I've been teaching English for over 18 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.
I just want to let you know that on Wednesday 10 June 2020 I’m going to do a YouTube live stream, which means I will be on video on YouTube talking to you live and you can join me and add comments and questions.
The time will be 3.00pm CET.
The topic will be Ask Me Anything, and I mean anything.
Not just questions about English, but questions about anything else. Topics you’d like me to ramble about, situations you’d like me to improvise, impressions, songs, voices, accents, anything at all. The weirder and funnier the better.
You can Ask Me Anything, but of course I reserve the right to not answer, if I wish.
The main point is to just hang out and have some fun in English.
A lot of people have been doing live streams during the lockdown – celebrities, musicians, English teachers, Paul Taylor did a live stream almost every day and is still doing them (Paul Taylor’s Happy Hour) but I haven’t been able to do it because I’ve been looking after my daughter, she’s been around all the time, the conditions just haven’t been right.
I’ve been able to do some audio episodes but that’s a bit different to doing a live stream.
But now in Paris the lockdown is mostly over.
Creches (childcare centres) are open again, shops are open, bars, restaurants and cafes are open (with some restrictions) so my daughter is is back in the daycare centre. So, I now have a bit more breathing space. So I’m able to do a live stream on YouTube.
I don’t normally do live streams. I find they are different to doing normal episodes of the podcast.
I find on a live stream you basically just respond to the comments and questions which come in via the chat.
It’s a bit weird to do anything other than respond to the chat questions.
TBH, I usually prefer just making my audio podcast episodes the way I plan them.
But I’ve been thinking about doing live streams.
Then, on Wednesday, I randomly decided to start live streaming in the afternoon. Some of you might have noticed and joined me. Some of you might have seen it later on my YouTube channel.
What happened was, earlier on Wednesday I was taking a break from my work and I decided to record myself playing something on guitar for my uncle. He’s learning the guitar and sometimes we send each other videos of us playing different songs. I use YouTube to do that.
While I was recording the song I realised there was someone (2 people in fact) who had somehow got into my unlisted live stream. I don’t know how. I was quite surprised but it was quite fun for a moment. When I ended the live stream, the person (Inigo) quickly wrote – wait, don’t go!
So I immediately decided to just start streaming again and see who would join me, with no expectations and nothing planned at all.
I ended up with about 100 people I think (now the video has more than 2000 view so I expect some of you have seen it), and I played some songs, answered a few questions. Some people said “This isn’t fair! You should have warned us!” So I promised that I’d do another one soon and I’d give plenty of warning. So here is that warning!
Have you go it?
Wednesday 10 June at 3PM CET.
YouTube – Luke’s English Podcast
Subscribe and tap the bell icon to get the notification when I’m live streaming.
Ask Me Anything
Let’s hang out and just mess around.
I might play some songs on the guitar.
I might talk about learning English.
I will respond to questions.
And we’ll see what else happens.
It’ll probably be about an hour long.
When it’s done you’ll be able to see the video on my YT channel and I’ll put it in the LEP App too.
So if you can’t make it you will be able to see it later. I might upload the audio as a podcast episode too.
Now what I’m going to do is I’m going to play the audio from last Wednesdays unplanned live stream.
I’m just going to play the audio. It’s not really a proper podcast episode, because it’s just the audio from last Wednesday’s unplanned live stream. You’ll hear some pauses, I’ll be talking about some visual things that you can’t see, and the audio won’t be quite as good as normal. But you might enjoy listening to it.
I play some guitar, the sound quality isn’t amazing because of the way YouTube compresses the sound or the way the sound of the guitar isn’t captured that well during the live stream. But there are three songs which I haven’t done on the podcast before.
Anyway, you can listen to the audio of last Wednesday’s unplanned YT live now.
And I will probably upload the video into the LEP app as well so you can see that if you like, and you can see how scruffy my hair is since I haven’t had it cut since the lockdown began.
That’s it! Hopefully, I’ll see you on Wednesday 10 June at 3PM Central European Time.
More podcasts coming soon, including one before the live stream I expect. So, until then it’s just time to say “Good bye bye bye bye bye!”
And now, here is the audio from last Wednesday’s unplanned live stream…
Hello and welcome back to Episode 666 of LEP in which my brother James and I are talking about scary and evil things. In the first two parts we talked about the number 666, the devil in music, Black Sabbath, and then in part 2 we described some genuinely frightening experiences that we’ve had in our lives. I’m glad to say that more comments have arrived. It’s good to see that people have been enjoying this series.
In this third and final part the plan is to talk about scary films, including the first scary films we ever saw, why people enjoy watching scary films, and then some descriptions of our favourite scary films. I’m sure that not all of you are into films like this, but I hope you can still enjoy listening to us describing them and talking about the effect they had on us when we saw them.
I’ve been thinking. Will you be able to identify the films that we are talking about? I expect that some of these films have different titles in your language. It’s quite important that you know which films they are, even if you haven’t seen them.
You might want to check them out quickly before you listen in order to identify them. You don’t have to watch them all. I just want to be sure that you know which ones we’re actually talking about.
In fact, I’ll give you the English titles now and very brief one-line descriptions (and you’ll see all these titles listed on the page if you want to know the spelling or whatever) so you can hopefully work out which films these are, or you can google them yourself, see if you recognise them and see what they are called in your country.
So here are the films which we mention during this conversation.
Do you know which ones they are? Do they have different titles in your language?
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre One of the original horror/slasher films from 1974 about a group of hippies who go on a road trip that ends badly when they get attacked by a weird family of cannibals in Texas, one of whom wields a chainsaw.
Children of the Corn (1984) Not a very widely known film, to be honest. Adapted from a Stephen King short story of the same name. The plot of the film is described by IMDB as “A young couple is trapped in a remote town where a dangerous religious cult of children believes that everyone over the age of 18 must be killed.” It stars Linda Hamilton who plays Sarah Connor in The Terminator films.
Jaws The 1975 Stephen Spielberg film about a shark. It’s an absolute classic and the most famous film about a shark, ever.
The Thing 1982, John Carpenter director, Kurt Russel star. IMDB: A research team in Antarctica is hunted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of its victims. It was pointlessly remade a few years ago. The 1982 version is definitely the best one. Amazing and disturbing visual effects.
Alien 1979, directed by Ridley Scott, starring Sigourney Weaver. The one with the xenomorphs, face huggers and stuff. It spawned a whole franchise with sequels including the more recent ones Prometheus and Alien: Something. (I did a whole podcast episode about that actually) Alien: Covenant (Alien: Covent Garden would have been a much better film).
Evil Dead 2 1987, directed by Sam Raimi, starring Bruce Campbell. IMBD: The lone survivor of an onslaught of flesh-possessing spirits hides in a cabin with a group of strangers while the demons continue their attack.
Ghostbusters 1984 Dir: Ivan Reitman, starring Bill Murray – Three former parapsychology professors set up shop as a unique ghost removal service.
Those are the main films we talk about then. I hope you know which ones we mean.
As well as the talk of films, there are a couple of other topics in this episode, including a story that James felt compelled to share with us, from the business world of skateboarding about a skateboard with a famously controversial illustration on it – a picture of satan in hell, being evil. A skateboard with a dangerous design, basically. The story is about the power of superstition, I think.
We also have a go at some armchair philosophy at the end as we consider the idea of whether humans have free will or not, and how this might affect the existence of evil in the world, and whether the existence of the devil can somehow confirm one’s faith in the existence of god. If humans do bad things, is that because they are evil, or is there a more rational explanation for why people do bad things? Big questions which we’re not really qualified to answer, but we have a stab at it.
Also there’s the legendary story of blues guitarist Robert Johnson from the 1930s who, legend has it, sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in return for amazing guitar playing technique and a mastery of the blues. The question is: for what price would you sell your soul to the devil?
That’s an overview of what’s coming up.
I gave a warning at the start of part 1 of this that you would hear some weird and frightening sounds at some moments during the episode.
