Category Archives: Culture

585. Alternative British Citizenship Tests with Paul Taylor

Testing Paul Taylor again on his knowledge of Britishness with several alternative British citizenship tests and some very British problems.

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Introduction Transcript

Welcome back to the podcast. I hope you’re well.

In the last episode you heard me talking to Amber and Paul. I hope you enjoyed that. It was lots of fun. I recorded it last week and after doing that mammoth episode about poshness Amber had to go but Paul stayed and so I thought we would return to the topic of the British citizenship test. We talked about this last time in episode 527 when Paul took the test on the podcast and failed.

I still had some other bits and pieces that I wanted to cover in the episode, including a stand up routine about the citizenship test and also an article in The Telegraph. Both of those things include their own citizenship tests, so let’s see if Paul can pass them. Be prepared to be either shocked or amazed by Paul’s knowledge about British things in general. Also we end up taking a citizenship test for the USA and to see if we pass or not, just keep listening.

So this episode is a chance for you to listen to Paul and me in conversation, but there’s also loads of stuff to learn in terms of British culture and certain words which are often pronounced wrong by native speakers of British English.

Check the page for this episode, where you will find links to the various tests and videos we’re talking about.

Let’s now join Paul and me after we’d just finished a cup of tea, ready to talk more on the podcast and let’s see how much he and you know about British life, culture and language.

Videos & Links

Imran Yusuf’s British Citizenship Test

The Daily Telegraph’s British Citizenship Test for Meghan Markle

www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/queen-greasy-spoons-alternative-british-citizenship-test-meghan/

Very British Problems on Twitter

An American (USA) citizenship test on the Washington Times website

www.washingtontimes.com/quiz/2015/feb/11/us-citizenship-test-could-you-pass/

Paul Taylor on Twitter

 

 

584. Posh or not posh? (Part 3) with Amber & Paul

Amber & Paul join me to talk again about poshness, posh accents and posh celebrities. This episode is full of different British accents – posh, RP and regional differences. It’s also full of comedy and I found myself laughing out loud while editing this, especially the interview with the football player that Paul tells us about. I hope you enjoy it.

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Are these celebrities posh or not? What are the features of posh accents, RP and regional accents in the UK?

Kate Beckinsale

Victoria Beckham

Sadiq Khan

Kenneth Branagh

Stephen K Amos

Elton John

Daniel Craig

Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling

George Martin

Jacob Rees Mogg (again)

Danny Dyer

Keep adding your videos of British celebrities in the comment section. Are they posh or not posh?

583. British Comedy: The Dirty Fork / Restaurant Sketch (Monty Python)

Analysing the English in a sketch by Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and considering British communication style relating to apologising, making complaints and minimising language.

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Introduction

Luke rambles about folding seats on public transport, the spring equinox, saying goodbye to winter and the recent posh or not posh episodes.

Here’s another British comedy episode.

We’re going to listen to a comedy sketch by Monty Python.

This time we’re looking at British manners, politeness, communication style and just some madcap comedy too.

Similar episodes in the past have been things like my episode about British communication style (What Brits Say vs What They Mean), What is this British comedy? How to learn English with comedy TV series, and the episodes I’ve done about Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

We’re going to listen to a clip from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and also consider the cultural values behind the sketch, and how that relates to things like making complaints, saying sorry and making requests.

So, cultural stuff and also linguistic stuff too.

Buy the DVD Box Set for Monty Python

Check out the Monty Python YouTube channel where a lot of their content is available free

Intro to the sketch

There’s quite a well-known series of postcards called the How to be British Collection. You might have seen them. They contain little cartoons illustrating life in England from the point of view of learners of English. There are some classic sketches in that collection.

The “How to be British collection” #8 – Being Polite (c) IGP Cards – Buy the books on Amazon here.

One of them is called “Lesson 16 – How to complain”.

It shows a couple in a restaurant, in England we imagine. They don’t look happy with the food. The man says “This meat is as tough as old boots” and the woman says “It tastes off. And these vegetables are cold.” (some nice vocab in there already)

In the next frame the man says “this wine is awful – I asked for dry and they’ve given us sweet.” and she says “and look, there’s a worm in my side salad…”

Ah, a typical English restaurant.

Then the waiter comes over and says “How is your meal? Is everything all right?”

Now, what would you say in that situation? How would you respond? Would you complain? How would you do it?

Well, in the sketch, after the waiter says “Is everything all right?” the man says “Oh yes. It’s all lovely!” and the woman says “Excellent, thank you!”

8

www.lgpcards.com/index.html

Hmm…

The point here is that British or English people avoid saying the bad thing, making the complaint, because they’re too polite and don’t like to cause a problem, so they say it’s all fine.

Is this a stereotype of English communication style? Partly. As we’ve seen before.

What would I say?

I would say that the food was no good, especially the part about the worm. Obviously those extreme details are added for comic effect, like a worm in the salad. But if my food was just not up to scratch, would I complain? I probably wouldn’t complain if it was something minor, but a big thing would be an issue, but what’s definitely true is that I don’t like getting into a situation of conflict or confrontation and so I would probably be very reasonable about my complaint. My wife is more direct about these things. She’s French. We often notice a big difference in the way we deal with things like this. She’s much more direct about making a complaint and getting what she feels she is entitled to. For some reason it’s more difficult for me. I don’t like getting into those confrontations. Is this just me, or is this British people in general? I think it’s a bit of both. I’m perhaps not the confrontational kind, but also Brits are like that too, more than other nations, as far as I can tell.

Of course there are plenty of British people who complain vociferously if there’s a problem, a lot of Brits (certainly English people) will avoid an awkward situation if they feel that nothing can be done about it.

Why do people want to avoid confrontation? What’s the worst that could happen?

Let’s find out in this sketch.

The Dirty Fork Sketch

Listen to the sketch – just try to understand what’s going on. It’ll help if you watch the video because there are a couple of visual elements, but if you don’t watch it – just try to work out the details. Essentially, you’ll hear a couple in a French restaurant. They have a problem, and then they are visited at the table by various members of the restaurant staff including the waiter, the head waiter, the manager and finally the chef from the kitchen.

Let’s listen to it and see if you can work out what’s going on. Then I’ll break it down for you so you understand it just like a native speaker.

Bonus: Watch out for the punchline at the end.

Summary
A man and woman are in a fancy restaurant. The French waiter is very keen to make their stay satisfying. The man asks for another fork because his is a little bit dirty. The reaction of the waiter is extreme. he apologises profusely. He fetches the head waiter who comes to apologise. He makes over the top apologies. The restaurant manager comes out and his apology is serious and dramatic. Finally the chef comes out. He’s a huge angry man with a meat cleaver. He’s furious with the customers because they made a complaint which has caused so much sorrow to the staff of the restaurant. He shouts revenge as he tries to kill them.

The punchline?
“Lucky I didn’t tell them about the dirty knife!”

The main point is
I think this sketch is making fun of people who keep quiet about little complaints or use language to minimise problems, because they’re scared about making a fuss. This seems to be what they imagine could happen if they point out a problem. This is the worst nightmare of every British person who awkwardly makes a complaint. They’re terrified of making a fuss or causing a scene.

Minimising language

It’s not “I’ve got a dirty fork”, it’s “I’ve got a bit of a dirty fork”.

It’s ridiculous really – either you’ve got a fork or not. You can’t have a bit of a fork. Your fork can be a bit dirty, but it’s a bit silly to say “I’ve got a bit of a dirty fork”. However, this kind of minimising language is very common when people want to make something sound less serious than it is.

E.g. 1 “We’ve got a bit of a dirty table. Could you give it a bit of a wipe for us please?”

E.g. 2 Imagine someone announcing to someone that there’s been an accident, but they’re trying to minimise the seriousness of it because for some reason they’re embarrassed about it or they want to reduce the shock.

“Can I have a bit of a chat with you. Just a bit of a chat. It’s no big deal, it’ll just take a second.

It’s just that we might have had a little bit of a problem downstairs. There’s just sort of been a little bit of an explosion in the kitchen. Just tiny little bang really – more of a pop really, just a tiny little pop – you’d hardly notice it really. I heard it though and thought “Did I imagine that? Did someone just pop a balloon, or fart or something?” and then I picked myself off the ground and had a look downstairs and, yeah, the restaurant is a bit err, it’s a bit scratched and there’s a slight hole in the wall, and in the ceiling and a few puffs of smoke. At first I thought – “oh is that the chef having a cigarette out the back? I thought he’d given up!” But no it wasn’t him – I guess he won’t be smoking again in a hurry! Can you speak to him? Well, he’s a bit tied up at the moment, no he can’t come to the phone he’s… just resting. I think he fainted or just fell over after the thing, the thing that happened in the kitchen, and his head might have fallen off slightly and he might have lost a couple of other limbs in the confusion but anyway, no need to worry too much, it’s basically under control more or less, I just thought you might , want to pop down to the kitchen to have a look and maybe call an ambulance. Yeah, I would but I’ve lost my legs and I’m feeling a bit sleepy so I’m going to have a bit of a lie down, but I thought you might like to know… OK?

So, it’s always “A slight problem” or “A bit of a problem”.

Go through the paragraph again and highlight the minimising language.

Back to the comedy sketch…

This sketch is making fun of our culture I think – the way we are afraid of causing a fuss. Also it makes fun of the over-the-top way that fancy restaurants might apologise for small problems. They’re so keen to welcome and satisfy their customers. The sketch also gets completely carried away, especially when John Cleese’s “Mungo” comes out.

To an extent it’s a little bit pointless analysing Monty Python’s comedy because they make fun of absolutely everything, but I feel that they’re definitely poking fun at stuffy, polite culture.

Why do people minimise negative things? They want it to sound less serious. They don’t want to make someone feel they’re complaining. They want to show that it’s no problem – but why would it be a problem?

If you had a dirty fork you’d just say – “Excuse me, can I have another fork please? This one’s a bit dirty” the waiter is not going to be mortified. He’ll just get you another fork. This sketch represent’s the customer’s worst fear – that there will be a problem or a fuss.

“We don’t want to cause a fuss! Don’t make a scene!”


Now let’s go through the sketch again and understand it in detail.

