This episode is about the importance of punctuation in writing. I’ll teach you the names of various punctuation symbols and review a cool punctuation reference book that someone sent me recently, and yes I do think it is possible to have a cool book about punctuation! Transcript available.
In this episode I’m going to talk about… punctuation!
I’m going to talk about punctuation, teach you the names of most of the main punctuation symbols we use when writing. I’m going to explain the rules/uses of some bits of punctuation (namely the apostrophe, comma and full stop) and also I’ll be doing a review of a book about punctuation that you might be interested in purchasing.
So this is an episode of an audio podcast about punctuation which is a completely visual system, so this might be a bit ambitious and there will be times when I’m trying to describe punctuation symbols, so I expect there will be some bits of descriptive language there to look out for, as well as just loads of commentary and also a book review from me.
What is punctuation?
Just in case you don’t know, punctuation means all the symbols we use to perform various functions when writing. This means things like full stops, commas, apostrophes and things like that.
I don’t often talk about writing on this podcast. The focus is usually on speaking, listening, vocabulary, bits of grammar, pronunciation and of course just talking about various topics in order to help expose you to loads of English through audio, like I talked about in the last episode about the importance of listening in your learning of English.
Writing can be difficult to teach in an audio podcast, and that’s one of the reasons I don’t talk about it that much. But I’d like to deal with it sometimes if it’s possible and punctuation is actually one of those areas of writing that often doesn’t get taught, but it’s a really important part of writing.
First of all, it’s something that a lot of learners of English need to work on. In my experience as a teacher, I’ve seen plenty of issues relating to it in my students’ work. This includes basic things, like just not putting full stops at the end of sentences, or getting confused about the difference between a plural S and a possessive S. So there are certain basic errors that you really should avoid.
Also, learning about punctuation can really help your grammar. The more you understand punctuation, the more you understand the way sentences are constructed and the more you are able to then get control over those things.
Basically – learning about punctuation helps you to write better and that is just one of the things you have to deal with if you would like to get a proper grip on this language.
Also, there’s that famous quote which illustrates perfectly the importance of punctuation, “Punctuation is the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit.”
I would say that punctuation is always important if you want to be clear and correct, which I assume you want to be. Who would want to be vague and wrong? Nobody, I think!
Does punctuation change depending on the situation or the type of writing we’re doing?
Obviously, the more formal your writing the more important it becomes. If you’re writing external business correspondence, legal contracts, letters of application to university, academic essays and so on, then punctuation is going to be a big consideration for you, because you have to pay very close attention to the clarity of your writing.
But what about informal writing?
Some people might say that you don’t need to worry about punctuation in things like emails to your friends or work colleagues that you know well, or in text messages and comments online and stuff. Arguably there is a different set of conventions for those things, but I still think punctuation is really important even in informal writing like that.
Perhaps some of the rules are a bit different when doing informal writing. For example, I think it’s normal, when having a text chat with a friend, not to put full stops at the end of your sentences. In fact, I think the way we use full stops in text messages has changed recently. I mean, if you’re having a chat, you might leave the full stops out of your final sentences as a way of showing that the conversation is still open. For me, a full stop at the end suggests “that’s it”, which can suggest “this chat is over”. That’s a subtle thing, but I think it’s true.
Article: The Text Message You Should Never Send, by Rachel Feltman
OK, I’m going off on a bit of a tangent here, but here’s an article I just found from The Independent, which I think is interesting. This article is called The Text Message You Should Never Send, written by Rachel Feltman (published in December 2015)
Basically it’s talking about how putting full stops at the end of sentences in text messages looks unfriendly and insincere and that this is backed up by research from Birmingham University.
OK, let’s have a bit of a read and then get back to the point.
Basically, punctuation is important. Knowing when or when not to use it is an important skill to master.
If you’re serious about improving your written English, you’ve got to get punctuation right. It makes a huge difference to the impression you give to people reading your emails, essays, reports or whatever it is you’re writing, even your text messages or website comments. It’s all about getting more control over your communication, which is what it’s all about, isn’t it?
Think of punctuation being to writing what pronunciation and body language are to speaking.
When we speak we use lots of different ways to add interpretation to our words. We use stress and intonation to give emphasis and tone and we use our faces and hands too. At this point my Italian listeners are saying “Yes Luke, we know all about that.”
So, punctuation is something that is absolutely crucial for your writing.
Let’s get back on track here.
Do you know the words for all the punctuation symbols in English? Do you know how to use them properly?
The plan in this episode, like I said at the start, is to teach you the words for some punctuation marks and symbols we use when writing, explain the rules/uses of these bits of punctuation and also I’ll be doing a review of a book about punctuation that you might be interested in purchasing.
About the book I just mentioned. Let me say a few things about it before we start. You’re now going to hear me describing this book. Watch out for the language I’m using. You can read a lot of this on the transcript for this episode which is available FREE on my website! So, if you hear me using certain words or phrases that you didn’t catch, head to teacherluke.co.uk and find the page for this episode. The script is there for you to read or just skim for vocabulary.
Book: Punctuation..? By User Design
A while ago I was contacted by a listener to this podcast who is an author, illustrator, designer and publisher – yes, all at the same time apparently! He’s published a book about punctuation in English and he offered to send me a copy of the book in return for a little review of it on the podcast. I thought it could be a good opportunity to talk about punctuation, to teach my listeners some of the words for punctuation marks and to give some comments about punctuation rules, so I accepted to do the review. It’s a good deal for everyone – you can hear me talk about punctuation and perhaps learn some things, I get a copy of the book and the author gets a bit of publicity.
The book is called “Punctuation…?” and the author goes by the name User Design, which is actually a service/business name that he’s using. So, let’s call him Mr User Design.
Actually the full name of this guy’s company is “User Design, Illustration and Typesetting”. A quick look on their website shows that they provide various services, and I quote, “We offer a complete graphic communication design, illustration and production service, from books to websites, to many other printed and electronic items.”
So, one of their products is this handy guide for punctuation. It’s a pretty slim book with a clear contents page where you can see all the main punctuation marks that you should know about, with page numbers as you’d expect. It’s all very minimal and clear. But this isn’t just a boring reference book. One of the first things you notice when you open it is that it contains lots of cartoon illustrations to keep things interesting and fun.
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. This is a famous saying, which means that you shouldn’t judge a person by their appearance. But in the case of books, I have no idea how you are supposed to judge a book before you have read it. Judging it by its cover is pretty much the only thing you can do, isn’t it! I suppose you can flick through it and maybe read the first few pages, but if you’re standing there in a bookshop reading a book, the person behind the counter might start to get a bit peeved after a while.
Anyway, let’s judge this book by its cover. The front cover is very minimal. It’s black and white. There’s the title, “Punctuation…?”, the author (User Design) and then a cartoon illustration of two people apparently communicating with each other. The one on the left is a girl holding her hand out as if she’s saying something and the one on the right is a guy scratching his head with his other hand in the air, and it looks like he’s confused.
[caption id="attachment_35734" align="alignright" width="3200"] Punctuation..? by User Design (front and back covers)
The illustrations are simple sketches done with a pen. They’re quirky. Thin lines. They look a bit like doodles but they’re quite funny. There isn’t anything else. Now, I reckon most people would not really know what to make of that. Well, maybe there would be two reactions – one would be “oh this looks quirky and cool – a hip book about punctuation” and some others might think “This doesn’t look serious enough and I don’t know why these people are standing there like that – what does that have to do with punctuation?” That’s just the front cover though.
