In this series I am evaluating ChatGPT as a language-learning tool. In this part I’m experimenting with role-play conversations, job interview practice, creating texts and dialogues and seeing if it can help you prepare for Cambridge exams like IELTS or CAE.
This is part 2 of a 3-part episode in which I am playing around with ChatGPT in order to see how it can help you learn English.
ChatGPT is a sophisticated AI chatbot. You can ask it questions and give it commands and it responds instantly. This is the most advanced AI chatbot I have ever used and it is quite impressive how it can do so many different tasks. We’re all finding out how we can use it and how it can be useful as a time-saving tool for many things, including learning and teaching English.
Of course ChatGPT is not without its critics. Some of those criticisms include the fact that ChatGPT will probably encourage cheating and will make it harder for institutions like schools to detect cheating. Noam Chomsky the well-known linguist and intellectual has described it as high-tech plagiarism, because it essentially regurgitates other people’s work and doesn’t provide citations or sources for the information it provides, and also people are suggesting that ChatGPT or AI in general could ultimately lead to a lot of people losing their jobs.
Does that include me, and other English teachers like me? Can ChatGPT replace English teachers, content creators or even the need to practise English with humans at all?
I’m not entirely sure, and we’re all working these things out at the moment, since this is perhaps the first time this kind of technology has been so accessible and now everyone’s using it, learning about it and thinking about it.
There are very interesting debates about this going on, but in this episode I’m focusing mainly on things you can do with ChatGPT, seeing how it works, and evaluating it’s effectiveness as a language learning tool.
This is part 2. In part 1 of this I asked it to create a study plan as if I was an upper-intermediate learner of English, which it instantly wrote for me. The advice was presented very clearly and a lot of it was pretty decent advice at first glance, but was it appropriate advice for the learner profile I wrote? Was the information a bit generic? What experience or research was its advice based on? We don’t really know.
Then I checked its ability to correct English errors and to explain those corrections, which it seemed to do quite well, although it lacked the ability of a human teacher to see the bigger picture and to use emotional intelligence, and then I started testing its ability to have a natural conversation, which it struggled with – mainly because as an AI language model it doesn’t have any feelings or opinions of its own and apparently these things are absolutely vital elements for a good conversation.
But is it possible to persuade ChatGPT to forget that it’s an AI chatbot and to pretend to be someone else, like a celebrity that you’d like to chat to, or your English teacher who can correct your errors while you chat?
This is what we’re looking at in part 2 here.
Also, coming up are these questions:
How well does it handle role plays in order to let you prepare to use English in specific situations?
Can you simulate job interview situations with it?
Can it create useful texts or dialogues for studying with?
Can it help you with exam preparation by providing sample written texts in response to FCE or CAE writing tasks?
Can it give you good advice for doing Cambridge exams?
Can it create reliable, useful exam practice tasks to help you prepare for IELTS?
Well, let’s find out now as we continue to play around with ChatGPT. By the way, there is a PDF script for all the things I am saying in this episode, including all the prompts I am using. You can get it on the page for this episode on my website – link in the description. If you are watching on YouTube you will see the text on the screen and I recommend that you watch this in full screen mode so you can see the text more easily.
OK, so let’s continue and here we go…
Conversation role plays for specific situations
If you need practice of using English in certain specific situations, you can ask it to help you.
I am a hotel receptionist. Can you help me deal with customer complaints?
It just gave me advice, like an article about how to deal with customer complaints.
You can ask it to create sample dialogues for you, for different situations.
Can you make a dialogue between a hotel receptionist and a customer making a complaint about their room?
It creates a pretty good model dialogue. The language you can see is professional, and polite and a good example of the kind of English you would need in that situation.
ChatGPT is good at this kind of thing. But, as a teacher in class, I might want to make sure this dialogue contained certain target language which I want to present and practise.
Again, there isn’t a brain there looking at the bigger picture, guiding you, interpreting your needs and reactions, anticipating and planning as it prepares learning materials and activities for you.
Conversation can be hard to maintain.
You need to give it very specific instructions if you want to converse with it. Otherwise it will just generate a dialogue.
Let’s do a roleplay. You pretend to be a hotel customer with a complaint, and I will be the receptionist. Can you also correct my English errors during the roleplay?
It just created the dialogue, writing lines for both people.
Let’s see what happens if I re-write the prompt more specifically.
Let’s do a roleplay. You pretend to be a hotel customer with a complaint, and I will be the receptionist. I will start by writing “Hello, can I help you”. Then give your response and wait for me to reply before writing the next line.
Can you also correct my English errors during the roleplay?
It’s very difficult to persuade it to do this.
Job interview role plays
Can you interview me for a job as a TEFL teacher at a new language school in Paris?
This worked quite well. It generated questions one after the other. It also responded when I asked for clarification.
Let’s see it it can help you prepare for an interview for a specific position.
Can we do a job interview role play? I’ll input a job advertisement and can you then interview me for the position?
You can input all the details from a job advertisement.
Just paste all the text from an online job advert, like “Marketing manager job advert” or “TEFL teacher France job advert” or “Podcast host job advert”
Inputting a large amount of text can confuse ChatGPT and it tends to just summarise the text. But then you can say “Ask me interview questions based on the job description I gave you”.
It should ask you some pretty good questions, relevant to that job, which will allow you to simulate the interview on your own, or at least prepare some answers. You could type your answers into ChatGPT and ask it for feedback.
But beware of just practising English through typing. Don’t forget that in the real world you have to speak spontaneously and you have to use social skills while doing it including things like body language.
Sample dialogues or texts
Ask it to produce sample texts or sample dialogues which you can then study with.
To be fair, this isn’t really necessary as there are so many texts and resources already available for you, including ones which are specifically created to help you learn English, but yes they are in published books and materials that you might not have immediate access to. Also, it’s simple to just go to ChatGPT and ask it to create any text or dialogue you want, following your specific instructions.
Can you write a 300 word text containing useful phrases for talking about using the toilet?
No speaking: Remember, Chat GPT won’t “say” any of these sentences because it is only in text form.
Can you create a 200 word story to present the use of narrative verb tenses in English?
What I want from this is a range of verb tenses. Past simple, past continuous, past perfect, with good clear examples of how those forms are used and how they are different to each other.
Did it do that?
Was it a good story?
Can it help with Cambridge Exam test preparation?
Let’s see if it can do a Cambridge First Certificate writing task.
Sample answers can help us to practice our writing by providing a model which we can learn from.
Let’s input a task directly into ChatGPT.
CAE Writing Part 1
You have received this email from your English-speaking friend David.
Subject: touring holiday
Some college friends of mine are visiting your area soon for a week’s touring holiday. They would like to travel around and learn about your local area and its history.
Can you tell me about some of the places they could visit? What’s the best way to travel around – car, bike or coach?
Write your email.
Write 140 – 190 words in an appropriate style.
It’s great to hear from you!
I’d be happy to give some recommendations for your college friends’ touring holiday in our area.
There are plenty of places to visit and explore around here. If your friends are interested in history, I would suggest they start with a visit to the local museum, which houses exhibits on the area’s past, including its early settlements and industrial heritage.
Another must-visit is the old castle, which is one of the most famous landmarks in the region. Your friends can take a guided tour of the castle to learn about its history and its role in the area’s development.
As for the best way to travel around, I would recommend a car. There are several car rental agencies available in the area, and it’s an efficient and flexible way to travel and explore. However, if they are more comfortable with public transport, there are several coach tours available that take visitors around to the most popular sites.
I hope your friends enjoy their time here and get to experience everything that the area has to offer.
Let me know if there’s anything else I can help with.
Can you give me some advice on how to do a Cambridge FCE writing task, like the one I gave you?
The answer was pretty good but it got some things wrong.
It said that I should use a formal tone, but this isn’t always the case.
The email to David shouldn’t be formal. In fact this advice contradicts what it did in the writing task. It used some informal language there.
It didn’t refer to any assessment criteria.
I’m not sure ChatGPT is consistent or reliable enough to replace proper English language teaching.
Ask it to create IELTS practice tests
I asked it:
Can you create an IELTS reading section 3 practice test?
It created a test which looked good at first glance, but it was not a proper section 3 reading test.
The test format was different and did not follow the true, false, not given format of IELTS part 3.
So this means it is not providing sufficient practice for IELTS reading section 3.
Each part of IELTS is specifically designed to test different reading skills and each reading test is very carefully created to test those skills.
Chat GPT didn’t do this to the same standard as you would find in proper IELTS test preparation materials.
Part 2 ending
That is where we are going to stop part 2.
I hope you’re enjoying these episodes and finding them useful.
Don’t forget to leave your comments in the comment section if you have something to say.
We are going to continue in part 3 of this episode, which will be available soon. In fact it might be available for you now – check the episode description for links.
In part 3 I will be attempting to get answers to these questions:
Can you use ChatGPT like a dictionary?
Can it give us the same information about words that we can find in a good dictionary?
Can it give us correct definitions, information about parts of speech, pronunciation, example sentences, synonyms, antonyms, collocations?
Can it provide information about the etymology of words and phrases?
Can it transcribe things into phonemic script?
Does it accurately transcribe things into British English pronunciation or is it just standard American?
Can it convert between different dialects of English, e.g. will it convert American English into British English, or into specific dialects of British English?
Is it able to help us to use the right sentence stress, word stress, pausing and intonation when reading things out loud?
Can it help us practise grammar by creating quizzes or tests? Are those tests reliable?
Can it help you to remember vocabulary with tests and quizzes?
Can it help you remember words and spelling with mnemonic memory devices?
Can it create text adventure games?
Can it adapt its English to different levels?
What are my overall thoughts and conclusions about ChatGPT?
How do we know when someone’s English is good? Is it just about having the right accent, or speaking with no errors? In fact, there is a lot more to it than that. IELTS can show us how someone’s level of English is properly assessed by looking at a wide range of skills and sub-skills and there is a lot more to it than making no errors while speaking with a “British accent”. This episode should help you consider your own level of English level, get some perspective on what language competence really means, and hopefully cause people to think twice when making snap judgements about other people’s English.