I’d like to say that again now “You will hear some weird and frightening sounds at some moments in this episode”, because we play some audio from some of those horror films, and of course they contain some frightening noises. So be ready to hear some banging or crashing sounds, some scratching and scraping sounds, ominous voices, the sound of a chainsaw, some screaming, and other disturbing noises. OK?
Apologies again for James’ microphone cutting out a bit during this episode. I hope it’s not too distracting for you.
So, if you are ready and prepared – mentally, physically and spiritually, and not feeling too sensitive, let’s continue with the final part of episode 666.
And here we go…
So there you are that is the end of part 3, the last part of this series. I hope you’re not too traumatised by all this!
There is also some bonus audio for this episode in the app. Open the app, find this episode, tap the episode in the list and then tap the little gift icon to access the bonus audio. You’ll hear me describing and reacting to a creepy scene from an old black and white film called The Innocents. James wanted to show me this scene and wanted me to react to it, describing what I was seeing. So if you like you can listen and hear my descriptions, and you can watch the scene for yourself too. I’ll put the video of that scene on the website, and I think I’ll also make that bonus audio available on the website too.
So, that’s the bonus audio in the app and also on the website.
Check out the page for this episode to see a few select film clips and other bits and pieces.
As ever, we look forward to reading your comments on the episode page. Perhaps you could tell us what you thought of this series. Are there any scary films you’d like to mention? What’s the first scary film you remember seeing? Why do people choose to watch scary films?
This really is the end now. Thank you for listening. Stay safe, stay healthy, stay happy and be excellent to each other.
Bye bye bye bye bye…
Quint describes the USS Indianapolis shark incident (Jaws)
Quint gets eaten by the shark (Jaws)
Luke sees a scene from The Innocents (1961) for the first time, and describes it. You can watch the scene below.
Hello, are you a learner of English? Would you like something to listen to to develop your listening skills and by extension all other aspects of your English and your life? Well, you could listen to this. That’s the idea. Learning English through listening. Learning through listening. Listening through learning. Listening while learning. Listening and learning. Living and learning.
Anyway, welcome to this episode of my podcast.
This is part 2 of episode 666 in which my brother James and I are talking about scary things, horror, evil and general moodiness.
I uploaded part 1 of this a few days ago and so far there has almost been radio silence from the LEPsters. Just the sound of crickets in the comment section and on social media, despite the fact that I was regularly receiving messages from people before publishing episode 666 asking about what I was planning to do for this episode with an apparently significant number. There have been one or two comments, but I feel it’s less than usual. What’s going on. Have you been spooked by the subject matter? Are you all freaked out by the number 666? It’s possibly because the episode got blocked on YouTube and YouTube is normally where the first comments come in because it’s easier to comment on YouTube. So nothing from YouTube. I don’t know. The download numbers have been good. Maybe you’re just superstitious but like Stevie Wonder once said “Superstition ain’t the way”.
In any case, let me introduce this properly. This is part 2 and there are 3 parts to this episode. James and I recorded all this a couple of weeks ago – him in London, me in Paris (we did it online of course, we didn’t just shout really loud) and we chatted for about 4 hours I think. I’ve edited that down, but still, this was a marathon recording, just because we had a lot of stuff we wanted to talk about.
In part 1 we talked about why the number 666 is associated with the devil, and then we talked about the devil in music with a little history lesson from James’ friend Kate Arnold who is an expert in medieval music and then there was some rambling from James and me about some of our favourite scary music – mostly the band Black Sabbath who are probably the first band to really make a name for themselves by being quite frightening, but also some death metal, some hip hop and some Aphex Twin. Apologies to those of you who were expecting us to talk more about Iron Maiden and also other genres like black metal and so on.
So that was part 1, but here in part 2 James and I are going to move on from music and instead share a few anecdotes of genuinely scary experiences we’ve had in our lives, scary things that have actually happened to us. So, a bit of storytelling in this one.
Then in part 3 of this we’re going to talk about scary films and horror movies, and then that will be it for episode 666.
I recorded this conversation with James remotely over video conferencing software and for some reason James’ microphone kept cutting out at various times. You might be able to hear it sometimes. He talks and then some of his sentences get cut in half or he suddenly goes silent a bit. I managed to fix this in most cases, but sometimes you will hear his voice cutting out and some words are missing or half pronounced. It was quite frustrating at the time, because of course I want you to be able to hear everything. It becomes a bit more obvious in the second half of this episode, and I hope you don’t find it too distracting. Hopefully you won’t even notice, although obviously you will now because I’ve mentioned it.
OK, so without any further ado, let’s jump back into episode 666 with some scary stories of real-life experiences from James and me, and here we go!
OK listeners, that is where we are going to stop part 2, but this marathon episode will continue in part 3 in which James and I are going to talk about scary films and some other bits and pieces on this theme.
If you liked hearing our stories, you could check out some other episodes from the archive, which are similar. Here they are (just two of them).
Episode 140 is the one I mentioned earlier. That’s the ghost stories episode in which I tell 4 weird and disturbing stories from my life. Just a heads up: There’s quite a long and waffling introduction to that episode (what a surprise), so if you’d like to skip that and get straight to the stories, you should fast forward to about 17 minutes into the episode. Start listening from 17 minutes in if you want to get straight to the stories. You’ll hear The Scary Clock story again, plus 3 other weird anecdotes. That’s episode 140, starting 17 minutes into the episode.
Also there’s episode 372 which was called The Importance of Anecdotes in English, and that one contains 4 true stories told by my mum, my dad, James and me. At least 3 of them are quite frightening, including the time James got stranded in Hastings and ended up sleeping on a stranger’s sofa and it got a bit weird. My dad had a confrontation with a taxi driver in Greece when he was a student and I had a taste of the violent underworld crime scene in Liverpool when I used to live there. That perhaps sounds worse than it is – basically one evening a poor guy who had been kidnapped by drug dealers ended up at our front door and my housemates and I took him in without really realising what was happening, and the next thing we knew we had a bleeding traumatised stranger in our house and potentially some armed drug dealers outside looking for him. That was fun. Oh such lovely days as a student in Liverpool in the 90s.
Anyway, that’s an episode with 4 anecdotes told by my family and it is episode 372. There’s some language teaching about narrative tenses and how to tell anecdotes in that one, but if you want to skip straight to the stories again you’ll need to jump ahead to the 34 minute mark. Episode 372, 34 minutes in.
This is episode 666 and the plan is to talk about all things evil, satanic, demonic, wicked, unholy, malevolent, hellish and scary, focusing on pop culture – music and films and a few anecdotes and rambles.
This is part 1 and this one deals mainly with the musical side of things after we talk about the significance of the number 666.
Just in case you don’t know, the number 666 is associated with the devil, satan, lucifer and generally frightening things like that.
A DISCLAIMER: We’re not trying to offend or upset anyone!
Before we begin, here is a disclaimer of sorts.
I know people are very superstitious out there.
Just talking about this subject will probably make some people a bit uneasy or uncomfortable. Some people take this sort of thing quite seriously.
But, don’t worry, we don’t believe in numerology, the occult or satanism.
It is interesting but we don’t really believe in it.
Also some of you might suffer from hexakosioihexekkontahexaphobia
…which is the fear of the number 666.
Yes, there is a phobia of this number. In the same way that some people have claustrophobia, arachnophobia or glossophobia, there are people out there who have hexakosioihexekkontahexaphobia.
So, if you are one of those people, if you are very superstitious about this stuff, or if you are of a particularly sensitive nature then this might not be for you.
Also, you should know that during this episode we will be playing some extracts of fairly loud and scary music, and also you will hear some clips from scary horror films – including weird and creepy background noises, maybe some screaming, maybe the sound of a chainsaw… you know, stuff like that.
So if you’re listening on headphones or something and you hear some scary noises, those scary noises will probably be coming from the podcast, rather from the world around you…
But just bear in mind that there will be scary noises and some heavy-ish music during the episode, I hope it doesn’t give you a shock or freak you out too much.
OK, I feel I should say that stuff before we start just to give some of you a little warning.