RESTAURANT SKETCH: COMPLETE SCRIPT

Lady It’s nice here, isn’t it?
Man Oh, (It’s a) very good restaurant, three stars you know.
Lady Really?
Man Mmm…
Waiter Good evening, sir! Good evening, madam! And may I say what a pleasure it is to see you here again, sir!
Man Oh thank you. Well there you are dear. Have a look there, anything you like. The boeuf en croute is fantastic.
Waiter Oh if I may suggest, sir … the pheasant à la reine, the sauce is one of the chef’s most famous creations.
Man Em… that sounds good. Anyway just have a look… take your time. Oh, er by the way – I’ve got a bit of a dirty fork, could you … er.. get me another one?
Waiter I beg your pardon.
Man Oh it’s nothing … er, I’ve got a fork, (it’s) a little bit dirty. Could you get me another one? Thank you.
Waiter Oh … sir, I do apologize.
Man Oh, no need to apologize, it doesn’t worry me.
Waiter Oh no, no, no, I do apologize. I will fetch the head waiter immediatement. (immediately – in French)
Man Oh, there’s no need to do that!
Waiter Oh, no no… I’m sure the head waiter, he will want to apologize to you himself. I will fetch him at once.
Lady Well, you certainly get good service here.
Man They really look after you… yes.
Head Waiter Excuse me monsieur and madame. (examines the fork) It’s filthy, Gaston … find out who washed this up, and give them their cards immediately.
Man Oh, no, no.
Head Waiter Better still, we can’t afford to take any chances, sack the entire washing-up staff.
Man No, look I don’t want to make any trouble.
Head Waiter Oh, no please, no trouble. It’s quite right that you should point these kind of things out. Gaston, tell the manager what has happened immediately! (The Waiter runs off)
Man Oh, no I don’t want to cause any fuss.
Head Waiter Please, it’s no fuss. I quite simply wish to ensure that nothing interferes with your complete enjoyment of the meal.
Man Oh I’m sure it won’t, it was only a dirty fork.
Head Waiter I know. And I’m sorry, bitterly sorry, but I know that… no apology I can make can alter the fact that in our restaurant you have been given a dirty, filthy, smelly piece of cutlery
Man It wasn’t smelly.
Head Waiter It was smelly, and obscene and disgusting and I hate it, I hate it ,.. nasty, grubby, dirty, mangy, scrubby little fork. Oh … oh . . . oh . . . (runs off in a passion as the manager comes to the table)
Manager Good evening, sir, good evening, madam. I am the manager. I’ve only just heard . .. may I sit down?
Man Yes, of course.
Manager I want to apologize, humbly, deeply, and sincerely about the fork.
Man Oh please, it’s only a tiny bit… I couldn’t see it.
Manager Ah you’re good kind fine people, for saying that, but I can see it.., to me it’s like a mountain, a vast bowl of pus.
Man It’s not as bad as that.
Manager It gets me here. I can’t give you any excuses for it – there are no excuses. I’ve been meaning to spend more time in the restaurant recently, but I haven’t been too well… (emotionally) things aren’t going very well back there. The poor cook’s son has been put away again, and poor old Mrs Dalrymple who does the washing up can hardly move her poor fingers, and then there’s Gilberto’s war wound – but they’re good people, and they’re kind people, and together we were beginning to get over this dark patchthere was light at the end of the tunnel . .. now this . .. now this…
Man Can I get you some water?
Manager (in tears) It’s the end of the road!!
The cook comes in; he is very big and has a meat cleaver.
Cook (shouting) You bastards! You vicious, heartless bastards! Look what you’ve done to him! He’s worked his fingers to the bone to make this place what it is, and you come in with your petty feeble quibbling and you grind him into the dirt, this fine, honourable man, whose boots you are not worthy to kiss. Oh… it makes me mad… mad! (slams cleaver into the table)
The head waiter comes in and tries to restrain him.
Head Waiter Easy, Mungo, easy… Mungo… (clutches his head in agony) the war wound!… the wound… the wound
Manager This is the end! The end! Aaargh!! (stabs himself with the fork)
Cook They’ve destroyed him! He’s dead!! They killed him!!! (goes completely mad)
Head Waiter (trying to restrain him) No Mungo… never kill a customer. (in pain) Oh . .. the wound! The wound! (he and the cook fight furiously and fall over the table)
CAPTION: ‘AND NOW THE PUNCH-LINE
Man Lucky we didn’t say anything about the dirty knife.
Boos of disgust from off-screen.

582. Posh or not posh? (Part 2) Guess the Posh British Celebrities

Can you identify which UK celebrities are posh and which are not? Let’s listen to some British celebrities speaking, check their Wikipedia pages and work out of these people are truly posh or not. You’ll hear samples of lots of spoken English in this episode and we’ll focus on accent and pronunciation.

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Introduction Transcript (Videos below)

This is episode 582 and it’s called “Posh or not posh? (Part 2) Guess the Posh British Celebrities” and in this one we’re going to listen to a lot of famous British people and work out if they are posh or not.

This follows on from the last episode in which I talked about what makes a person posh and what posh people sound like when they speak.

You should listen to episode 581 before listening to this I reckon.

In the last episode you heard me say that a really important thing is to listen to people speaking and to hear lots of examples of posh speech. In this episode you’re going to hear loads of different people speaking. Some of them sound posh and others don’t. So you’re going to hear a mix of different accents. I could probably break it down like this – posh RP, standard RP and regional accents.

We’re going to go through a list of British celebrities. Can you identify if these people are posh?

I’ll name the person. We’ll listen to some audio of them speaking and see if their accent is posh. We’ll look out for some little clues that kind of give it away. Then I’ll have a look at their Wikipedia pages to get some more info and find out if they really are posh.

Remember the 7 types of poshness we talked about before.

  • poshness of birth
  • poshness of wealth
  • poshness of accent
  • poshness of education
  • poshness of excellent taste – the fine arts, fine wine, fine food – anything with ‘fine’ before it
  • poshness of exuberant vulgarity (e.g. over-the-top excessive and showy expressions of bad taste – bling)
  • poshness of assumed superiority

The key things in the Wikipedia biography are: educational background (private schools, boarding schools, single-sex schools, prep schools) and family background (any connections to nobility). Also we’ll pay attention to the way they speak.

So it’s basically – poshness of birth, poshness of education and poshness of accent that we’re looking at here.

Remember that hardly anyone has all the traits of being posh. For example, I expect that most of the people in my list don’t score very highly in the “poshness of assumed superiority” because most of them are humble actors but maybe some of them actually are arrogant enough to assume that they’re better than everyone else. Anyway, the main things we’re looking at are birth (family connections) education (which school) and accent.

Again, it’s not very fair to judge people, and I’m just trying to help learners of English to be able to identify certain things about people from England.

As we go through these video clips which are on YouTube, the focus for me is on just the way the people speak. We might have to skip past some of the language (vocabulary) while doing this. Normally when I use audio like this on the podcast I break it down word by word so you can understand everything. There might not be time for in-depth analysis like that. We’ll focus on the accent, I might explain what’s being said a bit, and then we’ll check the Wikipedia page for that person and move on.

So, are these people posh or not? Let’s go.

Videos & Speech Samples

Jacob Rees-Mogg

Adele

Prince Harry (duh)

Keira Knightley

Wayne Rooney

Jack Whitehall (and his Dad)

Paul McCartney

Idris Elba

Emma Thompson

Brian Sewell

Any other UK celebrities you can think of? Add a video in the comment section.

 

581. Posh or not posh? (Part 1) Understanding Posh People and Posh Accents

Everything you always wanted to know about posh people, but were afraid to ask. This episode is all about poshness in people, posh accents and what it really means to be posh.

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Transcript

Today I’m doing an episode on the theme of British accents and culture by focusing on the notion of ‘poshness’ in people. I’ll explain everything I think you need to know about what the word “posh” really means, and then I’m going to go through a list of famous British people, give some details from their Wikipedia pages, perhaps listen to some samples of them talking and you’ve got to work out if they are posh or not posh.

I’ve decided to name this game “Posh or not posh?”

This will probably take several episodes, so to be honest I might not actually get to the “Are they posh or not?” quiz until part 2, but we’ll see.

As I’m talking about how posh people speak you’ll probably be wondering what their accents sound like so I’ll do some posh accents throughout this episode, and you’ll have a chance to listen to lots of speech samples of people – some posh, some not, in probably the next part of this episode.

The reason I’m doing this is to help you understand what ‘posh’ really means, and how to identify poshness in people.

The thing is, that as an English person, when I meet another English person I can work out in just a few minutes quite a lot about them based on the way they speak, look and behave. Now, perhaps I shouldn’t because you’re not supposed to jump to conclusions about people or judge a book by its cover, but in my experience English people are able to identify things about each other, like social background and so on, and probably make certain judgements about each other by noticing clues that non-native speakers of English often are not aware of.

In many cases the most revealing clues are the linguistic ones – like speech patterns, accent, choice of words. So, I want to help you to understand this whole subject and to notice these clues so that you understand this whole thing like someone from the UK.

I don’t want to teach people to be judgemental, or encourage you to make assumptions about people based on the way that they speak – but I do want to just help you learn how to identify certain cultural and linguistic clues that you might otherwise be unaware of.

In the process you’ll learn details about upper-class society in the UK, what makes a person truly posh (or not) how posh people really speak, and you’ll learn more about some famous UK celebrities and the ways they speak English.

I should say too that I don’t believe being “posh” is automatically a good or bad thing really. It depends on the behaviour and attitudes of people as individuals, and it’s not fair to make generalisations about everyone. So I’m not saying being “posh” is a bad thing, even though posh people are sometimes disliked by people in the UK for various reasons. I’m also not saying that “posh” people should be looked up to for any particular reason. I’m just trying to help you learn what “posh” English really sounds like.

What does “posh” really mean?

So first we need to clarify exactly what “posh” means and what makes someone truly posh. I have mentioned this word quite a few times before on this podcast, but anyway, here it is again.

“Posh” when referring to people

Collins Dictionary Definition

adjective [informal]
If you describe a person as posh, you mean that they belong to or behave as if they belong to the upper classes.
I wouldn’t have thought she had such posh friends.
He sounded so posh on the phone.
High-class
Upper-class
Not just ‘rich’, there’s a lot more to it than that, as we will see later.

