Category Archives: Advice

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.

512. My Experiences of (not) Learning French [Part 2] Learning Language in a Classroom vs Learning On Your Own

Talking more about my experiences as a student of French, this time reading from notes I took during my French lessons (when I should have been focusing on the class!) and some considerations about learning a language in a classroom and learning on your own. Notes & transcript available.

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Transcript & Notes

Here’s part 2 of this episode about my experiences of (not) learning French. In the last one I talked about how I learned some French as a child and how I feel I’m not learning it as an adult, despite living in Paris and I made a load of excuses about it, which is exactly what you shouldn’t do of course – because excuses are no substitute for taking action.

In this episode the plan is to talk about some more experiences I had while learning French, specifically some lessons I took at a language school a few years ago in Paris. I wrote some thoughts in a diary while taking those lessons and I’m going to read out those thoughts and then discuss the relative benefits and drawbacks of learning a language in a classroom vs learning on your own using self-guided methods. There will also be some comments and reflections on teaching a foreign language to groups in a classroom environment.

First, some comments from listeners after the previous episode. My listeners are being very kind and understanding, as usual. I received quite a few messages – I can’t read them all out here but this is a selection. On the subject of receiving messages – I’m sorry if you have written to me and I haven’t got back to you. Please know that I do read everything I receive and I appreciate your thoughts and comments very much.

Cat

Luke, I find your lack of French disturbing. 😸

Just kidding.

It must be utterly difficult for you if everyone wants to make use of you as the best known English teacher on the Internet. :) Also your head is busy with all these millions of ideas for your podcast, the gigs and so on. There is almost no room in your brain left free for other languages. You are totally absorbed with creating quality content for your audiences. You shouldn’t be judging yourself too hard. You have your priorities and are doing great job. Now with raising your child bilingually you have the task to pass on to her the exquisite English you have. 👍
We should be doing things we enjoy and not do things that other people expect from us. That guy at the party had been downright rude, he should be thoroughly ashamed of himself. 😸

Jack

C’mon King ! Don’t beat yourself (up) too much. Your French is much better than my English.

Nick

I’ve realized after listening to this ep. that I want to see a French beach!

Mj Moreno 
Funny title! 😂 I’m wishing to listen to the episode. [I’m hoping to listen to it / I’m looking forward to listening to it]

Cesar San Vicente Viñez 
Faut pas se décourager (don’t get discouraged)

Hi Luke,
Ne sois pas si dur avec toi !
I’m pretty sure that you can improve it ;)
Bon courage!
From a Parisian girl

Luke from Poland (?)

Hi Luke. Your story about drilling has inspired me to write a poem for you.
—————————————————
What about my neighbour’s drilling?
I have rather mixed feelings.
I know he just needs some holes
in his floor and in his walls
He needs even lots of drilling
In his ceiling.
But the next sound of a drill
makes me fight , makes me kill
and like a bloody beast
with bare hands, with clenched fists
I will enter his own flat
And I kill him with cold blood.
No !!! I’d rather stop this talk
and I am going for a walk….
—————————————————–
You may read it on the air and for sure it is going to save some lives of innocent neighbours. :-)

Some words & phrases

  • to beat yourself up
  • don’t be too hard on yourself
  • don’t get discouraged
  • self-flagellation (technically means whipping yourself as an act of self-punishment – but also a way to talk about excessive self criticism)

My experience of learning French in a classroom as an adult

The classroom experiences at Alliance Francaise. It’s a bit like the British Council but for French. They promote French culture and also offer French lessons.

So, a few years ago I went to Alliance Francaise to take some French lessons for a couple of weeks.

My wife bought me the lessons as a birthday present, and as an effort to get my French off the ground.

I wrote some notes while I was there. I recently found those notes. I have them here and I thought I’d just talk to you about them now, and try to remember what was running through my head in those classes.

I guess the point here is that I can reflect on my personal experience and generally make a few comments about learning a language in different contexts – paying particular focus to the classroom vs self-directed learning.

Being a student again.

Trying not to fall into all the typical student behaviour: not listening, arriving late, not doing homework and having rubbish excuses, asking unrelated questions, not paying attention to other classmates or listening to them, not really giving a crap about what’s going on, letting the teacher do all the work, not showing enthusiasm for work the teacher has clearly spent time and effort on preparing, not actually speaking French in the classroom, being shy with the other students and not wanting to talk to them, forgetting the book, not really going with activities that the teacher is attempting to set up, looking at my watch, yawning, complaining, judging the teacher on her appearance, etc.

Going for the level check

Got put in an A2 class. Probably because of accuracy, but I’m not really sure. I was never given a summary of my skills and problems.

Bought the book.

This is exactly like my normal experiences as a teacher, but from the other point of view.

Day 1

Joined a class that had already been studying together for a while.

Don’t remember doing much “getting to know you” at the start. I think it was just a quick introduction and then off we went. There were some people in the class I never spoke to at all.

Didn’t catch the teacher’s name at the start, and therefore it was lost forever. Why didn’t I just ask her?

What the class looked like.

Being late!!

Notes I wrote down during classes (when I should have been studying)

Good to see she’s keen. She makes excuses for being 2 minutes late and seems stressed.

Lots of photocopies. It’s very easy to get disorganised. It really helps if the photocopies are hole punched. I don’t mind if they’re not beautifully presented. They should be functional.

I wish she’d just let us talk freely, or try to talk freely!

Too much TTT. I’m very aware of this as a teacher in my own classes. A lot of her talking time is just lost on me. It feels very teacher oriented. She’s explaining a lot and spending a lot of time setting up activities, but I still don’t know what’s going on!

Teach the students, not the plan.

1 hour of pronunciation at the start of the class, with us trying in vain to pronounce certain vowel sounds. I suppose this is really important because mastering these different sounds can make a huge difference to your intelligibility in French. But we spend an awful lot of time on it and I wonder how useful it is. I wonder if perhaps it’s more important to develop fluency in the language, and to perhaps get some remedial correction. I’d like her to let us talk and perhaps listen to us and correct us a bit, and give us some much-needed encouragement. I desperately need encouragement. I really really need someone to tell me “Yes, that’s good! Well done, keep it up!” I can’t remember the last time anyone actually gave me positive feedback about my French. I’m in such a negative rut. I’d love it if she gave me more freedom, some praise and also some remedial correction.

She always expects perfection, but we need encouragement. Sometimes I’d like her to let us talk without interruption and perhaps correct us later. She won’t let us utter anything without it being perfect. I just feel like I’m slamming against a brick wall all the time. Maybe I’m too soft and I expect to just be great all the time. I’m too intolerant of failure. I’m too sensitive. Some of the best language learners I know can tolerate a lot of failure and just keep coming back for more, perhaps out of stubbornness or sheer bloody-mindedness. I need to toughen up a bit.

—— recording had to be abandoned at this point due to crying baby!

[Continuing the next day…]

I wonder which one is better: Loading all the grammar, vocab and pronunciation into the learner and then expecting them to produce correct language as a result, or letting the learner just struggle through with a focus on communication and then helping out in a remedial way.

I’m beginning to prefer the second option. I find it’s more responsive and even natural to emphasise the learner’s personal production of English and work from there, rather than inputting so much. I’m not here to gather information, I’m here to do things, to experiment, to make mistakes and do it my own way. Sometimes the classroom environment and teacher don’t let you own your English. But again, perhaps I’m expecting too much too soon and I might need to stop being so egotistical about it and accept my role as a learner in this situation and just get down to some good old-fashioned studying, and learn those verb conjugations. It’s quite humbling.

But back to the idea of the teacher controlling the class and using quite a rigid programme – being teacher-centred. You could argue that this is a problem from two different angles. Firstly, the teacher might rob the students of their independence, their natural tendency to just try to be understood and to communicate and to discover the language and make mistakes but to essentially “find their voice” in the target language. But also, learners might give up these things as they hand over responsibility to the teacher. In my experience, the best language learners are fiercely self-motivated and take full responsibility for their learning, but the language classroom situation tends to subconsciously cause learners to give up that responsibility to the teacher – so that if no progress is made, it’s the teacher’s fault, and if lots of progress is made – the teacher is a hero. But that ignores the fact that personal motivation might be the most important factor. So, perhaps the whole classroom situation encourages bad habits in learners, by taking personal responsibility away from the learners. Unless the teacher is particularly good, and knows this, and is always making sure that learners take responsibility for themselves while also giving them a structure and framework for learning. It’s hard to be a good teacher – you have to know when to be in charge of the class and be in control, and when to just get out of the way completely.

But then again, perhaps the classroom provides a space in which learners can basically get all the answers that they wouldn’t get if they were just out in the wild west of the real world, where nobody is there to lend a hand and it’s all just a question of survival. (sounds tough)

Anyway, the debate in my head here is about whether the teacher gets in the way of the learners, or is a vital agent in providing the learners with a moment-by-moment study plan.

All too often the teacher isn’t able to just get out of the way, and so you plough through more and more activities, being presented with language that you have to take on – which often leads to that feeling that as a student you’re kind of drowning. It might be nice to just spend some time asking the class some questions, seeing how the students answer them, and then take it from there, doing remedial work, allowing all the students to take part, giving us some discussion time with the corrected language, questions and phrases on the board. Going round, listening to us, gathering feedback to correct us afterwards. There’s not a lot of this happening, so I feel like the classroom situation is not being fully exploited.

This does require a particularly nimble teacher – one who is able to adapt on the spot and come up with feedback, drills, little practice exercises and questions that identify the specific problem the student has, how to remedy it and how to let the students practise it correctly. It also requires that the learners are able to go with the flow too. It’s often more practical to write a plan in advance and just stick to it rigidly regardless of whether the students are really on-board.

They have IWBs, which is nice.

The teacher is sweet, and she got hotter as the course went on.

Her efforts are very admirable. She intends to do an hour of pronunciation at the beginning of each class, and that has to be set up in quite a careful way, involving certain important stages in the exercises. So, she’s made an effort and has obviously spent time preparing this lesson. But a lot of her efforts are just torpedoed by late-comers or just students who seem a bit slow.

I’m aware of how it’s hard to be charming, funny or just yourself in another language. I think I must come across as quite different to my real personality, which is annoying, because I think my teacher and possibly other classmates don’t really understand what I’m saying and therefore who I am. I might give an example of what she’s saying but she doesn’t think it’s related – because I’m unable to specify what I’m talking about because of my poor French. It must seem like I’m not concentrating at all and I’m just rambling or trying to change the topic. I can see how easy it is to seem like a dickhead or a problematic student. Note: for my teaching I have to remember to always give my students a chance. Sometimes somebody will say or do something that I will find strange or perhaps rude. I have to remember that the language barrier often distorts people’s personalities. Then again, sometimes it doesn’t and you find people are the same in both languages. So, maybe I really am someone who doesn’t focus and talks without thinking and rarely makes sense, and perhaps even enjoys derailing things. I hope not.

But I find that I’m a bit weird. I have to explain myself a lot. My head goes faster than my mouth. I have a tendency to ramble and that’s because I;’m afraid that people don’t understand me so I repeat myself, so I must be pretty weird in class. I probably am a bit weird, but in English I’m quick enough to be able to flip that into being funny – I’m fast enough with the language to be able to manage my weirdness and make it humourous instead. In French, I’m just weird.

We do gap fills – paper exercises that are so common in language learning, but paper exercises don’t necessarily help in production of the language because you use different strategies for solving a gap fill exercise than producing fluent spontaneous speech.

Teacher has to be very patient and intuitive. Listening is so important for a teacher. We have to listen to our students, work out what they’re trying to say, and then give them the English they need to say that. Also, good activities are ones that present the students with a need to say certain things, so that they have to use the target language to complete the task. Then the teacher needs to pay attention to how we are completing the task, and give us the right feedback.

Sometimes the teacher thinks I don’t understand, or misunderstands me, but it’s just because I can’t explain myself properly. I feel like talking about what we’re talking about means that we’re communicating on some metaphysical level where you need meta-language to discuss the language you’re learning. It all gets terribly complicated.

U and OO sound – Imagine you’re being punched in the stomach. Imagine that your mouth is a chicken’s arse. These things totally don’t help me! It shows me how so much of our explanations are wasted if they aren’t truly clear. We have to always think from the students’ point of view. This is more about teaching than learning French isn’t it!

As a learner I get the impression I’m being told one thing about French, and then I go out and hear something different. I wonder “Are they lying or just unaware of how their own language is being used in the real world? Or maybe I’ve got it wrong.”

A lot of the time I have no idea what’s going on or what the teacher is talking about. I’m just constantly spinning in space. No idea what’s going on. I’m always right on the edge of understanding things. On the edge of my comfort zone.

It’s a humbling experience, and quite sweet too because everyone’s a bit shy and just trying to do their best, but I feel very stupid indeed.

Sometimes I just can’t explain why I don’t understand. I don’t have the ‘meta language’ to do describe what I don’t understand.

Organisation is vital in language learning. Keeping a good record of vocabulary and other learning notes – but it’s hard to stay organised when you have a busy life. Learning a language is a full-time thing. You really have to devote yourself to it. It can feel overwhelming, but with step by step practice you can do it.

Slow students in the class bring the whole level of the class down. Sometimes I think “Just leave them behind they’re dead to us!” But obviously the teacher can’t do that.

In a classroom environment everyone has a lot of responsibility to work with each other. You need quite a tight team to make the whole thing work.