My companion in this episode is my brother James, naturally. He is the scariest person I could think of to invite onto episode 666. (just joking, he’s lovely)
Actually, ages ago James claimed episode 666. He bagsied it.
Also, listeners have been asking me about this since they realised that I’d make it to 666 episodes. Typically comments are like this: Luke, Episode 666 is coming up. I hope you are planning something special for it, like maybe an episode on heavy metal or horror films or something.
Heavy Metal Britannia BBC Documentary (recommended!)
END OF PART 1 – Parts 2 & 3 coming soon…
Hello everyone, this is actually the end of part 1, we will continue the theme in part 2 and as you heard just at the end there we are going to tell some true stories about frightening things we’ve really experienced in our lives.
So, some anecdotes are coming in part 2.
I hope you have enjoyed part 1 and that you’re not feeling too disturbed or anything.
Just to recap, we talked about the origin of the idea that 666 is the number of the devil, and how it turns out that it’s not quite as satanic as people often think. Then we talked about the devil’s interval in music – the augmented 4th or diminished 5th depending on your outlook on life (augmented means raised – to augment means to increase the value of something or to go up, and diminished is the opposite – to diminish means to make something less – so when you go up one semitone from a fourth you get the augmented 4th, and when you go down from a 5th you get the diminished 5th, but they’re actually the same exact note – just two ways of describing it). We talked about that, which is a feature of so-called unholy music, and then we had a good old ramble about Black Sabbath, heavy metal and other scary forms of music.
Still to come we have our scary stories and then in part 3 we turn to the topic of scary films.
Leave your comments in the comment section if you fancy getting involved.
Thanks again to Kate Arnold for her input in this episode.
App users – you will find a bit of bonus audio for this episode. It’s Kate talking more about The Wheel of Fortune, which is the name of her album, but it’s also an image which appeared in a lot of medieval art and culture. So if you’d like to hear Kate talking for a couple of minutes about the wheel of fortune, then tap the gift icon for this episode in the LEP App. The icon can be found when you’re playing this episode, it’s next to the share, favourite and download icons in the app. If you don’t have the app, you can get it free from the app store on your phone, just search for Luke’s English Podcast App.
If you’d like to hear Kate’s music properly, without it being faded out by me, then check out the page for this episode on the website where you will find links to her album on Bandcamp and also some YouTube videos of her stuff.
Also on the page for this episode on the website you’ll see a video from Numberphile, explaining in more detail how the number 666 is a code which refers to Emperor Nero rather than the devil, plus some footage of Black Sabbath and the Heavy Metal Britannia documentary which is well worth a watch.
That’s it for this part then and we will speak to you again in part 2, but for now… good bye!
This episode features a chinwag (that’s a conversation by the way) with Sebastian Marx – a friend of mine who is originally from New York (he’s an American) but who has been living in France for the last 15 years. Long term listeners might remember him from his past appearances on this podcast. You’ll see links to those episodes on the page for this episode.
Sebastian is a stand up comedian who performs both in English and French, and he was the one who first started doing stand up in English in Paris. So all of us comedians who perform on stage here in English, including Amber, Paul, Sarah Donnelly and others – we all have Sebastian to thank for originally giving us that opportunity as he is the one who got the whole scene started in the first place with the New York Comedy Night which he set up years ago.
I invited Seb onto the podcast just for a bit of a chat, but also to test his knowledge of British English slang. I’m always interested to see how much my American friends know about my version of English.
In terms of the general chinwag – we talk for the first 25 minutes or so about a few topics, including:
What he thinks of the Trump presidency
His learning of French
Speaking French or English to French people, like waiters in cafes
Then, after about 25 minutes of jibber-jabber, we decide to focus on language and you’ll hear me testing Seb’s knowledge of British English slang – informal spoken English phrases that most Brits know but which Americans are probably unfamiliar with.
This is slang so you should know that things get a bit rude later in the episode with some references to sexual acts – you know, sexual stuff, and also a few other fairly lewd and crude things like bodily functions and so on.
Some of you are probably delighted to hear that and have no problem with it at all but I feel I should give you a heads up about rude content, just in case you’re a teacher listening to this in class or something (I can imagine getting a message from a teacher who’s heard it, or perhaps even having a conversation, like this: Luke, I used an episode of your podcast in my young learners’ class the other day and oh, you started talking about… arseholes and chests, it was quite awkward — Oh dear I’m terribly sorry Mrs Crawly, I should have provided a warning of some kind. I trust that this will not affect my daughter’s entry into the Royal Academy in September. Perhaps you should come for tea and we can discuss it at length. I have one or two things to say to you about your conduct and how this is affecting your reputation among the staff at Downton. Oh, I’m terribly sorry to put you out Lady Crawley… etc… Sorry, I accidentally slipped into an episode of Downton Abbey there. Papa and Mama would be awfully disappointed, and we’ve just received a telegram that the first world war has started and we’re all terribly worried about how this might affect life at Downton and blah blah blah).
I dunno, maybe you’re a teacher or you’re listening to this with children, or maybe you just don’t like rude things of that nature. Basically – there’s some rude stuff in the second half of this episode. Alright? No big deal.
*it’s ok Luke – we fucking love rude stuff, don’t worry*
Alright, steady on…
OK, I promised myself I wouldn’t ramble too much at the start of this one so let’s crack on now, and here is the jingle….
The Slang you can hear in the episode
(listen to hear the full descriptions, examples and American English equivalents)
✔️= Sebastian knew it or guessed it correctly ❌= Sebastian didn’t know it or guessed it wrong
❌“Pants” (adjective) “That film was pants” = not great, rubbish ✔️“Knackered” (adjective”) “I’m absolutely knackered today” = exhausted, really tired / American English equivalent: “beat” ❌”Gobsmacked” (adjective) “I was absolutely gobsmacked” = shocked, surprised Also: “shut your gob” = shut up, stop talking (gob = mouth) ✔️“a slash” (noun) “Hold on, I’m going for a slash” = I’m going to go and urinate ❌“On the lash” (prepositional phrase) “I’m going out on the lash tonight” = to go out drinking alcohol ✔️“To pull” (verb) “Hopefully I’m going to pull” = to score, get lucky, to get laid, to have sex with someone “On the pull” = trying to ‘get lucky’ with someone “To go out on the pull” “To chat someone up” = to talk to someone to make them like you (sexually) to try to pull someone by talking ❌“To get off with someone” (phrasal verb) “I got off with her” = to kiss passionately on the lips (USA: to make out with someone) “To get on with someone” = to have a good relationship with someone, to “hit it off with someone” ✔️“A plonker” (noun) “You are such a plonker” (not a swear word) = an idiot ❌”A tosser” (noun) “Stop being such a tosser” (synonym of “wanker” but less rude) an idiot, a person you don’t like “a wanker” is a mean nasty unpleasant man that you’re angry with “To wank” = to masturbate “Asshole” (US English) “Arsehole” (UK English) ✔️“A fag” (noun) “I’m just having a fag” = a cigarette (in US English it’s a very rude term of abuse meaning a homosexual) ❌“A wind up” (noun) “He’s a wind up merchant” “Is this a wind up?” = a joke, a piss-take, teasing, making fun of someone, playing a trick on someone, a con, a prank, lying to someone as a joke “To wind someone up” = to annoy someone ❌“whingeing / to whinge” (verb) “Stop whingeing! You’re always whingeing.” = to complain, to moan, to whine, in an annoying way ✔️“Smart” (adjective) “You’re looking smart today. What’s the big occasion?” = to be well dressed, to be wearing formal clothing, to look clean and tidy (opposite = casual) (USA: smart = intelligent) ❌“Lush” (adjective) “Oh that’s lush” “Those trainers are lush” “Oh she is lush isn’t she?” = good, attractive (for a person), cool, great, awesome ❌“Grotty” (adjective) “I smoked a cigarette earlier and I’m feeling dead grotty now.” = unpleasant, dirty, feeling a bit unwell or under the weather ❌“Ta” (exclamation) “Could you pass me the sugar? Ta.” = thanks ✔️”A chinwag” (noun) “We’ve had a good chinwag” = conversation ❌“It’s all gone pear shaped” (idiom) “We did a Zoom call but everything went pear shaped because of technical problems” = to go wrong
Schlep (verb – US slang, from Yiddish) to carry something with difficulty, to carry something heavy – “I’ve been schlepping this bag around all day” Schlep (noun – US slang, from Yiddish) a long and arduous journey – “I work on the other side of town and getting there is a real schlep!”