How can IELTS help us to understand what “good English” is?
Why is all of this important anyway?
Here’s an episode which I hope will be really useful as a way of helping you to understand what it really means to be good at English.
We’re going to consider some things about
how English is assessed (how your English level is judged),
the different skills which are involved in using English,
and what aspects of English are the most important.
I hope this episode gives you a bit more perspective on what it means to have a good level of English.
Also there will be a lot of vocabulary for describing English skills and English levels or assessment in English, and that includes a lot of metalanguage – the language we use for talking about language. So try to notice all that vocabulary too.
Hopefully this episode will help you think about
your level of English,
how to assess a person’s level of English
and also how to talk about both of those things.
It’s important for any language learner to get a sense of what they should be aiming for in their learning, so that they don’t spend their time on the wrong things, and that they have the right things prioritised in their learning.
Do you remember the episode I published at the beginning of the year (2023) with Santi from Spain, working in a top job at Oxford University Press?
806. PERSEVERANCE, POSITIVITY & PRACTICE with Santiago Ruiz de Velasco from Oxford University Press
You will find it in the episode archive and if you haven’t heard it, go back and check it out.
This episode follows on from that one. I was inspired to do it after seeing some responses from my audience.
Just as a reminder, Santi learned English mostly as an adult when he moved to London after studying at university in Spain.
He had some very challenging experiences being immersed in the English language and eventually found his way to a top job in the English teaching industry itself – not as a teacher, but in publishing. He ended up as the Managing Director of English Language Teaching at OUP, and he got to that position despite the fact that his English is not “perfect”.
I was pleased with that episode because it allows us to use Santi’s personal experience as a way to consider the importance of motivation and attitude in dealing with challenges in learning English (or any language) and also it raised questions about what “good English” really means.
With Santi, “the proof is in the pudding”, which means that we know his English is good because he uses it successfully every day.
Every single day at work he uses English to successfully perform a number of different communication tasks. I expect he writes emails and reports in English, conducts interviews in English, does presentations, has meetings, probably does negotiations, sells products and services in English, and builds relationships with people in English – no doubt both professional relationships but also meaningful personal relationships too.
I’m assuming a lot of that because I don’t know every single thing he does in his job every day – but I’m pretty sure that he does all of those things. They’re just totally normal communication tasks at work. And it’s not just at work for Santi. I’m sure he also socialises in English.
So, I think the fact that he does all those things, seemingly successfully, this is proof of his competence in English, right?
I think it would be very hard to be the Managing Director of the ELT Dept of Oxford University Press without those kinds of communication skills in English.
But, as I mentioned, his English is certainly not “perfect” by any means (and he says this himself too), and a number of listeners in the comment section on YouTube pointed this out, saying things like “He clearly has a Spanish accent” or “He made mistakes which made me surprised that he is in that position” and “I expected someone with RP English.” etc. I am paraphrasing there, but that’s the gist of it.
What does it actually mean to have a “bad accent”?
Maybe he could use some different fillers, just to avoid repeating the same thing. But why did this person focus only on that when there were so many other positive things to take away from the episode?
What is wrong with saying “you know” ?
It doesn’t stop us understanding him. It doesn’t stop him expressing himself.
It’s just an aesthetic issue, not a functional issue.
It’s just annoying for some people, but it doesn’t actually change the message or cause anyone misunderstandings.
Perspective here – it’s not such a big deal, unless you’re really focused on it. Sure, Santi could work on this, but we all have things to work on.
Fair enough, that one is quite funny.
I shouldn’t focus on the negative comments. The vast majority were positive, I must say. But I notice that whenever I feature someone on this podcast who is not a native speaker, and even some guests who are native speakers but have accents that are not RP, some listeners have to comment or criticise what they are hearing. I don’t think this is really the right attitude to have.
It’s not a competition, is it?
But, the fact that Santi has that job, has achieved that and continues to do that in English is something that can’t be taken away from him. I mean, people can point out errors in his English, but ultimately, the fact remains that he uses English very successfully on a daily basis. That’s important – the fact that he uses English “successully”.
Because this is the point of language. It is functional and it should be judged first and foremost on that – whether it works as a communication tool.
Sure, aesthetics are important too. The absolute best communicators also have English which is a pleasure to listen to, which is easy on the ears and is rich, pleasant and entertaining. But that stuff is also a matter of opinion and taste, and is really just the cherry on the top of the cake most of the time. Why focus on the cherry? You need to have a cake first, before you can have the cherry. You need something for the cherry to go on, right?
Priorities – focus in the really important things first – the cake – and then work on the aesthetics – the cherry on the top.
I’m getting a bit lost in this metaphor now, but I hope you get what I mean.
Common attitudes and assumptions about “good English”
The point is that these comments are indicative of certain attitudes about English proficiency. They show us what a lot of people think makes someone “good at English”, namely:
Accuracy (using English without making errors) especially grammatical accuracy is the most important thing and speaking with zero errors is what makes you good at English. No mistakes.
All learners of English should have RP as their target in terms of pronunciation, and if you speak with a different accent or with obvious traces of your first language then this is a problem. And hearing someone use English with an accent is somehow “shocking” or even “unpleasant”.
You’re good at English if you use complex English, meaning longer words, formal words, idioms and convoluted sentence structure.
So, basically, you need to make no “pronunciation errors” or “grammar mistakes” and use complex “impressive” language.
That short list of assumptions is based on the things I’ve heard and read from learners of English during my teaching career. I’ve met thousands of learners of English and also read thousands of online comments from learners of English too and I often notice those attitudes.
I suppose it is understandable really, that some people think like that.
Not everyone has thought about this subject a lot because they don’t work in language teaching, people have been taught that English is all about correct grammar and correct pronunciation, and these things are obvious “low hanging fruit” in terms of English assessment.
It’s not everyone’s job to think about how to assess someone’s language level, and to be honest I only learned about this from doing professional training, reading academic books, teaching IELTS courses and working out the assessment criteria for Cambridge Exams and stuff.
And we’re going to look at that official assessment criteria for judging someone’s language level later in this episode in order to find out that it’s not just about grammar and pronunciation errors and that there are other important factors. Obviously, being “correct” in pronunciation and grammar are important things, but only to a certain extent.
Like with the example of Santi. I feel like some of those comments are trying to take away Santi’s achievements, but you can’t, can you?
The fact remains that although he makes a few mistakes in grammar, and clearly has a Spanish accent when he speaks English – despite those things, he is a very successful user of the English language and you can’t take that away from him. So how does he manage it, without being “perfect”?
What makes someone good at English then? What else is important?
What I’d like to do now is to talk about actually what makes someone good at English and to show that there is a lot more involved than just accuracy (making no errors) and also complexity (using big impressive, rare words that nobody else knows).
Defining what makes someone good at English should be an important thing for us all to consider and remember.
For you, if you are a learner of English, this is all about how you can get a sense of what you should be focusing on and what you should be trying to achieve. Also it can help you get out of a negative frame of mind when learning English. If you’re afraid that your pronunciation is not perfect or that you know you make errors, it might help to know that those things are not the be-all and end-all in this English speaking game.
Also, if you are a teacher of English, like me, thinking about this can help us to guide our students and provide the right kind of teaching to help them to achieve things in English.
How do you assess someone’s English level?
Let’s use IELTS as a way of helping us to answer this question. By looking at how IELTS measures someone’s English level, we can work out what “good English” actually means.
What is IELTS?
The International English Language Testing System, is an international standardized test of English language proficiency for non-native English language speakers. It is jointly managed by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge Assessment English, and was established in 1989. (Wikipedia)
Basically it is probably the standard international test for assessing someone’s level of English as a foreign or other language.
Working out someone’s level of English accuractely and reliably is not easy. Sure, I could speak with a learner of English for 10 minutes and get a good idea of their level, but to get a fully detailed assessment including different reading, writing, listening and speaking skills, a longer and more rigorous test is needed.
This is why the IELTS test is quite long and quite complex. It takes a few hours to do the test and it’s divided into lots of different parts. It’s all done in a serious and thorough way.
IELTS is a test that has been developed over a very long time, by experts in English language teaching and testing, based on a lot of academic research and professional experience into how people learn and use the English language.
IELTS was developed by academics, teachers and examiners from Cambridge University and The British Council. These people know what they’re doing when it comes to finding out someone’s level of English. They want to do it properly, because this is important.
Universities and employers want to get a reliable sense of the level of English of potential students or employees so they can be sure that those people will be able to use English to study or work successfully. A reliable test is vital for this, and that’s what IELTS is for.
It might not be a perfect test. There’s probably room for improvement. In fact, it probably could be even longer and even more thorough, but that might just be impractical.
Anyway, let’s look at the way IELTS works, and we’ll see if we can draw from it some conclusions about the whole question of what it means to be good at English.
IELTS is in 4 sections – Speaking, Listening, Reading, Writing.
Already this shows that there are 4 skills involved in someone’s English ability, and of course this reflects the type of things that you might need to do in English.
You have to speak to people, listen to people speaking in various situations, you have to read English in different forms, and you have to be able to write in English. OK.
So it’s not just speaking skills. That’s just one part of the picture.
Of course speaking is often considered as the most important skill. It’s the obvious skill. This is what we notice in people. As well as being vital for functional social communication, speaking is very closely connected to our identity and the way we express who we are to the world.
Naturally, it is often the way your English is judged. Because people meet you, talk to you and then immediately get a sense your English level from that conversation. Fair enough. Speaking is important, but in IELTS it is only 25% of the test. It represents 25% of your final IELTS score. And as we will see, speaking can be divided into different sections too – and pronunciation is only one of those sections.
This is underestimated in terms of its importance. I’ve talked before about how, perhaps surprisingly, we spend more time listening than doing any of the other skills.
Also, it is absolutely vital that we understand the people we are talking to. If not, everything breaks down.
