Category Archives: Advice

588. Punctuation Rules / Book Review (Part 2) Apostrophe, Full Stop, Comma

Part 2 of my episode about punctuation. This one covers punctuation rules for apostrophe, full stop and comma. Also you can hear the rest of my book review of Punctuation..?  by User Design. Transcript available below.

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Introduction

Hello there, you are listening to part 2 of this episode about punctuation. In the last one I talked generally about the importance of punctuation in various types of writing, described a book about pronunciation which has been sent to me for review by a publishing company and also I went through a list of punctuation symbols and described them so you know the names for a lot of the different punctuation marks available to you.

In this episode I’m going to actually teach you various punctuation rules relating to 3 big punctuation symbols.

So, I’m going to talk about how we use apostrophes and how to avoid certain common errors that actually make people’s blood boil, then I’ll give you some tips about full stops and commas. I’m also going to finish reviewing that book which I received in the post recently. It’s a punctuation guide and I’ll be giving my review of it.

Just before recording this I realised that there were some punctuation symbols which I didn’t mention in the last episode and I just want to say them now because you might not know the names we use in English for these symbols. These are ones we see on our computer keyboards and use quite a lot for various things like email addresses and stuff like that.

_ underscore

@ at mark 

& ampersand

# hash

* asterisk or star

Alright, now I’ve mentioned those, let’s carry on with this episode with my comments about apostrophes, full stops and commas and then the rest of my review of the book Punctuation..? by User Design.

Just a reminder – you can find a transcript on the page for this episode on my website so you can read along with me or skim the script later in order to check for any new words. There are also links for the book and some pictures too. Right, let’s carry on.


Some punctuation rules

I don’t have time to go through every single punctuation symbol and explain their rules so I’m just going to focus on a few thing. To get the rest you’ll need to get a copy of this book or one of the others on the market. Other books are available of course.

Also I should say that usually, these days I do this kind of language teaching in my premium episodes. This time I’ve chosen to include this in a free episode, but if you want more of this kind of thing – episodes where I focus specifically on teaching you language then check out my premium episodes and become a premium member at www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium

I’m going to deal with

  • The apostrophe (various uses)
  • Full stop vs dot vs point
  • Comma

I’ve chosen those because they’re really common and people, surprisingly, get them wrong quite a lot. Usually it’s learners of English who get full stops and commas wrong, and errors with apostrophes are common among native speakers. In fact errors with apostrophes make some people really angry. I’ll say more about that in a minute.

One thing to say here is that there is a certain amount of disagreement when it comes to punctuation rules. There isn’t a single agreed set of rules that everyone follows. Some things, yes, everyone agrees on, more or less. I think this includes certain basics like the rules of full stops and apostrophes. But for many other areas of punctuation there are always little points of disagreement, like for example some uses of the comma (The Oxford Comma debate comes to mind. I can’t go into that now though, because we’d be here all day! Just google it to get the full story, perhaps on a website like Grammarly).

www.grammarly.com/blog/what-is-the-oxford-comma-and-why-do-people-care-so-much-about-it/

So, be aware that there are some differences of opinion when it comes to style and the application of punctuation. The following information is correct as far as I’m concerned.

Apostrophe

This is not just a brilliant album by Frank Zappa, it’s also one of the most commonly used bits of punctuation, and this is a big one because people get it wrong all the time and it has a few different uses.

I’m paraphrasing from the Punctuation…? book here by the way.

Paraphrasing means taking information that you find in someone else’s work and then putting it into your own words, not copying it word for word, I mean changing the wording so that it’s not the same as before. In fact, paraphrasing really means reading someone’s words, understanding them and then writing the same concepts but using different wording.

Anyone writing essays at university should be well aware of the importance of paraphrasing so you don’t commit copyright infringement. This is a major issue these days because the internet allows people to copy & paste other people’s text so easily, but we shouldn’t do it. We shouldn’t pass off other people’s work as our own. I know that there are plenty of universities that are working on ways to seriously crack down on their students just ‘copy & pasting’ other people’s work into their own essays.

Having worked at a university here in Paris I have seen it done lots of times and I must say it really annoys me. It’s always blatantly obvious and, well, I just can’t stand it. For me the main examples were when I gave my university students presentation tasks to do and they literally just memorised a page from Wikipedia and then recited it to the class with absolutely no effort to even care about or think about what they were saying.

It just looks so terrible when people do that. It’s ok to take information from somewhere, just try to absorb it and then put it in your own words, and please, if you ever do a presentation at university or anywhere for that matter, just try to put some enthusiasm into your work, even if you’re worried about making errors in English. Sorry, I touched a nerve there in myself. Bad memories of some moments when I felt frustrated during my days of being an English teacher at university.

Anyway, for the record, I am paraphrasing the main points that are made by the Punctuation…? book here, with some other ideas of my own thrown in.

What’s the apostrophe?

Think about the title of my podcast – Luke’s English Podcast. There’s an apostrophe in it. L U K E apostrophe S. That one shows a possessive. It’s my podcast. Luke’s podcast.

What does it look like, Luke? (can you repeat that question? haha)

It’s like a little dot with a tail that hangs in the air just to the right of a letter. In the case of possessives, that’s just before the letter S at the end.

It’s for possessives, but also other things. Here’s a list of situations when we use apostrophes.

Possessives

We use apostrophes with singular and plural nouns to show that one thing possesses another thing.

Here are some examples of possessives with singular nouns, in this case Dave is the singular noun.

“That is Dave and that is his car, just over there. Yes, that car belongs to Dave. That is Dave’s car. This is not Dave’s car. This is my car. My car is small, but Dave’s car is really big, unnecessarily big, some might say. I don’t know why he’s been driving such a massive car around the city. Now, as you can see, Dave’s car has crashed into my car. My car is now completely smashed up and will have to be thrown away at the junk yard. Dave’s car on the other hand, is relatively undamaged. So, Dave’s car is fine, but mine is completely smashed up. These are my hands. And this is Dave’s throat. Yes. I am strangling Dave. In my mind.”

Sorry, I got a bit carried away there! Don’t worry folks. It’s just an example. I don’t have a car and none of that ever happened, and anyway Dave’s dead now so it’s fine.

Just kidding.

Anyway, you saw lots of examples of the possessive apostrophe being used there.

You know this already, right? You should do.

We use an apostrophe to show possession when we’re dealing with singular nouns, like Dave. Dave is a singular noun (he’s also a single man, girls, if you’re interested in men called Dave who have large cars but can’t drive them).

It also works for things too, not just people. For example, the word car. “That car’s windscreen is completely smashed, whereas this car’s windscreen is somehow undamaged.”

That’s singular nouns. What about plural nouns, Luke?

What if both cars had their windscreens smashed in the accident?

As you know, plural nouns in English have S at the end. One car, two cars.

So what if you’re talking about the windscreens of two cars?

So, to add possessive S to a plural word which already has an S at the end (like CARS), what do you do? Do you add ‘apostrophe + S’ like with singular nouns? So C A R S ‘ S?

Nope, you can just add the apostrophe to the end, without the final S.

So it’s C A R S ‘

These cars’ windscreens are both smashed.

To be honest, if we’re not talking about a person I’d probably find another way of putting it. I’d probably say

The windscreens on these two cars are smashed.

What about plural names? For example if you have more than one bloke called Dave. Two Daves.

Actually, it’s rare that you have possessive forms of plural names.

It’s just weird to say something like “Daves’ cars crashed into each other” meaning “Dave and Dave’s cars crashed into each other”.

The point is – for plural nouns, whatever they are – people or things, with possessives you can just add an apostrophe.

This is also true for names that end in S, like James, my brother’s name.

You can write James’ Room. That’s J A M E S ‘ R O O M.

I remember that one because when I was a child, my brother and I had separate rooms and we had little signs on our doors. Mine said “Luke’s Room” with an apostrophe after my name and then an S. James’ sign said “James’ Room” with an apostrophe and then no S. I sometimes wondered why they were different. It’s just because James’ name ends in an S.

Fascinating stuff this, isn’t it?

For names ending in S like this you can also just write James’s Room. J A M E S ‘S R O O M.

How do you say that? James’ / James’s —-> /jeimziz/

So actually, for names it can be S’ or S’S.

So that’s possessives for singular nouns, plural nouns with S and names ending in S.

But what about irregular nouns? I mean, nouns where the plural form isn’t made with an S, like “children”.

One child
Two children

Well, we just do the same thing as we do with a singular noun.

So, “The children’s toys are in the bedroom”.

Other examples are things like “Women’s rights”, “The people’s champion” or “The Men’s changing room”.

A common error with apostrophes (Using apostrophes for plurals – don’t do it folks!)

This is a mistake that makes some native speakers get really annoyed.

Sometimes in the UK you will see people use apostrophes just for normal plurals.

For example you might walk through a market and see a sign saying “Orange’s” or “Burger’s” or even “Fish & Chip’s”. Needless to say, there definitely shouldn’t be an apostrophe in those words. They’re just plurals of countable nouns. They’re not possessives and they’re not contractions of verbs.

Those kinds of errors are likely to make people’s blood boil!

If they know you’re a non-native speaker of English, that will make it a bit better, but still – don’t make the sort of mistakes that native speakers make, even if native-level English is what you’re looking for.

We’ll look at a couple of other common errors in a minute.

Apostrophes in contractions to indicate missing letters

Apostrophes are also used to let us know that some letters have been removed to make contracted forms.

Luke’s terrible improvised “joke” (?)
Just let us know when the letters have been moved from the lettuce.
(The words “let us” “letters” and “lettuce” sound really similar, that’s it. Terrible. Not even a joke.)

Apostrophes in contracted forms

Don’t → Do not
Doesn’t → Does not
I’ll → I will
Isn’t → Is not
Let’s → Let us
There’s → There is
You’re → You are

The book says that contracted forms are used for writing out speech, which is a good way of putting it. I’d add that these days we just use contracted forms in any kind of informal and neutral writing, but not in formal writing.

This use of apostrophes isn’t very complicated, is it? But it does cause one particular problem, which is it’s vs its

That’s the difference between the contracted form of it is and the possessive form of the pronoun it.

More common errors: It’s vs its

This is another thing that native speakers get wrong quite a lot.

Think of these two examples. Which ones should contain an apostrophe and which shouldn’t?

Obviously if you’re reading the script for this episode then you’ll be able to see the apostrophe with your eyes because it’s right there. But for those of you who are listening, in which sentence would you add an apostrophe after “it”?

  • It’s a lovely day today!
  • My phone has a crack on its screen.

I feel like I should join those sentences together to make one slightly sad sentence.

It’s a lovely day today, but my phone has a crack on its screen. :(

So, with an apostrophe “it’s” means “it is” or “it has” (like in present perfect).

Without an apostrophe it’s a possessive pronoun, just like my, your, our, their, his, her. My phone, your phone, our phones, their phones, his phone, her phone. None of them have apostrophes either.