I felt a weird sense of camaraderie with the teacher, because I’m a teacher too. She didn’t know this until the end. It was funny to be on the other side for a change.

At the end of the course I felt a weird emotional pull. It was a bit sad or something to be finishing the course. It was all too brief.

Learning English in the classroom vs Learning English on your own

In the Classroom

Positives:
Safe space
Teacher
Actual speaking and writing practice
Group means more varied activities and a chance to practise real communication, not just book work
Method
Programme
Text books
Tests
You can ask questions
Experiment
Other students
Learn with others / peer group / Community
Expert explanation of grammar
Correction
Exam classes
Learn from the mistakes of others – Hearing other people’s English can be a good thing
Competition
Teacher’s own material
Social life
Friends and memories
Nothing is stopping you from studying on your own as well – you can combine your private study routine with classroom study – and use the classroom as a safe space, a place to test yourself and have your questions answered
A way to ringfence several hours in the week for exclusive language practice. For some people it’s too hard to build it into the routine, so they just take classes so someone else can manage it.

Negatives:
Slower or faster than others – held back or confused. Weaker students drag you down to their level (but often these are opportunities to learn – they don’t have to be wasted moments)
Level difference (is it really a problem? The assumption is that you need to be with people who are higher than you, but this is a class, not just a social situation)
Personalities in class – sometimes the wrong balance of personalities means that nothing gets done properly
Class sizes – too big? Hard for the teacher to manage effectively, less STT
You have no control over various factors, like the topic or study point of the lesson, who speaks, what the interaction will be etc. You might get to influence that a bit, but you simply can’t expect it all to be done the way you want – it’s a group
Tendency to sit back and be spoon fed
Reduced responsibility
Reverting to the old mindset of being a pupil at school
Hearing other people’s English can be a bad thing, unless it is being corrected
TTT
Possibly annoying teacher!
Expensive & time-consuming
Choosing the right school
In your own country the students will probably be from your country – this can be an advantage in that you will share things more closely, but this can be a disadvantage in that there’s less variety and a lack of an ‘international mindset’ which is helpful in developing a broad mind and to practice speaking to other non-natives from around the world (and the chances are that these are the people you’ll be talking to anyway)

On your own

Positives:
You can use all the things I’ve ever mentioned on the podcast to create your own personalised study plan, or any other techniques or materials that you know. The world of language learning is your oyster.
There’s plenty of free stuff for learning English now
You can work out what’s best for you
Set your own schedule
You don’t have to go at someone else’s pace
You don’t have to go to someone else’s place!
If you’re organised, you can build a study plan that is tailored to you specifically
Massive amount of online stuff available including 1-2-1 lessons, e.g. with italki
Plenty of grammar practice and explanation online
You can surround yourself with English by using things like podcasts, books, italki etc
Take all the responsibility yourself
Cheap
Ultimately, this is the only way because nobody can learn a language for you. Whatever approach you choose you’ll always have to be responsible for your own learning.

Negatives:
There’s a lot of pressure on your shoulders because you’ve got to do it all yourself and keep yourself motivated
You have to be extremely organised and devoted
You have to be able to manage your time and your workflow yourself, and let’s face it most of us need a helping hand
It’s hard to build learning English into everything you do even though that’s probably what you need to get to the higher levels
There’s no teacher to correct your mistakes and give you a plan
It can be lonely
Nobody to actually talk to unless you go online
Materials – which ones?
No guidance or advice from teacher or others – or at least it’s difficult to find – support network

In the end – the classroom is a resource which you have to learn to use. It can be a convenient way to get English practice into your life.

But ultimately, whatever the situation – personal motivation and your approach to what you do – these are the most important things. If you have the right level of motivation, you can use the classroom to your advantage, but it is limited. Outside of class you’ve got more freedom, but that can often result in you doing nothing. Classroom situations give you a bit more focus.

Learning in a classroom is just part of what you can do.

It works really well for lots of people, but not well for others.

It’s all about how you approach it.

In the end – you have to get to know yourself and your own ways of learning.

If classroom learning suits you, go for it – but make sure you use that classroom as a resource and get the most from it.

If classroom learning doesn’t work for you – that’s ok but you need to be very motivated, disciplined so you develop habits in your own time, but you have to be quite organised for that.

I could go on…

I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to this. It has helped me to reflect on my French a bit. I feel a bit better now actually. I think my French is improving, just very slowly indeed – not as quickly as I’d like and it feels overwhelming, but I must remember the example of the elephant. How do you eat an elephant? Just one spoon at a time – but you do have to eat regular spoons – one spoon at a time, as often as you can and enjoy it too! I’ve no idea how an elephant tastes, but since this is just a metaphor, let’s say the elephant is made of the finest Belgian chocolate, shall we?

I also just want to say how impressed I am by those of you out there who have improved your English to a good degree. Many of my listeners – that’s you- you have developed your English really well, often starting from a very basic level and not living in an English-speaking environment and I’m really proud of you. This takes dedication, work, time and effort. I’m also impressed by those of you who have learned English using my podcast. Many of you listen until the end of episodes, you follow me banging on about stuff, you write carefully worded comments and emails, you send voice messages, and of course outside of podcast-related things I’m sure you do plenty of other things that I’m not aware of in order to push your English further and further, even when it’s difficult. You’ve done so well and I just want you to know that I’m really impressed and proud of you. I know the challenge – believe me – so I’m really impressed and proud of you and also flattered that you choose to listen to my episodes as part of your English language lifestyle. There must be moments when you’re listening to my episodes where you’re lost, confused you’ve kept going – and it’s bound to help and I’m sure it has. Well done.

Thanks for listening.

Additional notes (not used in the episode)

Let me remind you of those three things. Just consider how your learning involves these things:

Motivation
Just how motivated are you to learn the language you want to learn? Where does that motivation come from? Is it external (e.g. I feel I should learn it for other people or other reasons) or is it internal (I really want to learn it for myself). Motivation is like the driving force that you need to power your entire learning process. It’s probably the most important thing, because where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Habit
What are the things that you’re actually doing in English? Examine your habits. The main thing is that English practice is in your life as a habit. Habitual practice – regular things – every day probably. But think about those habits too. How many of those things are: Productive (involving you producing English in speaking or writing) Receptive (involving you just consuming English by listening or reading) Regular (on a regular basis – every day if possible) and long (longer than just a few minutes really). Habit is one of the most important things because it makes sure that language learning becomes a regular part of your day. It’s hard to change your lifestyle, so it’s important to try and get into the habit of doing things but little by little. That can mean just spending 10 minutes a day on English. When that has become a fixed habit, you can build on it and push towards longer periods. If you’re already maxing out your English in terms of time, think about pushing towards more intensive productive practice, like writing and speaking.

Resources
What are the things you’re using to learn English? Are there any other things you could get into your life? How can you really exploit them fully? Some simple examples:
LEP – you’re listening, but do you check the episode pages, take the vocab in the lists, read the transcriptions, check out the videos and other links I recommend?
Books – are you reading books at all? If you never finish the books you read in English – consider buying shorter books or graded books (E.g. Penguin Readers) which are appropriate for your level. Do you note certain words or phrases that you discover in the books you read? Are you choosing books that really interest you, or books that you think you should read? Are you choosing books filled with complex old-fashioned language, or books that contain more normal every day English?
Films and TV – do you sometimes watch an episode several times with and without the subtitles? Do you ever repeat the things you hear? Do you make note of new bits of language? Do you go back to those notes and test yourself? Do you record yourself saying things?
italki – get some lessons or conversations. This can be a good way to get proper, real-life communicative practice into your routine. Don’t be shy – give it a try.

511. My Experiences of (not) Learning French [Part 1]

Sharing my experiences of learning French (or not learning it). My French and Me – How I learned some French as a child and how I’m failing to learn it properly as an adult. Includes conclusions about language learning, immersion and the importance of motivation, habit and simply applying yourself. Notes & transcriptions available. *Includes some swearing and general frustration!

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Introduction

Some rambling about attempting to record while holding the baby, and new content in the LEP app…

In this episode I’m going to talk about my experiences of learning French (or not learning it as the case may be), I’m going to read from an old diary I kept for a while when I was taking some French lessons a few years ago and I’m going to reflect on the things I have done, or more specifically have not done and how these things have affected my progress, or lack of progress, in French.

I hope that you find this interesting and applicable to your experiences of learning English. Perhaps we can use my experiences to consider various things about how we learn languages as adults in classroom environments, using self-guided learning and by being immersed in the culture and language of another country.

I’d like to start the episode by speaking some French. I know you will now be judging me, even if you can’t understand me, but what the hell, here goes – and I’m doing this just as a sort of act of solidarity with those of you who have struggled to express yourself in English. Perhaps you’ll get some comfort in hearing me struggling in another language…

And by the way, if you don’t speak French – keep listening because I will switch back to English in a moment I promise. Perhaps you can just try to work out what I’m saying? Here we go…

*Luke speaks French quite badly*

So that was some of my French. There you go, if you find it tricky sometimes speaking English – I know how you feel, I really do.

Aims for the episode (some are dealt with in part 2)

In this episode I just want to talk about my experiences of learning French, tell you a few stories and use them as a way to consider things like:

  • What it’s like to learn a language in a classroom environment vs learning on your own
  • How to learn a language in a classroom and indeed whether you should study in a group class at all
  • What it’s like to teach language in a classroom environment
  • Just other little things that occurred to me about learning languages during my experiences with French

Backstory: My French and Me – How I learned some French as a child and how I’m failing to learn it properly as an adult

My first words in French on holiday.

I was sent on a mission to the boulangerie to get the bread and stuff for breakfast.

My parents taught me the phrase: “Bonjour, quatre croissants et deux baguettes s’il vous plait!”

The interaction went something like this:

“Bonjour! blah blah blah blah blah?”

“Quatre croissants et deux baguettes s’il vous plait!”

blah blah blah blah blah! Blah blah blah blah blah! *shouting to someone in the back of the boulangerie* BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAAAH BLAAAH!

*Gives money*

Blah blah blah blah!!

*Gives croissants*

“Merci!” *leaves quickly with delicious bread and croissants*

Anything outside this interaction was impossible. E.g. if someone asked a question or did anything else, I’d just look sweetly at the person and perhaps repeat the line.

In a way, not much has changed – I’m still doing it today!

French lessons at school – not really learning anything, feeling awkward, the other kids were hopeless and so was I. I wasn’t in a great class. They streamed you. I should have tried harder because then I would have been in a better class and then I would have learned even more – I’d have been with better kids. All I remember of my French classes at school was mucking about in the language lab recording rude messages over the top of the French tapes, our teacher bringing in a dusty old tape player and listening to dialogues in the street. “Tricolore”

One day the teacher rolled in an old TV and video, and played us a video of young people (13 or 14 years old) of our age socialising. I was horrified. They all dressed like adults and acted like adults. They all kissed each other and brought each other gifts. I feel like they drank wine with lunch but this is just my imagination. It seemed like they were just socialising like a bunch of adults, and it all happened on a Wednesday. It seemed so far from my life where I was incapable of communicating with other kids of my age unless it was via a game of football, piss taking or very awkward giggling and embarrassment, especially if there were girls around. The French kids in this video all seemed so confident, sophisticated and grown up and they felt a billion miles away from us.

It didn’t help also that the sex education videos we watched were French I think (translated into English) again I might have misremembered this I’m not sure, and they showed a French family naked on the beach and that was tremendously awkward. I imagined these French kids just hanging around naked with their family and friends and being so confident and the whole time speaking in this French that made them sound so grown up and scary.

One of the other things I remember from French class was the fact that the other kids misbehaved so much. First of all it was almost impossible for the teacher to get them to actually speak French and I witnessed a number of awkward meltdowns by teachers who just couldn’t hack it. Once, one of the girls at the back of the class (seemed like a trouble maker type girl, and it felt like she was a good 2 years older than me and she probably was in terms of her hormone levels). She pretended to faint in class and there was a big drama with lots of the other girls making a big fuss and the whole class stopped for ages while the teacher attempted to deal with it and obviously didn’t really know what to do and I’m certain the whole thing was fake just so this girl could get out of class, and I even felt that the teacher was playing for time as well because she couldn’t wait for the lesson to end, and the whole time I just sat there and probably talked about Super Mario Brothers with the kid next to me or something, in English.

So, I don’t remember learning much more than “Je m’appelle Luke. J’habite a Solihull. J’ai treize ans. Je joue le football and le babyfoot” etc. Hilarious moments in class were when certain words sounded like something rude in English, notably the words “banque” (sounds like “bonk”) and “piscine” (sounds like “pissing”).

But I came out with a B at GCSE level so I must have been ok. I remember in my spoken interview I felt that I did pretty well. I seem to remember holding down a conversation that wasn’t too bad. I actually feel quite proud of myself.

Then I grew up and decades passed before I had to speak it again.

Now I actually live in France and I feel that I carry so much baggage that holds me back, or maybe that’s just another excuse.

Got together with a French girl. Our relationship is in English.

Moved to France.

Just before I moved, I took conversation classes with colleagues in London.

That helped quite a lot.

What were those classes like?

Who were you with?

What did we do?

Then moved to France

I expected to be able to speak French as a result of just living here. I thought – it’ll happen as a consequence because I will simply have to learn, or being here will mean I’ll just pick it up like magic.