Posh Spice

Some of you might be thinking of Victoria Beckham at this point, because her nickname in the Spice Girls was “Posh Spice”. (Ginger Spice, Scary Spice, Baby Spice, Sporty Spice and Posh Spice) The press in the UK gave her that nickname because she had an air of sophistication and class about her, and she liked to wear quite chic clothes, but in terms of her background she wasn’t posh at all. Now you could argue that she is now more posh than she used to be, in some senses of the word, because she has achieved quite high status and is probably very rich and quite well-connected in the fashion world and so on, but there’s more to it than that, as I’ve said, and so she still isn’t truly posh. You can hear it in the way that she speaks.

The same applies to David Beckham, who although he is rich, successful, high-status (in the sense that he’s a successful celebrity footballer), well-connected and brushes shoulders with royalty and so on, is not really posh either.

So that’s the word “posh” for people. Upper-class, basically. That doesn’t really explain it though because now we’re into the whole concept of the class system and what upper-class really means – if indeed it still means anything these days, since we’re living in an era when, arguably, class distinctions don’t really exist any more, although I don’t really agree with that, or at least you can still see traces of the class system running through society in terms of power and the attitudes we have about each other. I’ll come back to this stuff about poshness in people in a moment.

I also want to say that we can say that ‘things’ are posh too, not just people.

“Posh” when referring to things

adjective
If you describe something as posh, you mean that it is smart, fashionable, and expensive.
[informal]
Celebrating a promotion that my wife got at work, we went to a posh hotel for some cocktails.
That’s a posh car.
They’re having a posh dinner party in the house over the road.

We also use the adjective for anything which is fancy or high-quality. E.g. I’ve got a posh new laptop.

Back to poshness in people now.

What is upper-class?

How do we define upper class or high class? It can be a question of perspective.

“Posh” can be used to just describe people who you think are of a higher class than you, and this makes it a little bit subjective because what is posh for one person isn’t necessarily posh for someone else.

For example, if you live in a hole in the ground and you see someone who lives in a cardboard box, you might say “Ooh, you’re a bit posh aren’t you, living in a cardboard box! Oooh! Look at you with your fancy lifestyle”.

Similarly, if you live in a little terraced house in a slightly rough part of town and you meet someone who has a detached 3-bedroom house in the countryside, you’d say – “Bloody hell you’re pretty posh”. And if you live in a 3-bedroom house in the countryside and you meet someone who lives in a huge stately home like the one in Downton Abbey you could say “Wow, you’re really posh”, and that person visits the Queen and thinks “This is a bit posh isn’t it?” So it does depend on your point of view to an extent.

But, it’s not just your living conditions though. There are other indicators of poshness. You could be homeless and yet still very posh indeed. It’s also not about being rich. You could be penniless and still be posh.

7 rules of being posh

American writer, resident in the UK for nearly 30 years, Guardian columnist Tim Downling @IAmTimDownling identifies 7 rules of being posh

www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/sep/22/poshness-foreigners-view

After 25 years of living in Britain, US-born Tim Dowling believes he has finally worked out the class system. Here’s what he has learned

“There is no one kind of poshness. There are actually seven distinct types: poshness of birth; poshness of wealth; of accent; of education; also, the poshness of excellent taste, as well as the poshness of eccentric and exuberant vulgarity (e.g. over-the-top excessive and showy expressions of bad taste – bling); and, finally, the poshness of assumed superiority. Some of these are inextricably linked, and some quite naturally overlap, but almost no one is possessed of all seven.”

I think The Queen possesses all seven qualities. (How, Luke? Pray, tell us.)

Just to restate and slightly redefine:
1. poshness of birth [This relates to your family connections to the aristocracy, which has a clear hierarchy of status – the higher you are in the family, the posher you are]
2. poshness of wealth [the richer you are, the posher you are]
3. poshness of accent and register [the way you speak]
4. poshness of education [the school and university you went to]
5. poshness of excellent taste – the fine arts, fine wine, fine food – anything with ‘fine’ before it
6. poshness of eccentric and exuberant vulgarity (e.g. over-the-top excessive and showy
expressions of bad taste – bling) (in contradiction to point 5)
7. poshness of assumed superiority

I might add poshness of eccentricity to that too, marking it out from point 6.

How do you know if someone is posh?

What are the indicators of poshness?

Applying the 7 Rules/Indicators

I think the seven types of poshness described by Tim Downling are pretty good actually.

For example – let’s apply it to my family. I had a friend once who was convinced that I was posh. He was actually quite disdainful about it. He was from a working class or lower middle class background, and lived in an urban area in a terraced house. I knew him from college and we were in a band together. He used to come to my place for band practice. My family at the time lived in a house in the countryside outside the city. He had a car. Our house was quite big, admittedly. 4 bedrooms. I don’t think I’m that posh, but I can see how some people might think I am, like this friend of mine – let’s call him Ian.

Ian thought my family, my house and my life were posh – but I reckon that was just from his point of view.

Also there’s a bit of politics involved and if you’re left-wing in the old fashioned “up the workers” kind of way, you would view the upper-classes as the elite establishment who serve themselves at the expense of ordinary working people. This kind of attitude runs through some people, who sort of sneer at things they consider to be of the upper or upper-middle class.

I also got the impression Ian was a bit resentful of these things, and the fact that my parents were approachable and nice, and I always felt a bit bad when he tried to make fun of me for being posh – because I didn’t see it that way at all. I thought he’d got me wrong.

Here’s what he thought made me posh:

My family didn’t speak with a brummie accent. We spoke with RP. They were also quite cool and groovy parents who shared similar tastes as me.

We had different words for some things. He called it the living room or sitting room, we called it the lounge. He called it the settee or couch, we called it the sofa.

Our house was just bigger, which meant that we had more money – but only because my Dad had managed to get a good job at the BBC, perhaps because he went to Oxford University…

Hmmm, those things do make me sound a bit posh. But he got into Oxford because he worked really hard when he was younger, because his parents just brought him up well and because he’s clever. Nobody else in our family went to Oxford except my Dad and his brother went to Cambridge, but my grand parents and great grandparents never went to Oxford or anything. My Grandad was a civil engineer who served in WW2. I think Ian’s Dad hadn’t gone to university for whatever reason.

But Ian would do that “ooooh, in the lounge! Why don’t you lie down on the sofa in the lounge then!” all that stuff.

I don’t think he was right in thinking that I am posh. I’m not. I went to a state school not a private one. I didn’t speak with a proper posh voice – just RP with some brummie (video footage shows I had a brummie accent at the time!) because I wasn’t actually born in that area – we moved there from West London when I was 9. So I might have sounded posh to him, but not really posh! There is a difference between my RP and posh RP (hopefully we’ll hear some of that later). And, crucially, there is no old money in our family – no landowners, nor the slightest hint of a connection to the nobility. The fact is, although he would sometimes comment or make fun of me by going “oooh, the lounge – aren’t you posh! Ooh, you’ve got a gas AGA stove in the kitchen!! Ooh look at you”. None of that mattered to me at the time. I was more interested in how he played the guitar and what kind of music he was listening to. I probably was from a slightly higher class than him – perhaps I’m middle or upper middle class and he was lower-middle class or something, but it’s ridiculous isn’t it – to split hairs like this. I think mainly it was the environment I grew up in and the lack of certain working class tropes, like the kinds of brands they’d buy and even the way they’d talk to each other. And our house was full of art on the walls and books and stuff. I just felt like it was mainly my parents who had education and were interested in literature and things.

These distinctions are quite petty, but I have to say – they are undeniable. There were differences between us, but I like to think they don’t really matter. That probably confirms that I’m from an upper-middle class family. I don’t know!

I’m not in touch with Ian any more by the way.

All this can get pretty complicated, and I wonder if things are similar in your countries. I can’t really imagine what it’s like in China, Russia or anywhere else for that matter.

But to keep it as simple as possible, for me, genuine poshness is associated with truly upper-class people. You can act posh, sound posh, look posh, even smell posh, be considered posh by other people, but the only true sign of poshness is your family background. Family connections.

True “Upper-class” really means having connections to aristocracy, even quite remote connections. The more family connections you have to the aristocracy the posher you are.

These connections need to be hereditary ones, meaning things you’re born into. As long as you’ve got that, everything else you do doesn’t matter. You can speak like anyone else, look like anyone, live like anyone, have no money left and still be super posh if it’s in your blood.

Family Connections

Levels of aristocracy

Aristocracy  = Royalty and The Nobility

The aristocracy is the genuine upper class, in terms of inherited social status, or poshness by birth.

Royalty

The Royal Family is the direct blood relatives of the monarch. So this includes the King or Queen, Princes and Princesses. Dukes are also part of the royal family. Well, the Royal Dukes anyway (like The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip). There are also Noble Dukes too, who aren’t royalty. They’re nobility. Complicated isn’t it? Yes, it is a bit.

The Nobility

There’s a level below royalty too, which is still a part of the aristocracy. That’s the nobility.

There are 5 levels of nobility or peerage. Peerage means the system of inherited titles of nobility. Again, something you’re born into.

The ranks of the peerage are (in descending order)

  • duke
  • marquess (pron: markwiss)
  • earl
  • viscount (pron: /ˈvaɪkaʊnt/)
  • baron

There’s also the word “Lord” which you will have heard of. The term Lord is used in several ways. The general word “Lord” is another way of referring to a member of the nobility, like a baron. You’ll have heard this in Downton Abbey – the main character is known as Lord Grantham, but his real title is The Earl of Grantham. So “Lord” is just a term of address for anyone in the nobility.

But also a “Lord” is a political title given to someone who sits in the House of Lords, in Parliament.

Most of those Lords in Parliament are given their title by the government – they’re selected because of their expert knowledge, so they’re not nobility.

If you have someone in your family with one of those peerages or titles – Lord, Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount or Baron it means you have connections to the nobility, which is part of the aristocracy.

I wonder how many aristocrats I have listening to this podcast. Perhaps you have connections to aristocracy in your country (of course you might use different titles and stuff).

If that’s true and you are connected to the nobility, then “Hi! You’re really posh!”