One way that I judge someone’s language level when I’m talking to them, is the amount of effort I have to make for me to be understood by that person. This is a way for me to judge their listening skills in conversation.
If I just talk normally, without having to adapt my English or pay close attention to make sure the other person is following me, if I can just talk normally and be myself, it means their English is great.
I have met people who have had good English on paper and who were capable of producing sophisticated spoken English, but they were simply bad at having a conversation because their listening skills were not so great. They didn’t seem to be listening or just did not pick up on a lot of the things I was saying.
For example, while listening to me talk, they didn’t seem to realise how I felt about certain things we were talking about, they didn’t notice little jokes I was making, they didn’t react to certain points I made and did not respond to my efforts to talk about certain things, and it wasn’t because they were just bad communicators even in their own language. It’s because their listening just wasn’t good enough and they were not able to follow what I was saying, and in fact didn’t even realise it.
Listening also relates to being able to deal with different accents. English is a diverse language and people speak it slightly differently all over the world, and this is a good thing and a beautiful thing, so being good at English means being able to understand English in all its diversity.
Only a very small percentage of people speak English like me, with my accent (let’s call it standard modern English RP). If you hear someone from, well, anywhere, and they have an accent which is in any way different from my standard British English, or whatever accent you consider to be neutral, and you don’t understand it then I’m afraid that is not the fault of the accent or the person speaking it.
It’s because your listening skills are still not good enough. You are still not familiar with spoken English. Don’t feel bad about it though, that’s not the point.
The point is, listening skills are a huge part of the puzzle. Think of Santi. He described struggling so much every day when working in London as a waiter. He did not understand what people were saying to him.
People were asking for a coke and he was bring them their coat. His first arrived in London and actually heard real English being spoken and he freaked out. It wasn’t like in the text books at school.
In London I expect he met various English people from different parts of the country. The English he heard was unrecognisable to him at the beginning, because he simply had never heard it before.
His English listening skills improved dramatically while living in the UK. When I spoke to him I felt he was completely on my wavelength and I didn’t have to struggle or make a lot of effort to kind of adapt my English or myself during the conversation. I could relax and I felt like he would be able to follow my train of thought.
A lot of listening is connected to pronunciation. Good listening skills also relate to an ability to understand the way people produce the oral version of English, and this means being familiar with things like connected speech, elision, sentence stress, word stress, weak forms and all of those things. It’s about knowing the oral version of the language, which is often very very different to the written version. This doesn’t just mean knowing it academically (understanding the phonology), but knowing it through familiarity – having heard a lot of English from diverse sources so that you have kind of trained your ears to it, so it’s not a huge shock or surprise when you actually hear it being used in the normal way.
I don’t have so much to say about this except that reading is not just about knowing the words that you are seeing, and knowing which grammatical forms are being used. It involves being able to identify the bigger picture – what those words and that grammar are really communicating to you.
Can you identify the opinion or attitude of the person who wrote the text? (What they think, or whether they are being serious or humorous in their writing)
Can you identify their mood, their intentions, the overall purpose of the writing?
Can you identify what kind of text it is – an article in a newspaper, a business report, an advertisement, a formal email, a personal email, an internal email, an external email, a piece of fiction, a humorous true story, a religious text, an old fashioned piece of writing, something modern?
Are you aware of the different stylistic and linguistic conventions of different types of text?
Are you able to read between the lines?
Can you identify specific information as well as more general things?
It’s more than just knowing individual words and grammar forms. It’s also about overall text structure, organisation, and tone.
Again, it’s not just about speaking. In the real world, all of these things come into play, all the time. It’s all a mix of dealing with input, understanding it, and responding to it, while managing the pragmatics of communication – what impact language has on other people.
This relates to reading in the way that’s it’s not just about knowing lots of words or grammar points, but knowing how to put those words and structures together to make a piece of writing that is coherent (easy to understand), cohesive (logical and organised) and which does what it is supposed to do (persuade, inform, request information, entertain, etc).
With writing, sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a bit like cooking a good meal. It’s not just the ingredients and the cooking utensils, it’s about having the overall vision for making a delicious meal and then using those ingredients and utensils to produce the intended result, and deliver it at the right time and have your guests say “Mmm, this is delicious” at the end of the process. Writing is a bit like that.
In terms of words that you might use in writing (or speaking) it’s not about knowing a lot of words. That helps of course but some people might judge their English by the number of words they know – like, the higher the number, the better they are at English.
And it’s not about how fancy or obscure those words are. Some people might judge their English by the rarity of the words they know – e.g. knowing some words that even a lot of native English speakers don’t know. That’s not necessarily an indication of being good at English. What’s the use of writing something that most people just can’t understand because you’re using very old or very obscure words?
It’s not about the number or the value of each word on its own, it is about using the right words, in the right combinations, at the right moments, to achieve the right result.
It’s no good writing an email to someone and filling it with loads of complex and literary words than nobody really uses on a daily basis. The effect on the reader will be just to confuse them. That’s failing to communicate.
Watch out for those teaching materials, videos, whatever that say things like “Use these 5 words to get a high score in IELTS”. It’s not just about using certain fancy words. It’s all about whether you are able to achieve certain results in English communication.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
English is not just about what you know, it’s about what you can do.
It’s about your ability to complete tasks in English effectively. To understand other people and then have other people understand you. It’s about knowing when to use simple English and when it is appropriate or necessary to use something more complex, or something more specific. Right words, right form, right order, right time.
So I just talked about the 4 skills in English – speaking & listening, writing & reading.
Speaking & listening are together because they deal with the oral version of the language. The language in the air.
Reading & writing go together because they deal with the written version of English – the language written down.
Now, because I’m referring to my interview with Santi, which was an oral interview, let’s focus our attention for the rest of this episode on the spoken word, on speaking skills.
I did say that speaking is only a quarter of the whole picture, but I think for many of you out there, speaking is what you want to focus on, right?
So let’s consider what makes someone a good speaker of English?
What I’m going to do now is look at IELTS assessment criteria.
Assessment criteria means the specific ways in which English is judged. The specific standards by which English is assessed.
How do IELTS examiners judge someone’s level of English?
When you take an IELTS speaking test you will receive a score.
This score is calculated by the examiner after they have listened to you and then marked you in a few sub-categories. Speaking is broken down into a few sub-categories and you’re given a score for each category, and then those scores are added together and then an average score is worked out.
What are those categories?
Fluency & coherence
Grammatical range & accuracy
Each category is defined further and certain criteria or standards are defined which help the examiners decide what score to give in each category.
In other Cambridge Exams, like FCE and CAE, speaking scores are assessed with similar criteria to IELTS, but there’s also a score for Global Achievement. This is like a score for overall task achievement.
When you do a speaking test, you’re given a few tasks to do (short interview, having a discussion, doing a short monologue or presentation) and global achievement basically means “did the person manage to complete the task effectively”.
Candidate speaking performances are assessed using scales which are linked to the CEFR. The assessor gives 0–5 marks for each of the following criteria:
Grammar and Vocabulary;
and Interactive Communication.
Marks for each of these criteria are doubled.
The interlocutor gives a mark of 0–5 for Global Achievement.
This mark is then multiplied by four.
Basically, this means that “global achievement” is more important than any other single criteria.
What is “global achievement”? For me, this is how well the person succeeded in the communication task.
Your ability to complete a communication task effectively is more important than just your correct pronunciation or grammar. Having a few errors in your English is not the end of the world and what’s more important is task achievement. And that includes all that stuff about getting things done in English and getting the right result from a bit of speaking.
For example, did you work well with your speaking partner in order to achieve the task you were doing – maybe to discuss some travel options before deciding together which one was the best, or having to make another joint decision.
Actually, let’s have a look at a sample part 3 section from a CAE speaking test.
By the way, CAE is another English test, designed by Cambridge English. If you pass the test, you get a certificate which proves that you have advanced level English at C1 level.
CAE is similar to IELTS, is based on the same research and conclusions that have been used in creating IELTS, so it can also help us to understand how English is assessed.
Let’s look at the extracts to see an example of a speaking task that people have to do when taking CAE. In part 3 the examiner is interested in seeing how people use English to achieve something in collaboration with someone else. It’s about interaction and working together for a common goal. Important communication skills, right?
You should see how Global Achievement or Task Achievement is important here. This is about how you were able to use English to complete a communication task and I think that is a really important thing to be included in the exam and for people taking the exam to consider. Remember what language is for – it is for achieving things and completing tasks effectively.
If you can do that, you’ll get a good score for Global Achievement.
So this means that having good English is not only about the individual words being used, the accuracy of the grammar or the accuracy of the pronunciation. It is about those things, but it is also about whether you organised your ideas correctly and clearly, whether you listened carefully to the other person, understood their intentions and responded with relevance to what they said, and that you were both able to complete the task.
It’s not about any one single thing, any one single aspect of English. It’s about all of them, in combination.
Ultimately, communication is a means to an end (a tool for a job). The means (the tool) is the language, but the end result is to actually make an agreement, make someone feel something, make someone understand something, organise something with someone, and successfully complete a specific task.
So, Santi didn’t pronounce some words and sentences “correctly” or in the same way that I would, but in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter.
He might have conjugated some verbs wrongly (like getting a few ED endings wrong, or forgetting 3rd person S or even just using present tenses when he should have used past tenses, sometimes) but in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter.
Now, those things are still important to get right – don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that you don’t need to be correct in grammar or pronunciation or that it doesn’t matter which words you’re using. Santi would get more points in an exam if he improved some of those little errors.
Of course those things are important. The point I’m making is that it’s about the bigger picture and there are plenty of other factors involved.
Specific IELTS Speaking Band Descriptors
I’m going to get really specific now. Let’s look at the specific IELTS speaking band descriptors.
What the hell does that mean Luke?
IELTS scores are given in bands.
Band 0, Band 1, Band 2, Band 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.
9 is high, 0 is low.
Cambridge English (IELTS.org) publishes a list of “descriptors” for each band score. These describe what the different bands mean in terms of specific speaking skills. This should reveal the ways in which speaking is assessed in IELTS.