Righty-ho, that was Sebastian Marx (thanks Sebastian) and 18 bits of British English slang.
How many did he get right? He predicted 50% I think. Well, out of 18 he identified 7. And my criteria for getting it right was whether he knew the word or phrase already or if he worked it out correctly, first guess, from my example. 7 out of 18. What’s that as a percentage? Some of the mathematicians are already on that, but I need a calculator to work that one out, unless you want to listen to me working that out in my head. Trust me, you don’t want to listen to that. I don’t think I can do it. Anyway, the result is… 38.88888888889 Let’s round that up to 39% which is a clear fail I think everyone can agree.
What does this mean? I’m not sure, except that it proves something about American and British culture and language. Sebastian made the point during the episode and I think I’ve said it before previously, like in that slang game I did with Jennifer from English Across the Pond last year.
Brits are way more familiar with American English than Americans (and of course I mean people from the USA) are with British English because we are exposed to a lot more American culture through TV and film than Americans are exposed to British culture.
America produces tons of TV and film of course and exports a massive amount too, but it doesn’t import as much TV and film as it exports. Basically, most Americans don’t get exposed to that much British English, certainly not the kind of local informal slang stuff that we touched on in this episode. Big surprise eh! Not really! We know this about the USA – big place, quite loud on the world’s stage, exports a lot of stuff, but to a large extent doesn’t look beyond its own borders all that much, relatively speaking. We all knew that though didn’t we!
Anyway, never mind all that geo-political stuff. I just enjoyed chatting with Sebastian in this episode and sharing some of my version of English with him. That is more interesting and fun for me.
What about you? How much of the slang in this episode did you know? I’ve definitely talked about some of those things before, but I bet there were one or two new things in there too. But how much of it did you know and how much did you learn from me in previous episodes? And if you didn’t get it from me, where have you learned British slang? Let us know in the comment section!
Also, feel free to add other bits of British slang that you think is especially, quintessentially British in the comment section.
All the slang I tested Seb on is listed on the page for this episode on the website, so check it out. That’s where you can see specific spellings of words and phrases, and you can check some example sentences and definitions that I’ve given for you.
Talking of British English expressions – I must finish that series I started last autumn – 88 English expressions that will confuse everyone. Remember that? I still have about 25 expressions left to cover I think! I must get round to doing that.
My podcast is a bit like a big, slow moving ship. Sometimes I miss something or forget something and kind of sail past it, but for some reason it’s very hard to stop the ship or turn it round and go back. So, if I don’t do a specific episode I was planning to do at one point, general momentum keeps pushing me forwards and it’s difficult to turn the ship around and go back. I’m not sure why this is.
Stuff to mention at the end
Lovely comments from listeners on the last episode (in different locations like YouTube, website, twitter, email) My wife said that the comments were cute and lovely.
Something evil this way comes… Episode 666 is next.
666 → often described as the number of the beast. The mark of the devil.
Lots of people have been asking if I’m planning anything special for that.
Hello listeners, how are you doing out there in podcastland? What’s going on with you then, eh? Where are you? Who are you? What are you doing right now? Where are you listening to this? How are you listening to this? Have you got headphones on? Are you in a car or something? In public? Are you allowed out at the moment? Have you got a mask on? I mean, a medical face mask, not a metaphorical mask, but maybe you’re wearing one of them too, hmmm….?
Anyway, enough weird nonsense. I just want to give you a hearty welcome at the start here and to make sure you’re really with me here as you listen to this episode of my podcast, which is designed to help you with your English. You see, it helps if you’re fully engaged and listening carefully. It helps with your English, if you’re really paying attention while you listen.
On the podcast today, you’re going to listen to a conversation between me and my wife. Yep, my wife is back on the podcast for the third time now. The 1st time was just after our daughter was born, in episode 502 (just to be clear: my daughter wasn’t born in episode 502 of course, I mean that was the first time my wife was on the podcast and it was just after our daughter was born) The 1st time my wife was on the podcast was just after our daughter was born, in episode 502, and the 2nd appearance by Mrs Thompson was in a premium episode series in which we taught you loads of phrases that my wife has learned from me and that we use all the time (That’s P08 by the way – www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium )
The conversation you’re about to hear took place in our living room late in the evening last week, after we’d finally got our daughter to sleep and had eaten our dinner. We’d been talking about doing another podcast for a while and then finally we managed to record ourselves chatting about our experiences of living in lockdown and also to respond to some questions that listeners asked in the past.
Here are some of those questions…
What is it like to be with an English guy? Some people have wondered about this and asked me to talk to my wife about it. What about the differences in culture between us? How does this affect our relationship? We mainly talk about communication style here, and I’d like to refer back to a recent episode – #643, called The Intercultural Communication Dance with Sherwood Fleming, as it touches on some similar points. So, what does my wife like or dislike about being with an English bloke? That’s what we deal with first.
What have you been doing on lockdown with your daughter? Then we talk about living in lockdown with our daughter, including what we’ve been doing to keep her busy and how we’ve been able to observe her development more closely during this period. I should say, there’s quite a lot of conversation about our daughter in this episode. After the recording we both were concerned that it’s just two parents going on about their child. Again, if you have children, you’ll probably relate to what we’re saying. If you don’t have kids, I don’t know what you’ll think. You might not be into that stuff. Often, parents talking about children bores the pants of single people. But this has always been quite a personal podcast and a conversation with my wife is bound to include stuff about our daughter – I mean we’ve been locked up with her for about 7 or 8 weeks, so there you go. Just a little heads up – there’s more kid-chat in this episode.
How are we raising our daughter to be bilingual? The third main thing we talk about is the bilingualism of our daughter and our approach to that. How are we making sure that she learns English as well as French? What are the main ways of doing this and what are the main factors to bear in mind when raising a child to speak two languages?
There’s also some chat about other things, like some comments from listeners, going to visit the castle near where my parents live, and whether my wife likes Star Wars and The Beatles.
Listening back, I noticed that sometimes I was speaking really fast during this episode, especially in the second half. I have mixed feelings about this, about fast speech on this podcast. For some listeners, this will be great news because some of you want to listen to fast natural conversation. For others this will be challenging.
I think I speak quickly in this conversation because my wife and I are very close (we’re married, you see) and she has no qualms about interrupting me and so I have to raise my speaking speed in order to prevent that happening. It’s a bit like when I’m with my brother. There’s this feeling that we’re going to talk over each other so we end up speaking more quickly as we try to get our ideas out before we get cut off.
I suppose ultimately this is good for you to listen to, because this is how people really speak to each other. They interrupt, they finish each other’s sentences, they make false starts and correct themselves and they don’t always finish the points they are making. It is good to listen to that kind of speaking because it’s how people really speak, unlike the kind of contrived listening you get in textbooks where everything is written in advance and read out fairly awkwardly by actors. I’m not having a go at English course books – they can be incredibly useful, but at the same time they aren’t very realistic.
My Wife’s English (actually she’s French)
You might be curious about my wife’s English, and her background with English.
Just in case you don’t know, my wife is French, and English is not her first language. She had some lessons at school and at university like most French kids but mostly she learned her English in adulthood. We speak English at home together. Sometimes we speak in French together, but as anyone with experience of this will tell you, it’s quite hard to shift the language of your couple once it has been set, and our relationship definitely started in English and my wife’s English is better than my French, so English is the language of our couple. We sometimes speak French together, but in French I am quite incompetent – I am a lot like Mr Bean, and when she married me, that’s not what she signed up, so, English is how we communicate, and there it is.
