Category Archives: Culture

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

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

Small Donate Button[DOWNLOAD]

Transcripts & Notes

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The video that people have sent me more than any other

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

But this one more than any other.

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

Outtro Transcript

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

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

He basically does this … [Luke copies the impression]

…and is stuttery, hesitant and incoherent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a selection of comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan (Part 1)

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

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

Alan (Part 2)

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

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

Alan (Part 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In fact, here are the links (11 episodes)

Previous episodes about British Comedy

156. British Comedy: Ali G

172. British Comedy: Peter Cook & Dudley Moore

195. British Comedy: Monty Python’s Flying Circus

202. British Comedy: Monty Python & The Holy Grail

313. British Comedy: Tim Vine

316. British Comedy: Tim Vine (Part 2)

427. British Comedy: Limmy’s Show

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

462. British Comedy: Bill Bailey

469. British Comedy: John Bishop

507. Learning English with UK Comedy TV Shows

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

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

Thanks for listening!

551. Catching Up with Amber & Paul #8 – Stereotypes

Chatting to the pod-pals Amber & Paul again and this time the conversation turns to the subject of national stereotypes, and why Paul has bleached his hair blond. Notes & transcripts below.

[DOWNLOAD]

Intro Transcript

OK Amber & Paul are back on the podcast today and I promise to keep this intro as short as possible.

It’s been a while since the last episode with Amber and Paul so it’s great to have them back. It’s been a little difficult to get the three of us in a room together, because we’ve all been busy, especially Paul who has been doing his stand up and working on a TV show and other projects.

So, anyway, here is “Catching Up with Amber & Paul” #8. The idea behind these catching up episodes is that we just see what my friends Amber & Paul have been doing recently and then see where the conversation takes us.

You can expect the usual mix of us talking quite fast, going off on various tangents and making fun of each other. That’s what usually happens in these episodes, and everyone seems to enjoy that, which is great! It’s the tangential trio, the PODPALs – reunited again for much pod-related fun.

Just to help you a bit, here’s a rundown of what we’re talking about in this episode.

  • In my coworking space, not on the terrace or in the sky pod this time. The co-working space is quite trendy and “hipsterish”, and empty.
  • Paul looks very different. His appearance has changed – what’s going on?
  • Paul’s new TV show about stereotypes, called “Stereotrip” (first revealed on this podcast last year)
  • Some talk of stereotypes, focusing on Italian people, Swiss people, German people, Swedish people and English people. What are the stereotypes of those places and are they true, based on the research that Paul and his team did for the TV show?
  • How is Amber’s show with Sarah Donnelly going? The show is called “Becoming Maman” and is about learning how to become a mother in France.
  • The importance of marketing for things like comedy shows, Vlogs, YouTube videos, podcast episodes and the way that certain episode titles or comedy show titles (names) get more success than other ones, like how “clickbait titles” are often more successful. What makes something go viral?

I just want to say again – when the three of us get together we do get a bit excited and we all have things to say, as a result we end up speaking really quickly, talking over the top of each other and cutting each other off. So, be warned – you are about to hear some quite fast speech. See if you can keep up, I hope you can! Listening several times will actually help a lot, so try doing that.

Just one more thing. You might hear some beeping in the background of this episode. There was an electrician working in the next room at the time.

Right, that’s it for this introduction. Let’s now listen to some superfast English from the PODPALS and here we go!

Ending Transcript

So, we’re going to pause right there and carry on in the next episode.

How’s this going for you? It’s nice to have Amber & Paul back on the podcast again isn’t it.

As usual, I wonder how much of this you understand because we do speak very quickly when we’re together.

I realise it might be difficult to follow, but hopefully that’s not such a big issue because it’s just pretty enjoyable listening to the three of us just rambling on like this. Certainly the impression I get is that people out there in podcastland enjoy listening to us.

You can let me know in the comment section.

Also, share your thoughts on the topics in this episode.

What do you think about stereotypes? What are the stereotypes people have of your country? Do they have any truth in them? Why do people have those stereotypes and where do they come from?

Also, what do you think about the titles of episodes? When you listen to this podcast, do the titles make any difference to your listening choices?

Let us know in the comment section and part 2 will be coming your way soon.

550. British Comedy: Alan Partridge (Part 3)

Here’s the final part of this trilogy of British Comedy episodes about Alan Partridge. This time we’re analysing some of the quieter and darker moments in Alan’s life as he rambles about flasks, cars, seat belts, badges and having an air bag go off in your face, and avoids the problems in his life. Expect analysis of both the comedy and the language. Vocabulary lists and transcript available. 

[DOWNLOAD]

Transcript

So here we are with part 3 of this British Comedy episode, hot on the heels of part 2. This series is all about this famous British comedy character called Alan Partridge.

If you haven’t heard parts 1 and 2 yet I recommend that you go and listen to those first.

The plan again is to listen to some clips on YouTube and then analyse them for language. Hopefully you’ll get the jokes and will pick up some nice vocabulary on the way.

3 episodes is quite a lot to devote to one thing like this, but I really like Alan Partridge and introducing this comedy to you successfully (so that you enjoy it) is a sort of personal challenge for me and also there’s so much Partridge content that I feel just one episode or maybe just two would only really scratch the surface. To give this a proper chance we need to spend a bit of time on it.

Listener Emails

Hopefully you’re enjoying these episodes. Actually, I don’t really know what most of you think. I’ve had a few messages from people saying they are looking forward to part 3 of this – emails mostly.

For example, here’s part of a message from a listener called Hanna in Germany.

Dear Luke, I just wanted to get in touch to tell you how much i like your podcast. I’ve listened to the newest Partridge episode today and loved it. I think you’ve done a brilliant job in getting across what’s so funny and weirdly likeable about him. I’m really looking forward to a third episode about him. And in fact to all the upcoming episodes. In the meantime I scroll through your fantastic archive and pick out my favourite topics to enjoy in my everyday life.

Thank you Hannah.

But on the website I have had hardly any comments on these episodes, which is making me wonder what you’re all thinking. I have no idea really… So please let me know in the comment section. Are you like Hanna, who thinks I’ve managed to do a good job of getting across to you the ins and outs of Alan Partridge, or does it all seem hard to understand and totally unfunny? Let me know.

I did get an email from a teacher in Japan. I think he’s a native English speaker. I have to share it with you.

