Category Archives: Comedy

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

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

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Intro Transcript

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

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

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

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

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


Cara’s Website

www.leo-listening.com

Films and TV shows mentioned

Red Dwarf
BBC TV Comedy

The Orville
Seth MacFarlane
Based on Star Trek

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


Learning English with Films & TV – Summary of Advice Given

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

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

516. Paul McCartney’s Spider Story

Learn English from an anecdote told by Sir Paul McCartney. Let’s listen to Paul telling a sweet story about something funny that happened to him and George Harrison when they were teenagers, before they became world famous musicians in The Beatles. Let’s listen to his story , do some intensive listening practice and then I’ll help you understand everything. Also, let’s have a laugh with some funny Paul McCartney impressions. Video and notes available below.

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Pre-Jingle Vocabulary

This episdoe is called Paul McCartney’s Spider Story and if you keep listening you’ll hear what happens when a couple of Beatles meet a couple of spiders.

You can also do some intensive listening practice focusing on every single word, and then later there are some bits focusing on Paul McCartney’s voice – including a few fun Paul McCartney impressions.

But right here at the beginning, before the jingle even, I just want to give you a heads up about some bits of vocab that appear in the episode. I’ll tell you the vocab now and while you’re listening and hopefully enjoying the episode, just try to spot these words and phrases as they come up, and when you do spot them you can just go – oh, there’s that word, there’s that phrase.

  • a bed and breakfast (a B&B) = a simple guesthouse where you pay for a bed for the night and breakfast in the morning, a bit like a basic hotel which is just someone’s home. (e.g. We hitch-hiked around Cornwall and stayed in a few little B&Bs along the way)
  • to turn out (phrasal verb) = when you discover a fact or when something is later revealed to be true or to be the case ,turn out + infinitive (e.g. we got talking to this guy and made friends with him and it turned out that his mum owned a B&B up the road or I was standing in a shop and I overheard someone talking about recording music and a concert and it turned out to be Paul McCartney!)
  • menace (noun) = something dangerous that can cause you harm (e.g. next door’s dog is a real menace to my chickens, or he has an air of menace about him, or there was a hint of menace in his voice)
  • as blind as a bat = totally blind, e.g. I’m as blind as a bat without my glasses! (Bats are often thought to be blind, but in fact their eyes are as good as ours – but they use their ears more at night than their eyes)
  • a nativity scene = a set of models or statues depicting the birth of the baby Jesus Christ, with Mary & Joseph often sitting over the baby Jesus. Every Christmas my school used to display a nativity scene in the school’s entrance. Sometimes people display nativity scenes in their homes or even outside the house if they’re particularly religious at Christmas.
  • to bury the hatchet = to stop a long running argument and become friends again. E.g. I wish you two would just bury the hatchet so we can get the band back together. (bury the weapon you might use to fight with someone)
  • to bury the hatchet in someone’s head = a joke! If you bury a knife, sword or hatchet in this case in someone’s head – it means you stick it deep in their head – to kill them. E.g. I’m ready to bury the hatchet – in your head! – Makes it sound like you’re ready to stop fighting, but actually you still want to kill the other person!
  • showing off = behaving in a way to attract attention and show people how great you are, but in a way that’s annoying. E.g. Dave is really good at the guitar but he’s always showing off doing these ridiculous guitar solos. He just wants to impress everyone. or Stop showing off in front of all the guests!

OK – so, no information yet about the context that those words come up in, but I just wanted to give you a heads up about some bits of vocab that definitely do come up at various points during the episode. See if you can spot them all as they naturally come up. Now, on with the episode!

Introduction

What are we doing in this episode? Listen to an anecdote – a real one, told by none other than Paul McCartney.

This is a video I found on YouTube (see below). Listen to the story, and just work out what’s going on. I’ll give you a few questions to guide you. Then I’ll go through the recording again and explain it, clarify, highlight any features of language and generally help you to understand it as well as I do. So, this is a great chance to learn some English from a real anecdote – a personal little story, in this case told by Sir Paul McCartney.

I love The Beatles. I love listening to Paul talking about, well, anything really, and I love this particular video and this little anecdote.

It’s not a story about how he conquered the world in The Beatles, or how they played Shea Stadium or how they sold millions of records or whatever.

It’s just a sweet and funny little story about something that happened to him and his mate George Harrison when they went hitchhiking in Wales – before they were even famous or in The Beatles.

I think the video originally appears as an outtake from the George Harrison documentary “Living in the Material World”, which was directed by Martin Scorsese. Highly recommended.

He was just asked if he could tell a story about a good memory of George. Of all the things they must have been through together, this is the one he picked.

Who’s Paul McCartney? (as if you don’t know…)

He’s got to be one of the most successful musicians to have ever lived.
He was in The Beatles – you must have heard of them!
I don’t know if you like their music, but you can’t deny that they’re one of the most significant bands ever and also one of the most significant moments in cultural history. I have no doubt that their music and their story will forever be remembered, studied and considered ultimately to be like classical music.

But I don’t mean to build it up too much. For me, I’m a fan of the Beatles not just because of their place in cultural history, but because of the fascinating story of these apparently ordinary guys from Liverpool, their lives, their friendship and the amazing pool of creativity that seemed to open up between them once various factors were in place and the career of the Beatles happened.

Comprehension Questions

Watch the video of “Paul McCartney talking about his best times with George Harrison” (below)

Try to answer these questions. Listen to find out the answers.

  1. Why did they hitch hike to this place called Harloch in Wales?
  2. Where did they end up? Why did they spend their time there?
  3. Where did they stay?
  4. What did he realise later on?
  5. Who did they hang out with? What did they do?
  6. What was their reaction to the spiders in their room? How did they deal with the spiders?
  7. Who were Jimmy & Jemimah?

Paul McCartney talking about his best times with George Harrison – “The Menace! The Spiders!”

The second anecdote – Buddy Holly and John Lennon’s poor eyesight

What’s the funny thing Paul says about John’s eyesight?

Answer: John Lennon famously wore glasses because he was very short sighted. He used to take the glasses off if girls were around. Later, Buddy Holly became a famous pop/rock star and suddenly it was quite cool to wear horn-rimmed glasses. Anyway, one night after writing songs at Paul’s house one dark evening at Christmas time, John walked past a house and thought he saw some neighbours still sitting outside in the freezing cold playing cards. Paul later realised that it was just a nativity scene, and John was so blind that he’d thought the statues of Mary & Joseph bending over the baby Jesus were a couple of people playing cards outside their house.

Rob Brydon & Steve Coogan do Beatle Impressions in The Trip to Spain

Rob and Steve do their Paul McCartney impressions. Rob talks about how Paul’s voice has been affected by the fact that his mouth has lost some mobility now that he’s quite old. Steve disagrees and says that he thought Paul was quite articulate. They then start doing John Lennon impressions.

Peter Serafinowicz Show – The Beatles go for a poo

A parody of the Beatles in their Let It Be period, when there was lots of friction in the band and they couldn’t agree on the musical direction for the group. British comedian Peter Serafinowicz does impressions of all the Beatles.

Listen to Episode 414 – “My Uncle Met A Rock Star” – My uncle’s account of how he once met Paul McCartney in a shop

414. With the Family (Part 2) My Uncle Met a Rock Star

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Becoming Maman – podcast page

Becoming Maman on iTunes

Becoming Maman – RSS feed

Becoming Maman – Facebook page

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

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

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

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

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

Before you Listen – Questions for your consideration

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

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


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

Those links again for “Becoming Maman”

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

Becoming Maman – podcast page

Becoming Maman on iTunes

Becoming Maman – RSS feed

Becoming Maman – Facebook page

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

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

Links for everything on the page for this episode!

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

A couple of other reminders:

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

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

Speak to you soon,

Bye!