You can consider your English as we talk about these “descriptors”.
We’re going to look at them all in a moment, on a PDF from the IELTS website.
How do IELTS examiners assess someone’s spoken English?
I’ve done IELTS training before and I’ve done mock IELTS tests quite a lot of times. I’ve also done the same with FCE, CAE, BEC Vantage, BEC Higher etc. They’re similar.
If I was doing a mock IELTS test with my students and I was the examiner, I would interview the candidate, give them speaking tasks to do and at the same time I would have to work out their score.
On the desk in front of me I would have a script for me to follow, different tasks and questions for the test and some paper and a pen for writing the person’s score.
But it’s not just a single score for speaking.
I wouldn’t just have a single category on that paper called “Speaking” with a space for a number.
Instead, I would have a piece of paper in front of me with at least 4 sub-categories on it.
Overall score / average: _________
I’d give a score in each category and then work out an average across the 4 categories.
I’m not an official IELTS examiner, I’m a teacher who is trained to prepare students for IELTS, so that’s just the way I do it.
But I know for certain that the examiners use at least 4 sub-categories when assessing a candidate’s speaking.
Here are those categories.
Fluency & coherence
Grammatical range & accuracy
Note that accuracy is only half of one of those categories.
What do the categories mean?
Let me talk about what those categories actually mean, and then we will look at the descriptions of different scores for each category. What’s the difference between an IELTS 6 and IELTS 7 for example.
Fluency and coherence refers to the ability to talk with normal levels of continuity, rate and effort and to link ideas and language together to form coherent, connected speech.
The key indicators of fluency are speech rate and speech continuity.
The key indicators of coherence are logical sequencing of sentences; clear marking of stages in a discussion, narration or argument; and the use of cohesive devices (e.g. connectors, pronouns and conjunctions) within and between sentences.
What is “Lexical Resource”?
Lexical resource refers to the range of vocabulary the test taker can use and the precision with which meanings and attitudes can be expressed.
They key indicators are the variety of words used, the adequacy and appropriacy of the words used and the ability to circumlocute (get around a vocabulary gap by using other words) with or without noticeable hestitation.
What are “Grammatical range and accuracy”?
Grammatical range and accuracy refers to the range and the accurate and appropriate use of the test taker’s grammatical resource.
The key indicators of grammatical range are the length and complexity of the spoken sentences, the appropriate use of subordinate clauses, and the range of sentence structures, especially to move elements around for information focus.
The key indicators of grammatical accuracy are the number of grammatical errors in a given amount of speech and communicative effect of error.
What is “pronunciation”?
Pronunciation refers to the ability to produce comprehensible speech to fulfill the Speaking test requirements.
The key indicators will be the amount of strain caused to the listener, the amount of the speech which is unintelligible and the noticeability of influence from the test taker’s first language.
Now let’s have a look at some of those descriptions from IELTS.org
Perhaps use my level of French as an example, also Santi’s English.
We could compare the different levels (maybe the difference between 5 and 7) across each sub-category.
Which categories are the most important?
The 4 categories are of equal importance in the exam, I expect, but if I had to choose, I would say that they go in order of importance from left to right, but of course if any one of those categories is significantly weak, they will drag down the overall level. For example, if you are unintelligible in pronunciation, it sort of doesn’t matter how many words you know or if you don’t pause to think.
Grammatical accuracy is mainly significant if errors cause misunderstandings, but I guess errors can give the wrong impression.
Interestingly, I feel like pronunciation, grammar and lexis all help us to achieve fluency. Fluency is where those three systems combine. Without a wide range of words which we can recall and use instantly, we can’t express ideas quickly, specifically and coherently.
Without grammatical structures, we can’t link ideas together clearly and express complex things without our speech breaking down and falling apart.
Without pronunciation we can’t get our words out fluidly and clearly, with words linked, and yet stressed to give emphasis and impact.
Assessing Santi’s English (I hope you don’t mind Santi!)
I wonder what score Santi would get if he took an IELTS speaking test.
I shouldn’t really speculate about that, but I can say that his weak spot is probably pronunciation, (although this is still at a good level because I was able to understand him and after all he is Spanish and so it’s normal that he has a Spanish accent)
and then perhaps grammatical accuracy (he made a few grammar mistakes which probably stuck out because we were looking for them – I bet a lot of people listening were focusing intently on his English and judging him a lot – and he handled that very well),
but he really makes up for his weak spots by having:
Good grammatical range. He was able to employ a range of structures which allowed him to have control over what he was saying and to express some complex ideas.
Strong Lexical resource. He was able to find just the right words, he used words which were appropriate for the conversation (switching from bits of slang when it was appropriate, to more formal language to describe his work etc) and generally used some very nice, descriptive, idiomatic and frequently used expressions, phrases and words.
Excellent fluency and coherence. He organised his ideas with clarity, he didn’t seem to struggle any more than someone might in their first language, he didn’t pause excessively, he was able to keep going and going, linking one idea to the next.
So there you have it. Some things to think about.
Being good at English is not all about having “a British accent” or never making a grammar mistake. There are plenty of other things involved in being “good at English”.
Of course, it is up to you. If your goal is to have a British accent (which one?) then I’m not going to stop you, but I do want you to put that in perspective and to realise all the many other things which you can focus on.
And finally, at the end here, I just want to give you a message of encouragement, because one of the main lessons learned from my conversation with Santi was that perseverance, positivity and practice are 3 of the most important factors in this game that we call learning English.
So keep your chin up! Keep practising!
Don’t stop, even if it seems difficult!
Don’t let your weaknesses stop you! There are other areas where you can be strong.
Don’t worry about achieving perfection!
Just keep going and do your best and you might find that is enough or more than enough!
And enjoy it! You only get one life and it’s happening right now, so what are you waiting for – go ahead and use English and make some connections with people.
Be curious about others, be keen to connect with them and be kind. Be kind and generous with your time and your attention, to other people you meet and talk to, and be kind to yourself as well.
Don’t judge other people’s English too harshly. It’s not a competition.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode.
If you did, and you found it useful – give me a like or a comment or a review.
Have a nice morning, afternoon, evening or night and I will speak to you soon.
An episode all about studying at university in the UK, with loads of advice about student visas, funding your studies with scholarships, extra-curricular social activities and opportunities at the Students’ Union and more. Features a conversation with a German student currently studying a master’s in clinical neuropsychology at UCL in London. This bonus episode is published in paid partnership with Study UK and the British Council’s GREAT Britain campaign. For more information, follow the links below.
Hello listeners, here is an episode about English Tests like TOEFL and the Duolingo English Test which I hope will still be an interesting episode even for those who have no plans to take one of these tests. I’m joined by online English teacher Josh MacPherson. I guess you have heard of TOEFL, and the Duolingo English Test is a test made by Duolingo, that company which helps you learn languages on your phone, and which seems to be managed by a green cartoon owl, who is some kind of master of learning English. They make a test now, and it’s getting really big.
Some time is spent describing the tests but we don’t just spend an hour describing TOEFL. Most of the time we are doing samples from the test, commenting on my performance in a TOEFL speaking task, discussing testing methods in general and giving comments on ways to perform well, particularly in the speaking parts of a test like TOEFL and IELTS.
Also, tests should be reliable and having genuinely good English skills should (of course) cause you to get decent results, so a lot of the tips relating to getting a better score are also generally good tips for improving your level of English, so even if you’re not planning to take one of these tests, the tips and advice here should be applicable to your English anyway.
There is a video version of this episode on YouTube and you can see Josh’s screen and can observe our conversation as if you are taking part in a Zoom call with us. You can find the video on the page for this episode or on my YouTube channel.
Again, the audio is not tip top this time round and that was caused by things like microphone echo, which I have managed to fix, but in any case I think you can still hear everything clearly.
That’s it, I hope you enjoy it and you will find all the links you need on the page for this episode on my website.
Let’s get started
I am joined today by Josh MacPherson from TSTPrep.com and the TST Prep YouTube channel.
Josh is an English teacher who specialises in helping learners of English prepare for English tests, particularly TOEFL and also the fairly new DuoLingo English Test.
I thought I’d interview Josh to find out more about these tests and to get some tips from him about how to get the best result that you can.
Also, we’re going to do some test questions during this interview, so we can see how well I perform in these tests too.
How to think or reasons for your opinion document – https://drive.google.com/file/d/1NpEhd9BLNVKOuOO08LpJ6lA2NSLOZgJO/view?usp=sharing
Duolingo English practice test – https://englishtest.duolingo.com/home
Duolingo English test list of institutions – https://englishtest.duolingo.com/institutions
Duolingo Research articles – https://englishtest.duolingo.com/research
Thanks again to Josh for his contribution to this episode.
Don’t forget, links are available on the page for this episode for all the things Josh mentioned there including test practice, sample answers, tips and videos.
Thank you as ever for listening all the way up to this point.
There’s not much more for me to add here. I haven’t played the guitar on the podcast lately, but I will be coming back to that soon, but for now I will just wish you a fond farewell and until next time, good bye bye bye bye bye
Walaa Mouma from Syria has an amazing and inspiring story for all learners of English around the world, and some specific tips on how to improve your English long-term. Listen to this episode to hear all about it. Transcript and text video available.
English with Walaa on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/englishwithwalaa
The LEP Listeners’ Page (with Audio/Video from other LEPsters including My Fluent Podcast by Daniel Goodson, The Ricky Sendy Show and Zdenek’s English Podcast) https://teacherluke.co.uk/archive-of-episodes-1-149/listenerspage/
Guest host Oli Thompson interviews Luke using a classic format from BBC Radio. Luke is going to be marooned on a desert island but he is allowed to bring 8 pieces of music, one book and a luxury item. For episode 700 this is a chance to get to know Luke and his musical choices a little better. (Transcript and text video versions available)
This episode of Luke’s English Podcast is sponsored by Luke’s English Podcast Premium. Premium LEPlanders, did you know that in the LEP App, as well as the category for premium audio episodes, there’s a category called Pronunciation Videos? Did you know that? There are currently 13 pronunciation videos in there with drills for you to repeat after me with annotations on the screen, plus a new video which I created and uploaded just the other day – a set of pronunciation drills for present perfect simple and continuous. I just thought I would let you know. I’m also working on a new premium audio series which is coming soon, so keep checking the premium category in your LEP App and also on my website. If you’d like to become a premium listener, then go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
Hello listeners, how are you today? I hope you’re basically doing alright.