Here in France where I live at the moment, there was a revolution of course, which ended the reign of the royal family when the country became a republic. But there are still noble families here and some very posh people. I taught a few of them at University. Some names came up in my register that were clearly very posh – usually in French these are names featuring the name of a place somewhere in France. I even had one guy who was a Windsor, and I’m not kidding – he was half-English and was related to the royal family on his father’s side. He was some kind of aristocrat. He told me that he knew Prince Harry and that he lived on a barracks in Westminster. That was both interesting and awkward because I didn’t find out until the end of the course, and one of the topics we’d covered was monarchy in the UK.

It was an English class at university, but this guy was basically bilingual. He still took my class though. I knew he was posh because he told me he lived in Westminster (when he spent time in London) and almost nobody lives in Westminster – in Zone 1 of London, except the Queen, the PM, some civil servants, some soldiers, and various super-posh people. So we’d spent some time dealing with arguments both for and against the abolition of the royal family in the UK, just as an exercise in academic writing and debating skills. I wonder how he felt. He said he enjoyed the class, which was nice.

There’s actually a list of peerages (hereditary titles), where all the family connections are published. It’s called Burke’s Peerage and you can get it online www.burkespeerage.com/

There are a few listings for Thompson – knighthoods mainly, it seems. Apparently knighthoods are listed in there. A knighthood is an honorary title, given by the Queen. It does not make you part of the nobility though. Really, a knighthood is just a title (Sir or Dame for a Damehood) and doesn’t give you any advantages really, although I’m sure it helps book restaurant tables and so on!

It seems so complex because there are loads of complex volumes and lists. I’m not in there, and neither is my Dad – OF COURSE.

If you don’t have those connections, you’re not really, truly posh. But you might be described as posh because you might have some aspects from other categories or people might just judge you to be from a certain background.

A few other signifiers of poshness:

Education – The school they went to, especially if it’s an exclusive ‘public’ school. Boarding schools. Top university educations from Oxbridge Colleges.

Wealth – especially in the form or property and land – possibly farmland, a stately home in the family for example.

Habits and lifestyle – cricket, golf, tennis, horse riding, polo, hunting, fine art, theatre, ballet, opera, gastronomic food. They’re not exclusive to posh people, but you often find posh people are into those things, definitely the ones involving horses. They’re very horsey, posh people.

Speech – certain words, a certain accent.

Posh Speech

Here are some features of how posh people speak. It’s a combination of accent and choice of words.

It’s actually pretty complicated – there are several types of posh speech, I have to say.

Old fashioned posh (like the old BBC accents, The Queen’s accent) – you could call it old fashioned heightened RP.

But there’s also a modern posh accent that upper-class young people might speak – like Prince Harry, Kate Middleton or the guy in the Gap Yah video (more on that later). Modern posh young people might actually borrow certain words or features of colloquial speech from lower class culture, but there are still certain aspects of pronunciation that will reveal their poshness – particularly certain vowel sounds.

So modern posh people, like William and Harry, can sound really similar to middle class people like me, but they give themselves away with certain little clues in word choice, pronunciation and just a general attitude too. It’s parodied really well in a YouTube video called Gap Yah, which I’ll deal with later on when we look at some examples of speech.

I need to do more episodes that cover these types of speech in more depth. The best way for you to notice these things is to listen to a lot of samples of people speaking in these ways. So what I should do is other episodes that feature: William, Harry and Kate, comedy clips parodying modern posh people (like the video called Gap Yah) and perhaps clips from Made in Chelsea. Also, episodes with some old fashioned posh RP – like clips from Downton Abbey, The Crown, or comedy parodies of old upper class people speaking. That’s a lot of content! You could also check these things out online.

But here’s an overview of some general features of posh heightened RP.

Heightened RP, or “posh RP” – or RP with certain features.

To a large extent it’s clear English with every sound clearly enunciated. You will probably love it, just saying. Usually learners of English love hearing “posh” English because it’s clear (which really means it matches the old fashioned English that was used to make old learning materials for decades) Mostly posh English is  just like normal RP and you might not notice a big difference with my accent, but there are little features that mark out posh speech from just standard RP.

These things are probably very difficult for learners of English to notice, but an English native speaker would pick up on them almost immediately.

Some features of posh speech:

Consonant sounds at the ends of words are not dropped, like ‘t’ or ‘d’.

No glottal stops – dropped T sounds

Imagine Tom Hiddleston as Loki in the Marvel films.

But having said that I can definitely imagine a posh guy in a pub ordering some drinks and intentionally dropping his Ts in order to sound cool, or when talking to a mechanic.

“Yah, can I get another couple of sparkling waters, yah, thanks Toby”

or

“Right, yah so you reckon the carburetor is fucked. Ok chaps. Well let’s bloody well make it unfucked, pronto! hayahyahyahya!”

TH sounds are pronounced fully not as /f/ or /v/.

Thirty three thousand months of Thursdays thinking thoughts”

So far, so normal RP…

Tripthongs are flattened. E.g. power – shower – riot – hire – fire – gap year – layer – mayonnaise – player.

“I’m terribly grubby after playing some rugger. I’m not much of a player – more of a spectator really. Never was particularly good at sport, you know. Had a bloody hard time at school I must say. I always found it so awfully competitive.  But look  I’m going to go off and have a shower I think. We’ve just had a rather good shower installed in the 8th bedroom in the north wing actually. I think it’s a power shower as a matter of fact. I tell you what, if Daddy saw me like this he’d be bloody furious. Not the done thing at all, hohhoh. It would be somewhat… awkward let’s say. He does get, exceedingly ticked off at that sort of thing. Rather an angry fellow you know, my my my my father, you see. He’d probably do something drastic like get me fired from my job again and I’d have to get hired somewhere else. So this is a podcast is it? Jolly good. It’s an absolute riot this internet stuff. I did a bit of English teaching on my gap year actually. Oh yeah, it was bloody great fun actually. Anyway, I must dash…”

Certain words -e.g. These adverbials: terribly, awfully, rather, not at all, exceedingly, somewhat, frightfully.

Calling their parents Mummy and Daddy (especially the girls).

Saying “yah yah yah” and “you know” quite a lot.

Other posh signifiers

Clothing

Obviously posh people are going to wear expensive brands, but the posh look is probably like this: Hunter boots, or boat shoes, chinos, corduroy or stonewashed jeans, a checked shirt, with a boating sweater on top, perhaps a polo shirt, a rugby shirt, possibly a blue blazer, an old-school tie, a wax jacket or a puffy jacket, possibly a puffy waistcoat, possibly a flat cap but not necessarily. Women might wear a fur waistcoat. Floppy hair. Dressing like they’re either going to spend the day on a boat, or spend the day hunting in the countryside.

Formality and smartness

You can imagine posh people dressing up in expensive evening wear but also having some eccentricity (like affectations) and scruffiness.

Cars

Range Rover

Posh names

Double-barreled surnames – surnames with more than one part, especially if the pronunciation and spelling of the names are really different. Politician David Lloyd George, composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, astronomer Robert Hanbury Brown, actors Kristin Scott Thomas and Helena Bonham Carter.

Not trying to be posh.

Genuine posh people have nothing to prove and therefore can be pretty eccentric.

Behaviour

To be honest, posh people are just as likely to behave badly as non posh people. The image of the “hooray Henry” is a well-known one. It’s basically a sort of posh hooligan of sorts. Hooray Henries might populate towns like Oxford and they’ll get drunk and do stupid things. Some very posh schools have secret members’ clubs that involve nasty initiation rituals, eg the Bullingdon Club which was famous for smashing up restaurants and then throwing down money to pay for the damage. Former PM David Cameron was a member, so was Boris Johnson and various other members of the Tory party establishment.

Attitudes

It does depend on the individual, and there are some extremely charitable and wonderful posh people, but at it’s worst the attitude of posh people is one of disdain for the lower classes and an assumed sense of superiority.

Where are posh people to be found?

In Chelsea, Sloane Square, Kings Road, Oxford, Cambridge, Home counties, Henley on Thames, Ascot, Wimbledon.

More Categories of Poshness

Let’s go through some categories of poshness again. Which one is the most important (I think you’ve got it by now)

The school – but non-posh people get into top schools all the time.

The wealth – but plenty of non-posh people are rich and some really posh people are broke.

The lifestyle – anyone can fake it and live like a posh person without being truly posh.

Relationships with family – pressure from parents to live up to high standards, perhaps distant relations with parents due to growing up with nannies or in boarding school, monetary support from parents.

Nepotism

Politics – the majority of posh people vote Conservative, although occasionally some are socialists.

The accent – anyone can fake that too, and many people do.

Eccentricities – this is quite a good indicator. You might find that truly posh people are a bit odd. Think of Prince Charles talking to trees and wearing timeless clothes.

Owning land – often posh people own large areas of land and might be involved in agriculture.

But ultimately – it’s about family connections.

How do most people feel about posh people? Do we like posh people?

As you might expect – it’s complicated, it depends and it’s a matter of perspective.

There are attitudes towards truly posh people, and then attitudes to people who act posh but aren’t.

Also it’s a case of how people behave, rather than which social class they belong to.

Quite a lot of people don’t like the aristocracy because of the associations with a lack of democracy but it depends if they have personality. E.g. it’s possible to disagree with the concept of aristocracy, but to get on with an aristocrat.

We like eccentric, down-to-earth, kind and jovial posh people but there’s a feeling that many posh people, such as the people in the reality show “Made in Chelsea” are snobbish, arrogant, small minded, privileged, selfish, judgemental, elitist, patronising, superficial and cut off from reality. But maybe the thing about the people on that show is that we all know that in many cases they’re not fully posh, just the product of social climbing. It’s not just a question of disliking people who have money, there is something about the attitude and the behaviour too.

Also there’s a sense of injustice that these people enjoy high-status lifestyles and privilege not because they’ve earned it, but because Daddy paid for it. People argue that these people live in a bubble and don’t understand the struggles of most ordinary people, and also that they look down on other people and consider themselves superior.

Also, people tend to dislike those people who are social climbers – perhaps people who aren’t truly posh, but who are desperate to raise themselves in social status and class, and perhaps who are very snobbish about people lower than themselves – as an expression of their class aspirations.

