Category Archives: Beliefs

608. The Mass Observation (with Mum)

Listen to my mum talk about a social history project focusing on the lives of everyday people in the UK. Includes discussion of things like protests, plastic, identity, sex education, loneliness, and milk!

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Introduction Transcript

Hello everyone, this is LEP episode 608 and it’s called The Mass Observation (with Mum).

What’s that all about? You might be thinking. This sounds like some kind of Big Brother thing – like maybe the government observing everyone in some kind of dystopian future, and somehow my mum is involved in it.

Well, I’m afraid it’s far less dramatic than that.

In fact, the mass observation in the title is a social history project that has been going on in the UK, probably for 70 years or more. It’s a project that my mum has fairly recently got involved in.

Basically, the mass observation (now administered by the University of Sussex) aims to record everyday life in Britain through a panel of volunteer observers who either keep diaries or reply to open-ended questionnaires (known as directives). My mum is one of those volunteers and since this project is all about collecting information on everyday life in the UK we thought it might be an interesting episode of Luke’s English Podcast.

So that’s what you’re going to get here. A conversation with my mum on a variety of topics which have come up in the quarterly questionnaires from the Mass Observation.

So, you can expect some rambling conversation between the two of us on things like this:

  • protests
  • plastic
  • identity and gender identity
  • sex education in school
  • loneliness and belonging
  • and milk

There’s also some chat at the start about Prince Harry & Meghan Markle, following on from the last time my mum was on the podcast when we talked about the royal wedding.

So now you can enjoy about an hour’s worth of my mum’s nice voice and accent talking about a variety of issues relating to everyday life in the UK.

I hope you enjoy it. I’ll be back to talk a bit more on the other side of the conversation.

In terms of language learning, your task as ever is to just keep on listening. At the very least, that’s all you have to do here. Just listen, follow the conversation, see what you can learn from it and try to notice any features of English or vocabulary along the way. But the main thing, just enjoy this chat between my mum and me.


Ending

I hope you enjoyed that. I’d like to say a big thank you again to my mum for being on the podcast again, and to all members of my family who make a huge contribution every time they’re on.

So what’s up? Nearly the end of the summer holidays. We’re approaching the end of August.

I hope you’ve had a good summer.

Remember in July I mentioned a couple of times the LEP meetup that was happening in London? Well, I went to it and met about 25-30 LEPsters, had some drinks and conversation with them for a few hours, and what a pleasant experience that was!

In fact we recorded some samples of audio during the meetup, with everyone talking for a minute or two. I think I’ll be putting an episode together with that.

Speak to you again on the podcast soon! Bye!

 

592. It always seems impossible until it’s done

An unedited ramble about motivation for language learning, dealing with challenges, getting started on a task, getting work done and my process for making episodes of the podcast. There’s also some news, some OPP and a couple of songs on the guitar at the end. Vocabulary notes, links, videos and song lyrics are available below.

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Vocabulary Notes & Other Information

Let’s get this show on the road.
Let’s get started.
Let’s get this whole thing underway.
Things I’m saying to myself to get myself going.
I’m on my feet in order to try and get the energy going.
It helps me to get into the right mood.
I’ve been sitting here messing around for ages.
I’ve been fiddling around.
Plugging and unplugging (microphones)
Lots of messing around, farting about and faffing around.
You become very productive and you’re in the zone.
Sometimes you’re not in the right frame of mind and it feels like everything’s a bit of a struggle.
Once I get going it’s fine, but there are some days when I find myself unable to begin the episode..
Attempting to follow my own train of thought while talking.
You can probably hear handling noise (the noise of handling the microphone).

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” ~ Nelson Mandela

Anything can seem impossible and that includes personal challenges (like recording a podcast in the window of time that I’ve got) that we have to face as individuals, and global challenges that we all face together.

“I can’t handle this. I can’t do it. It’s too overwhelming. There’s no way I can do it.”

Sometimes it seems a bit impossible, at the beginning of an episode.

I want episodes to be fun, engaging to listen to, relevant, personal, motivating, useful, natural and funny. (fun vs funny?)

What is the world coming to? I don’t know.

Fun = enjoyable (like a theme park)
Funny = it makes you laugh (like a great comedy show)

It always seems impossible until it’s done.

Sometimes it’s dead easy. I have loads of ideas just waiting to come out and I can’t wait to switch on the record button and get started. (switch on the recording device and then press the record button)

With Amber & Paul I sometimes have to abandon the stuff I’ve planned and just go with the flow.

Other times it seems like having to climb a mini mountain and I feel like I just can’t do it that particular day. Getting started is the most difficult part.

Sometimes, when I’m doing the podcast, I start, get something slightly wrong or go off on a weird tangent, getting away from the main point of the episode and I stop the recording and start again. That can happen over and over!

It’s a bit of a catch 22 situation. I want it to be natural and not over-prepared, but I also want to be disciplined and to get to the point quite quickly. It’s a weird balance between being prepared and being spontaneous and sometimes it’s a bit difficult to walk that line.

But that’s just me. I think anyone attempting to do anything will feel the same. It also applies to learning a language. The challenge can feel a bit overwhelming but we know that it always seems impossible until it’s done.

Hopefully this can give you some motivation.

OPP: The Joe Rogan Experience

I was listening to the Joe Rogan Podcast (The Joe Rogan Experience) http://podcasts.joerogan.net/

Last week Joe Rogan interviewed Eddie Izzard. He’s a stand up comedy hero of mine.

Eddie Izzard’s unbelievable marathon running

Eddie Izzard ran 43 marathons in 51 days! (in 2012 in the UK)
Then (a few years later) he ran 27 marathons in 27 days (including 2 marathons in one day on the final day) in South Africa.
He did it all for charity and to commemorate the life of Nelson Mandela.
It’s a stunning achievement and almost unbelievable really.

43 marathons in 51 days
27 marathons in 27 days

Eddie Izzard must have felt so daunted before doing his 27 marathons.

The whole thing is mind over matter, being determined and not giving up.

I think it’s a mental battle. The best thing is to just get your head down and get moving, get a rhythm going and just don’t stop!

Keep going, keep going, keep going, and eventually it will be done and it won’t seem so impossible any more, because you will have done it.

Comments from Listeners on teacherluke.co.uk

Some comments with interesting and motivating things to say about learning English

Farshid
One of the most important things that learning the English language teaches you is you’ll learn to have to carry on without getting any outcomes for a long time, literally working but getting nothing.
That does require you to be tremendously patient, that’s a skill that you’ll develop overtime by learning English.

Sometimes you don’t notice your progress until a certain specific moment, then you realise that the work you’ve put in, or should I say the time (because it shouldn’t feel like work) has paid off.

Marta
Hi Luke, I just wanted to stop by to leave a short message – I was at a concert yesterday (British singer Passenger), it was amazing and you know what? He talked quite a lot between the songs and I was able to understand 99 % of what he was saying. Those are such special moments when I’m so very much thankful for discovering your podcast because this is definitely one of the rewards.
Thanks!!

All that time listening to the podcast has paid off.

Agnes
Hi Luke,
I just want to share my accomplishment with you that I got C1 in CAE Cambridge Exam which I took at the beginning of April :-)
I want to thank you for appealing episodes keeping me motivated and hooked on English every single day :-)
Obviously, I don’t want to stop doing my daily learning routine. Even though I’ve passed this exam, I treat it as a start into deep advanced side of the language, I’m totally hooked which means that English is my life!
I feel terribly bad when I miss one day without English.
I’m really proud of myself because I have only been learning on my own, without classrooms, courses etc. As I always say my learning process is based on listening and undoubtedly that made me person who loves learning as a whole.
Once again, thank you, because of you I love British English :-)
best
Agnes

OPP: Other People’s Podcasts

English TVLive Podcast

I was interviewed by Jacob Teacher on the English TVLive Podcast.
Jacob featured me in an episode of his Advanced Vocabulary series
You can listen to it here.

The Letter “N” |Advanced English Vocabulary

The Earful Tower with Oliver Gee (walking tour video)

I was on an Earful Tower video walking tour of Batignolle Park with Oliver Gee.

Become a Patreon supporter of the Earful Tower to unlock the full 30-minute video https://www.patreon.com/theearfultower

The Earful Tower episode about the Notre Dame fire (not featuring me, but interesting if you’d like to know more about the recent fire at Notre Dame cathedral)
theearfultower.com/2019/04/22/notre-dame-fire-what-happened-and-what-next/

Other news and announcements

Episode 600 YouTube Live – Ask Me Anything (date TBA)

Think of questions you’d like to ask me.

LEPster Meetups

Check the page on my website – in the menu under CONTACT. People are leaving comments there. They might be in your area.

LEPSTER MEETUPS

My Avengers Endgame Review (with spoilers)

I did a spoiler-filled Avengers Endgame episode, only available in the app, with Fred. We go through the whole plot of the film and talk to about each point in full depth.

GET THE LEP APP

A correction from episode 591…

I got various comments about Schleswig-Holstein, including one from Cat.

I said, quickly, that it was a city near the German/Danish border.
It’s not a city.
I hate getting anything wrong!
It is in fact the northernmost state of Germany – a whole area, a bit like an English county.
It’s really large (similar in size to Northern Ireland) and is a historic place and geographically interesting. It’s northern border is the border between Germany and Denmark. To the west it has a coastline on the North Sea and to the east a coastline on the Baltic sea.

I’ve never explored that area of the world (which is no excuse for not knowing about it) but I would really like to go there and visit.

This episode is unedited. I’ve decided to publish it as it is, warts and all.

2 Songs on guitar

If you don’t like music, you can check out now. (Check out here means to leave, like when you check out of a hotel)

Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Neil Young – Lyrics & Chords
tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/neil_young/only_love_can_break_your_heart_chords_865950

Fade Away by Oasis – Lyrics & Chords
tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/oasis/fade_away_chords_36372

Thanks for listening!

564. The Collins Words of the Year (Part 4)

More trending vocabulary and issues of the moment, this time focusing on topics like working conditions in the gig economy, the pros and cons of instagram and a true story about a unicorn riding a bike in London. Transcript available.

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PART 4 Transcript – 99% complete

Welcome back to this series about The Words of the Year. In the last 3 episodes I’ve been working my way through this list published by The Collins Dictionary online of 10 words which were used a lot in 2017. So far I’ve talked about fake newsantifa, Corbynmania, cuffing season, echo chamber, fidget spinner and gender-fluid. It’s been a bit of a tightrope for me to talk about some of those fairly controversial political topics and manage to cover the different aspects of the debates surrounding these concepts. But hopefully you’ve been finding it interesting and you’ve noticed lots of vocabulary – more than just the words of the year.

Most of what I’m saying in this series is written on the pages for these episodes on the website. I started preparing these episodes last year when Collins published their list and just never got round to recording it, but I’ve added more notes and ideas to this over the last 12 months and I’m happy to be finally putting my thoughts on record in these episodes. So do check out the pages for these episodes published on my website. If you go through all the stuff I’ve written, and perhaps try to read along as I’m speaking, it will make it easier for you to pick up bits of vocabulary that you’ll hear me using.

Generally, in episodes like this, I hope you are trying to notice little bits of language as we go along. That’s basically the point. I’m trying to provide you with a meaningful context in which you can discover or notice vocabulary which you can attempt to pick up and use yourself. The notes and scripts on the website should really help you to do that, as you can check spelling and paste new words and expressions into your word lists if you keep them. So I hope you use episodes like this as a chance to expand your vocabulary as you listen.

I’ve got 3 more words from the 2017 list to deal with and I think I’ll get that done in this episode, which is part 4 of the series. Then after this, it’s time to move onto the Collins Words of the Year for 2018! But thankfully I’ll have the help of my friend Amber Minogue (who, of course you know because she is a regular guest on the show). But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, let’s finish the word list from 2017 first.

Remember these are words or phrases which were used a lot in 2017 and which Collins selected also because they represent big issues that people were talking about or reading about in the media during 2017. All these issues are still relevant and significant today, except perhaps fidget spinners from the last episode, which I think are now old news and probably just a trend that peaked in 2017.

OK let’s carry on.

(the) Gig economy

noun: an economy in which there are few permanent employees and most jobs are assigned to temporary or freelance workers.

This is all about the current job market in the UK (and elsewhere of course). It’s an economy – or employment market in which permanent work is getting more and more rare – I’m not really sure why.

Instead it’s more and more common to just have a series of temporary jobs, being employed on a freelance basis. The expression gig economy is used to refer to this situation in which people might just move between different temporary jobs, or perhaps work a number of little jobs at the same time. This is to be contrasted with the old idea that in your career you find just one permanent job with a company that employs you for life, or at least until you retire.

Nowadays there seems to be less job security, or perhaps just more flexibility than there used to be.

We’ve got a bit of vocabulary here about types of job, or types of contract and then we’ll break down the expression “gig economy” as well, which basically means just explaining what a gig is.

Let’s look at the difference between a permanent job and a freelance or temporary job.

“Hey, I got a new job.” Your friend might say. How do you respond?

“Oh, cool. Is it a permanent contract?”

“No, just temping” or “No I’m freelancing still, but it’s for 6 months, which isn’t bad”

  • A permanent job / A permanent contract
  • A temporary contract / Temping
  • Freelancing

The advantage of a permanent job is that you get more security. You’re certain to have work and to be paid every month, but you’re committed to that job. With freelance or temporary work you have a bit more flexibility. You can probably say to employers “Hey, I’m not free for the month of April” or something and you can do whatever you want in April because there are no strings attached. But, why would you want to do that? You still need to pay the rent. You need to keep working, right? Usually temporary contracts are just not as good as permanent ones, unless for some reason you only want to work for a short period – like maybe you just want to work for the next 3 months before you go travelling or something.

