Category Archives: Advice

586. The Importance of Listening

Recently I was reading a book about listening and learning English. This episode is a summary of what I read, including details of how listening fits in with learning English, some considerations of the importance of listening and also some tips for how to improve your English with audio.

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Episode Transcript

This episode is all about the importance of listening in the learning of English. It’s full of various thoughts and reflections about this topic and my aim to a large extent is to give you ideas and inspiration to help you keep learning through listening and to keep doing it more effectively, also to consider some things we know about learning through listening, to encourage you to reflect and form some metacognitive strategies towards your listening and also to give you some practical tips to help you learn English through listening and to improve your listening skills. I suppose ultimately I’d like to develop your process of understanding the place of listening in your learning so that you can take more and more responsibility for that learning. So that’s what this episode is all about. It’s quite appropriate I suppose considering this is an audio podcast for learners of English and you’re listening to this as a way to improve your English through listening, it’s worth taking time to think about the academic points on this subject.

Before we start I just want to say to any premium subscribers that I’ve got a series of episodes probably coming out next week all about grammar, focusing on tenses. We’ll be looking mainly at present perfect, but also comparing it to other tenses. So it’ll be a sort of tense review, focusing mainly on present perfect. There’s also going to be a series about the language which came up in my conversation with James that you heard on the podcast earlier in the year. So, grammar stuff coming next week and vocabulary later. If you want to get access to that stuff and all the other premium content go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium

Recently I was thumbing through some books at work. One of the books was a copy of Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom by Tricia Hedge, which is something of a bible for English teachers. A lot of teachers use this book during their DELTA and CELTA courses as it is absolutely filled with insights about language teaching and learning, all based on academic studies done over the years. It is a great book and covers most aspects of the work of an English teacher, including how people learn English and how, accordingly, English teachers should adapt their teaching methods.

I remember reading the book intensely while taking my DELTA. You heard me talking about the DELTA course with Zdenek earlier this year.

So I remember reading the book very thoroughly when I was doing my DELTA. Can you believe it, that was 13 years ago! It stuns me to imagine that it was so long ago. Anyway, during that time, when I was taking the DELTA and I had nothing else going on in my life – I used to work, come home from work, make myself tea and then retire to my bedroom where I would listen to ambient music and desperately try to focus on my work without getting distracted by absolutely everything in the universe! Because, somehow, when you’re working – everything becomes a major distraction. Anyway, one of the books I used to pour over was this one. I had loads of post-it notes marking various important pages.

Anyway, the other day I was at work and I noticed the very same book on the shelf, so I picked it up and started thumbing through it. 13 years later my situation has changed a bit. These days I’m doing this podcast and the majority of the people I am essentially teaching English to are not in the same room as me, they’re not even in the same country and in fact the only way I can communicate with them is through the medium of audio. I can also write things and post pics and videos on the website, but most of my audience don’t check the website – only about 10% actually go to the page.

Anyway, the point is – it’s now all about listening, which is amazing.

One of my aims in the beginning was to get people listening more, and it’s working. I have always thought listening to English must be an essential way to learn the language. It’s got to be a vital part of the learning process, surely. It’s like music – there’s music theory, music technique and all that, but for most musicians the best way to learn how to play well is to listen to plenty of music, and to practise every day. Listening probably comes first, right? Then it’s a question of practice x 5 and trying to replicate what you’re hearing. But first you have to get to know what music can sound like and to hear the way it is produced. When I first learned to play the drums I became obsessed with listening to my favourite drummers, who were: Mitch Mitchell, Stuart Copeland and Ringo Starr. Playing the drums at the beginning gave me a sense of how the music was produced, so I could listen to those songs and hear what the drummers were doing. I knew how they were doing it – which parts of the kit they were hitting, how those sounds were made. It was all a question of practising until I could do it too. In most cases I couldn’t replicate what they were doing (except in the case of Ringo!) but in practising like that I developed my own style, my own ease, my own technique and ultimately I was able to do things on the drums, play the kinds of beats I wanted to play, fit in with a band in the way I wanted. Obviously, listening was vital. It sounds ridiculous, obvious, right? To learn music, you must listen to it a lot – pay attention to how it all works. It’s the same thing with learning a language.