Message: Hello Luke,
I teach English in Japan. My students often listen to your podcast. In a recent episode you had a TV show host interviewing a child genius. My students are split on whether this really happened, or whether this was staged. I think it is pretty clear that a real TV show host would not actually physically abuse a child on TV, but my students are not convinced. They think this (smacking children upside the head in public and making them cry) is an example of British humour. (notice I spelt that with a ‘u’). I noted that you said it was ‘a spoof, a parody” at the beginning of the segment, but they are not convinced. Please clarify and explain the meaning of ‘spoof’. Love your show.

This is the sort of thing I’m talking about. There’s always someone who gets the completely wrong end of the stick and misunderstands something quite essential about the comedy, like for example what is the target of the joke and what are the underlying meanings or assumptions.

I actually can’t believe there’s anyone out there who would think that Alan is a real person and that he actually slapped a child, and that’s where the comedy comes from. Slapping a child is an absolutely terrible thing to do and it’s certainly not funny. No, the sketch in part 1 where Alan appears to slap a child, is obviously not real.

It seems I might need to clarify something. I thought it was obvious, but you should remember that Alan is not a real person. He’s a character made up by comedians. The scene in part 1 when he interviews a child genius, the child is not a real child. He’s played by an actress called Doon Mackichan who is changing her voice to sound like a child. And anyway, Alan doesn’t actually slap anyone. It’s just a sound effect for the radio. Nobody got slapped in real life.

And in the sketch, we’re not really laughing at a child being slapped. That’s not the joke. Just slapping a child is clearly not funny. It’s awful. So we’re not laughing at a child being slapped, we’re laughing at the fact that Alan is a fatally flawed character who is so pathetic that he will slap a child in order to come out on top or to save face. It’s ridiculous.

I understand that in Japan social conventions are so different in some cases that it might be hard to notice where the comedy is in slapping a child, but it’s really about the character of Alan and how he reacts to being wrong in a situation.

Anyway, slapping a child isn’t really British humour, but featuring a character who would slap a child is more typical of British comedy. We often feature characters in our sitcoms who will do terrible things in order to get what they want and they often fail. We laugh at these people, not with them. They are the target of the humour. Alan is not a hero who we support, quite the opposite, we observe him doing all sorts of terrible and pathetic things. Another example… Basil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers springs to mind. He does lots of terrible things to make sure his hotel business doesn’t get closed down. We cringe at the things he does, but also are amused by what happens to this person who is essentially not very nice when he is put under tremendous pressure that he’s probably responsible for in the first place.

Anyway, for most of you I probably didn’t need to give that clarification but for the students at school (however old you are, I’m not sure) let me assure you – Alan Partridge is not real and none of it is real. He is a character played by an actor called Steve Coogan. Alan Partridge is a parody or a spoof.

Parody, Spoof & Satire

A parody is a humorous piece of writing, drama, or music which imitates the style of a well-known person or represents a familiar situation in an exaggerated way.

When someone parodies a particular work, thing, or person, they imitate it in an amusing or exaggerated way.

So a parody is an imitation of something, in order to make fun of it. Alan is a parody of TV presenters.

A Spoof is a show or piece of writing that appears to be serious but is actually a joke. It’s also like a “fake” show. The Day Today is a spoof of the news.

We often use spoof and parody in the same or similar ways.

A satire is a piece of comedy designed to criticise something by making fun of it. Satire is like spoof or parody but doesn’t always involve imitations and often has serious targets like politics.

Animal Farm by George Orwell is a satire of communism. It criticises and makes fun of communism with this fictional story about pigs running a farm.

So Alan Partridge is certainly a spoof or parody of television and radio presenters. Perhaps at it’s best it’s some kind of satire about television and culture in general. In fact he’s become more of a parody of a kind of small-minded English man.

Alan Clips

Let’s listen to some more clips. This is going to be good listening practice and there will be loads of vocab, but also let’s see this as a kind of little adventure where I take you into something new and you have to try and work out what’s going on.

I’ve chosen two more clips, and I’ve chosen these ones because they are slightly quieter moments for Alan, not the big moments with all the catchphrases, but moments when Alan is perhaps at a weak point, which reveal how restless he is and how flawed he is on a basic social level.

We get a bit deeper into his psyche in this episode.

So in these clips I’m asking you not to look out for jokes like in the Edinburgh episode. Alan doesn’t really do jokes although there are very funny lines. So, don’t look for jokes. Instead look for the way this character expresses himself, how he chooses his words, how he can’t really connect with people around him, how he’s isolated, how he’s actually not a very good person.

There’s a bit of tragedy to Alan. It’s just there, under the surface. You have to read between the lines.

8. Alan calls his son and then Curry’s to ask about getting a surround sound speaker system

This is a glimpse into Alan’s family life and his relationship with his son. You could say it is strained. Imagine having Partridge as your father. It would be awful.

It’s a Saturday afternoon and Alan decides to call his son Fernando, who is 22 years old – around the same age I was when I first watched this. Fernando is named after the Abba song of the same name.

Alan calls Fernando to see if he wants to go for a pint. He catches Fernando in bed with his girlfriend and ends up lecturing him about how he’s wasting his time when the weather is so good outside. The key line is “It’s a Saturday afternoon and you’re in bed with a girl, you’re wasting your life!” Alan couldn’t be more wrong of course.

Instead, Alan suggests that Fernando take her out to a local tourist spot, like a local fort or a Victorian folly. These are like the bog-standard local tourist attractions in the UK. You find things like this everywhere and they’re mostly boring. The fort is probably some local old remains of a castle. A Victorian folly is basically a fake medieval building made during the Victorian era to resemble something from the medieval times. In both cases they are very boring and no doubt populated by other such middle-English middle-Educated weekenders with their anoraks and cameras. For Alan this is a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Of course, staying in bed with a girl is a far better way to spend your time.

Alan can’t relate to Fernando and patronises him (talks down to him and lectures him), while also rambling on like a broadcaster.

His rambling goes too far and he ends up talking about how he used to make love to Fernando’s mother Carol in various places, even telling the story of how Fernando was conceived, making it sound like Fernando might have been a mistake, or that perhaps Alan wasn’t happy when Fernando was born.

We never hear Fernando’s voice. It’s just Alan’s half of the conversation, leaving us to work out the other side for ourselves, which is a good comedy technique.