The downside of temporary or freelance work is that because there’s not permanent contract, your employer can just say, “Oh, we’ve got no work for you next week, sorry” and you say “Oh, any idea when you will need me?” and they say “We’ll let you know” and then you’re facing a period of no work, and no money to pay the rent. It’s uncertain. What happens then is that in this situation you end up going around doing lots of little temporary jobs, perhaps doing different types of work, some part-time stuff, anything so you can pay the rent and pay for your mobile phone connection and your supply of basic essentials like food, water, shelter, clothing, wifi and hipster coffee. The gig economy refers to this situation, in which there are fewer permanent jobs and everyone’s just rushing around doing little gigs here, little gigs there.

Some more bits of vocabulary

a Gig – a ‘one-off’ job. It’s usually used to refer to a comedy show or a music show, by comedians or musicians. “I did a gig last night” or “You’ve been gigging a lot recently” or “What’s the worst gig you’ve ever done?” or “we went to a great gig last night” or “I’ve got a gig tonight”.

It’s also used more and more to refer to other types of work, e.g. just one-off temporary contracts. “I’ve got a gig at a startup company in town, doing their website. It’s a pretty good gig actually.”

The gig economy (collinsdictionary.com)
In July 2017 the UK prime minister, Theresa May, made a speech promising to support the increasing number of workers in the ‘gig economy’, where the flexibility of short-term and part-time working comes at the cost of having little job security and none of the employment benefits enjoyed by permanent members of staff.

Really, this refers to the fact that instead of doing one single permanent job these days, more and more people are doing multiple part-time jobs at the same time.

OK, so you get the idea.

This doesn’t mean that everyone is doing temporary work, it’s just that’s it’s more and more common. On the one hand this means we have a flexible workforce, but on the other hand it’s a situation in which there’s less and less job security.

What about where you live? Is there a gig economy there?

Zero-hours contracts

If you’ve spent any time in the UK and read any papers or listened to the news recently, you must have come across this expression. 

This from the BBC’s website https://www.bbc.com/news/business-23573442

Q: What are zero-hours contracts?

A: Zero-hours contracts, or casual contracts, allow employers to hire staff with no guarantee of work.

They mean employees work only when they are needed by employers, often at short notice. Their pay depends on how many hours they work.

Some zero-hours contracts require workers to take the shifts they are offered, while others do not.

Sick pay is often not included, although holiday pay should be, in line with working time regulations.

Q: Why are they controversial?

A: There is concern that zero-hours contracts do not offer enough financial stability and security.

The ONS found that employees on such a contract worked an average of 25 hours a week.

However, about a third of those on zero-hours contracts want more hours – mostly in their current job – compared with just 10% of other people in employment.

The CIPD research found that 16% of zero-hours workers said their employer often failed to provide them with sufficient hours each week.

The ONS said that zero-hours workers were more likely to be women or in full-time education and aged under 25 or over 65.

Employees on zero-hours contracts also do not have the same employment rights as those on traditional contracts, and critics are concerned that the contracts are being used to avoid employers’ responsibilities to employees.

So the issue is that zero hours contracts just let employers have all the control and power.

They’re really awful for workers’ rights.

Co-working spaces – these are rather cool and groovy spaces where you can go and work. They’re often populated by young people doing freelance work, or perhaps people who need an office for a short period and don’t have one, so they use co-working spaces as flexible alternatives to having an office. The rise of co-working spaces shows us that the job market is changing and is becoming more temporary in nature. They’re cool spaces, but they can be a bit noisy and expensive long term. They’re one of the parts of the gig economy.

Some gigs you might need to do if you’re struggling to find a permanent contract: waiter, barman, barista in a coffee shop, cleaner, clerical worker (doing basic office work like filing or data entry) or just a job in Starbucks, Uber driver, Deliveroo cyclist, and many more…

These are all jobs that you might take if you’re a gig economy worker, perhaps doing several jobs at the same time during your working week, while also taking some kind of academic course in an attempt to get an edge in the job market.

It’s probably a slightly insecure and confusing way of life, being all these things at the same time. Perhaps it’s cool to have so much flexibility too. There might be a sense of freedom in it, but I wouldn’t want that kind of lifestyle as the father of a child… but maybe I do actually have that lifestyle. I teach part time at the British Council and the rest of my time is spent working mostly alone on my online English teaching projects, while also doing stand-up comedy in the evenings and taking odd little extra jobs on the side, like sometimes I do voice-over work, sometimes I do bits of comedy writing, sometimes some acting… Maybe I am a gig economy worker. If it wasn’t for the permanent contract at the B.C. I would feel a bit more insecure I think (although LEP Premium is starting to make it possible for me to have more financial security and I’m lucky enough that my wife also contributes to our family budget).

Collocations with gig economy
A gig economy worker
One in three gig economy workers juggle at least two jobs at the same time, according to a study by one of the world’s biggest insurance companies. (Independent)

Gig economy companies
More than a million workers in Britain’s gig economy risk losing more than £22,000 each from being wrongly labelled as self-employed, according to research that shows the dangers posed to people in fragile employment.

The insurance firm Zurich said forcing gig economy companies to classify their workers as employees rather than self-employed would mean automatic enrolment in a workplace pension. Under these rules, it estimates a typical worker aged 25 and earning £25,000 a year would receive a total of £22,000 in employer contributions by the time they retire. (The Guardian)

Gig economy practices (practices = things that are done, and the way they are done)
UK government delays possible reforms to gig economy practices
The Guardian-Dec 5, 2017
Reforms to the gig economy expected to improve rights for up to 1.1 million people have been delayed until next year, in the latest sign that Brexit negotiations are hampering domestic policy.

Do you know any examples of this?
Are you a gig economy worker?

Insta

Adjective (slang): of or relating to the photo-sharing application Instagram

Some collocations/examples of ‘insta’ used as an adjective
insta friends
insta brand
insta trainer

Meet ‘Agent 00Fitness’: The unstoppable rise of the ‘Insta-trainer’
CNN-Dec 18, 2017
The most prominent American athlete to have picked up on the Insta-training trend is LeBron James, who has been posting workout clips for the past few years to his nearly 34 million Instagram followers.

Your Favorite Insta-Brand Just Launched Knits
Refinery29-10 hours ago
Welcome to our new bi-weekly column, Insta-Bait, where we highlight the brands taking over our feeds right now — because Instagram isn’t just a place where we DM memes to our friends and double-tap our style icons’ most on-point outfits, it’s where we discover new labels on the regular.

Do you use instagram?
Is it good for people’s mental health?

Instagram and mental health
Here is a reputable report about mental health and social media

qz.com/988765/instagram-fb-is-the-most-harmful-social-network-for-your-mental-health-but-youtube-goog-has-a-positive-effect-a-new-report-says/

Unicorn

noun:
(1) an imaginary creature depicted as a white horse with one long spiralled horn growing from its forehead, regarded as symbol of innocence and purity
(2) a recently launched business enterprise that is valued at more than one billion dollars

Unicorns aren’t new, but their popularity on the Internet (and of course everywhere else now too) is a pretty recent development. This ancient mythical creature is enjoying a renaissance of its own right now, both in images created by amateur computer users and for products sold in stores. Are you seeing unicorns pop up on a daily basis across your Twitter feed, Tumblr dashboard, or Facebook page, and in reality just in front of your actual face in the real world that you can touch? (unicornsrule.com)

We know what a unicorn is, but why are they so popular and prevalent these days?

Examples:
Unicorn t-shirts
Images of unicorns and rainbows
Memes featuring unicorns and rainbows and stuff

What is a unicorn? It’s a mythical animal
What do they represent? (purity, strength, honour, freedom, being fabulous, rarity (they’re rare), beauty, innocence, things which are hard to come by these days – idealism of identity, freedom to be whoever or whatever you want to be, the knowledge that it’s impossible to find)
Sometimes they appear on flags – e.g. they’re actually the symbol of Scotland, appears on the UK royal coat of arms (chained up because they were thought to be dangerous if free – quite sad isn’t it? Or maybe they’re chained up because Scottish kings were so awesome that they were even capable of catching unicorns, so now they’re in chains to represent the awesomeness of Scottish kings)
Appearance in some films – Blade Runner, Legend
Sexual connotation – in the LGBT community – because they often appear with rainbows, they’re used as symbols of activism. You might see them being used in marches promoting the rights of the LGBT community.
There’s also some slang too – apparently a unicorn can mean a single, attractive, healthy, bisexual female who wants to have a relationship with a couple. So hard to find that they’re considered as rare as a unicorn.

In finance: A unicorn is a startup company valued at over $1 billion. A new company that is immediately valued really highly. The term was coined in 2013 by venture capitalist Aileen Lee, choosing the mythical animal to represent the statistical rarity of such successful ventures. According to TechCrunch, there were 223 unicorns as of March 2017.[6] The largest unicorns included Uber, Xiaomi, Airbnb, Palantir, Dropbox and Pinterest.[7]

Discussion Questions
Do you think they were ever real?
What is it about unicorns that captures people’s imaginations?
Why are they popular now?
Unicorn start up companies: Uber, Airbnb, Dropbox – do you use any of these?

A message from a LEPster featuring a unicorn riding a bike in London

Message:

Hi Luke,

I’ve often thought of writing to you or leaving you a comment on Facebook but a. I’m not much of a “social”/“public” person b. I didn’t feel like it, honestly.

Until now.

Two things have happened to make me write to you. I’ve currently moved to London and:
1. I saw your name in a tower of “missing” letters (or whatever they are) at the front gate of my new residence here and I find it funny.
*mental note: check how common the name Luke and the last name Thompson are in England
2. I saw a cycling unicorn.

Could sound weird but it’s London, you know. (I hope you do because it is my first time in London. I’ve been here just since late August and I’m still, happily, freaking out many times in a day.)

Well, long story short… Let’s get to the unicorn.

Friday. 16th November. 10:00 am. Near Hackney Central.
I was on the sidewalk [Luke: pavement, surely?] trying to cross the road when a man dressed up as a unicorn cycled past. I smiled, of course, (I’m quite expressive). What a happy moment, a unicorn on a bike. In the morning. Lovely. Suddenly, a woman (she didn’t look crazy although she probably was…) came up to me, quite angry, shouting:
– “Are you laughing at that unicorn?????”
Here is when you come in. At that moment I remembered one of your marvellous podcasts dedicated to Alan Partridge when you made the difference between “laughing at” and “laughing with” (thanks Luke. The same in Spanish but still thanks because many times it’s just the opposite. And mainly thanks for the English comedy you bring to our lives) So I said:
– “Not at, with…” (Quite shy…or scared…)
And the woman said (still shouting and in an angry mood):
– “Oh, good. Because if a cycling unicorn doesn’t cheer you up you are MISERABLE!!!”
And she was gone, like very offended… THE END.

I don’t know whether it’s been “life-live comedy” or what, but it did feel like a comedy sketch.

That’s all. I’ve just received a notification of a new Luke’s English Podcast episode (how appropriate! I’m glad you’re back) so I’m now going to do another thing that cheers me up apart from seeing a cycling unicorn: listen to your podcast. THANKS.

Dictionary definitions – Collins English Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers

Parts 5 & 6 with Amber coming soon (Words for 2018)

563. The Collins Words of the Year (Part 3)

More vocabulary explanations & discussion of big issues, including how social media affects our worldview, the pros and cons of fidget spinners and debates about gender identity, including thoughts on the new female Doctor in Doctor Who. Transcript available.

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Part 3 – Transcript (99% complete)

Welcome back to part 3 of this series I’m doing about the Collins Dictionary Words of the Year. I’m going through the list of words from 2017 and then the plan is to move onto the words for 2018 and talk about them with Amber. She’s coming round here tomorrow morning actually.

So the Words of the Year – Collins select these lists of words every year, based on which words they’ve noticed being used a lot in this 12 month period. They’re not necessarily new words, and they might be phrases made from existing words. The main thing is that these words have risen in use significantly during the period and as a result they tap into issues, events and feelings that are very current.

Talking about the words of the year on the podcast is both a way for me to explore some vocabulary and also just talk about some issues of the moment.

Check the page on the website for this episode in order to see a lot of the things I’m saying written there, as transcripts and for other information.

Talking about these words, and discussing them also involves using various other useful bits of vocabulary that you can learn from me. Listening to episodes of this podcast can help you raise your level of English, starting with your listening skills – but the benefits to your English can be many, including developing your awareness of pronunciation, expanding your vocabulary, noticing aspects of grammar and all of this helps you with your speaking skills too. That’s the plan. Certainly, listening regularly, listening for longer periods and listening to something that I hope holds your attention – this is all really healthy for your English, so let’s keep going.

I have 6 words/phrases to deal with in this episode, so let’s not hang about.

In part 1 of the series I talked about how Collins uses data to make its dictionaries and other language reference books and I talked for quite a long time about the phrase fake news which topped their Words of the Year list for 2017.

Then in part 2 I talked about other words in the list for 2017, including antifa, corbynmania, and cuffing season. 

I’ve got 6 words left. Let’s see if I can deal with them all in part 3 here. Let’s go.

Echo chamber

noun: an environment, especially on a social media site, in which any statement of opinion is likely to be greeted with approval because it will only be read or heard by people who hold similar views .