The thing is, I think my life is fixed in a certain way and it doesn’t involve much need for speaking French. As well as that, hand-on-heart – I think my heart isn’t in it. Frankly, I didn’t move here to learn French, I moved here for love – which is probably the most French thing about my life!

But really, I don’t need that much French, or I can get by without it.

There are moments when it would definitely help, and moments when my lack of French reflects really badly on me. But basically I can get by without it and the vast majority of how I live my life is in English.

However – you should know that I am very ashamed of this for lots of reasons, but also because I feel like a hypocrite. I spend most of my time preaching about second language acquisition and I don’t do it myself. I don’t practise what I preach.

Some of you might be thinking “How is it possible that you haven’t learned the language?”

Well, I say “I haven’t learned the language”. I can speak a bit, but my level is nowhere near what it should or could be after 5 years here. I’m genuinely not proud of it and sometimes I feel genuinely bad about it, like when I’m with friends or family who have known me for years now and have seen no development really. I sit there at the dinner table with everyone speaking in French around me and it’s like I’m watching a tennis match, but after a while I have no idea where the ball is any more. I can follow the conversation for an hour maybe, but then my head starts spinning and I just can’t keep up or even stay conscious. It’s terribly exhausting, but nobody seems to really realise. Perhaps they think I’m being modest. Most French people will say “Oh my English is terrible” but then they’re just being modest or something and in fact their English is pretty good on balance. I say “My French is terrible” and they think I’m being modest too, like them, – they think they know what that means, but when I start attempting to say something, they realise and are shocked like “holy shit your French really is terrible!” and I feel like saying – “Yes, I told you!”

Also, Parisians can be very judgemental, I have to be honest. They’re extremely judgemental of each other’s English, and I’m certain they’re judgemental of my French. They can be just very direct and seem to spend a lot of time being brutally frank about things, including their assessments of other people. I just feel like rather a sad case in some people’s eyes. It’s rubbish, I have to tell you. I also believe that some people have no clue who I am. They think I’m this timid guy or something, with no personality – I’m certain. I’m sort of invisible or just one-dimensional. I’m sure of it. So much of who I am is connected to my understatement, sarcasm, irony, humour and general ironic detachment from everything – and all those things are communicated in my subtle use of language in English. In French I am just a completely one-dimensional person, and that one dimension is a kind of 14-year-old who hasn’t developed a personality yet. I’m basically my 14-year-old self, surrounded by all these very confident and well-dressed French kids in that video except that we’re all adults.

Imposter syndrome – yep. Then we speak English and it’s better, but I feel a bit bad about speaking English so I don’t really let go in that situation either.

I’m making it sound worse than it is – I have lots of French friends now that know me well and I am myself with them, but sometimes I get stuck at a party or at a dinner and it is exactly as I’ve described it.

I have lots of excuses.

Like I’ve said before “My French isn’t very good, but my excuses are improving all the time.” I’m fluent in excuses.

I don’t want to make excuses for what I consider to be a lack of French, but I can give reasons why my French hasn’t improved as much as I want.

I’m wary of doing this, because frankly I think it will make me look bad, especially considering how I often give advice on language learning. But perhaps there will be some of you out there who take some comfort in hearing me talk about my hangups, failures and general rubbishness in language learning. As a learner (or non-learner) of French, let me tell you – I’d love to hear other people’s stories of how they struggle. It would bring me a lot of comfort to know that there are other people out there like me who feel generally awful about their language learning. We so often hear from successful language learners, who deliver their advice like a sales pitch for how to learn a language and although I know there’s a lot of great advice in there, sometimes it feels a bit sickening to hear about other people’s great successes in language learning. I personally want to hear about people who are crap at learning languages, or at least crap at applying themselves. That would make me feel better.

So in that spirit let me talk about doing all the wrong things in learning French.

The first wrong thing is to make loads of excuses, which is what I’m going to do now.

By the way, there’s a difference between an excuse and a reason. A reason is why something happened or didn’t happen. An excuse is also a reason but it also is a way of passing the blame onto something else, or a way to avoid taking responsibility.

Here are my excuses, which ultimately are my ways of avoiding my personal responsibility for learning French, but perhaps they’re also legitimate reasons…

I think, ultimately, it comes down to motivation. Clearly I’m not that motivated to learn the language. Even though I live here, I have to go out of my way to learn the language, and the fact that I don’t makes me feel bad because I’m basically not adapting to my host culture properly.

But, I feel I should at least list some of the reasons why my French hasn’t improved as much as it should – just to get them out-of-the-way. But I realise they are all excuses.

As a teacher I feel added pressure to be an excellent language learner, and I hardly ever meet my own high standards. A lot of my friends who learned French didn’t have that expectation. They were just young and living in Paris and it happened as a consequence of their whole journey of discovery here.

I live in an English-speaking bubble – I work in English, I speak English at home, I listen to English podcasts (there are so many that I can’t give up), I watch YouTube in English, I do stand-up in English, I do LEP in English, in fact I find that I am often studying English when I prepare for lessons or do other language work in preparation for teaching or content creating
My world is predominantly in English but this doesn’t mean I have no interactions with French people. I regularly interact with local people but it often happens in English!

People’s level of English is often better than my French, so they automatically switch to English. This includes waiters, people in the street, and also people at parties etc.

Sometimes people speak good English to me, but they say their English is no good. A lot of French people are hung up about their English and are convinced they’re no good, but they’re capable of having a conversation quite confidently, but they talk about their lack of English and there’s a lot of competition here. People are very competitive about it but also quite modest, or perhaps self-critical. Then I say that my French is no good and I think they assume I mean the same thing – that it’s just not excellent. They assume that, but the fact is I really mean it! My French is no good! Then it’s embarrassing when they really hear it.

Once at a party a guy I was talking to said to me “You need to start speaking French, ok? So, don’t talk to me until you’ve learned French. He just walked away from me and left me standing on my own at this party. I felt terrible – both because of my shitty French, but also because the guy was a dick head.”

I really shouldn’t feel like this – but I often feel really ashamed and embarrassed about my level of French. This means I end up in a vicious cycle of having an embarrassing experience or a failure, and then feeling bad, and that affects my confidence, which leads to more failures – because you have to be confident to communicate well.

I actually think I’m quite a wordy person. I tend to ramble a bit and sometimes I don’t get straight to the point. In French I can’t do this, so I find it hard to really be myself. I still haven’t found myself in French yet. I feel like every time I open my mouth, I just make things more complicated and I bring more problems, because people misunderstand and misinterpret.

That’s just shyness and social awkwardness though, and I must not let that get the better of me.

People want to practise their English and they want to be nice, so we switch to English.

My wife often helps me when I need help. She’s nice like that, but it means that I don’t face the sort of ‘survival challenges’ that are necessary for developing in the second language.
I’m not making time for moments of French in my daily routine. I already feel like I have too many things to do and so I don’t fit French into my life. It’s the same with sport. I don’t do any because I think “when the hell am I going to do it?” God knows what will happen when my daughter arrives on the scene. In terms of language learning – people tell me I’ll learn because I’ll have to do more things in French for her. But also I just wonder if there’ll be any time for anything.

Note to self: Don’t be negative!!!

More excuses:
Paris is a very busy place and I feel people are impatient and even judgemental. This adds pressure to me. I feel like such a dumbass when I speak French and some people don’t always react in the way I need them to – there’s not that much sympathy and I feel they’re just thinking – oh god you’re mangling my language, let’s just speak English. Again: These are 100% excuses and I know it.
I am very good at speaking English to non-natives and they usually understand me really well, and so it’s just much easier to talk in English! Their English has to be pretty bad for French to be the choice of language!
I am a lazy student. I don’t really do any studying – I have done some but I found it to be impenetrable and frustrating. I used to do conjugation exercises in a big book but I found it hideously dull and boring. For example, I found the example sentences and gap fills frustrating because the sentences were so stupid and idiotic. I feel like a terrible person right now.
Sometimes the fact that English is the global language and most people can speak it and want to learn it – this frankly works against me and I will only learn French if I really go out of my way to learn it, even though I am living in the country itself.

I could go on but I won’t…

What my situation proves is this:

Unless you apply yourself to the task, you won’t learn a language, even if you live in a country where that language is spoken. This contradicts the old adage that immersion alone is the path to fluency in another language. Applying yourself to the language really means being prepared to spend time with that language – consuming it and producing it – either by studying it or by engaging in communication with it. If you don’t apply yourself properly, it won’t happen.

There are three important factors, which you have to have in place to learn a language. Simply living in the country where they speak that language is not enough unless you have these three factors involved.

Motivation – the desire to learn it which drives your behaviour, your curiosity, your patience and your will to continue practising and overcoming obstacles. Motivation is vital. It could be short-term motivation – like, you work as a waiter in French and you just have to understand people or you will have a miserable time – on a daily basis. So, the motivation to just get some control over the panic in every moment of the day. Or it could be a more long-term sort of motivation, which is usually the idea that you’re learning the language because you want to have it as part of your identity. You’re just drawn to it because you simply want to be a person who can speak that language.

Habits – regular practice and contact with the language. The longer and more frequent the better. Also, a certain organised approach to keeping a record of what you’ve learned, and measuring your goals and your progress.

Resources – these are the things that can help you – text books, reading books, listening materials, also people who you can talk to.

It does depend on the person too, I think. I believe some people just soak up the language – but this is down to motivation a lot of the time. The ones who soak up the language and just learn it through contact and immersion seem to be the ones who just enjoy exploring this world of the second language and who embrace their new life in a second language. I haven’t embraced my “french side”.

Perhaps I need a structured system – a regular study plan that I can apply. E.g. working through coursebooks or simply reading and listening to dialogues and doing exercises.

But ultimately motivation is the main one. If you’re motivated – you’ll actually do things to improve your level. I just don’t do enough things. I don’t apply myself. My excuse: I’m just too caught up in my world of English.

These three things (motivation, habits, resources) may be the most important factors for learning a language. Motivation is probably the big one. If you really want to learn a language, you will.

If you’re not that bothered about learning it, you won’t learn it – even if you live surrounded by that language.

So I suppose that I feel bad because my lack of French seems to suggest that I don’t care about it. That makes me feel bad because I don’t want people to think that I don’t care, or that I’m not invested in the country where I live, or that I’m not integrating with the culture. I feel bad that ultimately I’m not learning French because I just don’t care about it. I’m a bit conflicted about this. I think I do care of course, but perhaps not enough to actually do anything about it. Habit is involved here too though, because I think it’s a question of changing certain things in my lifestyle – like, basically, including some French practice into my lifestyle on a daily basis – but it’s hard to break the habits of a lifetime.

I think it is a vicious cycle.

If I don’t learn the language, I can’t appreciate the culture properly and I get alienated, and if I can’t appreciate the culture properly, I can’t really learn the language because I’m alienated from it. Add a sense of shame and the fact that I really should be a better learner because I’ve been a language teacher for a long time – the result is a bit of a mess in my head, and it all blocks my ability to learn French.

I’m also quite modest. I’m probably beating myself up a bit and I’m not utterly hopeless or anything. But my honest assessment is that I’m far from good enough especially after having lived here surrounded by French people for a few years. I think I’m A2/B1. I’m only capable of limited conversations about familiar things. I need help and patience from the person I’m talking to. I frequently come across moments where I just can’t carry on because I didn’t understand something or because I don’t have the words. I can follow a group conversation for about 20 minutes but then I get lost. Honest assessment – Pre-intermediate. Intermediate on a good day. Strengths – listening, reading, general communicative competence (all my other things are good – active listening, body language, I’m very aware of what makes a good communicator – I’m a reactive person and I’m not completely stupid). Weaknesses – speaking (fluency, accuracy, vocabulary range, pronunciation, grammatical accuracy) writing – no idea how to spell a lot of what I’m hearing, for example. Sometimes I can’t distinguish a phrase from a single word. I’m illiterate, basically! I feel like I have a similar level of intelligence as a really clever ape (like a particularly gifted chimp) or an average 4-year-old child.

Also, being a language teacher myself might actually exacerbate the problem. I’m so aware of what I should be doing, of how far I have to go, how much work I need to be doing, that I’m just defeated before I’ve even started. I’m essentially just down at the foot of the mountain, running around doing lots of things, constantly aware of the mountain looming above me and how much climbing I have to do.

Alright this isn’t supposed to be some sort of self-flagellation session or a confessional. Let me get on to those classroom experiences I was supposed to be talking about.

In Part 2:

  • Reading from the diary I wrote while taking French classes a few years ago.
  • Learning language in the classroom vs on your own.

Thanks for listening!

I might be able to respond to your comments in part 2 so go ahead and write your thoughts and questions.

 

 

506. One of Britain’s Favourite Poems

Listen to readings of “If—” by Rudyard Kipling, a popular poem from England. Includes analysis of the vocabulary and the themes in the poem and also a chance to enjoy the unique voice of Sir Michael Caine – with some funny impressions too. Transcript, vocabulary and videos available.

[DOWNLOAD]

Episode Transcript

Introduction

Hello, here’s an episode of the podcast devoted to one of the UK’s favourite poems.

I thought it was about time we looked at some poetry on the podcast. I was wondering which poem I could look at. In the end I’ve chosen one that is popular with lots of people in the UK. Sometimes poetry is a bit complicated and highbrow, but this particular poem is pretty clear and not too challenging or anything, while also touching upon ideas that most people can relate to. So I think it’s probably a good one for us to do.