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

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

TV shows and videos which we mentioned

The BBC’s gender experiment

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

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

Absolutely Fabulous

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

 

507. Learning English with UK Comedy TV Shows

Recommendations and descriptions of British comedy TV shows with some comments about how to use comedy TV shows to learn English. Transcript available below.

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Transcript (95% complete)

Hello, etc! (some rambling here at the beginning!)

British TV Comedy

I often get requests from listeners asking me to recommend some good British TV comedy shows. So, that’s what you’re going to get in this episode – comments about using comedy TV to improve your English and then some recommendations of TV shows that you can watch.

I love comedy and I think we have a lot of great comedy in the UK.

The USA is also known for its comedy of course, and I’m sure almost all of you are aware of American shows like Friends, The Simpsons, Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother and so on.

But Britain also has a long tradition of comedy shows on TV – sitcoms, sketch shows and character-based comedy dramas. There are so many TV comedies from the UK and many of them are truly loved by the British public. Comedy is one of the things about the UK that I am most proud of.

It’s not just Mr Bean, by the way.

British and American comedy shows are different, in the same ways that British and American culture is different. Generally speaking, I find American shows to be slightly more positive in tone, the characters slightly more attractive and successful – and perhaps because of the commercial nature of a lot of American TV channels their comedy can be a bit more conventional and safe. I mean, I get the feeling that the producers of the shows are very conscious that they have to make their advertisers happy and as a result the shows end up having to appeal to a broader audience and this means that the shows are slightly less risky, slightly less edgy and slightly less weird than British comedy shows.

British comedy can be complicated for non-Brits to get and it can be an acquired taste. People sometimes say “British humour” or “British comedy” as a synonym of “weird, dark, surreal, complex, cerebral” and sometimes “unfunny”. I would agree with most of that, except the “unfunny” part of course. I am very glad that British comedy shows are a bit darker, weirder, more surreal, more complex (sometimes) and dare I say it – more intelligent.

Let’s not get snobbish here… British people have a tendency to become a bit snobbish when talking about American things, and that’s not very attractive. Ultimately, it’s a matter of context, taste and point of view and I really don’t want to get into the British comedy vs American comedy debate here.

My main point is: American TV comedy is generally more well-known than British TV comedy – and so my job here is to bring to your attention some of the really great programmes that have been made in the UK so you can enjoy them like I do and use them to learn English.

I think if you’re into British things and that includes our humour and our outlook on life in general, I think I might be able to introduce you to some programmes that you will really enjoy and that will be great content for you to consume as learners of British English.

I grew up watching British comedy on TV. For a while it was the highlight of my week. I used to plan my entire life around the comedy shows that were on TV in the evenings. That was my life. Playing football and watching comedy on TV.

Using TV Comedy in Class

I have always been really keen to introduce my students to British comedy and time and time again I have chosen to play clips of shows or whole episodes of shows in my classes.

This is actually a less effective and worthwhile than you might expect, unless as a teacher you do certain things.

The less successful thing to do is to just play an episode of a show without any preparation. E.g. “OK, it’s Friday afternoon, let’s watch a DVD. Turn out the lights, get comfortable, here we go.”

Expectation = we will laugh, everyone will enjoy it and learning English will be fun and relaxing on a Friday afternoon.

Reality = you don’t understand it, you don’t laugh, don’t have fun and just come away thinking British comedy is “weird and unfunny”.

This is because understanding and enjoying comedy is one of the more difficult things to do in another language. There are so many things that go into your enjoyment of a bit of TV comedy. Linguistically – you need to understand every detail and understand it fast. Often, jokes are very subtle and understated – especially if it is a good comedy. I think good comedies are often quite clever and not totally obvious. Some really great comedy is very obvious of course – like Charlie Chaplin or Laurel & Hardy – physical humour, or the humour of slapstick. But I really love comedy which is quite subtle, and I think a lot of British shows rely on this sort of thing. So, your English has to be really sharp to pick up on the particular use of language, or the way things are suggested rather than obviously stated. Also, you need to understand the cultural context too – like the fact that some British comedy shows present characters and situations that are familiar to most Brits, but which people who aren’t familiar with the culture wouldn’t really understand.

So, if your English isn’t quite sharp enough and you’re not familiar with the cultural context, a comedy show might appear to be unfunny and just weird.

So as a teacher I actually find it to be very hard work to use comedy TV shows in class successfully. It often takes a lot of pre-teaching of vocabulary, lots of preparation in terms of getting the students to discuss and consider the ideas, characters or situations in the show, and the chance to see scenes several times, perhaps with a script to help. In the end, the laughter might get lost, and unless the students are particularly motivated by the idea of enjoying a comedy TV show, it might just be a better idea to do something more conventional and learner-oriented in a classroom.

I have to admit that I’ve had some very frustrating experiences in class, when I’ve presented something to a group of students – perhaps an episode of a TV programme that I really love, and it hasn’t gone down very well. I just end up feeling a bit hurt. Imagine sharing something you really love with a group of people, and to have them just look at you blankly, or yawn, or say “it’s not funny” or “I am boring”.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some classes that adored the comedy I’ve shown them and asked for more, but not always.

Of course it’s all a question of taste and perhaps my expectations are the problem. I expect/hope that every single person in the class will get it. In reality, only some will get it. Perhaps it’s hard to enjoy it in a classroom context and really these things take time.

You need to watch again and again, to get to know the characters and so on. It takes time to really get into a show, to find it funny and to develop a love for it. Repeated viewings and a love for a show are great conditions for learning English from it. Also, I get downhearted when just one person isn’t into it. I might not notice the students who loved it just because Juan Pedro seemed bored.

So, perhaps the classroom isn’t the best environment for using TV comedy, but I am still convinced that there is a lot of value in using comedy shows to learn English.

My students who tell me they watch TV shows in English are always the better learners in class

One thing I do know for sure – the best learners of English in my experience are the types of people who take the time to get into TV shows and who don’t expect simple laughs at the start. Often the outstanding learners of English I’ve met are the ones who’ve told me that they’ve watched entire seasons of Black Books, or that they really loved watching Red Dwarf or The Mighty Boosh. It does happen sometimes.

Here are some facts: All the learners of English who have told me that they regularly watched a British comedy TV show have been good learners of English – communicative, good vocabulary, better understanding and pronunciation than their classmates and showing good potential for making progress through their English course, and I’ve never met a terrible learner who told me they watched comedy shows in English.

The ones who tell me they watch comedy shows in English are always the better students. Is there a connection? There must be something. Maybe the ones who enjoy watching comedy in English are the ones who are just more motivated, less willing to give up, more curious. THese are probably the successful traits – motivation, curiosity, patience, a desire to discover the deeper meaning beyond just learning the language as quickly as possible. If you have those traits I’m sure you’re more likely to be a better learner of English and you’re probably more likely to enjoy watching comedy programmes in English.

So I do encourage you to try and get into British comedy, even if it’s tricky at the start. Also, realise that there might be more to British comedy than meets the eye. It’s not like a lot of American comedy shows which are a bit superficial, to be honest – I mean, there’s never a lot of tragedy, pain, or harsh reality in those shows. Friends, for example – it’s all too colourful. The characters don’t seem to ever really suffer. Their lives are amazing. Where is the existential suffering? Their apartment is too nice. Their lives are too rich. They’re ultimately too happy and successful. I find that harder to relate to and therefore harder to get into. I need more depth than that. I don’t just want my comedy to be escapism. I want it to allow me to explore more complicated feelings and ideas. Comedy can be challenging, complex and fascinating.

Again, I should point out that it’s not a simple case of – American comedy = superficial, British comedy = deep. There are plenty of deep, dark and complex American shows. The Simpsons, for example – at it’s best it’s extremely nuanced and reflects such a multifaceted view of life, including not just Homer falling over, but the highs and lows, pain and joy of family life in all its richness, even if the characters are all presented in bright yellow colours.