The concept is, that if you live in an echo chamber, you only ever hear your own opinions coming back to you.

Echo (a verb and a noun) is when you make a sound and it travels away from you and then bounces off a surface and comes back to you. It’s like if you’re in a huge hallway and you go “hello!” and you then hear your own voice coming back to you, saying “hello!”

Hello hello hello ? ? ?

Echo echo echo ! ! !

So the echo chamber idea – when you live in a world in which you only ever hear or read your own ideas.

Nowadays there is so much media content out there, including news and just different opinions and comments about the world, and we have the ability to filter out certain things.

Eventually, if you only choose to see or hear things that you like, you’ll never hear about any conflicting opinions, you’ll never face disagreement, contradiction, challenge or other points of view. This can be quite dangerous. It makes you soft and unprepared for your ideas to be challenged. It can make you small minded because you only get a blinkered view of the world – you don’t get exposed to different opinions and it makes you unaware of what’s really going on in the world. It’s like living in a bubble. When something big happens, it can seem totally shocking and unbelievable.

Weirdly, in this super connected world, we are less and less connected and more and more divided, as we put ourselves into these more carefully defined personal categories and only receive information that fits with that category, we become more separated from the experiences of other groups of people.

That’s the theory behind the expression, echo chamber. Generally, this expression is a buzz word for this whole phenomenon.

Filtering out opposing viewpoints and living in a bubble.

These circumstances can push us away from each other, and make it harder to understand different opinions.

The results of the Brexit referendum and US presidential election in 2016 were both greeted with disbelief and shock by some people. The people on the losing side could not understand how their opponents refused to have their opinions changed by apparently reasonable arguments, while the winners remained convinced of the rightness of their own cause.

Basically, we were surprised and shocked by the existence of other points of view. Experts said that this situation was due to many people living in an ‘echo chamber’, where they only hear the views of people who share and reinforce their own opinions. This is increasingly possible when people form online communities that exclude any voices that challenge or threaten them.

For example, a lot of people no longer read newspapers or get their news from the TV. Instead they perhaps just look at Twitter to see what’s going on, but on Twitter you choose each and every account that you follow so you cherry pick the content, rather than just receiving the same information as everyone else.

Also it’s quite common to block people who disagree with you or argue with you. The result is an echo-chamber. And it’s not just for people who didn’t vote for Trump or Brexit. There are right-wing echo chambers too, including social media sites that welcome the types of opinions that are not really accepted by more conventional social media. So everyone is capable of living in an echo chamber.

The term ‘echo chamber’ originally referred to a room that scientists constructed to create echoes for use in sound recording or experiments.

Echo chambers are used to create real echoes which can be used for music or sound recording, instead of relying on digital echo (delay) effects.

Often the best echo chambers for music are bathrooms because they have those shiny ceramic tiles that let the sound bounce around nicely. That’s one of the reasons it’s nice to sing in the shower. Your voice echoes off the tiles and it sounds pretty good!

The idea of an environment where you can hear your own voice repeated back to you made this a perfect metaphor for the world of social media, where many people only talk with those who agree with them, thus creating a rather distorted picture of what the world is really like.

Do you live in an echo chamber?

A real echo chamber in a music studio. Actual echo chambers are used to create genuine echo and reverb effects. Check it out! What a cool studio!

Fidget spinner

noun: a small toy comprising of two or three prongs arranged around a central bearing, designed to be spun by the fingers as means of improving concentration or relieving stress.

This is so 2016/2017. I don’t know if people still use them or talk about them. Perhaps kids these days have moved on and talking about fidget spinners is not cool at all.

They look a bit like little wheels and you hold them between your fingers, flick them and they spin around and around quite satisfyingly. They’re fun to just fidget with, and fidgeting with them is quite addictive.

So, it’s just a fun toy that spins in your hand, right? No arguments and politics here, right? Nope – even fidget spinners divide people too!

Let’s look at the for & against.

For
It’s fun!
People say they’re good for kids with ADHD and autism.

From iheisthmus.com www.theisthmus.com.au/2017/06/fidget-spinners-the-for-the-against-the-important/

The biggest argument from the pro-spinners side is that they are a useful tool for kids with ADHD, autism, anxiety, and other similar conditions. Occupational therapist Sandra Mortimer said “It can help with emotional regulation for children feeling anxious, worried and nervous.”

While there is no academic research about fidget spinners in particular, fidget tools (such as putty and stress balls) have long been known to help with this. The lack of specific academic research is to be expected though– fidget spinners are only a few months old, and research takes literally forever (well, a really long time at least).

There are some pretty cool creative uses for it (although as far as I can see this just means letting them spin in different places). E.g. balance a spinner on your fingers, make them spin on a table and see how long it spins, throw them between your hands while they spin, spin them and switch them onto different fingers, spin it and put it onto your nose, etc…

Against
As a fidget tool – it’s not a very good one. It’s big, it requires hand eye coordination so kids have to look at it – so it’s actually very distracting. It’s hard to just spin it in your hand and not look at it. So you can’t use it while working for example, or just have it in your pocket. It tends to use all your concentration.

It’s just an annoying trend and they’ll probably be forgotten in a few years until they come back as the latest nostalgia toy.

Have you ever used one?

Do your kids have them?

Gender-fluid

adjective: not identifying exclusively with one gender rather than another

So, it means when people don’t feel they have a fixed gender. They might feel male sometimes and female at other times and perhaps even feel like they belong to some other gendered category that we don’t even really have the language to describe.

Oh no, we’re back on difficult territory again! This is another minefield of a topic.

Now I remember why I kept putting off doing this episode! Too many trigger warnings, potential problems and complexity! But it’s a big subject at the moment, so let’s have a look…

This word relates to people who don’t identify as having a fixed gender.

Noun: gender fluidity

Some quick examples from a Google News search for “gender fluid”.

Pearl Mackie: It’s 2017- the Doctor is gender fluid
PinkNews-Dec 15, 2017
Outgoing Doctor Who star Pearl Mackie has responded to the backlash against a female Doctor, saying that the Doctor is gender fluid and the gender of the actor doesn’t matter.

Loki will be pansexual and gender-fluid in new Marvel novel
Washington Blade Dec 13, 2017
Marvel is releasing a series of three novels focusing on anti-heroes in 2019. One novel will focus on Loki, Thor’s adopted brother and nemesis. Author Mackenzi Lee took to Twitter to answer questions about the project and informed fans that Loki is “canonically a pansexual and genderfluid character.”

Men in skirts: gender-fluid fashion is no longer a novelty
Times LIVE-Dec 14, 2017
The ancient Egyptians, Romans, Zulus, Scots and countless others didn’t wear trousers and no one thought of them as effeminate. [Luke: I challenge anyone to find a bunch of Scottish men in kilts and to tell them they are effeminate! Ha! Good luck with that pal.] The same could be said of jewellery and many other fashion items. We spoke to a couple of experts to find out why gender-fluid fashion is trending.

Some people see this as progress, others see it and just get really angry. They get ‘triggered’ by it, using that expression again from part 1 of this series.

I’m just not going to get into it at great length because I exhausted myself with “fake news” and “antifa” and I’m going to take a pass on this one.

Do you have an opinion on this?

It’s complex. It’s not just – do you mind that people define their identity outside the traditional binary gender roles. It’s not just that. It’s also things like how this affects various changes in society. Some people think it’s all progress, others are really losing their minds about it, other people are just putting their foot down and saying “wait, I don’t mind how you identify – you’re free to be whoever you want, but don’t force me to change my world” – that type of thing.

Gender-fluid people or transgender people are saying “Hey, it would be really nice and respectful if you could just acknowledge my identity and perhaps make a few changes to make me feel like I belong in this world – like maybe you can use different language to make me feel accepted – in fact, we’re working on making it illegal to refuse to do so”, and those who disagree are saying “you can’t force me to do things like use certain language by law”  – and then other people are far less respectful and reasonable in their dialogue, and there’s just a lot of abuse and hate speech flying around too. And then there are people like me who are going “what? Sorry, what? Who said… wait? Who’s right? What’s going on? What year is it???”

Oh, it’s probably worth mentioning Doctor Who again.

The 13th Doctor, played by Jodie Whittaker

So, as you may know, Doctor Who is a British science fiction TV show that’s been on television longer than a lot of people have been alive. I think it has the record as the longest running TV series ever, having started in 1963 and still going strong today.

In a nutshell, Doctor Who is about a time-travelling alien (who looks human and speaks English and everything) who travels around in a blue police box, generally saving the earth. It’s a lot of fun and is very inventive, creative and funny and many generations of people in the UK grew up as children watching the show. My parents grew up with it, my brother and I grew up with it, our nieces and nephews are growing up with it.

The character, called The Doctor, has actually died lots of times, but every time the Doctor dies – usually when he comes to the end of his current life-span, he regenerates in a new form.

Basically, at the end of a season the Doctor dies and then is reborn but with a new actor in the next season (or series as we usually say in British English actually!)

It’s a really cool way of keeping a TV series going. Each new incarnation of the Doctor is different in that they have a certain look, they have certain characteristics – brought by the different actor in the role each time, but also the Doctor always maintains certain core characteristics like charisma, leadership, strength, courage, eccentricity, humour, love for the humans and a desire to protect us, certain human companions and the blue spaceship or TARDIS (actually a craft that travels through both space and time).

There have been loads of actors playing the doctor over the years, and millions of us are very affectionate towards this character and the actors who have played him (or her).

Then this year, the producers of the show decided that the new Doctor would be played by a woman. Jodie Whittaker was chosen – a good British actress. So now, The Doctor is a woman. It turns out, the Doctor is a gender-fluid character. She doesn’t always regenerate as a man, she can regenerate as a woman too. Naturally, a lot of people were really pissed off, saying things like “The Doctor is not a woman! You’ve ruined this character and my memories of childhood! Stop this PC nonsense from infecting everything! This is just the loony left at the BBC trying to infect everything with poisonous feminism! Leave our TV characters alone!”

I read some comments saying things like, “It’s The Doctor, not The Nurse – he should be a man!” A lot of it is just sexism. I understand that people don’t like change, and this character is very close to people’s hearts, but there’s actually no reason why The Doctor can only be male. It’s a fictional time travelling alien from another planet, that changes shape when it dies. I think it can turn into a woman, that’s fine!

I haven’t actually seen any of the episodes in their entirety. I must admit that these days whenever I watch Doctor Who, I’m just completely confused! It’s great and there’s something very comforting about the fact that the show still going after all these years, but the storylines always confuse me completely. I have seen clips of the new Doctor Who with Jodie Whittaker and it looks good. She’s funny and a bit weird and charismatic and that’s the spirit of the character. I personally don’t mind that the doctor is a woman at the moment. I think the writers can do whatever they like with the character.

As long as the writing is still good, the acting is good, the general hallmarks of Doctor Who are still the same, I think it’s ok.

I’d be more upset if the writers of Doctor Who changed something more important about the character – like deciding she now shouldn’t have a sense of humour, or that she should stop caring about people, or that she loses the Tardis or something like that. That would be worse. The Doctor becoming a woman – doesn’t really change the spirit of the character that much and if anything it brings something fresh to the role, and it looks like Jodie Whittaker is great and loads of fun, like the Doctor should be.

So, female Doctor Who – why not?

But I don’t think this really counts as proper gender fluidity actually, because it’s a fictional alien character. I think gender fluidity is more likely to impact our lives in more real ways than this. Like for example how it is affecting language and conversations about language.

For example, what pronouns do we use to refer to people who have different gender identities, like people who identify as neither a woman nor a man, or some other gender which is a combination of both somehow. People might say “I feel that I am neither a man nor a woman” “I’m both and the language doesn’t have the words to reflect that, so we need to introduce some new words to include us, because if we’re not included in the language, then the culture is extremely prejudiced against us.” Also, trans-gender or gender-fluid people can feel very rejected or unrepresented or offended when their identity isn’t recognised by people, specifically when the wrong pronouns are used.

Pronouns – words like he, she, her, his and so on.

So some people want to introduce new pronouns to reflect the diversity of gender identities out there and they want to introduce new laws which say it’s technically a hate crime to use the wrong pronouns. 

I don’t know if this kind of thing has ever happened before and there are several debates combined in this. There’s the “Do people have the right to change their gender if they feel that way?” and in my opinion I kind of think, well, why not I think people should be allowed to do what they want. But a second debate is, “Do they get to legislate what language we can and can’t use?”

Forcing people to use certain forms of language by law – I just don’t know what to think about that. That does seem a bit like controlling people’s freedom to use language, but this whole thing exists in a very fuzzy and grey area involving freedom of speech and also the problem of hate speech and so on… It’s a moral maze.

And so, that’s where we’ll leave this subject. I’d like to think it’s ok for me not to have an opinion on some things. That’s my “I have rights” card here – I claim the right to just not have an opinion, thanks very much. I’m not ready to decide what I think about it all yet, and that’s ok. I’m allowed to do that, and so are you.

I know, you’re not even asking for my opinion, right? And I have no duty to give you my opinion.

Anyway, it’s interesting and you’re hearing all the words I’m using to talk about it, right?

This is the end of part 3! This series is longer than I expected. Part 4 coming soon…

Dictionary definitions – Collins English Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers

561. The Collins Words of the Year (Part 1)

The first part of an episode series about trending vocabulary – words which have been used a lot in the last couple of years. Listen to me talk about words chosen by Collins Dictionaries as their “Words of the Year”. This first episode focuses on how publishers use big data and then lots of discussion about the 2017 word of the year, which was fake news.