We can see there are serious issues in their relationship. It sounds like Alan was probably a terrible father, making his son feel unloved and unvalued, and just lecturing him rather than relating to him on a normal level. Alan tries to be friends with Fernando, but he’s completely unaware of how much he mistreats Fernando.

Alan then calls Curry’s the electronics store to find out about buying some speakers and typically ends up either arguing with the sales assistant, lecturing him, or letting him into close personal details. Alan also talks about the speaker system in a weird, formal way, perhaps using the technical language you might read in the product manual, and even using some latin words. For some reason he feels this technical and formal register is appropriate when asking about buying some speakers from a hardware shop. You can imagine that there is a generation of people who are old-fashioned enough to do that too. At the end he even attempts to invite the guy from Curry’s to go for a pint with him, because he’s bored. The guy says no.

In the end Alan decides to walk up the motorway to visit the local garage to buy some windscreen washer fluid. It’s funny to see these utterly mundane moments in Alan’s life. He’s a bit lost and is living in isolation and obscurity. Nobody else in the Travel Tavern is there, so he just leaves, shouting slightly desperately in case anyone wants to join him.

What to watch out for

  • How Alan makes his son feel unloved
  • How Alan describes how Fernando was conceived and it sounds like he wasn’t happy when
  • Fernando was born
  • How Alan starts going on about flasks and Fernando just hangs up
  • How Alan talks to the sales assistant at Curry’s and expects him to know latin
  • How he fails to invite the guy for a pint of beer

Language

  • You both sound exhausted, have you been running?
  • We did it everywhere. Behind a large boulder on Helvellyn for my birthday.
  • Actually, that is where you were conceived.
  • We just didn’t take precautions (so Fernando wasn’t planned, maybe an accident)
  • No we were delighted! Well, at first I was mortified but then you were born and we grew to like you.
  • I left a tartan flask up there. One of those very fragile ones with a screw on cup/cap.
  • These days they’re much more resilient. They took the technology from NASA. Modern flasks today are directly linked to the Apollo space mission. Hello?
  • I’d like to make an enquiry about two supplementary auxiliary speakers to go with my MIDI hi-fi system apropos (with reference to) achieving surround sound.
  • What time do you knock off? Do you fancy going for a drink?
  • Breath of fresh air?

9. Extended Car Sequence (no laughter track)

It’s interesting how a laughter track totally changes the tone of what you’re listening to.

Friends with no laughter track makes Ross sound like a psycho.

In this case having no laughter track makes Alan better and it sounds a lot more authentic.

Alan & Lynn in the car

I’ve chosen this because I want to play a clip with no laughter and in which Steve Coogan and Felicity Montagu (Lynn) are clearly improvising a lot of the dialogue. There are no big laughs in there, but instead this is just Alan at a bored moment. It’s also perhaps one of my favourite Alan moments because of the improvisation. The characters are totally believable. It’s like we’re just observing them in a quiet moment during the day. As we listen to their naturalistic dialogue it’s possible to notice that Alan is slowly becoming a bit unhinged – I mean, the doors are starting to fall off. He’s bored. He’s isolated. He’s probably quite sad and perhaps desperate underneath it.

Alan is “at a loose end” and so he’s requested that Lynn come and meet him so he can ask her something that’s been bothering him. It’s a small thing really, but Alan makes Lynn travel quite a long and complicated journey to come out and see him.

They just sit in the car and Alan rambles about nothing in particular. The main thing bothering him is that his car is making a weird beeping noise and he doesn’t know why. But it seems he just needs Lynn to be there so he can lecture her, patronise her, belittle her etc as a way of escaping the dark feelings that are probably gnawing away at him. Lynn is very faithful to Alan, and has strong Baptist religious beliefs, but Alan is very mean to Lynn, making her take a taxi and to walk a long way just so Alan can have someone to talk to.

Alan doesn’t even believe Lynn when she gives her excuse for being late, which shows that she’s clearly had a long journey to get there. He’s very ungrateful towards her.

Lynn knows that Alan might be at a very vulnerable point here – he’s been thrown out by his wife, living in a travel tavern and he punched the BBC director general in the face with a piece of cheese, and it’s not having a good effect on his mental state. So she’s supportive.

Lynn is clearly concerned about Alan and offers to talk to him about his problems.

Instead of talking about his problems, Alan just goes on in great detail about the features of the car, clearly in denial about his situation and his depressed state.

By the way I think Lynn was the one who actually bought the car for Alan. Him criticising parts of it is also a way for him to criticise her. He’s subtly telling her that he’s not happy with the car she bought.

Obviously Alan is unhappy about more than the car, but he never talks about that. The only thing he can do is comment on minor details in the car. The more specific he gets about these trivial details, like the design of the badge on the steering wheel, the more he is essentially trying to escape the reality of his situation, which is that his life and career are a mess.

Alan’s weird broadcasting sensibility comes in as he starts reviewing the car, commenting on the way seat belts work and generally patronising Lynn.

The tension is palpable.

It’s hilarious comedy and is improvised.

But it’s 100% not obvious.

So I would say, don’t imagine this is comedy. Imagine you’re just listening in on someone’s conversation. Let’s imagine we’re spying on them, just overhearing two people chatting aimlessly.

Coogan’s ability to stay in character is incredible.
The absence of laughter track makes it 100x better.

I wonder what you will think but this is one of my favourite Alan moments. It’s so natural and the character’s avoidance of talking about his problems while focusing on meaningless details of the car, is very interesting from a character point of view, and shows there is real depth and pathos to the character.