What I want to do in this episode is sell the idea of using comedy for learning English, manage your expectations about British comedy in order to help you learn from it more effectively, and also recommend some shows.

I think from the outset this might be an impossible mission – to explain British comedy to an international audience of learners of English, and then have them actually go and watch it and also enjoy it as much as me – this may be an impossible mission, but I feel compelled to do it, and really – it’s up to you to make the mission a success isn’t it? There’s only so much I can do. The rest is your responsibility.

One advantage that we have is that you, my audience, aren’t just ordinary learners of English because I suppose you are already into British things, you probably like comedy and you must have a sense of humour if you either a) enjoy this podcast or b) have listened to it for a long time (this is a no ‘no sense of humour’ zone as far as I’m concerned) So I’m assuming that you’re already curious about British comedy, or you already appreciate it, or you are keen to get some recommendations from me about shows that I like.

I have one recommendation for you to consider…

Do not consume British comedy as comedy. Do not think of it as comedy.

This is reverse psychology, but it might just work.

Don’t think of it as comedy – because if you sit down to it expecting to laugh all the time, you might just be disappointed. Instead, think of these shows as tragedy, or a study in character.

By removing the emphasis on comedy, you should be able to focus instead on simply understanding the motivations of the characters, the situations they find themselves in and how this is all expressed by the things they say and the ways they interact. If you understand all these things, you might find it funnier or more moving as a result.

Think of them as pathos. (Pathos is like comedy, but instead of creating laughter, it creates sadness or a feeling of sympathy)

Think of each show as a study of some individuals and their lives filled with quiet desperation, or hope, or frustration, or ambition, or failure or contradiction.

Think of each show as a personality study or a soap opera.

But don’t think of it as a comedy.

This doesn’t mean that you should expect these shows to be rubbish and boring.

No, on the contrary – the shows are not rubbish, they’re often very good and really carefully created, even if they are filmed in TV studios with some cheap special effects or bland-looking lighting or set design and possibly with actors that don’t look like glamorous movie stars.

You might not get all the bright colours, white teeth and good hair that you might see in an American show.

But you will see really interesting people, very witty bits of dialogue, unexpected moments, awkward social situations with hilarious consequences. Some really complex and satisfying characters, and some genuinely classic moments of British TV culture, which have captured our imaginations and entered the popular consciousness.

But don’t consume these shows as comedy, but rather as drama.

Understanding British Comedy TV

Often in British TV shows the comedy comes from the frustration, the embarrassment, the flaws and the failures or the fears of the characters, or the ways that the characters argue and the funny moments of friction between them.

British TV comedy characters are like characters in Shakespearean tragedies. I know that sounds like I’m over egging the pudding a bit, but really I do believe that. The best TV comedy characters have fatal flaws. They have specific problems in their personalities that send them on a narrative arc which aims at success but usually ends in tragedy. Just like in a good Shakespeare play.

I’ll go into more detail in a moment.

But now, here are some specific tips for …

How to use shows to improve your English

  • Watch with and without subtitles
  • Use a notepad to make a note of what the characters are saying – especially when you notice specific phrases or other features of language.
  • If there are bits that make you laugh, note them down! Note down the phrasing, the intonation, the specific words, reactions and the lines that lead up to the funny moment. If it made you laugh it obviously meant something to you, so you’ll probably remember it better.
  • Repeat the funny lines to yourself a few times and try to copy the timing and emphasis.
  • Be aware of where the characters come from and how they speak with an accent.
  • Turn the spoken word into the written word and then back to the spoken word again.
  • Record yourself saying some bits.
  • Go the extra mile.
  • Maintain your curiosity. Give the shows a chance. It might take a while before you really get it and start finding it funny. But hang in there, it will come. Don’t expect too much, even though I’m telling you that these shows are wonderful. But trust me when I say that they are good.
  • When you find a show that you just like, watch it again and again! You can learn more from watching one show you like lots of times than from watching lots of shows you don’t like a lot.
  • Consider recording the audio from shows and listening to them without the visuals. It’s not a crazy thing to do. I did it at university with 2 episodes of I’m Alan Partidge. They used to entertain me so much that I recorded the audio onto my walkman and listened to them when I was on the bus. I learned a lot of the lines and I still really appreciate those episodes today.
  • Or if you have space on your phone, download the shows and watch when you’re on the bus or whatever – but obviously be careful of the NSFW content.
  • Read about the shows online. Often there are summaries of each episode on Wikipedia or on IMDB. Use those websites to find discussions of the episodes too, and also lists of quotes from the episodes.

Here are some specific shows that I can recommend.

Themes in UK TV Comedy

Almost all of these shows feature these themes:

  • The character is stuck in a situation in his/her life.
  • But the characters dream big – they have high hopes and big ambitions – they think they are better than the situation they’re in.
  • In every episode they try to achieve something, attempting to rise above their every day life.
  • But frustrating events work against them and they stay stuck in the same situation.
  • They’re thwarted by the situation around them but the biggest cause of their failure is themselves. Perhaps the character’s ambition, lack of self awareness or the fact that the character thinks they are better than their situation – these things cause the character to fail.
  • The main problem – the character doesn’t accept his/her situation and is not self aware and therefore always ends up frustrated, despite trying to achieve something bigger.

So, what about this list of shows?

I’ll explain the basic synopsis of the show and will also try to tell you what kind of English you might hear in the show as well as any other details I think you should know.

I’m not sure how you are going to actually find or get hold of these shows. I know some of you out there in internetland have access to anything through torrenting sites and stuff, or on those websites where shows are uploaded for streaming.

I recommend that you find the shows online, get them on DVD or however you normally watch programmes.

You also might think to yourselves, “Do I have to watch any of these shows…? Is this compulsory homework?” Well, no of course you can do whatever you want and if you’d rather just not bother, like I’m sure a great many of you will do, then go ahead. Carry on living your lives exactly like before, listen to the podcast on your way to work or whatever and that’s fine. But I know that quite a lot of you are interested in finding some British TV shows to watch – so here’s a list of personal recommendations from me to you.

These are all shows I have watched and enjoyed. In no particular order.

By the way, all of these could and should be individual episodes of the podcast in their own right, in which we listen to some clips and all that stuff, and I might do that in the future.

Some British TV Comedy Show Recommendations (in no particular order)

The Office

Reality-style sitcom (or “mockumentary”) Early 2000s.

Basic description?

This is a tragedy set in an office. It’s also a romance, of sorts.

There are two types of character – the ones who are trapped in hell and the ones who don’t realise that they’re trapped in hell. The hell in this case is an office in Slough. Perhaps hell within hell, because it’s bad enough being in Slough but working in an office in Slough is even worse.

Type of English

It’s very “realistic” – it’s a fly on the wall drama. The camera men are trying not to be intrusive. It’s like we’re just observing life in this office. As a result it’s not always clear what’s being said. Characters might mumble sometimes, and their sentences aren’t always complete – it’s the style, but this is good because this is how people actually speak. The laughs are not signalled, and there’s no laughter track. It might look like just a depressing office and this is the point.

That’s what this is about. Remember – tragedy! Most of the characters are from the south and don’t have really strong accents except a couple of them who have accents from the South West (Gareth for example).

I’m Alan Partridge

Mid 1990s – now

A man who thinks he is an A-grade broadcaster is actually a D-grade broadcaster – but it’s so much more than that. It started as a parody of the way TV broadcasters speak, but it’s become a parody of a certain type of middle aged British Man – the kind of man who reads the Daily Express and votes for Brexit.

I need to do a whole episode about this. You need to understand that Alan is someone who speaks like a local radio presenter in ordinary life and it shows how alienated he is from normal people. He talks to the public on the radio, but in real life he’s hopeless, but he doesn’t realise. His accent is a bit like a parody of a sports reporter or a radio presenter. This is a complex character and he doesn’t realise how ridiculous he is. We’re laughing at him, not with him.