We saw a lion and its paw was injured. (possessive pronoun)
Oh no, it’s (it has) injured its (possessive pronoun) paw!

Full stop (also called the ‘period’ in US English)

This one is really simple but it needs to be said because I’m surprised at how often I see missing full stops in students’ writing and also people using commas instead of full stops, incorrectly.

So I’m just going to say – put a full stop at the end of your sentence and a capital letter at the beginning of the sentence!

You don’t need a full stop if you have an exclamation mark or question mark.

How do you know when it’s a full stop and not a comma?
Well, if you’re using a new subject in a new clause without a conjunction (a joining word) to connect them, you need a full stop.

For example

I love cheese, but I can’t eat too much of it.
I love cheese. I can’t eat too much of it.

A basic example there, but there it is.

“Full stop” is a phrase that we use in spoken English to mean “And that’s the end of it! I am not discussing it any more” For example, “I don’t want to see any more smoking in front of the building, full stop!”

In US English they say “Period”.

“God damn it John. You’re a god damn maverick! I want your badge and your gun. You’re off this case. Period!”

“Full stop” is the phrase we use for the dot at the end of the sentence.

We also have other little dots in things like numbers and web addresses. What do we call them?

Dot

Use this in email addresses and websites. Teacherluke.co.uk

Also use it just to describe the shape – a small round mark is a dot, like on a pattered dress.

For example you might have a blue dress with white dots on it.

Also we use the word “dot” for the top part of the letter i or j and also to describe exclamation marks or question marks. It’s just the word we use for a tiny round mark.

Point

This is for numbers, meaning “decimal point”.

For example 3.14159 (Pie) Three point one four…
BBC headline: Women have 1.9 children on average, a record low – BBC News
One point nine children…

Comma

This is the most common punctuation mark in English. Basically, it’s used to make your writing clearer and to indicate some sort of pause in the rhythm of the sentence. We use them to separate items in a list.

For example, “Give me your clothes, your boots, your cigarettes, your Pokemon cards and your motorcycle”.

It’s also used when there is a change in the subject in your sentence. That’s something the Pronunciation…? book said and I think it’s really good.

For example

“I wanted to watch the new Avengers film, but Dave crashed into my car, so I couldn’t.”

There are more little uses of the comma, like the way they’re used in non-defining relative clauses or conditional sentences but to be honest I can’t go into all of those things now!

You’ll have to get a punctuation guide to get all the details.

Alright. This stuff can be hard to keep in your head, even when you already know it! That’s why you need a reference book to keep going back to. Explaining punctuation is not that easy, especially in an audio podcast, so why not use a book like this to save you the effort of working it all out for yourself, or doing loads of google searches and attempting to find consistent answers from different sources.

One thing I will say again is that there is some disagreement about the rules of punctuation and to an extent some of the application of punctuation symbols in your writing is a question of personal style and personal choice but some things are definitely right or wrong so the more you know the more control you’ll have and ultimately the better it will be for your English.

Book Review – Punctuation…? by User Design (continuing my review)

Punctuation..? by User Design (front and back covers)

There are a few books that explain punctuation that already exist on the market, but not that many that only deal with punctuation on its own.

Most of the time you’ll find punctuation guides inside other reference books like dictionaries (for example The Oxford English Dictionary) or grammar guides (like The Oxford A to Z of Grammar and Punctuation). As far as I can tell, the main book people buy when searching for a punctuation guide is The Penguin Guide to Punctuation. So, those things are the mainstream, well-known guides.

This book, “Punctuation…?” should be considered as an alternative.

So, let’s think about this book again. Remember how I described it to you earlier? Let’s go a bit deeper and I’ll give you my thoughts – both the negatives and positives.

I definitely like this book but I think it’s not 100% perfect. Let’s start with the negatives first. This is where I do some nit picking. Nit picking means making small criticisms or critical observations about something. Small criticisms that aren’t really all that important.
Well, perhaps some of these criticisms are important. We’ll see.

Negatives

The design aesthetic of this book is minimal, but it’s a bit too minimal in places, maybe. It doesn’t always give full reasons for some punctuation points and it feels like some things are lacking. For example, the page about colons. I had other questions which weren’t answered, like “Shouldn’t we put a capital letter after a colon? When do we use a capital letter after a colon and when do we not?” Those are questions which might be answered by more thorough and detailed punctuation guides or just by googling it. I sometimes feel there’s more to add, and I expect that in later editions of the book, if they publish them, there will be more details added, or at least I think there probably should be, without spoiling the minimal style of the whole book anyway.

So, yes, the book feels a little bit insubstantial, as if it needs more. For example, it could do with some pages of commentary, generally, about punctuation in general. The book covers each punctuation point succinctly and then it just ends. I would like some comments perhaps from the authors just explaining their process or perhaps giving some opinions about punctuation and style or something like that.

At first I thought that this feeling of “there’s something missing” was because of the minimal design with plenty of white space on the page and the cartoons which look quite sketchy, even if they are good fun. I thought it was just the effect of the design.

But in all honesty, it’s not just the way it looks, it’s also the content. Don’t get me wrong, the pages which are there are great and will definitely teach you good information about punctuation but it’s not really a full book. It’s more like a pamphlet, which is how it is described on Amazon.

The recommended retail price on the back of the book is £10, which is higher than other, more substantial books on punctuation which are available. I think that might be a bit of a sticking point for some customers. You’d expect the price to be a bit lower for the amount of content you’re getting.

Also, some of the examples are a bit weird, which can make them slightly confusing (“The snakes’ hisses”?)

Also, sometimes it’s not completely obvious to me what the connection is between the illustration and the punctuation point being explained. This makes it feel a bit like the pictures aren’t all that helpful beyond just creating a fun atmosphere – but is that what people want when using a punctuation reference guide? By all means, use humour and fun. Of course I believe in that strongly. I think it’s really important to help people to enjoy learning stuff like this but I also think that the fun stuff should be performing a function too and in this case some of the pictures don’t seem to make things clearer, some of them just seem a bit odd.

They’re idiosyncratic which is cool, but not always that helpful, and they might just make the guide somehow less serious, which I think is something people look for in a guide like this. Am I repeating myself? Probably.

This book is after my own heart. dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/after-your-own-heart

In summary, it might lack the seriousness and full commentary that some people expect from this kind of book at this kind of price, even though I like it.

Positives

One of the good things about this book is that it’s just a nice product to own. The paper it’s printed on is nice and thick and feels pleasant to touch. It has a pleasant-looking minimal design. The illustrations are quite fun and give the book more personality than your average dictionary or style guide. Also it would be more appropriate for young people I guess, or people who just want a bit more fun. It’s quite a good coffee table book, which makes it sound frivolous, but it is the sort of book you can enjoy flicking through, picking up some tidbits about punctuation that you might have always wondered about.

The explanations are short enough for you to digest quite easily. For example, there’s pretty much one rule or point per page. Punctuation rules can get pretty complicated but this book does a good job of reducing superfluous information. It gets straight to the point and as a result is very useful.

I said before that the book could do with some more commentary, like perhaps an introduction or conclusion, but on the other hand this book’s minimal approach makes it very accessible.

You will definitely learn things about punctuation by reading this book. Sometimes, very detailed language reference books become impenetrable because there’s so much information to sift through. Not with this book. They keep it short and simple.

Because it’s quite fun and a bit different while also being useful, I think it would be a good gift. You might not choose it in the bookshop if you want a no-nonsense language reference book, but you’d probably be happy to receive it as a present. I actually really like the book and I’m glad I have a copy. I learned a thing or two from reading it and it’s good to see some originality in this kind of reference work.

But it depends on the person I think. Some people might like this book because they will think it is a case of “Less is more”. I mean, some people will like the minimal style, will find the illustrations fun and will appreciate a more light-hearted feel but there are bound to be others who would just like more information, presented more seriously, please.

On the whole, I like the book. It’s original and quirky while also being useful and clear. It might not be the serious reference book that some people are looking for, but the information inside can definitely help you understand and improve your use of punctuation and ultimately that’s the main thing.

What did my wife think?

This morning I was having breakfast with my wife and the book was lying on the table. I pushed the book towards my wife and said, “what do you think of this book? Just give me your first impressions.” She said “I really like the pictures. I love this sort of thing. It looks really useful.” We agreed that it was actually a really cool book.

So if you’re looking for an alternative book about punctuation which has a more fun approach, get this book – either for you or as a gift. I think it’s particularly good as a gift for someone with a bit of a sense of humour, who is curious about punctuation and who also wants to be able to write more clearly.

The book seems to be available from all good bookshops including the main online retailers, certainly the ones which are well-known in the UK.

LINKS

User Design Website https://www.userdesignillustrationandtypesetting.com

Their books www.userdesignillustrationandtypesetting.com/books

The page for Punctuation…? Includes all the relevant information, including how to get the book www.userdesignillustrationandtypesetting.com/books/punctuation/index.html

Ending

I’d like to say thanks to User Design for sending me the book, and thanks to everyone out there for listening to this!

Owning a book on punctuation is a great idea. If you actually use it, you will see a definite improvement in your awareness of punctuation, which feeds into an overall sense of how you need to be clear when communicating, particularly in your writing.

So, I do recommend getting a punctuation reference book. Either this one, for the reasons I’ve given, or another one if this book isn’t your cup of tea.

587. Punctuation Rules / Book Review (Part 1)

This episode is about the importance of punctuation in writing. I’ll teach you the names of various punctuation symbols and review a cool punctuation reference book that someone sent me recently, and yes I do think it is possible to have a cool book about punctuation! Transcript available.

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Introduction

In this episode I’m going to talk about… punctuation!

I’m going to talk about punctuation, teach you the names of most of the main punctuation symbols we use when writing. I’m going to explain the rules/uses of some bits of punctuation (namely the apostrophe, comma and full stop) and also I’ll be doing a review of a book about punctuation that you might be interested in purchasing.

So this is an episode of an audio podcast about punctuation which is a completely visual system, so this might be a bit ambitious and there will be times when I’m trying to describe punctuation symbols, so I expect there will be some bits of descriptive language there to look out for, as well as just loads of commentary and also a book review from me.

What is punctuation?

Just in case you don’t know, punctuation means all the symbols we use to perform various functions when writing. This means things like full stops, commas, apostrophes and things like that.

I don’t often talk about writing on this podcast. The focus is usually on speaking, listening, vocabulary, bits of grammar, pronunciation and of course just talking about various topics in order to help expose you to loads of English through audio, like I talked about in the last episode about the importance of listening in your learning of English.

Writing can be difficult to teach in an audio podcast, and that’s one of the reasons I don’t talk about it that much. But I’d like to deal with it sometimes if it’s possible and punctuation is actually one of those areas of writing that often doesn’t get taught, but it’s a really important part of writing.