Obviously there are differences – the thing about music is that you understand it from birth without having to learn it first, right? It’s just something you feel. But anyway, I think the point still stands – that listening is a vital part of the learning process, just like it is with music.

So, back to the book. Now I’m interested in listening and I’m interested in what Tricia Hedge has to say on the subject of listening. So when I had the book in my hands, I flicked straight to the sections about listening and I made a note of what I found there.

In this episode I’m going to explain some of the things I’ve read and reflect on them.

Academics often write that listening is overlooked in ELT

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

Listening is one of the 4 Skills

It is one of the 4 skills and it is a very important part of Cambridge Exams such as FCE, CAE and IELTS. Those exams give equal weight to the 4 skills, so listening is 25% of the whole exam. Is 25% of your study time in class devoted to listening?

We don’t do much listening in class

The majority of classroom work is devoted to other things, probably speaking and writing skills, grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. I totally understand why. I wouldn’t spend all my time doing listening in my English classes. It wouldn’t make sense to get a bunch of learners of English together and just make them do only listening. Class time should be spent on other things, like communication skills, speaking and remedial work by the teacher.

We often listen to scripted listenings in class

Listening is in a lot of course books but the focus still seems to be on scripted dialogues which are designed specifically to present certain language, such as vocab or grammar. There just isn’t time to do extended listening, using unscripted dialogues that don’t follow a pre-planned agenda, but this is the sort of thing people need to practise listening to. Normal speech, which is a bit random, contains things like sentences that don’t end, false starts, moments when people talk over each other, moments of humour or spontaneous reactions and tangents in the conversation. So, real listening is overlooked.

Listening is vitally important in everyday life

The majority of interactions you will have will involve you speaking to a person, and it’s so important to be reactive to what they’re saying, and this relies on your ability to quickly follow what’s being said. It’s like fluency in a way – being able to follow fluid speech without thinking about it too much. That’s very important, of course.

Listening is linked to pronunciation and speaking

Raising your listening skills means raising your awareness of the connection between the written word and the spoken word – meaning that a good listener is able to recognise English as an oral language and this means being able to decode connected speech, elision of sounds, weak forms, how meaning is expressed through intonation and sentence stress. Getting good at listening means getting to know English as a spoken language. This in turn should help you make your English more natural, rather than just a version of the written language which comes out of your mouth, and that is a big problem. When I listen to learners of English (and I have met many thousands of them over the years) it’s amazing how often their mistakes are a consequence of them essentially speaking English as it looks when it’s written down. So many learners of English got to know English as a written language, to the point that the spoken version is so foreign to them that it’s almost like another language.

How much communication time do we spend on listening?

How much time do we spend on listening, when we communicate, compared to the other 3 skills? Research has been done into communication in English, focusing on the average time spent on the different skills of writing, reading, speaking and listening. How much time, on average, do we spend writing, reading, speaking and listening when we are communicating? The research shows that 9 per cent of communication time is devoted to writing, 16 per cent to reading, 30 per cent to speaking and 45 per cent to listening. (Rivers & Temperley 1978, Oxford 1993, Celce-Murcia 1995). There’s no doubt then that listening is really important and is perhaps the first thing you must master when you’re learning the language, followed by speaking. That’s if we decide that time spent during communication is the most important factor. Of course it depends on your situation. Maybe you work in an office and you have to write a lot of emails in English but you never speak it. I guess for you, writing would be the most important thing. But anyway, the numbers speak for themselves. We seem to spend most of our time listening. But we don’t spend most of our learning time on listening. The result is that when we are learning, we focus on learning words, learning structures and so on, but when we actually interact with the spoken version of the language, it all seems totally weird because the way we deliver those words and structures with our mouths often bears no relation to the English we have become familiar with during our studies.

Listening will be more and more important

Listening will only get more important. It’s almost definitely true that society in general is moving away from print media towards sound, so listening has become and continues to become more and more important as we move forward. Much more of our information comes through audio than ever before. With the internet a lot of the news we’re exposed to on social media is small video clips, we send each other audio messages, talk via Skype, FaceTime or WhatsApp, there are frequent audio and video conferences at work, we have a plethora of podcasts available to us and much more than ever we are tapping into entertainment on a global level with platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime where there are loads of English language TV programmes in the original language version, perhaps with subtitles in your language. The internet has allowed us to use listening as the primary source of information transfer today. So, listening is more and more important all the time.

How do people learn English through listening?

But what do we know about how people can learn English from listening? How does this affect the way I can produce LEP and how my listeners can consume LEP?

Input vs intake

Comprehensible input

This is part of the theory of language acquisition which is very popular. The principle is that if learners listen to English which is understandable but slightly higher than their level, and they focus on understanding the message within a meaningful context, that they can then pick up the language as a by-product of the process. This is good news for LEPsters. It means that you can pick up the language from my episodes by listening carefully to the main message being communicated. By interacting with English like this, you’re just naturally exposed to language and learn the functions of phrases and grammar through context. The argument is that you learn a language when you can understand it, and the process of getting to fluent speech comes first through a lot of exposure to the language, at the right level. It’s important that you understand most of what you hear, and that allows you to learn the new things you are hearing.

Intake

This is the principle that people only learn from the bits which are genuinely important to them. Learners won’t learn everything they hear. They’ll be selective, based on their own personal motivations. For whatever reason, each person will value certain parts of the listening content more than others. This is the stuff they’ll really learn. This means, there are certain things that will make the listeners prick up their ears, and a lot of that is based on the preconceptions of the listeners, their values and so on. For example, learners might believe that they can only learn from an authority figure like a teacher, and therefore their words will carry more value and will become part of the intake. On the other hand, words spoken by someone they don’t respect will just go in one ear and out the other side. It’s not just respect of course. It could be other things. E.g. if a listener is an engineer, they’re naturally going to be more motivated towards the language of engineering. What this means for my podcast is that I have to constantly think of ways to keep you engaged in order to turn most of the listening input into intake. It also means trying to cover a wide range of topics, which I try to do. But I also think it’s something to do with being personable, real and relatable while talking. I try to always address my listeners and think about what it’s like for you and hopefully this keeps you focused, which is good for your English.

The point is that the language should be understandable yet not without challenge, and the content should be presented as valuable but with the understanding that you can’t please everyone all the time – that each individual brings their own personal motivation to the listening experience, which means that different parts are valuable to different people. Each person will focus their attention on slightly different parts based on their feelings and attitudes.

What can I do on LEP?

What I can try to do is make each individual feel personally involved, in any way I can. I believe this is done best when I address the listener directly and sometimes avoid speaking from a script. It’s more human and engaging to talk ‘off the cuff’. Also I should keep the topics varied and also have a variety of people on the podcast.

Why listening is more difficult than reading

The language is transient – I mean, the words are only audible for a moment before they disappear. You can’t normally go back and listen again, unlike when reading when you can simply read the sentence again or scan the text to find something again. Listening comes and goes into the ether very quickly. You need to learn to think in a slightly different way and get used to interacting with the listening text by remembering what is being said, predicting what’s going to come next, and so on.

The written word has a standardised spelling system which everyone more or less follows. Also there are gaps between words on the page, and punctuation to show when one sentence begins and ends etc. With listening you don’t get any of these things. It’s not standardised like writing. You’re dealing with a lot of diversity in terms of accent and different ways the language can sound (and English is an extremely diverse language in which there are many, equally valid, versions of the spoken word).

What can you do?

It’s important to bridge the gap between the spoken version of the language and the written version. One way to do this is to do plenty of listening and reading, so that you’re familiar with the conventions of both versions of the language, but also there are other things you can do.

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

Another thing is this – if you listen to podcasts a lot, then you’re immediately pushing yourself ahead of your peers who don’t do this. Think of the advantage you’re getting over other people who just don’t do any listening.

Motivation, reducing anxiety and building confidence. Listening a lot can really help you with these things, because you become friends with the spoken word. Imagine if you’re a regular and long term LEPster and you have to do a listening test. While other people are probably panicking because listening is a nightmare for them, for you it’s like you’re entering your comfort zone. Make listening your friend. Get to know the spoken version of the language and get a leg up on the competition.

So finally, the points are…

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

I am sure that many of you have some interesting things to add here – either stories of how you’ve improved your English through listening, or specific things that you do relating to learning through listening. So please, add your comments under this episode. Your input is extremely valuable because as well as all these academic studies that underpin many of the things in this episode, it’s the testimony and personal experience of people who have learned English to a decent level that is what counts. So, please, tell us your stories, give us your thoughts regarding learning through listening.

And thank you for listening to this!

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

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

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Introduction Transcript

Hello listeners,

Hope you’re well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a quick summary of the IELTS test

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

It takes about 2h45m to complete the test.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, it’s a tough test.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

254. IELTS Tips & Tricks

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

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

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

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

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


Outtro

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the IELTS conversation will continue in the next episode.

But for now,

Bye!

Luke

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

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

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Episode Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

But hello to any new listeners I have. Welcome.

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

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

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

What’s this episode all about?

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

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

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

That’s “taking stock”.

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

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

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

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

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

I’m going to talk about

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

The Aims of the Podcast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Luke, how are you?

I’m fine thanks, you?

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

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

Now the News version.

Hi Luke

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

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

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

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

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

And to listen to the right kind of English speaking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can I keep you listening?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basically, motivation is really important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(practice + time) x motivation = progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to use this podcast to help your English

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

So, the basic thing is just listen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Studying grammar definitely helps…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does this mean to me personally?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the premium content is also available via my website.

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

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

That’s probably enough now isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

Speak to you again in the next episode.

Bye!

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

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

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

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

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Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ending

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

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

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

Good advice from Sarah there.

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

Vocabulary

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

Parts of a stand up performance

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

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

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

Parts of a joke

A joke can be broken down into parts.

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

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

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

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

Other vocabulary for comedy

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

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

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


What about that whole Louis CK thing?

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

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

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

Sarah’s appearance is at about 23:00


Videos & media mentioned in the conversation

The TED talk about body language


Big Mouth on Netflix

(Subtitles should be available for this trailer on YouTube)


More Vocabulary

Some more words that came up in the episode

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

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

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

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

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


Previous episodes with Sarah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Intro Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

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

www.Iwillteachyoualanguage.com

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

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

Speak to you soon.

Bye.

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

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

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Introduction Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think the results are really revealing.

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

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

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

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


Ending Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bye.

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

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

Video Version

Audio Version


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Paul’s Vlog #12

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

Introduction

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

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

Questions

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

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

Enjoy!

Another episode with Paul will be arriving soon…

Luke

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

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

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Intro Transcript

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

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

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

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

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


Cara’s Website

www.leo-listening.com

Films and TV shows mentioned

Red Dwarf
BBC TV Comedy

The Orville
Seth MacFarlane
Based on Star Trek

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


Learning English with Films & TV – Summary of Advice Given

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

  • There are no hard and fast rules about using subtitles.
  • Using subtitles can help you understand what you’re hearing, especially when you realise that spoken English and written English can be very different. Subtitles can help bridge the gap between how words and sentences sound, and how they are written.
  • But be aware that only watching with subtitles might not help you develop real listening skills, because you’re basically just reading while you watch. Experiment with switching the subtitles on and off.
  • You can watch a film several times, especially if you enjoy it or already know it. Some films improve with multiple viewings. So, try watching certain films several times, perhaps first with subtitles in your language, then in English and then with no subtitles at all.
  • You can alternate between watching episodes of your TV show with and without subtitles.
  • Using TV and films for learning English is not just a simple or easy way to learn. In your first language you might just switch on a film or show and then kind of veg out while watching it – without really concentrating. This won’t work in English. Be prepared to focus and perhaps be more active while watching.
  • Watch certain scenes several times, with and without the subtitles.
  • Test yourself on what you heard and check with the subtitles.
  • Search for certain new bits of vocabulary when they come up.
  • Don’t worry too much about certain specific cultural details.
  • Try transcribing certain scenes – especially if you thought it contained really cool dialogue.
  • Then watch again with the subtitles to check your transcription.
  • Before you watch a film or TV show, check online reviews or summaries to help prepare yourself.
  • Be a little selective in your choice – pick stuff that you’d normally enjoy, and remember that films and TV shows can contain very “mumbly” dialogue, and even just “grunting” during long fight scenes. Try to pick films that are pretty simple and perhaps comedies that focus on the dialogue.
  • Don’t worry too much if you don’t understand 100%. Even in our first languages we don’t always understand what’s going on in films. So, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not able to understand it all.

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.