If you look inside and actually read all the pages, it’s clear that this is a clear and simple guide to what the different punctuation symbols are and how they are used. But I reckon most people would expect something a bit more academic, like your average dictionary or reference book.
On the back cover you’ve got some text explaining the book, as usual, and another cartoon illustration.
I’ll read the text to you.
Luke reads the back cover of the book. See the pic above ⤴️⤴️⤴️
OK, great. That’s nice and clear.
The illustration shows some kind of nightclub or party with a dreadlocked DJ spinning records on his decks and funny-looking people dancing. You can see (but you have to look pretty carefully – it’s not obvious at first glance) punctuation symbols coming out of the speakers and sort of flying out of the turntables where the DJ is spinning what I assume is some kind of awesome bass-heavy dancehall reggae or maybe drum and bass. It’s cool – and a different way to do a book about punctuation, but I reckon some people won’t really get it.
In my experience, people expect a more serious and academic feel from this kind of thing. I remember once we had a publisher visit The London School of English to get feedback on some new dictionary designs. He had dictionaries from different publishers and asked us which ones we liked and which ones we thought learners of English would like.
We all liked the fresh-looking, minimal, modern-looking dictionaries, but he told us that the most popular ones with learners of English were the ones with slightly old-fashioned designs, older looking fonts (I mean classical-looking fonts – I don’t know all the correct words for fonts – I think serif fonts probably). Basically, learners felt like they trusted dictionaries that looked older, more formal, more established, more old-fashioned, with words like Oxford and perhaps even symbols featuring old buildings and things on them. Also, darker colours were more popular. That’s all probably because those designs made the dictionaries look more serious and full of trustworthy information published by well-established institutions.
So, this book might not give the right impression, but on the whole I think the content is mostly good and it certainly can tell you what you need to know about punctuation.
OK, let’s have a look at the contents page of the book. Some of you at this point will be craving a video for this. Maybe I’ll record one, just to show you the front and back, but it depends if I have time! We’ll see. I think you can just use your imagination though and just follow what I’m saying.
By the way, User Design have given me permission to use some images of the book from their website, so I’ll probably add some of those to the page for this episode on my website, so have a look there to get an idea of the way the book looks and the illustrations I’m talking about.
Right, so the contents page. Here are the things the book covers.
Luke reads out the contents page and describes the different punctuation symbols and gives their names. See pic below for the symbols ⤵️⤵️⤵️
Contents page from Punctuation..? by User Design
OK, we’re going to stop the pod here. This episode will continue in part 2 which should be uploaded very soon and might in fact be available for you now.
In part 2 I’m going to talk about some punctuation rules, focusing on 3 very common bits of punctuation – apostrophes, full stops and commas. I’ll talk about how these symbols are used in writing. I’ll point out some common errors and how to avoid them and I’ll finish my review of the punctuation book I’ve been talking about.
Remember, on the page for this episode on my website you’ll find a pretty much full script for this episode … as well as pictures of the punctuation book and links for information if you’re interested in buying it.
OK! Nothing more to add here then except the usual suggestions that you become a premium LEPster to gain access to the ever-growing library of episodes devoted to language teaching. Go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium for that.
Also, you could consider checking out today’s sponsor, Cambly in order to find teachers for that all-important speaking practice. Go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/cambly to check it out and use my ambassador code teacherluke to get those 10 free minutes of conversation.
Thanks for listening and supporting this podcast over the years. I received loads of nice messages for the 10th birthday of LEP. I’m very glad to have such a cool audience from around the world. Speak to you again in part 2!
More conversation with Ben Worthington from IELTSPodcast.com, talking about English skills and exam skills, considering the whole approach and mindset that you need to succeed in IELTS. Includes questions from listeners.
I hope you’re doing well. Here is Part 2 of this double episode that I’m doing about IELTS, this well known exam that tests your level of English. Learners all over the world are taking IELTS, preparing for it, suffering from it, recovering from it. So I’m sure most of you are aware of it. Here’s an episode about it.
As usual in these multi-part episodes I suggest that you listen to the first part before listening to this.
In this episode I’m talking to Ben Worthington from IELTSPodcast.com He specialises in helping people get ready for IELTS and in this episode we’re going through questions from listeners on social media about this test.
Listen up if you have experience of IELTS, but equally if you don’t have to take the test I hope you can enjoy this episode in full relaxation mode, since you won’t actually have to take this evil test.
In this episode you’ll hear Ben and me saying various things about IELTS. Here’s a run-down of the conversation and the things we mention.
How to prepare for IELTS, self-study and using a course.
Tips for writing, reading, listening and speaking.
The importance of getting feedback on essay writing
Check online samples of people taking the test, like this one
The potential risks of taking group IELTS courses
Tips for how to get the best out of an online tutor
The importance of making a good first impression in part 1 of the speaking test
How to get ideas in speaking part 2
Using cue cards to practice the speaking test
Thinking on your feet and speaking spontaneously
Focusing on core skills
So we’re talking about a lot of specific English skills and exam skills, considering the whole approach and mindset that you need to succeed in IELTS.
As a special gift to my listeners, Ben is offering a 15% discount on his IELTS prep course called “Jump to Band 7 or It’s Free”. On his website check out the course and use the offer code LUKE15 to get a 15% discount. Not bad.
Anyway, you know what to expect from this episode, so let’s carry on.
There you go. Unfortunately we couldn’t answer all the questions because we ran out of time, but you might find more answers and support on Ben’s website, which is IELTSpodcast.com. You can ask Ben and his team questions and of course Ben is offering you all 15% off his course, called “Jump to Band 7 or it’s Free”. Just use the offer code LUKE15 at checkout.
Thank you so much for listening, I hope you’ve enjoyed it.
A conversation with IELTS teacher Ben Worthington about the IELTS test, with advice for getting your best score in speaking, writing, reading and listening. Includes questions from listeners. Part 1 of 2.
This episode is all about the IELTS test. Yes, that dreaded test that many of you will have either experienced or heard people talking about, probably saying things like “I need IELTS 6.5. HOW CAN I GET IELTS 6.5??” Like they’ve been poisoned, and IELTS6.5 is the name of the antidote that’s going to save their life – I need IELTS6.5! How can I get IELTS 6.5?? Tell me, quickly!!!”
It’s known for being a tough test. Not all the stories are horror stories of course. It’s important to be positive. There are plenty of success stories of people who managed to raise their score to the level they require. It is definitely possible to get success in IELTS. People do it all the time. But how?
Well, in this episode I’ll be talking to Ben Worthington from IELTS Podcast about various things relating to this test. This episode is full of good advice and insights into how to prepare for this test and ways to improve your score.
Do you know IELTS? I don’t know if you are familiar with it.
I think most learners of English who are serious about doing things in English will probably end up considering taking an exam like IELTS in order to get some kind of certificate confirming your level, which you can then use to do something like get a job, get a visa or get a place in a university. There’s TOEIC and TOEFL as well, but those are the American exams.
Actually I did get some questions about TOEIC and TOEFL, which Ben and I didn’t have time to respond to in this episode. Speaking personally, I am less familiar with TOEIC and TOEFL because I’ve rarely had to work with those tests. I’m much more familiar with IELTS and other Cambridge exams, and so this is what I’m more qualified to talk about.