[DOWNLOAD]

Episode Transcript (95% complete)

Introduction

Hello hello!

This episode series (and it will be a series of at least 3 episodes) is all about the Words of the Year. It’s going to contain vocabulary and some general discussion from me about current issues in politics, life and culture.

I originally prepared this episode a year ago in 2017 when the Collins online dictionary released their words of the year for that year, but I never got round to recording it.

Now it’s a year later and Collins have released a new list for 2018, so I thought I’d record and publish the episodes about the words from 2017 and then do 2018’s words as well. That’s what this series will be – The Words of the Year for the last two years running.

I still doesn’t feel completely ready to record this and I’m sure there’s more preparation work to be done, but I’ve decided “Oh, what the hell, it’s time to record this”. Sometimes you can just spend forever preparing and still not feel like it’s ready, so here it is, even though this will probably get into some slightly touchy areas of politics in some cases.

Actually, I think this is one of the reasons I didn’t record this episode, because it’s quite hard to talk about some of these words and their contexts without getting all bogged down in the politics of the moment, and frankly a lot of things about the politics of the moment are just exhausting and divisive, meaning – the topic just divides people and triggers people and I don’t need to do that. But I will talk about these things a bit on this podcast for learners of English because it’s worth exploring some touchy subjects sometimes so you can hear the language that relates to these topics, and these are very current topics.

By the way, getting triggered – this is an expression that’s been used a lot over the last few years. If someone gets triggered it means they have a quick and strong emotional reaction to something. It could mean getting angry when someone says a particular thing or talks about a certain topic in a certain way. It’s associated with people getting angry online.

For example, if I started talking about Trump in a negative way, any Trump supporters listening might get triggered and might write some quick, angry message in the comment section and it’s obvious that I upset this person just by even mentioning Trump name in a less than flattering context.

That’s just an example, but really triggered has a more serious meaning and it’s when something reminds people of a past traumatic experience. Like, a war veteran who had horrible experiences and is living with post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), they might be struggling to deal with the emotional and sensory stress of having been in war and perhaps loud noises in a film or loud fireworks at night could trigger their PTSD, causing them to be brought back emotionally or mentally to the battlefield.

Also, people suffering from drug or alcohol addiction who are clean – they’re avoiding drink or drugs, but something might trigger their old behaviour to come back, like perhaps getting involved with an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend and then arguing and splitting up with that person, this could trigger cravings for the drugs or alcohol they used to use a lot in the past.

Also, a trigger in a gun is the part of the gun that causes it to fire. You press the trigger with your finger, and bang!

So you can see where the words trigger or triggered come from.

This is not even one of the words of the year, but I mention it here because I really hope you don’t get triggered by anything in this episode. Instead I’m just talking about some topics that are very current and which probably affect all of our lives in some way. I hope you don’t get triggered by any of it. Not all of it is of political nature, as you will see.

I think my audience aren’t the sort of people to get triggered easily. I don’t think you’re the sorts of people who have knee jerk reactions.

So anyway this is the beginning of this series about the words of the year for the last two years, starting with 2017 and then moving on to 2018. For the 2017 words I’ll be on my own and for the 2018 words I expect to be joined by PODPAL Amber Minogue. OK? Good.

So let’s start with the 2017 Collins Words of the Year. Here we go.

This episode is all about 10 words which were used so much in 2017 that they were put into a list of “the words of the year” by the makers of Collins Dictionary. In this episode I’m going to go through the words, make sure you all are clear about what they mean and then just discuss the issues that relate to these words.

Basically, this episode could even be called “Some of the big issues of the moment” because these words and phrases represent big movements and issues in culture that have been reported on, discussed and talked about a lot recently.

What are “The Words of the Year”?

Every year Collins (the dictionary publisher) publishes its “Words of the Year” list. It’s also done by other dictionaries including Oxford and Merriam-Webster.

In 2015, if you remember, I talked to Amber and Paul about the Collins words of the year, which included the words binge-watch (meaning to watch lots of episodes of a TV show in one long session) and manspread (the way men sit with their legs wide apart, taking up a lot of room and imposing themselves on a situation).

In 2016 the Collins word of the year was Brexit, for obvious reasons. The Oxford word of the year in 2016 was post-truth, defined by the Oxford Dictionary online as:
Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.
For example, ‘in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire’.

So that was 2015 and 2016 but now let’s talk about the words of the year again – this time for 2017. I know this is last year (I’m recording this in 2018), but honestly these words are still very much at the centre of what’s going on. I started planning this episode last year and only now am I managing to record it. So it’s a bit overdue, but this is still worth doing, these words and issues are still very current and apply to life today just like they did a few months ago. The plan is to move onto the words for 2018 after this.

The Full Shortlist of Words
www.collinsdictionary.com/word-lovers-blog/new/collins-2017-word-of-the-year-shortlist,396,HCB.html

Etymology and more details for the words
www.collinsdictionary.com/word-lovers-blog/new/etymology-corner-collins-word-of-the-year-2017,400,HCB.html

Generally – The Words of the Year list reveals the words and phrases which have seen a spike in usage during the year. These are words that were used more in this 12 month period than at other times. In some cases it means words which have been around for ages but which have come back significantly this year.

It’s not just a list of the 12 most frequent words. I expect that list would be a bit boring – it would be words like “the” and “you” or “I”. So it’s not the 12 most frequently used words, but the words which have seen the biggest increase in use over the 12 month period. They might also be new words which have suddenly started being used a lot.

Many of the words are actually two-word phrases or portmanteaus made from already-existing words. A portmanteau is a word made by combining two other words, e.g. Brexit, manspread, spork, hangry etc.

These words reveal the year’s hot-topics – the things that have been discussed a lot over the last 12 months, particularly in the media (including conventional and online media).

It’s not completely clear to me how Collins comes up with the list. What’s their criteria? I’ve been trying to find out for ages.

But basically I think it goes like this (and this is interesting because it tells us how dictionaries work).

How do Dictionaries Work?

How do these dictionary makers (Lexicographers) keep track of language? Do they just decide on their own, because they are experts? Nope, they use data.

Generally, dictionaries use these things called corpora in order to monitor the frequency and context in which words are being used.

A corpora is a huge database of language. Imagine a machine which counts words and word combinations. Imagine if you could record every bit of language usage (every conversation, everything written down) and feed it into the machine. That machine could then tell you exactly how often certain words are used (frequency) and how they are used (e.g. with which other words, in what kind of grammatical form, etc).

This would be a corpora containing every single bit of language usage – every single word which is spoken or written down. This isn’t really possible I guess, because dictionary makers don’t have access to that kind of information. They can’t record absolutely everything, right? That would be a bit creepy and scary – imagine them recording everything we said. I know some people think that governments and corporations are actually doing this – like, perhaps using our phones to spy on us and record what we say so they can sell the data to marketing companies, or perhaps for some other more sinister reasons – but that’s another story for another time.

The point here is that it’s very difficult for dictionary makers to know exactly how language is used, but they do their best to get as much data as possible.

This machine I mentioned is not far from being true. The corpora that dictionary makers like Collins actually use are huge databases but they don’t contain records of absolutely all the English that is spoken or written. However – they are often very extensive. They make them as extensive as possible in fact. They get as much English into them as possible. In fact, it’s impressive and amazing how much language usage they manage to record and monitor.

Collins Dictionaries use the Collins Corpus.

This is from Collins.co.uk collins.co.uk/page/The+Collins+Corpus

What’s in the Collins Corpus?

The Collins Corpus is an analytical database of English with over 4.5 billion words. It contains written material from websites, newspapers, magazines and books published around the world, and spoken material from radio, TV and everyday conversations. [Luke: I don’t know which conversations, or who they are listening to and how] New data is fed into the Corpus every month, to help the Collins dictionary editors identify new words and meanings from the moment they are first used.

What does the Corpus tell us?

All COBUILD* dictionaries are based on the information found in the Collins Corpus. The full Corpus contains 4.5 billion words. The Bank of English™ is a subset of that corpus – just 650 million words from a carefully chosen selection of sources, to give a balanced and accurate reflection of English as it is used today.

(*COBUILD, is an acronym for Collins Birmingham University International Language Database, and it’s a British research facility set up at the University of Birmingham in 1980 and funded by Collins publishers.)

So it’s not just a panel of judges or experts who decide which words go in, it’s the data which tells Collins which words people are actually using, and therefore the dictionary becomes an accurate and impartial source of information. Basically – it can tell us how English is really used, not how some people think it should be used.

I feel like it’s worth pointing that out, because when some people think about dictionaries, grammar books and linguistics, they immediately start to think of people judging other people’s English and deciding what’s right and wrong. It’s much more, for want of a better word, democratic than that.

However, in the case of the Words of the Year, I think there are some limitations and these limitations sometimes cause us to think “What? Really?” when we actually see the list of words of the year when it is published.

Because the data comes from mainly written sources and from the media in general (conventional and social media I expect) I think the language is skewed towards the kinds of things that are written about or discussed online or in the press. So, it’s not completely representative of the things people have been saying. It’s more representative of what people have been saying or writing about in the media and online. So the Words of the Year end up telling us a lot about the stories being reported in the press, and trends in the general culture.

These are words that have seen a spike in usage. We might not use these words that much in everyday conversation (well, in some cases yes, but in other cases less so – in my conversations anyway), but they have been used this year more than before and they do reflect issues which have been important in society.

Also, Collins do have judges who help to pick the words of the year, so it’s not just based on data – there is some human selection going on there too.

Dictionaries and grammar books (the ones published by the big publishers) are based on the big data mostly.

I have picked the Collins list this year (rather than, say, The Merriam Webster dictionary) because:

  • It’s generally a British English dictionary, but they do include American English and English from other places. So it’s global English but from the British point of view.
  • Their list just seems to me personally to be better than other lists. E.g. Oxford in 2017 chose Youthquake as their word of the year. I didn’t hear that word at all in 2017, whereas the Collins word of the year is definitely something I’ve heard a lot and I think is really relevant to the current culture.
  • I really like the Collins online dictionary. It’s well designed, works well and they provide all the information you need when looking for a word, including all the things you’d expect like the definition, examples, part of speech, phonetic script, audio of the word – but also things like the frequency of the word over time and a simple rating showing you if it’s commonly used (and therefore worth knowing) or not.

Not every word you find is vital to your English. It’s worth considering how frequent it is used when deciding if you’re going to learn it, remember it and use it yourself. It helps you to be more selective about the vocabulary you’re learning.

Collinsdictionary.com – use it when you’re checking new words. Remember to check what kind of dictionary you’re using, e.g. make sure it’s an English-English dictionary.

Most of these words reveal important trending issues and deep divisions in society today.

Almost all of them involve some level of debate.

Let’s get started

Words of the Year (2017)

Fake news

noun: false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting

Information that has been presented as fact, usually in some sort of news report, but is actually not true and is probably just being used for propaganda purposes.

The phrase “fake news” strikes right at the core of the struggle that currently exists around objective truth and the manipulation of information for political advantage. I think it proves that we’re living in a scary time where our basic right to objective and impartial news reporting is under threat, which in turn threatens our basic human rights.

“Fake news” could mean several things, depending on who you are. It’s very contentious (controversial – likely to cause disagreement) except that everyone is using it. The contentious thing is that nobody quite agrees on which news is the fake news. Different people with different political agendas use the phrase in different ways. I’m going to talk about 2 ways it’s used.

  1. Reporting things that aren’t true, or distorting facts in order to push an agenda.
  2. Calling things “fake news” in order to discredit them for some political reason.

Starting with the first point, the term “fake news” is used to talk about genuinely fake stories which are written and disseminated in the traditional media and online and which are full of mistruths, lies and deception. These sorts of stories are used either just to make profit, or for some political motive. For example, there are suggestions that there are ‘clickbait farms’, targeting certain internet users with clickbait stories or with carefully placed fake news stories which are used as propaganda to serve certain agendas, like to influence public opinion, voting behaviour and so on.

More specifically there are the claims that the voting in the 2016 US presidential election and the UK Brexit referendum were affected by campaigns of fake news on social media. The origins of this fake news could be anywhere – whichever power block or interest group wants to push a certain viewpoint, or in this case, influence the outcome of the election. The allegations are that certain groups would benefit from Trump getting in, and so they disseminated fake news about Hillary Clinton in order to tarnish her image.

This sort of thing is particularly widespread on social media, and it’s not just limited to news outlets. It means certain social media profiles, pages on Facebook, Twitter accounts etc pushing a certain narrative which isn’t really true. It can be done by anyone.

There are other examples of publishing false, distorted or clearly biased information which is passed off as news, but which is there to support a particular motive.

E.g. biased reports about the EU in the right-wing press.

Read the one about children’s playgrounds.

blogs.ec.europa.eu/ECintheUK/safety-rules-force-the-closure-of-uk-playgrounds/

It appears to say this: The EU is shutting down kids’ playgrounds. Kids are now unable to enjoy old-fashioned fun, like swings, roundabouts, climbing frames – and it’s all because of EU law. The EU is going to ban children from enjoying traditional British playing areas. The EU is crushing the very foundation of British culture again and this time they’re going for our kids.

Reality: This law was in fact just a voluntary guideline from a non-EU body (not even the EU) which also includes a British representative (so it’s not “them and us” – we’re involved too). It’s there to publish advisory safety guidelines, like “Hey, here are some tips if you want playgrounds to be a bit safer. Take it or leave it! OK have a nice day, take care bye!!”