We’re going to listen to the poem, understand the vocabulary used, and talk about the general meaning of the poem too.

You’ll also be able to listen to the voice of Michael Caine, and hear some Michael Caine impressions too.

The poem in question is called “If -” by Rudyard Kipling. That’s it… “If -“.

It has been voted the UK’s favourite poem in a number of polls done by the BBC. So, let’s listen to this much loved poem being read out by a couple of different people and then analyse the lines for their full meaning and pick up some vocabulary in the process.

“If-” by Rudyard Kipling

“If—” is a poem by British Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling (a nobel laureate is someone who won the nobel prize for their poetry). The poem was written in 1895 and was first published in 1910.

It is written in the form of paternal advice to the poet’s son. You can imagine that the poet is talking to his son about life and teaching him what it means to be a man.

Grammatically, it’s basically one huge ‘if clause’ with each line beginning with the word ‘if’ and then concluding at the end of the poem. It might actually be the world’s longest conditional sentence – “if you do this and this and this, then eventually, this will happen”. Like, “If you do plenty of practice, stay motivated and don’t give up then eventually you’ll be a fluent English speaker.”

As poetry, “If—” is a literary example of the principles of Victorian-era stoicism. This is a set of attutides that became popular in the UK during the Victorian period. By stoicism I mean a kind of attitude and approach to life that involves being tolerant of difficulty, showing a sort of calm self-discipline, having control over your emotions, being patient, accepting difficulty and having a quiet determination to just keep calm and carry on. It could also be described as the principle of “stiff upper lip”, which British people often consider to be a national virtue. If your upper lip is stiff, or firm, I suppose it means that you have your emotions under control.

Often Brits will talk about how they are proud to be tolerant (not just of things like cultural differences, but of difficulty, discomfort and hardship) and I think we quite like the idea that we are in control of our emotions because it shows strength of character. This is what “If–” is about and because of this, the poem remains a cultural touchstone in the UK.

We’re not always self controlled of course. You can’t generalise. There are times when Brits intentionally lose all self-control – like when they get drunk on a Friday night or when they go on holiday to Majorca or something, and get drunk there. Those moments seem to be like time off from being self-controlled. Also, these days, I think British people are more in touch with their emotions than they used to be.

But this poem is all about the side of the British personality that is all about quiet strength, fair play and not losing your head in a crisis.

It is also like a of self-help mantra which inspires people to try and do the right thing and probably gives people some inspiration for living your life correctly and dealing with times of difficulty.

For these reasons it’s often voted one of the UK’s favourite poems.

Listen to Academy Award winning actor Michael Caine reading the poem

Listen to Michael Caine reading the poem. All the sentences start with IF – how do you think the poem will end.

If you’re already familiar with the poem, you can just enjoy the voice one of our favourite actors. Michael Caine

“If—” by Rudyard Kipling

(video below)

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Source: A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1943)

The audio comes from a YouTube video uploaded by Peace One Day www.peaceoneday.org/

Peace One Day is a non-profit organisation that was founded in 1999. In 2001 due to their efforts the member states of the United Nations unanimously adopted the first ever annual day of global ceasefire and non-violence on 21 September – Peace Day.

Peace One Day’s objective is to institutionalise Peace Day 21 September, making it a day that is self-sustaining, an annual day of global unity, a day of intercultural cooperation on a scale that humanity has never known.

I guess these ideas are universal and this applies to everyone facing the challenges of life.

Girls – I hope you can relate to this too, even though he says “…and you’ll be a man my son”.

Read it again and analyse the words

“If—” by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you’re in a stressful situation in which everyone else is losing their heads and saying it’s your fault, but you stay cool and stay in control…

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

Everyone doubts you but you trust yourself, but you still consider their doubts in you – you don’t ignore them

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, (patience is a virtue)
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

other people are lying about you, but you manage to avoid lying

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

others hate you, and you feel pressure to hate them too, but you resist that pressure and don’t give in to hatred, or give way to hatred – don’t let hatred come in – it’s sounding a bit like the Jedi code here

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

stay modest in your appearance, and also don’t talk like you know it all

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

have dreams, ambitions and ideas but keep them in perspective so you’re not just a dreamer but someone who is still practical and pragmatic – a doer not just a dreamer

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

you can be thoughtful, but manage to actually do things rather than just thinking about things all the time

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

don’t let success go to your head, but don’t let failure get you down either – an imposter is something or someone who is not welcome or someone who is pretending to be someone else – e.g. someone who claims to be an experienced pilot and fakes their ID, or someone in a hospital who claims to be a doctor but isn’t

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

if you can stand having your words manipulated by dishonest people – e.g. in the press or in a court of law) (to bear something = to tolerate something) (twisted = changed, distorted, manipulated) (knaves = dishonest and untrustworthy people, it’s an old fashioned word)

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build them up with worn-out tools:

see your life’s work, ruined and then just start again even though the tools you’re using are damaged by lots of use

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

(you take a big pile of all the money you’ve won and risk it all on one go – if you’re willing to take big risks) (a game of pitch-and-toss is an old gambling game in which you ‘pitch’ a coin – throw it – towards a mark on the ground. The one who gets closest to the mark wins the right to ‘toss’ all the coins which have been thrown. To toss means ‘throw’ but specifically to ‘toss a coin’ means to throw it up so it spins and then lands. If you win you can toss all the coins and you can keep all the ones that land with the heads facing up” – so basically, if you can win loads of money and then risk it all on one game…

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

and then lose but just start again from scratch

And never breathe a word about your loss;

and never tell anyone you lost – that would be hard!

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,

even when you’re exhausted you keep going and force your body to keep going, sinew = tendons, ligaments

And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

so, just using your willpower you force your muscles, heart, ligaments to resist and keep going

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

if you can stay honest and moral even when you have the attention of a crowd of people – e.g. you might feel pressure to lie, bend the truth, tell them what they want to hear. Virtue = doing and thinking what is morally right. Adj – virtuous.

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch

if you spend time with rich and powerful people but never lose touch with ordinary life and people

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

Foes = enemies. You’re not affected by criticism or praise.

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you value everyone equally. Everyone counts – everyone is important.

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

if you can make the most of every single minute – the unforgiving minute means 60 seconds, no more no less. So, if you have the strength, stamina and determination to do your absolute best in every second of every minute

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Source: A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1943)

Hear Michael Caine’s thoughts on it from the recording

If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.

Films can be either successful or failures. You have to be able to deal with both outcomes.

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

When you’re a famous actor the press sometimes takes your words and uses them against you – especially the tabloid press.

He also says that war ruins everything. Also, every single war has been declared by men who are too old to go, and this has made him suspicious.

Impressions of Michael Caine’s Voice

Michael Caine’s voice. It’s quite distinctive. He comes from the East End of London – so it’s a cockney accent, basically – not very strong, but it is there. Also, his voice is unique (just like everyone’s voice is unique) and quite well-known. It’s so well-known that he is one of those actors that lots of people can impersonate, like Sean Connery.

How Michael Caine Speaks

You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off! (The Italian Job)

Batman – The Dark Knight Rises “I won’t bury you”

Vocabulary Review

  • keep your head (stay calm, stay in control!)
  • Don’t lose your head (don’t lose self control)
  • (Don’t) Blame it on someone (it was his fault, he did it!)
  • To have doubts (silent letter)
  • Make allowance for something / take something into account (include something in your decision making process – e.g. when I plan lessons I have to make allowances for the fact that students come from different countries and cultural backgrounds)
  • Don’t give way to hatred/anger/frustration = yield, give in (Star Wars)
    (Star Wars: don’t give in to hatred)
  • To be wise / to have wisdom (e.g. Yoda, Gandalf, Dumbledore, ObiWan Kenobi – most old dudes with grey hair and beards)
  • Keep something in perspective (think about things in a reasonable way – e.g. Let’s get things in perspective / let’s keep things in perspective. Sure, we’re locked up in a Turkish jail, but at least we have each other! It’s not that bad! OK bad example. The doctor says I have a 1 in 200 chance of survival!!! Oh shit!!! Wait, let’s keep things in perspective. 1 in 200 is really quite good, and you’re quite young and in good shape. Don’t panic.)
  • Treat someone/something like something (Don’t treat me like an idiot Tony!)
  • Impostors = people who fake their identity in order to get in somewhere. “I felt like an imposter” (common usage) I think it’s quite common for us to feel like an imposter if we feel we don’t deserve the success we’ve had, or when we are in a situation that we don’t deserve to be in, because we feel inferior. Have you ever felt like that? You’re in a situation, you look around and everyone seems so impressive. They’re all so clever and have achieved so much and you feel like you’re not as good as them, and you’re not worthy to be there. You feel like an imposter. It’s a common feeling. I think this might be the situation in which the word “imposter” is most commonly used today, other than when someone has intentionally sneaked into a place by lying.
    If you have ever felt like that, here’s a nice little anecdote from Neil Gaiman – a great author of short fiction novels, comic books and graphic novels.
  • This is from an article I found on Quartz.com and it quotes Neil Gaiman from his Tumblr page. qz.com/984070/neil-gaiman-has-the-perfect-anecdote-for-anyone-with-impostors-syndrome/
    Neil was asked if he had any advice for people experiencing imposter syndrome – that feeling of being an imposter.
    Some years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.
    On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while some musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”
    And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”
    And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.
    So, there you go – even Neil Armstrong feels like an imposter, and so does Neil Gaiman and many other people who’ve done good things.
    How about you? Do you ever feel like an imposter?
  • Bear to do something / bear to hear your words twisted (I just can’t bear to see him like this)
  • To stoop (bend down)
  • To build something up (create something from the bottom up)
  • A heap of something (a pile)
  • Winnings (all the stuff you won)
  • Don’t breathe a word (don’t reveal a secret)
  • Virtue / virtuous (opposites = dishonor, evil, immorality)
  • The common touch (the ability to appeal to ordinary people)
  • Friend / Foe
  • Count (v) (all opinions count, every second counts) = to have merit, importance, value, etc.; deserve consideration

Finally, listen to Dave Bassett doing it in a scouse accent

I did an episode a while ago called “The Chaos of English Pronunciation” which included a couple of poems which are full of notoriously difficult words to pronounce in English. You can find that episode in the archive. It’s number 144

144. The Chaos of English Pronunciation

Thanks for listening!

501. Merry Christmas! / Listener Correspondence

Wishing you a Merry Christmas, giving some news and responding to some messages from listeners about vocabulary lists, pronouncing “can’t” without sounding rude and more…


Pic (c) Jairo

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Episode Notes

Hello! Merry Christmas!
Seasons Greetings
Happy Holidays
All the best for the festive season

Here’s episode 501 and really the point of this is that I just want to say “Hi”, wish you all the best, share a bit of news and read through some listener correspondence.

Baby news – still nothing. Both the baby and my wife are fine and in good health, but no signs of labour yet. Apparently this is quite common for a first child. Fingers crossed in any case.

Also, this probably means that our daughter will have her birthday on Christmas Day or boxing day or later, which is not ideal for her (because people don’t care after Christmas, Christmas will overshadow the birthday etc, but it’s possible to make up for it by perhaps having an “official birthday” like the Queen – later in the year).

Listener correspondence

Another message from Jesus. (Not that one)

Original message (read out in episode 500)

Name: Jesus

Message: Hi Luke, I´m one of your ninjas who has decided to come out of the shadows.

My name is Jesus and I´ve been listening regularly to your podcast for three years. I´ve never written something like this before, and forgive me, because I´m not much of a writer.

Your podcast has been the soundtrack of many of my trips, running sessions, moments of ironing, cleaning, and especially cooking. I put my earphones on, and the magic flows in the kitchen.

In a way, you´ve been there in the good moments and also in the bad moments, sadly I´ve been through those lately. Listen to you during that time helped me to move on, and also to improve my understanding of your language and culture.

Now it has also inspired me to work on a new project, it´s something related with cooking. I´m not going to tell you more because the project is still in diapers (got it? pfff I know, it sucks…) I promise you´ll have more news if it gets to something real.

In any case I just want to thank you a lot for all the effort that you put into the podcast and wish you and your wife nothing but the best for the new challenge that you have ahead. You are a great guy, and great people deserve the best.

May the force be with you. Jesus.

Response from Jesus

Name: Jesus

Message: Hi Luke, this is Jesus again.
First off all, I didn’t mind that you read my message. I wasn´t sure that you would read it, since you are very busy these days, but what I wasn´t expecting was you giving me a few minutes in such a special episode.
I know that for you it may be a little thing but it meant a lot to me, in fact, today is my birthday ( that´s right, it´s not the 24th…hehehe), so I´ve considered your gesture as THE birthday present.

I´d like to share something with your audience that it may interest them. You were saying that there are some topics ,like religion, were you have to be careful in order to not offend anybody. Well I think that as long as you are respectful and don´t cross the line with your jokes it´s all right.

Once, I was living in Edinburgh, I went there to learn english, I thought if I go for the hard one the rest would be easy.

Let me tell you that it wasn´t easy but I love the Scots.

In there, everybody had the same reaction that you had when hearing my name, or reading it, because most of the times I had to show my ID for them to believe it.

Thanks to that I wasn´t so nervous when english speakers were talking to me, they were always joking, making me feel more confident and suddenly I was speaking with them.