IELTS is the standard testing system in the UK and also other English-speaking countries such as Australia and Canada and I think IELTS is probably now established as the world’s #1 English test. I wouldn’t be surprised if you, listening to this, have taken IELTS or are thinking about taking it. Or maybe you’ve looked into other Cambridge exams like FCE or CAE or something.
Basically, it’s very common for people to take this test and prepare for this test. So it’s worth talking about again on the podcast.
IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. It’s administered both by Cambridge English and the British Council and there are centres in most countries where you can take the IELTS test.
It’s a notoriously difficult test. I think anyone who takes it finds it hard, no matter what level you are, even native English speakers would find it challenging to be honest.
Here’s a quick summary of the IELTS test
IELTS tests your skills in 4 areas – reading, listening, writing and speaking.
It takes about 2h45m to complete the test.
The reading section involves a number of texts (3 texts in the academic version and about 5 or 6 in the general version) with comprehension tasks which test various reading skills.
Similarly the listening section has about 4 listening texts with various task types to test a range of listening skills.
The writing part takes an hour and involves two sections. In part 1 of the academic test you have to write a description of a graph, table, chart or diagram. In part 2 of the writing test you have to write an essay which probably involves explaining different sides of an argument with an introduction and conclusion.
The speaking test is in 3 parts and takes about 15 minutes. The first part involves chatting with the examiner for a few minutes, answering some questions about yourself. In part 2 you have to talk on your own for 2 minutes based on a cue card given to you by the examiner, and part 3 is a discussion with the examiner in which you talk about some more abstract things like social issues.
So this test is pretty long and covers all 4 skills. It requires all your abilities in English – accurate and diverse grammar, a wide range of vocabulary, fluency, clear pronunciation and the ability to complete communicative tasks effectively in English.
The way it works is that the overall score you get is converted into a band number which is an indicator of your level across the 4 skills. There’s no pass or fail mark. It’s just a case of the higher your score, the higher your band or level at the end.
So this test reveals your level in English. Levels go from 1 to 9. 9 being the highest.
So, it’s a tough test.
People all over the world need an IELTS score for various purposes, so it is an extremely common challenge for learners of English to undertake.
Schools in many places offer IELTS preparation courses to help people learn exactly how to improve their IELTS score. Preparation courses are obviously important to help you raise your English core skills across the 4 areas, but they’re also important to help you develop exam skills – which means becoming familiar with the test, familiar with the task types, familiar with the way the test is administered, and familiar with the little tricks and traps that are intentionally put into the test. It’s important not only to improve your level of English to prepare for IELTS but also to get an understanding of what the examiners at Cambridge English are looking for. This is also true for other similar tests.
To be honest, the test is so contrived and the marking criteria so specific that it’s very unwise to take an IELTS test without some preparation in advance because you simply must get familiar with it and develop your own strategies for each section. So I always advise students to do some test preparation, be it self-study or by following some sort of course either online or offline.
Offline options would probably be to find a preparation course in a school near you and the online options include finding and using self-study materials and practice tests, taking one to one lessons with a tutor for feedback (using iTalki for example) or finding other online resources that offer alternative ways to work on your exam skills.
One of those resources is IELTSpodcast.com run by Ben Worthington, my guest today.
As the website name suggests, IELTSpodcast.com is a podcast about IELTS with lots of tips about each section, but it’s also a website with lots of resources – videos, blog posts, practice tasks and also paid courses for specific exam skills and services including things like essay correction and feedback from Ben and the other teachers he works with.
Ben Worthington has been training people in IELTS preparation for some time now and has got lots of advice to share, all of which can really help you improve your IELTS score. A lot of his advice is shared on his website and in his courses, but in this episode he’s going to share some of that with us.
You can sign up to Ben’s full IELTS preparation course, called “Jump to Band 7 or it’s Free”, which is a confident name if ever there was one. If you don’t get to band 7 then it’s free. You can get it at IELTSpodcast.com and Ben has offered to give a 15% discount on the course for listeners to the podcast. So this episode is all about good advice for IELTS and it should be a genuinely useful episode, but if you want more thorough preparation for IELTS you can get a 15% discount on the Jump to Band 7 Or It’s Free course by using the offer code LUKE15 – if you’re interested.
Ben originally is from Yorkshire in the north of England. You might notice some slight differences in his accent compared to mine. I’m from the south and the midlands, basically – but I sound mostly like I’m from London probably. Ben has a slight northern accent because he’s from Yorkshire. His accent is not that strong, but you might notice a few differences.
Now, the IELTS test is big and there is a lot to say about it – more than can be covered in just one or two episodes of this podcast (and I think this will be a two-part episode).
If you follow me on social media you might have noticed that I asked my audience for questions about IELTS and I received quite a lot across the different platforms. I’ve tried to include as many questions as possible, but we didn’t have time to deal with every single one.
So, apologies if your question isn’t mentioned in the episode. You can actually ask questions to Ben on his website if you like.
What if you’re not taking IELTS?
This will be relevant to the large numbers of people in my audience who are taking or have taken this test, but also hopefully to those of you who don’t need to take this test right now. I think it’s a good idea for any learner of English to have a sense of what’s involved in the IELTS test and of course the skills you need for IELTS are skills that anyone needs if they want to be more than just a competent user of the English language.
I have done several episodes about IELTS before. If you haven’t heard those episodes it’s probably a good idea to check them out, especially if you’re preparing for the exam.
Episode 256 is called IELTS Tips and Tricks. In that episode I tried to include as much of my personal advice as possible into just one episode, so that should be useful to you.
Anyway, let’s talk to Ben Worthington from IELTS Podcast. He produces lots of content online for learners of English who are preparing to take this test. He’s been teaching students IELTS for a number of years now.
We’ll start by getting to know Ben a bit (this is the first time I’ve spoken to him actually) and then we’ll get into his advice for preparing and taking the different parts of the test, and I’ll ask him some of those questions sent in by my audience on social media.
Let’s see what we can cover about this big test for learners of English.
You’ll have to wait for part 2 of this episode to hear what Ben has to say about preparing correctly for IELTS.
This is the end of part 1. Remember if you’re interested in using Ben’s online course for getting ready for IELTS, which is called Jump To Band 7 Or It’s Free, go to IELTSpodcast.com and use the code LUKE15 at checkout to get a 15% discount.
So, we will leave the episode here and you can pick up the rest of the conversation in the next part.
By the way, there was a short quiet period at the end of February, and that’s because I was uploading a lot of LEP Premium episodes. There are now over 30 full episodes with tons of vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation, focusing on teaching you the most common phrases and talking points in English and how to say them all clearly and fluently.
There are now premium episodes about language which came up naturally in conversations I’ve recorded for the podcast. Recently I did ones about the episode I did on Paul Chowdhry. In the premium pipeline I have episodes about the conversation with James, my conversation with Jessica from English Across the Pond and also this episode with Ben. I’ve been noting extracts, vocabulary, grammar, phrasal verbs, idioms as we go.
To sign up for LEP premium just go to teacherluke.co.uk/premium and all the details are there. It’s the equivalent of a cup of coffee a month from you to me, that’s less than 10 cents a day. It’s pretty good value I’d say!
Right, in any case I hope you’re doing well. Fun fact, I’ve been using different microphones while recording episodes recently. All the P11 episodes were with different mics and this one that I’m using now isn’t a usual mic I use for intros and outtros.