What to look out for

  • How difficult it was for Lynn to come and meet him, and how Alan suspects this is a lie
  • The reason Alan asked Lynn to come out
  • Lynn’s suggestion about why the car is making a noise (the clock is wrong)
  • Alan’s reaction to Lynn’s suggestion that it’s because the clock is wrong
  • What Alan thinks of the car, particularly his disappointment about the badge on the steering wheel.
  • Listen to how Alan loves the sound of the electric sun roof
  • What Alan says about the seat belts

Language

  • I got caught in a taxi that broke down
  • Do you know what that noise is?
  • It wouldn’t be “engine faulty” would it?
  • It’s been irritating me all morning
  • Is it the handbrake?
  • Don’t touch the handbrake. We’ll roll back.
  • Just make sure it’s in neutral there.
  • If you ever learn to drive Lynn, when you stop the car, just give it a bit of a wiggle. Make sure it’s in neutral.
  • My mum always puts it in first (gear)
  • Some people do that to stop it rolling back when you park on a hill but it’s unorthodox. It’s a stop gap for a faulty handbrake, but I personally frown on it.
  • I’ve locked the doors there. That’s a design fault. Design flaw. Just pop your elbow on there, you’ve locked the doors. Sometimes you don’t want to.
  • I thought you’d like this.
  • It’s wood laminate.
  • Pop your seatbelt on.
  • These are inertia real seatbelts.
  • Suddenly a lorry rears in front of you. Impact! LOCK!
  • I’d rather have a few superficial bruises than a massively lacerated face. Ooh, awful.
  • I’d love to feel an airbag go off in my face.
  • What I like about this material is, just to get a little bit of extra purchase, it’s pricked vinyl.
  • Pricked vinyl will allow a certain amount of drainage of hand sweat.
  • The Rover badge on the old car was a lovely enamel beautiful crested thing on the steering wheel boss, whereas this one is just moulded into the vinyl.
  • All I do is sit here looking at this moulded badge where once there was an enamel one and I can’t pretend that doesn’t hurt.
  • The sun roof is a wonderful feat of engineering. Just listen to all these servo motors.
  • Precision engineering.
  • Whirring away.
  • And of course you’ve got the manual flap.
  • You go through a bad patch and you can smile at the end of it, probably.
  • I didn’t say I was going through a bad patch, I said I was at a loose end.
  • [Lynn suggests that Alan takes the car for a drive, but Alan beeps the horn while she’s talking, interrupting her. She tries to continue, talking about how there’s an arcade – games centre – up the road where there’s a fun camel race]
  • Do you want to know the quickest way to drain a battery?
  • [Alan tries to open the glove compartment and accidentally touches Lynn’s leg – plenty of apologising and it’s awkward. There’s no affection in the relationship, from Alan anyway]
  • Alan says the best way to drain a car battery is to leave the glove compartment open.
  • Lynn says you shouldn’t leave your sweeties in there on long journeys because it might pop open and you wouldn’t notice and the battery would get drained. [Alan has no idea what she’s talking about.]
  • You’ve lost me. Boiled sweets, you sound like a lunatic.
  • It isn’t the inticator is it?
  • Inticator? Indicator.
  • Actually, I am low on windscreen washer fluid.
  • They wouldn’t set off an alarm if you’re low on windscreen washer fluid. It’s far too alarmist.
  • Just a light would come on to say, you know, you’re a bit low. But not a big alarm like that, it’s just a panic measure, you know like someone going “Oh my god you’re low on windscreen washer fluid!” You don’t need to say that. Just say, you need a nudge. The car needs to effectively say, “excuse me, I don’t want to distract you from your driving, but you might like to know the windscreen washer fluid is getting low” and they do that with a little light, which has come on – you can see it there.
  • Well the clock’s not right is it. That’s a possible.
  • I’m sorry Lynn. I’m normally patient but the idea that an alarm would be triggered because the clock isn’t right is cloud cuckoo land. Alice in Wonderland.
  • Could you cool me down with the hand fan.
  • [Lynn holds the hand fan too close and Alan turns and hurts his lip on it]
  • Come on I’ll drop you at a cab rank.

Ending

There is a massive amount more of Partridge and almost all if it is excellent – great performance, great writing, great characters. Perhaps I’ll revisit Alan one day on the podcast.

I wonder how you feel about this. My aim has been just to introduce you to some stuff you didn’t know about before, and teach you some English in the process. If you’ve enjoyed it and want to check out more Alan stuff, great. If you didn’t really get it, well – so be it. At least I tried.

Some Alan recommendations.

TV series: I’m Alan Partridge Series 1 & 2
TV specials: Welcome to the places of my life, Scissored Isle.
Web-series: Mid-Morning Matters with Alan Partridge
Audiobooks: I, Partridge, Nomad
Film: Alpha Papa (not exactly the same as normal Partridge, but still good)

Do let me know everything you think in the comment section. It’s impossible for me to predict how episodes like this will be received by my audience – I really do scratch my head and wonder what the hell people in China, Russia, Japan or closer to home in France or any other place will think about some of the content I share with you. The only way I can know is if you write to me and tell me what you think. I’m certain some of you completely won’t get it, but some of you might get it and for me it’s worth doing these episodes even if only some of you get it.

At the least, if you didn’t get into the comedy, I think we can agree that there’s been a lot of language to be learned in these episodes. Check the page for this episode to see all the notes and transcripts. I should do a premium episode covering it all, just to make sure it really goes into your head properly! For example, what’s the phrase Alan uses to describe how he’s bored and has nothing to do?

He’s at a loose end, right?

That’s the sort of stuff I do in the Premium episodes. To sign up for the price of 1 coffee per month, go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium

BONUS CONTENT: Talking to Raph about Partridge (Part 1)

More videos

Alan Partridge’s Scissored Isle (one of the most recent TV specials)

Alan Partridge: Nomad (Audiobook)

 

549. British Comedy: Alan Partridge (Part 2)

Building on the previous episode, this time we’re looking at how Alan Partridge interacts with people in his every day life and how this results in some classic moments of British TV comedy. All the material is explained with plenty of vocabulary to learn.

[DOWNLOAD]

Transcript, Notes & Videos

His chat show series ended in disaster when he accidentally shot a man to death during an interview.

3. Alan interviews Tony Hayers (Knowing Me, Knowing Yule – the Christmas special 1995)

There was a Christmas special of Knowing Me Knowing You, which was made as part of a contractual obligation in his BBC deal.

He featured Tony Hayers on the chat show. He was the chief commissioning editor of the BBC – the man who decides which programmes are on the telly. Inviting him is a terrible decision because Alan is hoping to get a 2nd series of his chat show from Hayers, but Hayers hasn’t made his decision yet and is probably not going to give it to him anyway because Alan’s TV show was a disaster.

Alan interviews Tony and it is very awkward. Alan is mainly concerned about whether he has got a second series of his chat show. He is assuming that he has got it – because of his inflated sense of self-worth, which might be him subconsciously compensating for some deep issues he has. Alan is incredibly unaware of himself, which is somehow a social crime in the UK. I think we’re very self-aware.