If you are nervous and trembly when speaking a different language, try to find something funny in common with the other person, if you don´t find anything, whisky helps.
Luke, as I told you before, it´s my birthday. I´m 32, may this be the last one? who knows…just in case I will live it to the maximum.

You said, you don´t get an email from Jesus everyday, well you don´t get to be heard by such an audience like yours everyday either.

I don´t know if you are going to read this, but if you do, this is my birthday present for the world…

Forget your f*cking ego, and use the energy that you use to think of yourself to empathize a little bit with the person next to you. We need to stop all the b*llshit, and work together because the resources are not inexhaustible ( the last part is a message from a friend called Esther, it´s a message inside a message, she also wanted to say something to the world…).

I guess that this is what rumble feels like Luke, I´m kidding, of course.

Merry Christmas, Jesus.

Huxi – Vocabulary Lists

Hi, it’s Huxi.

I absolutely love your Podcast. Thank you for sharing all this info through transcripts and vocab lists.

Talking about lists, Would it be possible to keep posting them? I personally find them incredibly valuable for reviewing, by placing them in Anki as flashcards.

Thanks a lot!

Kristin – Vocabulary Lists

Name: Kristin

Message: Dear Luke,

Before asking a question, I want to give you a big Thank You for providing us learners of English such helpful and valuable material! :-)

I want to relate to episode 496 “Ramblecast”, in which you talk about methods of learning a language and emphasise that just repeating word lists does not make a lot of sense.

Weeell, in fact I have known that, but the problem is that, during the last 2 years, I gathered 117 lists containing 100 words respectively, so about 12,000 words. Until a year or so I managed to revise the words I had until then regularly, but now it’s become too much. To cut a long story short, I am sort of obsessed with learning words, because I just wish to get better, as I love English so so much. Whenever I read an article or a book or watch something on Youtube I kind of feel obliged to look up new words and write down on my lists. It’s depressing, though, that I realize after a few weeks that I just haven’t remembered them.

My question is: Do you know if it’s somehow scientifically confirmed (or what do you personally think about it?) that people learn a language and become more fluent by reading books, listening to audiobooks and watching films without writing down and learning and repeating all the words? I just can’t imagine that I could ever memorise all the new words I pick up by dealing with English material.

Sorry for this long text, but I think I’m going to send it now anyway, because I’m currently at work and have no more time to write it once again in a shorter version.

I would be very grateful and happy if you could send me a little answer whenever you have time.

Thank you so much in advance!

Kristin

Luke’s response

Hi Kristin,

This is a great question. Please don’t think that your efforts in collecting vocabulary has been a waste of time. I’m sure it hasn’t been. I think that your approach to saving words is probably evidence of your motivation to learn and your mindfulness of language while reading and listening. Perhaps just the act of recording the words in a list (words you’ve already encountered in context) could help you acquire them.

But there are other things you could and perhaps should be doing with the words, for example adding meaningful sentences in your list for each word. This can help you remember them. Also consider how you’re revising the word lists. What are you doing as you go through the list? Are you testing yourself and trying to reproduce those words in meaningful ways?

Also, it might be wise to take a selective approach. Instead of recording all the new words you encounter, you could just pick ones that you think are more useful or common. Don’t try to consume too much. Let some words go. You’ll remember more if you try to remember less. Don’t overwhelm yourself.

Also you could try googling those words and looking at the way they are used in the news (select the news tab in google results). That can reinforce the words for you.

As for the scientific studies you asked about. I don’t think there is 100% reliable scientific proof that one particular method works better than another. There are theories, like Language Acquisition Theory by Stephen Krashen and other theories too.

I think the best source of info on this probably comes from successful language learners. You could check out Olly Richard’s Podcast and blog at iwillteachyoualanguage.com He has some good methods and advice for remembering vocabulary. That might help. You could also ask him your question and he might answer it on his Podcast. I would also like to tackle your question on the podcast if I manage to fit it into my upcoming episodes! Your mail is now saved in my to-do list.

I hope my answer helps a bit although I haven’t given a fully fleshed-out response with specific steps you can take.

As a final thought, it seems that your English is really good, with a wide range of vocabulary. So perhaps your method has worked well despite what I said on the Podcast.

In the end, applying yourself to language learning, being motivated and having some kind of system – these are the things that make the difference regardless of what form they take. It doesn’t matter – in language learning all roads lead to Rome. You just have to make sure you’re always moving.

All the best,

Luke

Kristin’s response

Dear Luke,

Thank you so much for your detailed e-mail! I was very blown away by your deep thoughts about my question and I really appreciate your tips. You are probably right, it depends on HOW one tries to learn new words – just by provided lists in a book for students or by self-made lists containing words from specific contexts that one is able to relate to. I also realised that through writing down almost every new word my listening skills have improved a lot, as I’m able to recognise words better. On the other hand, I really SHOULD select at least a little bit, you’re very right in that. Since it is just frustrating to realise that after a few weeks I can’t remember anymore what I learnt.

Olly Richard’s podcast and googling are good tips, thanks for these!
Also, my English language exchange partner from England learns with Memrise nd finds it quite enriching, maybe I’m gonna have a look into it when I find the time (Christmas holidays are approaching ;-) ).

Thank you for the compliment about my English. My written English is quite good I guess, but my spoken English is sadly another story, as the little additional moment to think about the words is missing and I can’t often remember the words in the particular moments.

My dream is to go to England next year in summer for a few months. My New Year’s Resolution let’s say ;-)

Have a great Christmas and all the best to you, your wife and your almost-born baby!

Cheers,

Kristin

Serdar – Becoming a Dad

Name: Serdar

Message: Hello Luke.

I had once contacted you via this form but you didn’t reply. Hope you see this one this time. I have been listening to your podcasts over a year and really enjoying it a lot as well as learning many new vocab. So thanks for your contribution to those who thrive by learning. Recently I listened to a podcast of yours titled becoming dad and found out that you would become dad quite soon. Don’t know when you recorded it so you may even be holding your lovely baby now.

I know you have been told so many times that how difficult parenting is. As a father of 3 year old,I bet you all of it is true but i would like to emphasise how wonderful being a dad is. They used to tell me that my life would completely change after becoming dad and they’d say this change would be positive. Now I totally agree with my friends that there is no such feeling compared to being a dad. It is the greatest thing to happen to a man. I can’t even believe that there are words to express this. I couldn’t do it in my native language either. you must experience it ( maybe you have just started to ) At first weeks you really don’t know what’s happening. You look at a baby but still don’t have any idea about how it feels like a dad. It gradually starts, and this magnificent feeling gets extensive day by day and you finally find yourself and your toddler talking to each other one day. you start enjoying every single day, you rush back home to see them as soon as possible.

I even remember untying my shoe lashes in elevator just to gain few seconds! you look at their pictures when you are away. you keep thinking about them. I don’t know if you have ever fallen in love truly like mad but this overshadows it without doubt. It is much more intense than love. there is no word describing your love for your child. Although some days, especially when you are exhausted, or sleep deprived you will face to the hardest part of parenting, you will still stand up and go for it. even when you have %1 battery left :)
I hope you share your experience in a podcast. If you reply me letting me know about it, I’d be so happy.
Thanks again and good luck :)
Serdar, Istanbul

Message from Kei – Pronouncing “can’t”

Gleidson from Brazil

I’d like to see you online in video conference, would be really interesting. And I suggest you give some links to us practice grammar in sites as British Council, BBC English learning or so on related to the current episode podcast. It’s a great chance for us to practice grammar.

Your accent is really clear for us students. Don’t fear about share something about your personal life, for me, it makes your podcast quite personal and friendly.
This is the positive point for your podcast and a good way to share some vocabulary to a specific occasion, as wedding ceremony, childbirth, baptism, Christmas celebrations and so on

I am living in Ireland for 4 months, but I listen to you since as was living in my country (I have to thanks to a Brazilian friend of mine that shows me your podcast).

I wish all the best to you.
Keep posting your amazing podcasts and thanks again.

Send a warm Hello to all Brazilian that listening to you.

(sorry for English mistakes, I am learning, so I can not write in English as a write in my native language yet).

Kind regards,
See you.

VP – Withnail & I episode.
Hiya everyone! This is my first comment ever. #497 is so cool an episode I couldn’t keep a low profile anymore! First of all, I want to thank you tremendously, Luke, for all you’ve done for us lovers of English. Your podcast means a lot and it’s extremely helpful for me in my effort to keep learning the language all by myself now. I’ve been listening to LEP for quite a while, and it’s always ace but this time that was something special. The thing is, Withnail &I is one of the most hilarious and unique British films I’ve watched. Boy, was I chuffed when I saw the name of a new episode! I guess I found this film after I’d seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which perhaps has something in common with Withnail&I. Indeed, I failed to enjoy the film from the start, but its dialogues, humour and Richard E.Grant’s superb performance made me grow fond of it finally! By the way, I also like ‘How to Get Ahead in Advertising’ with this actor and am a huge fan of Mike Leigh’s works, ‘Naked’ featuring David Thewlis, for instance. Has any of you LEPsters seen any of those movies, by any chance? I wonder what British people think of Leigh’s films.
P.S. The description of a person who likes Withnail&I was merciless!

Marta KL • 19 days ago
I’ve just downloaded the film (with subtitles – I don’t think I’m able to make it without them) – looking forward to watch it in the next days.
Btw I have just noticed that James’s voice is quite similar to your dad’s voice :)
Thanks for the new episode, cheers!
Luke Thompson
Yep – he’s a chip off the old block
Hope you enjoy the film.
Cat
Could one say ‘He is a chop off the old wood’ as well?
Luke
Nope!

**UPDATE: Technical problems with the website :( **

I’m having some technical problems with my website at the moment. Some pages are not displaying properly and this is also affecting the Disqus comment system, so the comment section might be unavailable. Sorry! I hope to have it fixed soon.

491. Becoming a Dad (with Andy & Ben) Part 1

A conversation and vocabulary lesson about childbirth and becoming a father, with Andy Johnson and Ben Butler from The London School of English. Listen to Andy and Ben talking about their experiences of becoming parents, how their babies were born and more. Vocabulary is explained in the second half of the episode. Vocabulary list available.

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Introduction Transcript

This episode is all about becoming a Dad.

If you have heard the podcast recently you’ll know that my wife and I are expecting a child… (expecting a child to do what Luke…?) Well, expecting a child to be born… we’re having a baby, well she’s having a baby, as I said before, I will mainly be just standing there, hoping for the best.

“Expecting a child” is just the phrase we use for that – when you’re going to have a baby. We’re going to have a baby daughter in December. Thank you if you have sent me messages saying congratulations, that’s very nice of you.

I don’t plan to talk about children all the time on this podcast. Having a child is a big deal, but I don’t want to sound like a broken record by going on about it all the time, although it’s bound to come into the things I say because it will be major part of my life.

But I thought that it would be worth talking about it in some depth in at least one or two episodes because it is something that a lot of people experience (many of you will have had children, or will go on to have children and if not you then your friends or family – or at least it’s the sort of thing that people talk about a lot) and since this is happening to me I think talking about it could bring some authenticity to an episode, and that can really make it more interesting and therefore more engaging for you to listen to . Also there’s quite a lot of specific vocabulary that will come up that you can learn.

I did record a conversation with Amber nearly 4 years ago when she was pregnant with her son Hugo. She talked about what it was like for her to be pregnant and I did a follow-up episode with vocabulary of the subject too. You can find those two episodes in the episode archive – episodes 161 and 162. That was quite a long time ago, so let’s revisit the subject, and see if any of the same language comes up again.

161. She’s Having a Baby (with Amber Minogue)

162. Having Babies: Vocabulary / A Male Perspective

This time I thought I’d talk to Andy Johnson and Ben Butler about their experiences of becoming parents, to see if they can give me some general advice as I am just about to become a dad for the first time.

They’ve both had several children now, so they’re very experienced at the sort of thing I’m going to start going through in a matter of weeks.

So I’m going to do a lot of listening and learning in this episode, and you can join me too. Let’s see how much we can learn from this.

Watch out for some nice language relating to the whole subject of childbirth, parenting, and so on.

This episode is in two parts – that’s because I’ve decided to spend the second half of each episode explaining some of the vocabulary that comes up in the conversation.

What’s going to happen is that I’ll play you the first part of the conversation in a moment. Just try to follow it. I think it might be difficult for a lot of you. I think that there could be quite a lot of detail that you won’t catch. There are 3 of us, talking on skype, fairly quickly about quite a specific and detailed subject. So, remember, if you don’t understand it all – you should keep listening and hold on because I will be going through a lot of the language and clarifying it afterwards.

That should help you understand more and also turn this into more than just a conversation – it’ll become an English lesson and a chance to learn some natural English expressions. So, don’t worry if you don’t understand it all. I expect to catch a lot of that stuff in the second half.

There’s also a vocabulary list on the page for this episode and the next one.

Now, having children is wonderful and fantastic and all that – but it can also be quite scary – I mean, it’s fairly serious business, especially the moment of birth. I think we’re going to get into some fairly personal details in this conversation, and there will probably be a few descriptions of childbirth experiences which were quite emotional and even frightening at the time so please just bear that in mind if this is a sensitive topic for you for any reason.

Another thing I’m aware of is the fact that there are various cultural differences around childbirth and so the things you will hear about in this conversation might be different to how it is in your country. I’m quite curious to read your comments and to know if things are done at all differently where you are from.