Sometimes I get messages from people who say things like this:
“Luke, when you talk on the podcast, are you talking at your normal speed, because I can understand everything you say” and “Can you speak at your normal speaking speed on the podcast please? Because we want to hear natural, fast speech – like the way native speakers usually speak.”
OK then. Actually, I think I do speak at my normal speed on this podcast more or less, most of the time, but as I’ve said before it’s probably easier for you to understand me when I’m talking on my own than when I’m talking to a guest. My conversations with guests tend to speed up. As you may have noticed.
But if you are one of those listeners who is looking for English listening at a fast, natural speed, then this kind of episode (that’s this one, that you’re listening to right now) is for you, because the conversation I’m presenting this time goes at a really rapid pace.
My guest and I got quite carried away during this conversation, which does happen when I speak to guests. We didn’t see the time passing and we covered a lot of different little topics with some bits of humour thrown in and we weren’t simplifying our English throughout. It’s just like when you’re talking to your friends in your native language I expect.
Basically, listeners – are you up for another English listening challenge? If the answer is “yes” then, great. Here you are. Here is this episode.
But it might be difficult, so brace yourself. It depends on your level of English of course. Maybe you’ll have no problem understanding this at all. But I think for some people, it might be a challenge.
Nevertheless, I’m not going to explain all the main points you are going to hear in advance, like I do sometimes at the start of episodes – that kind of explaining can be very helpful, but I’m not doing it this time, mainly because I want to keep the episode length under control – I don’t want it to end up being tooooo long. In fact, I’m going to stop this introduction in a moment and just let you listen to the conversation in full without loads of support from me. You’ll be alright. You’ll be fine.
My guest this time is Kate Billington, who you haven’t heard on this podcast before – so another new voice for you to get to know.
Kate does a lot of different things – she speaks multiple languages. British English is her mother tongue but she also speaks Chinese, French, Spanish too I believe. She is an English teacher like me. She makes cakes at a professional level (unlike me – I’m not great at making cakes but I’m very good at eating them) But Kate is a pro. I mean she is a professionally-qualified cake maker. She has a particular set of skills as you will hear – and watch out for some descriptions of some classic British cake recipes. Kate is a stand-up comedian (yes, another one), and she is interested in lots of other things too, as you will hear.
Kate and I really enjoyed this conversation. I hope you do too and that you just get really involved in listening to us and that you don’t see the time passing. If you do lose track of what we’re talking about at any point, which is quite possible, maybe use your podcasting app to skip back a bit and listen again.
If it is difficult, all I can do now is just encourage you to complete the episode from start to finish, even if you don’t get 100% of what we’re saying. It’s important when learning a language to persevere. It’s worth it. Anyway, if you simply enjoy the atmosphere and the things we say, hopefully that will make things much more pleasant for you.
Remember you don’t have to listen to the whole thing in one go. If you need to stop at any point, your podcast app will remember where you were and you can just carry on again later, which is one of the great things about podcasts.
The icing on the cake
Juuuust before we start, I feel I should explain one idiom in English which comes up near the beginning. “The icing on the cake”
I was thinking of calling this episode “The Icing on the Cake with Kate Billingon” but then I thought “no, people don’t know what that means”. But I want to explain it anyway because it does come up and you’re here to learn English, right?
If you say that something is “the icing on the cake” it means that it is something extra that is added to an already good situation, which makes it even better.
You have a situation which is already good, and then you add a little extra something to make that situation even better.
“The episode was good – but that joke that Kate told at the end was the icing on the cake”.
This is an idiom in English of course. It’s not only used to refer to cakes.
Icing is a sugary frosting which is added as a thin layer on top of a cake. So, the icing on top of a cake is an extra little layer of yummy sweet stuff which is added, making it even better. A cake is already amazing, right? Well, adding icing on top makes it even more amazing.
For exmaple: “It was incredible seeing Neil Young doing a concert in Hyde Park but Paul McCartney arriving on stage at the end of the show was the icing on the cake.”
This idiom comes up at the start. Watch out for it.
OK, I’m going to stop this introduction now. So let’s meet Kate Billington for the first time on Luke’s English Podcast, and here we go…
So, that was Kate Billington in an epically long conversation. Thanks again to Kate.
Hello you! You made it until the end. Nice one. How was that for you? I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
If this episode was a cake, what kind of cake would it be?
Maybe a long fruit cake – rich, quite heavy, fruity, made in the run up to Christmas, very British and best enjoyed with copious amounts of brandy.
Or maybe you found it more like a Victoria sponge cake – light, fluffy, sweet and moreish.
Or perhaps a battenburg cake – it looks like one solid whole, but when you get into it you realise that it’s made up of different sections.
Anyway, thank you for listening all the way up to this point.
Let us know any thoughts or reactions you have by writing something in the comment section on the website.
How was this episode for you?
Did you learn anything from it?
Do you have any specific questions about vocab that came up?
Do you have any thoughts that you’d like to share?
Do you have any thoughts in your head, generally? (I hope so)
Check out the page for this episode on my website where you will see things like transcriptions for my introduction and this ending bit, plus pictures of most of the cake types and pastry types that we talked about → Victoria sponge, fruit cake, Battenberg cake (aka window cake) plus some lovely French things like croissants, pain au chocolate and more.
Kate Billington on Instagram
Check out Kate’s Instagram to see lots of lovely pictures of lovely delicious cakes that she has made – yum yum yum and indeed, yum.
Also you can check out Comedy Croissant on Instagram & Facebook, especially if you are in the Paris area and you’d like to come to one of the shows when they eventually come back. And as I record this ending bit France is again under strict lockdown measures, which means the comedy shows are not happening for the foreseeable future, but when they’re back, which they will be one day, you’ll know about it if you follow Comedy Croissant on Facebook.
LEP App users – There is a little outtake in the app (extra audio – just in case you didn’t get enough from this episode) – tap the gift icon while listening to the episode and you’ll hear a couple of bonus minutes of Kate and me talking about some blue bookends that I have in my pod-room. Bookends are things you put on the end of shelves to stop the books falling off. Usually they are rectangular in shape, but also L shaped – because part of the bookend has to go under the books. My blue bookends, which you might have seen in my videos, look like the Tardis from the TV show Doctor Who. The Tardis looks like a blue telephone box. Doctor Who fans will know. If you’d like to hear us talking about my Tardis-shaped bookends and whether I am a proper Whovian (Doctor Who fan) or not, then find the gift icon for this episode in the LEP app and tap it!
Posh, or not posh? Gap yah, etc…
Another thing is, if you are wondering about posh people – how to know if someone is posh, what a posh accent sounds like, and that whole “Gap Yah” thing, then go to the episode archive and find the “Posh or not posh” episodes – 581, 582 and 584. They should explain everything relating to poshness and how posh people speak.
Thank you again to Kate for this episode. Thanks Kate.
Dear listener, I will speak to you again soon on the podcast in either a free episode or a premium one (I’m working on more content for you), and yes the next part of the WISBOLEP competition is on it’s way. I am working on that too.
Thank you for choosing to listen to my podcast.
If you are feeling up for it you could leave a nice review for LEP on iTunes – it helps the podcast appear in those recommended lists and things. Like and subscribe and leave a comment if you’re listening on YouTube. Consider donating to support the podcast by clicking a donate button on my website. Download the Luke’s English Podcast app from the app store and consider becoming a premium lepster by going to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
And finally, please remember to be excellent to each other, stay safe, stay healthy, stay positive.
Hello and welcome to Luke’s English Podcast. This episode is number 669 and it’s called How To Learn English.
That’s quite a bold title but this really is a lot of what I have to say about learning English. If you really want to learn this language, this is my advice.
I’ve been teaching for about 20 years, podcasting for over 11 years now and I keep finding out more about learning a language through teaching it, getting feedback from listeners and also through my experiences of trying to learn French.
This episode is a distillation of many of my thoughts and advice on how to learn English. It’s not going to cover absolutely every aspect of it, because language learning is a huge subject that encompasses so many different things and you could talk about it all day, but I have decided to talk about learning English, breaking it down into the 4 skills, and giving you as much advice as I can in this single podcast episode. I hope you enjoy it and find it useful.
For those of you who are not so familiar with me and my work. My name is Luke Thompson, I think I am the 4th most famous Luke Thompson in the world. I’m an English teacher, a podcaster, a comedian, a husband and a dad. I am from England but these days I live in France. My podcast is free and is downloaded all over the world. I also have a premium subscription in which I focus specifically on improving your vocab, grammar and pronunciation. To find out more about that go to teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
I expect you want to learn English, right? That’s the main reason you’re listening to this I expect. You want to learn English.
Well, good news! It’s definitely possible. You can learn English and you will if you put in the time and the effort. It’s important to remember that.
What do I mean by “learn English”, though? I mean that you can learn to speak English fluently, clearly and with confidence, expressing yourself with shades of meaning, adapting your English for the situation both in speaking and in writing, knowing and being able to use a wide variety of vocabulary and accurate grammar and ultimately being yourself in the language and developing beneficial relationships with others based on effective communication. Yes, you can. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
That’s it, just a positive and encouraging message at the start. It’s important to always remember that making progress in your learning is a realistic prospect and will happen when you put in the time and effort, and more good news: the more you enjoy it, the easier it is.
I hope this podcast helps you to enjoy getting English into your life on a regular basis, which is a key part of learning the language effectively.
But what else should you be doing in order to improve your English overall?