First of all, it’s something that a lot of learners of English need to work on. In my experience as a teacher, I’ve seen plenty of issues relating to it in my students’ work. This includes basic things, like just not putting full stops at the end of sentences, or getting confused about the difference between a plural S and a possessive S. So there are certain basic errors that you really should avoid.

Also, learning about punctuation can really help your grammar. The more you understand punctuation, the more you understand the way sentences are constructed and the more you are able to then get control over those things.

Basically – learning about punctuation helps you to write better and that is just one of the things you have to deal with if you would like to get a proper grip on this language.

Also, there’s that famous quote which illustrates perfectly the importance of punctuation, “Punctuation is the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit.”

Source: Boldmatic.com boldomatic.com/p/2FfrVQ/punctuation-the-difference-between-knowing-your-shit-and-knowing-you-re-shit%5B/caption%5D

 

Is punctuation always important?

I would say that punctuation is always important if you want to be clear and correct, which I assume you want to be. Who would want to be vague and wrong? Nobody, I think!

Does punctuation change depending on the situation or the type of writing we’re doing?
Obviously, the more formal your writing the more important it becomes. If you’re writing external business correspondence, legal contracts, letters of application to university, academic essays and so on, then punctuation is going to be a big consideration for you, because you have to pay very close attention to the clarity of your writing.

But what about informal writing?

Some people might say that you don’t need to worry about punctuation in things like emails to your friends or work colleagues that you know well, or in text messages and comments online and stuff. Arguably there is a different set of conventions for those things, but I still think punctuation is really important even in informal writing like that.

Perhaps some of the rules are a bit different when doing informal writing. For example, I think it’s normal, when having a text chat with a friend, not to put full stops at the end of your sentences. In fact, I think the way we use full stops in text messages has changed recently. I mean, if you’re having a chat, you might leave the full stops out of your final sentences as a way of showing that the conversation is still open. For me, a full stop at the end suggests “that’s it”, which can suggest “this chat is over”. That’s a subtle thing, but I think it’s true.

Article: The Text Message You Should Never Send, by Rachel Feltman

OK, I’m going off on a bit of a tangent here, but here’s an article I just found from The Independent, which I think is interesting. This article is called The Text Message You Should Never Send, written by Rachel Feltman (published in December 2015)

Basically it’s talking about how putting full stops at the end of sentences in text messages looks unfriendly and insincere and that this is backed up by research from Birmingham University.

OK, let’s have a bit of a read and then get back to the point.

www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/never-end-your-text-messages-with-a-full-stop-a6766011.html

Basically, punctuation is important. Knowing when or when not to use it is an important skill to master.

If you’re serious about improving your written English, you’ve got to get punctuation right. It makes a huge difference to the impression you give to people reading your emails, essays, reports or whatever it is you’re writing, even your text messages or website comments. It’s all about getting more control over your communication, which is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Think of punctuation being to writing what pronunciation and body language are to speaking.

When we speak we use lots of different ways to add interpretation to our words. We use stress and intonation to give emphasis and tone and we use our faces and hands too. At this point my Italian listeners are saying “Yes Luke, we know all about that.”

So, punctuation is something that is absolutely crucial for your writing.

Let’s get back on track here.

Do you know the words for all the punctuation symbols in English? Do you know how to use them properly?

The plan in this episode, like I said at the start, is to teach you the words for some punctuation marks and symbols we use when writing, explain the rules/uses of these bits of punctuation and also I’ll be doing a review of a book about punctuation that you might be interested in purchasing.

About the book I just mentioned. Let me say a few things about it before we start. You’re now going to hear me describing this book. Watch out for the language I’m using. You can read a lot of this on the transcript for this episode which is available FREE on my website! So, if you hear me using certain words or phrases that you didn’t catch, head to teacherluke.co.uk and find the page for this episode. The script is there for you to read or just skim for vocabulary.

Book: Punctuation..? By User Design

A while ago I was contacted by a listener to this podcast who is an author, illustrator, designer and publisher – yes, all at the same time apparently! He’s published a book about punctuation in English and he offered to send me a copy of the book in return for a little review of it on the podcast. I thought it could be a good opportunity to talk about punctuation, to teach my listeners some of the words for punctuation marks and to give some comments about punctuation rules, so I accepted to do the review. It’s a good deal for everyone – you can hear me talk about punctuation and perhaps learn some things, I get a copy of the book and the author gets a bit of publicity.

The book is called “Punctuation…?” and the author goes by the name User Design, which is actually a service/business name that he’s using. So, let’s call him Mr User Design.

Actually the full name of this guy’s company is “User Design, Illustration and Typesetting”. A quick look on their website shows that they provide various services, and I quote, “We offer a complete graphic communication design, illustration and production service, from books to websites, to many other printed and electronic items.”

You can check out their website at www.userdesignillustrationandtypesetting.com/ It’s a nice-looking website. Mr Design clearly has an eye for a functional design aesthetic.

So, one of their products is this handy guide for punctuation. It’s a pretty slim book with a clear contents page where you can see all the main punctuation marks that you should know about, with page numbers as you’d expect. It’s all very minimal and clear. But this isn’t just a boring reference book. One of the first things you notice when you open it is that it contains lots of cartoon illustrations to keep things interesting and fun.

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. This is a famous saying, which means that you shouldn’t judge a person by their appearance. But in the case of books, I have no idea how you are supposed to judge a book before you have read it. Judging it by its cover is pretty much the only thing you can do, isn’t it! I suppose you can flick through it and maybe read the first few pages, but if you’re standing there in a bookshop reading a book, the person behind the counter might start to get a bit peeved after a while.

Anyway, let’s judge this book by its cover. The front cover is very minimal. It’s black and white. There’s the title, “Punctuation…?”, the author (User Design) and then a cartoon illustration of two people apparently communicating with each other. The one on the left is a girl holding her hand out as if she’s saying something and the one on the right is a guy scratching his head with his other hand in the air, and it looks like he’s confused.

[caption id="attachment_35734" align="alignright" width="3200"] Punctuation..? by User Design (front and back covers)

The illustrations are simple sketches done with a pen. They’re quirky. Thin lines. They look a bit like doodles but they’re quite funny. There isn’t anything else. Now, I reckon most people would not really know what to make of that. Well, maybe there would be two reactions – one would be “oh this looks quirky and cool – a hip book about punctuation” and some others might think “This doesn’t look serious enough and I don’t know why these people are standing there like that – what does that have to do with punctuation?” That’s just the front cover though.

If you look inside and actually read all the pages, it’s clear that this is a clear and simple guide to what the different punctuation symbols are and how they are used. But I reckon most people would expect something a bit more academic, like your average dictionary or reference book.

On the back cover you’ve got some text explaining the book, as usual, and another cartoon illustration.

I’ll read the text to you.

Luke reads the back cover of the book. See the pic above ⤴️⤴️⤴️ 

OK, great. That’s nice and clear.

The illustration shows some kind of nightclub or party with a dreadlocked DJ spinning records on his decks and funny-looking people dancing. You can see (but you have to look pretty carefully – it’s not obvious at first glance) punctuation symbols coming out of the speakers and sort of flying out of the turntables where the DJ is spinning what I assume is some kind of awesome bass-heavy dancehall reggae or maybe drum and bass. It’s cool – and a different way to do a book about punctuation, but I reckon some people won’t really get it.

In my experience, people expect a more serious and academic feel from this kind of thing. I remember once we had a publisher visit The London School of English to get feedback on some new dictionary designs. He had dictionaries from different publishers and asked us which ones we liked and which ones we thought learners of English would like.

We all liked the fresh-looking, minimal, modern-looking dictionaries, but he told us that the most popular ones with learners of English were the ones with slightly old-fashioned designs, older looking fonts (I mean classical-looking fonts – I don’t know all the correct words for fonts – I think serif fonts probably). Basically, learners felt like they trusted dictionaries that looked older, more formal, more established, more old-fashioned, with words like Oxford and perhaps even symbols featuring old buildings and things on them. Also, darker colours were more popular. That’s all probably because those designs made the dictionaries look more serious and full of trustworthy information published by well-established institutions.

So, this book might not give the right impression, but on the whole I think the content is mostly good and it certainly can tell you what you need to know about punctuation.

OK, let’s have a look at the contents page of the book. Some of you at this point will be craving a video for this. Maybe I’ll record one, just to show you the front and back, but it depends if I have time! We’ll see. I think you can just use your imagination though and just follow what I’m saying.

By the way, User Design have given me permission to use some images of the book from their website, so I’ll probably add some of those to the page for this episode on my website, so have a look there to get an idea of the way the book looks and the illustrations I’m talking about.

Right, so the contents page. Here are the things the book covers.

Luke reads out the contents page and describes the different punctuation symbols and gives their names. See pic below for the symbols ⤵️⤵️⤵️

Contents page from Punctuation..? by User Design


OK, we’re going to stop the pod here. This episode will continue in part 2 which should be uploaded very soon and might in fact be available for you now.

In part 2 I’m going to talk about some punctuation rules, focusing on 3 very common bits of punctuation – apostrophes, full stops and commas. I’ll talk about how these symbols are used in writing. I’ll point out some common errors and how to avoid them and I’ll finish my review of the punctuation book I’ve been talking about.

Remember, on the page for this episode on my website you’ll find a pretty much full script for this episode … as well as pictures of the punctuation book and links for information if you’re interested in buying it.

OK! Nothing more to add here then except the usual suggestions that you become a premium LEPster to gain access to the ever-growing library of episodes devoted to language teaching.  Go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium for that.

Also, you could consider checking out today’s sponsor, Cambly in order to find teachers for that all-important speaking practice.  Go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/cambly to check it out and use my ambassador code teacherluke to get those 10 free minutes of conversation.

Thanks for listening and supporting this podcast over the years. I received loads of nice messages for the 10th birthday of LEP. I’m very glad to have such a cool audience from around the world. Speak to you again in part 2!

But for now, bye bye bye bye bye!

Luke


LINKS

User Design Website www.userdesignillustrationandtypesetting.com

Their books www.userdesignillustrationandtypesetting.com/books

The page for Punctuation…? Includes all the relevant information, including how to get the book www.userdesignillustrationandtypesetting.com/books/punctuation/index.html

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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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

568. What is Luke’s English Podcast, and how can it help you with your English?

What are the aims & objectives for this podcast? How can you use it to improve your English? This episode is an introduction for new listeners and a reminder for long-term listeners: This is a podcast all about learning English through listening, while having some fun in the process. Transcript available.

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Episode Transcript

Happy New Year everyone! Welcome to 2019! This is it! We’ve arrived.

That’s actually the 10th time I’ve said Happy New Year on this podcast (not in this episode) The 10th time I’ve said it in a podcast episode, in January, because this is the 10th year of LEP. This is the 10th January of LEP and the 10th new year podcast episode. Imagine that! In fact, you don’t need to imagine it, because it’s actually true and real. So, just know that! A decade of me doing this. Actually, the official 10 year anniversary is coming up in April. 12th April to be exact. There’ll be more on that later in the year I expect.

