to make sure you are intellectually and perhaps emotionally engaged in that subject. Find some way to relate it to yourself personally. Use your imagination to picture the whole subject, issues relating to it and the things which might be said. We know that this helps you to listen more accurately, rather than just going straight into the listening, cold.
  • Learn the phonetic chart and practise it. Get an app, like Sounds or Sounds Right by the British Council. Do all the exercises, learn the phonetic alphabet. These are the basic building blocks of English and can really help you to break down, recognise and replicate sounds, words and so on.
  • When you’re repeating, pay attention to the emphasis. Which word in a sentence is being emphasised? Why? When you repeat, try to say the whole sentence like a word with the emphasis on the same part that you heard it. This can help you not only learn good sentence stress (which arguably is the most important factor in pronunciation) but also can help you identify the key information when you are listening.
  • Listen to a variety of things. Different genres of audio tend to follow their own “macro-script”, meaning that they follow the same kinds of conventions. For example, listening to the news you’ll notice certain things they always say, certain things that they only do on the news. Sports reports have their own characteristics, political speeches have their own style, a radio drama sounds unmistakably like a radio drama, an academic lecture sounds like an academic lecture, etc. You’ve got to get used to recognising certain conventions of different types of audio recording. So listen to a variety of audio.
  • But also, listen to the same thing again and again. Listen to your favourite English podcast every day for a month. You should wait about a month before you make a judgement. Listening to just one episode isn’t going to make a huge difference. Listening to many episodes, regularly, over a longer period – this is what makes the difference. It is a compound effect and to an extent it’s not even noticeable, but keep it up! This is one of the main issues today. People want instant, measurable results, but the reality is that language learning occurs over time and is sometimes not noticable. It sort of happens under the surface. But you have to be in it to win it. If you don’t use it you lose it. So keep listening every day for at least a month, then you’ll see that suddenly you can understand more and more and a whole new world of English can open up for you.
  • Listen to things you enjoy and are really motivated to hear. This helps turn input into intake.
  • Listen several times.
  • Don’t assume that movies and TV series are the best things to listen to. They tend to focus on visuals first. There’s music and other sound effects which actually get in the way. Sometimes dialogue is so naturalistic that it’s kind of impossible to follow. Often I can’t actually hear what’s being said in movies. Audio podcasts are probably better because they’re made for you, and you can just focus on the English exclusively. But, of course, if you like watching films in English don’t let me stop you. If you’re a big fan of the MCU for example – go ahead and watch Avengers: Endgame in English, twice!
  • Watch out for subtitles. Watching Netflix with English subtitles is something that everyone assumes is a great idea, and it is good. You can read what you’re hearing, notice the way the written language is expressed in speaking, you can pick up new words and phrases and so on. But for working on listening skills alone, it’s important to try some other ideas. For example, try to spend time listening without subtitles, then rewind and listen to that section again with subtitles and see what you’ve understood. Use subtitles or scripts after you’ve listened, in order to identify which bits you got and which bits you didn’t. But don’t get too used to always having subtitles when you listen, because this means you don’t develop proper listening skills. Also, don’t feel you always have to have the subtitles on or off. Switch between having them on, having them off, watching scenes several times with and without subtitles. Good learners of English actively use TV and films and think outside of the box a bit. It’s not just a case of switching Netflix to English and then just relaxing on your sofa.

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.

So finally, the points are…

  • Listen a lot! Yey! This is probably good news because if you’re a regular listener to this podcast you just need to keep going! Keep it up!
  • Listen to various things. I’ll try and keep it varied here, but consider checking out some other things. Check out BBC podcasts on different subjects and shop around a bit.
  • Use some techniques, like listening and repeating audio that has a script and learning the phonemic script.
  • But ultimately, just relax and enjoy the process! Take time to reflect personally on what you’re listening to and enjoy yourselves!

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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Let me know your thoughts and experiences of learning English through listening. Leave a comment below.

585. Alternative British Citizenship Tests with Paul Taylor

Testing Paul Taylor again on his knowledge of Britishness with several alternative British citizenship tests and some very British problems.