Father Ted

Actually Irish not British.

Sitcom – 1990s

The pathos: a man who is stuck in the priesthood with a drunkard and an idiot on an island off Ireland and he dreams of having a more glamourous life.

It’s not a British show, it’s Irish. The accents are from the Republic of Ireland.

Blackadder

Historical sitcom or satire – 1980s – 1990s

Edmund is essentially a modern-minded man stuck in the idiocy of British history.

This features some of the UK’s most favourite actors and comedians including Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. Usually the English you’ll hear is quite old-fashioned. You’ll hear parodies of old English styles, and plenty of sarcasm. Although the style is old fashioned (it’s set in the Tudor period, Regency period or WW1 period) the characters should speak clearly and in RP.

Don’t watch series 1 of Blackadder! Avoid series 1. Only series 2-4 are good.

Bottom

Sitcom – 1990s

Two complete cretins live a miserable unemployed existence in Hammersmith – it’s basically Samuel Beckett.

They speak with a bit of RP and a bit of London. Often the characters adopt high-class English in contrast to the low-class situation they live in.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus

Sketch show from the 1960s and 1970s.

A group of highly educated Oxbridge graduates make fun of absolutely everything, including history, comedy clichés and existence itself.

George Harrison once said that when The Beatles split up at the end of the sixties that The Beatles spirit passed into Monty Python. There’s something in that, because the pythons had something special about them. Not every sketch is great, but a lot of them are brilliant. It’s probably best to just watch the films – Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Spaced

Sitcom – Late 1990s early 2000s.

Two twenty-somethings who live in a fantasy world of their own creation struggle to exist in the real world – everything they do becomes a scene from a famous film.

The Day Today

News parody and satire. Mid 1990s.

The news is pompous and self-important to the point of being surreal.

Brass Eye

The same concept as The Day Today but a lot more controversial.

Only Fools and Horses

Sitcom – 1980s – 1990s.

Two orphaned brothers from a working class background just try to make ends meet. One of them ends up becoming middle class when he falls in love with a middle-class girl, but he’s working class at heart.


Shows I talk about in the Bonus Audio – in the LEP App.

Black Books

Sitcom – Late 1990s – early 2000s.

Bernard works in a bookshop selling books to the public. He loves books but the problem is he hates people. He also loves wine and smoking. It’s a bit like Withnail &I.

Absolutely Fabulous

Sitcom – 1990s.

Two posh middle aged women who work (in the vaguest possible sense) in the fashion industry in London try to live like they are still teenagers in swinging London in the late 1960s.

The Thick of It

Political satire and sitcom – Late 2000s.

Politics is a dog-eat-dog world in which serving the public is the lowest priority.

Yes Minister

Political satire and sitcom – 1970s – 1980s.

Politics is a dog-eat-dog world in which serving the public is the lowest priority – but with less swearing and more charming old fashioned upper-class sophistication.

Dad’s Army

Sitcom – 1960s – 1970s

Britain’s last line of defence against the Nazis is a group of incompetent old grandads.

Red Dwarf

Sci-Fi Sitcom – 1990s.

The last human being alive is stuck on a spaceship with a hologram of the person he hates the most, a senile super-computer, a robot butler and a man who evolved from cats – full of sarcasm, put downs and cheap science fiction special effects.

Gavin & Stacey

Sitcom – Late 2000s

A genuinely sweet and heartwarming comedy about two people from two different British communities (Essex in England and Barry Island in South Wales) who fall in love with each other.

Outnumbered

Sitcom – late 2000s – now.

Two exhausted parents attempt to bring up 3 children, and lose the battle.


Other shows (I didn’t get time to mention them at all)

One Foot in the Grave

Sitcom – 1990s.

A man in his 70s just wants to enjoy his retirement but he is constantly frustrated but life’s little irritations.

Little Britain

Sketch show – 2000s.

A sketch show in which a range of eccentric and grotesque British characters talk in catchphrases.

The Fast Show

Sketch show – 1990s.

The same as Little Britain, but with a bit more pathos. This came before Little Britain.

Extras

Sitcom/drama – 2000s.

A man struggles to become famous as an actor and writer, and then when he does become famous he realises how empty it is – all the celebrities he meets are total weirdos – and they are played by themselves.

The Royle Family

Sitcom/drama – 1990s/2000s.

A northern working class family live their lives sitting in front of the TV. The twist is – we are watching them from the TV’s point of view.

The Trip

Drama? 2010s – now.

Two middle aged men go on a road trip and bicker with each other, while competing to see who can do the best impressions of famous actors – we also realise that their lives are a struggle between ambition, the emptiness, self-fulfilment and a life in show business. Stars award-winning comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon and directed by filmmaker Michael Winterbottom.

All these shows sound like dramas or tragedies, but they are really funny and charming and I recommend you check them out!

The League of Gentlemen

Sketch show – 1990s – 2000s.

The Mighty Boosh

Surreal sitcom – Late 2000s.

They’re both losers in their own way and they live in a dream world of their own creation – and that dream world is populated by all kinds of wonderful, colourful characters, music, and magic, but it’s all about this funny relationship between two mis-matched friends.

This show is bonkers but really sweet at the same time. The two main characters speak in modern London accents. Vince has an estuary English accent – sort of like cockney – typical London accent. Howard is similar but probably closer to RP.

Peep Show

Sitcom – 2000s.

A terribly dark tragedy about the struggle of two cynical guys in their 30s attempting to live in modern London. The horror comes from the fact that we can hear their thoughts and see the world from their point of view, and they’re awful people.

They’re both quite well-spoken, particularly David Mitchell’s character who is very uncool and his slightly posh RP is evidence of that.

Fawlty Towers

Sitcom – 1970s.

An utterly fed up man is stuck in the wrong job – welcoming people into his hotel on ‘the English rivera’.

The IT Crowd

Limmy’s Show

The Inbetweeners

Keeping Up Appearances

One Foot in the Grave

Porridge

The Young Ones

Steptoe & Son

Allo Allo

Panel Shows

Have I Got News for You?

Mock The Week

Never Mind The Buzzcocks

8 out of 10 Cats

QI

Would I Lie to You?

And plenty plenty more!

If you like a British comedy TV show and I didn’t mention it. Add it in the comment section. :)

506. One of Britain’s Favourite Poems

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

[DOWNLOAD]

Episode Transcript

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If-” by Rudyard Kipling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to Academy Award winning actor Michael Caine reading the poem

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

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

“If—” by Rudyard Kipling

(video below)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read it again and analyse the words

“If—” by Rudyard Kipling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

and then lose but just start again from scratch

And never breathe a word about your loss;

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

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

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

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

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

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

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

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch

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

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hear Michael Caine’s thoughts on it from the recording

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions of Michael Caine’s Voice

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

How Michael Caine Speaks

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

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

Vocabulary Review

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

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

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

144. The Chaos of English Pronunciation

Thanks for listening!

497. Film Club: Withnail & I (with James and Will)

Talking about a classic British film which not many learners of English know about. Listen for explanations of the film, its appeal, descriptions of the characters and events, the type of people who like the film and a few bits of dialogue too. Notes available.

[DOWNLOAD]

Introduction Transcript

Today on the podcast I am going to be talking about a cult classic of British cinema – a film called Withnail & I.

This is a slightly ambitious episode because in my experience this film is usually very difficult for learners of English to fully appreciate. Even the title of the film somehow fails to register with many people when I tell them.