Hello, I hope you are absolutely, totally, wholly and completely 100% fine, so that when someone asks you “how are you?” you can put your hand on your heart and say with total sincerity that you really are fine, like fine wine.

I’m doing alright thanks very much. Happy to be talking to you on the podcast in 2019. Here we are in the future.

I’d like to say a big Hello to any new listeners who might be listening to this for the very first time, right here, right now. I often get new listeners at this time of year. So, if you are a brand new listener, then “hello” and welcome to my podcast. If you’re a long-term listener then hello as well, nice to have you back, you’re looking great, would you like a biscuit, no, you’re on a diet? New year’s resolution. Good for you. Keep it up.

But hello to any new listeners I have. Welcome.

This is a podcast for people learning English, people who love English and anyone who is just interested by all the cool things that come to you when you choose to learn a language, in this case that’s the language we call English – British English to be exact. Thank you for choosing to listen to me in this episode and I hope you stick with us and join my audience of listeners all around the world.

Maybe you’re listening to this because you’ve made a new year’s resolution to improve your English and you thought “I’m going to improve my English in 2019 and start listening to a podcast” or something like that.

Well, I think you’ve come to the right place. Welcome, one and all.

What’s this episode all about?

This episode is a summary of what this podcast is all about – what is Luke’s English Podcast? And this is for the benefit of new listeners, and for the old listeners in case you’ve just forgotten or something, and also it’s a reminder of how you can use the podcast to improve your English.

I’m doing this in the general spirit of the new year period, which is often about re-evaluating what you’re doing, re-establishing your objectives and generally taking stock.

“Taking stock”, that’s a nice phrase. It means doing a general assessment of the present situation – having a look at what’s going on now, seeing what you’ve got and what you’re doing.

That’s “taking stock”.

You can say “I’m taking stock” or if you want to add something to the expression, you use ‘of’, so for example, “it’s normal at this time of year to take stock of things” or “take stock of your life”.

Taking stock is also something you do if you own a business – when you count all the stock you have in your shop or warehouse, for example. When I worked for a big music shop in Liverpool many years ago, we regularly had to take stock, or do a stock check. That basically involved counting all the CDs and DVDs we had in the store so we could be completely sure what we had, the value of what we had and so on, and that helped the store managers to manage the business effectively. In all honesty, doing the stock check at the shop completely sucked because you had to physically count every single item in the shop and do it while the shop was closed, which meant staying at work until it was very late and everyone was hungry and annoyed at having to count things all evening.

Hopefully taking stock of this podcast will be a bit more enjoyable than taking stock of many thousands of DVDs and CDs at 9.30 in the evening in a now defunct business which used to be located on Church Street in Liverpool.

We also take stock of our lives when we just evaluate or assess where we are, what we’re doing, what we’ve got and what we need. In this episode I’m welcoming new listeners and taking stock of this podcast, and just reminding everyone what it’s all about and what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and generally what you’re listening to.

My podcast episodes are quite diverse. I move around and talk about lots of different topics, but sometimes it’s worth just reminding ourselves that this is all about learning English, making sure we’re all enjoying it and knowing that there is method to the madness here.

I’m going to talk about

  • The aims of this podcast
  • Ways in which you can use this podcast to improve your English
  • How this podcast works and the different ways you can listen to it

The Aims of the Podcast

First of all, I think people should do more listening.

I want to help people to listen to more English, because I just know that it is a really important part of the language learning process.

I say “I just know” because, well, I do just know it, from my experience of being an English teacher for nearly 20 years.

I have realised that doing plenty of listening practice, with the right kind of audio resource, is a very healthy thing to do for learners of English. To be honest, it’s not just listening, everyone could do more practice in general, but people usually read, do grammar exercises, but listening seems to get a bit sidelined.

Just listening, regularly, is very healthy for your English.

That’s true and I think most people would agree with it.

However, the majority of learners I’ve met over the years during my career, just don’t do this.

Most people just don’t do enough listening while learning English.

I find it hard to understand how someone can think they can learn a language without actually hearing that language being spoken, a lot. How can you know the language if you haven’t actually heard it being used very much? I think the problem is really that people don’t know what to listen to, and find it hard to get listening into their everyday lives. Of course we now have all the films and TV series you can find online but I believe podcasts can really help people to get more English listening into their lives. I am a believer in podcasts, that’s why I have one.

It’s worth making a point here about the different types of listening you can do. Let’s say you’ve decided you need to do more listening, so what do you listen to? People often say “I’ll listen to the BBC News!” People often assume that listening to the news is the right thing to do. It can be great of course, and it’s better than not listening to anything, but I think there are probably better things to listen to than the news.

The thing is that the news is really hard to understand and the newsreaders don’t talk like normal human beings. They have a particular way of speaking and use particular words in a certain style. Nobody in the real world actually talks like that when they have normal conversations. Instead it’s better to listen to something more conversational and closer to the kind of English that you need – for socialising, for building relationships with people, for doing interesting presentations at work and things like that.

For example, let’s look at a quick dialogue. First the natural version, then the news version.

Hi Luke, how are you?

I’m fine thanks, you?

Pretty good thanks. Did you have a good Christmas break?

Yeah, it wasn’t bad thanks. I just spent a week at my parents’ place and ate far too much food and just generally relaxed with my family. It was nice.

Now the News version.

Hi Luke

Welcome to this conversation. Today’s top story – how I spent my Christmas holidays. This report, from me.

A traditional British Christmas has long been known to involve drinks, gifts, and a meal of roast turkey with vegetables and this year was certainly no exception. Local reports have indicated that the yuletide season was spent in the usual manner, with a gathering of family and friends who joined together at the family home where wine was drunk, turkey was consumed and, like many revellers during this festive season, falling asleep on the sofa was an unavoidable consequence typical of the season’s indulgences which certainly were a common sight this year in households all over the country…

So, the point there is – people might assume that the news is the right thing to listen to, but there are better options and podcasts are great, especially mine! (Other podcasts are available of course)

Anyway, I could go on and on about the benefits of listening. Instead I’ll just repeat that it’s very healthy for your English to listen to natural speech which is engaging and entertaining on a personal level, which is not too slow but also not too fast, which is clear, which you just enjoy hearing, and to do it regularly and hopefully for more than just a few minutes at a time.

So, my first basic aim is to help you to
Listen to more English
Listen longer
Listen more regularly

And to listen to the right kind of English speaking.

So, first and foremost, just listen. As a starting point or a foundation, just listen. That’s all you need to do. Just listen to my podcast, or indeed others because I didn’t invent this whole “speaking and recording your voice and putting it online” thing, of course.

I hope you enjoy it and actually want to listen to what I have to say because if you enjoy this, everything else becomes so much easier. Of course, my podcast won’t be for everyone, but I hope that you, yes you, actually choose to listen to this not just because you know you need to improve your English (because someone told you that you had to do it, like your Dad, or your boss, or if you work for your Dad, your boss, who is your Dad, your Dadboss) so don’t do it because you feel like you should but because listening to my episodes is somehow just enjoyable for you.

Another aim, and this is fairly obvious but it still needs to be said, is this. I aim to help you to improve your English (durr) to expand your vocabulary, to build your grammar, to increase your awareness of natural pronunciation in English which in turn should help you with your own pronunciation, or accent if you like.

Listening to my podcast can help you with those things, and it has helped lots of people. How do you know Luke? Because people write to me and tell me that it has helped, and I believe them! They tell me about their IELTS scores and also about how difficult it used to be to use English in the past, and how much better it is now after persevering with my podcast for some time (and no doubt doing other things which have helped – I can’t claim all the credit, no no, oh, oh you’re too kind, ok well if you insist, yes it’s all thanks to me).

So, I want to help you improve your English, and I am a teacher so that’s good isn’t it?

Yes, I am an English teacher, for adult humans and I have been for a long time now, but I don’t always teach English directly in normal episodes of this podcast.

I mean, these episodes aren’t really lessons in the traditional sense. In many cases I’m just talking to you about something that I just want to talk about or that I hope you will find interesting, because remember – the first aim is to help you just to listen to more English, regularly, for longer periods, long-term.

In some episodes I am definitely teaching you language points. There are episodes in the archive dealing with grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation and these days I do plenty of direct language teaching in my premium episodes, which are available for premium subscribers. In those premium episodes I explain language, demonstrate it, give you tests and pronunciation drills, using my particular set of skills. “That sounds wonderful”, you must be thinking. “How do I sign up?” Well, you can sign up for LEP premium at www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium. You’ll get access to all the existing premium episodes and any new ones when they are published, plus new phrasal verb episodes and more – all for the price of a coffee every month.

So, I do teach language more directly in the premium episodes, but the normal free episodes don’t always contain direct English language teaching. Instead, I mainly just talk to you – and this is my 18th year as a professional English teacher. I’ve got lots of experience of talking to learners of English, so in a way I just can’t stop teaching. Even when I’m just talking to you, I am still teaching you, even if it might not be 100% obvious. I explain things as I go, I try to talk clearly but also naturally. I try to use good microphones so you can hear what I’m saying.

I think I know what things my listeners will and won’t understand, and I keep this in mind at all times, while also just talking to you in what I hope is an engaging way, always trying to make sure you listen more, listen longer, listen regularly and listen long term, and if all goes according to plan, you enjoy it too.

How can I keep you listening?

  • I try to entertain you as we go – make you laugh sometimes (when you’re on a bus or walking down the street maybe), amuse you or just hold your interest somehow. Hopefully I manage to entertain you, I don’t really know. Only you can be the judge of that.
  • I make it personal – talk from the heart, talk about things I’m passionate about, put some soul into it, I hope. Hopefully this makes the podcast authentic and genuine, rather than just self-indulgent.
  • I tell stories about my life and about other things I know about.
  • I talk about language learning in order to give you ideas and keep you motivated.
  • I interview guests and just chat with friends and family. Many of my friends are stand-up comedians and it’s generally pretty fun and funny to talk to them, and members of my family are frequent guests on the podcast – my Dad for example often comes on to talk about politics (especially Brexit) and my brother and I like to talk about music and films. Sometimes I have other guests like people I don’t know as friends but who are interesting to feature on the podcast for whatever reason, like when I spoke to the linguist David Crystal.
  • I sometimes talk about silly things and just have fun talking nonsense for its own sake, but I also talk about serious topics when I’m in the mood.
  • I talk about culture – this means things like films, TV shows, comedy, music, also history and politics and stuff like that.
  • I explain comedy (often British) – stand up, TV shows, sketches, jokes etc – which is a complicated and yet very rewarding thing to do.

Talking about my podcast like this sounds a bit pretentious, I’m realising now. It sounds like I think it’s a really big deal, like a kind of charity that protects works of art or looks after the dreams of children or something. “Here are Luke’s English Podcast we are committed to honouring the legacy of William Shakespeare…“ or something. Obviously, it’s just a podcast, but I try to do my best to make it good.