Anyway, let’s now talk to Andy and Ben now and see what they can tell me about becoming a dad, and by the way – this conversation was recorded on Skype. I was at home in Paris and they were in a classroom at the London School of English, which is just next door to where I used to live in my flat in London. In fact, from some of the classrooms there it is possible to see my old flat through the windows. In fact, that’s the first thing that is mentioned in this conversation…

—————————- Part 1 ——————————–

Ok that’s the end of part 1 of the conversation!

What I’m going to do now is go through some of the language you just heard but may have missed. You can hear the rest of the conversation in part 2, which should be available soon.

Now, a lot of the language in this list for this episode is about childbirth and parenting – but not all of this language is about those things. There’s also plenty of vocabulary that you can use to talk about things in general, for example there are a few football analogies that Andy and Ben used as well.

Check out the page for this episode where you’ll see a the word list that I’m going through here. You can take those phrases, put them in your word lists, your flashcard apps, and so on.

Create your own word lists

By the way, it might be a good idea to create a word list of your own. It’s so easy with the internet today. When you find new words online, copy + paste them into a list (maybe on a spreadsheet, a word doc or a google doc or something). Add examples, definitions, pronunciation, even links to podcast episodes or whatever, and also any details that will help you remember the word. That’s so easy to do, right? Just copy + paste and bob’s your uncle. Use an online dictionary like Oxford Dictionary online to get examples and definitions. Then you can keep going back to your list, testing yourself and making sure that you remember these phrases and that you don’t just immediately forget them.

Just a tip there for how you can use word lists, notes or scripts on my website to help expand your active vocabulary with this podcast.

Vocabulary list

  • It’s exciting and slightly nerve-wracking
  • Football expressions (to describe the sequence in which Andy & Ben had kids – as if it was a football match)
    Ben, you went first with your baby and then Andy you came next.
    Andy: I equalised.
    It was 1 – 1.
    It was 1 – 0 (one – nil) and then Andy equalised.
    Then Ben took the lead again.
    Then more recently you drew level again.
    We’re both on a hat trick now but it’s more likely that the match has been abandoned now.
    It’s full time (no more kids!)
    Match abandonedinclement weather.
  • We’re going to call it quits at two.
  • The scans tell us that she’s healthy
  • How am I going to change a nappy?
  • Those kinds of things are easy in hindsight.
  • There was quite a lot of apprehension around the birth.
  • The midwife is talking about the birth in French.
  • Whether you want to have a caesarean section.
  • A natural birth – (in the UK this means a birth in the conventional sense, not a cesarean) but I use it to mean a birth involving no epidural (or pain reducing medication)
    So, here in France, when people say “a natural birth” they mean one with no pain killers.
    In the UK “a natural birth” just means “not a cesarean”.
  • So, will it be a c-section?
  • An epidural – a nerve blocker which goes into the spine
  • She had an epidural and she said it was a game changer
  • We conceived on Valentine’s Day
  • We had IVF so we know exactly when it happened
  • With the second one we were induced
  • My wife would certainly advocate having an epidural because it makes things so much easier
  • A chemical induced state
  • A numb state
  • My wife is pretty hardcore, she’s hard as nails
  • She’s got no qualms about that. She’s happy to just have the epidural.
  • We tried for 3 years and never fell pregnant again
  • In the end we went through IVF
  • They take the eggs out and inseminate them in a test tube and then they go back in
  • Talk about taking the fun out of it! (Talk about… = a way of emphasising something)
  • Our friends were plying us with champagne
  • Did your wives have morning sickness?
  • It’s the first trimester when they get sick
  • She was narcoleptic
  • Her body was generating new cells and it took it out of her
  • When is your due date?
  • You’re almost in the drop zone mate
  • By the time this has been published the sprog might have even arrived
  • Think about your social commitments and try and scale those back

— Part 2 Available Soon —

[Website content] Luke on the RealLife English Podcast

I was on the RealLife English Podcast and we talked about why I became an English teacher, doing James Bond impressions and also comedy & how to use humour in learning English. You can listen to it here. More details about Real Life English below. Enjoy!

Last week I was featured in an episode of the Real Life English podcast and I just wanted to share it with you here on my website.

Check out the RealLife English website.

On their website you can:

  • Download this episode
  • Check out other episodes of the Real Life English podcast + more
  • See a vocabulary list with definitions
  • Check out their other learning English resources

RealLife Radio #161 – How to Be Funny in English (Special Guest: Luke’s English Podcast)

Have you heard of RealLife English?

RealLife English is an online community with a mission to inspire, empower, and connect the world through English, both online and in-person.  

It’s run by three English teachers, Justin (USA), Ethan (USA) and Chad (Australia) and they do a podcast, write blog articles, create YouTube videos and also host an online community for social learning. A lot like LEP, they believe in teaching English to the world in a fun, personal and inspiring way.

Recently I spoke to Ethan on the Real Life English podcast (and also recorded an episode of LEP) and we talked about lots of things, including British & American comedy shows, and how to use humour (and alcohol) in learning English. Listen to it above, or on the Real Life English website. I’m sure they’d appreciate some comments from friendly LEPsters.

I’ll be speaking to Ethan in an episode of LEP soon. You can look forward to that in the next few weeks.

Cheers!

Luke

Why does the UK have so many accents? (Recorded February 2017)

This episode was originally recorded in February 2017 and is being uploaded in August 2017. In this episode I’m going to answer several questions from listeners about accents, including how regional accents occur in the UK and why there are so many accents there. Video available.

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Video – I’m not sick, I’m English, and it was winter. ;)

uk accents

There is a very wide variety of accents in the UK (not to mention the accents you find in other English-speaking countries like Ireland, Canada, the USA, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and more. English is a hugely diverse language and in my experience foreign learners of English don’t usually know a lot about the different accents – particularly all the regional varieties in the UK, and they often just find it difficult to understand them, and as a result learners of English can’t enjoy the great variety of sounds in English and the sheer diversity of character and personality you get from the different varieties of English, and therefore it’s worth talking about on the podcast.

This is such a big subject that to do it justice would require me to write a whole book about it. Instead I just do episodes about accents fairly regularly in an effort to cover as much of the topic as possible. For example, I recently did some episodes about British accents that you hear in the Lord of the Rings films, which gave me a chance to talk about the different associations we have with different accents in the UK and how those associations were used to provide some colour and character to the movie versions of Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings stories. I also did episodes about the accents you might hear in Glasgow and I spoke to Korean Billy about regional dialects and accents too.

Since uploading those episodes I’ve noticed a few comments from listeners wondering why there are so many accents in the UK, so I’ve prepared this episode which I hope will help you understand that a bit more.

The plan, in this episode (or episodes) is to talk about these things:

  • Why there are so many accents in the UK
  • How our accents develop as part of a natural psychological process
  • What this means for learners of English and teachers of English

Also, we’ll listen to someone speaking in a Liverpool accent and I’ll help you understand it

So, this episode is about the way people speak, but it’s also about history, psychology, how to learn English, what my friends sound like, and how to understand a football player from Liverpool.

How are all those things connected? Listen on and you’ll find out!

Why do we have so many accents in the UK? (Communication Accommodation Theory)

One of the things I said in those episodes about LOTR was that there is a really wide variety of accents in the UK, and that your accent reveals lots of things about you such as where in the country you’re from and what social background you come from.

Remember, when I say “Accent” this means simply the way that you pronounce the words you’re using.

If you remember, one of the things I mentioned in one of those episodes was a quote from George Bernard Shaw, which said “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him”, George Bernard Shaw.

This gives the impression that we all hate each other of course, and I don’t agree. The point which is made by this quote is that we all have prejudices about each other’s accent and this is an expression of the class system probably. That middle class people probably look down on people with strong regional accents and resent people who speak with very posh accents and so on…

Here’s a comment from Nick in response to those episodes.

Nick 2 hours ago – [These bits in brackets are Luke’s comments]
What a complicated life there in the UK… Everybody resents each other because of their accents… [we don’t resent each other really, but we do judge each other a bit – we also love each others accents too] Wow I never thought that accents in the UK had such an important role in people’s lives. [Yes, they’re very important indicators of our identity – but they’re also a source of great fun, joy, amusement and celebration] Luke, thanks for this episode. You opened up the UK in a new way for me. Even though I knew about different accents in the UK (and from your podcast too) I somehow didn’t realize the deep meaning of accents in English life.
But I don’t really understand how it happened that you have so many accents in quite a small area. I can understand that different levels of society may have different words in their vocabulary, but why they should have SUCH different accents especially when they live in one city or region… maybe it was people’s desire to make something with the language, or at least with pronunciation in order to be somehow unique from others. Like different groups of people or subcultures dress in different clothes or different nations have their own folk costumes.

This is a really good question and there are so many interesting aspects to the answer. I’m now going to try and deal with that question.

Why do we have so many accents in the UK?

It could be explained by “Communication Accommodation Theory” or CAT for short.

Collins dictionary: “Accommodation” 3. countable noun
Accommodation is a kind of agreement between different people which enables them to exist together without trouble. (not a written agreement, but a social or psychological tendency to come closer to each other and form communities based on shared behaviour)

Communication Accommodation Theory suggests that the way we communicate is an expression of our desire or natural tendency to become part of a social group.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communication_accommodation_theory (Wikipedia)

E.g. When I was living in Japan I picked up a lot of the body language because I wanted to fit in, basically. I didn’t even realise I was doing it.

That’s non-verbal communication, but we’re talking about verbal communication.

Also, it’s not just limited to individuals. Imagine whole communities of people, over many many generations being affected by this process.

scottthornbury.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/a-is-for-accommodation/ (Thornbury)

This could explain:

  • Why there are so many different accents associated with different regions in the UK
    For example, why people in Liverpool speak differently to people in Manchester, or why the ‘cockney’ dialect came about (more on this kind of thing in a bit)
  • Why we naturally change the way we speak depending on the people around us
  • Why speaking to a diverse range of people is very good for your accent
  • Why native English speakers sometimes change the way they speak when talking to foreigners – e.g. when travelling or meeting a foreign person.

The tendency is to unconsciously adapt.

I’m going to try and deal with all these things, but not quite in that order!

Why native speakers sometimes adapt their language when talking to foreigners
According to Scott Thornbury (a well-known teacher and author of teaching materials and a bit of a legend in the world of English teaching) there are two versions – ‘caretaker talk’ and ‘foreigner talk’.

“This is especially obvious in the way we talk to children and non-native speakers, [using] forms of talk called ‘caretaker talk’ and ‘foreigner talk’, respectively. Both varieties are characterized by considerable simplification, although there are significant differences. Caretaker talk is often pitched higher and is slower than talk used with adults, but, while simpler, is nearly always grammatically well-formed. Foreigner talk, on the other hand, tolerates greater use of non-grammatical, pidgin-like forms, as in ‘me wait you here’, or ‘you like drink much, no?’”
I’ve seen this happening to some English teachers. They adapt their speech to the students, speaking this weird form of English that’s easy for foreigners to understand but might not be helping them learn.

It’s really difficult to judge it correctly as a teacher. How much do you grade your language, and how do you do it? It’s important to speak correctly – meaning in the sort of full English that you normally would use and in the same way that most native speakers talk to each other, while making sure it’s comprehensible. If you’re too ‘natural’ your students won’t understand you. But if you simplify your English too much, you end up doing this ‘foreigner talk’ which is just not a good model of the language.

I guess this is part of being a good teacher; knowing how to strike the balance between being comprehensible and yet also realistic and natural.

I always try to keep these things in mind when I speak. It’s probably why my voice becomes more and more like standard RP, which I think is just generally accepted to be clearest version of the language, and that’s how I was brought up to speak by my parents. That’s not to say other versions of the language aren’t correct of course, and as I’ve said many times before I love the different accents.

Do I accommodate when I talk to native speakers with different accents?

Yes I do – a bit – I mean, only to accents that are a part of me. I have a few slightly different accents in me and my speech slides in slightly different directions depending on who I am with. They’re not radical changes because I’m still being myself, but my speech does change a little bit. When I’m back in Birmingham my speech becomes a bit more Brummie. When I’m in London it does the same. Only a little bit of course. This is totally normal.

It’s also why it’s important to speak to other people on this podcast because it’s in the interaction with others that language really becomes most alive and natural. When I’m talking to you on my own I speak in my neutral voice, but when I’m in conversation with others you might hear my voice changing slightly. You might not notice to be honest because it’s a pretty mild change. Perhaps it doesn’t happen that much because I am still aware that I’m being listened to by my audience.

For example, when I spoke to Rob Ager from Liverpool about movies last year, my accent didn’t change that much. But maybe if I’d spent the weekend in Liverpool, just hanging out and talking, my accent might have changed a little bit.

When I lived in Japan I spent a lot of time working with people from Australia and apparently I picked up some of accent – particularly the rising intonation pattern. So, the conclusion – I do accommodate a bit, but usually to an accent that I have personal history with, and only if I’m exposed to it for fairly long periods of time and when I’m feeling self-conscious it happens less.
Certainly when I’m back in Birmingham my accent changes a bit, because that’s where I spent a lot time when I was younger.

Cat’s question: What are Paul and Amber’s accents?
Amber & I are pretty similar. It’s just RP. Paul speaks RP too but with a bit more local influence. He’s from Kent so he speaks with some traces of a Kentish accent – e.g. glottal stops. “Native speaker” “Excited” Maybe some “th” sounds sound a bit like “d” or “v” sounds.