In this episode I’d like to talk in some detail about learning English and how you can do it.
This episode is a sort of “come to Jesus moment”, which I feel I should do regularly, just to remind everyone listening that there is a method or approach at work here and that it’s not just you listening to people talking.
A “come to Jesus moment” in the world of business is when someone does a passionate speech or event in which fundamental priorities and/or beliefs are reassessed, or reaffirmed. It’s like when Jesus gathers his disciples around him in order to reaffirm their belief in what he’s preaching or to say some deep stuff which strengthens their faith.
This is a come to Jesus moment for me.
Not that I’m comparing myself to Jesus. No, not at all. Not even a little bit, and anyway that’s not for me to say, that’s for other people to point out isn’t it, not me. Anyway…
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is a method to the madness.
In my podcast episodes, I’m always teaching you, using my particular set of professional skills, but rather than presenting it all as a lesson I usually try to present it more like a radio show or a comedy show even.
So, amidst the episodes about music, comedy, interviews and so on, I thought it would be worth restating the core values of LEP, which I seem to do about once every 6 months or so.
I’m going to give loads of advice here, and this is all based on what I’ve learned from:
Teaching for about 20 years
Meeting thousands of learners of English, some of them successful, some of them not, working directly with them as their teacher and listening to them talk about their studying habits and experiences
The academic studies I’ve done, especially the DELTA which involved extensive reading and writing on various aspects of how people learn and teach English
Doing my podcast and getting testimonies over the years from many listeners who told me about how they’ve used it to improve their English
There’s also my own personal experience of working on my French
Anyway, the plan is to talk about learning English with a focus on the 4 skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing.
I have talked about these points quite a few times before on this podcast, and have given tons of specific advice about working on your English, including in episodes like 174 (and others)
So I will probably repeat myself a bit. But I still get asked to talk about “how to learn English” very regularly and I think it’s important for me to talk about learning English on this podcast on a regular basis. Obviously, that is what this podcast is about, first and foremost, even though a lot of the time in my episodes you’ll hear me and my guests talking about all sorts of other things.
Learning English is the main aim of this podcast
Essentially the thinking is that you should listen to natural conversation on a variety of topics and it’s simply listening to things in English (not just listening to things about English) that’s going to help you learn this language, especially if you enjoy the content.
I’ll probably talk about this again in a bit, but let’s say that ultimately the plan with the free episodes is to help you listen to English regularly, for longer periods of time, long term. The more, the better. If the content is enjoyable, that should just make it easier for you to achieve that. In fact, if you’re really into what you’re listening to, you don’t really even notice the time passing.
Then there’s the premium content, which is an effort to push your learning beyond the gains you get from all the exposure and input you get from just listening. The premium content is designed to let you get the benefit of my experience and teaching skills in order to cut out a lot of work that you would otherwise have to do yourself, so I can essentially take you by the hand and lead you through some intensive practice to work on your English more directly.
So that’s my content, but let’s talk now about learning English as a whole then.
Learning English is a holistic thing. It encompasses many aspects and skills that are connected as a whole.
There are receptive skills like listening and reading, productive skills like speaking and writing, language systems like grammar, spelling, vocabulary and phonology, social and psychological factors that come into play when we use language when interacting with others, then there are other factors that come into play like identity issues, body language, culture, literature, pragmatics and all sorts of other things. It’s hard to know where to start when talking about it.
You need to learn it to the point where you don’t even think about it any more.
The more you talk and think about it, the more it starts to sound like the force from Star Wars.
Stretch out with your feelings.
Do or do not, there is no try.
Do not think, feel.
Let go, let the English flow through you.
I am your father (oh wait)
It’s about learning how to do something which goes right to the core of who you are in fact.
It’s a holistic thing. It incorporates many aspects as part of a whole process and so it’s quite tricky to know where to start.
Let’s put it like this. Language goes in, and language comes out. (I told you it sounds like The Force)
Language is within you and language is without you. It flows through you. It binds the galaxy together.
There are receptive skills (this is how language goes in)
And there are productive skills (this is how language goes out)
There’s the written language
And there’s the spoken language
This is our system.
Think of it like a table with two categories on the horizontal axis and two on the vertical axis, so it’s like a grid with 4 squares in it.
On the horizontal access we have receptive and productive skills.
On the vertical we have written and spoken English.
Within the table we have 4 skills – the 4 squares.
So in the box marked “written” and “receptive” we have reading.
Below that in the “spoken” and “receptive” categoriy we have listening.
On the right in the “written” and “productive” side we have writing.
And then in the “spoken” and “productive” side we have speaking.
Those are your four skills. Reading, writing, listening and speaking.
The 4 skills are connected in various ways.
Reading and writing deal with the written word of course.
Reading helps you to write. It helps you to see how the language is built, how words are spelled and how sentences, paragraphs and texts are put together with grammar and textual conventions.
Listening and speaking deal with the spoken word.
Listening helps you to learn how English actually sounds, how words join together in sentences or longer utterances, it helps you get familiar with the speed, rhythm, flow and intonation of the language. It helps you get used to natural pronunciation which in turn helps you produce English in the same way.
Words exist in visual form, and in spoken form.
But reading and listening are connected too because they’re both receptive skills. They provide us with input which is the essential foundation of language learning.
And speaking and writing are connected because they’re productive skills.
These are the skills you need to use when using language for various purposes. This is where you are more active in the sense that you are constructing language and putting it down visually in the form of writing, or using your body to produce it orally.
Let’s talk about those receptive skills and input.
The reading thing there is something we’ll come back to in the section about reading.
This is the academic who is always mentioned in this context, when talking about how to learn English these days. Krashen was one in a long line of linguists who came up with theories about how language is learned and should be taught.
Arguably, we still don’t really know how people learn languages, but various academics over the years have put forward different hypotheses to explain it and these have been the backbone of our understanding of language learning that has informed the way we all learn and teach languages over the years.
Krashen though is the one that people often talk about today, including all the many YouTubers who regularly post videos about the best ways to learn, the only ways to learn, the secrets of learning and all that sort of thing. Krashen is usually brought up because his ideas fit in quite nicely to a model of language learning for today. I mean, it involves a lot of consumption of content in English – plenty of listening and reading and that sort of content is in plentiful supply online, like for example episodes of Luke’s English Podcast.
In his input hypothesis in which he makes the case for the importance of comprehensible input for language learning, he states that in fact the only way we can successfully increase our underlying linguistic competence. This is our system of linguistic knowledge or let’s say that “language instinct” that you have, which even subconsciously gives us a sense of when language is right or wrong. I suppose it could be active in that you know a certain grammar rule and can see when it’s been broken, or passive in that you just feel that something is right or wrong but can’t necessarily explain it.
I would say the passive knowledge is the vital one because ultimately you just want to be able to feel that language is right or wrong without thinking about it.
But that being said, your active knowledge can be really useful when doing things like avoiding common errors as a result of your first language, or consciously pushing yourself to create language which is normal.
Anyway, Krashen says the only way to increase your linguistic competence is through comprehensible input, meaning reading and listening to things that we mostly understand and that with the context of what you do understand, you are able to work out the bits that you don’t know. This is how we acquire new languages.
So basically, we learn a language when we understand it. So, naturally, according to Krashen, the receptive skills come first.
I think this makes a lot of sense to me. I think it’s bound to be true that we learn language by listening to it and reading it. But what about those moments when you have to speak or write, what about learning the grammar and all the rest of it?
Krashen would say that we learn the grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation of a language by listening to it or reading it, and that it’s a natural process and part of how we decode language through comprehensible input.
So, don’t worry about grammar rules and all the rest of it, just listen and do your best to keep up and work out what’s going on, and do it regularly.
Again, I am sure this is true but I also think it’s worth studying the language a bit too, breaking it down a bit, seeing how it works, actively trying to learn more vocabulary, checking up on the rules of grammar and doing some controlled practice. Working on your pronunciation by copying and training your mouth and brain to cooperate with each other, like the way we practise certain movements in sport or musical parts on an instrument.
I do believe that controlled practice and conscious learning like that must also be beneficial because I’ve seen it happen. Doing some active studying can be like a fast track of English learning. It can cut out a lot of time by helping you realise certain things about the language quickly, and I think if you then notice it again while listening and reading that only reinforces what you’ve learned.
Of course, you shouldn’t get blinded by grammar or pronunciation rules and so on, to the point that you can’t see the wood for the trees.
Try not to get hung up on grammar, because it can make you process language in an unnatural and contrived way. It can get stuck in your head and block you a bit. Instead, try to notice patterns and incorporate them into your use of English. Try to see grammar study as a way of confirming things you’ve already noticed, or a way of consulting with a reference book as you also just absorb English more naturally. If you only study English with the grammar, it’s going to be a weird abstract process for learning the language. It’s better to focus on consuming English in the form of messages which you are trying to understand, and then perhaps check your grammar later to straighten things out.
The premium subscription is where I help you with that sort of thing, hopefully combining with the free content to give you all the stuff you need to attack English from several angles.
How can you learn this language if you haven’t heard it and read it a lot?
Read and listen to things that are slightly above your level, so you can understand 60-80%. You need to be able to understand that much for your brain to work out the remaining 20-40% that you don’t know. Meaningful context is vital.
Basically, listen x5 and read x5.
It’s largely a question of finding the right stuff to listen to.
There’s this podcast of course. Others are available.
Watch TV and films with and without subtitles.
Hopefully you’ll find content that you actually want to listen to, not just for studying English. So if you do get addicted to a Netflix series and you can’t wait to find out what happens next, that’s good! That means you will get more comprehensible input and you will be much more focused and involved in it, which is great for your English. Or maybe you want to hear another stupid and funny conversation with my friends just because it makes you laugh and you feel some sort of connection to it. All of that is great because it will help you listen more, listen longer and listen long term.
This one is also a pleasure to talk about because it’s a pleasure to do and there are lots of great things to read.
Let’s hear from Krashen again as he is the master of the whole input model.