Ok then so now I would like to invite you into the living room of our flat in Paris. Would you like a glass of wine? Maybe a cup of tea? Take a seat. Don’t speak, you can’t actually speak, you can only listen (this is a bit weird), but you can write some notes to us after we’ve finished – I mean, you can share your thoughts in the comment section under this episode if you wish. Otherwise, can just sit in the corner there and listen to us talking, if it’s not too awkward.
All right, that’s enough of an introduction. Let’s get on with it, here is my lovely wife, here is her lovely voice and here we go!
So here is that bit at the end where I talk to you for a while before the episode finishes.
I hope you liked that conversation. Did you think I was talking a bit quickly at some points or did you not notice? I wonder what you think of my wife? It’s a bit weird publishing these conversations with my family sometimes. I wonder if I’m giving away too much of my personal life, but it’s not like I’m doing a reality show or anything is it? Maybe I’m being precious about it. Who knows.
Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed spending a bit of time in our flat during this episode, but I’m afraid we’ve got to go to bed now, so err…. would you like me to call you a taxi or…?
Nah, I’m joking of course hahaha, but please do leave now, thank you.
Actually I do have a couple of things to say.
Push notifications for the app are not currently working, which is a drag. Sometimes things take ages to get done around here, but I’m working on fixing the issue. As a result, app users and premium users might not know that I’ve been uploading premium episodes. I’m now onto premium series 22 and I recently uploaded parts 4, 5, 6 in that series. Check them out, they’re in the app in the premium category. You can also get them online at www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium That’s just a heads up in case you didn’t realise they were there.
Hello ladies and gents, welcome back to the podcast. Are you ready for your regular dose of English listening practice? Here we go.
This is episode number 663 and it is another Lying Game with Amber & Paul, this time recorded remotely during the lockdown, fairly late in the evening, recently.
The Lying Game is something Amber, Paul and I have been playing for years on this podcast. Basically it involves us telling each other stories about our lives, but we can choose to either tell the truth or tell a lie. The others then have to ask questions about those stories and then try to guess if they are made up or not. Points can be won or lost accordingly.
Before we start I just want to point out some bits of language for you to notice while you listen.
Grammar: Watch out for the narrative Tenses
Essentially this game is about storytelling and most of the time the stories take place in the past, so there are lots of descriptions of past events and questions in past tenses. If you wanted to, you could look out for things like the grammatical tenses being used.
Past simple tense is definitely the most common one (“I jumped into the water” “I didn’t jump into the water” or “Did you jump into the water?” or “Why did you jump into the water?” ) , but also watch out for instances of the other narrative tenses that we know and love – past continuous and past perfect and how they’re used in combination with past simple to build a narrative.
Past perfect (had + past participle –> I was going to Ireland becauseAlice had invited me to stay) is used to show that certain things happened before the main events of the story. It doesn’t just mean “things that happened a long time ago” (a common mistake) but rather it’s used to show background events – things that happened before the main events of the story. It’s not as common as past simple or past continuous but it is definitely used, although it can be quite hard to hear the ‘had’ part.
Also, we use past continuous (was/were +ing –> I was living in Brighton at the time) to show the situation or context at the time the main events happened, or to show things that happened over and over again.
For example, watch out for these sentences in the episode. (these ones mainly contain past perfect) Watch out also for the pronunciation. Can you hear the “had” in these sentences?
“[We went to Greece.] It was the first time that we’d ever been on holiday together.” [First time in their lives at that point. No previous trip to Greece before then.]
“We’d never been together outside the UK or Paris.”
“[At the time] I was living in Brighton, it was the summer holidays and Alice had invited me to stay with her in Ireland which is where she is from.” [Alice invited Amber earlier than the main events of this story]
“Alice had already gone home for the holidays and I was joining her.” [Alice went home before the main events of this story]
“They were making us drink cocktails that I’d never heard of before” [Never before in our lives at that point]
So if you are up for it you can listen out for bits of grammar like that but you can also just listen to the stories without worrying about grammar and play the game with us. Do you think these stories are true or are they untrue? Are they fact or fiction? All real events, or completely made up? Try and work it out as you listen. You get one point for every story you guess correctly. That’s a maximum of 3 points for you. For us playing the game, the points system is equally simple for some reason we always manage to get a bit confused by it.
The stories this time all involve drunken nights out. There’s also some swearing in this, which you might want to bear in mind if you’re using this in class or something.
I want to just highlight some vocab in advance, just to help you a bit. These are things you might not know but which are pretty important for understanding the stories.
a stag do / a stag party = a party a man has before he gets married, usually involving going out with best friends – one of whom will be the best man at the wedding, lots of drinking, a trip to another city or country, some humiliation of the groom-to-be, maybe a trip to a strip club. “I was on my cousin’s stag do” – you heard me mention my cousin’s stag do in a recent episode, when the two of us were dressed as a pantomime horse. It’s called a bachelor party in the USA.
a hen do / a hen party = (not mentioned in the story, but if you learn stag do you’ve got to learn hen do as well, they go together as a pair) basically a hen do is the same as a stag do but for girls – it usually involves going out with a big group of girls, including the bridesmaids, but they’ve got fancy dress on or they’re all wearing angel wings or something, or special T shirts with the bride’s face on, lots of drinking and fairly lewd behaviour, and maybe a male stripper. Stag dos and hen dos, that’s the kind of rich, deep cultural heritage which makes me proud to be an Englishman. “It’s Emma’s hen do at the weekend.” Bachelorette party in US English.
What the Fuck France! This a comedy TV show that Paul Taylor made on French TV, which made him quite famous among the French (French people).
Boxers / boxer shorts = a kind of men’s underwear, similar to those worn by boxers.
To get whacked – to get assassinated by the mafia (this is Italian American slang that you might hear in a Martin Scorsese film)
Frolicking – playing, jumping, dancing around –> frolicking around in the water
Lax = not caring enough about security or rules, being lazy about security, a lax approach to air travel, very lax security at the hotel
A maze = Something you might find in the garden of an old English stately home. Imagine the garden of an English stately home – an old house in the countryside, like Downton Abbey or Hampton Court or something. In a maze there are hedges which have been grown to form a series of interconnected paths, and for fun you have to find your way from one end to the other or find the middle, without getting lost.
I will let you discover what actually happens in the stories and how all that language is actually featured.
So that’s it for the introduction and a little pre-teaching of language. Now you can just sit back and listen on as we let the game begin!
So that was the late night lockdown lying game with Amber and Paul. I hope you enjoyed it.
I think I’ve found the cure for hiccups.
Happy Hour with Paul Taylor – 6PM CET weekdays on YouTube and Facebook.
There are lots of other lying game episodes in the archive. Head over to teacherluke.co.uk and do a search of the archive for “lying game”. You can also search in the app that way. I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve done this on the podcast now. We’ve had stories about working on Keanu Reeves films, being bullied by members of Coldplay, meeting rock stars at buddhist temples, seeing famous French film stars on my roof, working as a pole dancer in Paris, stabbing yourself in the face accidentally, rolling cars on country roads, knocking down walls in Japanese apartments, getting offered threesomes, and all kinds of other things. It could be a whole podcast of its own.
Hello. Welcome back to LEP. I’m talking to you again as the rain falls on the roof above my head.
I hope you are surviving out there in Podcastland. There’s been a little delay since the last free episode, because I’ve been making and uploading content for the premium subscribers. Premium people will know that I am in the middle of premium series #22 which is a vocabulary builder series which also has examples from films and TV shows. I’m halfway through that series, and I’ll be uploading the remaining episodes after I’ve published this episode (this is 662) and the next episode (663) of LEP. If you want to sign up to LEP Premium to get all those other episodes I publish, just go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium
But here we are. This is episode 662, called Catching Up with Amber & Paul #10, the first of two Amber and Paul episodes. The podpals Amber Minogue and Paul Taylor are back again, this time on Zoom – the lockdown videoconferencing software of choice.