The interview comes off the rails as Alan gets caught up in attempting to work out if he’s going to get a second series of the chat show.

What to look out for:

  • The awkwardness of Alan having his boss on his chat show
  • How Tony talks about having to cut jobs at the BBC
  • How Alan’s metaphor about Tony “ringing the changes” doesn’t work
  • How Alan keeps pressing for confirmation of a second series
  • How he assumes he has one although it’s obvious to us that he hasn’t
  • How Alan ultimately ruins it for himself
  • How he attempts to appear politically correct but he’s very awkward about certain issues

Later, Alan sort of has a breakdown live on air and ends up punching his boss in the face accidentally, with a turkey stuck on his hand.

I’m Alan Partridge

A year or two later a new series about Partridge arrived. It was called “I’m Alan Partridge”.

For me, this is when Alan really became a brilliant character. In I’m Alan Partridge we follow Alan in his normal life.

Previously we saw his awkward encounters with guests and a lot of very cringe-worthy moments. It worked as a parody and satire of television chat shows and the general clichés of broadcasting.

Now we see Alan in his everyday life and he has similarly awkward encounters. We see behind the curtain. Alan struggles to be normal. He’s always in “TV chat” mode, and it’s awful. He has no social skills, even though he thinks he’s a great conversationalist. He tries to be charming and normal, it all goes wrong, but he doesn’t realise it. He’s completely unaware of himself. In fact, his life is nosediving. It’s all falling apart around him, but he blindly assumes that he’s destined to be a prime time BBC1 TV presenter.

This is really hard to explain. We just have to hear it and find out.

Alan’s career is on the rocks. He’s now hosting a show on local radio – in Norwich. It’s the pre-breakfast show – a very obscure slot, something like 4:30-6:30AM, local radio. He’s drifted into obscurity. Also, his personal life is in disarray. His wife has left him for her fitness instructor. We gradually learn more and more about this and essentially it’s largely his fault because he’s Alan Partridge!

He’s petty, domineering, arrogant, unromantic, selfish, careless, career oriented. Why is this character so fascinating for the viewer? I’m not sure.

Now he’s living in a travel tavern – a kind of roadside motel, but he’s convinced that things will get better because he’s certain that the BBC will give him a second series of his chat show. He’s even about to buy a 5 bedroom house. He’s utterly deluded about himself. It’s sad. There’s darkness lurking just under the surface. In fact, Alan later does have a nervous breakdown and ends up bingeing on Toblerone chocolate bars and driving to Dundee in Scotland in bare feet (with no shoes on) but that’s later on.

I’m Alan Partridge – Series 1 Episode 1 1997

4. Alan meets Michael the Geordie and talks about his accent
Michael works as a caretaker at the travel tavern. He’s from Newcastle and he used to be in the army.

Alan strikes up a sort of friendship with him, but at first Michael is hard to understand because of his accent.

What to look out for:

  • The way the girl Sophie on reception is subtly insulting Alan while remaining professional
  • Alan’s prejudice against people from the north
  • How Alan is fascinated by Michael’s horrible experiences in the army

5. Alan’s pretend meeting with Tony Hayers

Alan’s Personal Assistant, Lynn helps Alan prepare for his meeting with Tony Hayers. Alan grossly overestimates his chances of a second series, and even the pretend meeting goes wrong, with Alan demanding to have a second series from Lynn, and putting Lynn down at the same time. This is how Alan imagines his negotiating style to be, and even in his fantasised versions, he fails.

What to watch out for:

  • How Alan imagines his meeting with Tony Hayers will go, including the locker room banter he expects to have with Tony about smoking cuban cigars
  • How even the fantasy goes completely wrong

I’m Alan Partridge Series 1 Episode 1 09:25

6. Alan’s real meeting with Tony Hayers
Alan is meeting Tony Hayers at the BBC and expects to be told he’s getting a 2nd series. We all suspect that he won’t get it, even though he’s certain he will and has just bought a 5 bedroom house.

Alan is clearly out of his depth in this BBC restaurant where everyone is an executive in a suit.

Alan attempts to appear sophisticated but gets everything wrong.
It becomes clear that Alan doesn’t have a second series and he loses it.
He then attempts to pitch a number of other shows he has in mind, but they’re all terrible.
You see something kind of click and he ends up punching Tony Hayers with a piece of cheese.

“Smell my cheese you mother!”

What to watch out for

  • How Alan attempts to appear classy with talk of wine and other things, and how he reveals that he has no class
    Alan’s ridiculous ideas for TV shows, very similar to stupid TV shows that exist in the real world

I’m Alan Partridge Series 1 Episode 1 16:36

7. Alan and Lynn in the car

“That was a negative and right now I need two positives.”

“Come on I’ll drop you at a cab rank.”

Alan fantasises about calling Chris Rea, the pop star who lives in the area. In his imagined conversation he invites Chris to a barbecue but the invitation ends in an argument. Again, even his imaginary exchanges go all wrong.

What to watch out for:

  • How Alan somehow imagines his life like a hollywood thriller (that was a negative…)
  • The imagined conversation with Chris Rea that goes wrong
  • “Come on, I’ll drop you at a cab rank”

I’m Alan Partridge Series 1 Episode 1 25:00

Thanks for listening!

Alan Partridge TV shows are available on iTunes and other platforms. Also, check out the Alan Partridge audiobooks on Audible.

There should be a part 3 coming soon. Tell me what you think in the comment section!

548. British Comedy: Alan Partridge (Part 1)

Continuing the comedy theme by analysing a character that most British people know but learners of English find difficult to understand. Check the page below for transcripts, notes and videos.

[DOWNLOAD]

Transcript

Hi folks, today I’m continuing the comedy theme, with an episode about British TV Comedy.

A while ago I did an episode all about British TV Comedy Programmes. It was pretty popular and I promised that I would do more episodes explaining specific comedy shows, so today I’m going to talk to you about a well-known and well-loved character from British Television culture – Alan Partridge.

I’ll tell you everything I think you need to know about him (all the context and background info), then we’ll listen to some clips on YouTube, see if you get the humour and we’ll use them to do some intensive listening to help you learn loads of real, natural English language and culture.

“British Comedy: Alan Partridge” – that’s the title of this episode.

As usual I’m wondering what the hell you will think of this, because it might be hard for you to understand and it might just go straight over your head. I don’t know. Also, I’m wondering if some of you will be a bit turned off by the title of the episode.