All of it is designed to keep you listening, keep you interested in order to help you improve and maintain your English as we go along.

What have I learned about learning English, and how does this relate to the podcast?

Based on my experience, my academic reading and the many language learners I’ve met over the years, here are some important elements in learning a language and how this relates to my podcast.

It’s possible to talk about this forever, but I’m going to try and keep it simple by breaking it down into just 3 things: motivation, practice and time. There are other factors of course, but let’s just keep it simple at the moment.

Motivation
This is the main one. You have to want to learn the target language. If you don’t really want to learn the language, you probably won’t because learning a language means making personal choices about you and your identity and then devoting time to it, making compromises and perhaps letting some other things go while you prioritise your language learning.

You need to have internal personal reasons for learning the language. Nobody can learn a language for you and nobody can be motivated on your behalf. The motivation must come from you. So find your motivation for learning the language. Make your reasons for learning the language personal to you. Accept that you will have to sideline some other things and prioritise your learning of your target language. You might need to stop watching those crappy soap operas in your first language, for example, or just dump that boyfriend or girlfriend who really is no good for you and who doesn’t believe in you and your efforts to learn English and in fact is holding you back. Why are you with that person anyway? They’re no good for you. You’re worth so much more than that. If you’re in a loving and supportive relationship, or you’re single – you can ignore that bit.

Also, try if you can, to have a positive relationship with the language. Sometimes learning a language can be frustrating because it’s difficult. Let’s be honest. If it was easy, we wouldn’t need to talk about it all the time and there wouldn’t be a huge industry in language teaching and learning. It is difficult, especially if you want to get really good and especially if you’re learning the language as an adult who is also juggling lots of other things in your life.

Learning a language can be a challenge – an enjoyable challenge, but a challenge nonetheless.

I know for many of you, learning English is just a great thing that you love doing and it’s sort of like your passion or maybe even your obsession and that is great. I have great respect for you because language learning is a great thing to do and is a really cool thing to be enthusiastic about.

But a lot of people do find it a challenge and find it hard to keep the motivation up.

The structure of the English language might be very different to your mother tongue. The pronunciation feels weird and unnatural. The spelling of words and the way they are said don’t match. In fact it’s all irritatingly confusing and illogical, and quite embarrassing when you get it wrong and you feel less intelligent than you are in your first language. In your first language you might be a truly awesome dude or dudette (or whatever the female equivalent of a dude is) but in English you might be reduced to more of a Mr Bean character. I don’t know, that’s how I feel in French a lot of the time, so maybe it’s the same for you in English, although having said that I’ve met quite a lot of listeners to this podcast and none of you were Mr Bean, not even a little bit. So, anyway… I’m saying that learning English can be difficult because it’s, well, it’s like we have a different word for everything isn’t it? It’s like a completely different language or something!

It can even feel like the language thinks in a different way to how your language thinks (if you know what I mean). You might not like feeling different or having to change a bit.

When you’re trying to learn a language you might feel out of your comfort zone. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Feeling a bit lost, puzzled, confused, frustrated – they’re all totally normal and natural reactions. You need to get over that feeling pretty quickly and weirdly learn to enjoy the feeling, and find ways to overcome it, and then just revel in those moments when you learn things and move forwards, opening up new avenues for yourself in the process.

Leave the negative thoughts behind, they’ll just hold you back. Stay positive at all times (just be blindly positive, constantly, like “hey, everything’s just great!!!”) and be stubborn. Don’t give up, and remember this – you are a natural biological machine designed to learn language. Your brain is totally designed to learn English and it can happen in a very natural way, you just have to kind of get yourself out of the way and let it happen.

Get yourself out of the way – I mean, don’t judge yourself too harshly, try not to worry about how cool you appear to other people, or whether you’re making mistakes or if you need to monitor your behaviour, just relax a bit and let the magic happen.

Keep an open mind, don’t let yourself get blocked, don’t worry about mistakes too much, feel good about your progress, and just learn from any errors that you make.

Sometimes it can feel like you’re not making progress and you’ll be disheartened and maybe even depressed at times – you might think, “that’s it I’m a lost cause”. That’s ok, that’s normal too. Keep going. You’re not a lost cause. Learning a language is a long term thing, and there might be periods when you feel you’re not learning that much, but you’ll be surprised. Often the learning process is not completely obvious to us. You might not realise it but your brain is dealing with the language work you’re doing. Sometimes there’s a period in which you feel you’re not making progress, but your brain is working hard and as long as you’re still interacting with the language, using it, listening to it, consuming and producing it, working to memorise words, your brain is working on doing it better and better all the time, and one day you’ll make a breakthrough and you’ll realise the difficult times were worth it because you were making progress without realising it.

So, choose to be positive. Choose to keep your chin up, enjoy the small bits of progress, celebrate larger moments of progress, remember that people all over the world, every day, have the same struggles as you. It’s all normal. Keep going, you’re on the right track, don’t stop. I should turn this into a motivational song, shouldn’t I?

Basically, motivation is really important.

Practice
This means that you need to actually do things! In a simple way this means you need to speak a lot, read a lot, listen a lot, write a lot and perhaps do some old fashioned language work with a grammar book, vocabulary book or pronunciation book (with CDs or something) or do some other clever little techniques using online resources or just a dictionary or audio with a transcript – more on that later.

Practice is like money in the bank. The more you put in, the more you get out (unless there’s a huge banking crisis caused by dodgy bankers gambling with our money – but in the language learning bank, this never happens so don’t worry. Your English is safe, even with Brexit and all that stuff.)

You’ve got to put the work in to get the benefit out again later. The best thing is that if you are motivated the practice doesn’t feel like work, it’s just something you enjoy doing. That’s where the motivation comes in – it is the fuel that lets you do all the practising. There are lots of different kinds of practice which I will talk about later in this episode, which admittedly could turn into another one of those massive episodes that I do. Seriously, I don’t always set out to make long episodes, they just happen. Clearly the universe or The Force or whatever wants me to make longer episodes because even when I set out to do a reasonably brief episode, they end up pretty long. This episode was supposed to be just a quick re-cap of my aims for doing this podcast, and now it’s become something of a marathon episode all about how to learn English.

Ah well, who’s complaining? Are you complaining? Nope. Good. I don’t know why you would complain anyway. Why would you not want more of this? I know why, because it doesn’t perfectly match the length of your commute to work. I think that’s the only reason, or perhaps because as a learner of English it’s a bit too hard to concentrate on listening to English for more than say 30 minutes at a time.

That’s probably the good reason for making shorter episodes and I know that’s true, but I’m sorry – don’t blame me, blame the general shape of the universe because it just seems that I can’t do this stuff in just 30 minute chunks. It just doesn’t come out like that, so I suppose some of you will just have to use that pause button. That’s why god invented pause buttons and podcast apps that remember where you pressed pause last time, right? Right.

So, anyway, I was talking about the importance of practice.

Just remember the 5 Ps – practice, practice, practice, practice, practice.

Nobody learned to play a musical instrument by reading musical theory, they did it by practising day after day. It’s the same with language learning. Practice day after day after day after day, which becomes week after week, month after month, year after year and decade after decade. This is just the first decade too. We’ve only just started!

It’s not just what you know, it’s what you can do. It’s not about knowing grammar rules, or knowing words, it’s about being able to do things in English.

So, open your mouth, speak (it does help if you open your mouth first before you speak, by the way) listen for enjoyment and interest, read for pleasure, write something that’s meaningful and will be pleasant for the person who might read it. It’s all about communicating ideas, and making English a part of who you are.

You own English by the way. It’s your language too. That’s the cool thing about this language. It’s open source. So start using it to express yourself right now.

Time
Here is some basic maths, I think. I have an equation for you.

(practice + time) x motivation = progress

I’m not a mathematician, and that’s just a mathematical metaphor rather than a real equation, but anyway, the point is – you need to invest time into learning this language.

Practice regularly, practice for longer than just a few minutes, practice long term – you’ll need to keep practising your English forever! It might never be perfect because guess what? Perfection doesn’t exist. Nobody is completely perfect at English or any language, to be honest. You might think that Stephen Fry (random example) is perfect at English, but I guarantee that he often struggles to find the right words, he often has difficulty when writing, he stammers sometimes when he speaks and makes mistakes here and there, he probably feels bad about something he said slightly badly once, he reads a massive amount and probably listens to a ton of radio, podcasts and audiobooks. His English is excellent, but it’s not perfect, because perfection in language is an absolute concept that in reality is sort of impossible to achieve. There is no end point called “perfect” in language, I think. It’s just a continuum. That’s a nice word, “continuum” because it has two Us right next to each other. I don’t know any other words in English (or any other language for that matter) that have two Us right next to each other like that. OK so I’ve just Googled it and it turns out that I do know another word with two Us and it’s “vacuum”, which is also a nice word.

Anyway a continuum is basically a long line, rather than a series of points. Imagine a line with an arrow on the end, it just keeps going.

So in this language learning journey that you’re on, there might be no destination and the sooner you realise that the better. It’s all about the journey.

Or maybe it’s better to make the comparison with learning a musical instrument. Nobody practices an instrument and then one day just stops playing and says, “that’s it, I’m done! I’ve finished! I have learned music. Now I can rest” because you have to maintain your skills, you have to commune with the music every day, you have to keep your hands or your body in shape to be able to reach all the notes you need to reach. You need to play music every day to just maintain your level! Language is the same I think.

So, spend time on it – regularly, for longer periods, long term.

And just regularly listening to this podcast – at the very least – will help as a kind of foundation.

How to use this podcast to help your English

So, as I’ve just said, regularly listening to my podcast can definitely help you and as a constant, basic thing in your life you should keep doing that – listen regularly, listen for longer periods and listen long term… to my podcast or any podcast that works for you. Other podcasts are available of course. Just pick the one that works for you. Yes, films and TV shows can also be good but that’s slightly different because with films and TV series you’re in front of a screen, locked to the show, perhaps reading subtitles, but certainly only doing that – only focusing on the show, which is great but that’s the only thing you can do while you’re doing it. With podcasts you can listen while you’re doing something else, which is a big advantage when it comes to saving time.

So, the basic thing is just listen.

But what else can you do? What other kinds of practice can you do? And how can this podcast fit into that?

*Luke talks a bit about learning English as a child and learning English by ‘survival’ (e.g. moving to a new country and having to learn English to work or get by every day)*

I’ve talked about this before in previous episodes, for example episode 174 (How to learn English with LEP) and also some other episodes, like the ones about Breaking the Intermediate Plateau and various others I’ve recorded over the years.

It all depends on what kind of learner you are and what works for you. I think there isn’t one universal method which always works for everyone.

You have to choose the kind of practice that works for you, fits into your lifestyle and matches your motivation. And that’s a good thing – a lot of people worry about whether they’re doing the right thing and whether they’re following the right method. Just do what works for you, because all roads lead to Rome. As long as you’re practising, staying positive, staying motivated, enjoying it mostly, and spending time on practising your language, that’s great. Find the thing that works for you and that’s great. Often the best methods are the ones that just make you feel good while you’re practising, although saying that it is important to push yourself out of your comfort zone and don’t be lazy. But at the same time it’s better to be doing something rather than nothing.