E.g. Hyacinth Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances. She’s middle class, or perhaps from a lower class family in fact – but she is desperate to appear upper-class. Ultimately, she’s fake and she’s a snob.

But honestly, I think what people really don’t like is if people are faking it and acting superior when they’re not, or if people are just being mean in some way – e.g. assuming they are superior to everyone and talking down to people.

When a person is genuinely posh and has proper connections to nobility, you might find Brits are a bit more sympathetic to them. But people who are trying to show off their wealth and who have aspirations to being seen as posh, but aren’t actually posh – we dislike that! They don’t know their place! Don’t get above yourself!

It must be the same in your culture. Don’t we all dislike it when people are fake, condescending, conceited, disrespectful and snobbish, regardless of their social background? Equally we will like people who are charming, respectful, amusing, kind and so on, regardless of what their background is.

Class is hard to explain to people who haven’t had exposure to the culture, grown up here, met all kinds of people, you might not have the same feelings about this subject. It’s also related to politics. A lot of the time people visit the UK and are absolutely charmed to pieces by people that the rest of the country might dislike.

E.g. A lot of Americans just fall over themselves when they hear a posh British accent. Even someone who isn’t really posh – but who just speaks with RP, like me, is immediately given something like noble status by many Americans. Like “Oh my gaad I love that Briddish accent you sound so regal and sophisticated”.

Foreign people are often fond of the stereotype of British people as being very posh – as if that’s normal. But it’s not really normal. E.g. the image of the gentleman in a suit with a top hat or something, or the family from Downton Abbey who spend a lot of time drinking tea and talking in quite a formal and polite way. Most of us aren’t posh and we see genuinely posh people as a bit weird and disconnected from real life.

Are those stereotypes about posh people true?

Partly, but I think that most truly posh people also face plenty of challenges and hardships of their own.

There’s also a certain amount of upward snobbishness and generalisation going on. People from middle class backgrounds might resent upper class people. E.g. fox hunting

Some of the dislike of posh people is jealousy, but not all of it.

It’s not really fair to generalise. We should judge people on an individual basis. I’m sure plenty of upper-class people are really great.

We shouldn’t judge all posh people by the people we see in Made in Chelsea.

It’s probably not fair to tar them all with the same brush. Just in the same way we shouldn’t generalise about any group in society.

E.g. you wouldn’t say all working class people are hooligans just because of the actions of some football fans on TV.

Nevertheless, a lot of people take the piss out of posh people, resent them for their privilege,  and even hate them for the fact that they’re rich because of old fashioned elitism and the so-called Eton mafia.

So, now that you’re armed with your new knowledge about posh people, do you reckon you can spot a posh person?

Let’s see.

End of part 1?

How posh are you, Luke?

Criteria:
poshness of birth
poshness of wealth
poshness of accent
poshness of education
poshness of excellent taste – the fine arts, fine wine, fine food – anything with ‘fine’ before it
poshness of exuberant vulgarity (e.g. over-the-top excessive and showy expressions of bad taste – bling)
poshness of assumed superiority
I might add poshness of eccentricity to that too, marking it out from point 6

www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/quiz/2014/sep/22/are-you-posh-quiz


Gap Yah

575. British Comedy: Paul Chowdhry

Understand a stand-up comedy routine by Paul Chowdhry, a British comedian of Indian descent. We’ll break down his comedy bit by bit, understand each line and learn some English in the process.


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Episode Introduction

Hello, how are you? (Luke rambles a bit…)

In a recent episode of this podcast, you heard me talking to Amber and Paul about experiences of doing comedy and both Paul and I mentioned a British comedian called Paul Chowdhry. I have mentioned him on the podcast several times before, and I’ve been meaning to do a whole episode about him for a while now. So here we are.

In this one we’re going to listen to the audio of some of Paul Chowdhry’s stand up. Let’s see if you can understand it, and if we can learn some English from it and also some things about English life and culture too.

Who is Paul Chowdhry?

He’s a British comedian, from London. He was born in the UK and is of Indian origin.

In terms of ethnic groups in England, white people of English origin are by far the majority ethnic group, but the next largest group is Indian.

I’ve chosen to talk about Paul Chowdhry in this episode because he’s a really funny comedian, and I talked about him with Amber & Paul on the podcast recently. He’s one of my favourite comedians.

Because Paul is of Indian origin, ethnicity, identity and accents are often topics in his comedy. I think really this is just because he’s always playing with social conventions about what we find acceptable or not acceptable, about the subtle tensions that exist between ethnic groups. Without getting too serious, he makes fun of everyone, including white English guys called Dave, his Indian parents or Indians who are fresh off the boat and living in England, Chinese waiters, African taxi drivers and all sorts. I like him because of the accents and impressions he does, because of how quick and brief in his delivery he is.

He’s just funny and that’s it. Certainly, England’s ethnic diversity is a theme that always comes up in his comedy and perhaps informs the audience’s reactions to him.

So, it might be necessary to give you some info regarding ethnic groups in Britain. Here are some stats, and this is from the UK’s most recent census, the 2011 census. The census is the country’s largest national survey and is very reliable and impartial as a source of information, so these figures are generally accurate.

What do you think? If you could imagine a pie chart with different segments for the different ethnicities in the UK, what would it look like? What do you think are the ethnic groups and their percentages?

Here are the figures, which by the way are controversial, not because of the numbers but because of the way the different groups are classified. For example, the categories “white” and “black” are not really ethnicities, are they? Anyway, here’s some information from the 2011 census.

I think this meant people registered as British citizens, and could include people born in the country or people who moved there and became citizens.

UK Population by Ethnicity

Source: UK Census/Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnic_groups_in_the_United_Kingdom

Ethnic group Population (2011) Percentage of total population[17]
White or White British (including White Irish): 55,010,359 87.1
Asian or Asian British: Total 4,373,339 6.9
Asian or Asian British: Indian 1,451,862 2.3
Asian or Asian British: Pakistani 1,174,983 1.9
Asian or Asian British: Bangladeshi 451,529 0.7
Asian or Asian British: Chinese 433,150 0.7
Asian or Asian British: Other Asian 861,815 1.4
Black or Black British: Total 1,904,684 3.0
Mixed or Multiple: Total 1,250,229 2.0
Other Ethnic Group: Total 580,374 0.9
Gypsy/Traveller/Irish Traveller: 63,193 0.1
Total 63,182,178 100

By the way, most of the non-white ethnic groups are concentrated in the cities, particularly London, which is by far the most racially or ethnically diverse place in the UK.

London has had a diverse population for centuries, but most of the Indian and Caribbean families moved there in the immediate postwar period.

People like Paul Chowdhry, who are basically around my age would have grown up in the UK, but with Indian parents.

Anyway, back to Paul Chowdhry.

It’s quite interesting that Paul Chowdhry’s audiences are often quite diverse. He appeals to everyone – white people, Asians, Afro-Caribbeans and so on. In his audience he often picks out the groups of people of different origins and it’s funny the way he makes fun of them one after the other.

No need to go further into all that stuff. It’s just a bit of context. It doesn’t all have to be about ethnicity. Like I said, I mainly wanted to do this episode because I just find him to be really funny.

So, let’s just listen to some of Paul’s material and see if you can understand it and if we can learn some English from it.

This is the audio from a YouTube video of Paul Chowdhry’s appearance on a TV show called Live at the Apollo. This is the BBC’s big stand up comedy show, which is filmed at The Hammersmith Apollo, which is just 10 minutes down the road from where I used to live in London. It’s a huge venue and they have big comedy shows there and they also do music concerts. All the great bands that you love, all the great British rock bands from the last few decades. They’ve all done shows at the Hammersmith Apollo. It’s a very famous venue. The Who, Elton John, Queen, Black Sabbath, David Bowie’s last concert as Ziggy Stardust was there – just all of the great bands. and also all the big comedians that we have.

Anyway, this is the audio from Paul Chowdhry, Live at the Apollo.

This routine is full of slang, rude language, accents and jokes about ethnic identity. That’s what you can expect.

I’m not sure what you’re going to think of think of this, as ever, because this could easily be considered offensive (because he’s making fun of different ethnic groups to an extent), but my instinct tells me this is just funny and so I’m just going to go with it. But certainly a lot of the laughs come from the fact that this kind of thing, the sorts of things he’s saying are borderline unacceptable, but in some way he gets away with it because it’s coming from an Indian guy. Although the things he’s saying might be considered unacceptable or politically incorrect if they came out of the mouth of a white guy. For some reason because it’s coming from an Indian guy that kind of makes it ok. If it was a white guy up there making fun of ethnic minorities, that would be considered extremely old fashioned and in very bad taste, but Paul has got the pass, the card, because he is Indian, so he can do it.

He can even get away with doing impressions of Africans and Chinese people, which I would definitely not get away with in front of an English audience.

Anyway, enough from me. Let’s get into it.

Let’s go.


Paul Chowdhry Live a the Apollo (2012)

An example of bad dubbing in a kung fu movie

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569. Learning & Teaching English with Zdenek Lukas (Part 1)

Talking to English teacher & podcaster Zdenek Lukas from the Czech Republic about how he learned English to a high level by working on a building site in East London with a team of cockneys who couldn’t pronounce his name properly. Also includes tangents about football commentators, climate change denial, flat earth conspiracy theorists and more. [Part 1 of 2]. Intro & outro transcripts available.

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Introduction Transcript

Hello listeners, how are you today? Fine? Pretty good? Not too bad? Can’t complain? Mustn’t grumble? Could be worse? Doing alright? You’re doing alright. Good. Glad to hear it.

Here is a new episode and it’s a conversation with Zdenek Lukas who is an English teacher from the Czech Republic. You might have heard me mention Zdenek on the podcast before and in fact you might already be familiar with his voice because he has a podcast of his own. You might be one of his listeners in fact.

Zdenek’s podcast is called Zdenek’s English Podcast – yes, that does sound familiar doesn’t it? It’s like the name of my podcast. As Zdenek has said himself many times, he was inspired to start his podcast mainly after becoming a fan of my podcast and I’m ok with that.

He did actually ask me before choosing that name and I said yep, go ahead. This was years ago now, I think around 2013, when he first set up his podcast and got in touch with me about it.