My question is, outside of IELTS, can you even notice a difference in the sound because I’m using a different microphone? Can you tell the difference between the different mics I use or does it all sound basically the same? Let me know in the comments section.
And the IELTS conversation will continue in the next episode.
Welcome back to this double episode in which I’m talking to language learner and polyglot Olly Richards all about how to learn languages as an adult.
Olly speaks 8 languages and spends a lot of time working on language courses, and giving advice on his podcast and blog, which are called “I will teach you a language”.
2 years after our last conversation it was interesting to catch up with Olly and see if his approach to language learning has developed.
In this episode I talk to Olly about how to overcome the intermediate plateau, we go into details about the magic of story and how important it is in language learning, we discuss the connection between pronunciation and personality and wonder if the main problem people have with pronunciation is actually an identity issue. There are also comments on learning in the classroom vs self-guided learning.
There’s loads of great advice in here. For premium subscribers I’m doing a video which will sum up the main points and clarify them a bit. That will be available shortly in the app and online for premium members.
But now let’s continue listening to Olly as we have the rest of our conversation about language.
Talking to polyglot Olly Richards about the benefits of listening, reading and using stories to learn English. Full of insights and strategies for effective language learning. Transcripts and notes available.
This episode is packed full of language learning experience and wisdom, straight from the horse’s mouth.
Today I’m talking to Olly Richards, who has been on this podcast before, twice. Long term listeners will remember him. Some of you may also listen to his podcast, which is called I Will Teach You a Language. This is his third appearance on LEP, and I’m very happy to share this two-part episode with you here, today. I must say that I think this episode is full of really valuable insights about language learning and should be essential listening for anyone who is serious about learning a language to fluency.
The basics that you need to know about Olly.
He’s from England.
He speaks 8 languages. English is the only one he learned while growing up as a child. The rest of his languages were learned in adulthood.
I would say that he’s obsessed with language learning. He’s on a mission, basically, to learn languages but also to explore exactly how we learn languages, to find out the best methods, the most effective techniques, to discover the holy grail of language learning.
Olly spends so much time and effort learning languages, practising, reading academic studies, speaking to people about language in various languages, blogging about it, doing his podcast about it, producing books and courses all dedicated to the pursuit of language learning. He’s made language learning his career in fact.
As you’d expect, Olly really knows a thing or two about language learning. He’s got all the qualifications and has done all the academic work, but what I’m interested in is his own subjective experience of being a language learner himself, equipped with all the metacognitive strategies and accepted wisdom about the subject. This is where I think we can really get to the bottom of this topic. This is how we can get to the real truth about learning a language.
The first time Olly was on this podcast, we got to know the basics about how he applies himself to his language learning, but that was about 2 and a half years ago.
That episode was very revealing and still has so much to offer. I highly recommend you go into the archive and listen to that too. It’s episode 332, over 200 episodes ago! His second appearance on LEP was in episode 357.
So, in this conversation today we’re catching up with Olly after about 2 years of him working away on his language learning and teaching projects. So, what new insights does he have to share with us? Has his approach to learning languages changed? What does he now think is the most valuable way to spend your time in order to improve your acquisition of another language?
I think the results are really revealing.
I talked to Olly for nearly two hours – it was very easy and we could have gone on for longer. After having had this conversation I personally feel validated and reassured – why? Because Olly’s conclusions confirm what I’ve also discovered about language learning, and his conclusions confirm many of the principles behind my approach to doing Luke’s English Podcast. It’s a nice reminder that, in fact – yes, there is method to the madness.
Spending time talking to Olly and listening to him talk about learning languages is extremely motivating and I feel like this conversation, which will be presented to you in two parts, I feel like it’s a real shot in the arm for me personally, for the podcast generally, and for you too I hope. This should be a very healthy listening experience for all of you, in terms of your English.
Really – if you’re serious about learning English you will really pay attention. Absorb all of this, think about your own language learning experiences, apply Olly’s approaches to your situation, and see how you can continue to improve your learning of English to an advanced level.
There’s no need to say any more now in the introduction, let’s just hear what Olly Richards has to say about learning a language.
That’s where this part ends, but you’ll be able to continue listening in part 2. Well, I think this is a good one – absolutely chock a block with insights and advice for learning a language.
If you’re a premium subscriber you’ll soon be able to see a video of me reflecting on some of the things Olly said in this episode, summarising the main points and turning them into some bits of advice for those of you out there who are learning English with this podcast.
But for this audio episode, that’s it for part 1.
You’ll be able to hear the rest in part 2 as we discuss how to break the intermediate plateau and the connection between pronunciation and personality issues.
To get the full LEP experience and to get the full benefit of LEP on your English you should become a premium subscriber. For just the price of a coffee or beer per month you can access an ever growing library of lessons from me to you – covering language in more detail – usually explaining, clarifying and demonstrating real English – either because it has come up in specific episodes, or because it’s just stuff you should know and be able to do. I’ve been teaching for about 17 years and you can get the benefit of my particular set of skills by becoming a premium member – the perfect balance between getting loads of input and getting some advice, help, clarification and practice from me. All content in the app and online, .pdfs, full episodes, bonus episodes, videos, phrasal verbs, story lessons and more. teacherluke.co.uk/premium to get started. The app is the best way to get the premium content I expect.
OK that’s it for this episode. I’ll speak to you again in part 2. Thanks for listening.
Answering grammar questions from listeners, with details about verb tenses (including present continuous vs present perfect continuous & future continuous vs going to) and the language of newspaper headlines. Includes references to The Queen, The Legend of Zelda and a lot of pizza.Transcriptions & grammar notes available below.
This episode is all about grammar and I’m going to respond to questions and comments that I’ve received mainly in the comment section on my website.
I don’t often teach grammar on the podcast directly but I still think studying grammar is worthwhile.
I do grammar all the time in my language classes and it is often very interesting. My students get into it even though they’re sometimes quite confused by it, and generally I find that learners do see the value of studying grammar sometimes because ultimately it is the foundation of the language.
I think that a certain amount of grammar work is really useful and important, depending on your situation of course. It shouldn’t all be grammar – you’ve also got to focus on general communication skills, building and remembering vocabulary and so on, but it does pay to take a proper look at the way the language works on a structural level. There may be certain big differences in the way English works and your language works, and you might need a helping hand in understanding those differences and it can help you to correct certain common errors that you might be making in English.
So, let’s “take a deep dive” into some grammar here on the podcast today.
Overview of the Episode
There is information in this episode about:
future continuous vs going to (what’s the difference?)
present perfect continuous vs present continuous (what’s the difference?)
The Grammar of Newspaper Headlines
Why is it “STEPHEN HAWKING DIES” and not “STEPHEN HAWKING DIED”?
Relative clauses (or WTF is up with relative clauses?) – Will be in part 2 in the App
A question about prepositions – Will be in part 2 in the App
Have got vs have vs get – Will be in part 2 in the App
Also a couple of other selected comments from the website recently.
Some of these questions were sent to me bloody ages ago, and who knows, the people who originally sent them might not even be listening to this podcast any more – they might have given up on English (since their questions were left unanswered for so long), or maybe they’ve given up on life in general and perhaps they’ve just moved to Florida or something, where they run a modestly priced leather goods store… Or maybe they just died. I don’t know! I don’t know what you’re all doing with your lives! Anyway, grammar questions from listeners who may or may not still be alive, or running a small business somewhere in Florida.