It’s nothing to do with the EU and city councils have no obligation to comply with it. The story was printed as a deliberate distortion as part of an anti-EU bias. And anyway, it was probably really good advice.

I remember, growing up in the 80s in England – our playgrounds were pretty dangerous. They were just concrete on the ground. I cut my head open loads of times, and so did my brother, just falling off roundabouts or the swings. Now playgrounds have to have a kind of rubbery surface wherever there are swings or things like that. Good. British playgrounds of the past were obviously wonderful in the sense that we grew up there and childhood is full of fun memories. But a lot of kids got hurt too. Sometimes certain newspapers in the UK just look at the past through rose-tinted glasses.

Moving onto the 2nd use of “fake news” – this is when people label certain reporting as “fake” just because they want to discredit it as part of their attempt to gain control or power.

For example, people say that Trump, his entourage and his supporters use the phrase “fake news” to discredit any report that criticises him and his agenda.

Media outlets that don’t follow the current pro-Trump narrative, for example, might report on stories such as the number of people attending Trump’s inauguration or even details of inquiries and allegations about criminal acts involving the president. These reports make Trump look bad, and also could get him in serious legal trouble.

However, Trump supporters who just want to believe in the man for whatever reason (even if that reason is somehow an honest one – like, “we think Trump will be good for jobs” – a decent reason) but… people who support Trump, and certain media companies (who perhaps support Trump because the owners of those media companies have some kind of vested interest in keeping him in power) these people and media outlets simply dismiss the reports against Trump as “fake news” and part of a so-called “liberal” or “left wing” conspiracy to remove Trump from office.

Trump himself often talks about how the “mainstream media” is fake, mainly because it doesn’t say positive things about him. Perhaps this is egotism, or perhaps it’s a far more calculated and cynical attempt to silence the media. In any case, Trump and his supporters use “fake news” to discredit negative news reports about him.

You might argue that it works for other people and other groups too. Other people lie as well, or make false accusations. Yep, I’m sure they do. I’m just using Trump here as a very famous case of someone crying “fake news” in response to reporting that doesn’t fit their agenda. Feel free to name other cases of this happening, because there are plenty.

This kind of silencing of the media happens because when you control the information being received by the public you then have a massive amount of influence over how people see the world, which certainly means that you can control how you’re perceived, how your enemies are perceived, what you’re doing and so on.

Basically, when the government controls the media in your country, it’s akin to living in a controlled state. It’s almost like controlling the media, and now online media means you get to control reality itself.

It’s complicated. Things aren’t black and white.

Facts are slippery and the truth can be hard to hold onto.

It’s really hard to know which information is real and which information is fake when you consider that a single story can look very different from various points of view. Maybe we can argue that there is no such thing as objective truth because the position from which you view something can totally affect the way you see it.

Also, our attitude towards the story can cloud our judgement. Even when you don’t mean to put a certain spin on an event, you might subconsciously do it in the way you describe the story. It’s also true about the way people consume news. Confirmation bias is a well-established concept, which basically means that people tend to just understand events in ways that confirm their existing world view.

Some people might see the same event and come away with two completely different conclusions of what it all means. E.g. the London riots of 2011 when protests against police brutality turned into fighting with the police and then the damaging of public property.

This is probably a generalisation, but a Labour voter might see the riots as evidence that the government is not doing enough to support poor communities in London, and Conservative voters might conclude that the rioters just need hard justice and to take more individual responsibility. The way you already see the world affects how you interpret events and this includes the way people react to news.

E.g. I made a YouTube video about the Royal Family in 2010 or 2011 I think. I just wanted to collect footage of various people giving their opinions about the Royals. I wanted to get as many different opinions as I could find, and I wanted to collect samples of language for giving opinions.

Some comments in the comment section on YouTube oscillated between “He’s obviously against the royals” to “He’s not very objective – he’s obviously looking for positive comments about the Royals.” Some people were saying I was obviously biased in favour of the royals, others were saying I was obviously biased against them.

I just wanted to get both sides of the opinion in my video. I was looking for both positive and negative comments and was pushing for both (e.g. if someone said something positive, I asked them about a negative point, and vice versa – if someone told me their favourite royal, I’d then ask about their least favourite. If they said something negative, I’d then ask if they had any positive things to say too – so I was doing it in both directions) but people just saw one aspect – the bits they didn’t agree with. They only saw me pushing either a positive or negative agenda.

Generally, those people who don’t like the Royals thought I was trying to promote the monarchy, and those who love the monarchy just thought I was looking for negative opinions.

So, people’s existing attitude towards the subject influenced their assessment of my video, which was only supposed to provide a record of authentic language and therefore I just wanted to collect some engaging and truthful opinions. This kind of thing happens a lot. People consume information in the way that confirms their existing beliefs and prejudices.

I think this is a major aspect of life today in which we are so plugged into information systems like the internet. It’s like so much of what we experience of the world is mediated. I know it sounds scary and maybe I’m being pessimistic, but it’s like we’re getting closer and closer to the Matrix, where all of our experience is not through primary experience, but through the secondary experience of seeing it in a video, or a social media post.

It’s really hard to know what the truth is and in fact people are so bombarded by information, which is often manipulated to the point where people no longer trust “facts” and they just go with gut instinct. The whole idea of “objective fact or truth” has been worn down. Basically, we’ve been bullshitted and lied to so much over the years, and we’ve become cynical as a result that the entire system of trust has broken down and we just believe what we want to believe and that’s it. This is exactly why “post-truth” was the 2016 word of the year. It’s no longer about the facts. It’s about people being driven by emotion and feelings, not expert opinion.

But even gut instincts are manipulated by information. Go back to the Euromyths for a moment. For decades the right-wing press in the UK has been drip feeding the UK various myths about the EU, to the point that many British citizens have an instinctive distrust of anything EU related, without really being able to explain why.

This is bound to be connected to very powerful inbuilt feelings from thousands of years of British people living on an island and living in fear of the “others” who live beyond the borders of that island. That must be a deep-seated feeling of distrust, which comes from basic tribalism from a bygone era.

Perhaps that kind of feeling is what certain newspapers have profited from over the years. There’s always a large section of the British population that is innately mistrustful of the countries on the European continent. Poking this sense of mistrust is what sells papers. That’s why these papers always bang on about Churchill, show pictures of UK flags, and shock their readers with stories about how Britain is being invaded and controlled in some way. It’s not just Britain either. This happens all over the place doesn’t it?

Perhaps we are all victims of manipulation by the media, or the limitations of the media, and this doesn’t just mean the stuff on TV and in newspapers – but by the way our culture is expressed, represented and consumed by all forms of information delivery today – this means, all the media – TV, papers, advertising, films and absolutely everything online that is now part of our everyday reality. More and more of what we see is a construct, especially when we live our lives through the internet. What’s interesting to me is that reality itself is being negotiated by political forces which use our information systems in strategic ways. What can we do about it? I’m not sure! And I’m not sure I’m the one to come up with the solution!

It’s probably a good idea to get off social media or at least take it with a pinch of salt, because that (particularly Facebook as we know) is a breeding ground for fake news, twisting of facts, emotional storytelling and a lack of accountability, where you don’t really know where the information is coming from or who is behind it.

It’s also worth remembering to use critical thinking at all times. Don’t just accept what you see or read. Think about where this information is coming from, and whether it is being used to push a certain agenda. That’s easy to say of course.

It’s hard to know what to do and what to believe.

But then again, some stuff is just obviously bullshit isn’t it. Yeah.

Part 2 – coming soon…

543. Britain’s First Insect Restaurant Opens

Talking about the creepy subject of eating insects, which might be the solution to many of the problems that humans face as a species. This episode includes discussion of eating habits, environmental issues and some insect-related idioms and expressions. Transcripts and vocabulary lists available. Bon appetit!

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Transcript

Hello Lepsters! Here’s a new episode of this podcast which is dedicated to providing you with listening materials which are engaging, entertaining, educational and rich with language.

This episode is all about the creepy, yet potentially vital subject of eating insects.

It’s based on a couple of news stories, and also will contain some nice, chewy and nutritious bits of vocabulary and common expressions with words relating to insects and creepy crawlies, the environment, food and more.

Britain’s first insect restaurant opens

And you thought English food was bad enough already – now this.

Grub Kitchen – the UK’s first insect restaurant has opened in Haverfordwest in Wales.

Dishes include: bug burgers, mealworms, grasshoppers and cheesy locust croquettes.

Some vocab “straight off the bat”

  • Grub = two meanings: 1. food (informal) 2. a larva of an insect (the kind of young version of an insect or beetle that looks like a maggot or worm) – hence the joke “Grub Kitchen”
  • Bugs = any insects
  • Mealworms / worms = things that live in the ground and that you use when fishing, they’re long and skinny and they burrow in the ground
  • Grasshoppers = insects that live in the grass and jump quite far when you try to catch them. They’re green and have their ears on their knees.
  • Locusts = like big grasshoppers that can fly and they’re in the bible as a plague. They swarm all over crops and eat everything.
  • Croquettes are normally little potato patties, fried.

So an insect restaurant has opened in Wales, UK.

Bug burgers, anyone? Why we’re opening the UK’s first insect restaurant

theconversation.com/bug-burgers-anyone-why-were-opening-the-uks-first-insect-restaurant-49078

Read the first 3 paragraphs, and the last paragraph.

Some vocab from the article

  • it has huge potential for feeding growing numbers of people (and the livestock they eat)
  • on the street people are daring to try novel and exotic foods
  • We want to champion insects as a sustainable source of protein in modern diets
  • a research and education centre and 100-acre working farm
  • Andy is an award-winning chef, who has become more and more disillusioned with the unsustainability of conventional restaurants.
  • you don’t think that you want to veer into the world of entomophagy

This brings new meaning to the expression “Waiter, there’s a fly in my burger”.

“Waiter, there’s a fly in my …” is a typical joke in the UK. It’s like a cliched restaurant complaint and usually has a funny response from the waiter. “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup”.

Waiter, what’s this fly doing in my soup?
Backstroke, sir.

My brother once found a fly in his cake in a restaurant in our home town. He complained and the waiter said “that’ll be extra sir”.

More www.indianchild.com/waiter_jokes.htm

Imagine if you didn’t realise it was an insect restaurant.
“Waiter, excuse me, there appears to be an insect in my salad.”
“Yes, that’s right, it’s the grasshopper salad. Would you like some salt and pepper, or should I say, wasp eyes and ant heads?”

Thoughts & Questions

What do you think?

  • Would you eat there?
  • Have you ever eaten an insect?
  • Could you eat insects for dinner every day? What if they didn’t look like insects?
  • Are you squeamish?

How to cook a locust

What’s his recipe? (answer below)

Recipe

Pan fry the locusts. Enhance the flavour with honey, a little bit of chilli, fry it in a little bit of butter.

Flavour of locusts: almost meaty, like a prawn. Effectively, they’re are basically a land prawn.

Pull the legs off. They tend to get stuck in the throat sort of.

Zingy, earthy…

Eating insects may be the answer in the future. Why?

Video – The Economist “Why Eating Insects Makes Sense”

Listen to this video from The Economist and try to identify some reasons why insects might be the answer to our problems. We’ll go through the language afterwards.

Economist Video + Transcipt

Transcript + Some Vocabulary Items (explained below)

The world’s population is projected to reach 11 billion by the end of the century. Feeding that many people will be a challenge, and it is further complicated by the impact of climate change on agriculture. That is why some people advocate an unusual way to boost the food supply and feed people sustainably: by eating less meat, and more insects.

About 2 billion people already eat bugs. Mexicans enjoy chili-toasted grasshoppers. Thais tuck into cricket stir-fries and Ghanians snack on termites. Insects are slowly creeping onto Western menus as novelty items, but most people remain squeamish. Yet there are three reasons why eating insects makes sense.

First, they are healthier than meat. There are nearly 2,000 kinds of edible insects, many of them packed with protein, calcium, fibre, iron and zinc. A small serving of grasshoppers can contain about the same amount of protein as a similar sized serving of beef, but has far less fat and far fewer calories.

Second, raising insects is cheap, or free. Little technology or investment is needed to produce them. Harvesting insects could provide livelihoods to some of the world’s poorest people. (what a great job!)

Finally, insects are a far more sustainable source of food than livestock. Livestock production accounts for nearly a fifth of all greenhouse-gas emissions – that’s more than transport. By contrast, insects produce relatively few greenhouse gases, and raising them requires much less land and water. And they’ll eat almost anything.

Despite all this, most Westerners find insects hard to swallow. One solution is to use protein extracted from bugs in other products, such as ready meals and pasta sauces. Not having to look at the bugs, and emphasising the environmental benefits, might make the idea of eating insects a bit more palatable.

For more video content from The Economist visit our website: econ.st/1ytKwbp

Why Eating Insects Makes Sense – Summary

Here are the reasons, based on a YouTube video from The Economist (video and transcript on my website, above). This bit has been paraphrased by me from the video.

  • World population is expected to be 11 billion by the end of the century. It’s going to be hard to feed everyone. I don’t know if you’ve ever had guests. 11 guests is a lot of people to feed, but 11 billion, that takes the biscuit – and the biscuit is made out of bees.
  • Climate change is going to make it hard to grow all the food and keep animals, and there will need to be more animals too. Unless we start to eat each other, or become zombies, or become zombies and eat each other we will have to find another solution.
  • We’re running out of space and farmed animals (with all their gas and farting and all that) are making the situation much much worse. Apparently they actually produce more greenhouse gasses than transport does. That’s a lot of methane. Is it methane? Farts, basically. They eat grass and fart, a lot, all day.
  • So we’re running out of space and if we keep farming and eating these fart machines, sorry I mean animals like we do now we won’t be able to feed everyone and we’ll completely ruin the climate. Animals take up quite a lot of space and also we use lots of space to grow their food.
  • Apparently, insects are a solution. Just when you thought insects were a problem that you just want to get rid of, because every single run-in you have with an insect is a bad one. They’re either trying to bite you, sting you, steal your food or shit on your wall. They’re in your car, in your ear at night and sometimes in the bathroom, in the bath. We generally don’t get along with insects very well. Ever had a close up look at an insect? They’re quite frightening in a way. Imagine a massive one. Also, there’s something naturally in us which is disgusted by them – little crawly, creepy things with legs and wings. It makes you feel itchy, doesn’t it. Makes you want to scratch, just at the name of them. Insects, ooh scratch scratch scratch itchy itchy itch. So, we’ve always thought of them as a problem, but now they might just be the solution to our problems.
  • About 2 million people already eat insects. Mexicans eat chilli toasted grasshoppers. Thais eat stir fries with crickets. Ghanians eat termites. In other places people eat grubs, scorpions and spiders. Yum!? So, it’s already happening. If it’s ok for them – why not everyone else?
  • What are the arguments against eating insects? They’re bad for you? They’re no basis for a healthy diet? It eventually turns you into an insect like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly?
  • Well, eating insects is not bad for you. In fact it’s healthier than red meat. There are over 2,000 edible insects and they are all flying towards your face, sorry, I mean there are over 2,000 edible insects and they contain calcium, protein, zinc, fibre, iron. A serving of grasshopper and a similar serving of beef have about the same amount of protein, but the grasshoppers contain fewer calories. I bet it doesn’t taste as good as a good burger though, does it?
  • It’s really cheap to raise insects. You hardly need any technology or anything. I guess you don’t need to move them around much, you keep them in a contained space, provide food and bob’s your uncle. Loads of insects. It might be like going to work in a horror film, but you certainly don’t need to worry about the mountains of shit that cows produce on a daily basis, or all the complications relating to how you breed them. Getting big animals to have sex with each other already feels weird, like, why are we here watching them and in fact making them have sex and then watching, it’s also quite difficult logistically. On the other hand, or should I say leg, insects are really low-maintenance and quite randy. You don’t really have to do anything to make them have sex with each other, they’re at it all the time. They shag like rabbits, if rabbits were insects or somehow made of insects. They shag each other a lot basically, and they have really no standards at all. They’ll do any other insect.
  • Joking aside though, this could really help producers who don’t have much money for equipment or facilities, and generally can save space, time and resources.
  • Insects are generally better at growing and surviving than mammals, like cows and sheep – which you have to look after pretty carefully. Mammals are prone to disease and are far more sensitive than insects. They don’t take criticism very well, for example. If you say to a cow, “you’re really bad at being a cow. The way you eat grass is pathetic” they can be very affected. They’re rubbish, basically, whereas insects are hardcore. Someone once said that if there was a nuclear holocaust, the only survivors would be bugs, and maybe Keith Richards.
  • Insects are also way better for the environment. Livestock (that’s cows, sheep, pigs etc) account for over 1/5 of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. It’s more than transport. More than cars! Apparently, cows fart a lot. That’s a massive amount of fart gas clogging up our atmosphere! But insects don’t produce many emissions. They are very discrete, and you need less food and water to raise them. Insects will eat pretty much anything. They’re so easy to farm. Even if, like I said before, it’s a bit like working with Aliens from the movie Aliens, but much smaller, every day, and eating them.
  • But the downside is – nobody in the Western world, or developed world (or whatever you want to call it) wants to eat them. We’re just not predisposed to finding them appealing. We are naturally turned off by them. We think they’re flipping disgusting, basically. Errrr, insects – that’s disgusting!
  • But maybe there are other ways of using insects. You don’t necessarily need to eat a fly sandwich. If we took the protein from insects and just added it to our food in other ways – like adding it to pasta sauce or veggie burgers, that would make them easier to swallow (literally and metaphorically).
  • If we want to survive in the future – we need to tolerate certain changes. Eating insects, might be something we’ll just have to accept. It might just be “eat some insects or breathe nothing but fart gas”. Just deal with it! Time to man up and chow down on some bug-meat or it’s bye bye planet earth!

I’d love it if the world embraced this idea and didn’t just go – “No, I don’t want it! Screw the planet! I’m not eating a worm!” It would be amazing if the whole human race just went with it and said “yep, this is fine. Bring on the insects, let’s get crazy! It’s dinner time!”

Because the thing is, you probably wouldn’t be eating insects the way they normally look. We’d harvest the insects and then basically turn them into a kind of protein powder which could be turned into all sorts of other things. Generic matter which could be made into a burger, mince meat, chicken nuggets or anything.

I can’t wait for McDonald’s to launch its first bug burger.

Vocabulary Items from the Economist video

  • is projected to reach 11 billion by the end of the century (when you make a prediction about numbers we talk about doing projections and things being projected. For example you might talk about projected sales turnover for year 1, year 2, year 3 when pitching a new company to investors.)
  • some people advocate an unusual way to boost the food supply (to advocate = to argue something, defend something, stand up for something, support something. E.g. to advocate for the legalisation of cannabis.)
  • feed people sustainably: by eating less meat, and more insects. (these days, with the environment being such an important factor affecting everything, we talk more about sustainability, things being sustainable and doing things sustainably and to do something sustainably means that you do it so that it can continue going in the future. For example, sustainable agriculture means farming in a way that protects the land that you’re farming on, so that you don’t use up all the resources and ensure that the land continues to produce food in the future. Similarly, sustainable development is a key type of civil engineering in today’s world. It’s all about making sure that the environment, the economy and society are maintained at certain levels into the future. Insects could be a way to feed people sustainably – give people food in a way that means the environment isn’t damaged.)
  • Thais tuck into cricket stir-fries (to eat)
  • and Ghanians snack on termites (to eat)
  • Insects are slowly creeping onto Western menus as novelty items (creeping onto = moving slowly onto. Also, insects creep – it’s the way they move. Creepy crawlies. So insects can creep onto menus, or other things can creep onto menus, like kale for example. Novelty items are usually quite interesting, original and popular because they are new. It’s also a word for a little toy, like an interesting and enjoyable, original little thing , and something that’s new. Digital watches used to be a novelty, the game boy, fidget spinners)
  • most people remain squeamish (sensitive to disgusting things – you can’t handle the sight of an insect, or blood)
  • There are nearly 2,000 kinds of edible insects (possible to eat. Edible and drinkable)
  • many of them are packed with protein, calcium, fibre, iron and zinc (full of)
  • A small serving of grasshoppers (food is given to you in servings or helpings. If it’s a serving it means someone else served it to you. If it’s a helping it means you helped yourself to it.
  • raising insects is cheap, or free (to raise means to bring up, or help something grow)
  • Harvesting insects could provide livelihoods to some of the world’s poorest people. (harvesting = growing or cultivating things like crops but also insects and then collecting them all for money or food – happens at the end of summer)
  • insects are a far more sustainable source of food than livestock (there’s that word sustainable again) (livestock = live animals kept in farms in fairly large numbers.)
  • most Westerners find insects hard to swallow

Listen to the video again and notice the vocabulary.

You could check the transcript (above) and repeat what you hear.

Insect Idioms and Expressions – www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium

542. Talking Rubbish & Just Having Fun with The Thompsons

Talking to my dad, mum and brother about all manner of topics, including:
Space, climbing mountains, British comedy, fishing, earworms, tattoos, David Beckham, jokes, citizenship tests, baby monkeys, ghosts and celebrity impressions. Intro and outtro transcripts available.

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Intro Transcript

Hello folks, how are you doing? It’s been a while!

It’s August. Things are quiet. We’re between holidays. Going away for another couple of days next week and then things get back into full swing again in September.

We spent some time in the south of France not far from where my wife and I got married, and while we were down there we met up with my parents and my brother.

One evening last week, after consuming a delicious dinner (with some wine) we decided to record an episode of the podcast so that you can join us at the dinner table with some slightly silly banter and discussion with the Thompson family.

Topics include
Baldness, Space, climbing mountains, British comedy, fishing, earworms, tattoos, David Beckham, losing your marbles, jokes, games, citizenship tests, baby monkeys, ghosts and celebrity impressions.

Language
The episode is ripe with descriptive language, linking words and specific grammatical constructions for a range of purposes, including building an argument, describing something and just having fun and joking around. So listen carefully to follow the conversation, pick up some nice language and just enjoy being part of the fun. Also, you can experience the pleasant voices and accents of my family.

Topics (in order)

  • Going bald
  • Space (The Universe / The KLF)
  • Do you remember when…? (Welsh mountain story)
  • British Comedy Recommendation (Whitehouse & Mortimer: Gone Fishing)
  • Earworm (Baby monkey, riding on a pig)
  • Tattoos (David Beckham)
  • Idiom / Phrase (To lose your marbles) www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/lose-your-marbles.html
  • Guess who?
  • Tell us a joke!
  • Good book (45 by Bill Drummond)
  • Kindle? (Steve Coogan autobiography)
  • Citizenship Test lifeintheuktestweb.co.uk/test-2/
  • April Fool’s Day
  • Welsh cakes
  • Baby monkey
  • Have you ever seen a ghost?
  • Nick Frost’s book (ghost story)
  • Impressions (Michael Caine, John Peel, The Queen)

Outro Transcript

I hope you enjoyed being with us at the table there for our after dinner session of talking rubbish, all presented for your listening pleasure and as an opportunity for you to learn some real English as it is spoken by my family.

This would make a great premium episode. There’s a lot of good language to be revealed and explained here. Each episode is a source of great natural language, but you might not notice or at least might not have time to look up every single new word or be able to identify all the parts of specific expressions and their real meanings. With LEP Premium I do all of that for you. I’ll highlight vocabulary and expressions, particularly the structures which are harder to notice but essential to know. Things like phrasal verbs, idioms, preposition collocations and gerunds and infinitives. THere’s also grammar and pronunciation. Each episode has a pdf and a quiz at the end so you can test yourself and check your learning.

At the moment there are about 5 full episodes in various parts, a couple of videos and part 6 coming up very soon. You can think of these as study packs for LEP, where I hold your hand and make sure you can pick up this essential natural language so you can boost your English to a higher level.

To register go to teacherluke.co.uk/premium. There you can sign up. It costs about the same as buying me a beer or coffee once a month. Not that much. You get access to the entire premium catalogue and all future content too. Get stuck in there. teacherluke.co.uk/premium

Premium is available in the LEP app if you sign in with your premium login details. It’s also available online at teacherluke.co.uk/premium. There’s a comment section and a way to download pdfs in normal size, so check out teacherluke.co.uk for more information.

That’s it! I hope you’re having a great August. More episodes of LEP are coming soon as I have a few days, but then things might go quiet until September when everything will go back to normal.

Bye!

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

510. Philosophy Quiz (with Amber & Paul)

In this episode you can listen to Amber, Paul and me as we take an online quiz and try to find out what school of philosophical thought we belong to. Are we empiricists, epicurianists, existentialists, hedonists, humanists, platonists, skeptics or stoicists? Listen on to find out more and to hear a full-on discussion of life, the universe and everything.

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Introduction Transcript

Click here for the philosophy quiz.

In this episode you can listen to Amber, Paul and me as we take an online quiz and try to find out what school of philosophical thought we belong to. Are we empiricists, epicurianists, existentialists, hedonists, humanists, platonists, skeptics or stoicists? Listen on to find out more and to hear a full-on discussion of life, the universe and everything.

If all those terms are completely new to you (empiricists, epicurianists, existentialists, hedonists, humanists, platonists, skeptics or stoicists), don’t worry. I don’t expect you to be an expert in philosophy or anything – but this can be a good way to practise listening to a slightly complex discussion in English.

I expect those terms aren’t completely new to you actually, because I’m assuming that you listened to the previous episode of this podcast, although it’s entirely likely that some of you have skipped that episode and jumped straight to this one because you were attracted by the prospect of listening to Amber & Paul on the podcast again.

You might have thought “meh, I’ll skip that one about philosophy and language and I’ll hurl myself towards this new Amber & Paul episode instead.”

Well, allow me to gently guide you back towards episode 509 at this moment because in that episode I explained what those types of philosophy involve, using various examples including how they relate to language learning. So I highly recommend that you listen to the previous episode if you want some explanations and general clarification of some of the concepts involved. It’ll help you to make sense of this episode a bit more, I promise.

And I think the combination of this episode and the last episode should be quite useful for understanding not just the general concepts we’re discussing but also for your English too. So, as you listen watch out for some of the ideas that I was talking about in the last episode.

Often, understanding something you’re listening to is a question of familiarity with the general subject. If you just listen to this conversation without hearing episode 509 (or without having general knowledge of philosophy – which admittedly some of you might have anyway), the topic area might be unfamiliar to you because it’s not every day that we talk about how we understand the meaning of life is it?

So listening to the previous episode could help you get more familiar with the topic and that will make this episode so much more accessible, the things you’ll hear will be a bit easier to understand and it should reinforce some of the language and terms that come up in the conversation and that should all lead to a more effective and satisfying listening and learning experience.