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Introduction Transcript

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.

Videos & Links

Imran Yusuf’s British Citizenship Test

The Daily Telegraph’s British Citizenship Test for Meghan Markle

www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/queen-greasy-spoons-alternative-british-citizenship-test-meghan/

Very British Problems on Twitter

An American (USA) citizenship test on the Washington Times website

www.washingtontimes.com/quiz/2015/feb/11/us-citizenship-test-could-you-pass/

Paul Taylor on Twitter

 

 

584. Posh or not posh? (Part 3) with Amber & Paul

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.

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Are these celebrities posh or not? What are the features of posh accents, RP and regional accents in the UK?

Kate Beckinsale

Victoria Beckham

Sadiq Khan

Kenneth Branagh

Stephen K Amos

Elton John

Daniel Craig

Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling

George Martin

Jacob Rees Mogg (again)

Danny Dyer

Keep adding your videos of British celebrities in the comment section. Are they posh or not posh?

583. British Comedy: The Dirty Fork / Restaurant Sketch (Monty Python)

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.

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Introduction

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.

Buy the DVD Box Set for Monty Python

Check out the Monty Python YouTube channel where a lot of their content is available free

Intro to the sketch

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!”

8

www.lgpcards.com/index.html

Hmm…

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.

The Dirty Fork 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.

Summary
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.

The punchline?
“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.

Minimising language

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.
Lady Really?
Man Mmm…
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 patchthere 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.

582. Posh or not posh? (Part 2) Guess the Posh British Celebrities

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.

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Introduction Transcript (Videos below)

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.

  • 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

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.

Videos & Speech Samples

Jacob Rees-Mogg

Adele

Prince Harry (duh)

Keira Knightley

Wayne Rooney

Jack Whitehall (and his Dad)

Paul McCartney

Idris Elba

Emma Thompson

Brian Sewell

Any other UK celebrities you can think of? Add a video in the comment section.

 

581. Posh or not posh? (Part 1) Understanding Posh People and Posh Accents

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.

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Transcript

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.

What does “posh” really mean?

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

adjective [informal]
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.
High-class
Upper-class
Not just ‘rich’, there’s a lot more to it than that, as we will see later.

Posh Spice

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

adjective
If you describe something as posh, you mean that it is smart, fashionable, and expensive.
[informal]
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.

What is upper-class?

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.

7 rules of being posh

American writer, resident in the UK for nearly 30 years, Guardian columnist Tim Downling @IAmTimDownling identifies 7 rules of being posh

www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/sep/22/poshness-foreigners-view

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.

How do you know if someone is posh?

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.

Family Connections

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.

Royalty

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.

The Nobility

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)

  • duke
  • marquess (pron: markwiss)
  • earl
  • viscount (pron: /ˈvaɪkaʊnt/)
  • baron

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.

Posh Speech

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”

or

“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.

Other posh signifiers

Clothing

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.

Cars

Range Rover

Posh names

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.

Behaviour

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.

Attitudes

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.

More Categories of Poshness

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.

Nepotism

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.

How do most people feel about posh people? Do we like posh people?

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?

Let’s see.

End of part 1?

How posh are you, Luke?

Criteria:
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

www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/quiz/2014/sep/22/are-you-posh-quiz


Gap Yah

580. Ramble / Listener Comments / Robots / Vampires / Two Taps in the Bathroom

A rambling episode with responses to listener comments, LEPster meetups, English Robot 3000 & 5000, vampires leaving comments on my website and the continuing mystery of two taps in the bathroom.

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Episode Transcript & Notes

Hello welcome to episode 580 of my podcast. My name is Luke, this is my podcast for learners of English and in this episode I’m going to have a bit of a ramble, respond to a few listener comments, give a bit of general news, and all that kind of thing!