“Can you recommend British films?” one of my students might say.
And I say “Yes, definitely. You should watch Withnail & I”
And the person’s face creases into an expression of “what was that you just said?”
“Withnail and I” I repeat.
But still, this clearly just seems like a noise to this person.
He doesn’t know what to write. He doesn’t know how many words that is. He doesn’t know how to spell “Withnail and I”. He’s lost for a moment.
So I write it on the board “Withnail and I”.
Still, this doesn’t help much. The person doesn’t even recognise the word “Withnail”. It’s difficult to spell, it’s difficult to pronounce, it doesn’t seem to mean anything.

Then I think – “There’s no way this guy is going to enjoy this film, he can’t even get past the title.”

But something inside me says – “Luke, Luke… I am your father…” No, it says “Luke, you need to make these people watch this film. It is your duty as a British person teaching people your language and culture. These people need to see this film. They need to know what a Camberwell Carrot is, they need to know about cake and fine wine, they need to know why all hairdressers are under the employment of the government. It is your duty Luke, to teach these people about the wonderful world of Withnail and I – even if they don’t want it!”

So now I feel duty bound to tell you all about this cult British film. By the way, the title of the film “Withnail and I” – these are just the two characters in the film. Withnail and another guy whose name we don’t know. He’s simply “I”.

If you’re interested in British films, if you like slightly dark comedies with good acting, interesting characters, an excellent script and some top level swearing – this is a film for you.

You might never have heard of it, I realise, and that’s partly why I’m doing this episode. I like to recommend things that you might not know.

Withnail and I is a cult film which means it’s very very popular with a certain group of people. It’s not a mass-appeal sort of film. It might not be the film you think of when you consider typical “British films” – you might think of something like Love Actually or a Jane Austen adaptation, but Withnail & I is a film that you will definitely know if you a proper lover of British films. It is a cult classic and those who love it – really love it with a passion as if they’ve lived the film themselves in their own lives.

But not everybody gets it. Certainly, in the UK it is very highly regarded by people who have a special love for films, but it’s not a film like Four Weddings or James Bond which seem to appeal to everybody. Plenty of Brits don’t get it. Also learners of English hardly ever know about it (because in my experience most learners of English understand British cinema as things like Hugh Grant, Harry Potter and even Mr Bean). It can be a difficult film to understand if you’re not a native speaker from the UK. It’s not well known in the USA even.

But as I said, it’s a cult success in the UK.

Cult has two meanings. A cult can be a sort of small religious group devoted to a particular person, but when cult is used as an adjective with something like “film” then it means that this film is extremely popular with certain people.

  • What kinds of people like this film?
  • Why do people love this film so much?
  • What is the appeal?
  • What can this film tell us about British culture?
  • Why should you as a learner of English take any interest in this film at all?
  • How can you learn some real British English from this?

Let’s find out in this episode of Luke’s Film Club on Luke’s English Podcast all about Withnail & I.

I’m a huge Withnail & I fan but in this episode I’m also joined by several other Withnail fans who are very keen to talk to you about one of their favourite films.

Those two fans are my brother James and his mate Will.

I just sincerely hope that we can somehow explain this film and its appeal, and make this interesting for you to listen to (that’ll be hard considering it’s three blokes with similar voices talking about an obscure film that you’ve probably never seen).

***

Links & Videos

The Wall of Withnail – superfan Heidi’s collection of objects seen in the background of Withnail & I. wall-o-withnail.blogspot.fr/

Withnail and Us – a great documentary about the making of the film, by the people who made the film.

Bruce Robinson interview

Bruce Robinson & Richard E Grant at the London BFI

The Hamlet Monologue (Act 2, Scene 2, Page 13)

“I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air—look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire—why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me. No, nor woman neither.”

In plain English:

“Recently, though I don’t know why, I’ve lost all sense of fun —the whole world feels sterile and empty. This beautiful canopy we call the sky—this majestic roof decorated with golden sunlight—why, it’s nothing more to me than disease-filled air. What a perfect invention a human is, how noble in his capacity to reason, how unlimited in thinking, how admirable in his shape and movement, how angelic in action, how godlike in understanding! There’s nothing more beautiful. We surpass all other animals. And yet to me, what are we but dust? Men don’t interest me. No—women neither.”

Outtro

What you just heard there is the final scene of the film in which Withnail repeats lines from Hamlet by Shakespeare and it’s quite a tragic ending, but you’ll have to watch the film to find out what happens.

So that was an ambitious episode! I honestly think this one is as ambitious as the one about the rules of cricket. All the way through that conversation alarm bells were ringing in my head.

Sometimes I get alarm bells when I’m teaching. From experience I know what my learners of English will and won’t understand. For example, if there’s a listening that we’re doing and it contains a few phrasal verbs or connected speech or a specific accent, the alarm bells ring in my head and sure enough none of my students have understood it.

So for this episode alarm bells are ringing like mad. First of all the film is like kryptonite to students of English (which is a pity because there’s a lot to enjoy), but also because you were listening to three guys talking with fairly similar voices in a comfortable way – meaning, not graded for learners of English to make it easier, and also we’re talking about a film that you’ve probably never seen. Also the little clips in particular were, I’m sure, rather difficult to follow.

So a big well done if you made it this far. I promise you that this film is an absolute gem and if you give it a chance it will actually improve your life.

I have talked about this film on the podcast before and in fact I do remember getting a message from a listener who said that she had watched the film on my recommendation with her boyfriend and that now they enjoy repeating lines from the script when they are about the house.

So if they can get into it then you can too, although of course this film is not for everyone, that’s why it’s a cult film.

I’ve just remembered, I promised to play the Withnail & I swear-a-thon. That’s like a marathon isn’t it, but with swearing.

Withnail and I is celebrated for its swearing and there is a lot of colourful rude language in the film. For the 20th anniversary DVD box set someone edited together all the swearwords from the film in order. This is the Withnail and I swear-a-thon. Now, as you would expect the next minute or so is going to be absolutely filled with swearing so brace yourselves. YOu’re going to hear all sorts of rude words like bastard, shit, fuck and also cunt. Here we go.

I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to this episode of Luke’s Film Club on Luke’s English Podcast.

Check out the page for the episode for some notes, transcriptions and also a bunch of video documentaries, clips and interviews that are definitely worth watching if you’d like to know more.

Have a great morning, evening, breakfast, lunch, dinner, sleep, commute or run!

493. Catching Up with Amber & Paul #7 (Human Pollution)

Amber and Paul are back on the podcast as we catch up with their recent news and the conversation goes off on many tangents covering subjects such as: pollution and fog in Paris, a possible new word – ‘pog’, other potential new words of the year, Harvey Weinstein, wanking in the office, ‘human pollution in the swimming pool’, Paul’s recent showbiz news, seeing The Rolling Stones on stage and a slightly worrying email from a LEPster. Includes a cameo appearance by young Hugo, saying his first words on the podcast.

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Episode Notes

This is quite a disgusting episode at certain moments. There’s talk of masturbation and poo. Please prepare yourself accordingly.