Let’s get straight into it.
Present Continuous vs Present Perfect Continuous
Alessandro (via Facebook)
Hi Luke. I don’t know if this is the right way to interact with you. [Luke: Generally, the right way to interact with me is to give me tea and cake]
I just need an info some info. Could you please tell me in which of your podcast episodes you explained the difference between the present continuous and the present perfect continuous? [I can’t remember for the life of me!]
If you didn’t yet, please consider this message as an idea for a new episode. I think that we learners usually use these two forms in the incorrect way.
Present continuous – e.g. “I am eating a cake” Present perfect continuous – e.g. “I have been eating a cake”
Typical wrong sentence – can you correct it?
“I am learning English since 10 years ago”
A few issues:
Present perfect continuous (and simple)
Time expressions with present perfect for saying how long you have been doing something.
Present continuous (be + -ing)
Things happening right now I am sitting on a chair. We are learning English. What are you doing? I’m just watching Neflix, what about you? Nothing. I am literally doing nothing. How is that possible? I don’t know, I’m just bored. No, I mean how is it physically possible for you to be doing nothing? I don’t know, there’s nothing going on. No you don’t understand, I’m asking a metaphysical question, like you have to be doing something – you’re breathing, you’re staring into space, you’re just lying there. Never mind, I shouldn’t have called you… CLICK
Temporary situations at the moment I’m reading a really interesting book at the moment. I’m working on a new project at the moment. I’m not sleeping very well these days.
Fixed future plans (like going to) What are you doing tomorrow? I don’t know. Nothing. Well, I’m going to the cinema to see Avengers: Infinity War. Do you want to come? Yeah!! Wait, is your girlfriend going? Yes, she is. Well, in that case – ahhh, ooooh, I’ve just realised – something’s come up, I’m not going to be able to make it. I’ve just realised I’m looking after my neighbour’s pet fish, cat, catfish, tomorrow. Can’t come. Weird situation in which someone doesn’t like someone’s girlfriend. No funny ending to that story, just a bit of intriguing drama…
Anyway… That’s present continuous.
Things happening now, temporary situations happening now, future plans.
We don’t use present continuous to talk about how long a present action has been happening.
In some languages you do. You just use a present tense and add a time expression.
E.g. “I am waiting here since 3 hours!”
In English it should be: I’ve been waiting here for 3 hours.
That’s present perfect continuous.
It’s used for a few things – a few different functions, but a big one is to describe how long a present action or situation has been happening.
I’ve been recording this podcast episode for xxx minutes.
You can do a simple kind of dialogue.
Hey, what are you doing? I’m just -ing. How long have you been doing it? About xxx time. Sorry? I said I’ve been doing it for about xxx time. Why do you ask? No reason. OK. Good conversation.
Imagine the village idiot going around town asking people what they’re doing and how long they’ve been doing it. The town is a very sleepy village where nothing happens and everyone is unemployed. ( A bit like side missions in The Legend of Zelda?)
Hey what are you doing? I’m just throwing stones into a lake. How long have you been doing it? About 4 hours. What? I said I’ve been throwing stones into this lake for about 4 hours. What’s it to you? Nothing.
Present perfect continuous is like what happens when present perfect simple and present continuous have sex. The result is present perfect continuous. (Not what you learn in the grammar books)
Have (from p.p.s.) been (the past participle of “be” from present continuous) and then –ing (from present continuous)
Present perfect is all about actions in the past that are connected to now in some way
They happened in an unfinished time period (So, how are you getting on? What have you done so far in this episode? How many grammar questions have you answered?)
They have an effect on the present (I’ve just dropped my iPhone into the toilet, what am I going to do? Just flush it away maaan)
They’re not finished (You’ve been talking for XXX minutes and you haven’t even answered one question yet?)
They’re very recent (I’ve literally just started this question, give me a break man)
There are simple and continuous forms.
Present Perfect Continuous? (have/has + been + -ing)
Things that started in the past and are still going on now “I’ve been living in Paris for 5 years”
In some cases, it’s the same as present perfect simple – depending on the verb you’re using. E.g. “I’ve lived in Paris for 5 years” = “I’ve been living in Paris for 5 years” but “I’ve lost my keys” isn’t the same as “I’ve been losing my keys”.
Emphasising that the action is repeated or long – not just one single action but repeated actions, or a long action I’ve lost my keys (once – I don’t have them now) I’ve been losing my keys for years now.” (repeated)
Emphasising the process of the action, rather than the result “I’ve been working on my grammar” – process “I’ve worked on my grammar” – result/completed/finished “I’ve been painting my kitchen” – process “I’ve painted my kitchen” – result/completed/finished “I’ve dropped my phone in the toilet” – just once
To talk about how long for a present action (for/since) “I’ve been reading this book for 3 weeks.”
For how many times it’s present perfect “I’ve read this book 3 times”
A dialogue to compare the tenses
I’ll read through the dialogue. You can notice instances of the different tenses. Then I’ll go through it again to clarify.
A: I’m reading this book. It’s massive. It’s called Tune In and it’s all about the Beatles and it’s in massive detail. It’s amazing. B: So you’re reading Tune In. Yes, that’s brilliant. Long, isn’t it? How long have you been reading it? A: Ages. I’ve been reading it for weeks and weeks and I’m not even halfway through it yet. Have you read it? B: Yes, I’ve read it twice actually. A: Twice?? B: Yep. A: How long did it take you to read it? B: A couple of days. A: Just a couple of days!! Bloody hell, you read quickly! What are you reading now? B: I’m reading The Lord of the Rings. A: Another long one. How long have you been reading that? B: I started this morning. A: OK, and how much have you read? B: I’ve nearly finished it. I’ve read almost the whole thing. A: Bloody hell you read quickly! What’s your favourite part of the book? B: Umm, I… I can’t remember! I haven’t been paying attention really.
Now go through the dialogue again and clarify.
Now test yourself
Here’s a gap fill version. See if you can fill the gaps.
A: I _____________ (read) this book. It’s massive. It’s called Tune In and it’s all about the Beatles but it’s in massive detail. It’s amazing.
B: So you _____________ (read) Tune In. Yes, that’s brilliant. Long, isn’t it? How long _____________ (you read) it?
A: Ages. I _____________ (read) it for weeks and weeks and I’m not even halfway through it yet. _____________ (you read) it?
B: Yes, I _____________ (read) it twice actually.
A: How long _____________ (take) you to read it?
B: A couple of days.
A: Just a couple of days!! Bloody hell, you read quickly! What _____________ (you read) now?
B: I _____________ (read) The Lord of the Rings.
A: Another long one. How long _____________ (you read) that?
B: I started this morning.
A: OK, and how much ______________ (you read)?
B: I _____________ (nearly finish) it. I _____________ (read) almost the whole thing.
A: Bloody hell you read quickly! What’s your favourite part of the book?
B: Umm, I… I can’t remember! I_____________ (not pay attention) really.
Check the complete version above for the answers.
I want to say something I think is interesting. There is two years I am involved in the transcription project (I’ve been involved in the TP for two years) and although I can’t measure how much I’ve learned or how much my understanding skills have grown up, when I was listening to this movie, finally, I could see the great result of my collaboration in the transcription project.
In fact, watching this movie I can see how much I still have to learn, but I am glad to say that I feel I understand enough to enjoy the movie as I never was able to do before.