I mean, some people think “I’m not practising my language learning in the right way therefore I won’t do it at all” which is a big mistake. In language learning something is always better than nothing. So interact with English regularly, even if you feel like it’s not 100% the best method in the world, it’s better to do that than nothing at all. For example, if all you do is just listen to my podcast and don’t really do anything else, that’s ok. I would encourage you to do other types of practice too, but certainly only listening to my podcast is by no means a bad thing. If it’s a case of “only listen to a podcast in English without doing other work” or “don’t do anything at all” – only listening to the podcast is a far far far better option, obviously.

That seems obvious, but I know from experience (and personal experience as a learner of French) that we are all likely to think “Oh, just listening to this podcast episode is not going to solve all my language learning problems, so I’ll just do something else instead”. That’s human nature. But listening to the podcast episode or reading a few pages from that book or whatever it is that you’re doing with your English, is always better than just doing nothing!

So, just sitting back with your headphones on and listening to me, or listening to someone else on another podcast, that’s totally fab and brilliant and magical even if it is the basic minimum you can do.

But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this podcast works best as part of a balanced diet. I mean, you’ll make more progress if you combine listening with other, more active forms of practice.

You should also be doing plenty of speaking, ideally in conversation with real people in English, preferably with native speakers (but not necessarily) and you should be doing reading and writing practice as well. Reading is really important because, basically, you’ve got to see the language as well as hear it. Remember, language exists in many forms and you have to be familiar with it an all those forms – you need to be able to write it (spelling, grammar, structure, understanding the conventions of certain kinds of text – like how to organise an essay, a letter, a report, an email, an informal text etc) you need to be able to read it – in various forms – books, articles, etc. You need to be able to understand it when it is spoken (listening skills) in order to identify the main topic, but also to get the nuances like small details, attitude of the speaker and the ways in which words might be joined together and how different accents sound, and you need to be able to speak the language – which means being able to convey exactly what you mean fairly quickly, confidently and with some nuance too.

To get the fully rounded and complete English that you need, it’s important to work on those 4 skills. You also need to work on language systems like grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation because these are the building blocks of the language. But remember that those building blocks are always used to express an idea, to communicate a message and that is the main point of language – it’s there to communicate a message, so always prioritise the effective communication of your message. That’s the most important thing.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should ignore accuracy (meaning – correct grammar, correct word usage, correct spelling etc) no – accuracy is also important of course. What I mean is that it’s best to practise using language for communication, rather than just doing mechanical practice of grammar for example. So, my point here is that English is something you can do not just something you know. Focus on being able to do things in English, like for example being able to tell stories about yourself (you know those little stories about our lives that we all have, like the story of our career, or the main relationships in our lives etc). That’s just one example. In a wider sense, this all means that you need to let English into your life in a personal way and learn how to use English to express yourself as a person. It’s not just about knowing the right irregular verb, or knowing the rule for how past perfect is used.

Studying grammar definitely helps…

But here are some ideas about how this podcast can help you with your English, and specific things that you can do, using this podcast, beyond just listening to it regularly.

First of all, you should become a premium subscriber (as you know) because in those premium episodes I actually cut out a lot of the annoying work that you’d normally have to do and kind of hand all the language to you on a plate, with practice exercises and some pronunciation drills and everything, so that will certainly help you maximise your learning with my podcast.

But in terms of other things, here are some ideas.

More Ideas for How to Work on your English (with and without this podcast)

  • Be mindful and notice language – this just means paying attention to the language as you hear it – try to notice features of grammar, certain phrases, ways in which words join together in fluent speech. Noticing or being mindful – it just means paying attention really. You can mke mental notes as you listen, just going “oh, it’s interesting how he’s using ‘will’ to talk about the future here and “going to” there, or “ooh how did he structure that sentence about the past?” and stuff like that. You can skip back and listen to bits again. You can make actual notes on paper, on a computer or on a phone. You could push it even further and transcribe parts of an episode. Transcribing is a super-duper mindful listening exercise because you end up having to focus on every single minute detail when you’re transcribing and it forces you to really pay attention. There is a transcription project for this podcast which is run by listeners. You can join in – more info in a minute.
  • Check the pages for episodes where a lot of the language will be written – you might find words written there – words or phrases you didn’t know but you heard me using. You can then just notice them, or copy+paste them into your word lists or your flashcard apps or whatever sweet technological wizardry you like to use.
  • You’ll often find transcripts there too, which is nice.
  • Shadowing – this means repeating after me. You can talk along with me, if you can keep up, or pause the podcast and repeat what I’m saying.
  • Responding to what I’m saying – in your head, out loud, on paper or in the comment section on the website. Respond to any part of an episode with your own thoughts. It can make it more like a conversation. You could even just pause the podcast and talk for a little bit on your own. It doesn’t mean you’re mad or insane anything. It’s ok, you can tell the doctors that I told you to do it – I mean talk to yourself, not rob a bank or anything. I will not take responsibility for your criminal tendencies or your language learning – both are ultimately your responsibility.
  • A little bit of humour there, hahhaha ha ha ha yes it certainly helps the language learning process doesn’t it… (awkward)
  • Language exchanges – find someone who speaks English who wants to learn your language. Do 30 minutes in English, 30 mins in your language. It helps if you find someone who is actually serious about doing it and isn’t a total time waster. You might need to shop around and you might have a few disappointing experiences before you find the right person.
  • You can set up language exchanges with other users on italki and it’s free.
  • LEP meetups, or at least chat with friends – organise social events in English, like board game sessions or whatever. Check my website for Meetups, or organise one and tell me about it and I’ll advertise it on the podcast. Give me plenty of notice. You can also check websites like meetup.com to see if there are English language events happening in your area.
  • Italki lessons – get some private tuition with a teacher on italki
  • Peer groups – find groups of like-minded individuals to share the language learning journey. The comment section on my website might be a good way to start. Try leaving some friendly responses to other people’s comments. You might end up in a Skype group, chatting with friendly people in English.
  • Getting your errors corrected – I think there are services online that will correct your writing, but honestly I’m not sure where they are. If you know of any, let us know in the comment section. I haven’t actually googled it, maybe you could do that, with you know, the internet.
  • Self-correction – use your passive knowledge of grammar, spelling, vocabulary to correct your writing. I think I’ve got more to say on this in a minute.
  • Grammar books – go through the exercises and try to get them right (of course – it would be weird if you tried to get them wrong) read the grammar rules or should I say “guidelines” because they can be a neat shortcut to understanding how the language really works and also try to notice the language you’re studying and use the grammar book to confirm what you’re hearing in the real world. For example, you could study some language in your grammar book and make a point of trying to notice it being used in the English you’re reading or listening to.
  • Write a diary – write things in English every day. Even if it’s boring stuff like “I went to work and then got a headache because my boss stresses me out and then I had some cake”. It doesn’t matter what it is really, just find your voice in English and write something every day, even if nobody else reads it, it’s still good practice.
  • Write your ideas down without worrying too much about being correct, then read it again and correct it like a teacher, then write the thing again. You could write a response to a topic in the podcast for example, or if it’s your diary just write what you did using past tenses all the time and express your feelings and describe what you want to happen in the future and things like that.
  • Write imaginary letters or emails, or maybe write real emails to, like, real people! Find a pen friend. Again, there are websites that can help you find a pen friend. Like I said before – google it! I can’t do absolutely everything for you. If you can’t find a real pen friend, just use your imagination!
  • Read graded readers (books adapted to your level) they’re published by Penguin, Black Cat and other publishers. You might find some in your library or perhaps just buy some from Amazon or another bookseller that pays its taxes (ooh controversial). Graded readers are books which have been adapted to different levels of English. They are easier to read and this is a good thing because reading normal books in English can be crushing and difficult so what’s the point, and with graded books you get the satisfaction of finishing a book in English.
  • Record yourself and listen back to it
  • Use my TED talk technique
  • Transcribe portions of my episodes – and join the Orion Team
  • Write comments in the comment section and chat with other listeners. Feel free to discuss ideas and things, but always try to be friendly and respectful – which is a good exercise in life in general.
  • Listen to episodes several times if you can. You’ll notice so much more on repeat listens.
  • Loads of things to do, and there are more ideas out there – feel free to share them in the comment section.

OK – how are you all doing? Feeling motivated? I should certainly hope so!

To recap – the main thing I want you to do is to listen – listen more, listen regularly, listen for longer periods and listen long term. Hopefully my podcast can help.

Also, through listening you can certainly improve your English significantly, but it’ll help if you do other things too, you get creative with it, you use your imagination and you let yourself go a bit. OK? OK!!

What does this mean to me personally?

For me this podcast is a labour of love – with more emphasis on the love than the labour. I mean, I work hard on this, but mainly it’s something I just love doing, which makes it not feel like work. The Chinese philosopher Confucius may have said “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” (People say Confucius said this)

This podcast project (which also includes my website, my premium service and other things like occasional videos) this is where I use my professional skills as a teacher to make my content, but also I get to use this as a platform for my creativity, for interviewing interesting people and for rambling on about topics that I personally find fascinating.

Also, it’s a great joy for me to be able to share my culture and my language with my listeners who come from all around the world, and who often contact me on social media, by email and in the comment section of my website, where there are regular commenters who have created something of a community of friendly LEPsters.

Most of my listeners are ninjas – not literally (although who knows) No, what I mean by ninjas is just people who stay hiding in the shadows, listening intently but never revealing themselves or getting in touch with me. Every now and then a ninja will emerge from the shows, send me a message or leave a comment on the website and then disappear forever.

In my experience, the vast majority of my audience are lovely, like-minded people who are united by their interest in learning English and hopefully the sorts of things that get talked about on this podcast.

My top ten countries, right now, at the time of recording this, are (in reverse order):

10. Ukraine
9. Italy
8. Germany
7. Poland
6. Korea
5. UK
4. Spain
3. Japan
2. China
1. Russia

The chances are, you are currently living in one of those places. If so, “HELLO”. If you are living in another country, then I would like to extend a very warm “HELLO” to you too. In fact, I think there might be more people listening outside of those top 10 countries, but you’re all spread out across different parts of the globe. The top 10 countries represent where my audience kind of bunch up together. According to my online stats, I have listeners in about 200 countries. So, if you are not in the top 10, then HELLO! And please tell some of your mates about the podcast in order to get your country into the top 10. Russia, Japan and China are the usual winners of this weird International Premiership of Countries I have going on here. Those countries also have pretty large populations, which might have something to do with it. India is #28 by the way. I don’t really understand the statistics to be honest, except that people in the world listen to me talking and that’s marvellous.