It’s a been a little while since the last proper rambling episode. That was 558 I believe. Here we are now with episode 580. I’m just sitting here in my flat on a Friday afternoon, hoping to get an episode out before the weekend. Looking forward to the weekend? Yeah? Got any plans? Maybe you’re listening to this after the weekend, in which case – how was it? Any good memories? Can’t remember? Can’t even remember the weekend, eh? I suppose that means it was a good one then.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the recent episodes. The conversations with guests – focusing on fellow English teachers from podcastland – Zdenek Lukas, Jennifer from English Across the Pond and then Ben Worthington from IELTS Podcast. Also there was my long chat with James which has proven very popular. Lots of people love that episode, even though James himself seemed convinced nobody would see the value in it, and then of course the episodes dissecting comedy – the Bill Burr plane story and Paul Chowdhry’s hilarious routine. Plenty of people have asked for more of that sort of thing, and there will be more. I’ve always done that on the podcast – listened to extracts of people speaking (often comedy) and then broken them down word by word for you. Check the archive for all the British Comedy episodes.

How are you?

I expect you are in one of a number of situations as you listen to this.

Maybe…

  • Walking down the street, in which case – please watch your step as you go. Don’t get distracted and accidentally fall into a hole.
  • On a bus – in which case, why not give a smile to the other passengers, just to lighten the mood on the bus there. In fact you could get up and announce to everyone – “Hello everyone on the bus I hope you have a really great day today!” and see what kind of reaction you get.
  • On a train – in which case, why not take a little walk down the train to see if they have one of those train cafes where you can get a coffee and maybe a chocolate muffin or something, because when you’re travelling on a train the chocolate doesn’t count. Also, walking down the train is quite fun. You can kind of wobble along, grabbing the tops of the seats to steady you and maybe flirt for a moment somehow with some of the other passengers, right? That’s one of the cool things about being on a train. Sometimes there are other passengers who might give you a little look, like “well, you’re on this train, I’m on this train, clearly God intended us to be together and I suppose there isn’t much more for us to do just make sweet sweet love to each other, when we’ve reached our destinations and agreed upon a suitable place and time of course… but all of that is out of the window when you’re single, on a train, heading for the coffee car and perhaps making eye contact with another sexy passenger… And then absolutely nothing happens, you just carry on your journey. Do you do that? Fall in love with another passenger, without actually having any social contact with them whatsoever. Anyway, if you’re on a train, and you make a connection with another traveller, who let’s say is also listening to something – try asking if they’re listening to LEP. It would certainly give you both the perfect starting point to build the rest of your lives upon! Ha ha, imagine that. Actually, I’m pretty sure that at least one couple out there is together now because of this podcast. Let’s make sure it continues to happen! Let’s make the world a better place people!
  • Driving in your car – in which case, please drive carefully while listening to this podcast. When you’re not listening to this, do what you want.
  • On a plane somewhere – in which case, just remember that you are much more likely to be killed or even just injured on the ground than in the air, because, well, that’s usually where the plane crashes isn’t it. So, anyway, while you’re in the air, you’re safe. :)
  • On one of those electric scooter things – in which case, are you sure you look cool?
  • Doing the housework – in which case, you missed a bit, just there. (annoying)
  • Eating something – in which case, please properly chew your food before swallowing. Some experts say you need to chew about 40 times per mouthful. Yep. Also, please eat with your mouth closed.
  • Using the lavatory or generally freshening yourself up in the bathroom – please wash your hands
  • At work, listening to this when you should be doing something else – in which case, please keep a straight face at all times. If you ever burst out laughing for any reason, try to cover it up by pretending to have a random coughing fit.
  • Just standing in the street wondering what to do – in which case, take your time, there’s no rush, unless there is a rush, but if there isn’t a rush then take your time, don’t hurry. No need to hurry. Just listen to this song for some inspiration (Take it easy by Prince Buster)
  • In bed, ready to fall into a deep deep slumber – feel free to just close your eyes and let yourself drift away into a lovely, restful sleep.

Podcast Stats

Antonio
In the past you used to communicate some statistics about your podcast, like the countries list, and I would like to know the list of the countries in the Premium area. Not the number of people paying it because this is business stuff.
Podcast stats
Top countries for LEP
Top countries for LEPP
Bottom countries too please!