Are you convinced? Yes? You’ve already heard episode 509? Just get on with it? OK then…

So, in this episode you’ll hear Amber, Paul and me discussing the questions in a quiz that I found on Facebook, called “Which Philosophical School of Thought Do You Fall Into?” and generally talking about our approaches to life in general.

You can take the quiz with us if you like. You’ll find the link on the page of course. Click the link and follow the quiz with us. You can read the questions and different options that we’re discussing. You might need to pause the podcast in order to consider your answers on your own before hearing what we say and which options we choose.

www.intellectualtakeout.org/blog/what-philosophical-school-thought-do-you-fall

Or you can just listen along without looking at the quiz – it’s up to you of course. You have free will don’t you? Or do you? Maybe all of this is predetermined either genetically, socially or as part of some divine plan by an intelligent (or perhaps not so intelligent) creator.

Now, I would like to just share some concerns with you at this point. I have a few concerns, and here they are.

I recorded this a few months ago and I’ve been sitting on it ever since. Not literally. I mean I’ve just been holding on to the recording, and wondering what to do with it. The reason for that is that, the conversation didn’t turn out exactly as I had planned or hoped. What I planned and hoped was that taking this quiz with my mates Amber & Paul could be a fun and clear way to explore some philosophical concepts for you my audience of learners of English. But what actually happened, as you’ll hear, is that we got quite frustrated by the way the quiz was written. These quizzes are always a bit annoying aren’t they? You always notice the flaws in the questioning and you wonder how accurate they will be. This quiz is no exception. Frankly, the questions and options don’t make complete sense – they’re quite vague and conceptual and you’ll hear that we spend quite a lot of time just trying to work out what each question actually means. There’s a lot of us interpreting the quiz itself, rather than discussing the philosophy.

On balance I’ve decided it’s still worth listening to, but I just want you to know that I know that it might be quite a heavy conversation for you to contend with. Of course, abstract stuff is harder to follow than down-to-earth stuff. I’m just saying – if you get overwhelmed by this one, then don’t worry – I am aware of that. I don’t mean to underestimate you, but there it is. Anyway, I’m just saying – I know that this is pretty complicated stuff, but I think you should listen to it anyway because ultimately we do finish the quiz and we do find out what school of philosophy we all belong to. It will really help if you take the quiz with us, so do get your phone out and click the link on the page or just google “which school of philosophy do you fall into?” and if you’re walking along in the street while listening to this and you’re looking at your smartphone please be careful where you are walking because I don’t want you to be doing a different quiz later, called “which hole in the street did you fall into?”

Also…

We did this recording at my place and Amber’s young son Hugo was there in the background watching “Andy’s Wild Adventures” which is a CBeebies TV show (BBC for kids). I realise that you can hear the TV in the background a bit. I don’t think it’s too disturbing, but you can hear it a bit. I don’t expect you’ll mind, but remember that I don’t record this podcast in a studio, so sometimes there might be the noise of real life going on around us.

Of course we kept an eye on Hugo during the conversation and every now and then we had to pause the podcast just to check up on him and so Amber could respond to him when he sometimes said “Mummy!”, which you might hear sometimes.

So, I just wanted to explain some of the background noises you might hear while you’re listening to this.

OK then, so get the quiz ready on your phone or computer – the link is on the page for this episode, or just search for “What school of Philosophical Thought Do You Fall In?” – and get ready for some philosophical ramblings from 3 people who quite possibly don’t really know what they’re talking about!

Alright, no more faffing about. Let’s go…!


Ending

I told you it was a heavy one didn’t I?

Are you ok? Are you still alive?

If you found that conversation difficult to follow and yet you are still listening, I just want to say “Well done” for staying the distance and sticking with it. Some people didn’t, they didn’t get here, and frankly they are just weak, generally weaker and will probably die out in the next evolutionary stage, so there. I don’t mean to say that you should feel glad that some members of our species just won’t make it, but rather that you can feel good that you’ll survive. I’m talking nonsense here of course.

Please, leave us your comments. What’s up with you? What are you thinking? What’s going on in your brain-head? We would like to know, and when I say “we” I mean the collective consciousness and the entire human race on a metaphysical level, not just me and the other members of the comment section crew.

Basically, write something in the comment section and express yourself in English!

The podcast will be back, doing it to your eardrums soon. Thanks for listening and take it easy out there in pod-land.

6 quick things left to say:

  1. Get the LEP App – it’s free and there is cool stuff in it that you can’t get anywhere else. All the cool kids are using it.
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  3. Give yourself another slap on the back for getting this far.
  4. Write something in the comment section, and that includes just the word “something” if you  like.
  5. Check out my sponsor italki for some one-to-one lessons and the chance to talk about whatever you want with your own teacher or conversation partner. www.teacherluke.co.uk/talk
  6. Consider sending me a donation by clicking a donate button on the website. It would be a sincere and practical way to thank me for my continuing efforts to help you with your English in many real ways.Small Donate Button

 

Take care and for now – bye!!!

509. What’s it all about? (Philosophy and Language Learning)

This episode is all about philosophy and how this applies to language learning. Listen to me describing 8 different ‘schools’ of philosophical thought. Are hedonists good language learners? How do rationalists and empiricists disagree about how we learn languages? Is language learning an innate ability or just something that can only happen as a result of things we do after we’re born?  And, how does philosophy answer life’s big questions such as, “What’s life all about?” “What are we doing here?” and “What shall we have for dinner?” Transcript Available.

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Transcript – 95% complete

Introduction

What’s it all about then eh? This is a question that people have been attempting to answer for bloody ages. Nobody seems to be able to agree or decide for certain what the purpose of our existence is, or even what the true nature of reality is, but over the years the things people have said and written in response to this question have influenced our lives in loads of ways, without us even realising it.

Considering the question of “What’s it all about?” is basically the foundation of philosophy and in this episode I’m going to talk about philosophy and define a few of the main types of philosophy that exist.

I’ll also attempt to apply those different types of philosophy to the understanding of language learning if I can. And if I can’t, I’ll just make a jam sandwich or something.

So, with this episode you can learn English relating to lots of things, including abstract ideas, ethics, science, debate, reason, logic, experience and academic thought in general, and also we can consider the process of language learning from a couple of different points of view.

A while ago I found a questionnaire online which was called “Which school of philosophy do you belong to?”

I thought, “that makes a change from the usual stupid quizzes, like ‘Which Star Wars character are you?’ ‘Which type of biscuit are you?’, ‘Which type of fluff are you? The fluff in the corner of the room, the fluff in the tumble dryer, the fluff in your belly button, the fluff that collects in your jacket pocket or the fluff which collects under the strings of a guitar that never gets played?’ (I was the fluff in your jacket pocket by the way).

This one was about philosophy – “Which school of philosophical thought do you belong to?”

And I thought “ooh, I haven’t done an episode about philosophy on the podcast. That might be an interesting, yet fun way to explore a fairly intellectual topic.

I thought it would be an interesting way for Paul, Amber and me to have an intelligent and highbrow discussion (instead of just talking about poo or Russian jokes or having accordions for legs – although they are, of course, perfectly valid topics of conversation).

I haven’t talked directly about philosophy on the podcast before. So I thought it could be an interesting subject for the podpals to discuss.

And we got together a couple of months ago actually, and recorded ourselves going through the quiz in order to find out what school of philosophy each of us belongs to, based on the ways we live our lives and think about the world.

However, the conversation that we recorded ended up being quite heavy. We got a bit bogged down in just trying to understand, interpret and discuss what each question really meant. Not only did we have to try and make sense of the different types of philosophy, we also just had to try and understand the fairly complex questions in the quiz.

It made me think “ooh, this might just be a bit difficult to listen to – a complicated conversation and a complicated topic – it could be a bit of a challenge for the LEPsters.”

I will play you the conversation and you can hear our discussion, and you can also do the quiz with us while you listen, if you like.

But that’s going to be in the next episode because I thought it would be a good idea for me to talk to you about philosophy first, and to define some terms, before you hear our conversation. That should make it a bit easier for you to follow what Paul, Amber and I are going on about, while also making it possible for you to perhaps learn some things about philosophy and also the language we use when talking about philosophy and while tackling the big questions, like “What’s it all about?” and “What shall we have for dinner?” (well, maybe not that one – although it is rather a big question as I’m sure you’ll agree).

Now, I know you might not be philosophers. I have all sorts of people listening to this, from many different backgrounds. Some of you might be academic types, others not. Some of you are the types of people who like complex and abstract discussions, others might be the types of people who would rather listen to us talk about more tangible things, like Amber’s son doing a poo under a table, or something like that.

In any case, I like to present a fairly wide range of topics on this podcast and I think that’s important for your English.

So, let’s talk about 8 different schools of philosophical thought, and then you can listen to Amber, Paul and me taking that quiz, and hopefully it will make a bit more sense to you!

And by the way, if you would rather hear that story of Amber’s son doing a poo under a table in a restaurant (which is a real story) just listen to episode 380 again. You can find it in the archive.

380. Catching Up with Amber and Paul #3

What is philosophy?

Philosophy is all about how we understand the world and how we make sense of everything around us.

It’s not just “why are we here?” or just “what’s it all about?” it helps us to create the assumptions behind how we understand pretty much everything.

Really, it’s about attempting to answer questions that relate to every aspect of our lives.

Wikipedia: It is the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, the mind, and language.[5][6] The term was probably coined by Pythagoras (c. 570–495 BCE). Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation.[7][8] Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it?[9][10][11] What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust (if one can get away with it)?[12] Do humans have free will?[13]

So, philosophy is the study of how we understand everything, and the answers to these questions form assumptions about so many things including :

  • Education (What should children do at school and why are schools important in the first place? How should we organise our universities?)
  • Health (How do we understand our bodies – how do we know what will make us strong or weak, healthy or sick?)
  • Politics (What is the best way to run the country?)
  • Science (What is the nature of reality? How do we measure that? Can science solve the problems we face? What is the scientific method and can it help us to discover the truth about the world?)
  • Debate and communication (What is the most effective way to argue your point in a discussion? What are the most effective ways to present information to people?)
  • Religion (Who or what is God and does he exist? How does this relate to the choices we make in life? Do we even have choices?)
  • Language (What is language? How does it work? What does it tell us about us as people? How do we learn it? Should it be controlled? What constitutes “good” and “bad” language?)
  • Ethics (How do we decide what is the right or wrong thing to do in any situation)

Ethics

An example of an ethical question is “if your neighbours are having a loud party late at night, is it ok for you to call the police to stop the party?”

Imagine – your neighbours are having a loud party and it’s keeping you awake. What should you do?

Here are some of the reasons for stopping it: it’s annoying for you personally, it’s annoying for everyone in the area, it’s somehow damaging behaviour for them – i.e. because they need sleep and shouldn’t drink, it’s breaking a rule imposed by the government. Or reasons for not stopping the party: everyone has the right to have a party sometimes, it would be rude to interrupt their celebration, the police might be unreasonably aggressive with them and someone might end up being arrested or even physically harmed, or

“if they don’t stop playing that music now I will go round there and murder everyone in the building, especially if they play THAT song again”.

These are the sorts of questions that philosophers might spend a lot of time thinking about, especially if their neighbours were having a noisy party next door. The philosopher might spend ages pondering the question of exactly what to do, even if most people would just bang on the wall and tell the neighbours to “shut up! For god’s sake shut up or I’ll call the police” assuming of course that god exists and that the police have got nothing better to do, other than sit around smoking cigarettes.)

Still on that example of the ethics of “having a loud party in a highly populated area”, one of the big responses might be “it’s unfair for these people to have this party, because it is simply unethical for a small group of people to be happy at the expense of the happiness of the majority of people living in the surrounding area.” which would be a very reasonable thing to say under the circumstances. I imagine most people would just think “Those bastards! Those bastards! Those bloody bastards!!!” (which is not an established philosophical position, I think)

The ethical principle I described there (not the “you bastards position” but the “happiness for the majority of people is the deciding factor” position, is: What benefits the majority of people is the right thing to do. English philosopher Jeremy Bentham might come to mind, when considering this idea, if you know who Jeremy Bentham is. If you don’t know who he is, and have never heard his name before, I’d be very surprised if he comes to your mind, to be honest. You might just be thinking “How can I get my neighbours to turn down the music?” and suddenly – JEREMY BENTHAM! – that would be weird.

Anyway, Bentham said “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number [of people] that is the measure of right and wrong”. This is the foundation of utilitarianism – a system which influenced lots of people and, for example, contributed to the construction of the welfare state – that’s the system in the UK that provides healthcare for everyone, but which is probably paid for mainly by the people with incomes – the people who earn money from their work, and the higher the income the more you pay – as tax. As long as most people are made happy, this is the right way to run a society. People who work should pay tax and a lot of that tax should go towards a healthcare system that is available for everyone, even those people who don’t work and even if it means that some people who earn more money are also paying more.

This is an example of how a philosophical idea – in this case “utilitarianism” has an impact on the political policy of a nation, and how that can affect everything else.

You can see here that philosophy is at the centre of all the big questions that we face in society – both personal and communal. E.g. Should guns be legal? Should I buy a gun? Should drugs be legalised? Am I a bad person if I take drugs? Should we download films from torrenting sites, or buy them from the established distributors? Is it wrong if I watch a pirated film on the internet without paying for it? Does it matter which film it is? What if the film is a big-budget blockbuster like Transformers? What if I wouldn’t have actually paid for it anyway? Should I feel guilty if I listen to episodes of Luke’s English Podcast and yet I never send him a donation for his hard work? (by the way the answers to all those questions, in order, are “It depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, YES)

All these questions are philosophical at their very heart – in most cases here we’re talking about ethics, which is just one branch of philosophy.