These days Zdenek’s English Podcast exists in its own right. He’s uploaded about 250 episodes which feature monologues from him about his life and his journey with English, and also conversations with his friends, native speakers he meets in his hometown or on trips to London and in gaming communities online and he even records episodes with his students of English from time to time.

I thought it was about time I talked to Zdenek on this podcast and I wanted to ask him about these things:

  • how he learned English to such a high level
  • his story of moving to the UK where he ended up working with cockneys in the East End of London
  • how he became a teacher of English
  • his thoughts on the question of non-native speakers as teachers of English
  • his podcast
  • his love of board games and how they can be used for learning English
  • the board game he has created himself and the online board game communities that he’s part of

So my plan was to interview him about all of those things, but naturally we ended up going off on various tangents, especially at the beginning of this first part, and then we got into all the questions I wanted to ask Zdenek and I found out about his whole story. This is a two part episode.

Part 1 Summary

Here’s a quick run-down of what’s coming up in part 1, just to make sure you can keep up, especially since the conversation goes off in a few directions at the beginning.

We mention what happened at LEPster meetups in London that Zdenek organised last year and the year before. I attended the first one but not the second. He recorded episodes of his podcast on both occasions.

We talk about what it takes to be a genuine LEPster and whether some people might stop listening after a few episodes.

We talk about where Zdenek’s home town is and the general location of the Czech Republic.

A few tangents:

  • Global warming & climate change denial
  • The time I talked to some Flat Earth conspiracy theorists on The Flat Earth Podcast
  • Louis Theroux (UK documentary film maker)

Zdenek tells us about his academic background in linguistics and English teaching including details of the university dissertation he wrote about the language of English football commentators.

And then we get into Zdenek’s whole story of learning English, including what happened when he travelled to England in his early 20s with no plan, just the will to get away and have an interesting experience in another country. The result was that it really pushed his level of English and led him on his current career and life path.

I will let you discover all the details now as you listen to our whole conversation which is presented to you here in two parts.

This is part one of course, so without any further ado, here we go!

Ending

Ok everyone, that is where we are going to stop, but the conversation will continue in part 2 which should be available right away I think, so you can just move on to that one now, can’t you?

So, that is it for part 1 and I will speak to you again in part 2.

Thanks for listening…

Bye!

Links

Zdenek’s English Podcast

Zdenek’s English Podcast Facebook page

Kingdoms of Deceit – Zdenek’s game on Steam

567. Alternative Christmas Stories & Poems / Beatles / Happy New Year from LEP!

This is the last episode of LEP before the end of 2018.

It’s Christmas and New Years Eve is approaching, so it’s time for the traditional Christmas episode of LEP! In this one I’m going to read some Christmas stories and a couple of poems which are a bit different to the normal stuff you get at this time of year. Also, keep listening for a funny appearance by The Beatles.

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Episode Transcript & Notes

Luke, I know that it’s Christmas and it’s a time of giving, but why are you uploading so many episodes at the moment? We can’t keep up!

The Christmas holiday is about to start and I’ll be quiet for a few weeks, so I’m giving you quite a lot of stuff now for you to listen to while I’m away.

That includes this episode in which I would like to wish you a very merry Christmas (if you celebrate it) and a Happy New Year too, then ramble to you a little bit and then tell you one or two Christmas-themed stories, read a couple of Christmassy poems and there will be an appearance by The Beatles as well, as you’ll hear later on.

First of all, a bit of a ramble (not too long).

I’ve uploaded a lot recently. New free podcast episodes, new phrasal verb episodes and new premium episodes. It’s quite a lot of stuff, which might be difficult to keep up with, but as I’ve said, I won’t be uploading for a few weeks so it should be enough time for everyone to catch up.

Just yesterday I uploaded another series (3 parts) of premium episodes for December, and that is all about language from the Alan Partridge episodes I did in October. They were popular episodes and they were full of really nice language – I mean, descriptive vocabulary and noun phrases I used to talk about Alan, and also various other expressions, phrases and bits of grammar that came up in the clips that we listened to. So I devoted a couple of Premium episodes to that and also the usual memory tests and pronunciation drills. PDF worksheets are available for all the premium episodes.

There are also new phrasal verb episodes in the premium package now too, and more arriving on a regular basis.

If you want to become a premium LEPster, go right ahead, be my guest. You’ll get access to all of the premium content in the ever-growing library, and all the stuff that will be published in the future too. www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium to get started. Also, you’ll be supporting the podcast with a small monthly contribution – about the price of a coffee or beer every month.

I tell you what, I am super duper chuffed to finally be making premium episodes and having this project alongside the normal episodes of the podcast. I hope those of you out there who are premium Lepsters are getting into the work I’ve been doing. Thank you for your support for the podcast too. You’re making it possible for me to spend more time on this, and that’s going to help me to improve and develop what I’m doing.

It’s been a pretty good year for LEP with lots of episodes about different things. I hope you’ve enjoyed them all and found them useful for your English. The year started with the birth of our daughter, and I talked about it in episode 502 – that’s about 65 episodes ago, can you believe it? I’ve done 65 episodes of the podcast this year, plus all the premium ones. Quite a productive year. Episode 502 – that’s when you first heard my wife’s voice on the podcast.

Sometimes during the year I think you heard the voice of my daughter in episodes, when I was recording stuff while she was in the flat with me. That may happen more and more as she grows up.

She’s not really speaking yet, although she is walking. She is making more and more complex noises though, not exactly speaking but making sounds with different bits of intonation and stuff – things that sound like questions, things that sound like “yaay” etc. She’s started doing this thing where she lifts objects to her ear and kind of goes “hello?” as if she’s speaking on the telephone. No idea where she got that from because we usually use headphones when we’re on the phone at home.

She also understands various things that my wife and I say to her, in both languages. She’s very fond of pointing at things too and kind of going “huh??”, like “What’s that??” As she speaks more, I’m sure I’ll record her sometimes so you can hear her learning to speak over the next few years. I’m looking forward to doing that.

A shout out to my students at the British Council

I teach 4 groups of students at the British Council at the moment, across different levels. They’re all adult learners of English and we’ve had some great classes over the last year. Hello, if you’re listening. I want to share a video that some of them were involved in.

So, at the BC in Paris we offer a social programme called English Extra, which involves things like social events, drinks, talks by teachers and guests (I did one about British humour if you remember) and also weekend trips to London. The idea is that it gives our students more opportunities to socialise in English and get more talking time in English, basically. Also, it’s just a lot of fun and we have some really outgoing, funny and social people in our adult classes at the moment, including in my classes, which is great because it means we have a lot of fun while also learning English. So, some of them went to London recently and as part of the trip they made a little video for YouTube. It’s called How Much do Londoners Know about France? The students went around, interviewing British people in the street, asking them various questions about France. The results are pretty embarrassing, I must say!

The average Londoner doesn’t seem to know that much about their nearest continental neighbours! To be honest, I wonder if the same would be true about the French, in fact I think it would be. Anyway, the video is pretty funny and I want to share what my students did, so check it out – you’ll see the full video on the page for this episode. I also shared it on social media today.

My students at the British Council made this video in London

Do you celebrate Christmas? Do you have any plans?

What are you doing for Christmas? Is it something you celebrate in your country? Do you have any plans?

This year we’re going to spend some time with my wife’s family in France on the 24th and 25th – Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, doing Christmas the French way, which involves Champagne (of course – although I’m off the booze at the moment – might have to make an exception for Christmas) and then on Boxing Day (which is now also our daughter’s birthday, the poor girl! It’s no fun to have your birthday at Christmas) we’re going to the UK to spend about a week with my parents in their house, which will be great. My Mum and Dad are looking forward to seeing us, but mainly they want to see their granddaughter. It’s cool, she seems to get a boost when she sees them. It’s funny, she loves music and will dance and clap her hands when you play music to her. I am currently educating her in the ways of The Beatles, by playing Beatle music to her every day. It might backfire and she’ll end up sick of it, I don’t know. Hopefully she’ll grow to like their music like I do and my parents do too.

So I’ll be on holiday from the moment that I publish this episode until some time in early 2019. I’m not sure when the podcast will be back exactly. But you’ve got plenty of content to keep you busy in the meantime, right? All the recent episodes and the premium content. By the way, in those premium episodes it’s not just all serious and boring language work. I like to have a laugh there too, it’s just there’s more of a focus on teaching you language and helping you to practise your pronunciation.

Right, so that’s enough rambling.

‘Alternative’ Christmas Stories / Poems / Jokes + The Beatles

I was scouring the internet for good stuff relating to Christmas – stories, mainly. I wanted to read a good Christmas story or a couple of short stories or something. I haven’t found much! Most of the stuff I found is quite cheesy and crap to be honest so it’s been a bit difficult to find the right things.

So, this year, after searching and thinking, I’ve come up with one funny little story, some slightly odd poems, a funny Christmas tradition and The Beatles…

As I said, most of the stories with a Christmas theme that I found online were quite cheesy and cliched, and that’s a bit dull. But I did find several stories which are a bit different or maybe you could say alternative. By that I mean they take a different look at Christmas time.

These stories and poems are quite weird and a bit dark too in some places, but I’ve decided that’s ok because I’d rather have some weirdness and funniness than the usual Christmas stuff about sleigh bells, reindeers and all those other cliched tropes of Christmas – not that there’s anything wrong with that, I do love the cosiness of Christmas when you’re indoors with your family (as long as you’re not trying to kill each other), eating nice food (prepared by someone else possibly, probably your Mum or my Mum in this case – thanks Mum) and generally having a lovely and jolly time. There’s nothing wrong with that of course – that’s what Chrimbo is all about. But I’m sure you’re getting plenty of that stuff everywhere else, in shops, bars, on TV, on the radio, online etc. I don’t know where you are, but certainly in the UK you start to get inundated with the usual Christmas stuff from as early as November these days, and it starts to become a bit annoying after a while.

For example – Christmas songs…

“Well the weather outside is.. blah blah.. and the blah is blahdy blah blah, let it snow let it snow let it snow!”

“Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose…”

“Driving home for Christmas…” etc

Nothing wrong with that stuff really, but it is everywhere, all the time.