So, this podcast is my personal project and it is also now a source of income for me. My free episodes are sponsored by italki and Spoken all of whom offer services for improving your English in ways that go well with this podcast. For example with italki you can get regular speaking practice into your life. Those sponsors support the free episodes and they also offer you discounts and stuff like that. Then, my premium subscription service also helps me put food on the table and pay the rent, as well as cover the costs of running this whole project – and there are costs involved! Hosting all my audio and video content, hosting my website, the costs of recording equipment that helps me keep the sound quality as high as possible so you can hear every word I say without having to damage your hearing in the process!

Also, my work is supported by my audience who send donations to me as an expression of gratitude. Thanks guys.

All in all, the podcast now helps me to live my life, and do certain basic and vital things like support my family, buy food in the supermarket, buy nappies for my daughter, train tickets to see my family, and other essentials like proper tea bags from Marks & Spencer and biscuits and cake and stuff. Let me tell you, it is a wonderful thing that I can do something I love (podcasting) in order to help me do other things I love (like drinking tea and buying cinema tickets) and to provide things for people I love (my wife and daughter).

How does this podcast work and how can you listen to it?

Well, you’re listening to it now so I guess you’ve pretty much worked this one out, but still, it’s worth just telling you a few things about how this works.

Listen on a computer, or listen on your phone. There may be other ways to get it. The podcast is on Spotify as well…

Listen on your phone
Most people listen using a podcasting app on their phone, for example the Apple Podcasts app or maybe the equivalent podcast app on Android phones. Other podcasting apps are available, like PocketCasts, CastBox, iVoox etc, but of course truly the best way to enjoy listening to this podcast on your phone is to use my app – the Luke’s English Podcast App, which is available free from the app store. Why is it better Luke? Well, it does pretty much the same things that those other apps do (like you can download episodes into the app for offline listening, or you can change the playback speed, select your favourite episodes and stuff), but there’s quite a lot of bonus content in the LEP app – some episodes contain bonus audio clips (like bits I’ve edited out of the episode) and loads of other stuff – in fact there are loads of videos, about 150 short episodes about phrasal verbs – all in the LEP App and available free.

You can also access my premium episodes using the app. Just login with your premium details and bob’s your uncle – all the premium content is right there for you to enjoy in your own time.

So, in my opinion, the best way to listen on your phone is through my app, and I consider the LEP app to be the home of LEP on your phone.

So, most people listen to the podcast on their phone, probably while riding a bus or something like that. That’s the cool thing about audio podcasts. You can listen to them while you’re doing other things, which allows you to get more English into your life by multitasking.

It’s not like watching English videos on YouTube or Netflix, which require 100% of your attention. You can listen while doing the housework, walking down the street, sitting on the loo or many other things that we all have to do no matter where in the world we live.

On your computer
It’s also possible to listen to the podcast on your computer, probably on my website where you’ll find the entire archive of episodes (and I’ve done episodes on loads of different topics – have a look and you’ll see). The advantage of listening on your computer is that you can check out the notes, transcripts and other useful information which I present on the pages for these episodes. Also, you can leave your comments in the comment section, read other people’s comments and all that stuff.

All the premium content is also available via my website.

By the way, if you want more details about the premium content and how to register for it, just go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium which you really should do if you want your life to be even more awesome than it already is.

A good way to get easy access to the website pages for episodes is to join my mailing list, which is on the website, in the top right HAND corner of every page. Join the mailing list and you’ll get an email whenever I upload a new episode, or something else on the website, and sometimes I upload website-only content like perhaps a letter from me, a music mix, my appearances on other people’s podcasts or videos (sometimes I’m interviewed by other people – usually about something humour-related) and things like that. So join the mailing list. You’ll get an email in your inbox with a link when I upload something, click the link and it’ll take you straight to thAT page.

That’s probably enough now isn’t it?

OK, so that was my chance to take stock, re-state some of the aims of this podcast, and help us put our best foot forwards in 2019.

As ever I am always happy to read your comments and emails. If you have any thoughts about any of this, about my podcast, about your English, about tips for improving your English, or if I’ve missed something please write a comment or send an email through the website or the app.

I look forward to recording more episodes of this podcast for you in the coming months, and there will be conversations with my Dad, with Amber & Paul, more episodes about British Comedy, more stuff about accents, premium episodes with language teaching and plenty of other things coming.

Thank you for listening to my podcast and for being wonderful human beings.

Have a great day, morning, evening, night or whatever time of day it is out there in LEPland.

Speak to you again in the next episode.

Bye!

🎁 Listen to this episode in the LEP App for 10+ minutes of bonus audio 🎁

Search the app store for Luke’s English Podcast App.

560. Sarah Donnelly Returns – Writing jokes, public speaking, doing comedy in another language

Talking to comedian Sarah Donnelly about how she writes her jokes, advice on public speaking and how to avoid nerves and negative feelings, performing stand-up comedy in another language, and more. Sarah is a comedian and language teacher from the US,  now living in France.

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Introduction

Today I am talking to friend of the podcast, Sarah Donnelly.

It’s not the first time Sarah has been on this podcast, but it’s been quite a long time since she was in an episode on her own, I mean – as the only guest, not just alone. She wasn’t completely on her own in front of a microphone in an empty room, like “Umm, Luke? Hello? Is anyone here?” I was there too of course. I mean, without any other guests.

Mostly Sarah has been in episodes of this podcast with other people you see. Earlier this year I talked to her and Amber about their comedy show about becoming a Mum in France (episode 515), and before that she was in a couple of episodes with Amber & Paul (episodes 460 & 461) and she was in one with Sebastian Marx in which we discussed the 2016 Presidential Elections in the USA (388 & 389).

Sarah’s first appearance on the podcast was all the way back in 2013 (episodes 155 & 157).

You’ll hear us talk about that episode a little bit, and how Sarah felt about it.

Sarah is from the United States of America (I’m sure you’ve heard of it, it’s quite a famous country). She originally comes from North Carolina but also has lived and worked in Washington DC, which is where she first started performing stand up comedy.

Then in 2012 she moved to France – roughly at the same time as I did, after she met a French guy. Her story is not dissimilar to mine in fact, except for the differences.

Sarah is a primarily a comedian – she’s a stand-up and also a comedy writer. She performs on stage very regularly – as a solo stand up performer and also with Amber Minogue in their show Becoming Maman – which by the way happens every Thursday evening at 20:15 at Théâtre BO Saint Martin 75003 Paris. If you’re in town, check it out!

Sarah also works as an English teacher at university in Paris.

Our conversation covers quite a lot of things but mainly we talk about:

  • How Sarah writes jokes and comes up with material for her stand up comedy performances
  • Some tips for successful public speaking including how to deal with feelings of nervousness that you might have before you do a speech or performance, and any feelings of shame that you might experience if you feel like you didn’t do as well as you wanted – all the usual difficult feelings we experience when doing public speaking. Sarah’s been doing stand up comedy very regularly for years now, and also she has plenty of experience of talking to large groups of students as a teacher, so she knows a lot about speaking to audiences and has some good advice and experience to share.
  • Sarah is also a language learner – French in this case, and we talk about her experiences of performing comedy in French.

There are also the usual tangents and silly stories and things, but I think this conversation should be useful and relevant for anyone doing public speaking, or speaking publicly in another language, and it’s also just nice and fun to spend some time with Sarah. She brought some pumpkin pie for my wife and me, which was nice of her. Pumpkin pie is a bit of a tradition in the states at this time of year and it was delicious.

So then, without any further ado. Let’s get started.


Ending

So, don’t listen to the shame wizard! Don’t listen to those feelings of shame or embarrassment that we do feel from time to time. Try to ignore those voices. Switch it off if possible.

When you’re speaking English, or thinking about your English, the shame wizard might creep up on you and whisper negative thoughts in your ear, making you feel ashamed of yourself. But don’t listen to him. Tell him to get lost.

When you’ve got a presentation to do, the shame wizard might whisper in your ear that everyone thinks you’re rubbish and you have no right to do what you’re doing. Don’t listen to him, he’s LYING!

Good advice from Sarah there.

In the moments before your presentation, stretch out your arms, stand up, take up some space with your body – but don’t punch someone in the face accidentally of course.

Vocabulary

Language to describe stand up comedy, writing comedy and writing jokes

Parts of a stand up performance

A set = the whole performance from start to finish. E.g. “I did a 15 minute set last night” or “Did you see Sarah? She did a 30 minute set and it was hilarious.”

A bit = one part of a comedian’s set. It could be a story or just a series of jokes based on a particular premise. For example, “She did a whole bit about puberty, and it was funny because it was soooo true”

A joke = one single statement that is intended to make you laugh. It could be a line or a few lines. “Did Sarah do her chalk joke last night? Oh, man, I love that joke.” “Yeah she did, but I don’t think the audience knew what chalk was… But they laughed anyway!”

Parts of a joke

A joke can be broken down into parts.

The premise = the basic idea of a joke, the foundation of it. Like just the idea that it’s pretty weird that we used to use chalk all the time to write on blackboards, but now, younger people don’t even know what chalk is and essentially we used to write on rocks with other rocks, that was our technology, and it was a bit weird” (that’s a bit nebulous, I mean vague, but it’s a starting point – that’s a premise, just the general idea of a joke)

The set up = parts of a joke that set up the situation and put all the elements in place

The punchline = the funny line that, hopefully, makes people laugh.

The wording of a joke = the specific way the joke is worded – the specific construction of a joke. The wording of a joke can be very important in making it funny or not. Often if you believe the premise of the joke is funny, but audiences aren’t laughing at it, you just need to reconsider the wording of that joke. Once you’ve got the wording right, the joke might be more successful.

Other vocabulary for comedy

Material = all the jokes, bits and sets that a comedian has in his or her repertoire. “She’s got so much material, she could do several Netflix specials now.”
Tried and tested material = the material you’ve done lots of times. You know it well and you’re confident it should get laughs pretty much every time.

To improvise = to make things up on the spot without preparation

An open mic = the sort of comedy show you do when you first start out as a comedian. An open mic means anyone can perform. Often these “open mics” are good places to try out new material, but often the whole arrangement is not exactly “professional level show business”. It could be just in the back room of a bar with people coming and going and a generally sketchy atmosphere.


What about that whole Louis CK thing?

Didn’t Sarah open one of his shows in Paris recently?

Recently on the podcast I talked a bit about how disgraced comedian Louis CK had made a surprise visit to one of our comedy shows in Paris (Sebastian Marx’s show The New York Comedy Night to be exact) and Sarah was invited to be one of the other comedians on the show. It was quite a tricky decision for her. You’ll see that in the end we don’t talk about that in this episode, mainly because we ran out of time. But if you’d like to hear Sarah expressing her thoughts on that situation, then you can check out an episode of another podcast called The Europeans, which is a podcast about Europe and European life. Sarah was interviewed on that show and she talked about the whole situation very clearly. So, have a look. The name of the podcast is The Europeans, and she was in the episode from 20 November 2018. Her interview starts at about 23 minutes into the episode. There’s a link on the website as usual.