Obviously we are social distancing and so we couldn’t record in the same room. The result is that the sound quality is not up to the usual standard. You’re probably used that now, I expect – talking to people online via Zoom and other software has become the new normal, so it’s probably no big deal really to hear a conversation recorded on Zoom, but you might find the audio quality makes things a bit more difficult to follow. For example, sometimes Paul in this episode sounds a bit like a robot alien or an Aphex Twin remix – you know they way people’s voices distort sometimes in videoconferences? Anyway…
The subtitle of the episode is “Surviving Lockdown with Kids”.
A bit of a heads up here at the start. This is quite a child-heavy episode because all three of us have got kids and so naturally this is dominating our experience during the lockdown. We couldn’t do a “catching up” episode without talking about our children. They’re there all the time, you see. We’re not complaining, it’s wonderful. But it is what it is.
Those of you with children will know exactly what this is like. Those of you with no children might not be fully on board with all the kid-chat. I don’t know. Anyway, you can expect quite a lot of conversation about being locked up with our children in this episode, including things like how to keep them busy all the time, how their languages are coming along, which childrens’ TV we choose to watch, and which shows we like, don’t like or find really weird, including programmes like Paw Patrol, Puffin Rock, Peppa Pig and Tellytubbies, which can be found on Netflix, YouTube or Cbeebies the childrens’ BBC channel.
There’s also other stuff, including a tangent about a French tongue twister which is “ton tonton tond ton thon” which translates as “Your uncle mows your tuna”, which doesn’t actually mean anything really. To mow is to cut grass with a mower, like you would mow the lawn in your garden or mow the grass on a cricket pitch or something. Tuna is a fish, as you know. So, if you say “Your uncle mows your tuna” in French, it sounds pretty funny – “Ton tonton tond ton thon”. The words sound the same but are spelled differently. It’s just one of those funny things in French.
I’m mentioning this because we talk about it for a few minutes and there’s a good chance that if you don’t speak French you’ll get lost at that point. So I’m just trying to prepare you.
Paul also mentions an English tongue twister, which is “English can be a difficult language. It can be understood through tough thorough thought, though”. When you see that written down, the words have very similar spelling – THROUGH TOUGH THOROUGH THOUGHT THOUGH, but they are pronounced quite differently. You can see that written on the page for this episode on the website.
These tongue twisters came up in one of Paul’s recent YouTube live videos, because he’s doing YouTube Lives every day during the lockdown. He can’t do stand up shows at this time, so YouTube live is how he is keeping in touch with his audience. His YouTube lives are called “Happy Hour with Paul Taylor” and basically at 6PM CET every weekday Paul opens a beer and talks to his audience, answering questions and generally having a laugh for about an hour. Just search for Paul Taylor on YouTube and don’t forget to smash that like button and subscribe. Hit the bell icon to get the notifications for when Paul is going live, and represent the LEPsters in Paul’s comment section.
Anyway, as well as a few tangents and things, there is quite a lot of stuff about living in lockdown with kids, but this episode is not for kids, it’s not really suitable for children because there’s swearing. The F bomb gets dropped here and there, and some others, so you might want to bear that in mind if you’ve got kids in the room –> either because you don’t want your kids hearing those words, or because you do want your kids to hear those words in order to for them to learn them and you might want to turn up the volume. I don’t know, it’s up to you. The main thing is: There is swearing in the episode.
I’d like to just make a quick note about swearing on the podcast actually because I was having this conversation in the comment section today.
For me, swearing on its own isn’t always bad – it depends on the situation and the intention behind using swear words.
I include swear words on the podcast sometimes because I want the podcast to be authentic and when I am talking to my close friends and family, swear words do come up. But I’m not saying you should use them all the time.
There’s a difference between saying a swear word to emphasise something, like for example (and I’m going to swear now) “That film was fucking awful” That is different to swearing at someone in order to insult them, like “You’re a fucking twat mate”, which is something I don’t really want to condone.
I’m saying that because I want it to be clear that although I have swearing on the podcast sometimes, I’m not saying that I’m a huge advocate for swearing all the time and I’m not trying to teaching people to swear at each other.
Was that a patronising thing to say? I’m not sure. I am a teacher after all so I feel I need to say things like that sometimes.
Anyway, we talk about children a bit in this episode, but it’s not really for children and after this one, there is another Amber & Paul episode coming (ep 663) with no conversation about our children at all, so there you go.
But the main thing is – Amber & Paul are back on the podcast, which is great. So let’s get started. I will talk to you again at the end of the episode but now – here is the jingle!
Free 30 Day Trial with Audible + One Free Audiobook Download
Hello and welcome to episode 661. In this episode I’m talking to my cousin Oliver who you might remember if you are a long term listener of this podcast, and I mean a really long term listener.
Oli has been on the podcast quite a few times before. I’m not talking about Olly Richards the English polyglot and I’m also not talking about Oliver Gee the Australian journalist who does the Earful Tower podcast in Paris. Those are two other Olis that I have had on this podcast.
This one is my cousin Oli Thompson who first appeared on the podcast 9 years ago in episode 76 which was all about how to use the London Underground. That was the first time Oli appeared on the podcast. He then appeared in 6 other episodes all of which, of course, are available in the archive.
Most of those appearances were in the early days when we were both living in London and used to see each other quite a lot. Since then things have changed a bit for both of us. The last time I spoke to Oli on the podcast was in 2016. He was working for the BBC as a TV producer, living in Bristol in the south West of England and he and his wife were awaiting the arrival of their first child. We talked about that and about predictions for the future.
That was episode 325 and 326.
Since then, Oli’s life has changed quite a lot, and I’m pretty sure we didn’t predict those changes in our last conversation.
The main things are that he now has 3 children, he no longer works for the BBC, he now works for Neftlix and he lives in Los Angeles (I think you’ve heard of L.A. too – yes, that big city in the USA where they have things like Hollywood and cars).
So there are loads of things to talk about here.
In this episode
One of the main things was that I wanted his first-hand experiences of communicating with his American colleagues and how they react to his British English.
UK English vs USA English Are the differences between British and American English significant? Do they make life difficult for him at all? What are some real examples of his experiences of communicating with people? And we talk about that but also we talk about things like
Oli’s Work as a TV Producer Details of Oli’s work.
Moving from Bristol to Los Angeles How he decided to leave his home country of the UK and move so far away to a completely different city.
Living in Beverly Hills What it feels like to live not only in Los Angeles but specifically in Beverly Hills – a location that we only ever knew from TV shows and films that we used to watch as kids in the 80s and 90s.
Working In TV Production Also, what it’s like to work for a big TV Streaming company? We all know this company, so many of us use the service and so what’s it like on the inside? What is their working culture?
Oli’s Recommended Documentaries Which shows has Oli been involved in making? And which shows can he recommend to us?
I hope you manage to keep up with this conversation. If you’re wondering, Oli’s accent is much like mine really. He speaks standard English RP. Some people say that he speaks quite quickly, although he was quite relaxed during this conversation so his pace of speaking was not too fast. I will let you see for yourself.
Here are some phrases to look out for. These are all phrases that Oli has used in meetings or conversations with his American colleagues and they either didn’t understand them really or found them funny. I’m not going to explain them now, I’m just saying them so you will be able to identify them when you hear them later in the conversation, and we do explain them a bit then.
To be on the case – Don’t worry, I’m on the case.
To ring-fence some money – Let’s ring-fence that money for advertising.
To tidy something up – We need to tidy up our processes.
Chinese whispers – I think it’s just a case of Chinese whispers.
To give someone a bell / a ring – I’ll give you a bell later. I’ll give you a ring after the meeting.
Fancy dress – A fancy dress party
A pantomime horse – Oli and I were dressed as a pantomime horse.
I’ve just said those now to help you notice them again later when they come up in our conversation.
All you have to do now is keep up, and hopefully enjoy finding out about Oli’s new life living and working in LA-LA Land, and here we go…
Thanks again to Oli for talking to us in this episode. I really enjoyed talking to him and catching up like that, and I hope you enjoyed getting a first-hand account of some differences between British and American English, the experience of a Brit living in LA and what it’s like behind the scenes in TV.