Maybe I should have gone with a more “click-bait” title.

Perhaps – “The British Comedy that only Brits can Understand” or “British people love it but learners of English don’t understand it” or “Learn the 10 Secrets of British Comedy that the Language Schools don’t want you to know!” or “Why British People Hate Mr Bean” or something like that.

Instead I’ve gone with a more functional title, and the assumption that you will just trust me whatever the title is.

British Comedy: Alan Partridge

So, this is an episode about an absolute legend of British comedy that most Brits know, but non-Brits often don’t know and learners of English struggle to understand or appreciate.

You may have heard me mention Alan Partridge before. I’ve often said I need to devote a whole episode to this subject, so here we go.

I have a feeling this is going to take more than one episode. It might require a few episodes. And you know what – if that’s what it takes, that’s what I’ll do. I will talk about this for as long as I think is necessary or until someone physically stops me.

You might be thinking, “Who is Alan Partridge?”

He’s a fictional comedy character who has been on British TV for nearly 25 years.
He is played by an actor and comedian named Steve Coogan, who you may have heard on this podcast before doing Michael Caine and Paul McCartney impressions on the TV show The Trip.

The character is a fictional TV & radio presenter.

Originally Partridge was created as a parody of TV and radio presenters – a way of making fun of the cliches you see and hear in TV news, sports reporting, factual and light entertainment programmes – particularly the cliches of how people speak on TV and radio.

Later, Partridge became a fully-rounded character in his own right. In later shows, we follow Alan closely through his life and the character has become more than just a parody of television presenters. He has become a parody of a certain type of British man. Somehow, so many of us can relate to the experiences and characteristics of Alan, even though the character is someone we laugh at and think is a truly awful person.

Here’s a run down of the shows and things that Alan has appeared in.

  • A parody news TV programme called The Day Today.
  • Three BBC Radio 4 comedy series.
  • 3 BBC TV series and one BBC TV special.
  • 2 best-selling books and audiobooks.
  • A web series on YouTube.
  • Two short TV series on Sky.
  • Several full-length TV specials.
  • A full-length feature film which was released in cinemas.
  • Several big live theatre tours.
  • Lots of other TV appearances on interview shows, charity telethons and more.

The character has won a BAFTA award and two British Comedy awards over the years.

This year Alan is coming back to the BBC with a brand new series.

Partridge is widely praised by reviewers and critics as one of Britain’s best comedy TV characters.

Many of the lines spoken by Alan Partridge have become part of the popular consciousness, including phrases like “A-ha!”, “Monkey Tennis” and “Smell my cheese you mother!”

I don’t mind admitting that I’m a huge fan of Alan Partridge as an excellent work of comedy by the performer Steve Coogan and the script writers Armando Iannucci, Peter Baynham the Gibbons brothers, and others.

Many of my friends and members of my family are also huge fans and it’s quite normal for us to communicate in Partridgisms when we spend time together sometimes, quoting lines of dialogue with each other.

In my opinion, if you have any interest in Britishness, British humour, British comedy, British pop culture and British English, you absolutely must know about Alan Partridge.

This is not as simple as you might think. Somehow I find it really hard to explain this comedy to learners of English. It’s very subtle, nuanced and layered. It sort of defies explanation, which is a strength in my opinion.

I think that comedy that is very easy to explain is often a bit basic, and probably quite rubbish.

The fact that Alan Partridge is complex and subtle is a strength for the comedy, but perhaps that’s also a barrier for non-native speakers who just can’t see where the humour is.

They always say that the hardest thing to truly understand in a second language is humour. It requires really good English in this case – the ability to read between the lines, to pick up on very slight verbal and non-verbal clues to understand the comedy – and to do it all instantly.

You need excellent listening skills. You also need to have a lot of context in order to understand what type of character this is, how to interpret what he says, what his attitude is in any given moment, how other people are reacting to him and also to understand how we the audience are supposed to feel about it all. Are we laughing with him? Are we laughing at him? Where is the comedy coming from?

So, perhaps if you’re not really aware of all the cultural and contextual clues and if your English isn’t quite up to it, you will never really get it.

You might think “Nah, this isn’t funny” or “This is british humour” that for some reason only British people understand but which in fact isn’t funny for any normal people.

But the high regard that people have for Alan Partridge, the awards, the recognition from the industry, the longevity of the character – these things all prove that this is genuinely good stuff.

Partridge is also popular in other English speaking countries outside the UK, notably Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland. He’s not a household name in America although quite a lot of people know about him there including lots of actors and comedians. For example Ben Stiller is famously a big fan.

Let’s see how it is for you. Let me know in the comment section as we go through some clips, listen, break them down and carry on.

Alan Partridge: Background Information

I have to give you some background information on the character first.

Read from the Wikipedia page a bit – first two paragraphs en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Partridge#Character

Character
Alan Partridge is an incompetent (always fails) and tactless (he’s careless and his words often offend people around him) television and radio presenter from Norwich, England.[5][30]

He is socially inept (has no skill), often offending his guests,[31] and has an inflated sense of importance and celebrity (he thinks he’s more important than he is).[9] According to the Telegraph, Partridge is “utterly convinced of his own superiority, and bewildered (confused) by the world’s inability to recognise it – qualities that place him in the line of Great British comedy characters.

His need for public attention drives him to deceit (lying), treachery (betraying people who trust him) and shameless self-promotion,[30] and sometimes violence; in the Knowing Me, Knowing Yule Christmas special, for example, he assaults a BBC boss by punching him with a turkey.[7]

Alan Partridge lives in Norwich, Norfolk. Armando Iannucci (one of the creators) said the writers chose it as Partridge’s hometown as it is “geographically just that little bit annoyingly too far from London, and has this weird kind of isolated feel that seemed right for Alan.”[1]

Partridge holds right-wing views; Coogan described him as a Little Englander, with a “myopic (uninformed), slightly philistine (uncultured) mentality”.[32] He is a reader of the right-wing tabloid newspaper the Daily Mail, and supports Brexit because, according to Coogan, the Daily Mail “told him to”.[33][33] Earlier versions of the character were more bigoted (prejudiced), but the writers found there was more humour in having him attempt to be liberal;[32] Coogan said: “He’s aware of political correctness but he’s playing catch-up.” His underlying right wing views come out sometimes, even though he tries to be modern. [32]

Alan Clips

I’m going to play you a selection of clips now.