Listen to Sarah’s appearance on The Europeans podcast, talking about performing with Louis CK

Sarah’s appearance is at about 23:00


Videos & media mentioned in the conversation

The TED talk about body language


Big Mouth on Netflix

(Subtitles should be available for this trailer on YouTube)


More Vocabulary

Some more words that came up in the episode

a Nebula [noun] – a cloud of gas and dust in space

Nebulous [adjective] (this is the word I was looking for) – formless and vaguely defined

Puberty [noun] – the period during which adolescents reach sexual maturity and become capable of reproduction.
“the onset of puberty”

Shame [noun] = a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour.

Self-esteem  [noun] = confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect.


Previous episodes with Sarah

515. Becoming “Maman” with Amber & Sarah – Bringing Up Children The French Way

460 Catching Up With Amber & Paul #6 (feat. Sarah Donnelly)

461. 25 Deceptively Difficult Questions (with Amber, Paul & Sarah)

388. US Presidential Election 2016 – Trump vs Clinton (with Sarah & Sebastian) Part 1

389. US Presidential Election 2016 – Trump vs Clinton (with Sarah & Sebastian) Part 2

155. A Cup of Coffee with… Sarah Donnelly (Part 1)

157. A Cup of Coffee with… Sarah Donnelly (Part 2)

537. How Olly Richards Learns a Language (Part 2) Intermediate Plateau / The Magic of Story / Pronunciation & Personality / Classroom vs Self-Guided Learning

The rest of my conversation with polyglot Olly Richards, talking about how to overcome the intermediate plateau, the magic of story, pronunciation and identity issues, and self-guided learning.

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Intro Transcript

Welcome back to this double episode in which I’m talking to language learner and polyglot Olly Richards all about how to learn languages as an adult.

Olly speaks 8 languages and spends a lot of time working on language courses, and giving advice on his podcast and blog, which are called “I will teach you a language”.

2 years after our last conversation it was interesting to catch up with Olly and see if his approach to language learning has developed.

In this episode I talk to Olly about how to overcome the intermediate plateau, we go into details about the magic of story and how important it is in language learning, we discuss the connection between pronunciation and personality and wonder if the main problem people have with pronunciation is actually an identity issue. There are also comments on learning in the classroom vs self-guided learning.

There’s loads of great advice in here. For premium subscribers I’m doing a video which will sum up the main points and clarify them a bit. That will be available shortly in the app and online for premium members.

But now let’s continue listening to Olly as we have the rest of our conversation about language.

—–

That’s it – I don’t need to say much more!

www.Iwillteachyoualanguage.com

Premium subscribers you’ll get a video summary from me soon.

Sign up for premium at teacherluke.co.uk/premium if you know what’s good for you!

Speak to you soon.

Bye.

536. How Olly Richards Learns a Language (Part 1) Compelling Material / Input-based Learning

Talking to polyglot Olly Richards about the benefits of listening, reading and using stories to learn English. Full of insights and strategies for effective language learning. Transcripts and notes available.

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Introduction Transcript

This episode is packed full of language learning experience and wisdom, straight from the horse’s mouth.

Today I’m talking to Olly Richards, who has been on this podcast before, twice. Long term listeners will remember him. Some of you may also listen to his podcast, which is called I Will Teach You a Language. This is his third appearance on LEP, and I’m very happy to share this two-part episode with you here, today. I must say that I think this episode is full of really valuable insights about language learning and should be essential listening for anyone who is serious about learning a language to fluency.

The basics that you need to know about Olly.
He’s from England.
He speaks 8 languages. English is the only one he learned while growing up as a child. The rest of his languages were learned in adulthood.
I would say that he’s obsessed with language learning. He’s on a mission, basically, to learn languages but also to explore exactly how we learn languages, to find out the best methods, the most effective techniques, to discover the holy grail of language learning.

Olly spends so much time and effort learning languages, practising, reading academic studies, speaking to people about language in various languages, blogging about it, doing his podcast about it, producing books and courses all dedicated to the pursuit of language learning. He’s made language learning his career in fact.

Check out his website www.iwillteachyoualanguage.com to find out about all his projects, to read his blog articles and listen to his podcast.

As you’d expect, Olly really knows a thing or two about language learning. He’s got all the qualifications and has done all the academic work, but what I’m interested in is his own subjective experience of being a language learner himself, equipped with all the metacognitive strategies and accepted wisdom about the subject. This is where I think we can really get to the bottom of this topic. This is how we can get to the real truth about learning a language.

The first time Olly was on this podcast, we got to know the basics about how he applies himself to his language learning, but that was about 2 and a half years ago.

That episode was very revealing and still has so much to offer. I highly recommend you go into the archive and listen to that too. It’s episode 332, over 200 episodes ago! His second appearance on LEP was in episode 357.

So, in this conversation today we’re catching up with Olly after about 2 years of him working away on his language learning and teaching projects. So, what new insights does he have to share with us? Has his approach to learning languages changed? What does he now think is the most valuable way to spend your time in order to improve your acquisition of another language?

I think the results are really revealing.

I talked to Olly for nearly two hours – it was very easy and we could have gone on for longer. After having had this conversation I personally feel validated and reassured – why? Because Olly’s conclusions confirm what I’ve also discovered about language learning, and his conclusions confirm many of the principles behind my approach to doing Luke’s English Podcast. It’s a nice reminder that, in fact – yes, there is method to the madness.

Spending time talking to Olly and listening to him talk about learning languages is extremely motivating and I feel like this conversation, which will be presented to you in two parts, I feel like it’s a real shot in the arm for me personally, for the podcast generally, and for you too I hope. This should be a very healthy listening experience for all of you, in terms of your English.

Really – if you’re serious about learning English you will really pay attention. Absorb all of this, think about your own language learning experiences, apply Olly’s approaches to your situation, and see how you can continue to improve your learning of English to an advanced level.

There’s no need to say any more now in the introduction, let’s just hear what Olly Richards has to say about learning a language.


Ending Transcript

That’s where this part ends, but you’ll be able to continue listening in part 2. Well, I think this is a good one – absolutely chock a block with insights and advice for learning a language.

If you’re a premium subscriber you’ll soon be able to see a video of me reflecting on some of the things Olly said in this episode, summarising the main points and turning them into some bits of advice for those of you out there who are learning English with this podcast.

But for this audio episode, that’s it for part 1.

You’ll be able to hear the rest in part 2 as we discuss how to break the intermediate plateau and the connection between pronunciation and personality issues.

To get the full LEP experience and to get the full benefit of LEP on your English you should become a premium subscriber. For just the price of a coffee or beer per month you can access an ever growing library of lessons from me to you – covering language in more detail – usually explaining, clarifying and demonstrating real English – either because it has come up in specific episodes, or because it’s just stuff you should know and be able to do. I’ve been teaching for about 17 years and you can get the benefit of my particular set of skills by becoming a premium member – the perfect balance between getting loads of input and getting some advice, help, clarification and practice from me. All content in the app and online, .pdfs, full episodes, bonus episodes, videos, phrasal verbs, story lessons and more. teacherluke.co.uk/premium to get started. The app is the best way to get the premium content I expect.

OK that’s it for this episode. I’ll speak to you again in part 2. Thanks for listening.

Bye.

526. Being a Tourist (with Paul Taylor) + video

Catching up with Paul Taylor and talking about his recent trips to Japan & Barcelona, the pros and cons of being a tourist and some recommendations for people visiting London and Paris as tourists. Video available on the website and in the LEP app. 

Video Version

Audio Version


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Paul’s Vlog #12

Last chance to vote for LEP in the British Podcast Awards before Thursday 17 May

Introduction

This is a rambling chat that I recorded with friend of the podcast and one of the original POD PALS) Paul Taylor on the rooftop of my flat on a nice sunny day recently. I filmed this one too and the video version is available on the website and in the LEP app. So, if you’d like to watch us in conversation on a nice sunny day, check the Videos category in the app, or the page for this episode on my website.

This conversation covers a few things, including what Paul has been up to recently, his new vlog which you can find on YouTube (search for Paul Taylor on YouTube), his recent holidays in Japan and Barcelona, and then we go on to focus on travel and tourism, including the good and bad points about being a tourist and a few of our recommendations if you’re thinking of travelling to Paris and/or London as a tourist.

Questions

  • What do you think about being a tourist?
  • When you visit a new place, do you always see the typical tourist spots?
  • What are the good and bad points about being visiting another country and wanting to have a special experience there?
  • How can you make sure you have a good tourist experience when you visit a new city or country?

Have a think about those things, and listen to hear what Paul and I have to say on the topic.

Enjoy!

Another episode with Paul will be arriving soon…

Luke

523. Tips for Learning English with Films & TV Shows (with Cara Leopold)

Talking to a fellow English teacher about advice for using TV shows and films to learn English, both with and without subtitles.

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Intro Transcript

Today on the podcast I’m talking to Cara Leopold who is an English teacher from the UK, living in France – like me.

Cara is an online teacher, who has her own podcast and other resources for learners of English on her website leo-listening.com.

One of the main things she focuses on is learning English through listening – especially using TV and films as a resource.

She’s got some tips to share on that subject – many of which come from her personal experiences of learning French, and so I’d like to talk to her about that,

But first I’d like to just get to know Cara a bit because we’ve never actually spoken before. So listeners, instead of hearing me talking to someone I already know (which is the way it normally goes on this podcast) you can now hear me having a conversation with someone I haven’t met before – so you can hear how that might happen in English.


Cara’s Website

www.leo-listening.com

Films and TV shows mentioned

Red Dwarf
BBC TV Comedy

The Orville
Seth MacFarlane
Based on Star Trek

Thor: Ragnarok
Directed by Taika Waititi, who also directed Flight of the Conchords.


Learning English with Films & TV – Summary of Advice Given

Here’s a summary of the main points made about using TV and films for learning English, with and without subtitles.

  • There are no hard and fast rules about using subtitles.
  • Using 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.
  • But be aware that only watching with subtitles might not help you develop real listening skills, because you’re basically just reading while you watch. Experiment with switching the subtitles on and off.
  • You can watch a film 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 in English and then with no subtitles at all.
  • You can alternate between watching episodes of your TV show with and without subtitles.
  • Using TV and films for learning English is not just a simple or easy way to learn. 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 won’t work in English. Be prepared to focus and perhaps be more active while watching.
  • Watch certain scenes several times, with and without the subtitles.
  • Test yourself on what you heard and check with the subtitles.
  • Search for certain new bits of vocabulary when they come up.
  • Don’t worry too much about certain specific cultural details.
  • Try transcribing certain scenes – especially if you thought it contained really cool dialogue.
  • Then watch again with the subtitles to check your transcription.
  • Before you watch a film or TV show, check online reviews or summaries to help prepare yourself.
  • Be a little selective in your choice – 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.
  • 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.