This is again from Wikipedia, which I think is fine usually for the basics like this.
Extensive reading, free reading, book flood, or reading for pleasure is a way of language learning, including foreign language learning, through large amounts of reading. As well as facilitating acquisition of vocabulary, it is believed to increase motivation through positive affective benefits. It is believed that extensive reading is an important factor in education. Proponents such as Stephen Krashen (1989) claim that reading alone will increase encounters with unknown words, bringing learning opportunities by inferencing. The learner’s encounters with unknown words in specific contexts will allow the learner to infer and thus learn those words’ meanings.
Of course that system is disputed because this is the academic arena we’re dealing with and people are always putting forward ideas, defending them, disputing them and so on. It’s how we move forwards and learn about this stuff.
So this is extensive reading which is different to the sort of intensive reading you do in English lessons, where you spend ages on just one page of text, break it down into tiny chunks, understanding every single morsel. With extensive reading it’s all about just getting as much English into your head as you can by reading as much as you can, and you focus on reading enjoyable things, especially stories and you don’t stop too much to analyse the language or even check words, you just keep trying to follow what you’re reading. The more involved in it you are, the better.
Again, this point about input is that it feeds your instinct for the language. You get a subconscious sense of what is right or wrong, which comes in very handy for when you’re doing those nasty sentence transformations and use of English tasks in a Cambridge exam like CAE. What you really want in those situations is to know exactly which preposition or auxiliary verb is missing, or to be able to manipulate sentences in a variety of forms. I reckon it helps to do a bit of language practice as well, with a few controlled exercises but the idea is that it should all go in naturally giving you this sense of language competence.
It’s important though to choose texts which are not too difficult for you. You need to be able to understand enough to be able to get a grip on the rest of the language.
So which books do you choose?
We’ve talked about the importance of choosing stuff that’s interesting to you, that reflects the type of English you might need.
Genre isn’t an issue. People assume you need to read or listen to the news but as we’ve already established they don’t really talk like normal people on the news, and they also write in a certain “newsy” style. Funnily enough it might be more useful to read the tabloid papers as they write in a more conversational style, but I think it’s worthwhile looking beyond the news.
Basically, read whatever you want.
Even comic books or graphic novels as they’re known for adults.
Graphic novels can be brilliant because they support your understanding with the images and often the English is in the form of speech so you learn really directly how to apply that stuff to real life. I love graphic novels in French. It’s my favourite way to work on the language.
You could consider the current bestsellers. If other people like the books then why shouldn’t you? Look in the fiction and non-fiction categories.
Or try graded readers, which are an excellent and underused resource. I really recommend them if you’re not a strong reader. They’re previously published books, and often some of the great classics and modern classics in English, but they’re republished with English that is graded for certain levels. The number of words is reduced, it’s truncated and essentially it’s a way to increase the percentage you do understand, and decrease the amount you don’t understand, getting to that 80/20 spot where you can maximise your language learning.
There are lots of titles to choose from and various publishers. Check these ones out
But your English may well be good enough now to have a go at a book for native speakers. So go for it. You have loads of options. Just make sure you enjoy reading on a regular basis.
I would also add that it’s important to choose texts which are written in modern style and perhaps about an area that you are particularly interested in. Perhaps think of it like this – what is the kind of English you want printed on the back of your head (on the inside)? Odd question, but I mean, what is your target English. Perhaps it’s the involving and descriptive storytelling of fiction, or it’s the matter-of-fact world of non-fiction. I reckon non-fiction is probably better because it reflects the kind of English you are more likely to be writing, especially if it’s things like academic work or reports at work, because they’re all about presenting you with information, data, commenting on what’s going on, describing how to do things and that’s probably the sort of thing you’ll need to use English for, especially in writing.
This might be a bit dry but it will really show you loads of examples of emails with full explanations, so you can read and learn.
The Story of English in 100 Words
Anything by David Crystal is fantastic, but this non-fiction book will teach you the entire story of the English language through 100 words and there are some great words in there like
Loaf, Street, Riddle, Arse, Jail, Wicked, Matrix and Skunk, to name but a few.
So you’re bound to learn tons from that.
Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny By Nile Rodgers
The War of the Worlds by HG Wells
The writing is a bit old fashioned. I have to be honest, but it’s mostly modern in style and I think it’s worth it because the story is amazing and it’s not too long. It’s wonderfully descriptive and much better than any movie version could be. Definitely one of my favourite books of all time.
Productive skills / output
This is where we get to the more nebulous world of productive skills. It’s like an alien land where monsters roam, a bit like war of the worlds maybe.
OK I’m exaggerating here but I mean that productive skills are a bit harder to pin down because even more psychological and social factors come into play. You have the public aspect of it, the fact that you’re trying to manipulate the language and get your ideas across in the right way, being coherent and cohesive and in the right style with the right level of politeness with the correct conventional replies and requests and on and on it goes!
Again, I’m making it sound tricky, but I mean that you are involved so much more because you’re making the language and actually using it. This is exciting because you get to express yourself which is the most wonderful and gratifying thing you can do in another language, and when it slides out quite fluidly and you’re not too blocked by who knows what, then it’s all gravy. But sometimes it just doesn’t seem to work out that way and you get mixed up and it doesn’t come out right at all. There’s a sense of performance in productive skills, and a sense that you have to be aware of the right way to conduct yourself, and to be able to utter things in English instantly, following what the other person is saying, it’s all done in a sort of unconscious blur and thinking about grammar in that situation is a killer.
So it’s about getting a level of ease, a level of comfort, a platform from which you can bob and weave your way through the conversation, finding other ways to say things and switching correctly between tenses and situations. I think you get what I mean.
So how do you work on these things?
Ease – a voice, fluency
Control – grammar, vocab, pronunciation
Range – a wide range of language for a wide range of things
Coherence – does it all make sense? Can people follow you easily?
Cohesion – particularly in writing, how does the whole text make sense as a whole?
Social factors – knowing how to put things and how to manage relationships through language
Again, the idea is that this language is just built into you from all that exposure and input.
I would say that there’s a great deal of other stuff you can do to improve your productive skills beyond reading and listening a lot, of course.
In both writing and speaking the first thing to remember is you need to engage in it as much as possible. Real writing and real speaking.
Ultimately this means trying to use language to communicate a message in some way and that’s what you should be focusing on. Meaningful interactions, especially ones in which you have something to offer or something to gain, such as negotiations or even information gap situations in which you’re telling someone something they don’t know. Also social interactions involving being polite or building relations with people. Ultimately, doing it for real is the best workshop in which you can work, rolling with the punches and trying to keep track of what you’re learning.
This is why people learn English best when they’re forced to do it because of their surroundings. They learn by being a waiter in London for a year or working in an office with native speakers, or being plunged into a foreign university for a year, or moving to a new country and having to cope with all the challenges that brings and in a second language. I suppose this is immersion, but it;s more than that. I recommend actually conversing with people to just practise. It’s the 5 Ps.
It’s like going to the gym. Fluency is like physical fitness in your mind and also in your body because you’re using your mouth, your breathing and your head and hands to communicate too.
It applies to writing too. You can observe the way other people write their emails and kind of copy their style, you have to really think about what you’re saying and doubtless you will end up writing emails with requests, with information, with questions and with complaints and so on, so you will have to learn on the job. Being thrown in at the deep end, or if you just have to use English at work it could either be a big stress for you or a huge opportunity to just go for it.
Anyway, let’s talk about specific productive skills – writing and reading, and how to work on them.
Let’s say you’re not actually in a situation where you can talk to people or have correspondence with people, or have to write things which other people will ultimately have to read. Unless you find a tutor on italki for example then that person could be your practice point for speaking and writing, giving you feedback as you go. But let’s say for the purposes of this episode, it’s just you and the English language, facing each other off in a kind of wild west fashion.
How can you practise on your own?
Obviously you need to write. But what are you going to write and who is going to read it?
Firstly – just write, write regularly, write meaningfully and write with a reader in mind, even if nobody reads it. This is important because it will help you get used to simply putting your ideas into words. It’s a creative process and also a mechanical process to an extent. Building sentences is a sort of art or a craft. You have to practise it in order to get some level of comfort with it. Let’s imagine there’s a muscle in your head (this is not scientific at all) which, if you never exercise it, will be quite weak and underdeveloped. But if you exercise that muscle regularly it will be strong, reactive and quick. I expect there is a part of the brain responsible for creating written language, and a sub-section for creating written English. Keep that part of your brain fresh by writing English as much as you can. That’s as scientific as I can get here.
So, here are some things you could write
What to write
Email an imaginary person (spooky?) or yourself (think outside the box here ok?)
Academic writing – text types
Emails – email types and conventions
Reports – same!
Formal and informal letters – same!
Applications – same same!
Basically – Whatever you have to write, you should try to find some samples of these texts and aim to copy them. Copy the style, the arrangement, the language they use and reproduce it yourself. Texts that you write will invariably be very practical so it’s about reporting information and asking questions. Look at the sample texts and copy them.
It helps if you have a specific workbook. I recommend Email English by Paul Emmerson. It’s a simple workbook that helps you work on almost all those things and I’m not even sponsored by Macmillan or anything, it’s genuinely a great book.
They also have downloadable email writing tasks on the Macmillan website or here
Ideally you’ll have a teacher to proofread your work, correct you and give you feedback.
If this isn’t possible, it’s still a good idea to write.
A diary (just describe things that happened, or make it more personal and really explore your thoughts and feelings. If the words don’t come, just use basic words. If you feel unable to express yourself perfectly, express yourself imperfectly but try to express yourself.
Writing is not just sentences, it’s paragraphs and pages. The thing you are writing will define how you write it. This means – conventions of certain texts, formality level of the language.
Specific exam tasks → IELTS, FCE, CAE, CPE, BEC higher and vantage
These will often push you to learn the conventions of different types of text, so it could be a good idea to take a Cambridge exam if you want to work on your writing.