Some people seem to think that his voice is influenced by French. It’s isn’t.

That kind of influence would only happen if French was Paul’s first language, and he’d learned English as a second language in adulthood. That’s not the case – in fact to an extent he learned both languages while growing up. He’s certainly native level in English, and he probably is native level in French too. He certainly sounds it. So, because he’s got, basically, two native level languages, they exist independently in his head and therefore don’t influence each other much in terms of accent. Every now and then it influences his vocabulary but he instantly recognises it and self-corrects. You might have heard him do it on the podcast sometimes.

Paul speaks very clearly, which is evident in the way people always tell him that they can understand what he’s saying. His English accent is influenced more by where he grew up in the south-east of England and by the wide variety of people he’s spoken to in his life. He spent many years travelling with Apple, studying and living in different parts of the UK. RP again is probably the default setting for someone like Paul, when trying to speak clearly, but those glottal stops and some dropped consonant sounds reveal that his most formative time for English was in Canterbury, and he is also not the sort of person to listen to a lot of BBC Radio 4.
Paul is also a natural mimic. He’s able to hold different accents in his head at the same time and switch between them. He’s something of a chameleon in that way. Put him in with a bunch of Scottish people for a long time and he’d probably emerge with traces of that accent I expect. Anyway, when he’s with Amber and me his accent is pretty much like ours but with traces of his Kentish background, which is why he says “Native speaker” like that.

So, that’s a bit about ‘accommodation theory’ in relation to my friends and me.
What about Nick’s original question about the diversity of accents in the UK. I’m going to talk more specifically about that in a moment.

But first let’s check out a funny example of a professional footballer from Liverpool who moved to France to play for Olympique de Marseille football club.

Now this is an example of an English person accommodating to French people around him, and we see that this is certainly not happening to Paul Taylor

Joey Barton’s weird French accent

Who is Joey Barton? What was the situation?

Joey Barton speaking with this weird French voice

He was heavily criticised for this – a lot of people mocked him and called him stupid.
He’s definitely not stupid. Maybe he wasn’t aware of the different ways he could have changed his voice – e.g. speaking with RP probably just wasn’t something that would occur to him. This lad is a scouser through and through. He’s not going to start speaking RP – he’s going to accommodate to the French instead.

The reason he’s doing it, as explained by accommodation theory is to make it easier for the French journalists to understand him. His scouse accent is difficult for the French to understand. He was just trying to be intelligible and he ended up accommodating to their speech.

Also he did it to win social approval. I imagine being the only English guy there, in front of all those French journalists, with the pressure of playing for this big club and not speaking French, he wanted to win their approval. This probably happens in Football quite a lot because of the emphasis on teamwork. I expect during training and while bantering with other players and staff, Barton had to very quickly adapt his speech to be part of the team. I imagine speaking Scouse English more clearly wouldn’t help the French.

(Joey Barton talks about the French accent incident)

It’s not just speech – it’s also non-verbal communication. Barton does a couple of typically French things, including the kind of ‘sigh’ or blowing of air through the lips which is really common.

According to research we are naturally wired to copy the speech and behavioural patterns of the people we’re talking to. It’s a natural, neurological process that humans engage in when they want to communicate, be understood and be accepted by others.

Significance for Learning English
For learning English this suggests some of the most important ways to improve your English pronunciation and your English in general are to a) actually communicate with people in real conversations about real things b) have the desire to understand others and really be understood by others c) have the desire to share things (info) with the people you’re communicating with d) have the desire to be socially accepted by the people you’re talking to.

So, spend time talking naturally with English speakers because you want to! Or at least, practise communicating in English not just because you think it’s important for your career or for your English, but because you are genuinely interested in sharing ideas, finding out about people and the world, and broadening the scope of your identity. The more motivated you are by these things, the more you’re opening yourself up to the natural neurological conditions for language learning.

Got it? Talking to different people with good English and who come from diverse origins about things you are interested in, really helps your English and your accent in particular!
Being engaged in genuine communication because you care about sharing ideas is going to help your brain in a natural process of language learning.

Other work helps too – like studying the phonemic chart, analysing the physical ways we pronounce different sounds, how speech is connected and all that stuff, and doing plenty and plenty of mechanical, physical practice – it’s important too, but certainly this theory suggests that our brains are wired to adapt our speech patterns in the right conditions as part of a social process.

But also, it may be vital for you to learn how to accommodate yourself to the English of the people you’re talking to. This from Scott Thornbury:

So, what are the implications for language teaching? In the interests both of intelligibility and establishing ‘comity’, Joey Barton’s adaptive accent strategy may be the way to go. For learners of English, whose interlocutors may not themselves be native speakers, this may mean learning to adapt to other non-native speaker accents. As Jenkins (2007: 238) argues, ‘in international communication, the ability to accommodate to interlocutors with other first languages than one’s own… is a far more important skill than the ability to imitate the English of a native speaker.’

So, when you’re chatting to other non native speakers in English, how should you make yourself more intelligible in order to establish good relations? Do you suddenly start sounding like Luke Thompson, or do you accommodate to their way of speaking, following the rule of accommodation theory?

What do you think? Feel free to either agree with accommodation theory here, or disagree with it, but do give a good reason why.

But why are there so many accents in the UK?

It’s a really complex question which probably needs to be answered by someone with a PhD on the subject, but here’s my answer!

It’s probably a big mix of geography, culture, politics, history and human nature.
Tribalism.

Perhaps it’s because we’re a small nation with quite a high population.

Geography. We’re an island (group of islands actually) so that creates a clear land border – meaning that we’re a bit more ‘penned in’ than some other cultures.

The class system. RP was the standardised version, but ordinary folk spoke in their own way and weren’t expected to speak RP because they knew their place. They could never break away from that. We never had a revolution proclaiming everyone as equal, so working people didn’t take on the standard form of English.

Irregular relationship between the written word (spelling) and the spoken version mean that the spoken version is perhaps more open to interpretation than others. Our written language is not phonetic, therefore the pronunciation is not tied down. There’s no solid rule book on how to pronounce English – there’s the phonetic chart, but that is based on RP and that’s where the class system comes into it. RP is associated with a certain class of people and then identity politics come into play.

Perhaps the multicultural ‘mongrel’ nature of the Brits has something to do with it. We’re a mongrel nation. Maybe the diversity of accents is the result of this patchwork or melting pot of different people and languages. E.g. celtic, nordic, germanic, norman French, gallic French, latin, Irish celtic, Scots celtic, commonwealth nations like Jamaica, India & Pakistan – especially Jamaica which has had a massive influence the way young people in London speak, and now media, like American and Australian English that we hear on a daily basis.

Our islands have been visited, invaded, populated and influenced by migrating people and their voices for many many years. This goes deep into the past and continues to this day, even though the official version of history will suggest that we have one unbroken family line (The Royal Family that we all learn about in school). There’s a lot more diversity than this narrative would suggest. This could result in a wide variety of influences, creating diversity which is not obvious just by looking at people. It’s also interesting to me that the narrative of the ‘unbroken line of history’ which we get from the monarchy, is also aligned with a certain way of speaking – this old-fashioned RP which is the standard form. Underneath that standard form, or next to it, there is a lot more variety and diversity.

There was a long period before the emergence of the single unifying monarchy in which the country was essentially split up into different, independent areas, ruled by competing monarchs. Tribalism was seriously important. Think: Game of Thrones. Community, loyalty, rejection of others – these were vitally important principles. It was the breeding ground for different local versions of a language. It must be the same in many other countries.

This relates to aspects of the accommodation theory. Convergence is when people pull together in a community and naturally speak in the same way to express this shared identity. At the same time there is divergence – pulling away from other communities which could be rivals or whatever. If you’re part of one community you’ll speak like them and you won’t speak like the others. Either you’re in one or the other. This could account for why people in Liverpool and Manchester speak differently even though the two cities are pretty close. Just look at the football fans to see how much of a rivalry there is between the two cities.

I expect a number of other factors have come together to cause the UK to have this wide diversity. But perhaps we’re just a lot more aware of the diversity because the place is really connected – it’s a pretty small island and we’re all squeezed in together with a clear natural border of the sea, and the industrial revolution happened there bringing the train – mass transport which suddenly brought everyone much closer together, making us a lot more aware of our different versions of English. I imagine if you examined other countries you would find similar differences in Accent. The USA for example has definite differences, and it’s quite a young country in comparison. So, I expect many countries have similar diversity in accent and dialect, perhaps we’re just a lot more aware of it in the UK.

We also have the class system which has added another dividing line – another factor which pushes communities together (convergence) or pushes them apart (divergence). Perhaps working class communities held onto their accents as a way of expressing their sense of local identity as a contrast to the less region specific upper classes, who seemed to be less fixed geographically. E.g. The Royal Family has it’s own geography, which moves between international borders and not just across domestic community borders. I mean, Prince Phillip for example was born in Greece. The QUeen’s ancestors were German. Despite the fact that they are the figureheads for the UK, they are not really fixed to local areas within the country.

This also would apply to the nobility – the proper upper classes, who probably owned land that perhaps their families hadn’t lived on for centuries. I expect one area of England for example was ruled by one family for a period, then another family became the rulers – either by conquest, trade, marriage etc. The ruling class probably were quite mobile. The people who lived and worked on the land, were of that land for generations. So, working class people have stronger regional accents than upper class people. It’s absolutely nothing to do with so-called “lazy pronunciation”, it’s more to do with identity – strengthening local communities by having their own version of the language. Power, identity and economics.

No governing body to standardise English. Just powerful people through their influence have guided the narrative that RP is the standard form – this also happens to be the English that the educated, wealthy class use.

So, that’s my fairly long and rambling answer Nick.

We’re not finished with accents though. I’ve just talked about how C.A.T. might explain why we have so many accents in the UK, and also what the theory can tell us about things like my accent, the accents of my friends and also how you can work on your accent too. I still plan to spend some more time focusing on specific accents and playing around.

Now, I would like to ask all of you a few questions

  • How many different accents can you identify in your country?
  • Are accents in your country related to geography?
  • Is there a standard accent? Is that accent associated with a particular region?
  • What attitudes to people have about accents where you come from?
  • In English, which accent do you prefer? If you don’t know a region, can you think of an individual person whose accent you like? Feel free to say Amber Minogue of course.
  • If you’ve been shipwrecked and you get washed up on a remote island populated by a local tribe of native people who seem to use English as their main language and yet look like they might be hostile, or hungry, or both, what’s the best way to get into their good books? Speak like me, or speak like them? Or get back in the sea and swim?

471. Andy Johnson at The London School (Part 1) Lego, Self-directed learning, accents

Talking to Andy about stepping on Lego, Andy’s job, self-directed language learning, accent, and British/American English.

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Intro Transcript

Today on the podcast I’m talking to Andy Johnson my friend and former colleague from the London School of English, who also looks a bit like Moby if you remember.

Andy has been on this podcast 4 or 5 times before so if you’re a regular listener you’ll know his voice already.

Andy is an English teacher, a marathon runner and a father of two children – in fact his second son was born very recently.

In this conversation you will hear us talking about:

  • The pain of stepping on Lego
  • Recording the podcast in what used to be the boss’s office at The London School of English
  • Developments in Andy’s job and his career
  • Andy’s next conference talk about self-directed learning
  • Where Andy comes from and his accent, including the ways we both say certain words like “Bath, grass, laugh, podcast, ask and after.”
  • The time when my Dad visited The London School of English
  • British and American people speaking English

This is part one of a two part conversation.

Without any further ado, here is part 1.


Andy’s survey

At the next IATEFL conference Andy is planning on doing a presentation about self-directed learning. You heard him talking about it in this episode.

Andy would like some help from you in preparing for the talk. He needs to do some research and he’d like to ask you a few questions about your English learning, particularly how you use this podcast, my website and any other resources for learning English.

He’s created a quick questionnaire and you can find it on the page for this episode. Click the link, answer the questions and you’ll help Andy a lot in his next presentation.

CLICK HERE TO TAKE ANDY’S SURVEY

It basically asks how useful LEP / teacherluke.co.uk and other sites are for learning English and how you find these sites. Andy also asks whether you pay for – or would pay for – additional language tuition. He’s trying to investigate why people are choosing LEP over traditional language courses (if indeed they are).

Stay tuned for the next episode, coming soon, in which you will hear Andy talk about his very personal reasons for training to run the London marathon – and I have to say that the conversation was much more surprising than I had expected and was also quite moving for a few reasons, so check that one out when it arrives.

Don’t forget to join the mailing list so that you’ll get email notifications whenever new episodes are uploaded over the coming days and weeks, and don’t forget to watch out for some website-only content coming soon too.

Thanks for listening and have a great morning, afternoon, evening, night or day whichever part of the world you’re in and whatever you’re up to.

Bye!
Andy and Luke

467. A Boiling-Hot Evening Ramble – Comments & Questions

Rambling (in my sweltering hot flat) about the benefits of playing football, giving encouragement to a shy new listener, some prepositions with transport, comparing formal and informal styles and commenting on the risks of using humour in emails.

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Notes & Transcriptions Below

It’s evening and it’s boiling hot!

sunset episode 467

I played football for the first time in 5 years

  • Aching muscles
  • Team work
  • Psychology of the game / tactics
  • Scoring goals, tackling, making saves as a keeper
  • Social side
  • Endorphins (not dolphins)
  • Effects of exercise on the body and mind (less stress, less anxiety, less frustration – clear head, positive feeling, lighter feeling etc)

Teaching

Intensive courses

Are there any LEPsters in Germany who are up for a meetup?