So instead of that kind of stuff, here are some alternative takes on Christmas time. Some funny(ish) stuff, some weird stuff, some slightly disgusting stuff, some slightly dark stuff and then The Beatles as well, as you’ll hear later.

Let’s start with a funny little story I found on a website called www.funny-jokes.com

The Missing Five Pound Note

Chippenham George worked for the Post Office and his job was to process all the mail that had illegible addresses. One day just before Christmas, a letter landed on his desk simply addressed in shaky handwriting: ‘To God’. With no other clue on the envelope, George opened the letter and read:

Dear God,

I am a 93 year old widow living on the State pension. Yesterday someone stole my purse. It had £100 in it, which was all the money I had in the world and no pension due until after Christmas. Next week is Christmas and I had invited two of my friends over for Christmas lunch. Without that money, I have nothing to buy food with. I have no family to turn to, and you are my only hope. God; can you please help me?

Chippenham George was really touched, and being kind hearted, he put a copy of the letter up on the staff notice board at the main sorting office where he worked. The letter touched the other postmen and they all dug into their pockets and had a whip round. Between them they raised £95. Using an officially franked Post Office envelope, they sent the cash on to the old lady, and for the rest of the day, all the workers felt a warm glow thinking of the nice thing they had done.

Christmas came and went. A few days later, another letter simply addressed to ‘God’ landed in the Sorting Office. Many of the postmen gathered around while George opened the letter. It read,

Dear God, 

How can I ever thank you enough for what you did for me? Because of your generosity, I was able to provide a lovely luncheon for my friends. We had a very nice day, and I told my friends of your wonderful gift – in fact we still haven’t got over it and even Father John, our parish priest, is beside himself with joy. By the way, there was £5 missing. I think it must have been those thieving fellows at the Post Office.

George could not help musing on Oscar Wilde’s quote: ‘A good deed never goes unpunished’

And now, three poems by modern authors. Poems like these are good. They’re written in plain English and they have a rhythm and rhyme to them. It’s a good idea to practise saying them yourselves. See if you can get the rhythm right.

An alternative Christmas Poem from Roald Dahl

Mother Christmas
“Where art thou, Mother Christmas?
I only wish I knew
Why Father should get all the praise
And no one mentions you.

I’ll bet you buy the presents
And wrap them large and small
While all the time that rotten swine
Pretends he’s done it all.

So Hail To Mother Christmas
Who shoulders all the work!
And down with Father Christmas,
That unmitigated jerk!”
[c. RDNL]

Explain some of the vocab.

Alternative Santa: A Christmas Poem

Roger McGough by the way is from Liverpool and was part of a poetry group there in the sixties called The Scaffold. Another member of The Scaffold? Mike McCartney – Paul’s brother. We used to read Roger McGough’s poems when we were children. He used to write a lot of funny little poems for kids, but some of his work is actually really good for adults. It’s not too fancy or pretentious, it is written in plain English and for me it does exactly what poetry should do, makes you feel something inside. I also like his brief style. Less is more.

By Roger McGough

‘I’m fed up looking like Father Christmas,’
Muttered Father Christmas one year
‘I need a new outfit, I must move with the times
So for a start, it’s goodbye reindeer’

He googled Alternative Santas
And was amazed at the stuff that appeared
He got rid of the holly-red costume
Had a haircut, and shaved off his beard

Spent his days in front of a computer
In a cave hollowed out of the ice
Wearing a tee shirt emblazoned Merry Xmas
And jeans (Amazon, Armani, half price)

Couldn’t wait to straddle his snow-ped
(The bargain he’d bought on eBay)
A rocket-powered silver toboggan [sledge, sled or sleigh]
His supersonic sleigh

Then one morning he thought, ‘Oh why bother
Delivering presents by hand
When it could all be done online
Busy parents will understand

We are lucky to live in a digital age
Where the aim is access and speed
SantaNet I’ll call the system
‘Santafaction guaranteed’

And that was years and years ago
Times that children barely know
Midnight mass and mistletoe
Christmas carols and candle glow

Sleigh bells ringing across the snow
And Santa singing Yo ho ho
For that was years and years ago
And that was years and years ago.

This poem appeared in the Telegraph on December 7th, 2013

Hmmm, but what does it mean?

This next one starts out quite sweet, but it gets a bit dark. I think it’s a brilliant poem though, even if it is quite sad.

The Trouble with Snowmen by Roger McGough

‘The trouble with snowmen,’
Said my father one year
‘They are no sooner made
than they just disappear.

I’ll build you a snowman
And I’ll build it to last
Add sand and cement
And then have it cast.

And so every winter,’
He went on to explain
‘You shall have a snowman
Be it sunshine or rain.’

And that snowman still stands
Though my father is gone
Out there in the garden
Like an unmarked gravestone.

Staring up at the house
Gross and misshapen
As if waiting for something
Bad to happen.

For as the years pass
And I grow older
When summers seem short
And winters colder.

The snowmen I envy
As I watch children play
Are the ones that are made
And then fade away.

Roger McGough

Something a bit disgusting, or is it? An odd Christmas tradition from Catalonia. The Caganer.

Catalonia is a region in Northwestern Spain. Barcelona is the most famous city there. Some of you may be there right now. Lovely part of the world.

Apparently they have a slightly odd tradition there. The Caganer. It’s a little figuring of a man pooing on the floor. Yuk, disgusting! You might think, but actually it’s a long-standing tradition in the region and is a symbol of good luck and also renewal for the coming new year.

This is an article from nowIknow.com (I brilliant email list with fascinating and funny little stories every day)

The Tradition of Christmas Poo in Catalonia

Christmas Poo

Do you have any slightly odd or funny Christmas traditions or new year traditions?

A Beatles Christmas Record 1964 (one that my Mum had in her record collection)

Why are we going to listen to this? It’s interesting, funny, charming and silly and maybe you’ve never heard The Beatles speaking before.

Every year The Beatles recorded a Christmas message for their fans. The message was distributed to members of the fan club on floppy 7 inch ‘vinyl’ (but not vinyl, it was plastic or something) records. My Mum was a member of the fan club in the 60s and she got these records in the post, I think. She still had them as James and I were growing up, and we used to listen to them as children too. I think James is now the owner of these records. I sincerely hope that he’s looking after them because they will be worth quite a lot of money one day. I’ve seen them on eBay for over £300.

As well as being great song-writers, The Beatles were naturally very funny. They were quick-witted, silly and surreal. Part of that is because of they were from Liverpool, and Scousers naturally are very witty people, but partly because John, Paul, George and Ringo were talented and funny in their own right. They did not take themselves seriously at all, which is one of the reasons they were so charming.

You can see this in their films, but their humour came out best when they were just being spontaneous in interviews and in situations like this where they’re in the studio reading out some comments that were written by someone else, maybe a member of staff from the record company. They are supposed to be reading out the messages but they can’t help fooling around, and the results are pretty funny. Their sense of humour is still fresh I think, even though this was over 50 years ago.

Here are some things you should look out for as you listen to this clip.

First they seem to run towards the microphone and then run away again at the end.

The text they are supposed to be reading was written by someone else, and was written by hand, so they have some trouble reading it and make a few mistakes sometimes. There are also a few little ad-libs here and there. John keeps saying it says here, to show that he’s reading someone else’s words.

Paul: (thanking the fans) Don’t know where we’d be without you

John: (instantly) in the army perhaps

Paul: I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to the records as much as we’ve enjoyed melting them! I mean, making them.

Paul: That’s all, except to wish you a Happy Christmas and a very new year. (A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year)

John: (coughing loudly) Thanks all for buying my book and there’s another one out pretty soon, it says here. (clearly reading from a text). It’ll be the usual rubbish but it won’t cost much. You see, that’s the bargain we’re going to strike up. I write them in my spare time, it says here.

Paul: Did you write this yourself?

John: No, it’s somebody’s bad handwroter. (you expect him to say handwriting). Thanks a lot and a happy Christmas and a merry goo year. (goo is like slime or mud or something…)

George: I’d like to thank you for going to see the film. ‘SPECT (I expect) a lot of you saw it more than once. We had a quiet time making it. (George misreads the text and corrects himself) Actually we didn’t ! We had a great time making it. The next one should be completely different (he goes into a strong Liverpool accent) This time it’s going to be in colour. (John: Green)

When Ringo speaks, it’s just funny. I can’t explain why. I think it’s the way he delivers these pre-written lines in a slightly awkward and sweet manner. It’s just Ringo being Ringo. While he’s speaking someone drops something in the background and he says casually “Who’s droppin’ that?” They were natural and never cheesy or contrived, and that was very different at that time. They were very real, in a very formal world of show business.

Ringo: Those airport receptions knocked us out, man, great! (to knock someone out = to amaze/surprise someone)

At the end they break into a rendition of “Oh can you wash your father’s shirt, oh can you wash it clean?” which is probably some old song that people used to sing.

They run away again at the end.

Another Beatles Christmas record – 1965

This is the one from 1965, a year later.

More things to listen out for

Check out the nice crackling vinyl sound.

Paul: Got to thank everyone for all the presents this year

John: especially the chewed up pieces of chewing gum (I think they did receive this kind of thing), and the playing cards made out of knickers (not sure about that – they probably did receive home-made playing cards and stuff, and perhaps some knickers too!)

John: (in a weird creepy voice) On behalf of George and I, I’d just like to thank you for… (inaudible)

Paul: Well Ringo, what have we done this year?

Ringo: Well, I see you haven’t shaved again.

John starts singing a made-up song in a strong Scottish accent, with lyrics which are hard to understand because sometimes Scottish people speak in a dialect that English people don’t understand. John used to make up nonsense poetry and songs on the spot. He had a surreal sense of humour.

The band then go into a version of Auld Lang Syne which is a traditional Scots-language poem written by George Burns, the famous Scottish poet. It’s a song which is sung in Scotland and many parts of the English speaking world in order to celebrate new year’s eve. The boys here do a silly version of it. They continue to make up silly nonsense as they carry on recording the Christmas record. It’s as if the record company people, or whoever ran the fan club had just given up on writing messages for them, and have just let them record any old nonsense into the microphone, which is great for us!