You might write some notes on vocab and I would recommend here that you take a more extensive approach to doing this. Don’t just have one word per line. I want to see one word or phrase at the top of the page, and then loads of text underneath full of examples and your own examples with the language. You can then come back and cover up some of the words and try to remember. Alternatively you can use my PDFs with the notes and memory tests if you’re a premium subscriber. Little plug there for my other podcast.
But making more extensive vocabulary notes with plenty of examples means that not only are you recording vocabulary, you’re practising using it in writing too.
I mentioned italki before and you can find tutors, teachers and conversation partners there for regular practice and I do recommend doing that.
Otherwise, let’s look at some ways you can work on your speaking other than in actual spoken practice with others. Developing your speaking on your own.
This is quite a tricky thing to do because normally speaking is an instantly interactive form of communication. It also involves a lot of listening and then being able to produce English instantly and without hesitating too much.
It’s also quite physical as it involves using your mouth to produce words and sentences in the right way.
And of course there are all those cultural things to think about too.
But really speaking should just be your attempt to find your own voice in English, with fluency and with a specific tone. Of course it comes through a lot of practice, of having conversations in which you’re not really thinking about what you’re saying on a grammatical level but it’s pouring out of you due to necessity and not being able to really think a lot. Doing that regularly helps your brain map out the extent of the English you have and increase it, keeping it sort of fresh. That’s not scientific but more a metaphor of what I think speaking can do. It activates something in you that you have to maintain and keep active or those parts of the brain go dull.
So practice x5
But with who?
The fact is, it just helps to talk to other people and that’s the best and most basic advice I can give. Outside of that, you have to manipulate your surroundings and use your imagination to practise speaking on your own.
Talking on your own (and even in your head)
This might sound a bit odd, but it’s a surprisingly effective way to activate English that is in your head. You essentially talk to yourself, out loud, in English, describing what’s going on, what you’re doing, what you’re thinking about, say it all in English. Alternatively you can just do it in your own head and just think the sentences. This also keeps that system of language production in your head fresh.
Listen and repeat
You can use certain audio and play a bit, pause, repeat what you heard, rewind, repeat again and keep going until you’ve got it, and then check the transcript or subtitles to see if you’re correct, check any new words and carry on. Always find ways to vocalise the things you are learning and that means saying them out loud even to yourself.
You can also practise different speaking scenarios.
Preparing for a Cambridge exam you can find past papers with speaking part preparation and practise. Find out what’s required in the different parts, watch videos of people taking the speaking part on YouTube, practise answering common questions about yourself, practise speaking on a topic for a minute or two, practise discussing your opinion on the issues of the day. Those are all specific speaking skills that you can practise on your own. I particularly recommend listen and repeat, especially when you have to take quite a long utterance in English, hold it in your head and repeat it like it’s one word? It’s like going to the gym in English. It involves a lot of things: Understanding the clip, identifying the words and grammar, being able to remember it all, being able to produce it in a similar way. That’s a whole punch of different kinds of practice. And if you repeat the sentence straight away, and again, you might notice certain little errors you’re making and correct them. So repeat over and over again, a bit like practising boxing combinations in the ring before the big fight.
In reality, the 4 skills are often mashed up together and you find you are doing things like listening and speaking at the same time, while also taking notes, looking at visuals and so on. It all gets very messy when language is actually applied to real communication in the real world.
A little note about pronunciation and a sort of disclaimer.
I think there are probably plenty of other things I have not mentioned in this episode, such as not talking about specific memory techniques (done that) or specific features of pronunciation (done that) or exactly how to read a book to learn English (done) or plenty of other things probably. To be honest this is just a podcast episode that I wanted to make about the 4 skills and it expanded into an episode all about learning English as a holistic process.
Anyway, the note about pronunciation
It is worth learning the phonemic script
It is worth getting the sounds app on your phone
It is worth doing drills and practising different features
It’s worth getting a book called Ship or Sheep or other books of that nature.
It’s worth remembering that if you have an accent when you speak that is fine and it’s part of who you are, the main thing is that you speak clearly, not which regional accent you have. Clarity is the thing to achieve. Also, it’s extremely difficult to “lose” your accent in English. Hardly anyone does it. But you can still be fine with your accent. English is quite open like that. Everyone’s welcome.
But there you have it. That was quite a comprehensive look at how I think learning English is best when you combine two things: comprehensible input, and a clever studying routine.
I think it can work wonders for your English.
And that’s what I try to do with this podcast. Give you all the input in the free episodes and then do some more focused studying in the premium content. Hopefully, together those two channels can boost your English to the max.
Thanks for listening.
To sign up to lep premium go to https://www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo for all the details.
A chat with Jessica Beck from the IELTS Energy Podcast about the new computer-based IELTS test, plus some funny stories about doing things for the first time, motivation in language learning, dealing with the stress of public speaking and seeing “The Fonz” on a ski slope. Get a $50 discount on Jessica’s new IELTS online course by going to www.teacherluke.co.uk/3keys
Hello listeners, how are you? I hope you’re alright. How are you all coping? I hope you’re all doing ok out there in podcastland.
Here is a new podcast episode to listen to and this time I am joined by IELTS teacher Jessica Beck who you might know from the IELTS Energy Podcast and All Ears English.
Jessica has been on LEP a couple of times before as you may remember. She is a specialist in IELTS preparation, having taught IELTS courses for many years now both in classrooms and online.
Just in case you don’t know, IELTS stands for the International English Language Testing System. It’s a proficiency test which reveals a person’s English level, and it’s fiendishly difficult, requiring a lot of preparation in order to make sure that you get a result that reflects your English at its best. I recently talked about the speaking part of the test with Keith O’Hare in episode 640.
Jessica recently invited me onto an episode of her podcast – the IELTS Energy Podcast, and we talked about differences between American and British English (because the IELTS test features both versions so it’s interesting to compare them and look at some common vocabulary differences).
That is #850 of The IELTS Energy Podcast, called “What’s a Zebra Crossing? Luke Will Tell You!” There’s a link on the page for this episode if you’d like to hear it.
And now Jessica Beck is back on my podcast again in this episode.
Here’s a little overview of what’s coming up, in order to help you follow the whole thing.
First you will hear some chat about the weather where we live. I’m in Paris and she’s in Portland up in the North West of the USA near Seattle. This smalltalk should give you a chance to get used to the speed of the conversation, before we move on to talk about the computer-based IELTS test.
Planning to take IELTS? You’ll need to prepare properly.
Some of you will be planning to take the IELTS test in the future and you might be wondering about the best way to prepare, especially if you’re studying at home. If that is you, then you could check out the 3 Keys IELTS course which Jessica and the other girls at All Ears English have created. It’s a really solid and complete package which includes pretty much everything you need to get success in this course, including video lessons, test practice and 90 minutes of one-to-one counselling with one of the girls over skype.
I suggest you check out the Personal Coach course for the computer based test. And listeners to my podcast can get a 50$ discount on that, which is nice.
So there’s some chat about the weather and then some chat about taking the computer based version of the test, but it’s not all about IELTS. I think we just talk about IELTS for the first 10 minutes in fact and then you will hear us sharing a couple of personal stories about doing things for the first time, one involving the importance of not giving up even when it hurts, and the other story is about how to deal with the stress of public speaking. We reflect on the lessons learned from those experiences and their relevance to the challenge of learning a language.
Also, listening to this you will be able to notice differences between Jessica’s American English and my British English, not necessarily in terms of vocabulary used but more just in terms of our intonation patterns or the tone of our speaking in general. It will probably seem really obvious at the beginning, especially if you are very used to hearing me speak.
Listening back to this conversation myself and during I somehow felt extra British (a bit awkward, perhaps a bit posh and quite wordy) and that Jessica was being extra American (super enthusiastic, energetic, positive). Actually, we end up making fun of each other’s speaking style at one point as we do impressions of each other presenting our podcasts. It’s a bit of a laugh and you should enjoy it.
Anyway, I will now stop rambling now so you can listen to this conversation with Jessica about IELTS and about what we learned from the challenge of doing some things for the first time and I’ll talk to you again briefly at the end of the episode.
Not sure who “Fonzie” is? Have a look… (he’s the guy in the leather jacket on the motorbike)
Thanks again to Jessica for coming on the podcast again and sharing that story. I can’t believe she saw The Fonz on a ski slope. That doesn’t happen every day, does it?
I’m genuinely curious to see if any of you actually know who The Fonz is. He is mentioned in the film Pulp Fiction, if you remember. The scene in the diner with Samuel L Jackson, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer and John Travolta. There’s a kind of Mexican stand-off (of course there is, it’s a Quentin Tarantino film!) and if you don’t know what a Mexican stand-off is, it’s when loads of people point guns at each other in a film (and maybe in real life I don’t know).
Anyway, Samuel L Jackson manages to make Amanda Plummer’s character calm down by saying “We’re going to be like 3 little Fonzies here, alright? And what’s Fonzie like?” and she’s like “What? Wh…” “WHAT’S FONZIE LIKE???” “He’s cool.” “That’s right he’s cool. So we’re going to be like three little Fonzies here ok” etc. It’s a memorable moment, if you remember it that is.
Anyway, if you are considering preparing for IELTS and you have, say, 30 or 60 days available ahead of you, then you might consider the 3 Keys IELTS Personal Coach course for the computer test, and if you’re interested go to teacherluke.co.uk/3keys to get a $50 discount.
It’s a tough and weird time, there’s no doubt about it. As I’ve said before, this virus isn’t just a threat to your physical health. Obviously you need to take steps to avoid catching it, but also to avoid spreading it too, but at the same time please do look after your mental health. Keep yourself busy, find a routine in your daily life, do some indoor exercise like Yoga. Read books. Don’t spend the whole day staring at social media or watching 24 hour news. Use this as a chance to get some things done that you’ve been putting off for a while. Keep in touch with friends and family. Just a few ideas. I mean, what do I know? In any case, do take care of yourselves out there and I hope that this podcast can keep you company just a little bit during this weird time.
I’ll speak to you again soon, but for now, Bye!
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