I’ll tell you a bit about the scene, including the basics of what happens.
This is important because, believe me, it will be quite hard to follow some of this.

I expect the first time you listen you’ll be like what?
So, I’ll explain some details and give you some things to listen out for.
Then you can listen to the clip and either get what they’re saying, or get some of it, get confused, have a laugh or whatever.

Then I’ll go through it again and break it down for you.

No doubt there will be useful language to be gained from all of this. In fact, I’m certain there is a tonne of language which will emerge from doing this.

Check the page for this episode. You will find it to be a treasure trove of transcripts, notes, vocabulary, youtube links and more.

After listening, and hopefully understanding each scene, we will go onto the next one and the next until we are done and you’ve had your introduction to the world of Alan, and you can then choose to continue and watch the series or read the books, or if you prefer, just never revisit the world of Alan Partridge again.

For App users, check out the bonus content for these Partridge episodes. There will be at least one bonus audio in which I’m talking to my friend Raphael from Liverpool about the complexities of explaining Alan Partridge to learners of English.

OK, let’s get started for goodness sake!

Sportsdesk with Alan Partridge (from The Day Today 1994)

Alan began as a parody of TV sports reporters in a BBC radio comedy called On The Hour, and then on the TV news spoof comedy The Day Today.

Then he became a parody of cliched television presenters in general, with his own chat show, named after an Abba song “Knowing Me, Knowing You, with Alan Partridge”.

Sometimes sports reporters have to keep talking and talking, even when there’s nothing to talk about really, and their commentaries become full of bad cliches and mixed metaphors to describe what’s going on. Sometimes the commentary lapses into personal experiences and bizarre tangents.

There’s also the tone of voice of the sports reporter. Somehow it’s very high. Everything is up in the air. It’s the atmosphere of tension, it’s the atmosphere of high stakes competition, it’s the atmosphere of the Sunday league cup final.

Sometimes they ramble and end up saying quite ridiculous things. This can be quite revealing about the reporter’s personality. Without intending to, they end up saying bizarre things that make you wonder about their personal lives.

This is a bit like the way some TV presenters will behave, on radio or on live TV chat shows, when things go a bit wrong and the presenters say some weird things or struggle in some way.

Clip 1: Alan’s Sporting Highlights

This is not the funniest of clips, but it gives you an idea of where he first came from – just copying the vocal mannerisms of sports reporters.

Alan describes cycling, athletics, boxing.

What to look out for:

  • The descriptions of cyclists that get a bit carried away (especially when describing their bodies)
  • The tone of voice in the helicopter
  • Metaphors that don’t work “cyclists that look somehow like cattle in a mad way, but cattle on bikes”
  • “Oh good he’s fallen!”
  • Too much personal information / Descriptions get carried away describing bare knuckle boxing (I witnessed bare knuckle boxing in a barn. It was a sorry sight to see men goading them on, and I’m ashamed to say I was party to that goading…)

Alan’s chat show

Somehow Alan managed to climb the greasy pole within the BBC and was given his own chat show on the radio and then one on TV which lasted one series.

The show was called Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge – a cheesy title inspired by a song by Abba.

“Knowing Me Knowing You, Ah Haaa” – that became Partridge’s most famous catchphrase.

Clip 2. Alan interviews a child prodigy (Knowing Me, Knowing You – radio series 1992)

This was recorded in front of a studio audience for radio.

Alan attempts to interview a child genius but the child is obviously way more intelligent and educated than him.

Alan attempts to keep the upper hand, but is constantly proven wrong by the child. It’s humiliating for Alan, but Alan doesn’t have the patience to tolerate being wrong and instead resorts to rudely bullying the child. Alan always needs to be on top, even if it means being very cruel to a child.

There is a live audience and it’s a bit weird because they’re laughing while the performance happens. The performers carry on like it’s not comedy, but there’s an audience laughing.

Still, the moments when the audience laugh tell you there has been a joke.

This sketch just shows how Alan’s interviews always go wrong because of his personal hangups – the underlying problems in his personality.

Laugh AT or laugh WITH?

Are we laughing at Alan, or laughing with him?

Sometimes we laugh at Alan because he’s awful, self-important, arrogant and ignorant, and yet we also somehow support him as the child is really annoying too.

So we’re against Alan and laugh at him, but somehow we are behind him and laugh with him too. It’s an interesting shift in perspective as we both relate to him and also want to distance ourselves from him at the same time. This happens with all of Alan’s comedy.

What to look out for:

  • The ways the child makes Alan look stupid, including references to Shakespeare
  • Alan’s attempt to win the situation
  • The switch to “entertainment mode” at the end of the sketch, as if he hasn’t just insulted this child and made him cry

547. Best Jokes from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Studying some jokes told by stand-up comedians at the Edinburgh Fringe comedy festival, and dissecting them for vocabulary. Learn English with some jokes and find out about typical joke structures used by stand-up comedians. Transcripts and jokes available below.

[DOWNLOAD]

Introduction Transcript

This episode is going to contain loads of jokes and their explanations. Listening to this might give you a chuckle if you understand the jokes, and at the very least you’ll learn some English in the process.

The Edinburgh Festival is an arts festival that happens every August in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is officially the largest arts festival in the world and it includes all kinds of art, including theatre and dance. However, there is also an alternative festival that runs at the same time and this is perhaps the more famous one these days. This alternative festival is called The Edinburgh Festival Fringe or simply Edinburgh Fringe.

The word “fringe” means “edge” and it’s a way of referring to performances which are alternative, on the edge, different to the mainstream acts.

These days this largely means comedy, particularly stand up comedy – that form of comedy which involves someone standing on the stage armed only with a microphone and their witty jokes and stories.

The fringe gets a lot of media coverage because that’s where the country’s best comedians are often discovered. It’s a huge event for the industry. Also it’s pretty entertaining for us to read the year’s best jokes when they’re published in all the newspapers.

I was going to do an episode about the best jokes from this year’s Edinburgh fringe. Every year a TV channel called Dave chooses their favourite jokes of the fringe, and people vote for the best.
The jokes are then published in the newspapers and shared around on social networks.
Someone asked me to do an episode about it actually. Sorry, I’m afraid I can’t remember who that was! I get messages across lots of different platforms and I can’t keep up.