Episode 600 / 10th Birthday of LEP

I have no idea how to celebrate or mark these occasions.
I kind of did a celebration for episode 500, so there’s no need to do anything special really.
I might just carry on podcasting like normal.
But let me know if you think there’s something I should do for episode 600.
The thing is, I’m a bit wary of asking for things from my audience, because these days that quickly becomes extremely difficult to manage, with too many recordings to handle, keep track of, make sure are at the correct volume level and all it takes is for a certain number of people, even a tiny portion of the overall audience, to send me something and it’s far too long. Managing listener messages is all a bit too much for me these days. I don’t have the time in my schedule any more.

I’ll think about it, but it might just be a normal podcast with no major fanfare, but if you have any grand ideas to mark this occasion, which doesn’t involve massive amounts of work or preparation, let me know.

I can’t really believe it’s been 10 years since I started doing this and now the podcast is on Spotify I’m getting new people listening to episode 1 all the time.

Also I’ve been putting the episodes up on YouTube recently – no video, just the audio, but the thing is that you get automatically generated subtitles.

Recently I did a premium episode all about how to improve your English to the level of a native speaker, which is a question I get asked all the time.

Obviously, one of the most important things is to practise, practise, practise.

How?


LEPster MeetUps

One way is to take part in conversation clubs. LEPsters around the world are meeting up fairly regularly to do this. They’re called LEP MeetUps or LEPsters conversation clubs.

LEPsters Clubs
Read out all the info on this page teacherluke.co.uk/contact-2/lepster-meetups/
And some comments for new meetups.

Go to CONTACT and then LEP MEETUPS for all the details and to contact people who have left messages.

LEPsters Club in Chile
Message: Hi, Luke! I’m writing to you to report on my LEPsters meetup I had on Saturday 19th in a cafe in Antofagasta, Chile. I have a Facebook page ( www.facebook.com/lepstersantof ), so if you could set it on your website it’d be amazing! But maybe I need some more meetings to reach that honour, haha! I’d like to send you a picture, but there’s no way in this form, and I wouldn’t like to put it on the forum. But if you see the Facebook page you’ll see the pic (I’m the guy doing the ‘peace’ sign). Anyway, the meetup was amazing! There were 6 people (maybe it’s not enough, but for a 1st one I think it’s fine), motivated and eager to share and speak the language. They mentioned to me that there are no spaces to gather and speak English, so they were really happy to have me there creating this opportunity for them to communicate and meet people with the same goal. I started with some ice-breaker questions to get to know each other, then I continued with topic-based questions to engage their interest and speak about fun things. I’m thinking about games for the next meetups, so that we create a bond as a group and maybe make new friends. Well, that’s my long report (but I wasn’t ‘rambling’ haha!) about the meeting I held. Really looking forward to your opinion, even if it’s brief (I know you’re always busy).

Rodrigo (‘Roddie’ as I was nicknamed when I was in England by some students :D)

Eisa Ibrahim
Hi LEPsters, is there anybody here from Sudan???
Dear Luke I have been listening to Luke English podcast for
two years now, it is really brilliant, but unfortunately I have never met anybody
here who listens to the podcast!!
I am Eisa /i:sə/

Peter • 8 hours ago
Anyone from Krakow ? :) Maybe here are also people that want to improve language together ? :)

Murat Atalykov • a month ago
Hello LEPsters!
I’m from Almaty, Kazakhstan. If there is any Lepster in Almaty, please contact me via instagram @systemad

Olga B. • 3 months ago
Hello to all the lepsters of the world!
I wonder if there are any lepsters in Kazan who would like to meet up)
Just in case I created this community vk.com/lepmeetupkzn
So, if you are interested, I’d be glad to hear from you

Mario Ara Medina • 3 months ago
Hello, anyone from Costa Rica or an online group?