  • The pollution and fog in Paris.
  • Potential new words of the year for 2017.
  • The Harvey Weinstein sex abuse scandal.
  • The Comedian’s Comedian Podcast with Stuart Goldsmith (and Reginald D Hunter)
  • Wanking (masturbating) in the Office (Big Train) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKH9ECC_Qa4
  • What’s Amber been doing?
  • A play date
  • “Human pollution” in the swimming pool.
  • Having to wear “speedos” or “budgie smugglers” in the swimming pool in France
  • How to fix technical issues:
    • Blow on it
    • Take the batteries out and put them back in again
    • Turn it off and turn it back on again
    • Leave it for a bit
  • Blowing at a hairdryer (they do get a bit clogged up at the back)
  • “Poo-l-lution”
  • What’s Paul been doing?
  • Touring around different cities in France
  • Making episodes of What’s Up France?
  • PHOTO OF PAUL’S SOCK
  • Seeing The Rolling Stones on their European Tour

A slightly worrying email from a LEPster

iñaki Sanchez
I really hate you and your podcast lucky Luke. Let me explain it please. I usually listen to certain podcasts like culips, vaughan radio etc. Those are very good podcasts and I have lived happily with them for quite a long time. I do not know yet how it came to my mind to find something else and here you are. Finally I found you….. or I´d better say I found your podcast. It seemed to be nice and I started using it. After a while I got hooked and started downloading all your podcasts.
It was then that I became horrified by the fact that there are around 500 episodes. I have to recognize they are quite good, to be honest they are very good…. Let´s say the truth they are awesome and that is the bad thing. I discover myself listening your episodes from the very beginning. As I cannot listen to more than 1 episode a day I reckon I will be doing it for good….. or maybe for bad because you are going to be the cause of my divorce.
My wife has begun accusing me of a lack of attention. Even my cat is angry with me now.
My neighbours look at me strangely, and I don´t know if I have to say I hate you or I love you. What do you recommend me Luke? Tell me the truth, because I trust you. Should I get divorced or just keep on listening to your marvelous podcasts. In the meantime here I am on the fence waiting impatiently for your answer. Could I ask you please not to do so well so that I can hook off [unhook from, or just “get off” if it’s a drug or “clean up”] and come back to life?
I think I am going bananas and this letter is the evidence. Help me Si´l vous plait and do not do it so well, because your podcast is driving me mad.
Cheers
Iñaki from the Basque Country

Luke Thompson
Just get divorced.
Either that, or you try to convert your wife to the podcast. Have you tried that?
Try it, and if it doesn’t work – divorce.
;) :) :)

485. & 486. Difficult Words to Pronounce in English (with Paul Taylor) (Parts 1 & 2) + video

This is a double episode with two audio episodes on one page, and it’s going to be really useful for you because it’s all about difficult pronunciation in English. Listen to Paul Taylor and me discussing the tricky relationship between spelling and pronunciation. There are lots of jokes, impressions, funny accents and useful comments about this important area of the English language. Use this episode to avoid some very common mistakes in English pronunciation, and try not to laugh on the bus while you’re listening! Check this episode page for word lists, transcriptions and my video of 40+ difficult words to pronounce in English.

Part 1

Part 2

[DOWNLOAD PART 1] [DOWNLOAD PART 2]


british humour posterLuke’s British Council Teacher Talk – “What is this, British Humour?”

I’m doing another talk on the topic of humour at the British Council in Paris on 19 October. It is also being live-streamed on Facebook. Details below.

Click here to reserve (free) tickets if you’re in Paris.

Click here for the British Council France Facebook Page for the live stream – Thursday 19 October at 19:00 Paris time (CET).


Difficult Words to Pronounce in English: Notes, Word Lists and That Useful Video (below)

  • Focus /fəʊkəs/
  • Fuck us /fʌkʌs/
  • Sting /stɪŋ/
  • Boy George /bɔɪ ʤɔːʤ/
  • Spandau Ballet /spændɑː bæleɪ/

What problems do French people have with pronunciation in English?

  • /h/ sounds
  • /th/ sounds

Part 1 ends here… Part 2 continues below!


  • /r/ sounds
  • Some vowel sounds, particularly certain ‘long’ and ‘short’ sounds, such as…
  • bitch” /i/ and “beach” /i:/
  • shit” /i/  and “sheet” /i:/
  • voiced and unvoiced sounds
  • Paul’s “how to beatbox” with boots and cats

The words & phrases from the TOPITO article – “The Most Difficult Words to Pronounce in English – the hell of /th/ sounds

1. I have a sore throat
2. Squirrel
3. Throughout
4. Bewildered
5. Hierarchy
6. Anaesthetize
7. Threshold
8. Worthlessly
9. Worcestershire
10. William Wordsworth

The TOPITO article (it’s in French by the way) www.topito.com/top-trucs-durs-dire-anglais

An academic “focus” on French people speaking English, from Frankfurt University

Phonology
There are some differences in the sound systems of the two languages that can cause French learners problems of comprehension and speech production. Spelling errors may result from the frequent lack of correspondence between the pronunciation of English words and their spelling.

A typical pronunciation problem is the inability to correctly articulate the vowel sounds in minimal pairs such as ship / sheep, live / leave, full / fool. Because the tip of the tongue is not used in speaking French, learners often have problems with words containing the letters th (/θ/ /ð/), such as then, think and clothes.

Another common feature of English spoken by French learners is the omission of the /h/ sound at the beginning of words. This sound does not exist in French and leads to problems such as ‘Ave you ‘eard about ‘arry?, or overcompensation by pronouncing the /h/ in words like hour, honour.
French learners typically have problems with the unpredictable stress patterns of English words, particularly of cognates. (Word stress in French is regular.) Learners may also be unwilling to engage in the prevalent vowel reduction of unstressed syllables in English. Consider, for example, the way that English native speakers swallow the first syllable of the word tomorrow (t’morrow). These problems result in the stereotypical staccato French accent of beginning learners.

From Frankfurt International School Website esl.fis.edu/grammar/langdiff/french.htm

TH sounds

/th/ can be voiced [ð] or unvoiced [θ]

A quick guide to producing TH sounds:

  • Stick tongue out slightly
  • Let air pass under/through teeth and over the tongue
  • You don’t need your lips!
  • It’s not /f/ /s/ /d/ /v/ or /z/
  • It’s [ð] (voiced) or [θ] (unvoiced)

Watch my video (below) for more help with /th/ sounds.

More words which learners often find difficult to pronounce

  • Architecture /ˈɑː.kɪ.tek.tʃər/
  • architectural /ˌɑː.kɪˈtek.tʃər.əl/
  • Drawer /drɔː/
  • Colonel /ˈkəːn(ə)l/
  • Comfortable /ˈkʌmftəbəl/
  • Pronunciation /prənʌnsɪˈeɪʃən/
  • Recipe /ˈresɪpi:/
  • Scissors /ˈsɪzəz/
  • Strengths /streŋkθs/
  • Clothes /kləʊðz/
  • Eighth /eɪtθs/
  • Queue /kjuː/
  • Fruit /fruːt/
  • Sixteenth /sɪkˈstiːnθ/
  • Eighteenth /eɪˈtiːnθ/

“Ghoti” is pronounced “fish” (is it?)

This is an old attempt to prove that English spelling makes no sense. Note: David Crystal doesn’t agree.

ghoti

www.neatorama.com/trivia/2012/09/09/Ghoti-is-Pronounced-Fish-in-the-English-Language/

David Crystal disagrees with this “ghoti” (See below)

Some Words with Silent Letters

  • bomb
  • climb
  • comb
  • crumb
  • debt
  • doubt
  • government (ok, so the ‘n’ isn’t really silent, but this word has 3 syllables, not 4)

More here: mywords.cle.ust.hk/sir/silent_words.php

Also

  • Business /ˈbɪznɪs/ or /ˈbɪznəs/
  • Busy /ˈbɪzi:/
  • Derby (place and a horse race) /ˈdɑːbi:/

L/R (Often difficult for Japanese speakers, or people from East Asia in general)

  • Roller coaster
  • Rarely
  • Red lorry, yellow lorry, red lorry, yellow lorry

My name

  • Luke (correct) /lu:k/
  • not:
  • Look
  • Luck
  • Mr Luck (the most common wrong version, especially in writing)
  • Teacher luck pot cat? (teacher luke podcast)
  • Ruke
  • Ruku
  • Rook
  • Duck??
  • Mr Luke (still not correct – it’s just “Luke” or “Mr Thompson”, although Moz called me Mr Luke as a sort of joke)

Thompson /tɒmpsən/

  • Often pronounced “Tom-sun” in France
  • and pronounced “Tom-pu-son” in Japan

Some rude or funny tongue twisters read by Paul and me

She sells sea shells on the sea shore.
(not rude)

Red lorry yellow lorry red lorry yellow lorry…
(not rude)

I am not the pheasant plucker,
I’m the pheasant plucker’s mate.
I am only plucking pheasants
Because the pheasant plucker’s late.
(don’t say “fucker“)
I slit the sheet, the sheet I slit;
and on the slitted sheet I sit.
(don’t say “shit“)
One smart fellow; he felt smart.
Two smart fellows; they felt smart.
Three smart fellows; they all felt smart.
(don’t say “fart”)
I’m not the fig plucker,
Nor the fig pluckers’ son,
But I’ll pluck figs
Till the fig plucker comes.
(don’t say “pig fucker“)
Fire truck tyres
(repeat it – don’t say “I fuck tyres”)
Mrs Puggy Wuggy has a square cut punt.
Not a punt cut square,
Just a square cut punt.
It’s round in the stern and blunt in the front.
Mrs Puggy Wuggy has a square cut punt.
Six stick shifts stuck shut.
Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers.