That was about the best jokes of Edinburgh 2018.

I had a look and some of them are pretty good, but not all of them and I thought instead that I’d find a list of top jokes from all Edinburgh festivals, just as a way to make sure the jokes are basically good enough. Even still, these are just jokes made up by comedians at the festival, sometimes improvised live on stage. They’re not those jokes that just go around and have no author. These are written by possibly desperate 20 or 30 something comedians trying to make their audiences laugh.

I’ve never actually been to the Edinburgh Festival or taken part in the fringe. I did the Brighton Fringe three times, but never Edinburgh. It’s one of the world’s biggest comedy festivals. Every year thousands of comedians from all over the world go there, do their shows and desperately try to get reviewed, get featured in the newspaper articles, try to win awards, try to make a name for themselves.

In my experience, it just costs a lot of money, it’s exhausting and you drink too much. So, no thanks. But still, imagine the main street in Edinburgh at lunchtime in August. The whole street will be lined with aspiring comics flyering for their shows. At those shows the comics will be doing their best to make the audience laugh as much as possible. These jokes are part of their routines.

To be honest, It’s probably not fair to judge these jokes on their own. They belong in these comedians’ routines, performed live. Usually in stand up the comedians don’t just go up and tell some jokes. They go up and tell stories about their lives, share experiences and so on. The jokes are included in the stories and they are weaved in seamlessly. For the joke to properly have a chance, it has to be delivered in context. So much of that is about the person telling the joke – what do they look like? What do they sound like? What kind of stories are they telling? Are they happy, unhappy, desperate, stupid? All this context informs the joke. So, it’s not fair to just pick out the jokes on their own and then scrutinise them out of context.

But, that’s exactly what we’re going to do here and now in this episode.

We’re going to go through a selection of jokes from Edinburgh Fringe over the years. I’ll tell them, and then scrutinise them for meaning and language, leaving the jokes like dead frogs which have been dissected in a science lab at school.

Remember – explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog… it’s  possible to learn something from it, but the frog dies in the process.

Some types of joke / Joke structures

There are certain joke structures or techniques which get used a lot. They’re very commonly used in stand up routines. Let’s identify some.

  • Puns (word jokes) – one word or phrase means two things at the same time.
  • Pull back and reveal – the situation radically changes when we get more information.

  • Observational humour – noticing things about everyday life that we all experience, but haven’t put into words yet.
  • similes – Showing how two things are similar in unexpected and revealing ways. (Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog…)

So, here we go. Lower your expectations now…

First of all, here are some of the jokes from the 2018 fringe, considered the best ones.

“Working at the Jobcentre has to be a tense job – knowing that if you get fired, you still have to come in the next day.” Adam Rowe

“I had a job drilling holes for water – it was well boring.” – Leo Kearse

“I took out a loan to pay for an exorcism. If I don’t pay it back, I’m going to get repossessed.” – Olaf Falafel

110 of the best ever jokes and one-liners from the Edinburgh Fringe

“When I was younger I felt like a man trapped inside a woman’s body. Then I was born.” Yianni (2015)

“I was playing chess with my friend and he said, ‘Let’s make this interesting’. So we stopped playing chess.” Matt Kirshen (2011)

“Love is like a fart. If you have to force it it’s probably shit.” Stephen K. Amos (2014)

“Life is like a box of chocolates. It doesn’t last long if you’re fat.” Joe Lycett (2014)

“I was raised as an only child, which really annoyed my sister.” Will Marsh (2012)

“I was thinking of running a marathon, but I think it might be too difficult getting all the roads closed and providing enough water for everyone.” Jordan Brookes (2016)

“My wife told me: ‘Sex is better on holiday.’ That wasn’t a nice postcard to receive.” Joe Bor (2014)

“If you arrive fashionably late in Crocs, you’re just late.” Joel Dommett (2014)

“I was watching the London Marathon and saw one runner dressed as a chicken and another runner dressed as an egg. I thought: ‘This could be interesting.” Paddy Lennox (2009)

“I’m sure wherever my Dad is: he’s looking down on us. He’s not dead, just very condescending.” Jack Whitehall (2009)

“My granny was recently beaten to death by my grandad. Not as in, with a stick – he just died first” Alex Horne (2008)

“I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” Nick Helm (2011)

“I went to Waterstones and asked the woman for a book about turtles, she said ‘hardback?’ and I was like, ‘yeah and little heads” Mark Simmons (2015)

That last joke reminds me of Tim Vine – “Hello, I’d like to buy a watch please” “Analogue?” “No, just the watch thanks”.

Vocabulary

Some vocabulary to notice in this episode:

  • to chuckle / a chuckle
  • a tense job
  • to get fired
  • to get repossessed
  • well boring
  • To take out a loan
  • I felt like a man trapped inside a woman’s body
  • Let’s make this interesting’.
  • If you have to force it, it’s probably shit
  • I was raised as an only child
  • running a marathon
  • fashionably late
  • he’s looking down on us
  • very condescending
  • beaten to death

543. Britain’s First Insect Restaurant Opens

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

Small Donate Button[DOWNLOAD]

Transcript

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

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

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

Britain’s first insect restaurant opens

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

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

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

Some vocab “straight off the bat”

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

So an insect restaurant has opened in Wales, UK.

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

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

Read the first 3 paragraphs, and the last paragraph.

Some vocab from the article

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

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

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

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

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

More www.indianchild.com/waiter_jokes.htm

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

Thoughts & Questions

What do you think?

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

How to cook a locust

What’s his recipe? (answer below)

Recipe

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

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

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

Zingy, earthy…

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

Video – The Economist “Why Eating Insects Makes Sense”

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

Economist Video + Transcipt

Transcript + Some Vocabulary Items (explained below)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Eating Insects Makes Sense – Summary

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

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

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

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

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

Vocabulary Items from the Economist video

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

Listen to the video again and notice the vocabulary.

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

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

541. What British People Say vs What They Mean

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

Small Donate Button[DOWNLOAD]

Transcript (below)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episode 391 – play the bit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On balance, what do I think of this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small Donate Button[DOWNLOAD]

Intro Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

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

www.Iwillteachyoualanguage.com

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

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

Speak to you soon.

Bye.

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

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

Small Donate Button[DOWNLOAD]

Introduction Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think the results are really revealing.

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

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

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

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


Ending Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bye.