Check the page for this episode on the website to see things like
Culture Memo slideshare on LinkedIn
These are presentation slides which outline the internal working culture at Oli’s company, and have been viewed nearly 20 million times.
Documentaries Recommended by Oli
Also the details of those documentaries that Oli mentioned. Let me repeat them to you now, and you’ll find their titles written on the page, with links to make it easier for you to watch them.
A sobering docuseries filmed in association with UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program and Common Sense Media. This is one that Oli’s team worked on. A boy’s brutal murder and the public trials of his guardians and social workers prompt questions about the system’s protection of vulnerable children.
As usual you are welcome to add your thoughts, questions or comments on the website.
One suggestion regarding writing comments – if you have a comment which is specific to an episode, write it in the comment section of that episode page, not on the main page.
The main page is the front page of my website. Lots of comments get written there including general banter between regular commenters and stuff. So if you write a comment there about a specific episode, it might disappear quite quickly as other comments replace it.
But if you find the specific episode page by checking the archive (click EPISODES in the menu) and write your comment there, it will still be visible after some time, I’m more likely to see it and other people more likely to be able to respond to it.
Lots of practical advice and comments about how you can use films and TV series to work on your English. This episode is a recap of some advice in episode 523 with Cara Leopold. Transcript available below.
Have you heard the last episode of this podcast (#659)? I spoke to Cara Leopold about being stuck indoors during the lockdown. Cara is an English teacher who likes to help her students to improve their English with TV series and films and we know that because of the lockdown, loads of people at the moment are watching more TV and films on platforms like Netflix and are probably thinking about how to use those things to learn English.
Cara and I talked about that a bit near the end of the last episode, and we also did a whole episode about it a couple of years ago. That was episode 523, called Tips for Learning English with Films & TV Shows.
I mentioned before that I would sum up the main bits of advice that Cara and I gave in that episode.
So here we are, that’s what I’m going to do now – I’m going to consolidate some advice for learning English with TV series and films.
Then, when I’ve done that I’ll give you some personal recommendations for British TV shows and films that you can watch on Netflix.
Learning English with Films & TV – Summary of Advice Given in Ep.523 + more comments
Time and time again we have heard this advice – “Want to improve your English? Just watch TV series and films in English with English subtitles!”
It seems that people assume that you should just watch TV series in English with English subtitles and you’ll learn English magically as a consequence. People say it all the time, and I do think there is some truth in this. Watching lots of content in English is definitely a good idea, although of course that might not be enough on its own. There are plenty of other things you need to do, including regular speaking practice, writing, plenty of reading, using a systematic approach to learning vocabulary, taking time to understand how grammar works.
I suppose the thing is, there are two approaches that seem to be important in learning a language. One approach involves absorbing loads of English just through reading and listening. This is exposure, or immersion or comprehensible input – whatever you want to call it. You have to see and hear the language a lot if you want to be able to use it properly.
This is input. It is really important to get loads of English into your everyday life. You must regularly connect with English, get exposure to English and immerse yourself in English and binging on TV series is probably a pretty good and usually fun way to do that.
Personally I would say that podcasts are the best way, but whatever floats your boat. Ultimately it’s about finding the thing you really want to do. Obviously if you are a regular listener to my podcast then you might agree with me. But if TV shows and films are your thing then go for it.
The point there is you can get loads of English input from TV series and films in English and there are so many amazing shows and films available to us now. It’s amazing. We are spoiled for choice. Anyway – input is important.
Added to that is the importance of using the language regularly in order to communicate. This is output. So this means doing loads of speaking practice and writing practice in order to develop your ability to express yourself, find your voice, develop genuine fluency without just translating everything in your head. So, plenty of input and output.
I’m being quite general here but anyway, the point is → you’ve got to spend lots of time with the language in both receptive and productive ways.
Then the other approach is to be more systematic and disciplined – examining the language in some way, understanding how the English language is structured both in terms of grammar but also in terms of pronunciation so that you know how English is not only written but also produced orally, how it sounds when people actually speak it which helps you understand native speakers and also how to speak fluently yourself. It also involves using monolingual dictionaries to expand your vocab and investigate words, doing controlled practice for grammar and pronunciation and finding ways to remember vocabulary.
And throughout all of that you need to maintain your motivation, because enjoying the whole process is vital. If you’re motivated, you’re likely to do more, spend more time on the language, remember more things and generally get into a more positive and confident frame of mind about your relationship with English.
Using TV and films seems to fulfil the first category to some extent (input) because it allows you to immerse yourself in English, spend lots of time absorbing the language and it should be motivating because watching TV and films should be enjoyable.
It’s also worth stating that learning English doesn’t have to be a chore. It doesn’t have to be a boring thing that you’re forced to do by other people, like teachers or parents. I suppose people often say “Just watch Netflix in English with English subtitles” and this feels like good news because it means “this doesn’t have to be boring homework! It can be enjoyable if you give it a chance”. So, getting addicted to a TV show in English is a good thing for your English.
But is it just a case of just sitting back and watching all the episodes of Peaky Blinders or any other show that you’re into? What about the other things I just mentioned like speaking practice, writing, pronunciation, studying grammar and vocabulary? Well, it is possible to use TV and films in a more active way in order to achieve some of those things too if you’re willing to do more than just sit back and watch.
So here are some bits of advice which did come up in my conversation with Cara in episode 529 but given again and with a few other comments from me.
Watching to learn English and watching just for pleasure are two different things. Watching in order to learn English might involve thinking outside the box and doing things a bit differently.
Using TV and films for learning English is not just a simple or easy way to learn, despite what people say “Just watch stuff in English and bingo you’ll be a native speaker!” It’s not that simple.
In your first language you might just switch on a film or show and then kind of veg out while watching it – without really concentrating. This probably won’t work in English. Be prepared to focus and perhaps be more active while watching, often that mainly involves using the English subtitles, which are a real advantage.
I do recommend choosing content that gives you the option to have English subtitles. Watching with subtitles in your language can be useful because you can see how things are being translated and you can compare your language with the English you’re hearing, but generally speaking it’s best to operate only in English so I’d recommend that you forget about subtitles in your language, or watching something in your language with English subtitles. Do everything in English. So, put the audio in English and the subtitles in English too.
“So, should I always watch with the English subtitles on?” There are no hard and fast rules about using subtitles. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options.
Using English subtitles can help you understand what you’re hearing, especially when you realise that spoken English and written English can be very different. Subtitles can help bridge the gap between how words and sentences sound, and how they are written. You might hear something and then read the subtitles and kind of go “Ooooh that’s what she said! Ahhhh! That’s it then!” which is a great moment in language learning → that kind of “Oh it’s THAT?” moment when you realise something. But watch out because sometimes the subtitles are slightly different to the speech you’re hearing, because they might have to use fewer words than were spoken in order to actually fit them on the screen. But that only happens occasionally. So, an advantage of subtitles is that they help you bridge the gap between what language sounds like and what it looks like. When you listen without subtitles, you will no-doubt miss a lot of what is being said, without realising you’re missing it.
But be aware that if you only ever watch with subtitles you might not develop real listening skills, because you’re basically just reading while you watch and as we know, in the real world, you don’t get subtitles appearing in the air when people speak, unfortunately (well, yet. I expect eventually you’ll be able to get augmented reality glasses or perhaps some kind of biotech which lets you see simultaneous automatic subtitles when people talk, but not yet… that does sound like something out of an episode of Black Mirror…) Anyway, the point is, there are pros and cons of subtitles and no subtitles so you should have both. Experiment with switching the subtitles on and off while you are watching in order to try to get the best of both worlds.
Watch stuff more than once. You can watch a film or show several times, especially if you enjoy it or already know it. Some films improve with multiple viewings. So, try watching certain films several times, perhaps first with subtitles in your language, then subtitles in English and then in English with no subtitles at all. You will be surprised at how much more you notice, understand and remember after watching things numerous times. You will probably appreciate the show or film on a new level too, if you do this. There’s nothing wrong or weird about watching more than once. Like I said – think outside the box a bit.