So, this result is fuelling my motivation to continue working on this project and I hope to see coming back even once in a while a lot of the people who have done such great work transcribing the 135 episodes we’ve done since we started working as a team.
That’s all what I wanted to say so far. back to the second part of the movie which is not as interesting the book but that’s what movies are, aren’t they?
Which movie and book is Antonio talking about? We’ll find out later.
And now… more tenses…
Future continuous vs going to
The Future …future…future…future…future…
Who wrote this comment? Don’t know.
Great! Thanks, Jilmani for the lesson about English tenses! (Luke: Last summer Jilmani did a really cool challenge where she picked some episodes of LEP and then posed some questions – mostly about grammar – verb tenses – all done in a teaching app called Remind)
Now I have one question, what is the difference between these two sentences:
1) I will be eating pizza when you arrive.
2) I’m going to eat pizza when you arrive.
1 = action in progress at a moment in the future
2 = planned action which will start when you arrive
Sometimes we use will + be + ing (future continuous) to talk about planned actions in the future which are part of your normal routine – which is pretty much exactly the same as how we use going to. So future continuous and going to actually ‘cross over’ here.
Will you be eating here today or in the canteen? / Are you going to eat here today or in the canteen?
Welcome to the Murder Tour of London. Today we will be visiting the sites of 30 murders which all occurred in this 1 square mile. / Today we’re going to visit the sites of 30 murders. And at each location one of you, will get murdered…
Our verb tenses are used for a variety of functions and sometimes those functions overlap, like for example “I have lived here for 5 years” and “I’ve been living here for 5 years.” – yes, that is possible.
Future continuous is used for:
Actions in progress at a point in the future
Actions in the future as part of a planned routine (a bit like going to)
Going to is used for: (amongst other things)
Planned actions in the future
I’ll be eating pizza when you arrive
I’ll eat pizza when you arrive
I’m going to be eating pizza when you arrive
I’m going to eat pizza when you arrive
Listen to the episode to get all my comments and clarifications. This is a podcast, not a blog!
The Language of Newspaper Headlines
Thanks for this episode! I’ve been meaning to ask you the following grammar question for quite a while [🏆] and now Prof. Hawking’s death has given me the reason. Every time when someone dies (obviously a well-known person) all the headlines in newspapers come up in present time like “Stephen Hawking dies at age 76” or ” XY dies at age 80“. Should not they be in past time?
The language of newspaper headlines
Newspaper headlines (and online news websites) have a grammar of their own.
“Oh no, you mean there’s another grammar I have to learn now?”
The main thing is that headlines have to be punchy, short, and “in the here and now” – in order to grab your attention.
It can be summarised by a few points
Past simple or present perfect often become present simple “England have just won the World Cup!” “ENGLAND WIN WORLD CUP”
The subtitle might develop it in more detail. “The England football team have won the world cup in a dramatic victory over all other countries, proving inconclusively that England is the best country – not just at football, but at everything, and that English people are the best people in the world, especially the ones who were actually playing the football match.”
Future forms become ‘infinitive with to’ The Queen is going to eat a pizza. “QUEEN TO EAT PIZZA”
Facebook is going to stop being a bit evil “FACEBOOK TO STOP BEING A BIT EVIL” “FACEBOOK IN EVIL STOP SHOCK”
Auxiliary verbs are often removed, especially in passive constructions LEP has been voted the best podcast in the world. “LEP VOTED BEST PODCAST”
Long noun phrases BOMB THREAT SHOCK HITS PALACE
Prepositional phrases are sometimes used to mean that something is involved in something else, or something happened because of something else. Paul McCartney is going to face criminal charges because he killed a couple of spiders when he was a teenager. “MACCA JAILED OVER SPIDER KILLING SPREE” “MACCA IN SPIDER KILLING FRENZY”
Before we carry on…
Comment of the Week!
It’s not really about grammar, but it is a very clear and well-written comment about the challenge of learning a language, in response to my episodes about my problems with French.
Learning a language is really an arduous task. My two cents: something like language learning can only possibly go either of two ways, a virtuous circle or a vicious circle.
In my mind, a typical virtuous cycle goes like this: something about a foreign culture or language sparks your interest, you reach out to find more of the culture via the language or the language itself, you either dip your toe in it or dive into it. Either way, luckily enough, you encounter some good people who are very friendly and helpful in your language learning journey. Your confidence gets boosted. You feel motivated to do more. They give you the initial momentum to send you on your trajectory. Once you have applied what you have recently learned in some personally significant real life scenarios, like making a particularly witty and fitting comment in front of your secret crush or crushes, you get further positive feedback, which drives you to learn more so you can “flaunt” more in the next opportunity of using the language. As such, a rewarding positive feedback loop is forged and you are on your way to solid mastery of this language.
Conversely, a typical vicious cycle starts to take shape when the first a couple of people you use this language with are not helpful or patient. That way, your confidence gets bruised and your desire to learn the language gets curbed. You are hesitant to speak up even when you should. You do not get to put your language command into use as often as you should. More importantly, you are not self-assured, which definitely makes you less convincing and communicative even in your first language.
Based on what I said, maybe the main focus in language learning, and perhaps in everything else in life, should be breaking out of the vicious circle, if you are trapped in one. To that end, we need to keep a positive and robust state of mind. In other words, we need to come to the realization that we should not let the people that we get in contact with influence us too much. They may or may not be brought to our life by fate. The encounters may or may not be part of a grand plan. I want to learn this language. I will not let “language dickheads” get in my way. At the end of the day, I am the one in control of my mind. I choose to stay positive. People cannot discourage me. May the (mental) force be with you.
I want to learn this language. I will not let “language dickheads” get in my way. At the end of the day, I am the one in control of my mind. I choose to stay positive. People cannot discourage me. May the (mental) force be with you.
Shout out to Jack 🏆
Shout out to Jack in the comment section for making vocabulary lists which are being featured as top comments. Nice one Jack.
This is very helpful for visitors to my website.
There are three things people can do:
Check the list (you’ll find it as a featured comment at the top of the comment section, or maybe in the show notes) after you’ve listened. If there are some phrases you don’t know, perhaps check them in an online dictionary, try to remember how they were used in the episode, perhaps try to make sentences using the phrases.
Listen again while checking the list and notice how the phrases are used. You can listen and repeat too if you like.
Add some of the phrases to your own vocabulary lists, which I hope you’re keeping! Then revisit them and remember – if you don’t use it you lose it – just talk to yourself about the phrases, or talk with a language partner. E.g. if the phrase is “I’ve been meaning to do an episode about this for ages”, which is in episode 497 – the one about Withnail and I. You could just personalise that phrase to make it about you. E.g. “I’ve been meaning to get the bathroom door fixed for ages” or “I’ve been meaning to read that book for ages”. Something you’ve had vague plans to do for a long time, but you haven’t done it yet.
So, it’s up to you how you use the list but all it takes is a little motivation and ingenuity and you can use vocabulary lists to your advantage. Check the pages for each episode, and check the comment section too for Jack’s lists, which are checked by me and then featured at the top of the comment section. He’s done lots of the recent episodes and some early ones too.
Part 2 is available in the LEP App now – in the App-only Episodes category.
Talking more about my experiences as a student of French, this time reading from notes I took during my French lessons (when I should have been focusing on the class!) and some considerations about learning a language in a classroom and learning on your own. Notes & transcript available.