(don’t say “cunt” – really, don’t say that word, it is extremely rude)

She sells seashells by the seashore.
The shells she sells are surely seashells.
So if she sells shells on the seashore,
I’m sure she sells seashore shells.
(not rude)
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck
If a woodchuck could chuck wood?
He would chuck, he would, as much as he could,
And chuck as much as a woodchuck would
If a woodchuck could chuck wood.
(not rude)
Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers
(not rude)
 

Betty Botta bought some butter;
“But,” said she, “this butter’s bitter!
If I put it in my batter
It will make my batter bitter.
But a bit o’ better butter
Will make my batter better.”
Then she bought a bit o’ butter
Better than the bitter butter,
Made her bitter batter better.
So it was better Betty Botta
Bought a bit o’ better butter.

(not rude)

www.fun-with-words.com/tong_rude.html


Pronunciation practice – repeat after me!

There’s no quiz for this episode – instead I thought I’d make a video so you can practise your pronunciation by repeating after me. Word list with definitions below.

Word List + examples [The definitions are in brackets]

  1. Sore throat – I’ve got a sore throat today [a painful throat, because you have a cold]
  2. Squirrel – I saw three squirrels in the park [cute little animals with bushy tails that live in the park]
  3. Throughout – Squirrels live in this park throughout the year [all the way through]
  4. Bewildered – I was bewildered by all the options [confused]
  5. Hierarchy – There’s a flat hierarchy in our company [a system of levels]
  6. Anaesthetist/Anaesthetise – It’s the job of the anaesthetist  to anaesthetise the patients with an anaesthetic [to give someone an anaesthetic – something which stops you feeling pain]
  7. Threshold – If you earn more than £70,000 you enter the next tax threshold [a level or point where something ends and something else begins]
  8. Worthlessly – I was worthlessly trying to impress her by showing off [in a worthless way – with no worth or no point]
  9. Pass the Worcestershire sauce, would you? [a kind of brown sauce for giving flavour to food]
  10. William Wordsworth was a wonderful writer
  11. live / leave – You have to live a little before you leave this world
  12. ship / sheep – we put all the sheep onto the ship, so the ship was full of sheep
  13. full / fool – The room is full you fool!
  14. Architecture – I love the architecture
  15. Architectural – The architectural style is fascinating
  16. Drawer – The knives and forks are in the top drawer on the left [for example, where you keep the knives and forks in the kitchen]
  17. Colonel – Colonel Sanders founded Kentucky Fried Chicken [a senior officer in the army]
  18. Kernel – Pine kernels can be a delicious addition to a salad [a nut]
  19. Comfortable – Are you comfortable? Would you like a pillow?
  20. Pronunciation is important. You have to pronounce words properly.
  21. Recipe – Can you give me that delicious cake recipe? /  This is a recipe for disaster! [the instructions for how to make certain food]
  22. Scissors – Do you know where the scissors are? [a tool for cutting paper or fabric]
  23. Strengths – What are your strengths and weaknesses? [strong points]
  24. Clothes – I bought some new clothes today.
  25. Months – She’s 18 months old now.
  26. Eighth – Henry the Eighth was a Tudor king of England
  27. Queue – Sorry, are you in the queue? Are you skipping the queue? Sorry, the end of the queue is back there. Yes, we’re all queueing up, we’re not just standing here. Unbelievable. [a line of people waiting for something]
  28. Fruit – Do you have any fresh fruit?
  29. Sixteenth – It’s the sixteenth of October
  30. Eighteenth – It’s the eighteenth of November
  31. Thirteenth – it’s Friday the thirteenth
  32. Thirtieth – it’s the thirtieth of December
  33. Bomb – There was a bomb scare in the station. People were talking about a bombing. I remember when the IRA bombed Oxford Street. [an explosive device]
  34. Climb – Do you want to go climbing with me next weekend? I’m going to climb that mountain on Saturday. You climbed it last year didn’t you? [to go up something steep like a ladder,  a hill or a mountain]
  35. Comb – I’m just combing my hair with a comb. [something that you use to make your hair straight]
  36. Crumb – Why are there lots of bread crumbs on the table? Have you been cutting bread here? There are lots of crumbs everywhere. Can you clean them up please? [little bits of bread or other food]
  37. Debt – (Many students leave university with) thousands of pounds of debt. [money which you have to pay back to someone after you borrow it]
  38. Doubt – There’s no doubt about it. It’s a brilliant film. [something you’re unsure about]
  39. Government (ok, so the ‘n’ isn’t really silent, but this word has 3 syllables, not 4) The government is yet to make a statement.
  40. My name is Luke  (not Mr Luck) Thompson
  41. This is a podcast – not a postcard, or potcard, or pot cast or pot cat. It’s podcast.

 See Paul’s One Man Show #Franglais – http://paultaylorcomedy.com/

By the way, if you’re in France, you really should see Paul’s one man show called #Franglais because it is back in theatres for another run. A lot of the comedy in his show is based around pronunciation differences, including the way people say his name, the way French people say funny things without realising it and more. Check out paultaylorcomedy.com for more information.

Here’s David Crystal’s response to “GHOTI” = FISH

Remember that thing that goes around the internet about how “Fish” should be spelled GHOTI?

Basically David Crystal believes that English spelling is not actually senseless, chaotic or mad. It is complex but it’s not completely random. In fact it is the end result of a fascinating process of development that can tell us a lot about the rich history of the English language.

From a Guardian review of his book “Spell It Out”

‘Crystal shows a brisk impatience with the tradition that likes to pretend that English spelling is senseless. The famous suggestion that you could spell “fish” “ghoti” (gh as in “rough”, o as in “women” and ti as in “motion”) is a witticism often ascribed to George Bernard Shaw but, Crystal says witheringly, has been doing the rounds since the middle of the 19th century. It is, he argues “complete naughtiness. The spelling ti is NEVER used with this sound at the end of a word in English, and the spelling gh is NEVER used with this sound at the beginning of a word.” It doesn’t do, then, to simply throw your hands up and say: “Isn’t our language mad?” The real story is much more interesting than that.’ www.theguardian.com/books/2012/sep/14/spell-it-out-david-crystal-review

You can read more about the interesting story of English spelling and what it can teach us about the history of the English language by reading David Crystal’s book “Spell It Out”, which I expect is available from any half-decent book shop.

454. David Crystal Interview (Part 1) Professor of Linguistics

455. David Crystal Interview (Part 2) Questions from Listeners

So, that’s it for this double episode then, thanks for listening!

  • Join the mailing list!
  • Don’t be a ninja hiding in the shadows – write something in the comment section
  • Be excellent to each other and party on!