Different “Schools of Thought”

There are lots of philosophical schools of thought. Not all of them are completely different. Some are quite similar. They came out of different contexts: different people, different periods of time and different places.

Let me go through some of them. Which one do you agree with? It’s quite possible that you agree with more than just one of these things, because I think most of us probably take a bit from here, a bit from there, and have a complex and diverse way of making decisions and understanding the world. In fact I’m quite sure that the general culture in the world is now a combination of all these different schools of philosophical thought, as well as all sorts of other influences, such as traditional customs and beliefs. But there was a time when many the thinking processes that we consider now to be just part of normal common sense didn’t even exist. A lot of the general assumptions that we have about questions of ethics, politics and even language were not always there. Basically, I mean – people used to be really really stupid – like mind numbingly stupid, and slowly but surely, over decades, centuries and millenia, a complex dialogue about the big questions has been going on, involving people from different countries. Various conclusions have been made and a certain amount of progress has been achieved in general thinking… even though some people in the world still enjoy the music of Rick Astley.

The different schools of thought that have appeared over the years are like different realisations – like different rooms in this big palace of thinking that we now all have access too.

So if you feel like it’s hard to make a distinction between some of these schools of thought, that’s ok – some of them are quite similar and in fact over the years they have combined to an extent, so that today it can be hard to distinguish between them. They’re not mutually exclusive.

Also, there are other positions or ways of looking at the world that might emphasise politics, economics or psychology which aren’t included here. E.g. if you believe that the defining force in your life is your place in the class system or wealth system in society, or how your life is dictated by those in power or by the decisions of your bosses, or the police – you might turn out to be a Marxist, or something like that. Or if you think that your experiences as a child are the most influential factors in how your life has meaning, you might be a Freudian, or simply if you believe that our lives are entirely dictated by some sort of intelligent creator who has designed everything including all existence and everything that happens, has happened or will happen – then you might be a religious person like a Christian or a Muslim or something.

Or perhaps if you believe that your life is given meaning by how you interact with audio content uploaded onto an internet based RSS feed, which you then consume through headphones attached to your ears, you might be a LEPsterian.

But again, it’s most likely that your worldview is some sort of combination of all these different schools of thought and of course a lot of the time we don’t really know which school of thought we belong to, because it’s not football. You don’t need to pick a team or anything. And it’s much more complicated than football, and perhaps less fun than football. Certainly in the UK hardly anyone goes around saying “well, I’m an epicurean so I disagree with what you said” or “Hey, shall we get pizza this evening?” “Well, I’d quite like to have noodles so speaking as a platonist I think we should have a debate about it and then choose our dinner based on the outcome of that argument, perhaps you would like to start by outlining your predicates for why you believe pizza is the best option…” Nobody does that, right? But anyway, here we go – different schools of philosophy, in alphabetical order, not chronological. As you’re listening to this you can just think about these questions:

a) Do I understand what the hell this position is all about?
b) Do I agree with this? Is this a good way to look at the world and make decisions?

Empiricism

The basic ideas of empiricism were probably first established by Persian and Arabic philosophers in the 11th and 12th centuries, and then developed into the more established positions by British and Irish philosophers from the 17th century into the 20th century.

Knowledge can only come from what you see and experience with your own eyes. “I’ll believe it when I see it” or “It’s only true if we can actually observe it.” Observation tells us what is true.

This is often contrasted with rationalism which basically says that you can use logic and reasoning to work something out without observing it – e.g. that there are rules of logic that are always true and that these define what will happen.

Empiricism basically says – I don’t trust any other information than the information I’ve seen and I can only know something after I’ve actually seen it, observed it, measured it. So, knowledge is something that comes after our experience.

Rationalism on the other hand says that there are certain universal laws of logic which will ultimately give you the truth about something. So, knowledge exists before us and it’s a matter of uncovering it.

Empiricism is all about ‘what comes after’ and rationalism is about ‘what comes before’.

The ‘what comes after’ means that the knowledge you have of something comes after you’ve observed it.

The ‘what comes before’ means that the principles of logic that exist before an event – universal laws of logic that everyone is born with the ability to use. These laws of logic are then applied to something in order to help us understand it.

So, for ‘flat earth’ an empiricist would say “Let’s look at the earth. Let’s measure it. If it looks round, we’ll know it’s round”. This is limited because sometimes our senses can be wrong. We might not be able to see things, and our senses might even distort what we’re seeing. E.g. for flat earth we can’t see the curvature of the earth from our current position, even if we’re in a plane, even though the curvature is there, because of our relatively close proximity to the earth. You’d need to travel to the edge of the atmosphere to see the curvature, and not many people can do that. So, a problem with being an empiricist is that you put too much faith in your senses, which can be misleading and can’t cover all aspects of knowledge – e.g. stuff that we can’t actually see – like gravity. I think there’s also an argument that the act of observing something has an effect on it. So, observation is not 100% perfect.

I think that the best approach would probably combine both systems, that to prove that the earth is round you’d observe the earth, measure it but also apply different mathematical laws or physical laws to it.

How does it relate to language?

We can align the rationalism side of things with the idea of ‘language nativism’. Rationalists say that we are all born with the ability to use logic and reason, that it is innate to us – perhaps part of our genes. Language nativists argue that we are born with an innate ability to learn languages. That language learning is in our genes. That all of us learn languages in the same way (regardless of the language) and that it is instinctual.

Language empiricists on the other hand believe that language is something that only happens after we are born – that it is something that we learn, rather than something that is kind of built into us genetically.

Epicureanism

This is an ancient school of thought created by a Epicurius from Athens in ancient Greece – around 300 years before the birth of Jesus Christ (307 BC).

This was when people were just trying to work out how to live properly – coming up with approaches to the best way to live your life. These days we are inundated by different methods and approaches to how to live your life. Think of all the lifestyle magazines and articles about dieting and making the right life choices and career moves. Once upon a time, people hadn’t really worked that out, and the philosophers in Ancient Greece really paved the way for this sort of thing. It seems they spent an awful lot of time sitting around trying to work out what human beings should really be doing with their lives beyond just surviving like all the other species on earth.

Epicurius believed that pleasure and pain are the only things that have intrinsic value to beings, and that the goal of life was to maximise pleasure and minimise pain for both yourself and others.

He taught that people thus needed four virtues: prudence (caution – being careful), justice, friendliness and fortitude (courage and the ability to withstand pain and difficulty). Epicurus emphasised that the pleasure from an action must be weighed against the negative side effects, a concept that could be called the ‘pleasure calculation’. For example, you could save up £1000, buy twenty kilograms of chocolate, and eat it all at the same time. In this case though, you need to weigh the pleasure of eating chocolate against the inevitable stomach ache and the weight you’ll gain from eating a third of your body weight in chocolate. Epicurus had a second part of the pleasure calculation that he said to consider: is it worth the momentary benefit of £1000 of chocolate or buying a new bike a bit later for £1100?

The greater pleasure, even if it causes a slight negative effect at the moment, is the greater good. Epicurus also taught that sensual pleasures weren’t all that there was to the world. Epicurus noted that appreciation of art and friendship also count as pleasure. Moreover, Epicurus taught that the enjoyment of life also required old Greek ideals of self-control, temperance, and serenity. Desires need to be curbed, and serenity will help us to endure the pain we may face.[2] Epicurus also preached altruism over self-interest. Said he that friendship “dances around the world, calling all people to a life of happiness.” He taught that the best life for the individual is one that is lived with other people for their benefit in addition to the individual’s own benefit. (RationalWiki)

No idea what he says about language to be honest!

Perhaps that when choosing to learn another language we should measure the benefits of learning that language against the pain we might experience as a result.

I’m pretty sure we can all agree that while learning English can be painful, frustrating, confusing and embarrassing, the benefit of learning this language clearly outweighs those negative things. So, on balance Epicurius would probably say – “Go ahead and learn English! And make friends with people while you’re doing it!”

Existentialism

www.philosophybasics.com/branch_existentialism.html

Language?

Hedonism

www.philosophybasics.com/movements_hedonism.html

Would a hedonist make a good language learner?

I imagine a hedonist might be a bit lazy, especially if learning a language from scratch doesn’t involve much bodily pleasure.

But perhaps hedonists might learn language if it meant gaining access to more forms of gratification. E.g. they might learn language in order to seduce people, get access to alcohol, drugs, or other forms of bodily pleasure! I expect a hedonist’s vocabulary would be rather limited to dirty words, useful phrases for drug deals and pillow talk.

Humanism

www.philosophybasics.com/movements_humanism.html

Language

I’m certain that humanists put a high value on language as a means of connecting with other people in the world. Humanists might have a democratic and prescriptive approach to language too.

Platonism

www.philosophybasics.com/movements_platonism.html

It’s pretty confusing, but to boil it down let’s say: Plato basically invented the first university – a place called The Academy which was positioned outside the city limits of Greece. This was where he delivered lectures to his students and engaged in debates. This was the foundation of certain academic principles and methods. Those academic “for and against” essays that you might have to write at university, or for an IELTS Writing part 2 – that all started with Plato and his academy.

He believed highly in the value of debate, argument and discourse as a way of reaching certain eternal “higher truths” – these are truths which are eternal. He thought that ‘ideas’ were more important than ‘matter’ (physical stuff) and that the persuit of knowledge or the process of learning is a question of uncovering universal truths that already exist in our immortal souls.

Language

From a language point of view, Plato believed that ultimate knowledge already exists inside us and it’s just a matter of uncovering it.

Noam Chomsky has applied this idea to his understanding of linguistics – how languages work, specifically in the idea that there is a Universal Grammar that we are all born with.

Basically, the idea is something like this – how do native English speakers know exactly how to use grammatical forms like present perfect tense correctly, without having formally studied it or been taught it?

E.g. my brother James knows when a sentence is right or wrong – e.g when present perfect is being used correctly or not, although he’s never been taught English grammar. How did he learn it? The idea is that James, like all of us, was born with an innate understanding of grammar.

From www.fluentu.com

1. Plato’s Problem
The writings of Plato stretch all the way back to the beginnings of Western philosophical thought, but Plato was already posing problems critical to modern linguistic discourse.
In the nature versus nurture debate, Plato tended to side with nature, believing that knowledge was innate.
This was his answer to what has become known as Plato’s Problem, or as Bertrand Russell summarizes it: “How comes it that human beings, whose contacts with the world are brief and personal and limited, are nevertheless able to know as much as they do know?” Being born with this knowledge from the get-go would naturally solve this little quandary and consequently he viewed language as innate.

Personally, I just can’t agree with this. What about people who are rubbish at grammar because they’ve had no exposure to it?

(Note: I’ve changed my mind! I think we must be born with the innate ability to learn grammar – but the whole subject is difficult to fully understand)

Scepticism

Philosophybasics.com

Skepticism (or Scepticism in the UK spelling)
At its simplest, Skepticism holds that one should refrain from making truth claims, and avoid the postulation of final truths. This is not necessarily quite the same as claiming that truth is impossible (which would itself be a truth claim), but is often also used to cover the position that there is no such thing as certainty in human knowledge (sometimes referred to as Academic Skepticism).

Language Learning & Scepticism

For language learning, you could say that a sceptic would avoid jumping to conclusions about the language being learned. E.g. when you think you’ve learned a rule about the language, avoid saying “this is always true”. E.g. The idea that quantifiers like “some / any” are always used in a certain way. You might learn from an intermediate book that “some” is used in affirmative sentences and “any” is used in questions or negative – but watch out, that so-called rule is often broken. So, a language learning sceptic might avoid thinking “this is always true” or “this is never correct”.

Stoicism

Dailystoic.com

Stoicism was founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century BC, but was famously practiced by the likes of Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. The philosophy asserts that virtue (such as wisdom) is happiness and judgment should be based on behavior, rather than words. That we don’t control and cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our responses.

Stoicism has just a few central teachings. It sets out to remind us of how unpredictable the world can be. How brief our moment of life is. How to be steadfast, and strong, and in control of yourself. And finally, that the source of our dissatisfaction lies in our impulsive dependency on our reflexive senses rather than logic.

Stoicism doesn’t concern itself with complicated theories about the world, but with helping us overcome destructive emotions and act on what can be acted upon. It’s built for action, not endless debate.

I found this article on Benny Lewis’s website “Fluent in 3 Months” and it’s doing exactly what I’m doing (or trying to do) in this episode – applying certain principles of philosophy to language learning.

This one is written by Jeremy Ginsburg, who describes himself as a writer, entrepreperformer and language learner and you’ll find it on

How to Apply Stoic Philosophy to Language Learning

So there you go folks. 8 different schools of philosophical thought.

Empiricism, Epicureanism, Existentialism, Hedonism, Humanism, Platonism, Scepticism, Stoicism.

There are many more types of philosophy than that of course, but that was just a series of 8, based on this online survey that Amber, Paul and I took recently.

If you’re feeling a bit confused

Don’t worry, I totally understand. Honestly, I’m a bit confused too. That’s normal. This stuff isn’t supposed to be easy, that’s why people have been thinking about it and going on about it for thousands of years.

Really, philosophy is all about wisdom and trying to understand things better, make the right decisions and choose the correct way of life.

I wonder what school of philosophy you associate with most?

Also, if you’d like to listen to Amber, Paul and me finding out which school of philosophy we belong to – just wait until the next episode to hear our discussion.

Thanks for listening!

Luke