If you’re watching a TV show you can alternate between watching episodes with and without subtitles. Perhaps do one episode with subtitles, then the next one without. If you just can’t understand episodes without subtitles, try watching the episode with subtitles first then watch again without subtitles. Again, don’t worry, that’s not a weird thing to do, it’s fine – because I say so. And anyway, like I said before if it is a genuinely good show, you might appreciate it even more the second time you watch it and this can actually raise the quality of your listening practice. There are no rules here. Watching episodes several times is normal and useful.
So, we’ve talked about watching films several times, watching episodes several times, but you don’t have to watch the entire thing again from the start. You could just do it with certain scenes. Watch certain scenes several times, with and without the subtitles.
Test yourself on what you heard and check with the subtitles. You could try watching a scene, then trying to explain what just happened, and what people said. Then watch again with the subtitles in order to check. When you explain what you saw, you can do it out loud, with a friend, or just in writing.
You could keep a sort of viewing diary for films or series. Write down little summaries of scenes, episodes or perhaps whole films (although it’s probably best to do it in smaller chunks) then review the scene you’ve written about by checking with subtitles, and re-write your summary if necessary. This is a good way to flip listening practise into productive practise. Remember, it is worth writing in English even if nobody else reads it. It’s just a good idea to practise producing English regularly. Of course it would be better if you had a language partner, coach or teacher who could check your writing and correct errors. Consider finding one on italki – www.teacherluke.co.uk/talk – but doing it on your own is still a good idea.
Search for certain new bits of vocabulary when they come up– using monolingual dictionaries. I recommend using online dictionaries like collinsdictionary.commacmillandicionary.comdictionary.cambridge.org Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online www.ldoceonline.com/ or www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/ They’re all decent dictionaries and you can check words and phrases, see examples and crucially hear how the words are pronounced. It’s worth taking a bit of time to get familiar with how these online dictionaries present information to you. It can pay off massively in your learning. Please resist the temptation to just use google translate to get quick translations into your language. It might be a super-fast solution, but it’s not a healthy thing to do for your English long term. Monolingual dictionaries are amazing and can really help you. So use them.
Don’t worry too much about certain specific cultural details. Sometimes characters will talk about stuff that you just don’t know about. For example when I watch some American shows they refer to places, people, sports or events which I don’t know about and it does mean I get a bit lost sometimes. It’s normal. You could google those things of course if you really need to and learn as you go, or just don’t worry about them too much. It’s worth remembering that it might not be your listening skills that prevent you from understanding. It could be your general knowledge too.
Try transcribing certain scenes – especially if you thought it contained really cool dialogue. Then watch again with the subtitles to check your transcription. (I made that suggestion earlier, but there it is again)
It’s not just a case of what you’re doing while you’re watching. Think about doing things both before and after you watch too. In fact, doing some preparation before you start watching can really help you.
Before you watch a film or TV show, check online reviews or summaries to help prepare yourself. Being prepared can help. If you know the general storyline or tone of the thing you’re watching, it can help to prevent you getting lost. Watch out for spoilers though. Maybe you can search for a spoiler-free review of the thing you’re going to see, this can really help put you in the right place before you actually click PLAY.
Similarly, after you’ve watched you can read online reviews of what you’ve watched. That way you can add some extra reading practice to your listening, and you will be a lot more engaged and invested in what you’re reading. Personally I like to read reviews or re-caps of episodes of shows I’ve watched. It helps me understand what I’ve seen and also I like to read other people’s opinions on episodes. Websites like Den of Geek, Vulture, The Independent or The Guardian often do episode recaps of the big TV shows. Read them! It can also help you to appreciate subtle details that you’ve missed and you’ll pick up bits of English from the articles you’ll read. Go the extra mile. It will pay off for your English later. If you find those online newspaper reviews to be a bit “wordy” and opinionated then consider reading IMDB or Wikipedia plot summaries instead as they are often written in slightly more plain English.
I’d also recommend finding YouTube reviews of the films or series you’ve watched. Just go to YouTube and search for the title of the episode or film you’ve seen plus the word review and see what you get. You’ll find this is a great way to get more effective listening input because you’ll be fully engaged in what you’re listening to. You’ll be on the same page as the person speaking because you will understand all their reference points and you’ll be interacting with their opinions and thoughts a lot more. This is an important part of turning listening input into intake → language that is more likely to stick with you.
Be a little selective in your viewing choices – pick stuff that you’d normally enjoy, and remember that films and TV shows can contain very “mumbly” dialogue, and even just “grunting” during long fight scenes. Try to pick films that are pretty simple and perhaps comedies that focus on the dialogue. Also, as Cara mentioned before, some content is in a certain kind of register that might not be applicable to the English you need to use. Documentaries, for example, feature a different style of English than conversational English that you might hear in content with natural dialogue between people.
Pronunciation & Speaking → There’s the concept of shadowing, which works for a lot of people. This involves basically repeating what you hear. It can be a good way to essentially transcribe orally. I mean, you’re attempting to identify word for word what is being said and to replicate speech patterns. You should also check those useful subtitles to help you identify what you’re getting right and wrong. When you come across words and phrases you don’t know, those are opportunities to expand your vocabulary.
It’s hard to practise your speaking on your own. You can essentially do what you’re doing with writing (like keep a diary, summarise things you’ve seen, give your opinions about what you’ve seen and so on) but just do it with your mouth rather than with your fingers, but speaking works best when you’re speaking to another person. So, you could talk to the person you’re living with if they’re up for it. Otherwise, consider italki again.
I want to mention motivation again, and the importance of enjoying what you’re watching or listening to. If you’re not enjoying something you’re watching you definitely have permission to stop and choose something else instead. It might take a little while to find the right show for you. But don’t force yourself to watch something you don’t like.
Also, I’ve mentioned various things in this episode, like watching scenes or episodes several times, writing things down and then comparing with subtitles, shadowing, writing reviews, and all that stuff. I do think it will help, but I know from experience that most people out there probably won’t bother to do it. That’s up to you. If you don’t take initiative and do some of those things, or at least try them a bit, I suppose you’ll never know how they can help you. If you don’t do anything more than just watch, then fine. Don’t feel bad about it.
Understanding films and TV can be really hard! Don’t worry too much if you don’t understand 100%. Even in our first languages we don’t always understand what’s going on in films. So, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not able to understand it all.
Of course you can always listen to LEP or whatever other listening resource you have that you can mostly understand, but it’s worth pushing yourself sometimes. Hopefully you get that from my episodes because they feature a mix of me speaking on my own which is probably easier to understand, with me speaking to guests which is harder. But hopefully you’ll find that you understand my content enough for language acquisition to happen. What’s my point here? I suppose it’s that you’ve always got episodes of my podcast to listen to, but you should also explore films and TV shows too, and try to do more than just sit back on the sofa in comfort while doing it. Try to be a bit more active if you can.
There is probably a lot of other advice that could be given. If you have other things to add, why not share them in the comment section.
Some Netflix Recommendations for British English
There are loads of great shows in American English of course, but I’m trying to narrow my focus to British English stuff here.
Here are some shows and films in British English which are on Netflix, which I have seen and can recommend.
I’ll mention the title, then talk about the show/film a little bit.
These things are all available on Netflix where I am (France) at the time of recording this (April 2020). You can probably find a lot of them elsewhere too, including on DVD.
Some of these shows you will have seen before, others will be new to you.
I’ll try to mention what kind of English you can hear in these shows, including accents.
Shaun of the Dead
Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels
Remains of the Day
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian”
Wallace & Gromit – The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Stand up Comedy
James Acaster – Repertoire
Greg Davies – You Magnificent Beast
Jimmy Carr – The Best of Ultimate Gold Greatest Hits
Also, check out www.OpenCulture.com and spend some time looking through the long list of free documentaries, TV shows and films there. For example, I found a documentary about Pink Floyd which was really fascinating.