Here’s part 2 of this episode about my experiences of (not) learning French. In the last one I talked about how I learned some French as a child and how I feel I’m not learning it as an adult, despite living in Paris and I made a load of excuses about it, which is exactly what you shouldn’t do of course – because excuses are no substitute for taking action.
In this episode the plan is to talk about some more experiences I had while learning French, specifically some lessons I took at a language school a few years ago in Paris. I wrote some thoughts in a diary while taking those lessons and I’m going to read out those thoughts and then discuss the relative benefits and drawbacks of learning a language in a classroom vs learning on your own using self-guided methods. There will also be some comments and reflections on teaching a foreign language to groups in a classroom environment.
First, some comments from listeners after the previous episode. My listeners are being very kind and understanding, as usual. I received quite a few messages – I can’t read them all out here but this is a selection. On the subject of receiving messages – I’m sorry if you have written to me and I haven’t got back to you. Please know that I do read everything I receive and I appreciate your thoughts and comments very much.
Luke, I find your lack of French disturbing. 😸
It must be utterly difficult for you if everyone wants to make use of you as the best known English teacher on the Internet. :) Also your head is busy with all these millions of ideas for your podcast, the gigs and so on. There is almost no room in your brain left free for other languages. You are totally absorbed with creating quality content for your audiences. You shouldn’t be judging yourself too hard. You have your priorities and are doing great job. Now with raising your child bilingually you have the task to pass on to her the exquisite English you have. 👍 We should be doing things we enjoy and not do things that other people expect from us. That guy at the party had been downright rude, he should be thoroughly ashamed of himself. 😸
C’mon King ! Don’t beat yourself (up) too much. Your French is much better than my English.
I’ve realized after listening to this ep. that I want to see a French beach!
Mj Moreno Funny title! 😂 I’m wishing to listen to the episode. [I’m hoping to listen to it / I’m looking forward to listening to it]
Hi Luke. Your story about drilling has inspired me to write a poem for you. ————————————————— What about my neighbour’s drilling? I have rather mixed feelings. I know he just needs some holes in his floor and in his walls He needs even lots of drilling In his ceiling. But the next sound of a drill makes me fight , makes me kill and like a bloody beast with bare hands, with clenched fists I will enter his own flat And I kill him with cold blood. No !!! I’d rather stop this talk and I am going for a walk…. —————————————————– You may read it on the air and for sure it is going to save some lives of innocent neighbours. :-)
Some words & phrases
to beat yourself up
don’t be too hard on yourself
don’t get discouraged
self-flagellation (technically means whipping yourself as an act of self-punishment – but also a way to talk about excessive self criticism)
My experience of learning French in a classroom as an adult
The classroom experiences at Alliance Francaise. It’s a bit like the British Council but for French. They promote French culture and also offer French lessons.
So, a few years ago I went to Alliance Francaise to take some French lessons for a couple of weeks.
My wife bought me the lessons as a birthday present, and as an effort to get my French off the ground.
I wrote some notes while I was there. I recently found those notes. I have them here and I thought I’d just talk to you about them now, and try to remember what was running through my head in those classes.
I guess the point here is that I can reflect on my personal experience and generally make a few comments about learning a language in different contexts – paying particular focus to the classroom vs self-directed learning.
Being a student again.
Trying not to fall into all the typical student behaviour: not listening, arriving late, not doing homework and having rubbish excuses, asking unrelated questions, not paying attention to other classmates or listening to them, not really giving a crap about what’s going on, letting the teacher do all the work, not showing enthusiasm for work the teacher has clearly spent time and effort on preparing, not actually speaking French in the classroom, being shy with the other students and not wanting to talk to them, forgetting the book, not really going with activities that the teacher is attempting to set up, looking at my watch, yawning, complaining, judging the teacher on her appearance, etc.
Going for the level check
Got put in an A2 class. Probably because of accuracy, but I’m not really sure. I was never given a summary of my skills and problems.
Bought the book.
This is exactly like my normal experiences as a teacher, but from the other point of view.
Joined a class that had already been studying together for a while.
Don’t remember doing much “getting to know you” at the start. I think it was just a quick introduction and then off we went. There were some people in the class I never spoke to at all.
Didn’t catch the teacher’s name at the start, and therefore it was lost forever. Why didn’t I just ask her?
What the class looked like.
Notes I wrote down during classes (when I should have been studying)
Good to see she’s keen. She makes excuses for being 2 minutes late and seems stressed.
Lots of photocopies. It’s very easy to get disorganised. It really helps if the photocopies are hole punched. I don’t mind if they’re not beautifully presented. They should be functional.
I wish she’d just let us talk freely, or try to talk freely!
Too much TTT. I’m very aware of this as a teacher in my own classes. A lot of her talking time is just lost on me. It feels very teacher oriented. She’s explaining a lot and spending a lot of time setting up activities, but I still don’t know what’s going on!
Teach the students, not the plan.
1 hour of pronunciation at the start of the class, with us trying in vain to pronounce certain vowel sounds. I suppose this is really important because mastering these different sounds can make a huge difference to your intelligibility in French. But we spend an awful lot of time on it and I wonder how useful it is. I wonder if perhaps it’s more important to develop fluency in the language, and to perhaps get some remedial correction. I’d like her to let us talk and perhaps listen to us and correct us a bit, and give us some much-needed encouragement. I desperately need encouragement. I really really need someone to tell me “Yes, that’s good! Well done, keep it up!” I can’t remember the last time anyone actually gave me positive feedback about my French. I’m in such a negative rut. I’d love it if she gave me more freedom, some praise and also some remedial correction.
She always expects perfection, but we need encouragement. Sometimes I’d like her to let us talk without interruption and perhaps correct us later. She won’t let us utter anything without it being perfect. I just feel like I’m slamming against a brick wall all the time. Maybe I’m too soft and I expect to just be great all the time. I’m too intolerant of failure. I’m too sensitive. Some of the best language learners I know can tolerate a lot of failure and just keep coming back for more, perhaps out of stubbornness or sheer bloody-mindedness. I need to toughen up a bit.
—— recording had to be abandoned at this point due to crying baby!
[Continuing the next day…]
I wonder which one is better: Loading all the grammar, vocab and pronunciation into the learner and then expecting them to produce correct language as a result, or letting the learner just struggle through with a focus on communication and then helping out in a remedial way.
I’m beginning to prefer the second option. I find it’s more responsive and even natural to emphasise the learner’s personal production of English and work from there, rather than inputting so much. I’m not here to gather information, I’m here to do things, to experiment, to make mistakes and do it my own way. Sometimes the classroom environment and teacher don’t let you own your English. But again, perhaps I’m expecting too much too soon and I might need to stop being so egotistical about it and accept my role as a learner in this situation and just get down to some good old-fashioned studying, and learn those verb conjugations. It’s quite humbling.
But back to the idea of the teacher controlling the class and using quite a rigid programme – being teacher-centred. You could argue that this is a problem from two different angles. Firstly, the teacher might rob the students of their independence, their natural tendency to just try to be understood and to communicate and to discover the language and make mistakes but to essentially “find their voice” in the target language. But also, learners might give up these things as they hand over responsibility to the teacher. In my experience, the best language learners are fiercely self-motivated and take full responsibility for their learning, but the language classroom situation tends to subconsciously cause learners to give up that responsibility to the teacher – so that if no progress is made, it’s the teacher’s fault, and if lots of progress is made – the teacher is a hero. But that ignores the fact that personal motivation might be the most important factor. So, perhaps the whole classroom situation encourages bad habits in learners, by taking personal responsibility away from the learners. Unless the teacher is particularly good, and knows this, and is always making sure that learners take responsibility for themselves while also giving them a structure and framework for learning. It’s hard to be a good teacher – you have to know when to be in charge of the class and be in control, and when to just get out of the way completely.