John improvises a song which sounds like an Elvis record and Ringo shouts “Copyright John!” meaning that he can’t sing that because it’s protected by copyright. Paul then puts on a heavy working-class Liverpool accent and says “What are we gonna do that’s out of copyright?” and John replies (in the same accent) “How about we’ll gather lilacs in an old brown shoe?” I have no idea what he’s talking about. Maybe this is just an old reference that I don’t get, or it’s just John talking nonsense again, but I do like the way they go into these different accents all the time.

Apparently they were always like this, including when recording their albums in the studio. In fact it was their sense of humour that got them a recording contract with George Martin at EMI.

He was more impressed by their general humour than their music (in the beginning), although they proved themselves in the music department later, of course.

The boys do silly accents of old people and weather reporters on the radio. They do a Bob Dylan impression at one point.

John begins singing a made-up Christmas song and the lyrics end up becoming weird noises, then the others join in.

John was often the leader when it came to being ridiculous and absurd, but they were all so close and so quick that they could all keep up with it too.

John: (in a strong Liverpool accent) This is Johnny rhythm saying good night to youse all and god bless youse.

Paul: (in the same accent) All right well, ehhh, that’s got it done then. What are we gonna do now?

George: (Scouse accent) Has he turned it off? (listen for the way he says “turned” – “teeeeeerned it off” – that’s the Liverpool accent, the Scouse accent – exaggerated)

Paul or Ringo: Have you turned it off, la? (‘LA’ is a Scouse word meaning “Lad” or “mate”)

And that’s the end of their Christmas record for 1965.

I think we’ll leave it on that note then, eh?

All right then. Merry Chrimbo and have a very new year all right?

Speak to you in 2019. All the best!

Luke

 

Additional

Previous Christmas Episodes (Just in case you’re looking for more stuff to listen to during the break!)

A couple of years ago I read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It’s still available in the archive, if you want a nice Christmas story, sort of a bed time story (episode 320).

In fact there are a few Christmas episodes in the archive, if you’re feeling festive. You might have heard them already, but maybe you haven’t, or maybe it’s time to revisit them if you’re looking for more podcast action during the Christmas break.

From memory I remember one with my brother which I recorded in London, called “Christmas, it’s all about Family” (episode 78) and we aimed to chat about Christmas but ended up rambling about lots of other things, which was good fun.

The first time I spoke to Paul Taylor on the podcast was about 5 years ago, in December 2013 and we talked about Christmas traditions and his plans for the holidays (episodes 158 & 159).

I spoke to my mate Raphael Miller once at Christmas time and we did a fairly long episode called The A to Z of Christmas, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about British Christmas culture (episode 160).

I spoke to Amber in 2016 and we chatted all about Christmas traditions again, with lots of funny anecdotes about things like my Dad’s competitions and games which he organises every year, and her son’s behaviour at Christmas time (406 A CHRISTMAS MEGARAMBLE with AMBER).

Last year was a bit of a blur because we were expecting the arrival of the baby, but I had a bit of a Christmas ramble in episode 501 I think, with some listener correspondence (including an email from Jesus) and I sang a Paul McCartney song I think (episode 501).

There are also a few episodes recorded with my family at Christmas time, which is sort of a tradition. These episodes: 79, 322 & 413. Not sure if I’ll get the chance to do that this year, we will see.

566. The Collins Words of the Year (Part 6) 2018 with Amber Minogue

The final part of this series about trending words and issues in 2018, this time with friend of the podcast Amber Minogue. Join us as we talk about jogging, picking up litter, bird watching, VAR & football, veganism, ethnic diversity in Hollywood and more. Notes available.

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Episode Introduction

Here is the 6th and final part of this series about The Collins Words of the Year and in this one I’m still talking to my friend Amber (a friend of the podcast – one of the POD-PALS as you know) about this list of words chosen by the Collins Dictionary team for 2018.

These are words that were used a lot this year, probably because they reflect various issues which are big at the moment and which lots of people are talking about in the media, online and in normal life. Interestingly, it seems that the issues of the moment are things like: the environment, climate change, Brexit, identity politics, mental health, relationships, diet, lifestyle trends, technology, football, gender relations, race relations and the latest dance craze.

So, these are the things we’re talking about in this series. I’m happy to be joined by Amber because it means there are some unexpected funny moments, conversational tangents and general laughter. In this one for example, we end up talking about obsessional bird watching, Marvel movies and what Scarlett Johansson is like in real life.

I hope you enjoy our conversation. I’ll speak to you again on the other side (not in the spirit world, I mean, on the other side of this conversation).

OK, let’s carry on then, with the next word from the Word of the Year list, which is plogging. What’s that then? Well, listen on and you’ll find out…


Plogging

Noun: a recreational activity, originating in Sweden, that combines jogging with picking up litter

Comes from the Swedish word plocka “to pick” + jogging

  • Do you do this?
  • What do you think of littering?
  • Have you ever seen anyone littering?
  • Do you ever say anything to people who litter?
  • Why do people drop litter? What excuses do they give?

Birdwatching 

Footage of flocks of Starlings, as mentioned by us. They’re actually called bird murmurations.

Twitchers

VAR

Abbreviation: video assistant referee

Some notes about VAR – *not actually said in our conversation*

It seemed to create a fairly clean World Cup – cleaner than others in the past, but still not perfect of course. It didn’t stop Neymar from diving, but it did make him look stupid. It’s hard to say if it was a resounding success. For clear “black and white” decisions, it seems to work. Offside, ball across the line, etc. But when there’s still a human element of subjective judgement, it’s still doesn’t quite solve the problems. For example, judging whether a handball is intentional or not – sometimes slow motion can make it look intentional when it’s not.

There’s some doubt over whether it really is fair. Sometimes you see mysterious committees of people discussing the decisions in the VAR room. Some people jokingly called it the Vladimir Assisted Referee, I suppose as a suggestion that it could still be subject to corruption somehow – especially since you can’t hear what is being said in the VAR room. People still disagreed with a lot of the VAR decisions.

Also it meant this was the WC with the highest number of penalties ever. It has changed the game a little bit. We’re still working out how to use it well.

Vegan

Noun: a person who refrains from using any animal product for food, clothing, or any other purpose

No animal products at all.

  • Pros and cons of a vegan diet?
  • Have you ever eaten at a vegan restaurant?
  • Would you consider going vegan?

Whitewash

Verb: to cast a white actor in the role of a character from a minority ethnic group or to produce a film or play using white actors to play characters from a minority ethnic group

E.g. casting Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in Dr Strange. The character is Asian in the comic books. Tilda Swinton is a white British woman.

Is this an example of “whitewashing”? Was the character of The Ancient One already a racial stereotype anyway?

Other examples might include Scarlett Johansson as Major in Ghost In The Shell and Johnny Depp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger.


Episode Ending

Right! That’s it! The Words of the Year series is done! We survived!

It was a bit tricky there in places as there were some controversial topics that can be difficult to talk about without getting some people’s backs up, but I think it was good to have Amber with me for the last two episodes. There was a bit more levity there I think.

Levity (noun) = humour or lack of seriousness, especially in a serious situation. It’s like making things a bit lighter than they are.

Levity is often a good thing, because I (personally) don’t like things to get too heavy and for people to disagree with me angrily. I just want everyone to like me and for everything to be ok and never to be challenged or disagreed with in any way, he said, jokingly.

What else do I have to tell you? 

At the beginning of part 4 I mentioned the last-minute special stand up show I was doing with Paul at The Comedy Store in the UK.

The Comedy Store

The show

Meeting some LEPsters. Nice to meet you!

People keep telling me they like the British Comedy episodes. I plan to do more. They just take a bit of time to prepare.

People also like the storytelling episodes. Again, I plan to do more of them! They take time as well, if I’m writing the stories myself. Also I’m a bit reluctant to read out other people’s stories all the time, because they’re not mine, you know. There are royalty free stories in the public domain, but they’re not always perfect (too long, old fashioned language). But we will see.

If you like my storytelling episodes, there are quite a few in the archive. They’re in two categories I reckon, maybe 3 categories.

Cat. 1 – telling a pre-written story, written by me or another author. E.g. The Mystery Story (29) and The Mystery Continues (30), and The Hyde Park Mystery Story (in the App – App-Only Episodes category), also The Hitch-hiker by Roald Dahl (545),  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (320), the Victorian Detective online text-adventure mystery stories (338, 339, 425, 426)

Cat. 2 – telling a story which I’m making up on the spot. Improvised stories (usually quite stupid and comical) like The Pink Gorilla Story (125) and The Pink Gorilla Story 2 (400), The Talking Dog Story (153), The Prawn Story (166) and the Phrasal Verb Chronicles parts 1 and 2.

Cat. 3 – just episodes with some anecdotes and stories from my life. Check out episodes in the archive with the words “anecdotes” or “story/stories” in the title.

(Hi Cat! 3 Cats, in fact!)

So there are some storytelling episodes in the archive and in the app that you might not have heard, and which you can check out. But I do plan to do more of that kind of thing. My episodes have always been quite diverse and I aim to keep it that way. I’ve got more interviews with guests coming up as well in the future.

Feel free to send me your suggestions, if I think they are doable I will add them to the ever growing to-do list. It’s very easy to make the list! It’s harder to make the episodes actually happen.

Also, do check out LEP Premium. There are about 23 episodes/videos now available, plus some phrasal verbs and more content coming every month. To sign up for LEP Premium go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium

That’s it! I expect to talk to you again in some form before the Christmas holidays. We are going to the UK to spend a week at my parents’ house. I have no idea if I will get a chance to record anything with my family while we’re there. I will see. You can expect more episodes to arrive in the New Year, and hopefully one before Christmas. We will see.

But for now though, that’s it.

Speak to you soon, bye!

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

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

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Part 3 – Transcript (99% complete)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Echo chamber

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

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

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

Hello hello hello ? ? ?

Echo echo echo ! ! !

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

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

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

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

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

Filtering out opposing viewpoints and living in a bubble.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you live in an echo chamber?

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

Fidget spinner

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at the for & against.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you ever used one?

Do your kids have them?

Gender-fluid

adjective: not identifying exclusively with one gender rather than another

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

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

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

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

Noun: gender fluidity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have an opinion on this?

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

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

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

The 13th Doctor, played by Jodie Whittaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, female Doctor Who – why not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dictionary definitions – Collins English Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers