Category Archives: American & British English

556. With Jessica Beck from Honestly English

Talking to English teacher Jessica Beck about her new website, “Honestly English” and some typical topics she talks about and teaches, including the #MeToo movement and our favourite female superheroes and comedians. Videos and links below.

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Introduction Transcript

Today on the podcast I have another interview for you to listen to as part of your learning English routine. This time I am talking to Jessica Beck, who you might know from the IELTS Energy Podcast.

I have spoken to Jessica before on this podcast, back in episode 297 when we talked about using humour in the speaking part of the IELTS test.

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

IELTS Energy is an appropriate title for that podcast because Jessica has loads of energy as you will hear. When we recorded this conversation it was 7AM for her (because of the time difference) which is pretty early for podcasting but she was already wide awake and ready to go. Maybe it’s that American can-do attitude, or the coffee she’s been drinking, I don’t know, but her energy is infectious. It’s one of the hallmarks of the IELTS Energy Podcast in fact, and the All Ears English podcast, which she is also associated with.

Just in case you don’t know, Jessica Beck is an English teacher who lives in Portland, which is in Oregon, which is in the north-west of the USA, which is in North America, which is in America, which is on earth. So you’re going to be listening to a combination of Jessica’s American English and my British English in this conversation.

So, Jessica does IELTS Energy, but she’s on my podcast today because she has just launched a new website and YouTube channel called Honestly English, and I thought we could talk a bit about that and some of the topics she’s been teaching recently in her videos. honestlyenglish.com/

So “Honestly English” – this is her own channel, her own project and therefore is a space where she can teach English in her own way and cover topics that mean a lot to her personally and since Jessica is a huge pop culture nerd her videos and blog posts all contain loads of references to movies and comic books and things like that. She is also very passionate about feminism and raising the status of women in society today.

So these are the things we’re talking about in this episode: The MeToo movement, some language relating to that, then women in pop culture and some superhero characters from the Marvel cinematic universe (specifically Captain Marvel, who will be arriving in cinemas early next year in the Captain Marvel movie and then in Avengers 4 I think) and we also talk about some female comedians from the UK and the USA that we’d like to recommend.

#MeToo

I mentioned the MeToo movement there. I think this is a global phenomenon but you might call it something else in your country. In France it was called #BalanceTonPorc which directly translates as “Balance your pork” or “balance your pig” which doesn’t really mean anything does it – the proper translation of that would be something like “denounce your pig” or “name and shame your abuser”. That’s how #MeToo is known in France, and it may have another name in your country.

Wikipedia defines #MeToo like this:
The Me Too movement (or #MeToo movement), with many local and international alternatives, is a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault. #MeToo spread virally in October 2017 as a hashtag used on social media in an attempt to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Me_Too_movement 

So MeToo is all about encouraging women to come forward and share their experiences of harassment of various kinds. Speaking personally, I knew that women often have to put up with dangerous and just plain weird behaviour from creepy guys – like being approached in the street, feeling unsafe in certain places or just putting up with dodgy comments and behaviour at work. I knew that, but the MeToo movement did open my eyes to how much of this kind of thing Women have to put up with every day. I think about my daughter and the kind of society she’s going to grow up in and I want her to grow up in a culture in which she feels safe, she feels she can talk about things that happen to her, in which she won’t have to just accept certain behaviour from men, and I want her to have cool characters and comedians on TV and in films that she can relate too, just like I did during my childhood.

I know this is actually a bit of a touchy subject. There’s a lot of pushing and pulling going on in terms of people arguing about the place of men and women in society and both men and women feeling targeted, victimsed or demonised and things like that. I’ve seen so many arguments in online comment sections. I find all of that stuff quite exhausting to be honest.

I see arguments on YouTube and people getting really angry on both sides about something like a perceived feminist agenda in Star Wars or Doctor Who, for example and then I see other people getting really angry about those people getting angry about feminism in Star Wars or Doctor Who and I’m just sitting here trying not to get angry about people getting angry about other people getting angry about some people getting angry about feminism in Star Wars or Doctor Who or movies and culture in general and I just think oh can we just have a normal conversation? I don’t know.

In any case, let’s find out from Jessica about her new website, let’s learn some of the words and phrases she can tell us about the MeToo movement and also let’s talk about Marvel movies and some great comedians that you might like to check out.

There are links and videos on the page for this episode as usual if you want examples of the comedians we are talking about, and links for Jessica’s website and stuff. So check those out.

Alright then, so this is Jessica Beck, energetic at 7 o’clock in the morning. American English and British English combined in one conversation, and here we go…


Honestly English

Nerdy English lessons focusing on vocabulary and pop culture!

www.HonestlyEnglish.com

Slang, idioms, natural phrases, the origins and context of that vocabulary.

For example, “Nailed it” (see video below)

The Language of the #MeToo Movement

A recent post on Honestly English about the #MeToo Movement

honestlyenglish.com/honest-blog/2018/9/16/what-metoo-means-to-me-and-slang-for-dirty-dudes?rq=me%20too

Language to describe “dirty dudes”
A perv
A pervert
A creep
A creepy guy
A monster
Being menacing
Also:
To harass someone / harassment

Favourite Female Comedians

Mentioned by Jessica

Kathleen Madigan (stand up comedian)

Kristen Wiig

Bridesmaids (film)
Annie (Kristen Wiig) vs the “perfect” best friend

Melissa McCarthy (comedian / actress)

St Vincent (film)

Mentioned by Luke

Maria Bamford
Maria captures the experience of being a woman dealing with mental health issues, by recreating the voices and attitudes of other people in her life, particularly her mother and sister who she imitates. They sound patronising and subtly judgemental and of course there are jokes in there but they are so cleverly weaved into her routine. She does brilliant voices and shifts her attitude quite radically. Her normal voice sounds very vulnerable, and the other voices are so much more confident and strident.

OK, she’s strange but that’s the point.

Maria Bamford Netflix show – Lady Dynamite

Maria Bamford interview on WTF with Marc Maron

French & Saunders
On TV all through my childhood. Came out of the anarchic post-punk era in UK comedy. Two English women who were just funny in the way they bickered with each other and also took the piss out of Hollywood movies and celebrities. They’re national treasures.

French & Saunders making fun of Mama Mia

Victoria Wood
Another national treasure who was on telly all the time. She was like a housewife who was also a comedian. Not like Rosanne Barr, but a normal middle class English woman – a bit like the mum of one of your friends, but she did stand up, sketches and did comedy songs on the piano. She was one of the first stand ups I ever saw, along with various other UK comedians at the time. Her comedy was quite local in flavour, meaning she made reference to things like accents and local identity. Died in 2016 along with loads of other celebs. Bowie, Ali, Prince etc

Sarah Pascoe
A stand up who describes the kind of life that most women (of my generation) experience in the UK, while making it very funny. She talks about all the things that women go through relating to relationships and work. She’s very relatable and it’s like observational comedy about relationships and life (but it’s not shit observational comedy).

Sarah Pascoe in Edinburgh

Podcasts recomended by Jessica

  • Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me (NPR)
  • Paula Poundstone
  • Spontanianation
  • Tawny Newsome

YouTube “Honestly English” – videos every Thursday

www.youtube.com/channel/UCBqOicwVfb__YxbsL-5R3tA

Website www.honestlyenglish.com

Facebook Honestly English www.facebook.com/HonestlyEnglish/

552. Discussing Comedy & Culture (with Amber & Paul)

Amber, Paul and I listen to a comedy video which is often sent to me by listeners to this podcast. The video is about the experience of trying to understand people when they speak English. Let’s see what the pod-pals think of this comedy from another country. The conversation then turns to comedy, culture, language and some more Alan Partridge. I read out some listener comments at the end of the episode. Notes, transcripts and links available.

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Transcripts & Notes

Introduction

Welcome back to another episode featuring the PODPALS Amber & Paul.

In this episode we discuss comedy in different countries, including what makes comedy funny, what can make comedy culturally inappropriate, whether Brits have a different view of comedy to other cultures, and whether understanding comedy is just about understanding the language or if there’s more to it than that.

This is clearly the topic which I’m a bit obsessed with: How comedy or humour can reveal our cultural differences in the most striking ways. Perhaps comedy is the key to truly understanding our cultural values somehow.

I often talk about how learners of English often don’t find British comedy funny, and that this is a pity for me. One of the worst things I can hear is someone dismissing British humour or comedy as simply “not funny”. I don’t really mind if people say our food or weather is bad, but don’t touch the comedy, I think. But honestly, when I see comedy from other countries – like TV comedy in France where I live, I have to admit that I often don’t find it funny and I do find myself saying things like “oh, this is French comedy…” meaning – French comedy simply isn’t funny or only works on one level. Is that true or am I being hypocritical? I don’t really know.

Anyway, these questions are at the heart of the discussion in this episode, which also involves the three of us listening to and discussing a video – a video that I have been sent many times by listeners. Listeners have sent this video to me more than any other. I wonder if you know what that video could be.

Unfortunately Paul had to leave halfway through this episode because he had a live radio interview scheduled. He’s a busy man who is in demand all over the place. But after he leaves, Amber & I continue the discussion which goes on to discuss my recent episodes about British comedy and we revisit the subject of Alan Partridge.

So without any further ado, let’s get back to my coworking space and jump into the conversation once more.


The video that people have sent me more than any other

I get sent things like videos and memes and stuff. Sometimes it’s the same thing, like the “Eleven” video and also “What British People Say vs What They Mean”.

But this one more than any other.

I’m not going to tell you what it is yet. We’re just going to listen to it and I want you to tell me what you think is going on, and what you think of it.

Outtro Transcript

So there you are folks. Quite a lot packed into that episode. Lots of questions and points about comedy in different cultures and that video from Russia too. About that video, on balance I’d say that I personally didn’t find it funny when I first saw it. I found it a little odd. It’s like a big family entertainment show with a lot of attention being paid to what I expect are (or at least look like) celebrities in Russia in the audience. The comedians are just sitting on the stage, which is fine I think because you don’t always need lots of stage movement and stuff as long as the material is good.

I got the joke, which is that this is how it feels when you listen to people speaking English, but I found it really quite weird the interpretation of the British guy, but also fascinating.

He basically does this … [Luke copies the impression]

…and is stuttery, hesitant and incoherent.

It’s interesting to sort of look at British people through the eyes of Russians.

I guess this means that Brits must seem hesitant when they speak and I expect this also comes from hearing Brits with accents like perhaps the cockney or northern accents, but the result sounds nothing like any of those accents really. It’s a sort of garbled, lost in translation version of a British person with certain traits highlighted and emphasised perhaps because they don’t quite match the Russian way, or something.

I found the impression of the English guy more weird than funny. It felt like, “Is that what they think we sound like?”

The Indian guy is sort of a funny impression in that he’s got the tone and rhythm right but it’s a pretty broad impression and in fact more of a caricature than a full impression. Also there’s just the issue that copying an Indian accent if you’re not Indian is somehow considered a bit inappropriate in the UK.

I talked about this with Sugar Sammy in a recent episode.

534. Sugar Sammy Interview (Part 2) Language & Comedy

I still don’t know where the comedian in the Russian video is from but he could be Indian maybe.

But I get the joke. This is how it sounds for you when you hear these people.

I didn’t find it funny at first but actually I’m finding it more and more funny as I watch it again and again.

It’s also funny to me that I often talk about the challenge of showing UK comedy to learners of English and how they don’t get it, and then someone sends me a comedy video from another country and I have the same reaction, more or less!

I expect there are people in the audience who know more about this (video) than us so leave comments telling me more about this Russian TV Comedy Club video.

Also, I’m heartened to read some of your comments relating to the recent episodes about comedy.

Right now: I’ve just uploaded the 2nd Alan Partridge episode. There haven’t been many comments yet. Slightly disturbing silence. Have I confused everyone?

Edit:
**TIMESHIFT**
It’s now a week later.
I’ve received more messages than I did last week when I recorded this part of this episode.
Thanks for sending your comments. I’ll go through those messages in a moment.
But first, here are the messages I had received at the time I recorded this outtro last week, which was just after I’d released the Edinburgh Fringe Jokes episode and the first two Alan episodes.
*TIMESHIFT back to the present*

Here’s a selection of comments

Salwa • Alan Partridge Part 1
Oh that was really funny and enjoyable. Thank you very much for introducing Alan Partridge to us. I did not find the comedy difficult to understand at all. In fact, some of the jokes made me laugh out loud.

Mariangel García • Best Jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe
Hi Luke, I hope you’re doing alright
I’d like to tell you that you should continue making these podcasts about comedy, they’re quite enjoyable and help us improve our English, as you just said, understanding jokes in our second language can be the hardest thing.
By the way, please don’t forget my proposal of making an episode about British pop music. I’m definitely looking forward to listening to it.
Lots of hugs from Venezuela.

Anastasia Pogorevich • Best Jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe
Thank you, Luke! I’m really keen on your excellent Joke explanations. I think English humour is fabulous and would like to know more about that stuff. You make all things absolutely clear and I like your positive attitude to your work and to life! Cheers!

Tania •Best Jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe
That’s a pleasure! Thank you, Luke! I’ve got nearly all of the jokes but some after you read them several times. So It’s fun, of course. I know what learners usually say about English humor:)) I myself thought about it that way from the start, but you know, the humor is not just lying on the surface and turns out to be intellectual. Gives work to your brain. And finally you get it! Cool! This is the first audio i’ve listened on your site, downloaded the app and enjoy! English is becoming closer to me!

Vladimir Yermolenko • Best Jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe
Hi Luke! I really enjoyed this new episode on Edinburgh Festival Fringe, thank you so much. The jokes got all clear when you explained some of them. My favorite one was “watch and a log” :)
I also recall some funny jokes in my country, but I don’t know what the style of joke that is. I’ve just translated one from my language.
Dr.Watson asks Sherlock “Can you hear this sinister howl, Mr.Holmes?”
Holmes says “Yes, that’s probably the hound of the Baskervilles”

Then, on another day:
“But what is this sinister silence around us?”
“It’s the fish of Baskervilles, Doctor”

Anya Chu •Best Jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe
Hi Luke,
A little ninja from Taiwan here! I’ve been listening to your podcast for just over 1 year and have been enjoying it sooo much. Really appreciate your work on all the great content!
I’ve just finished the new episode of jokes from Edinburgh Fringe, and I loved it! I was on a bus when I listened to this episode and I kept getting giggles, which I tried very hard to disguise as coughs. British humor is just always on point.
Anyway, thank you again for all the effort on such excellent episodes. Please keep up the great work! :)

Svetlana Mukhamejanova • LEP Premium 06 Part 3
Hi Luke! Re P06[3] please don’t stop making fun, I love your sense of humor)

***TIMESHIFT!***
It’s now the future again. I’m recording this a week after recording the rest of this outtro and there are now more comments on the Alan Partridge episodes, which I’d like to share with you.

Alan (Part 1)

Hiro • 6 days ago
Hello Luke,
I really enjoyed the Knowing Me, Knowing You (aha)show with the child genius. It was so funny I listened to it 3 times! Without your precise explanations, though, I wouldn’t have been able to get all the jokes. Thank you!

Viktoria Luchina • 7 days ago
I adore listening to your episodes about British Comedy! And the way you explain to us some bits of language is perfect. I’ve listened to “Alan Partridge Interviews Child Prodigy Simon Fisher” at least 5 times and I liked it more than the first clip. It’s really interesting that in this case we laugh with Alan and at him. I’m looking forward to next episodes like this one! World needs to explore British Comedy in depth with you!

Alan (Part 2)

Hiro • 6 days ago
Hello Luke!
This second episode is a little more challenging for me than the previous one because the jokes are more subtle. However, the more I listened to your explanatiosn, the clearer the humorous points became to me! Yes, Alan Partridge is an absolute walking disaster! He makes me cringe so much I cannot listen to each one of his episodes in one go.
Again, without your excellent guide, I wouldn’t be able to understand all the nuances and layers of this comedy. Thank you very much, Luke!

Marat • 7 days ago
Hello, Luke! My name is Marat, I am from Russia. I really enjoy listening to your podcast in general and these Alan Partridge episodes in particular! In the first part you have mentioned The Office series as being full of cringey situations. I haven’t seen the British one, but have seen the American one (with Steve Carell). And that was really all about cringey moments). Have you seen the American one? Which one is more cringey in your opinion? (‘cringey’ is a new word to me, so I use it everywhere now :) ).

Alan (Part 3)

Zdenek Lukas • a day ago
Hi Luke, I just want to let you know that I have been thoroughly enjoying the episodes about Alan Partridge (currently in the middle of the 3rd one). I love this character and I actually played the clip from the first episode (the one with the child prodigy) to teach types of questions and the pronoun “whom”. I am a big fan of these episodes and I think you clearly managed to do justice to this character. Thank you for your podcast!

peppe124 • 2 days ago
After you spent several hours on 3 episodes, I think we all should spend a couple of minutes writing a comment. We own [owe] that to you.
You are THE teacher every school of English should have! The method you used on this series was just brilliant.
Giving the introduction and background (with cultural references as well), letting us listen and guess and then going back over the clips was really helpful to test and improves my listening skill!
I also liked the content itself,that is the comedy, although I must say I liked the first 2 more; but that’s because there were more, kind of, jokes.
Thank you very much Luke for all this. Keep up the great job!

Tatiana • 2 days ago
Hi Luke, it’s the first time I’ve come out of the woodwork, really. Just to say a few words about the Alan Partridge episodes. I have enjoyed all of them. They give a little insight into real English, the genuine one, that is what British people really laugh at! That’s amazing. Thank you for that! They are right, the people who say, ‘If you understand comedy, you understand the language’.
Your explanations before listening are so detailed that I find almost no difficulties to understand most of Alan’s words. And it is valuable! I tried to find those clips on YouTube (they’re all embedded on the page), and they are even better with video, I would say, (because) you can watch the facial expressions and body gestures.
But then I watched some more – those that were not scrutinised on the podcast. It was a nightmare – I could understand hardly half of it, and most jokes just flew over my head. I felt so disappointed, I see now that proficiency level is as far from me as the Moon.
Thank you for doing your job for us: your podcast is, at this point, one of the major ways of improving my English. I listen and re-listen, take notes, revise them from time to time and so on.
Please keep going with your comedy episodes, they are great!

Damian • 3 days ago
[The] Episodes about Alan Partridge (generally, all episodes about British comedians) are brilliant! Many thanks!

Nikolay Polanski • 5 days ago
All three episodes are very nice, even though it is sometimes hard to get, why it is funny, to be desperate, stupid, mean and lonely. )))
I mean – you said before “try to watch it as a drama, and you’ll appreciate the comedy” – it seems like drama to me )
It is funny, but also sad.
But the episodes are top notch, thanks for the great work you’ve done

Ilya • 4 days ago
I love it! I want more episodes about British comedy! One of my favourite topics.

Francesca Benzi • 3 days ago
Just a few comments, but all of them are a big thumbs up!
I’d never heard of Alan Partrige before listening to your podcast, so thank you: I had a very good time with each of the three episodes.
Brits behavior can often be weird, from an Italian point of view, and listening to your podcast builds up my knowledge of how different we are.

Yaron • 3 days ago
Coming out of the shadows for a moment to say that I like the Alan Partridge episodes. In a way, it reminds me of the brilliant episode about Ali G that you did few years ago (which I recommend to anyone who hasn’t listened to it yet)
Thank you Luke.

I find your comments very reassuring and I’m very glad to read them. I’ll do more episodes about comedy in the future. In the meantime, check the episode archive for other British Comedy episodes.

In fact, here are the links (11 episodes)

Previous episodes about British Comedy

156. British Comedy: Ali G

172. British Comedy: Peter Cook & Dudley Moore

195. British Comedy: Monty Python’s Flying Circus

202. British Comedy: Monty Python & The Holy Grail

313. British Comedy: Tim Vine

316. British Comedy: Tim Vine (Part 2)

427. British Comedy: Limmy’s Show

428. British Comedy: Limmy’s Show (Part 2)

462. British Comedy: Bill Bailey

469. British Comedy: John Bishop

507. Learning English with UK Comedy TV Shows

I also have episodes about telling jokes and explaining humour in social situations. Get into the archive and find out for yourself.

In the meantime, you should sign up for LEP Premium. Get the episodes on the LEP App, sign up at teacherluke.co.uk/premium for hot English action, helping you deal with vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation and have a bit of fun in the process. :)

Thanks for listening!

546. Death by Meteor

This episode is called Death By Meteor and it’s all about asteroids, space, science, maths, astrophysics and the end of the world! Transcript available.

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Transcript

I’m talking about asteroids and meteors and the possibility that one might strike the earth and what would happen in that situation, or perhaps what will happen in that situation because it is highly likely sooner or later, hopefully later.

There will be lots of English of course! Watch out for vocab on all those topics coming up in the episode, which I will be clarifying for you as we go, because I’m nice like that.
In fact, first of all, here’s a bit of vocab straight off the bat.

What’s the difference between an asteroid and a meteor, a comet and a shooting star?

Oxford dictionary en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/meteor

Asteroid = A small rocky body orbiting the sun. Large numbers of these, ranging enormously in size, are found between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, though some have more eccentric orbits.

Meteor = A small body of matter from outer space that enters the earth’s atmosphere, becoming incandescent as a result of friction and appearing as a streak of light.

Shooting star = A small, rapidly moving meteor burning up on entering the earth’s atmosphere

Meteorite = A piece of rock or metal that has fallen to the earth’s surface from outer space as a meteor. Over 90 per cent of meteorites are of rock while the remainder consist wholly or partly of iron and nickel.

Comet = A celestial object consisting of a nucleus of ice and dust and, when near the sun, a ‘tail’ of gas and dust particles pointing away from the sun.

Originating in the remotest regions of the solar system, most comets follow regular eccentric orbits and appear in the inner solar system as periodic comets, some of which break up and can be the origin of annual meteor showers. They were formerly considered to be supernatural omens.

There’s a lot of talk about what’s going on here on earth relating to the political situation – lots of squabbles going on between people.

It looks like we’re facing a pretty troubled time, and maybe we’re going to spoil everything for ourselves by blowing each other to smithereens, crashing the economy or just ruining the lives of most ordinary people to the point that the world becomes a post-apocalyptic wasteland where the super-rich 0.1% live in protected biodomes in space or something.

Like T800 says in Terminator 2 “You are humans. It is within your nature to destroy yourselves”

However, perhaps before we manage to do that, we might in fact go the way of the dinosaurs, and end up being wiped out by environmental factors, and this includes the very real threat of climate change and how that can affect the careful balance of life on earth, or by some geological event like the eruption of a supervolcano or even a threat from space.

I’m not talking about aliens here. I’m talking about the possibility of the earth being struck by a meteor. And it really could happen within our lifetime. There’s something to look forward to.
This is a real threat to us and makes our petty disputes on earth seem pretty pointless and trivial.

Fairly large asteroids hit the earth on quite a regular basis. The latest one I can remember hearing about was in Russia on 15 February 2013 when an unknown object exploded high above Chelyabinsk, with 20–30 times the energy of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Apparently it flew through the sky at 20 miles per second.

The light from the meteor was brighter than the Sun, visible up to 100 km (62 mi) away. It was observed over a wide area of the region and in neighbouring republics. Some eyewitnesses also felt intense heat from the fireball.

The danger from things like a collision with an asteroid is very real, although it might be possible to do something about it – and protect ourselves, if we manage to work together.
The following is from the PAN STARRS website – a site dedicated to observing the sky for large objects that could collide with earth. An important project!

Since it formed over 4.5 billion years ago, Earth has been hit many times by asteroids and comets whose orbits bring them into the inner solar system. These objects, collectively known as Near Earth Objects or NEOs, still pose a danger to Earth today. Depending on the size of the impacting object, such a collision can cause massive damage on local to global scales. There is no doubt that sometime in the future Earth will suffer another cosmic impact; the only question is “when?” There is strong scientific evidence that cosmic collisions have played a major role in the mass extinctions documented in Earth’s fossil record. That such cosmic collisions can still occur today was demonstrated graphically in 1994 when Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 broke apart and 21 fragments, some as large as 2 km in diameter, crashed into the atmosphere of Jupiter. If these fragments had hit Earth instead, we would have suffered global catastrophes of the kind that inspire science fiction movies.

project.pan-starrs.ifa.hawaii.edu/public/asteroid-threat/asteroid_threat.html

General threat – I did a bit of googling.

‘There’s an asteroid with our name on it’: Brian Cox warns a space rock could wipe out humanity (if robots don’t get there first)

  • Professor Cox says we recently had a ‘near-miss’ with a large asteroid
  • No one knows when next one could be. It ‘could be tomorrow,’ says Cox
  • Engineers are working to mitigate threat, but progress has been slow
  • As well as asteroids, threats to humanity include AI and climate change
  • ‘It’s human stupidity we need to worry about,’ claims Professor Cox
  • He says threats can be prevented through research and education

www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2740010/There-s-asteroid-Brian-Cox-warns-space-rock-wipe-humanity-robots-don-t-first.html

So, asteroids and the asteroid threat to earth!

There are tens of thousands of objects in space that have an orbit around the sun and their orbits cross the orbit of earth. Apparently it’s only a matter of time until there’s a collision. One of these objects, a large asteroid, could collide with the earth at a massive speed. This would cause huge earthquakes and tidal waves. It would also throw massive amounts of dust, gas, molten rock and ash very high into the atmosphere – enough to envelop the entire world in burning hot ash and lava, not to mention various noxious natural gasses and possibly dangerous chemicals from the asteroid itself. The burning ash and lava would probably destroy a lot of life on the surface, like a huge explosion. But also the resulting ash and dust would probably fill the sky above earth, blocking out the rays of the sun and basically turning the whole planet into a nuclear winter wasteland. Lovely!

As far as I know, this is pretty much what happened to the dinosaurs when an asteroid hit the earth near the Gulf of Mexico a very long time ago. Apparently there may also have been volcanic eruptions at around the same time (well, about 250,000 years before the asteroid) that had already filled the atmosphere with ash and gas, making life pretty difficult already (for 250,000 years!) and then as if that wasn’t enough, a huge space rock or two smacked into the earth and that was that. The majority of life on the planet was wiped out, but not all of it of course.

We know this because the evidence is written into the earth itself. All you need to do is explore the carbon records and you can actually see the layers of different types of matter which correspond to the different events occurring, even the remains of living things, the ash, the lava rock and so on – it’s all in layers in the ground. It’s all there.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson – Death by Meteor

Neil DeGrasse Tyson talks about the real possibility of us being struck by an asteroid that scientists have been watching very carefully.

DeGrasse Tyson is one of the world’s most famous astrophysicists. He is the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York and is generally a very media-friendly science guy who is very entertaining on all manner of scientific subjects, especially space.

Listen to DeGrasse Tyson’s predictions with some questions beforehand

Questions
Why is the asteroid called Apophis?
How do we know where Apophis is going to go?
What’s going to happen in 2029?
What are the conditions for it hitting the earth the next time it arrives?
If it does hit the earth, what exactly will happen?

Script

Death by Meteor – Neil DeGrasse Tyson

There is an asteroid, discovered in December 2004, called Apophis. Named for [after] the Egyptian god of death and darkness. It was named only after its trajectory was identified to intersect that of Earth. Had that not been the case we would not have named it Apophis. Could name it like Tiffany or something or Bambi. You know, something not threatening.

This one was headed towards Earth. Apophis.

Alright once you discover an asteroid you’ve got to wait a little while to get enough of a segment of its orbit to calculate what the full orbit will be, to know if it will come in harm’s way. So we did that… we the community… I wasn’t the one do it. We got ‘peeps’ who do this, okay?

So, ‘peeps’ if you’re over 30 means people. Okay.

Forgive me but, saying you got “peeps”, it’s people. It’s actually a loving phrase.

Right. It’s not little yellow marshmallow. (I assume they have marshmallows in USA called Peeps) Do not write.

So we get the orbit. [It] turns out in the Year 2029, the month of April, the 13th of April, a Friday. Thanks. Apophis will come so close to Earth that it will dip below our orbiting communication satellites and it is the size of the Rose Bowl. It will be the largest, closest thing we have ever observed to come by earth. Now of course a much bigger asteroid took out the dinosaurs but we weren’t around at the time so this is in the era of observing the cosmos with technology. This will be the closest biggest thing we’ll ever see come by.

Now the orbit we now have for it is uncertain enough, because these things are hard to measure and hard to get an exact distance for. The orbit is uncertain enough so we cannot tell you exactly where that trajectory will be. We know it won’t hit earth. We know it will be closer than the orbiting satellites.

There is a range – a 600-mile zone we call it the keyhole. If the asteroid goes through the middle of that keyhole it will hit the earth, thirteen years later, it will hit the earth, 500 miles, sorry 500 kilometres due west of Santa Monica.

So it doesn’t matter where it goes through that keyhole.

Now that’s if it goes through the center. If it goes through other places within that keyhole then the contact point shifts further into the Pacific or closer towards North America, yes okay.

But if it goes through the center it hits the Pacific Ocean, plunges down into the Pacific to a depth of three miles, at which point it explodes, cavitating the Pacific in a hole it’s three miles wide, three miles deep that will send a tsunami wave outward from that location that’s 50 feet high, five stories.

Oceans don’t like having holes in them, so this three mile high wall does what? [An audience member says something] You say that so timidly sir. It collapses! It’s a three mile high wall of water! Thank you, fall back into the hole sloshing against itself with such ferocity that it rises high into the atmosphere and falls back down to the ocean cavitating the ocean again.

So now you make a cavity a second time. This cycle takes about 50 seconds. You can calculate it okay? So here comes the first tsunami and 50 seconds later comes another tsunami. So there you are on the beaches of Malibu. [A] tsunami comes in. Now, unlike the tsunami in Indonesia which was one wave that went deep into the shore, this first wave needs a supply of water to exist so that the next wave actually sucks back on it to create itself. So this tsunami will only go in about a quarter of a mile. [Someone in the audience makes a noise] We have the sound effects person there [in the] upper row there.

So it only goes into quarter mile before it gets sucked back out for the next wave to come. Here’s the problem. Whatever was there on the coastline is now brought back out to sea and the next tsunami brings it back to the shore. All the million dollar homes in Malibu, they get taken out to the sea and then back. But this time they’re in a slightly different shape, okay?

And so what happens is all of them… all the artificial stuff, all the houses, the factories, they get churned into this ablative force that sandblasts the entire west coast of North America clean. So, have a nice day!

I’m sorry I said 13 years after 2020 I misspoke it’s April 13 2029 and if it threads the keyhole it will hit Earth April 13th 2036. So it’s a it’s a seven year [period].

Repeat what he said.

Highlight some of the language

Jimmy Carr talks to Prof Brian Cox about asteroids. Brian talks about Apophis

07:35

(Wikipedia)
99942 Apophis (/əˈpɒfɪs/) is a near-Earth asteroid that caused a brief period of concern in December 2004 because initial observations indicated a probability of up to 2.7% that it would hit Earth on April 13, 2029. Additional observations provided improved predictions that eliminated the possibility of an impact on Earth or the Moon in 2029. However, until 2006, a possibility remained that during the 2029 close encounter with Earth, Apophis would pass through a gravitational keyhole, a small region no more than about 0.5 miles wide, or 0.8 km[9][10] that would set up a future impact exactly seven years later on April 13, 2036. As of 2014, the diameter of Apophis is estimated to be approximately 370 metres (1,210 ft).[3] Preliminary observations by Goldstone radar in January 2013 effectively ruled out the possibility of an Earth impact by Apophis in 2036. [12] By May 6, 2013 (April 15, 2013 observation arc), the probability of an impact on April 13, 2036 had been eliminated.[3] Using observations through February 26, 2014, the odds of an impact on April 12, 2068, as calculated by the JPL Sentry risk table are 1 in 150,000.[3] As of March 2018, there were seven asteroids with a more notable cumulative Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale than Apophis.[13] On average, one asteroid the size of Apophis (370 metres) can be expected to impact Earth about every 80,000 years.[14]

So, Apophis isn’t going to strike the earth in 2036, thank goodness, but there’s a slim chance that it will hit the earth in 2068, but we’ll all be dead by then so who cares? (will we?)

Still, the threat remains, doesn’t it? Every 80,000 years? I think we’re probably due one again.

What can we do? Call Bruce Willis?

How NASA would deal with the problem

www.indy100.com/article/nasa-apocalypse-earth-asteroid-armageddon-plan-7826791

So, when you think about all this it makes you realise or perhaps remember that despite all our petty troubles on earth, it could all be wiped out by an unexpected collision with an asteroid. Scientists can’t always see them coming.

For me this makes me think that I should just live every day and stop sometimes to just enjoy what I have and be grateful.

So, after listening to this, take a moment to think about all the good things in your life. Even if you’re not happy these days for whatever reason. Just think about any good thing you have and think about how grateful you are for it.

Perhaps call a friend or someone you care about and tell them how you feel and say thank you for something. It might just be a good way to appreciate all of this while it lasts.

541. What British People Say vs What They Mean

Examining British communication style and debunking a few myths about how British people communicate. This episode is based on a famous infographic called “What British People Say vs What They Really Mean” or “The Anglo-EU Translation Guide”. It contains lots of thoughts about how direct and indirect cultures communicate with each other, and some samples of business English, with a few improvised scenarios too! Transcript available.

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Transcript (below)

In this episode I’m talking about an infographic which is often shared online called “What British People Say vs What They Mean”. In the infographic there are three columns. One with sentences typically spoken by English people. The next column has what, apparently, British people really mean, and then the third column shows us the perceived meanings of those sentences by foreigners. It is supposed to highlight the indirectness of British English speakers and the how people from direct cultures often misunderstand us.

 

I’m going to go through the graphic line by line, discussing the language, talking about the indirect communication style of British people and discussing to what extent this infographic is true and how much is a stereotype.

This relates to several conversations I’ve had in episodes in the past, namely the ones about cultural differences with Amber & Paul, British humour with Amber and the one about language & culture with Alex van Walsum.

This chart often pops up online. You might have seen it. It’s shared on Facebook or Twitter, and people send it to me by email. People send this to me all the time, often accompanied with the question “Is this true?” It’s probably the infographic that I’ve seen more than any other. A while ago I shared it on my Facebook page and it got a big response with thousands of people seeing it and loads of comments.

The chart is anonymously written. It may have first appeared in an article on the Economist’s website. Apparently some people say it originated in a Dutch company that had dealings with the UK, which is interesting because the Dutch are known for being very direct in their communication, so through their eyes the Brits might seem excessively indirect. The infographic is sometimes entitled “What British People Say vs What They Mean” or the “Anglo-EU translation guide”.

Basically the chart presents a list of utterances, which it presents as typical things the British say in business situations, and then two other columns which represent what British people really mean when they say those things, and then how other people actually understand them to mean something quite different.

I think it’s based on communication and cultural differences between the UK and European neighbours. The underlying cultural difference is that in the UK we have an indirect communication culture, particularly with regard to saying negative things, and tend to signal their disapproval, disappointment, disagreement or offence in other ways – either by minimising the negative part, or using euphemism, which may be hard to understand to the untrained ear.

In my experience as an English person living in France, I find that it is definitely true that we have slightly different communication styles as a result of our cultural differences. But they’re just slightly different really.

One example of a difference between France and the UK is that generally in the UK our first interaction with people – especially people in service positions, e.g. if you’re going to the post office to collect a package which you’ve been told is there even though last time you went they claimed it definitely wasn’t there. So you have to go back and kind of complain and make them look again. In the UK my normal way of doing it would be to approach the situation in a nice way, using friendliness as a social lubricant to help things go more smoothly. Like “Sorry to bother you again! I went to the other post office and they told me the package is definitely here. Could you have another look for me? Thanks!” You kind of talk to that person like you understand how you’re personally putting them out, but between the two of you there is a friendly understanding. You’re nice to the person, even though technically they’re wrong and you’re sort of making a complaint. That’s how it goes much of the time – not every time of course. Often when Brits are unhappy with a service they will complain about it very directly. But many times you’ll see or hear Brits being pretty friendly when dealing with people in impersonal situations.

Now, that might actually be perceived not as a nice, informal gesture – but as fake, and two faced because in fact you’re actually not happy with the situation and you don’t know them personally, so why are you being all chummy?

In Paris, your first interaction would typically be a bit more formal and also a bit less friendly. If you’re all nice and friendly and you smile, you might be perceived as weak. That’s not to say that French people don’t smile – of course they do, but in that kind of service situation where you are making a complaint you’re likely to be serious and with a straight face. You can be completely straight about it and bring your unhappiness to the table. It’s normal to dig your heels in and argue a little bit before things then turn into a more amicable arrangement. It usually ends well, but there’s a bit of conflict at the start, for example saying “no” or “it’s not possible” at the beginning, before deciding later to ‘make an exception’.

I refer you to the episode with Alex Van Walsum who sums this up really well.

teacherluke.libsyn.com/391-discussing-language-culture-comedy-with-alexander-van-walsum

Episode 391 – play the bit

If you’re nice and you compromise from the start they’ll walk all over you without even realising it. So there’s conflict at the beginning until the thing finally gets resolved, and later on a relationship of trust might develop from the problem being fixed, but it comes after. I’m not saying in the UK we’re never direct or angry in that situation, or that in France people are never nice at first, I’m just saying in my experience it pays to be more formal and tough at the beginning or you’ll be taken for granted. Whereas in the UK my approach would be a bit different.

Sometimes this difference gets the better of me. I might go to a restaurant and say “Do you have a table for two at 8?” and the guy says “It’s complicated” or “No, it’s not possible” and I smile and say “OK, that’s a pity, thanks for your help!” and then leave. But what I often don’t realise is that “No, it’s not possible” is just the starting point. What you should do then is wait and just not take no for an answer. Wait and say “Is there anything you can do?” and dig your heels in a bit. Often, after a bit of digging, you might get a result. But you have to push through a little barrier first in many cases.

The point is that the words we use and the messages we convey are often quite different, and messages are often subject to various cultural codes which allow the people involved to truly understand what is being said vs what is the intended meaning, or illocutionary force of something.

Or more simply, in indirect cultures we don’t always say exactly what we mean, and it depends on the other person to decode the intended meaning of our messages. This is more common in some cultures than others, and this kind of indirectness does have a social function. If you’re from a direct culture, you’re less likely to be able to decode the messages and that’s where the misunderstandings happen.

That brings us to this chart of what British people say vs what they mean.

This chart essentially targets this cultural and linguistic point quite specifically, and while there is truth in it, I think the chart is not completely accurate.

Nevertheless, let’s go through what Brits say vs what they mean and see what we can learn.

One of the most important problems with this chart is the lack of context and the fact that these are spoken phrases written down, so none of the intonation is included. Intonation and context are vital in the way these messages are delivered and understood.

Without the context and intonation, this chart makes Brits look incredibly devious and two-faced. It also makes other people seem pretty dumb and naive.

On balance, what do I think of this?

It’s exaggerated. Brits are not as stuffy, awkward or unable to say what we mean as this seems to suggest. It’s slightly old fashioned too.

Also it’s not really fair on foreigners who aren’t that stupid.

I think it originally came from the Netherlands (who we do most of our business with in the EU) and they’re known for being a very plain talking, direct culture. So, this is perhaps from the dutch point of view, which exaggerates things further.

There is a point being made too, which is that the English say the opposite of what they mean, which is not true. Direct cultures tend to view indirect ones as being two-faced, hypocritical and even duplicitous. We do speak indirectly, perhaps downplaying negative things and attempting to use tact and diplomacy but it doesn’t stretch to being deceitful. For the English it’s a way to keep things nice and to sugarcoat our formal relationships. It’s a respectful distance which has been in the culture for a long time. We might be a bit indirect by dutch standards, but we know what we’re talking about. We understand what each other means, because we know the codes. So it’s a functional communication system, and just another way to share ideas while getting on at the same time.

Another point is that you could argue that it’s specifically English, rather than British because there is a slight cultural difference between the English and the Scottish, Irish, Welsh and even Cornish people, who might be more direct. Anyway, I know plenty of English people who are perfectly capable of being direct and saying exactly what they mean.

Also, there may be a class issue here. I think this relates to certain kinds of middle class or upper class English people, who tend to communicate like this, especially in a formal situation. There are certainly plenty of English people who are very direct in their communication style.
The situation is also important. Most of these phrases are used at work where diplomacy is important. In social situations these same people might be extremely direct, for example with friends who you make fun of and speak to without any kind of filter.

The sentences are out of context, so it’s not obvious how the phrase is intonated or what other phrases are used around it. Written down like that it has no nuance and can make the Brits look like pretty awful. So, this graph is designed to make people laugh and illustrate a tendency for Brits to be a bit indirect, but it is by no means a flawless guide to British communication style.
It’s a bit black and white. In fact there are plenty of UK individuals who are more direct than this, and EU individuals who are indirect. It’s a bit “them and us”, a bit ‘black and white’ and therefore a bit unfair.

It’s not just Brits. There are plenty of other cultures or individuals who also communicate like this. Canadians, for example, are well-known for having a polite and indirect communication style.

While there is definitely an underlying point being demonstrated by the chart, taking it on face value makes British people seem insincere and sneaky – which is a common criticism of us by European people with direct communication styles. Whereas us Brits see our communication style as diplomatic and avoiding conflict and essentially all about being nice, other people think we are not being honest, straight or sincere. We just don’t want to be too negative or nasty, but we come across as being unsure of ourselves, weak or untrustworthy. Equally, from the other side, Brits think the French can be wilfully difficult, stubborn and problematic because of how direct they are with negative comments. We also find the Germans – who tend to state things exactly as they are, to be cold and humourless with their ultra-pragmatic approach which doesn’t involve much small talk or ‘window dressing’. It’s tricky isn’t it!

In English we like to sugarcoat things. Not every culture does that. Some do it more than us.
Of course it doesn’t always go like that and most of the time communication happens without problems and it’s all fine. For example I have had many many exchanges with people from many different cultures including those from direct cultures and they’ve been absolutely lovely, but then again I am quite culturally aware and able to minimise this sort of thing by recognising the importance of saying exactly what you mean. I imagine that when people from other countries do business with Brits who are not used to cross cultural communication that sometimes there is friction and it’s often related to these cultural differences.

Also, it could be related to writing style in emails where this kind of thing becomes so much more obvious. I can imagine foreign people receiving English emails and wondering what exactly the person means – like the example of my wife and the castle.

For example, apparently when the German company BMW took over the British car manufacturer Rover, it took ages for BMW to fully understand the extent of the problems at Rover because all the British staff minimised the problems or spoke in slightly vague euphemisms. The Germans were not able to decode the embedded negatives within the Brits’ responses.

E.g. “We’ve had a few slight issues on the production line. Staff have expressed some preference for a longer break during the afternoon shift.” How big are those problems on the production line exactly? It would probably be worth investigating them further rather than assuming they are just “a few slight issues”.

Overall, I think there is truth in this chart, which is why it’s such an enduring success online, but it’s not totally true. The truth is that Brits put a positive shine on things as a social lubricant (sugarcoating) and it works within indirect cultures, whereas direct cultures say things as they are which can make them seem unfriendly or cold hearted yet ultimately more sincere. Neither approach is better than the other, they’re just alternatives.

Really, it’s about context. With indirect cultures, the indirect style probably feels more natural, with direct cultures it’s the other way around. The problems arise when the two cultures get together and then misunderstand each other. For the chart, more perspective and context is required to really understand what’s going on, and to avoid knee-jerk reactions. I say knee-jerk reactions – these are sort of quick, instant responses that happen without thoughtful consideration (like when a doctor taps your knee and it jerks forward without you thinking about it). Those things might be to conclude that Germans have no sense of humour, French people are willfully difficult and don’t want to work, English people are hypocrites who don’t say what they mean.

Simple binary comparisons of language without context like this can foster unbalanced opinions which can lead to or reinforce resentment and things like that. The final point is that despite our communication style, we’re still just as fair-minded, honest, trustworthy, narrow minded, dishonest and untrustworthy as anybody else! Don’t jump to conclusions and never let cultural differences cause you to make fast judgements about people without seeing the whole picture!

“The British are too polite to be honest, whereas the Germans are too honest to be polite.”
Source: www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-13545386

534. Sugar Sammy Interview (Part 2) Language & Comedy

Part 2 of my chat with Canadian stand-up comedian Sugar Sammy, talking about his 4 languages, TV shows from our childhood, copying Indian accents, language-related controversy in Quebec, Sammy’s crowd-work skills, stories of difficult gigs in the UK, and our thoughts on recent Star Wars films. At the end of the episode you can hear my spoiler-free review of “Solo: A Star Wars Story”. Transcriptions and notes available.

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Sugarsammy.com – for news of Sammy’s live shows 

Introduction Transcript

Hello, welcome back to the podcast. Here is part 2 of my conversation with Canadian multilingual stand up comedy sensation Sugar Sammy.

In our conversation we’re talking mainly about language and comedy, and here’s an overview of the main points that come up in this episode:

  • First of all we talk about the 4 languages that Sammy speaks
    There’s a tangent about American TV shows that we both used to watch when we were children, and which actually helped Sammy to learn English when he was young.
  • Two of those American TV shows we mention include Knight Rider (the one in which David Hasselhoff drives around in a super cool black talking car) and The Dukes of Hazzard (the one about two brothers who live on a farm in Georgia who drive around Georgia in an orange Dodge Charger, being chased by stupid local police officers, doing lots of jumps and stunts in the car).
  • We talk about accents and copying accents: Specifically the question of whether I should do an impression of an Indian accent on stage, or if that would be inappropriate or unacceptable for some reason.
  • We discuss a language controversy that Sammy was involved in in Quebec, Canada – which included him receiving lots of criticism and even a death threat, essentially for performing a popular show in languages other than French – in Quebec (they are very protective of the French language there) It was quite scandal at the time.
  • We talk about what Sammy does on stage, especially his crowd-work, which is that skill of improvising moments of comedy by talking directly to members of the audience. This is something that Sammy is known for because he does it very well.
  • Sammy talks about some tough comedy gigs he has had in the UK over the years and tells us a story of how he once got heckled by an aggressive audience in Northern Ireland. Heckling is when audience members shout things at you while you’re performing. For a comedian it can be pretty difficult when you’re being heckled, but good comics are able to react and respond with funny “heckle put downs”, funny responses that turn an aggressive comment into a funny moment.
  • Then there’s a bit about Star Wars at the end – because like me, Sammy is a big fan.
    We talk briefly about Sammy’s favourite episode of Star Wars, what he thought of The Last Jedi and whether he is interested in seeing the new Han Solo film. When I recorded this interview I hadn’t seen Solo, but since recording it I have, so I will talk about the Han Solo movie briefly at the end of this episode, giving my non-spoiler review.

Don’t forget that Sammy will be touring parts of Asia soon – this year probably. He has gigs coming up in Malaysia and Singapore and will be organising dates in China and Japan. He also intends to visit Russia and South America to do shows at some point. So Sammy might be performing near you soon and you must go and see him. To get news of Sammy’s shows so you don’t miss him – visit sugarsammy.com and join his mailing list.

Now without any further ado, let’s continue listening to my conversation with the super cool multilingual comedian from Canada – Sugar Sammy.


Sugarsammy.com


Knight Rider

The Dukes of Hazzard

Peter Sellers in The Party (an English actor performing as an Indian character – it would be offensive but Seller’s impression is spot on according to Sammy)


Solo: A Star Wars Story (No-Spoiler Review)

Notes & Transcriptions

For those of you who are Star Wars fans – I’m now going to talk about the latest film, which in English is called “SOLO” – released last month.

This is a “star wars story” – not part of the Skywalker narrative.
It’s an origins story.
I was sceptical about the film.
Production for the film seemed troubled, which is usually not a good sign – but it’s not necessarily a guarantee of a bad film.
The original directors were fired by Kathleen Kennedy (head of Lucasfilm) because they took the film in a comedic direction and there was too much improvisation.
Ron Howard was brought in (a more conventional, reliable Hollywood guy) to fix it and bring it back in line.

Also there were doubts about the ability of Alden Ehrenreich to pull off the performance of a character who we loved so much, largely because of Harrison Ford’s star power.

I kept my expectations pretty low. I just thought – I’d like to see what happens, I just want to enter the world of Star Wars again and see what it’s like. I was ready to be disappointed though.

The film has underperformed at the box office. I’m not sure of the exact figures, but it’s taken less than it should have and might be considered as a financial failure, possibly even losing money for the studio in the short to medium term. It’s bound to make money eventually, long term, but the general feel is that it didn’t do as well as the studio hoped. Perhaps we’ve all had enough of Star Wars now. Star Wars fatigue, or maybe the fanbase has gone a bit weird. Star Wars has always been seen as an indestructible franchise. But the Last Jedi divided audiences, with quite a lot of fans absolutely hating it. Maybe Solo has suffered from the so-called Star Wars backlash.

But Solo isn’t really like The Last Jedi. It doesn’t have the same subtext of progressive politics, or themes that seem to subvert the core ideas of Star Wars. It’s pretty conventional and straightforward stuff.

What I liked

  • The performance by Alden Ehrenreich. He was charismatic, swashbuckling but also had a vulnerable side – the key things that Harrison Ford brought to the role originally. Han Solo has swagger and he’s really cool, but there’s something a bit vulnerable and loveable about him. He’s quite goofy and adorable, but also capable of being quite a ruthless fighter when necessary. It’s an interesting character and the actor did a good job of hitting those points. It’s not just a Harrison Ford impression. He seems to have got the spirit of Han Solo.
  • The dirty, gritty world.
  • Visual effects were incredible (although the whole film was very murky – intentional? Bad cinematography? I personally like that. I don’t need everything to be brightly lit like in the prequels. I like Clint Eastwood films that are full of shadow and darkness and you don’t see everything in bright contrast.)
  • The absence of Jedi and light sabres – it made a nice change. This was all about just having a good blaster at your side, knowing who to trust. It was like Rogue One in that sense. You got the idea that people could die – they weren’t immortal cartoon characters with superhuman abilities.
  • The train robbery scene was amazing, particularly the explosion at the end. I’m not sure why the empire needs to transport goods by train, considering they totally have spaceships, but it made for a good scene and made me think of old action movies and westerns that have action scenes on trains. The film was full of this kind of thing – standard movie tropes but in a Star Wars universe and I liked that. It was appealingly old school.
  • It was a slightly smaller story and that was appealing too. Sometimes you don’t want it to be about the huge Star Wars narrative about destiny and the force. Just a small, compact story about low-level gangsters is all you need.
  • Not too many geeky references to other films. There were some, but they were *fairly* subtle…
  • Nice chemistry between Solo and Chewbacca.
  • There are a couple of jokes which were not bad and pretty much in the spirit of the original films. They didn’t go overboard on the humour like in The Last Jedi, which a lot of the fans hated. I think the original directors probably had a lot more humour in it and after seeing the audience response to the humour in TLJ perhaps Kathleen Kennedy decided to replace them for a more serious director. There is a moment when Han Solo speaks Chewbacca’s language which was a bit over the top (if he speaks Wookie, why did he never do it in the other films – seems like a cheap trick, but it didn’t ruin the film for me.
  • Chewy has some badass moments.
  • Qu’ira’s character is interesting as a femme fatale. Emilia Clarke is very easy on the eye and I found her character to be interesting because I never knew where her loyalties were and there was always this sense that she was going to betray Han, and Han was sort of obsessed with her. It’s a bit like your first love – when, as a younger guy, you fall in love with a girl who might be slightly out of your league and you know she’s always going to break your heart.
  • Just really enjoyable. Woody Harrelson was a dependable screen presence as ever.

What I didn’t like

  • The cheesy musical score running through a lot of the scenes, as if we needed to be told how to feel and to make sure we didn’t get bored or anything
    Some cheesy clichés, which I can’t really remember now – but a lot of typical movie tropes and “yeah, right” moments.
  • There are probably some plot holes and things that didn’t make sense, but I can’t remember what they are. Well, there’s a moment when one character dies and I thought “why did that happen, it seemed completely unnecessary”
  • Some of the moments when they tried to link this film with the wider Star Wars universe – like linking it to some plot points in Rogue One – or just trying to include some of the large Star Wars themes – the birth of the rebellion. It seemed forced, and shoehorned – I mean, like they forced certain big themes into the film (no pun intended). It would have been better to make it a completely self-contained film without having to connect it to the broader world of Star Wars, the birth of the rebellion and all that.
  • Classic westerns like Sergio Leone’s dollar trilogy (spaghetti westerns) are just about those characters in an isolated story. It would have been good to do something like that. Let the audience use their imagination to fit it in with the larger universe.
  • Also, it feels a little bit like Star Wars is pushing an ideological position these days, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I suppose it always was – the rebellion, the empire. It was basically about the struggle of local groups of freedom fighters against a vastly more powerful military dictatorship. But that message was usually delivered a bit more subtly in the original films. These days it’s like Star Wars needs to push this message a bit harder for some reason.

I can’t go into it in more detail without spoiling the film.

Anyway, those were my thoughts about Solo: A Star Wars Story. If you’ve seen it, let me know what you thought.

And I just talked about it there because it’s something Sammy and I discussed.

Let me remind you – sugarsammy.com to get news of his upcoming shows – possibly in a city near you soon.

Thanks for listening.

Other news

The World Cup is going on. I really want to talk about that a lot, like I did in 2014 – but I have so many episodes to upload! And I’m working on LEP Premium – basically making some episodes to upload soon and then I’ll launch it properly.

I usually worry when I have too much content to upload. I tend to think – if I upload too much (like loads of World Cup episodes) then people won’t be able to listen to it all and then they might just stop listening completely… they’ll think “Oh I can’t keep up and I don’t really like The World Cup so I’ll just move on to something else” and…

So, expect some WC episodes coming soon during the tournament, but if that’s not your cup of tea (or World Cup of Tea) then I suppose you can just skip them and know that it’s not all going to be about football forever.

Speak to you soon. Bye!

Luke

533. Sugar Sammy Interview (Part 1) Multilingual Comedian

Sugar Sammy is a very popular and famous comedian from Canada. He’s often described as Montreal’s #1 stand up comedian. He speaks 4 languages, he has performed comedy in lots of countries. He might be coming to your country soon to make you laugh. Ladies and gentlemen – meet the wonderful Sugar Sammy!

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Join Sugar Sammy’s Mailing List – for news of his international shows

Introduction Transcript

Hi everyone. This is quite a special episode because of today’s guest. I’m talking to a really famous comedian, so it was quite a thrill for me and I really hope that it translates into a good listening experience for you too and that it grabs your attention and not just because it’s a chance to practise your listening in English.

You know that as well as being an English teacher and a podcaster, I’m a stand up comedian, which means that I go onstage in front of audiences and try to make them laugh – by telling jokes, telling stories and doing voices. Stand up comedy is huge as a form of entertainment, and arguably as an art form – particularly in the English speaking world. In Paris, where I live, there is a stand up comedy scene in English. It’s pretty small – there are not that many English speaking comedians and shows in English, and in some ways that’s actually really cool because I get to meet and hang around with some pretty famous people who come here to do comedy. For example there are the professional French comedians who also perform in English, and I’m talking about people like Gad Elmaleh (the biggest French speaking comedian in the world) who I have kind of met (I said hello to him and we performed on the same show) and other French comics like Yacine Belhousse and Noman Hosni (who have been on this podcast), but also comedians who come here from other places like the UK, the USA or Canada to perform their comedy in English or maybe in French – people like Eddie Izzard, Ian Moore and so on. Basically, because it’s a small scene I get to meet and hang out with some really great comedy stars.

That’s how I met today’s guest – Sugar Sammy who comes from Canada.

Sugar Sammy

Sugar Sammy is a genuine star of comedy. He’s probably the biggest name I’ve ever had on this podcast. I had David Crystal of course – the famous linguist. You know I’m interested in language and language teaching, so David Crystal was a big guest for that reason but I’m also obsessed with stand up comedy and Sammy is massively famous in the world of stand-up especially in Canada, and I’m lucky to be friendly enough with him to get him on this podcast.

Some information on Sammy
In terms of his background, he was born and grew up in Montreal, Canada – a bilingual city. The official language there is French but everyone can speak English too.
In total he speaks 4 languages – English, French, Punjabi and Hindi – and he does stand up comedy in all of them.

He is of Indian origin. I’m not sure of the details but I’m guessing that his parents or maybe even his grandparents moved to Canada from India at some point. Anyway, this is why he can speak Punjabi and Hindi – both Indian languages.

He has a list of accomplishments and awards as long as your arm. I don’t know how long your arm is, but I’m assuming it’s very long because so is this list.

(A list as long as your arm – it’s just a phrase meaning “a long list”)

A quick look at his Wikipedia page tells you about his achievements:

He’s done sold out one man shows, HBO comedy specials, his own TV shows, he’s opened for Dave Chappelle, he gets featured in newspapers and photographed by paparazzi.

One of his main accomplishments is that he was the first to perform a successful bilingual show in Quebec – a place which is notorious for how it protects French as the official language, so performing in English, Punjabi and Hindi there was actually a very controversial thing to do.
He once performed in front of over 115,000 people at the end of a 420 show tour at the Just For Laughs festival in 2016.

Sammy has performed all around the world in the United States, Canada, France, Belgium, England, Australia, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Thailand, the Philippines, China, India, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Egypt, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Lebanon, Singapore, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Northern Ireland, Dubai, Haiti[12] New Zealand and South Africa, where his one-man show sold 15,000 tickets.[13]

And that’s just in English. He also has a successful comedy career in French.

As a stand up comedian I would describe him as confident, charming, very sharp, good at imitating different accents, good at playing with cultural stereotypes, excellent at exploiting people’s cultural assumptions and very very quick when it comes to doing crowd work – improvising off the interactions he has with members of the audience.

His shows always include a lot of improvisation in which he talks to the people on the front row and always manages to turn the interactions into very funny moments of comedy.

If you want information on how to see Sammy on stage, go to his website sugarsammy.com

You can see him performing in French in Paris at the Alhambra theatre, and later this year he is going to tour internationally – and he has plans to visit parts of Asia – including Malaysia, Singapore, China and Japan and potentially even more places. So, seriously – watch out for Sugar Sammy doing shows in your country soon and I really recommend that you get out and see him.

Sugar Sammy is a world-class comedian and a really cool guy and I’m pleased to have him on the podcast.

In terms of his English and his accent – he is a Canadian native speaker of English, so he has a typical Canadian accent, which for many people is indistinguishable from a sort of standard American accent. I can usually hear the difference between Canadian and American accents I think, but it’s a very subtle difference. Basically, in many cases Canadian English is very close to American English.

Our conversation focuses on comedy, language and various issues relating to both of those things.

I’ve divided the conversation into two parts, which should make it easier for you to listen to. Our conversation moves pretty quickly. It might be difficult to follow – depending on your level of English. You can see as you listen to it. Part 2 will be available soon.

I think we’re lucky to be able to listen to Sammy on this podcast. I feel very grateful to have been able to sit down and talk to him for over an hour. As you are all learners of English I hope that this provides you with the interesting, engaging and authentic English listening practice that you’re looking for. I won’t say any more in the introduction here. It’s time to just start listening to my chat with Sugar Sammy.


Ending Transcript

I’m stopping the conversation there. The rest will come in part 2.

Sammy is excited about new people… and win them over.

That could be you!

sugarsammy.com

So, I wonder how this is for you. How is this for you so far?

I said already that for me it was a thrill to record this conversation – partly because Sammy is a top comedian and it feels like a privilege to be able to interview him, but also because it’s just loads of fun to talk to him and hang out with him.

But how’s it going for you? Are you alright? I certainly hope you’re enjoying this as much as you actually should be enjoying it. Because, just in case you didn’t realise, you really should be enjoying this quite a lot.

I expect you are enjoying it like I am, but it’s probably a bit hard to follow in places. It’s probably been quite difficult to follow everything, – but of course it depends on your level of English, you listening skills.

But if it is hard to follow sometimes, then I’m not surprised! First of all, you’re probably listening to this because you’re learning English, in which case, if it’s hard to follow everything in a native-level conversation like this then that makes total sense and is completely normal. You’re not a native speaker so it’s bound to be more difficult. What I’d say to you is – keep listening, keep practising. You can understand conversations like this 100%. It takes time and practice, and motivation and positivity, but you can definitely do it.

Also, let’s not forget that in episodes of this podcast I often play you natural conversations between friends that are not graded. Nobody’s trying to simplify their English or anything. It’s also spontaneous and fast like a normal conversation. So, I am not surprised if it’s difficult sometimes. That’s normal. This is not a listening exercise in a coursebook published by Oxford University Press. The recordings you get in those publications are usually scripted, and graded to make them easier to understand – even at advanced levels. For example, Headway Upper Intermediate and Headway Advanced.

They’re easier, aren’t they? Don’t get me wrong, they’re good publications, but they go for a different approach. They grade their listening materials. My conversations aren’t graded. In fact I specifically ask my guests to speak naturally – because I want them to be natural and I want them to still be funny and relaxed because for me what we might lose in terms of intelligibility we gain in authenticity and in humour, basically.

Right. So listening to this conversation with Sugar Sammy is the real thing, so it’s normal if it’s pretty tough, but for me this is a good strong way to work on your English. It’s a bit like high-altitude training – when people train high in the mountains where there’s less oxygen. It’s hard, it’s strenuous, it’s challenging, but when you go back down to lower altitude levels where there’s more oxygen, you’re suddenly much more effective and the training really pays off.

Anyway, speaking for myself, this was a really fun episode to do and if I were you I would listen to it several times to squeeze maximum enjoyment out of it – because I promise you that if you listen again you’ll understand and therefore enjoy it even more, and then you can also get stuck into part 2 which may already be available for you.

Come on people. Seriously, you’re getting more than your money’s worth here are you not?

Check out the page on the website for some more details, including a transcription of my intro and ending to this episode, a video of Sammy improvising on stage talking to an Iraqi guy in the audience who has moved to Texas, also you can see video of Bill Hicks and his routine about being asked “What are you reading for?” and a video of the extraordinary Russian singer Vitas doing his song 7th Element.

Thanks for listening. Get my app from the app store to get all my episodes on your phone plus loads of bonus content and access to premium episodes when they are available.

Speak to you again in part two.

Bye!

Sugar Sammy & The Happy Iraqi in Texas

Bill Hicks – “What are you reading for?”

Vitas – 7th Element

Rosanne Barr Controversy

Court Jesters

www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/what-was-life-like-for-a-court-jester/

524. Tricky Pronunciation Debates / “Either” “Neither” / Song + Comedy Sketch

Talking about words which can be pronounced several ways, words which are often pronounced incorrectly by native speakers and the debates, arguments and frustration that arises between native speakers as a result. Includes the “You Say Tomato…” song and the Grammar Nazi sketch, explained. Transcript & notes available.

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Transcript

Welcome to episode 524 of this podcast for learners of English. You know what, I’m going to start this one with a poem that I’ve just written. Anyone who’s heard my so-called poetry before will know that I’m no Bill Shakespeare ok? Anyway, here is my work of genius to kick off this episode.

Here’s a new episode, 1, 2, 3
I’ve got no idea how long this will be
It could be one or two episodes. Let’s see.
I suggest you make a nice cup of tea
Put your feet up on the settee
Get your headphones on your head and when you’re ready
You can focus your attention like it’s a master’s degree
Or simply drift off and relax like you’re floating on the sea
The main thing, for me
Is that you listen carefully
And enjoy this episode of Luke’s English Podcast
Which is completely free.

Moving on…

Coming up in this episode

You can expect a rambling monologue from me which is recorded and presented for you to listen to as part of your ongoing mission to improve your English based on the principle that listening regularly, and for longer periods, is a good way to learn the language, pick up vocabulary, become more familiar with features of pronunciation, develop your instinct for correct grammar and natural English usage while maintaining a strong connection to English as a living and breathing communicative force which exists within us and without us, through us and between us, binding the galaxy together across borders, distinctions, barriers, obstacles and through various dimensions of time and space, leading to rising levels of value, status and quality in diverse and mutually beneficial ways. Basically, listening to this is good for your English, and that helps you to communicate with people from different countries, and that’s good.

Here’s an overview of the things I’d like to cover in this episode, which might become several episodes in fact…

Overview

  • Tricky Pronunciation Debates (arguments about words that people seem to pronounce differently, and also words that people pronounce wrong)
  • Podcast corrections (some comments from listeners with a few corrections)
  • A useful Japanese cat
  • The odd meaning of “Yeah, right”
  • How to actually answer the question “How are you?” or “How are you doing?”
  • Doing impressions of accents from different countries, and whether this is unacceptable or even considered racist in some cases – for example, I can copy the accent of a cockney, I can copy the accent of an American guy, but can I copy the accent of an Indian or Nigerian person? It’s a bit of a cultural minefield… let’s investigate.
  • The benefits of repeat listens – listening to episodes more than once
  • What does the word “podcast” actually mean?
  • Why you need to take extra care while listening to LEP.
  • The phrase, “Don’t be shy, give it a try”

And maybe some more comments about this and that, depending on the time available…

This is all based on comments and questions I’ve had from listeners through various channels…

Unexpected vocabulary question – among / between

What’s the difference between ‘between‘ and ‘among‘?dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/between-or-among
Mingling among the people
Let’s mingle and socialise!
To mingle = to move around among a group of people in order to socialise and talk to everyone

British Podcast Awards

www.britishpodcastawards.com/vote/

Before we go any further, I need to tell you that I’m in the running for the British Podcast Awards Listener’s Choice Award this year. Someone informed me on Twitter that they found my podcast listed. OK then, so this is where I implore you to vote for me in the award.

Now, I have an army of Ninjas ready, primed to do my bidding. I have tens of thousands of you, by my reckoning, although I only ever hear from a tiny slice of that audience – a small percentage of you visit the website, leave messages, leave iTunes reviews, actually get in contact with me, download the app, join the mailing list etc… But if I could just mobilise you all and turn you into an international army or something, then I could take over the world!!! Assuming that you’re all capable people of course.

But the thing is, I don’t want to take over the world. What I want to do is to make podcasts, help you learn English, make you laugh on the bus sometimes, tell you stories, talk to guests, pay the bills, raise my family, put food on the table – AND WIN THE LISTENERS’ CHOICE AWARD AT THE BRITISH PODCAST AWARDS.

Last year, we got close. We got into the top 3. You did me proud. #TeamLEP got this podcast into 3rd place- the bronze medal position. Legions of LEpsters came out of the woodwork and voted for the podcast, and I actually got into the top 3. I know I was in bronze position because the BPA tweeted about it on the awards night and I have a screenshot of the tweet.

They have never since said it was a bronze medal. Ever since they’ve just put me in the runner’s up category with load of other podcasts. I don’t know why they dropped my bronze medal status – maybe they wanted to promote the other podcasts who they put in the runners up category, but anyway I was v proud to be a runner up, especially considering the other podcasts that were also runners up and especially the winning podcast, which is my fave podcast, Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo’s Film Review, produced by the BBC. #SoProud

Anyway, let’s see if we can do it again.

So, LEPsters of the world, unite and take to your computers and mobile devices – go to www.britishpodcastawards.com/vote/ and search for Luke’s English Podcast. Fill in the details and submit your vote. Voting closes on 17 May 2018. So we have 2 weeks to kick this into overdrive.

www.britishpodcastawards.com/vote/

Let’s make history people.

LEP Premium – Coming Soon

Still before we start, I just want to mention: Premium – coming soon.
LEP Premium is all about me making LEP work as a proper service beyond it being a free podcast.

You might be wondering when this is going to “drop”. I’ve had a couple of questions about it. App users might have noticed that a little “Premium Sign In” option has appeared in the settings menu.

I’m not going to talk about it at length now, but it’s in the pipeline like I said before.
Essentially, the premium subscription will be a way for you to support LEP with a monthly or annual subscription while allowing me to deliver more language and teaching-oriented content (episodes will be specifically about teaching you language, rather than the diverse topics, conversations and rambling that you get in normal episodes) direct to your phone or computer.
I’m doing this using a platform provided by my host – Libsyn, the biggest podcast host in the world. They’ve basically finished setting up my platform now and I am going to produce some premium content before launching it properly, probably later this month.

I’m calling it Premium content because that’s what Libsyn call it. Honestly, I’ve always tried to make all my content “premium” but there it is. In any case, I will as ever, try my best to make the content as good and useful as possible, but with these episodes the plan is to really get down to the business of language teaching. There will be fun and all that too – like in the examples I can improvise to demonstrate the language I’m teaching, but the focus will be on the language primarily – and I think that will go really well with the normal episodes. In many cases it will be a close-up look at the language that’s come up naturally in episodes.

Anyway, that’s enough about that for now. Let’s move on.

How do you pronounce “either”?

Language question – I’d normally leave this for a language episode, like the sort of thing you’ll get in LEPP episodes, but I’ll deal with it here anyway.

Benedikt from Austria, living in Switzerland

Either or either

How do you pronounce them?
Are they the same word?
Are there some times when you say it one way or the other way?
E.g. either we stay or we go (eye-thur) – two different options
I haven’t done it either (eee-thur) – other uses

Luke
They’re both correct.
Same word, same thing.
There’s no difference.
It doesn’t change depending on the situation. It’s exactly the same word with two possible pronunciations.
Everyone will understand you, however you say it.
Eye-thur or ee-thur
Some say that “eye-thur” is more British
And “eeee-thur” is more American.
I often say “eye-thur” but honestly I think I also say eeeethur too and I’m really British.
In fact, thinking about it I probably say eeether just as often as either. (often – that’s another one!)
I think it’s also possible for one person to say them both and there’s no rhyme or reason why it comes out one way or the other. (no rhyme or reason = with no obvious explanation)

Yes, this also applies to “neither”.

It’s a very common issue. English is a very diverse language, and there are some words that culturally we pronounce differently (e.g. American and British English or smaller regions like areas of the UK) and sometimes these are even at an individual level. Some people say “either” others say “either”. It’s no big deal actually.

More words with several pronunciations

Some more examples:
Neither and neither
Potato (US vs UK, but also around the UK)
Tomato (US vs UK)
I’ve chosen ‘tomato’ and ‘potato’ specifically, because they’re in a famous song about this subject.
Often (no difference – just two ways, “offen” is perhaps the original version but with a ‘t’ is fine too)
February
Loads of examples from UK & US English, e.g. “schedule” – another story for another time.
Situations where the word stress seems debatable or people get the word stress wrong (sometimes this is just Brits saying words with American word stress, and other Brits getting pissed off… e.g. my parents)
Harassment (first syllable UK, second syllable US)
Controversy (conTROversy in the UK, CONtroversy in the US – but the Cambridge Dictionary site lists both as being standard to the UK – and lots of Brits still get annoyed when they hear other brits say CONtroversy)
Vulnerable (my Mum insists that it’s only pronounced with the “l” but Cambridge Dictionary says it’s ok without too)
Mischievous (Correct = “mischivus”, not – “mischeevious”, although we do say the noun “mischief”)
**NOTE: “mischivus” is the only correct way to pronounce mischievous. **
**ALSO NOTE: I’m not using phonetic symbols on the website here because I don’t have time and this is an audio podcast not a blog, remember! Listen to the episode to hear how I am pronouncing the words
GIF (moving images which are easily shared on the internet)
Is it “gif” or “jif”?
www.11points.com says:
11 | GIF
Pronunciations: gif, jif
The Internet had come to a decent consensus on the pronunciation of GIF, which is remarkable, of course, since the Internet has never come to a consensus on anything. Everyone was cool with the hard G pronunciation. It sounded better, wouldn’t lead to confusion, and was logical, since GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format. And that’s where the debate SHOULD have ended.
But earlier this year, Steve Wilhite, the man who invented the GIF format for CompuServe, talked. And he said, with conviction: “The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations. They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”

You say tomato and I say tomato (song)

Going back to “either” “neither” “tomato” “potato” and this whole subject – there is a famous song about it, from back in the 1930s.

“Shall We Dance” (1937) with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

00:44 seconds

Lyrics
Things have come to a pretty pass (come to a pass = happened, come to a certain situation)
Our romance is growing flat,
For you like this and the other
While I go for this and that,

Goodness knows what the end will be
Oh I don’t know where I’m at
It looks as if we two will never be one
Something must be done:

You say either and I say either,
You say neither and I say neither
Either, either Neither, neither
Let’s call the whole thing off. (call it off = cancel it)

You like potato and I like potahto
You like tomato and I like tomahto
Potato, potahto, Tomato, tomahto.
Let’s call the whole thing off

In most of those cases both words are probably right, but perhaps with some regional differences.

Then there are examples of words that some people say differently, but are generally considered wrong and are worth watching out for. These are the ones that will annoy people – but to be honest if you’re a non-native speaker you’ll probably be forgiven.

The biggest ‘crime’ is when a Brit says these and another Brit hears it, and their blood pressure rises.

Examples: (listen to the audio to hear the pronunciation)
Pronunciation
H
Nuclear” (new-cue-lur) should be new-clee-uh
ETC
Espresso
Prescription
Specific
Arctic
Ask” (this might have racial connotations but I’m not sure)

Some people (who are very particular about this kind of thing) get very upset about it, a bit too much probably…

The Grammar Nazi Sketch – from BBC comedy series “That Mitchell & Webb Look”

How do you say your acronym again? (H H H)

As you can see I didn’t talk about the other points in the overview at the beginning of the episode, but you’ll hear that stuff in forthcoming episodes of the podcast.

Thanks for listening!

Luke

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

In this episode I’m talking to friends of the podcast Amber Minogue and Sarah Donnelly about the subject of raising children in a foreign country – in this case, France. So this is an episode all about cross-cultural experiences, specifically relating to parenthood. It’s also about a new podcast and stage show which Amber & Sarah have just started. Transcriptions, notes and links below.

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In this episode I’m talking to friends of the podcast Amber Minogue and Sarah Donnelly about the subject of raising children in a foreign country – in this case, France. So this is an episode all about cross-cultural experiences, specifically relating to parenthood. It’s also about a new podcast and stage show which Amber & Sarah have just started.

If you’re a long term listener then I’m sure you know Amber, and you should also remember Sarah because she’s been on the podcast a few times too.

Amber and Sarah are both ex-pats living in Paris, like me. They’re also stand-up comedians who perform on stage in English here, like me. They’re both with French partners, like me. They both have kids here in Paris with their French partners, again, like me; and now they are both podcasters, like me.

Amber (who is from the UK) has been a podcaster for a while, as you may know, with her charming and quirky podcast about the history of Paris – called “Paname” (available at panamepodcast.com and on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts) , but now Amber has joined forces with Sarah (who is from the USA) in order to work on a new project which is called “Becoming Maman”. “Maman” is the French word for “mum” or “mom”.

The project is primarily a stage show – a kind of “two-woman show” which is all about their experiences of having kids in Paris. I saw the first performance of Becoming Maman a few weeks ago and it was brilliant. The two of them are very funny as a double act and the show was full of very astute and amusing observations, jokes and sketches about life as an English-speaking ex-pat bringing up children in Paris.

As well as the stage show, they’re also doing some videos for Facebook and YouTube and the new podcast which is also called “Becoming Maman”. In the podcast episodes Amber and Sarah typically sit down together and discuss certain issues and experiences relating to raising children in France – particularly the differences in the parenting culture between France and their home countries of the UK and the USA.

If you’re an email subscriber or a regular visitor to my website, you might know all of this already (you might be going “yep, yep – got it, been there, seen that, got the t-shirt, already subscribed to Becoming Maman – I have already become Maman) email subscribers might already know about this because I wrote a post last week to let you know that I had been interviewed by Amber and Sarah on their podcast, and I shared links so you could listen or download that episode and subscribe to the podcast. In that episode of their podcast they asked me about my experiences of becoming a dad, and we talked about how children learn languages. Check it out here.

For more information about their project, check out all the links below.

Becoming Maman – podcast page

Becoming Maman on iTunes

Becoming Maman – RSS feed

Becoming Maman – Facebook page

So – raising kids in France when you’re not French and the differences in the parenting culture between France and the UK and the USA. These are the things that we’re going to talk about in this episode, as well as a few of the usual tangents including some thoughts about differences in the behaviour of boys and girls and whether these differences are caused by innate factors that children are born with or subtle ways in which we encourage certain kinds of behaviour as parents.

Well, just before we begin I’d like you to consider how this topic relates to your life experience in some way. You might not have kids, but since you’re out there, probably learning English, there’s a good chance that your life is, has been, or will be affected by cross-cultural experiences, not just relating to parenthood. Thinking about how you have things in common with us should help you to generally relate to our conversation better, and by extension that should help you just get more out of it in terms of language learning and general enjoyment.

So, here are loads of questions for you to consider before we get stuck into this conversation.

Also, pay attention to certain bits of language relating to childhood and raising kids and let me also remind you of episode 68 which is full of the language of childhood – and that’s vocabulary like “to bring up children” “to raise children” “to grow up” and so on – all explained.

68. Childhood / Growing Up / School Days – Phrasal Verbs and Expressions

Before you Listen – Questions for your consideration

  • First of all, what kinds of cross-cultural experiences have you had?
  • Have you ever lived abroad or spent a good deal of time with people from other cultures?
  • Did you notice any differences in the way you or other people do things? That could include anything in life – like slightly different ways of doing business or eating food or communicating, but also ways of dealing with children.
  • What were the challenges associated with the experience you had with another culture or in another country? How did that make your life more difficult, crazy, funny, strange or interesting? E.g. Did you find it hard to work out the administrative system, the work-life balance or the approach to education at school?
  • Could you imagine settling down in another country and bringing up children there?
  • If you already have kids, in what situation did you raise your kids or are you raising your kids?
  • Are you and your partner from the same country, and are your kids growing up in that country too? That’s a monocultural and monolingual situation.
  • Can you imagine bringing your children up in a foreign country, perhaps with a foreign partner, with several languages involved? So, a bi-cultural or bilingual situation.
  • How would that make things different?
  • How could it make life more complicated?
  • For example – consider the identity of your child or children. Where would you consider your children to be from? How would you feel if they grew up to be from a different culture to you?
  • Let’s say, if you’re Spanish (or Polish or Chinese or Russian or Brazilian) and you’re bringing up kids in London are your kids still Spanish, Polish or Chinese or Russian or Brazilian, or are they now English – because that’s where they were born and have grown up?
  • How would living abroad affect your parenting style?
  • Should you, for example, adapt your parenting style to fit the new culture, or keep doing it how it’s done where you’re from?
  • What if the parenting style in this other place is quite different to how it’s done where you’re from? What if you don’t really understand the way they do it in this other place?
  • How would that be challenging for you?
  • Would you feel somehow stuck in a grey area between the country and culture where you are from, and the country and culture where your kids are growing up?
  • Are there certain advantages to that situation? Perhaps it can be much a more exciting, diverse and broad-minded lifestyle.
  • What have you heard about parenting in France, or in the UK or the USA? Do those places have a reputation for particularly good or bad parenting? For what reasons?
  • Would you like to raise your kids in any of those cultures? The UK, France or The USA?
  • Have you heard of a book called “French Kids Don’t Throw Food” by Pamela Druckerman? How about any other parenting guides which are about “how they bring up kids in another country”? Do any other countries have a good reputation for bringing up kids as far as you know?
  • What if you ended up falling in love with someone from France, the UK or the USA or indeed any other place, moving there for love, having an adventure and then finding that you’re starting a family in a completely foreign place? How would you feel?
  • Maybe that’s exactly what’s happened to you, or you’re in a situation in which it could happen.
  • And if you don’t have kids in your life, perhaps you could consider the situation in which you grew up. Would you rather have been raised by parents from the same country, or parents from two different countries? How might that have affected your language skills and your identity in general?
  • Do you think boys and girls behave differently because they’re born that way, or because we encourage them somehow?
  • And how could you put all of these thoughts into words in English?

With all those questions in mind, let’s now listen to my chat with Amber and Sarah all about the challenges of bringing up kids in a foreign country and what it really means to become not just a mum or a mom, but a “maman”.


Let me remind you that Amber & Sarah’s podcast is now available for you to listen to, including the episode in which they interviewed me about becoming a dad.

Those links again for “Becoming Maman”

For more information about their project, check out all the links below.

Becoming Maman – podcast page

Becoming Maman on iTunes

Becoming Maman – RSS feed

Becoming Maman – Facebook page

As I mentioned before, I do plan to do another episode about raising bilingual kids at some point.

I can also refer you back to episode 68 in which I talked about childhood and school days and explained a lot of phrasal verbs and other vocabulary.

Links for everything on the page for this episode!

In the meantime – I look forward to reading your responses to this episode in the comment section. Did you have any thoughts while listening to this? (I hope so!) Share them in the comment section. Don’t be shy – give it a try.

A couple of other reminders:

  • Join the mailing list to get a link in your inbox when I post something to the website – it’s usually once or twice a week and my emails aren’t very intrusive or anything.
  • Download the LEP App for your phone. Check the app store for the Luke’s English Podcast App – it’s not just a place to listen to the podcast, there’s also a lot of other content in there including videos, episodes of my phrasal verb podcast and various app-exclusive episodes and other bonuses.
  • Thank you if you have donated to this podcast – you’re helping to keep the whole thing alive and I consider your donation to be a very sincere way to say thank you for my work.

Have a lovely morning, lunch, afternoon, evening, night!

Speak to you soon,

Bye!

Vocabulary List for Episode 515 – Provided by Jack from the Comment Section

Juggling
a labour of love
Dig these episodes
Quirky
Expats
Astute
Tangents
Indoctrinate
Stuck in a grey area
Scream your lungs out
Skiing
Oriented
Boisterous
Rowdy
Beat the living day lights out of
Notion
Enamoured
Pragmatic
Coagulated
Starters
Cheese course
Main course
Starch
Cereals
Dessert
On site
Individualism
Flip side
Pedagogical
Crouch down
Babysitter
Pay stubs
Synonymous
Athleisure clothing ( fat Americans feeling good wearing gym clothes while chewing fat)
Trendy
Goldfish crackers
Toned down
Preset
Jacket potato
Chedder
accustomed
Intrusive

TV shows and videos which we mentioned

The BBC’s gender experiment

TV and films that Sarah was watching when she was about 10 years old… a bad influence?

“The Kids on the Hall” – I’m crushing your head 

Absolutely Fabulous

Planet of the Apes (quite scary and weird) “Human see, human do!”

 

514. What’s on the table? (with Fred & Alex)

In this episode you can hear me chatting to Fred Eyangoh and Alex Quillien and discussing various topics including growing up in different countries, recognising different accents in English, religious backgrounds, movie re-boots, Arnold Shwartzenegger going “nyarrrgh” and more. Fred and Alex are both stand-up comedians living in Paris who perform in English. Check them out at shows at Paname Art Cafe, including the Paris Open Mic (with Vanessa Starr) and French Fried Comedy Night.

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Introduction

This episode is called “What’s on the table? (with Fred and Alex)”

I’m joined by Fred Eyangoh and Alex Quillian.

First we’re going to just get to know them a bit – we already know Fred from his appearance on the podcast in episode 430.

Then, the whole “What’s on the table?” concept – which sounds like a concept but actually it’s not really.

I know what you’re thinking. What is the concept of “What’s on the table?” Luke?

Well…

I’ve written some questions and topics onto pieces of paper and then placed them face down on the table.

We’re going to flip them over one by one and discuss the heck out of them. That’s it.

I was also thinking of calling it “Discuss THIS” – like in a movie or something.

Like – “You feeling hungry? EAT THIS” Boom.

Or “You want to watch something? WATCH THIS”

But I’ve chosen “What’s on the table?” (with Fred and Alex)

And we have some topics which are on the table for discussion.

That’s an expression by the way.

If something is “on the table” it means it has been put forward for discussion.

www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/on-the-table

E.g. in a business meeting

I wouldn’t wait too long to accept the job offer—it might not be on the table for very long.

Before this meeting begins, we’d like to make sure that the topic of salary bonuses is going to be on the table.

Our best offer is on the table.

In this case:

What’s on the the table for discussion today?

You can also use the word ‘table’ as a verb. It’s a bit formal. It means present something for discussion. E.g. to table a motion – to formally put forward a topic for discussion or perhaps a proposal for a new law.

I have to say these things, because it’s a learning English podcast.

That’s in British English.

In American English, it means the opposite. It means “shelved” – postponed until later.

The healthcare bill has been put on the table until the Spring.

This topic has been tabled for later discussion.

That’s American English.

But we speak British English here, or at least I do.

Types of English – that’s one of the points which is on the table I believe. We’ll come back to it.

Listen to the whole episode to hear Fred, Alex and me discussing various topics including – learning English, accents, religion, films, Arnold Schwarzenegger going “nyarrrgh!” and more!

Alex & Fred

503. My Review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Part 1)

Talking about the new Star Wars film including the audience reaction, English accents you can hear in Star Wars, and a run-through of the plot with my thoughts about the events and characters. Plot spoilers throughout the episode! Transcript available.

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Transcript (95% complete)

This episode is all about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Some of this stuff that I’m saying is scripted, some parts are not – but if you want to read along with me while I’m talking, which can be a great way to work on your English, see specific phrases I’m using and so on – if you want to read along with me, check out the page for this episode on my website.

In fact there will be two episodes about Star Wars. This one, which is just me talking about the film, going through the plot, giving my thoughts and discussing the audience reactions to the film, and also the next one, which will be a conversation about the film with my brother and my dad. We went to see the film together while they were here at Christmas time and afterwards I managed to record a conversation with the them and you can hear their reactions and some general rambling about it – that’ll be in the next episode.

So, at least 2 episodes about Star Wars. I was wondering if I should devote so much time to this, especially considering that some of you probably aren’t into Star Wars at all. Then I thought to myself – “Well, how do I choose my topics when I know that I can’t please everyone?” Often the deciding factor is – do I want to talk about it myself? Would I want to listen to it? The answer to those questions is yes. When I came out of the cinema in December having just seen this film I just wanted to hear other people’s comments about the film, and I looked for podcasts about it and youtube videos and stuff, and if I was learning English I would definitely like to hear someone talking about this film in English. Certainly for my ideal learning French podcast I would want to hear someone discussing the film in some depth in clear French – I am still yet to find this elusive perfect French version of Luke’s English podcast! And also, you know what? I just really want to talk about Star Wars for a while just because it pleases me to do it. So there you go, that’s my justification for doing these episodes.

SPOILERS

There are spoilers for the film throughout this episode – so if you haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet, you might want to wait before you listen to this. I’m pretty sure the film has been out for a while in most places. I understand that it came out in China on 5 January – a bit later than in other countries. So I think there’s been enough time now for me to do some spoilers.
If you’re not a fan of Star Wars (which is totally fine of course), I understand that this might not be for you. I don’t expect everyone to be into Star Wars – it’s just something I’ve always enjoyed since childhood. So if you’re just not a Star Wars fan – I totally understand, but you’ll just have to put up with an episode or two about Star Wars this time, or you can just skip them – it’s totally up to you.

If you want to listen to something else from me, like perhaps an episode about vocabulary, or an episode with various jokes, an episode with a mystery adventure story or an episode with grammar and pronunciation questions answered – let me remind you that you can download the LEP App completely free and there you will find at least 7 exclusive app-only episodes that deal with those things specifically.

Just check out the app store, download the LEP app, check the App-Only Episodes category and away you go.

And of course you have the entire episode archive there which you can peruse at your leisure.
But for this one and the next one, it’s all about Star Wars – and if you are a fan, I hope you will enjoy being immersed in the world of Star Wars The Last Jedi for a couple of episodes.
Let me say again very clearly there will be spoilers coming as I am going to talk about exactly what happens in The Last Jedi in quite a lot of detail. Please don’t let me spoil this film for you – even if you’re keen to listen to this new episode I strongly recommend that you wait until you’ve seen the film first.

So, perhaps the people I have left with me now are:
Fans of Star Wars who have already seen the film.
And maybe some other LEPsters who might not be big fans of Star Wars but are just happy to listen to me talking about it, even if it includes plot spoilers.

I should also say that I might lose some more of you when I say that I really liked Star Wars The Last Jedi – not everything, but on the whole I really enjoyed the film and I feel like the good things definitely outweigh the bad things.

I have seen it twice now, and so there’s always a chance that I might change my opinion after seeing it a third time, but I don’t think so.

I said I might lose some more of you when I say that I enjoyed this film and that is because the response to this film has been very divided. Plenty of people like it a lot but having said that plenty of people dislike and even hate this film.

This reaction mainly comes from so-called “hardcore fans” online who are posting very negative reviews on YouTube as well as on film review websites like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes.
But I’m quite a hardcore fan and I loved it.

In terms of my fandom, here is a summary. I grew up with the films. Watched the original trilogy over and over again throughout my life. Watched ROTJ in the cinema. As a teenager I used to have lots of fun speculating about the back story of certain characters and so on. As a child I used to think I was Luke Skywalker, as I’ve said in previous episodes. I was quite obsessive about it growing up. In the 90s and 2000s I saw the prequel films and was disappointed by them. I found them to be badly written and directed, with pretty bland characters and too much CGI. Not everything was bad about the prequels – I like the Darth Maul scenes, the pod-race, the scenes between Obi Wan Kenobi and Jango Fett but that might be it I think. I found the rest of it to be more like a Saturday morning cartoon in places.

More recently I saw reviews of the prequel trilogy on YouTube that cemented my opinion of those films as being rubbish. I’m talking about Mr Plinkett’s reviews, by RedLetterMedia.

Very astute criticisms of the prequels, with some twisted humour thrown in.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the prequel trilogy “ruined my childhood” as some fans have said (and are also saying about The Last Jedi). I think if your childhood can be ruined by a fantasy film that you watch as an adult, then perhaps your childhood was already quite flimsy in the first place. What this phrase really means is that the films spoil the Star Wars franchise, which was such a key part of your upbringing… Anyway, the prequels didn’t ruin my childhood but they did disappoint me a bit.

Then it was announced that more Star Wars movies would be released, after Lucasfilm was taken over by Disney. 2 years ago The Force Awakens was released and I really enjoyed it, even if it was very derivative of the original Star Wars films (episode 4). It basically copied the plot of Episode 4 – but I’m alright with that. I thought it was done in a way that was far closer to the original spirit and aesthetic of Star Wars and that was really pleasing. Also they introduced a few new characters that was interesting.

Also, in 2015 Rogue One was released – a film set just before Episode 4. This was a sort of war movie inspired episode that didn’t have any Jedi or lightsabers, but told the story of how the rebels managed to get the plans to destroy the Death Star. I really enjoyed that too! It feels like Star Wars is good again.

I love reading about fan theories and speculations on forums (like Star Wars Leaks on Reddit) and I do watch lots of dumb YouTube speculation videos about Star Wars, and there were a lot of them released onto YouTube before The Last Jedi came out.
But I like to think that I have my fandom under control. I love the world of Star Wars and I feel invested in the stories, but I try not to expect too much from the films. I remember the prequel trilogy – I used to get my hopes up really high before each film was released and I was disappointed each time.

Also, I know that your enjoyment of these films is largely a question of taste and a question of subjective experience. What makes a bad film for some people makes a good film for others.

The relationship between the fans of Star Wars and the films is very complicated. A lot of people feel very personally invested in this franchise. The fans feel that they own the franchise or that it represents their own personal life, childhood, dreams, imagination and everything.

It’s strange how Star Wars can do that. When it is at its best it manages to touch people in the most personal and profound ways. Also, the level of speculation and theorising among the fans has created such massive expectation from the films that it’s almost impossible to please everyone now, and when a film fails to meet people’s specific vision for the story and characters it can feel like a very personal disappointment.

But I think some fans are expecting too much from Star Wars now. They’ve put it on a pedestal – which is a way of saying that they expect it to be perfect and to live up to their highest expectations all the time. But it’s just a movie franchise and to an extent it’s a children’s movie franchise. I think some people just need to chill out a bit and stop expecting so much from the films. Saying that, there is bound to be someone out there listening to me who disagrees, who says I’m being an apologist, who says there’s no excuse for what they’ve done.
When I read some of the negative reactions, I honestly think – “did we see the same film?” Some people are so angry! It makes me wonder if perhaps there are other things going on, like that these people are not just angry with the film, but they’re angry with what they see as a certain political agenda being expressed through the film. This probably feeds into the ongoing saga of the war between right-wing people (who don’t say they’re right wing) and what they describe as liberal social justice warriors. I see these arguments all the time online in comments sections and so on. The angry ones (whatever their political position) get furious when there’s a suggestion that a film is being used to promote feminism, or to promote ethnic diversity or perhaps animal welfare or environmental issues. A hint of this in a film makes some people really mad. There’s a bit of this in The Last Jedi – some strong female characters, black, asian and hispanic actors in prominent roles, a storyline about animal cruelty… Part of the hatred aimed at SW is fuelled by this stuff.

But also, some people don’t like it because they think it’s bad storytelling, and because of the way some characters are dealt with – particularly Luke Skywalker. A lot of people can’t stand the way he is represented in the film.

Added to that, there’s the humour. Some people have really taken against the moments of humour which they think don’t fit in with the tone of the film as a whole or the whole franchise in general.

I’m talking there about some reasons why the film is disliked by some people – but not everyone of course. Plenty of people like or love this film too although it’s hard to tell what the overall audience reaction has been. I think it’s fair to say that the film is dividing people, particularly the more serious fans.

I don’t know what you thought of The Last Jedi. There are some pretty strong feelings out there. You might disagree with me when I say I like it, but I hope you hear me out on this. Of course the film is not 100% perfect or anything but generally I think there is a great deal to be enjoyed about it.

Story recap

I’d like to now go through the film from start to finish, describe what happens and give my thoughts on each part.
You remember the numbers don’t you?
OT – Original Trilogy (4, 5, 6)
PT – Prequel Trilogy (1, 2, 3)
ST – Sequel Trilogy (7, 8, 9)
Also Rogue One that fits in before episode 4.

The Force Awakens
The Resistance are searching for Luke Skywalker because they need his help. There’s a missing piece of a map hidden inside the droid BB8.
A scavenger girl called Rey finds the droid.
Han Solo and Princess Leia had a son who turned to the dark side.

The Last Jedi – Opening Crawl

How did it feel in the cinema at this point?
I was trying to keep my expectations realistic. I thought – if I expect too much from this I might be disappointed. It’s just a film and ultimately it’s just a space fantasy. It seems silly to invest so much into it.

Having said that, I was really looking forward to getting stuck into some new Star Wars and I had no idea what was coming.

The Lucasfilm logo appeared and I was really trying to just stay calm but I have to admit it was difficult. I felt really nervous.

Star Wars logo + music and I was already getting chills and started welling up. I know it’s a bit pathetic or something, but there it is. Somehow these films just take me directly back to my childhood. It’s like stepping back in time and going straight back to my living room when I was 7 years old and my Dad was younger than I am now and I’d never had any real experiences, I’d never left home, never had my heart-broken, never fallen in love…
I was a bit emotional during this film. I just can’t help it. Also bear in mind that I was watching this while fully expecting my wife to give birth to our baby at any moment. I literally had my phone in my hand and every single vibration I expected was a text from my wife saying that her water had broken. Anyway, I was feeling very emotionally susceptible while watching the film, which is fine – I’m in touch with my feelings, there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?
The opening crawl started and it’s impossible not to get excited by this, if you’re a Star Wars fan. For some reason I can never really read it and take it in.

Episode VIII
THE LAST JEDI
The FIRST ORDER reigns.
Having decimated the peaceful
Republic, Supreme Leader Snoke
now deploys his merciless
legions to seize military
control of the galaxy.

Only General Leia Organa’s
band of RESISTANCE fighters
stand against the rising
tyranny, certain that Jedi
Master Luke Skywalker will
return and restore a spark of
hope to the fight.

But the Resistance has been
exposed. As the First Order
speeds toward the Rebel base,
the brave heroes mount a
desperate escape….

The First Order are now in complete control of the galaxy after having blown up the republic with Starkiller Base.
The Resistance are on the run, escaping from their base. The First Order are closing in, with vastly superior weaponry, ships, and so on.
They blow up the base as remaining resistance ships escape, but they’re being pursued by a First Order fleet.
In an effective but costly counterattack led by Poe Dameron, Resistance fighters manage to destroy a First Order dreadnought.
One of the FO officers is played by Ade Edmondson, and all the Brits are delighted.
Admiral Hux is played by Domhnall Gleeson, Irish actor. He really “hams it up”.
First bit of controversial humour. “Holding for Admiral Hugs” etc.
FO officers are pretty incompetent and Gleeson plays a lot of his scenes for laughs – it’s a completely over the top performance. Old fashioned RP, and general frothing at the mouth.

A note about accents:
In SW almost all the Imperial Officers have old fashioned heightened RP accents. This is because this is the accent that Americans associate with an evil old empire – because the British Empire was an evil old empire for the USA. This association still exists – more so in the 70s but still today. Also, it means stuffy formality.
Obi Wan Kenobi also had an old school English accent, but that was to suggest that he came from an era that no longer exists – the old republic. It just fits the character. His British accent gives him class, dignity and suggests that he is more than just a “crazy old man”.
Vader also had a bit of an RP British accent, but this gradually changed into a trans-atlantic American accent. Still old fashioned and formal in tone, but a bit American. That’s just because the voice actor – James Earl Jones – was a classically trained American actor. These great actors really brought a lot of weight and class to the original films and this was repeated in the prequel trilogy. They chose more well trained British actors because they have class. This includes people like Terence Stamp.

In this sequel trilogy (ST), accents are also used to create certain feelings and associations with the characters. The FO officers still speak in old fashioned RP in order to give that sense of old empire (think of the naval officers in Pirates of the Caribbean who speak in a similarly old fashioned way). Supreme Leader Snoke speaks in formal British RP. We don’t know much about him (and I’ll come to that in a bit) but basically he’s a bit like the Emperor – probably very old and powerful and he is the Supreme Leader of the First Order so of course he has the old fashioned English RP accent.

Most of the other characters speak American English though, and this seems to be the default accent for “ordinary person” in the Star Wars universe. This includes Han Solo – a kind of cowboy smuggler flyboy kind of guy, and Luke Skywalker- just a farmer from a desert planet – nobody special (or at least that is the background he has come from).

Also, most of the new characters speak with standard American accents – Finn is just an ordinary guy – quite a low level person since he used to be just a stormtrooper and he speaks with an American accent, although the actor is actually from Peckham in South London. Apparently he auditioned in his normal voice but it just didn’t feel right. He auditioned in an American accent and it just fit the character better. Poe Dameron also has a standard American accent. As I said – ordinary people, rebels, not part of the empire.

But then there’s Rey. She speaks with quite a posh English accent, although not in the formal way that the FO officers speak. She is definitely just a normal person too, and according to this film she is nobody special (unless this is just a trick and in episode 9 they will reveal something special about her, but I don’t think so – again, more on this later). So why does she have this English RP accent? I don’t really know! Perhaps the actress doesn’t do a very good American accent and this is just her normal voice. Perhaps they just wanted to arouse our interest in this character by giving her a distinctive and classy voice, like Obi Wan Kenobi. The fans certainly took this point as a big clue about her origins. A lot of people believed that because she is force sensitive and speaks in a posh English accent that she must be related to other force users with this accent like Obi Wan Kenobi or perhaps even Emperor Palpatine. There are other details that support these fan theories. But apparently her accent doesn’t mean this. But still, it’s interesting to note that although she grew up on an insignificant planet and lived as a scavenger for all her life, she still speaks with quite a posh English accent, when all the people around her on her home planet of Jakku don’t have the same accent. Her slave owner for example (because in TFA she appears to be basically a slave or at least someone who works for food rations rather than money) – her master or boss speaks with a working class cockney English accent.
Just a note on accents there. Next time you watch these films in English, think about that.
Back to the plot.

The Resistance avoid getting blown up by the First Order ships – massive battleships called Dreadnaughts.

Poe Dameron bravely and recklessly flies right up to the FO dreadnaught and does some Top Gun style maverick moves, taking out lots of gun turrets and generally being a brilliant pilot. He clears the way for the Resistance bombers.
WW2 style bombers.

Star Wars always took inspiration from WW2 films.

The bombers are laden with cool-looking round black bombs.

Some people say “but there’s no gravity in space!” – but this is Star Wars not Star Trek. It’s fantasy, not science fiction. If your argument is that it doesn’t make scientific sense then sorry, that’s a bit invalid considering Star Wars has never stood up to scientific scrutiny. It’s an emotional character driven fable set in space in a galaxy far far away a long time ago. It’s more like a greek myth or an episode of Flash Gordon than 2001 A Space Odyssey.
There are some classic moments of Star Wars fighter combat in space, including a fat guy with a beard who instantly dies. This is something that happens in so many Star Wars films, beginning with Episode 4 when a fat bearded pilot called Porkins dies, and it happens again in Episode 7 I think, and then here we go again – a fat bearded pilot buys the farm almost instantly. It’s a running joke. I wonder how the fat bearded guy community feels about this.
Poe is an awesome pilot but an incredible risk taker and he ends up getting most of the Resistance fleet destroyed, except for one lone bomber which somehow manages to get through the FO defences.

Super-dramatic sequence with the last remaining bomber.

This feels like the ending sequence of the film rather than the start.

How could anyone not find this exciting and brilliant?

This is Rose’s sister. She’s a gunner on the bomber. All the other crew have been killed. It’s up to her to drop the bombs. Very dramatic stuff with the trigger button. She falls and the button is on a ledge above her. There’s a suggestion that Leia uses the force to help her. She also holds onto a necklace – the other half belongs to her sister Rose. The button drops down but she seems to miss it. This is executed in a slightly cheesy and cliched way by Rian Johnson. The button clearly drops past her and out of reach but in slow motion we see the button dropping from another angle and her hand comes from nowhere to grab it.

It’s exactly the same thing that happens in Mission Impossible with Tom Cruise when he is in a high security room trying to steal some classified information or something. He’s suspended from the ceiling and a bead of sweat drops from his forehead. If it touches the floor, he’s dead basically. The bead of sweat falls and is definitely going to land on the floor but his hand comes in and stops it at the last minute. The magic of the movies, right?

Some people probably found that annoying, but it’s just a trick that’s been used in countless other movies. Movies always play with time, they slow it down, speed it up, use different angles and so on in order to raise the tension. The worst you can say about this sequence is that it’s a cliche. I personally found it to be good old fashioned dramatic tension and the moment when she presses the button and the bombs drop onto the dreadnaught very satisfying. Massive explosion and the dreadnaught is destroyed, although at great cost to the Resistance.

That was a really exciting sequence. I didn’t mind the jokey dialogue between Poe and Hux. I love the way the FO officers are quite ridiculous. I always found that funny in Star Wars anyway.
But there is a hell of a lot of war in this film. Of course – it’s Star Wars. But I remember James saying in another episode that we did about Star Wars once – will this war ever end? Probably not. It’s going to go on and on forever. It’s a pity that this is all about war and that this is great entertainment for us. War as entertainment. That’s a bit of a pity. You see it a lot in other films too, like Avengers Infinity War for example. War war war – explosions and explosions.
The Resistance fleet jumps into hyperspace and escapes, for now.
Poe gets told off by General Leia who demotes him.
Poe’s character arc in this film is that he has to learn how to develop from a reckless if brilliant fighter pilot to a strategic and inspiring leader of the Resistance.
One of the complaints about the film is that none of the characters develop. I disagree. Most of the characters have clear character arcs.
Hux gets told off by Supreme Leader Snoke who throws him around the room and drags him across the floor using the force.
So, I think Hux is summoned to Snoke’s throne room along with Kylo Ren.
Snoke is really pissed off but Hux reveals that they are actually tracking the Resistance through hyperspace – something that wasn’t possible before – hyperspace tracking.
Some fans are pissed off about this – that it’s a new thing that’s come from nowhere but this was mentioned v quickly in Rogue One, so there it is – it’s not completely out of the blue that this is possible.
This kind of gets him off the hook with Snoke.
Then Hux leaves Snoke alone with Kylo Ren who is still wearing his mask from episode 7.
This is a cool scene.
Snoke bullies Kylo – explains how he’s disappointed, how he’s lost faith in him, how he is still conflicted despite having killed Solo. He said when he found him he thought he had so much potential and raw power and that he could be the new Darth Vader but he’s just a boy in a mask who got beaten by a girl. To be fair to Kylo he had been shot when he took on Rey, but still. Snoke really makes him feel small and useless. Snoke is manipulating him but in a very cruel way.
He basically slaps him down. In fact he gives him a jolt of force lightning. Kylo stands up defiantly and Snoke shocks him quickly sending him flying backwards. I suppose to teach him a lesson – like a cruel parent or something. When this happens we see Snoke’s power used casually and also his guards quickly adopt fighting positions when Kylo stands and then return to their original positions after a couple of seconds. These guards look badass and cool, and better than the Imperial Guards that (badly) protected Emperor Palpatine in the original films.
Snoke looks amazing.
Kylo feels utterly humiliated and furious at this point.
Adam Driver’s performance is great.
It’s understated, except for the moments when he flies into a rage. We don’t quite know what’s going on inside him, except for subtle looks he gives, subtle changes in his expression which suggest that he’s feeling hurt, angry, determined, impatient, calculating. He’s a bit of an enigma. He never blinks in the film, I think. He never quite reveals his hand.
I feel sympathy towards him, considering how Snoke bullies him, builds him up and knocks him down.
I actually think he’s a bit more interesting than just a guy in a mask. Vader is of course a brilliant villain, but he’s also really ridiculous. The helmet is a bit over the top.
Kylo removes the mask and this is a good idea – in terms of the film making. It allows us to see Adam Driver’s performance. I like the way he is mostly quite blank in his expression – it’s hard to read him. Then at certain key moments we see the conflict inside him.
I like the fact that we never really know which way he is going. Is he turning good or bad? Or is it possible that he’s going in a completely new direction – against The Resistance & Luke Skywalker but also against Snoke who is using and abusing him?
Kylo is upset and very angry – not only does he remove the mask but he destroys it against the wall of the lift. He smashes it to pieces. This guy is calm and expressionless one minute and completely unhinged the next minute and I love that.
He orders his ship to be made ready.
The Resistance are just licking their wounds from the bomber run on the dreadnaught. Poe is feeling gutted that he’s been demoted.
Finn wakes up inside his bacta tank thing – some sort of medical body suit he’s been wearing while recovering. There’s a bit of comedy when he walks out of the medical ward wearing this ridiculous suit with pipes sticking out of it and liquid going everywhere. It looks pretty dumb, but it doesn’t really do any harm to the film or to Finn. Just a slightly goofy moment. Poe sees him and kind of fills him in on the plot.
I think at this point the First Order ships suddenly jump out of hyperspace right behind the Resistance and The Resistance are shocked to discover that the First Order have somehow tracked them through hyperspace.
The thing is, The Resistance are a certain distance ahead of the First Order ships – just out of range of the FO’s big weapons. I admit that this part of the plot is quite contrived. We now have a sort of standoff, or a low-speed chase in which the FO can’t get any closer because their big ships aren’t quite fast enough and The REsistance ships are relying on their shields and their mobility to keep out of range of the FO’s guns.
I don’t know why the FO can’t just do a really quick hyperspace jump so they’re immediately behind The Resistance ships and then use their big weapons. I don’t really understand why the FO ships aren’t faster and why their big weapons have such a short range – but honestly, I don’t really care. It doesn’t matter that much to me. The situation is this – the FO decide to play the long game. They’re convinced that eventually The Resistance will run out of fuel and then their shields will fail and they’ll fall within range and the FO will be able to destroy them. They also know that The Resistance can’t escape through hyperspeed. So they wait. That’s good enough for me! It shows the arrogance and cruelty of the FO – enjoying the feeling that they have the upper hand and perhaps even relishing the dominance of their position.
In terms of the film it allows other things to happen in the meantime and works as a kind of ticking clock device, which is really common in many films. A ticking clock or ultimatum which gives a sense of urgency to everything that happens. The protagonists have to hurry because they’re running out of time.
Kylo then goes out on an attack run against The Resistance with a few other FO fighters.
First time we’ve seen Kylo in his own Tie Fighter. It’s a bit like Vader’s tie fighter or perhaps the fighter flown by Anakin Skywalker in the prequels. Kylo also does some spinning, which is something Anakin was known for doing in the prequels. It’s quite a nice touch since Kylo is Anakin’s grandson.
Kylo destroys a lot of The Resistance x-wing fighters in the hanger on their ship The Raddus.
Loads of Resistance pilots die.
Kylo is a badass pilot. He flies past the bridge of The Raddus, where his mother Admiral Leia is situated. There’s a cool moment when the two of them obviously become aware of each other through the force. Kylo is planning to blow up the bridge, killing everyone, including his mother, but he pauses and seems to be wrestling with inner conflict. We see Leia perhaps reaching out using the force. This is a great emotional moment and really good performances by both Adam Driver and Carrie Fisher. A lot of emotion is shown in their faces. Kylo doesn’t shoot his missiles into the bridge. He can’t kill his mother, apparently. Maybe Leia is using the force to control his mind or something, or perhaps Kylo hasn’t become completely dark yet and the light part of him has mercy on her. It’s interesting anyway – to see his conflict and to consider where his loyalties really lie – with Snoke or with Leia. We don’t really know, but he doesn’t launch his missiles in any case. However, the two tie-fighters by his side do shoot their missiles and the bridge is blown up – sending everyone hurtling out into space, including Leia.
Kylo is then told to return to the FO fleet and he seems frustrated – perhaps because his mother has just been blown up, or because he resents being given orders by General Hux. At this moment I feel like he’s going to turn back to the light side, or at least that he’s not completely loyal to Snoke and the FO. This conflict is really interesting and I don’t see why some people don’t see this as a really positive point about the film. Trying to work out Kylo Ren is fascinating.
I reckon the best things about this film are the inner conflicts in the main characters. There is depth, contradiction, failure, confusion and pain in these characters, and the film shows this to the audience, rather than explaining it in really clumsy dialogue like you get in the prequel films.
Kylo flies back to the FO fleet.
Then perhaps the most controversial and weird moment in this film happens. This is the one that a lot of people really don’t like.
This is the end of part 1.
Part 2 – coming soon.