Virginie Bonneau • 4 months ago
hello Is there anyone interested in organizing a meetup in France, in the north?
or a skype group? I couldn’t manage to find one so far…

Ferdavs Majitov • 6 months ago
is there anyone who is listening to Luke in Uzbekistan
Feel free to contact me . My instagramm @fer4fan

Kim • 6 months ago
Hello Lepsters!
I’m Hee from Korea.
If there is any Lepster in Korea, please contact me via my Instagram @breathtakinglyremarkable
I just want to communicate with you Lepsters. It’s often lonely to listen to LEP and have no one to talk to about it. :(
I wish all of you nothing but the best!!!

Rustle • 8 months ago
Hello Lepsters! Are there any LEPsters in MALTA? ;-)

ypapax • 10 months ago
Hey, LEP ninjas from Tver, Russia, let’s join the facebook group for meetups in Tver www.facebook.com/gr

Roger Remy • a year ago
Are there any LEPsters in Switzerland???

Jan Holub • a year ago
Dreams come true! Hello lepsters! Is there anyone in Belarus willing to organise a meetup?

Julien • a year ago
Hello lepsters! Are there people interested in organizing a lepster meetup in France?
(this got 33 upvotes – French LEPsters why you no write comment?)


Alex Love’s Comedy Show in New Zealand

Attention LEPsters in New Zealand! I think I have some down there.

Alex Love’s “How to win a pub quiz” is coming to New Zealand.

All the details www.fringe.co.nz/show/31634


English Robot 3000

I recently got a few comments about English Robot 3000, asking where he is, so I thought I’d get him out of storage and have a bit of a chat, see how he is.

If you’re fairly new to the podcast, you might not know English Robot 3000. Long term listeners will probably remember him.

He has been in storage, switched off, gathering dust since at least 2014 I think. I can’t actually remember the last time I talked to him.

He’s a robot that speaks English. There are a few English Robots in the series. 3000, 4000 and 5000 too.


Vampires in the Comment Section?

2nd time I’ve had a message from a vampire on my website. Obvs spam.

Mark – last week
V**************@gmail.com***.***.***.112
Are you tired of being human, having talented brain turning to a vampire in a good posture in ten minutes, Do you want to have power and influence over others, To be charming and desirable, To have wealth, health, without delaying in a good human posture and becoming an immortal? If yes, these your chance. It’s a world of vampire where life get easier,We have made so many persons vampires and have turned them rich, You will assured long life and prosperity, You shall be made to be very sensitive to mental alertness, Stronger and also very fast, You will not be restricted to walking at night only even at the very middle of broad day light you will be made to walk, This is an opportunity to have the human vampire virus to perform in a good posture. If you are interested contact us on Vampirelords78787@gmail.com


Two taps in the bathroom

Any long-term listeners will know that I’ve always been slightly obsessed with a certain aspect of British life that foreign visitors often tell me about – the fact we have two taps in the bathroom.
Some of you will know what I mean.
In the UK it is common to find on sinks and bathtubs in the bathroom, two taps – one for hot and one for cold, rather than one single mixer tap.

This confounds a lot of foreign students who don’t know how to wash their hands. It’s basically lava from hell coming from one tap, and glacial ice water from the other. WTF Britain?

Well I recently got a pretty good answer to that.
Years ago I wrote a blog article for the London School of English. Just recently the article picked up a comment from a plumber in the UK.
A plumber is someone who works with pipes and water systems in your house.

So anyway, here’s my blog post and the answer
www.londonschool.com/blog/two-taps-in-the-bathroom/


That’s it! Thanks for listening :)

Luke

579. [2/2] IELTS Q&A with Ben Worthington from IELTS Podcast

More conversation with Ben Worthington from IELTSPodcast.com, talking about English skills and exam skills, considering the whole approach and mindset that you need to succeed in IELTS. Includes questions from listeners.

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Introduction Transcript

Hello listeners,

I hope you’re doing well. Here is Part 2 of this double episode that I’m doing about IELTS, this well known exam that tests your level of English. Learners all over the world are taking IELTS, preparing for it, suffering from it, recovering from it. So I’m sure most of you are aware of it. Here’s an episode about it.

As usual in these multi-part episodes I suggest that you listen to the first part before listening to this.

In this episode I’m talking to Ben Worthington from IELTSPodcast.com He specialises in helping people get ready for IELTS and in this episode we’re going through questions from listeners on social media about this test.

Listen up if you have experience of IELTS, but equally if you don’t have to take the test I hope you can enjoy this episode in full relaxation mode, since you won’t actually have to take this evil test.

In this episode you’ll hear Ben and me saying various things about IELTS. Here’s a run-down of the conversation and the things we mention.

  • How to prepare for IELTS, self-study and using a course.
  • Tips for writing, reading, listening and speaking.
  • The importance of getting feedback on essay writing
  • Using Scribd.com for past papers
  • Self-study tips for the speaking test
  • Check online samples of people taking the test, like this one

  • The potential risks of taking group IELTS courses
  • Tips for how to get the best out of an online tutor
  • The importance of making a good first impression in part 1 of the speaking test
  • How to get ideas in speaking part 2
  • Using cue cards to practice the speaking test
  • Thinking on your feet and speaking spontaneously
  • Focusing on core skills

So we’re talking about a lot of specific English skills and exam skills, considering the whole approach and mindset that you need to succeed in IELTS.

As a special gift to my listeners, Ben is offering a 15% discount on his IELTS prep course called “Jump to Band 7 or It’s Free”. On his website check out the course and use the offer code LUKE15 to get a 15% discount. Not bad.

Click to see Ben’s IELTS preparation course – enter the code LUKE15 to get a 15% discount

Anyway, you know what to expect from this episode, so let’s carry on.


Ending

There you go. Unfortunately we couldn’t answer all the questions because we ran out of time, but you might find more answers and support on Ben’s website, which is IELTSpodcast.com. You can ask Ben and his team questions and of course Ben is offering you all 15% off his course, called “Jump to Band 7 or it’s Free”. Just use the offer code LUKE15 at checkout.

Thank you so much for listening, I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

What about upcoming episodes of the podcast Luke?

578. [1/2] IELTS Q&A with Ben Worthington from IELTS Podcast

A conversation with IELTS teacher Ben Worthington about the IELTS test, with advice for getting your best score in speaking, writing, reading and listening. Includes questions from listeners. Part 1 of 2.

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Introduction Transcript

Hello listeners,

Hope you’re well.

This episode is all about the IELTS test. Yes, that dreaded test that many of you will have either experienced or heard people talking about, probably saying things like “I need IELTS 6.5. HOW CAN I GET IELTS 6.5??” Like they’ve been poisoned, and IELTS6.5 is the name of the antidote that’s going to save their life – I need IELTS6.5! How can I get IELTS 6.5?? Tell me, quickly!!!”

It’s known for being a tough test. Not all the stories are horror stories of course. It’s important to be positive. There are plenty of success stories of people who managed to raise their score to the level they require. It is definitely possible to get success in IELTS. People do it all the time. But how?

Well, in this episode I’ll be talking to Ben Worthington from IELTS Podcast about various things relating to this test. This episode is full of good advice and insights into how to prepare for this test and ways to improve your score.

Do you know IELTS? I don’t know if you are familiar with it.

I think most learners of English who are serious about doing things in English will probably end up considering taking an exam like IELTS in order to get some kind of certificate confirming your level, which you can then use to do something like get a job, get a visa or get a place in a university. There’s TOEIC and TOEFL as well, but those are the American exams.

Actually I did get some questions about TOEIC and TOEFL, which Ben and I didn’t have time to respond to in this episode. Speaking personally, I am less familiar with TOEIC and TOEFL because I’ve rarely had to work with those tests. I’m much more familiar with IELTS and other Cambridge exams, and so this is what I’m more qualified to talk about.

IELTS is the standard testing system in the UK and also other English-speaking countries such as Australia and Canada and I think IELTS is probably now established as the world’s #1 English test. I wouldn’t be surprised if you, listening to this, have taken IELTS or are thinking about taking it. Or maybe you’ve looked into other Cambridge exams like FCE or CAE or something.

Basically, it’s very common for people to take this test and prepare for this test. So it’s worth talking about again on the podcast.

IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. It’s administered both by Cambridge English and the British Council and there are centres in most countries where you can take the IELTS test.

It’s a notoriously difficult test. I think anyone who takes it finds it hard, no matter what level you are, even native English speakers would find it challenging to be honest.

Here’s a quick summary of the IELTS test

IELTS tests your skills in 4 areas – reading, listening, writing and speaking.

It takes about 2h45m to complete the test.

The reading section involves a number of texts (3 texts in the academic version and about 5 or 6 in the general version) with comprehension tasks which test various reading skills.

Similarly the listening section has about 4 listening texts with various task types to test a range of listening skills.

The writing part takes an hour and involves two sections. In part 1 of the academic test you have to write a description of a graph, table, chart or diagram. In part 2 of the writing test you have to write an essay which probably involves explaining different sides of an argument with an introduction and conclusion.

The speaking test is in 3 parts and takes about 15 minutes. The first part involves chatting with the examiner for a few minutes, answering some questions about yourself. In part 2 you have to talk on your own for 2 minutes based on a cue card given to you by the examiner, and part 3 is a discussion with the examiner in which you talk about some more abstract things like social issues.

So this test is pretty long and covers all 4 skills. It requires all your abilities in English – accurate and diverse grammar, a wide range of vocabulary, fluency, clear pronunciation and the ability to complete communicative tasks effectively in English.

The way it works is that the overall score you get is converted into a band number which is an indicator of your level across the 4 skills. There’s no pass or fail mark. It’s just a case of the higher your score, the higher your band or level at the end.

So this test reveals your level in English. Levels go from 1 to 9. 9 being the highest.

So, it’s a tough test.

People all over the world need an IELTS score for various purposes, so it is an extremely common challenge for learners of English to undertake.

Schools in many places offer IELTS preparation courses to help people learn exactly how to improve their IELTS score. Preparation courses are obviously important to help you raise your English core skills across the 4 areas, but they’re also important to help you develop exam skills – which means becoming familiar with the test, familiar with the task types, familiar with the way the test is administered, and familiar with the little tricks and traps that are intentionally put into the test. It’s important not only to improve your level of English to prepare for IELTS but also to get an understanding of what the examiners at Cambridge English are looking for. This is also true for other similar tests.

To be honest, the test is so contrived and the marking criteria so specific that it’s very unwise to take an IELTS test without some preparation in advance because you simply must get familiar with it and develop your own strategies for each section. So I always advise students to do some test preparation, be it self-study or by following some sort of course either online or offline.

Offline options would probably be to find a preparation course in a school near you and the online options include finding and using self-study materials and practice tests, taking one to one lessons with a tutor for feedback (using iTalki for example) or finding other online resources that offer alternative ways to work on your exam skills.

One of those resources is IELTSpodcast.com run by Ben Worthington, my guest today.

As the website name suggests, IELTSpodcast.com is a podcast about IELTS with lots of tips about each section, but it’s also a website with lots of resources – videos, blog posts, practice tasks and also paid courses for specific exam skills and services including things like essay correction and feedback from Ben and the other teachers he works with.

Ben Worthington has been training people in IELTS preparation for some time now and has got lots of advice to share, all of which can really help you improve your IELTS score. A lot of his advice is shared on his website and in his courses, but in this episode he’s going to share some of that with us.

You can sign up to Ben’s full IELTS preparation course, called “Jump to Band 7 or it’s Free”, which is a confident name if ever there was one. If you don’t get to band 7 then it’s free. You can get it at IELTSpodcast.com and Ben has offered to give a 15% discount on the course for listeners to the podcast. So this episode is all about good advice for IELTS and it should be a genuinely useful episode, but if you want more thorough preparation for IELTS you can get a 15% discount on the Jump to Band 7 Or It’s Free course by using the offer code LUKE15 – if you’re interested.

Click to see Ben’s IELTS preparation course – enter the code LUKE15 to get a 15% discount

Ben originally is from Yorkshire in the north of England. You might notice some slight differences in his accent compared to mine. I’m from the south and the midlands, basically – but I sound mostly like I’m from London probably. Ben has a slight northern accent because he’s from Yorkshire. His accent is not that strong, but you might notice a few differences.

Now, the IELTS test is big and there is a lot to say about it – more than can be covered in just one or two episodes of this podcast (and I think this will be a two-part episode).

If you follow me on social media you might have noticed that I asked my audience for questions about IELTS and I received quite a lot across the different platforms. I’ve tried to include as many questions as possible, but we didn’t have time to deal with every single one.

So, apologies if your question isn’t mentioned in the episode. You can actually ask questions to Ben on his website if you like.

What if you’re not taking IELTS?
This will be relevant to the large numbers of people in my audience who are taking or have taken this test, but also hopefully to those of you who don’t need to take this test right now. I think it’s a good idea for any learner of English to have a sense of what’s involved in the IELTS test and of course the skills you need for IELTS are skills that anyone needs if they want to be more than just a competent user of the English language.

I have done several episodes about IELTS before. If you haven’t heard those episodes it’s probably a good idea to check them out, especially if you’re preparing for the exam.

Episode 256 is called IELTS Tips and Tricks. In that episode I tried to include as much of my personal advice as possible into just one episode, so that should be useful to you.

254. IELTS Tips & Tricks

Then there was episode 297 which is all about good approaches to the speaking part of the test, and that was with Jessica from IELTS Energy Podcast.

297. Using Humour in the IELTS Speaking Test (With Jessica from All Ears English)

Anyway, let’s talk to Ben Worthington from IELTS Podcast. He produces lots of content online for learners of English who are preparing to take this test. He’s been teaching students IELTS for a number of years now.

We’ll start by getting to know Ben a bit (this is the first time I’ve spoken to him actually) and then we’ll get into his advice for preparing and taking the different parts of the test, and I’ll ask him some of those questions sent in by my audience on social media.

Let’s see what we can cover about this big test for learners of English.


Outtro

You’ll have to wait for part 2 of this episode to hear what Ben has to say about preparing correctly for IELTS.

This is the end of part 1. Remember if you’re interested in using Ben’s online course for getting ready for IELTS, which is called Jump To Band 7 Or It’s Free, go to IELTSpodcast.com and use the code LUKE15 at checkout to get a 15% discount.

Click to see Ben’s IELTS preparation course – enter the code LUKE15 to get a 15% discount

 

 

 

So, we will leave the episode here and you can pick up the rest of the conversation in the next part.

By the way, there was a short quiet period at the end of February, and that’s because I was uploading a lot of LEP Premium episodes. There are now over 30 full episodes with tons of vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation, focusing on teaching you the most common phrases and talking points in English and how to say them all clearly and fluently.

There are now premium episodes about language which came up naturally in conversations I’ve recorded for the podcast. Recently I did ones about the episode I did on Paul Chowdhry. In the premium pipeline I have episodes about the conversation with James, my conversation with Jessica from English Across the Pond and also this episode with Ben. I’ve been noting extracts, vocabulary, grammar, phrasal verbs, idioms as we go.

To sign up for LEP premium just go to teacherluke.co.uk/premium and all the details are there. It’s the equivalent of a cup of coffee a month from you to me, that’s less than 10 cents a day. It’s pretty good value I’d say!

Right, in any case I hope you’re doing well. Fun fact, I’ve been using different microphones while recording episodes recently. All the P11 episodes were with different mics and this one that I’m using now isn’t a usual mic I use for intros and outtros.

My question is, outside of IELTS, can you even notice a difference in the sound because I’m using a different microphone? Can you tell the difference between the different mics I use or does it all sound basically the same? Let me know in the comments section.

And the IELTS conversation will continue in the next episode.

But for now,

Bye!

Luke