Luke

484. Try not to Laugh on the Bus (with Paul Taylor)

A conversation with Paul Taylor involving several cups of tea, recipes for French crepes, our terrible rap skills, a funny old comedy song about English workmen drinking tea, some improvised comedy role plays and a very angry Paul ranting about bad customer service in France! Your challenge is to listen to this episode in public without laughing out loud, especially in the second half of the episode. Good luck, may the force be with you. Vocabulary list, song lyrics, definitions and a quiz available below.

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Episode Introduction (Transcript)

I’m going to keep this intro as brief as possible so we can get straight into it!

This one is a conversation with friend of the podcast, Paul Taylor. It was lots of fun to record, I hope it’s also lots of fun to listen to.

There are links, videos, word lists and song lyrics with vocabulary and definitions on the episode page on the website that can help you to understand and learn more English from our conversation.

There is some swearing in this episode – some rude words and things. Just to let you know in advance.

Try not to laugh on the bus while listening to this. That might be embarrassing. That is a challenge from me to you. Try not to giggle – because everyone will look at you and will feel either jealous or confused at your public display of the joy which will be bursting forth from your heart as you listen to Paul’s infectious laughter. No giggling or cracking up in public please. Get a grip on yourself for goodness sake.

Where’s Amber? All will be revealed.

Keep listening until the end of the episode for more additional extra bonus fun.

Alrighty then, that’s all for the intro, let’s go!


Vocabulary List

  • A crepe = a thin french pancake made from flour, milk and egg – all whisked together and then cooked in a pan
  • To whisk = to mix ingredients quickly with a fork or a whisk
  • To knead dough to make bread
  • To knead = to work/press/mix/fold dough with your hands when making bread
  • Dough = flour, water, yeast combined to make a soft paste, used for making bread
  • Cats go to the litter box, shit and then lick their paws
  • The litter box = the tray or box in your house that cats use as a toilet. It’s full of small stones, sand or something similar.
  • Paws = the hands and feet of a cat (or similar animals)
  • The Luke’s English Podcast Challenge – if you don’t know what a crepe is, leave a comment! You *might* get a picture of Paul as a prize.
  • Talking bollocks* = talking nonsense ( *bollocks is a rude word meaning testicles, or bullshit)
  • owzit gaan? = How’s it going?
  • It’s the first day back at school in France so everyone’s going mental
  • Going mental = going crazy, getting stressed
  • Anti-nuclear pens? = I suppose these are pens which somehow resist the effects of a nuclear attack. They don’t exist, I think.
  • www.youtube.com/watch?v=geEVwslL-YY
    • Losing your friends when they have kids – How having kids is like the zombie apocalypse (according to Paul)
    • “To put the kibosh on something” = phrase
      If someone or something puts the kibosh on your plans or activities, they cause them to fail or prevent them from continuing.
      [mainly US , informal]
      E.g. “Rattray, however, personally showed up at the meeting to try and put the kibosh on their plans.”
      “…software that puts the kibosh on pop-up ads if a user doesn’t want them.”
    • www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/put-the-kibosh-on
      Origin: Unknown origin :)
    • I’ll be tutoring my child in the ways of righteousness
    • A voice-over = some recorded speech used in advertising, TV, radio etc.

“Right said Fred” by Bernard Cribbins

A 1960s comedy record featuring some cockney workmen moving a heavy object and drinking lots of tea.

Lyrics [vocab explained in brackets]
“Right,” said Fred, “Both of us together
One each end and steady as we go.” [be careful, do it steadily]
Tried to shift it, couldn’t even lift it [move it]
We was getting nowhere [yes, it’s grammatically incorrect]
And so we had a cuppa tea and [ a cup of tea]

“Right,” said Fred, “Give a shout for Charlie.”
Up comes Charlie from the floor below.
After straining, heaving and complaining [making lots of physical effort] [complaining]
We was getting nowhere [also grammatically incorrect]
And so we had a cuppa tea.

And Charlie had a think, and he thought we ought to take off all the handles
And the things what held the candles.
But it did no good, well I never thought it would

“All right,” said Fred, “Have to take the feet off
To get them feet off wouldn’t take a mo(ment).” [those]
Took its feet off, even took the seat off
Should have got us somewhere but no!
So Fred said, “Let’s have another cuppa tea.”
And we said, “right-o.”

“Right,” said Fred, “Have to take the door off
Need more space to shift the so-and-so.” [the thing]
Had bad twinges taking off the hinges [sharp pains] [metal parts that attach the door to the wall]
And it got us nowhere
And so we had a cuppa tea and

“Right,” said Fred, “Have to take the wall down,
That there wall is gonna have to go.”
Took the wall down, even with it all down
We was getting nowhere
And so we had a cuppa tea.

And Charlie had a think, and he said, “Look, Fred,
I got a sort of feelin’
If we remove the ceiling
With a rope or two we could drop the blighter through.” [an annoying person or thing]

“All right,” said Fred, climbing up a ladder
With his crowbar gave a mighty blow. [a heavy metal tool]
Was he in trouble, half a ton of rubble landed on the top of his dome. [broken pieces of rock] [head]
So Charlie and me had another cuppa tea
And then we went home.

(I said to Charlie, “We’ll just have to leave it
Standing on the landing, that’s all [the hallway on an upper floor]
You see the trouble with Fred is, he’s too hasty [in a hurry, rushing ;) ]
You’ll never get nowhere if you’re too hasty.”)

  • Getting queue jumped and dealing with unhelpful staff = when people skip ahead of you in a queue [a line of people waiting]
  • Luke struggles to understand how to deal with waiters and shop assistants who say “c’est pas possible” (French = it’s not possible)

Listen to Alexander Van Walsum talk to Luke about how to deal with “c’est pas possible” in this episode from the archive

391. Discussing Language, Culture & Comedy with Alexander van Walsum


Were you listening carefully?

Episode Outtro

That’s nearly the end of the episode, I hope you enjoyed it and you managed not to laugh out loud on the bus.

Don’t forget, you can see a list of vocabulary and expressions from this episode all on the website, including the lyrics to that song that you heard. There’s also a YouTube video of the song if you want to hear it again and make sure you’ve understood all of it. So check that out.

By the way, the mobile version of my site has now been improved thanks to a helpful listener called Sergei who gave me some CSS coding advice. So if you check the site on your phone now it should look much better than it did before, which will make it easier for you to check vocab lists, transcriptions and other content from your mobile device. Try it now – teacherluke.co.uk. You will find the link for this episode and all the others in the episode archive – just click on the menu button and then EPISODE ARCHIVE.

Don’t forget to join the mailing list on the website so you can get a link to each new episode page in your inbox when it’s published.

As I said, it’s nearly the end of the episode – but it’s not actually the end yet. There’s more. In fact, I’ve decided to give you a bonus bit at the end here, because I’m nice.

So, what’s the bonus bit?

The Bonus Bit – “The Expat Sketch Show”

On the day that Paul and I recorded this episode (and in fact the next one too) we also recorded ourselves improvising a short comedy sketch. I’m now going to play you that sketch.

The idea of the sketch is that I work in an office in Paris and my job is to interview ex-pats (foreign people who have moved to Paris) – I interview ex-pats for a position on a kind of scholarship programme where we subsidise their living expenses and help them integrate into the Parisian community and in return they contribute something to community in terms of work, taking part in cultural events or making any contribution that will benefit the cultural mix of Paris.

Paul plays 3 different ex-pats who have come into my office for an interview, and let’s just say that they’re not exactly the ideal candidates.

The whole thing was completely improvised, it’s full of rude language and it’s all just a bit of a laugh so here is the Ex-pat Sketch show with Paul. Have fun!


Thanks for listening to the episode everyone.

Have a good day, night, morning, afternoon or evening!

Luke

[Website content] Luke on the RealLife English Podcast

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

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

Check out the RealLife English website.

On their website you can:

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

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

Have you heard of RealLife English?

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

Luke