There are rumours of a LEPsters meeting somewhere there. If you’re in Germany – let us know!

Messages and Comments from Listeners

Encouraging Laurentiu
Adam
Hi Luke
I just have done one of the best or the worst things in my life – only time will tell.
I have just visited one of my colleagues in Romania, during a business trip. His name is Laurentiu. I have never seen such a shy person who completely has no trust in his English skills – except myself years ago.
One could ignore this if English was not a must in our international company. But without English he will lose the chance for communication among colleagues, professional development, promotion etc. What is funnier is that probably 30% of the words in our language are almost the same (based on Latin origin).
I gave him homework for the next 30 days. I have copied for him about 50 of your podcasts. I hope he will hear at least one per day traveling to the plant and back home. He spends 2 hours daily on the bus.
I think everybody deserves a chance, like I got several times. I was thinking that you could give some courage to Laurentiu. If it isn’t me, he might believe you.
Thank you Luke
Regards Adam
p.s.
I still measure time in Lukes ;-). Today about 4.5 Lukes to get home.

Luke’s Comments to Laurentiu
Laurentiu – if you’re listening. Hello! I know how you feel, because of my experiences with French.

How can you persuade someone to change their mind? How can we change your mind Laurentiu?

I hate it when people go on at me and put pressure on me.

I’m sure Laurentiu knows the reasons why he should learn English.

I think, what do I need to hear to get me to do more French?

Here are some ideas:

  • It’s loads of fun. The more you do it the better it is.
  • You can do it in your own way! It’s totally up to you. Anything and everything you do with
  • English is good. It’s all good man! Don’t worry about the best way to start, just start even if it’s not perfect. Listen, read, speak. Make mistakes. It’s fun. You WILL make progress.
  • Just do a little bit per day. Just 10 minutes of reading or listening. Try 10 mins of a podcast per day. If you don’t like it, just stop after 10 minutes. If it’s not too bad, keep going for a bit.
  • Just try to understand what’s being said and relax.
  • That’s it – no pressure, just take it step by step and start with a little bit.

Adam continues…

Hi Luke,

I am just finishing my business trip to Romania (no vacation just a job in many plants in different places in Europe). Last week I was trying to convert Laurentiu to English – let’s wait and see how it works.

I have a feeling that I have successful infected my other Romanian colleague – Cristian with LEPoholism.

I hope you are not angry if I try to cure myself with the In Our Time podcast?

Please if you could encourage Laurentiu and he could hear this, it would be great (see my previous podcast comment).

Can you imagine being so afraid to say more than 3 words and then you jump to your comfort zone – to your language. He is like this ;-(.
I know the following story. 17 years ago a young well educated guy went to an interview to get a good job in a big American food company. He got, like other candidates a case study – a real problem and he gave quite an interesting solution to it. Finally he qualified for the next round. Everything went well until the check of the English language. The guy wisely said: I have learned German in one year, so for sure I will learn English, but at the moment I cannot say anything longer than “my name is …” . The manager seemed to understand, so he tried to encourage the guy. The discussion was like this: “please say anything” and the answer was like this – “no, no, not now, but I will learn for sure.” Eventually the guy was so convincing that the manager could not give the job to him.
I hope Luke you will not ask who the guy, was.
Thank you in advance.
Regards
Adam

More Things to say to Laurentiu

  • Don’t be shy, give it a try.
  • The worst thing you can do is to say nothing and do nothing.
  • If you’re worried about making mistakes – the biggest mistake is to do nothing.
  • Don’t do it later. Do it now. Right now! Even if you’re on your own, speak some English to yourself. Don’t put it off until later. Later doesn’t exist in language learning, there is only now. Speak English now, you must.
  • Do or do not, there is no try.
  • Stretch out with your feelings. Use the force.
  • Feel the English! Breathe, relax. Let the English flow through you.
  • Worried about looking stupid? Don’t worry too much. Sorry, but nobody really cares that much. Nobody is judging you as much as you are judging yourself. So give yourself a break.
  • Every day millions of people are experiencing exactly the same feeling as you, in exactly the same situation. Do you think you’re different?
  • Anyone can learn English, the only thing stopping you, is you.
  • You feel like an idiot when you speak another language and you don’t want to look like an idiot who can’t express yourself and who can’t make the right sounds, but nobody will think that you’re an idiot. They’ll actually be impressed that you’re making an effort. They’ll find it charming and nice. And if someone judges you, it means they’re a loser who’s not worth worrying about.
  • When you speak English it feels like you’re not in control. But not being in control is the most fun thing ever. People love not being in control. Drinking, going crazy to music, going on a rollercoaster at Disneyland or something. You’re not in control then and it’s fun. Enjoy the feeling of danger and excitement in taking a risk with English. (and anyway, it’s not that risky, what’s the worst that’s going to happen? YOu’re going to break your tongue? Injure your chin?)
  • Take it one step at a time. You don’t have to be brilliant at the start. Be crap at the start, it’s fine! Anyway, I’m sure you’re not that crap.
  • Just improvise. Make it up as you go along. Nobody has a clue what they’re doing anyway.
  • You’ll be fine.
  • Everyone has to be a beginner when you begin, that’s why it’s called being a beginner. But when you don’t even begin, you’re nothing – just a monkey spinning through space – there is no name for you if you do nothing. You’re a zero. So open your mouth and say something and you’ll automatically be upgraded from ‘nothing’ to ‘beginner’. Immediate level up!
  • My French is terrible and I often feel awful about it – I know how you feel! But I promise you, when I do open my mouth and say a few things I feel much better than before I started speaking. And when I don’t say anything because I feel shy, I regret it. The only cure for this situation is to just speak the language.

Jilmani’s 15 Day Challenge
If you’re part of the challenge, I hope you’re managing to keep up with it and that you’re discovering or rediscovering some episodes from the archives.

On “30. The Mystery Continues” (15 Day Challenge)
Naomi – Episode 30 The Mystery Continues (Click here to listen)
Thank you Jilmani for day 2.
I love this story. It’s amazing and funny both the story and Luke’s narration!
In the term of grammar I often get confused between ‘jumped in a cab’ ‘jumped on a bus’
‘on the train’ etc. Does it depend on the vehicles? How do I know which preposition to use?

Luke:
Carrick Cameron once told me this: if you can stand up it’s ‘on’, if you can’t stand up it’s ‘in’.
Test it out on different modes of transport. All of them.
Car, taxi, horse, bike, motorbike, canoe, helicopter, plane, spitfire, tank, camel, skateboard, train, boat, dinghy, hovercraft, UFO. [Listen for the answers]

Formal vs Informal
Salwa El Zallawi
Brilliant! I like the idea of dedicating the whole episode to one specific delexical verb. I love learning phrasal verbs and expressions. Learning these will help us end the intermediate plateau. Looking forward to more episode on other verbs, ( go , put, keep….).
But we shouldn’t use them in formal speech and formal writing, should we ?
I don’t know. I know that I shouldn’t use phrasal verbs in formal e-mails. But again, articles in newspapers today are taking more and more of an informal tone. The line between formal and informal English is not clear for me, and is a bit confusing.
Thank you, Luke, for this wonderful episode.

Luke
Salwa – you’re right.
Don’t use them in really formal writing like impersonal emails & letters, academic writing.
But they do appear in newspaper articles that use a neutral tone and sometimes in financial reports that use quite a lot of idiomatic language, including phrasal verbs – like “shot up” and “picked up” etc.

Formality in writing. It depends on the situation. It’s also true of speaking.

Let’s look at writing first.

People seem to think phrasal verbs might be these very informal and therefore disrespectful language or something. Not so. Phrasal verbs are very common in neutral speech and writing, including in professional contexts, in newspaper articles including stories about financial reports and so on. You see them all the time in those contexts.

To be honest the vast majority of the English you’ll use will be neutral in tone.

There are 3 forms, I would say. 1. Formal 2. Neutral 3. Informal

Formal language – primarily an impersonal form. E.g. university essays and assignments, professional correspondence in which you have to use lots of distance because of the respect that you’re attempting to show in a business relationship. You use it when you’re communicating on behalf of the company with people you don’t know and you want to add that impersonal distance to show respect, high levels of politeness and so on. It can also make you sound incredibly old fashioned and distant, like a bad guy from a science fiction movie, or Dracula.

Informal language – much more personal. This is like the way you would speak to a friend or a family member. It can sound friendly, but very out of place and rudely familiar in the wrong situation. Imagine writing to the Queen. “Hi Liz, what’s up? How are you handling this heatwave? It’s a nightmare isn’t it! I’m totally boiling here in my flat – no aircon because my landlord’s an idiot. WTF right? Bet you’re keeping cool tho cos you’ve got so many fans! LOL!” On one hand it’s really friendly and relaxed, but on the other hand it shows no respect if you aren’t personal friends with that person because it’s too close – there isn’t enough distance.

Neutral language – somewhere in the middle. In fact, you can get formal/neutral and informal/neutral. It’s a bit personal and friendly sounding, but not to the extent that you seem overly familiar. The vast majority of language that we use every day is neutral. It can be a bit more formal, e.g. using no contractions, probably using the bigger latin words, certain polite constructions.

Examples
Are these formal, neutral or informal situations? Let’s play around a bit. (Listen for the answers)

  • Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine are visiting your office and you’re writing a welcoming letter to be presented to them on arrival.
  • A letter from the RMC about the annual expenditure and building costs (which I have to pay for).
  • You are writing to a manufacturing company (maybe a weapons manufacturer) requesting information about a new product range.
  • You are a marketing manager writing an internal email to a member of the accounts department to ask for some sales data. You know this person because you sometimes have meetings with them and you have had lunch together a few times.
  • You’re writing to your best friend because you want to remind them to water the plants in your flat when you go away.
  • You’re writing to your wife to suggest that you have pizza for dinner this evening.

With phrasal verbs, I’d say – it’s a fairly reliable rule that the more formal you get, the less you use them.
There’s usually a formal equivalent – probably a latin origin word.
E.g.
Phrasal verb – more formal equivalent
Call off – cancel
Put off – postpone
Carry out – execute
Get across – communicate
Hold up – delay
Pick up – collect
Get off – alight
Turn down – refuse

Phrasal verbs are less formal than their ‘latin’ equivalents, but you will find them in language including some financial reports, professional emails and so on.
If you’re being really formal, avoid them. If you’re being just neutral, you will probably want to use some.
If you’re being informal, you’ll use them a lot.
That’s the best I can say right now without writing a whole book on the subject. Keep your eyes peeled when you’re reading or hearing different types of English.

Cat in reply to Salwa
I have the same confusion here, Salwa. I have to write tons of emails each day, to people from different countries, using English, of course. The question I’m always asking myself is — how formal and how informal can I get without confusing the other side… Often I have to check myself before I wreck myself; and at times failing badly, I fear…
The other day I wrote to a lady in UK with the name “Clare” — she wanted to double check on something — and I wrote to her “Hi Clare! I see, there is a need for some Clare-fication here. ;)” Now I’m a bit worried, maybe I shouldn’t have written such things…. What do you think?

Then, on the same day, I was desperately trying to invite some students to one event we were organising for the said Clare. And I wrote to our students:
“Come and build a bridge
to the University of Cambridge!”
(she was from Cambridge). I don’t know how it sounds for native speakers… But sometimes it’s fun to have a bit of fun at work. :))

Using Humour in Emails
It’s fun – but beware of making jokes in emails it almost never works.
If you’re lucky, and Clare is 100% lovely, she will find it charming.
But what are the chances she is 100% lovely?
There’s a big risk that she will think it’s pretty cheesy.
Humour is very hard to pull off unless you’re being self-deprecating (and I don’t recommend that too much either, especially in emails).
Beware of making jokes with people’s names. They might just get a bit triggered by that and won’t see the funny side.
I feel a bit awkward here because I have said that humour is everywhere in British culture, but remember that we go for self-deprecating humour a lot – understatement, putting ourselves down a little bit. If you do wacky puns on someone’s name, they might just think you’re the annoying office joker.
But maybe not! Brits love a pun, and Catherine you are very charming and I don’t know the relationship you have with Clare, so maybe she will like it and it will help you two bond more.
Thing is, how is she now supposed to respond? It’s hard for her to adopt the same tone. That’s why it’s potentially inappropriate.
Clare might think you’re a bit nuts, to be honest!
But I think you’re wise enough to know what you’re doing Cat, right?

The Cambridge University joke is better, because it’s not a joke about someone’s name. But, does she work at Cambridge University? If not, she might be thinking, “well, what do I have to do with Cambridge University, just because I’m from Cambridge?”
I’m teachersplaining now, and possibly making you feel bad, I don’t know. The jokes are sweet and nice but the danger is that they will backfire on you.
But if it was me, I would avoid that kind of thing in emails. Mainly because there’s no chance for you to react quickly to rescue the situation if she doesn’t like it or understand it, and email lacks all the subtlety of body language, facial expressions and intonation that you need to help make a joke like that.
I speak from experience as someone who has put my foot in it by making silly jokes which impressed nobody, and as someone who has found silly jokes to be slightly inappropriate, annoying and awkward.

That’s it for now! Thanks for listening.

Join the mailing list and watch out for some website-only content coming in the future.

Cheers,

Luke