But then again, perhaps the classroom provides a space in which learners can basically get all the answers that they wouldn’t get if they were just out in the wild west of the real world, where nobody is there to lend a hand and it’s all just a question of survival. (sounds tough)
Anyway, the debate in my head here is about whether the teacher gets in the way of the learners, or is a vital agent in providing the learners with a moment-by-moment study plan.
All too often the teacher isn’t able to just get out of the way, and so you plough through more and more activities, being presented with language that you have to take on – which often leads to that feeling that as a student you’re kind of drowning. It might be nice to just spend some time asking the class some questions, seeing how the students answer them, and then take it from there, doing remedial work, allowing all the students to take part, giving us some discussion time with the corrected language, questions and phrases on the board. Going round, listening to us, gathering feedback to correct us afterwards. There’s not a lot of this happening, so I feel like the classroom situation is not being fully exploited.
This does require a particularly nimble teacher – one who is able to adapt on the spot and come up with feedback, drills, little practice exercises and questions that identify the specific problem the student has, how to remedy it and how to let the students practise it correctly. It also requires that the learners are able to go with the flow too. It’s often more practical to write a plan in advance and just stick to it rigidly regardless of whether the students are really on-board.
They have IWBs, which is nice.
The teacher is sweet, and she got hotter as the course went on.
Her efforts are very admirable. She intends to do an hour of pronunciation at the beginning of each class, and that has to be set up in quite a careful way, involving certain important stages in the exercises. So, she’s made an effort and has obviously spent time preparing this lesson. But a lot of her efforts are just torpedoed by late-comers or just students who seem a bit slow.
I’m aware of how it’s hard to be charming, funny or just yourself in another language. I think I must come across as quite different to my real personality, which is annoying, because I think my teacher and possibly other classmates don’t really understand what I’m saying and therefore who I am. I might give an example of what she’s saying but she doesn’t think it’s related – because I’m unable to specify what I’m talking about because of my poor French. It must seem like I’m not concentrating at all and I’m just rambling or trying to change the topic. I can see how easy it is to seem like a dickhead or a problematic student. Note: for my teaching I have to remember to always give my students a chance. Sometimes somebody will say or do something that I will find strange or perhaps rude. I have to remember that the language barrier often distorts people’s personalities. Then again, sometimes it doesn’t and you find people are the same in both languages. So, maybe I really am someone who doesn’t focus and talks without thinking and rarely makes sense, and perhaps even enjoys derailing things. I hope not.
But I find that I’m a bit weird. I have to explain myself a lot. My head goes faster than my mouth. I have a tendency to ramble and that’s because I;’m afraid that people don’t understand me so I repeat myself, so I must be pretty weird in class. I probably am a bit weird, but in English I’m quick enough to be able to flip that into being funny – I’m fast enough with the language to be able to manage my weirdness and make it humourous instead. In French, I’m just weird.
We do gap fills – paper exercises that are so common in language learning, but paper exercises don’t necessarily help in production of the language because you use different strategies for solving a gap fill exercise than producing fluent spontaneous speech.
Teacher has to be very patient and intuitive. Listening is so important for a teacher. We have to listen to our students, work out what they’re trying to say, and then give them the English they need to say that. Also, good activities are ones that present the students with a need to say certain things, so that they have to use the target language to complete the task. Then the teacher needs to pay attention to how we are completing the task, and give us the right feedback.
Sometimes the teacher thinks I don’t understand, or misunderstands me, but it’s just because I can’t explain myself properly. I feel like talking about what we’re talking about means that we’re communicating on some metaphysical level where you need meta-language to discuss the language you’re learning. It all gets terribly complicated.
U and OO sound – Imagine you’re being punched in the stomach. Imagine that your mouth is a chicken’s arse. These things totally don’t help me! It shows me how so much of our explanations are wasted if they aren’t truly clear. We have to always think from the students’ point of view. This is more about teaching than learning French isn’t it!
As a learner I get the impression I’m being told one thing about French, and then I go out and hear something different. I wonder “Are they lying or just unaware of how their own language is being used in the real world? Or maybe I’ve got it wrong.”
A lot of the time I have no idea what’s going on or what the teacher is talking about. I’m just constantly spinning in space. No idea what’s going on. I’m always right on the edge of understanding things. On the edge of my comfort zone.
It’s a humbling experience, and quite sweet too because everyone’s a bit shy and just trying to do their best, but I feel very stupid indeed.
Sometimes I just can’t explain why I don’t understand. I don’t have the ‘meta language’ to do describe what I don’t understand.
Organisation is vital in language learning. Keeping a good record of vocabulary and other learning notes – but it’s hard to stay organised when you have a busy life. Learning a language is a full-time thing. You really have to devote yourself to it. It can feel overwhelming, but with step by step practice you can do it.
Slow students in the class bring the whole level of the class down. Sometimes I think “Just leave them behind they’re dead to us!” But obviously the teacher can’t do that.
In a classroom environment everyone has a lot of responsibility to work with each other. You need quite a tight team to make the whole thing work.
I felt a weird sense of camaraderie with the teacher, because I’m a teacher too. She didn’t know this until the end. It was funny to be on the other side for a change.
At the end of the course I felt a weird emotional pull. It was a bit sad or something to be finishing the course. It was all too brief.
Learning English in the classroom vs Learning English on your own
In the Classroom
Actual speaking and writing practice
Group means more varied activities and a chance to practise real communication, not just book work
You can ask questions
Learn with others / peer group / Community
Expert explanation of grammar
Learn from the mistakes of others – Hearing other people’s English can be a good thing
Teacher’s own material
Friends and memories
Nothing is stopping you from studying on your own as well – you can combine your private study routine with classroom study – and use the classroom as a safe space, a place to test yourself and have your questions answered
A way to ringfence several hours in the week for exclusive language practice. For some people it’s too hard to build it into the routine, so they just take classes so someone else can manage it.
Slower or faster than others – held back or confused. Weaker students drag you down to their level (but often these are opportunities to learn – they don’t have to be wasted moments)
Level difference (is it really a problem? The assumption is that you need to be with people who are higher than you, but this is a class, not just a social situation)
Personalities in class – sometimes the wrong balance of personalities means that nothing gets done properly
Class sizes – too big? Hard for the teacher to manage effectively, less STT
You have no control over various factors, like the topic or study point of the lesson, who speaks, what the interaction will be etc. You might get to influence that a bit, but you simply can’t expect it all to be done the way you want – it’s a group
Tendency to sit back and be spoon fed
Reverting to the old mindset of being a pupil at school
Hearing other people’s English can be a bad thing, unless it is being corrected
Possibly annoying teacher!
Expensive & time-consuming
Choosing the right school
In your own country the students will probably be from your country – this can be an advantage in that you will share things more closely, but this can be a disadvantage in that there’s less variety and a lack of an ‘international mindset’ which is helpful in developing a broad mind and to practice speaking to other non-natives from around the world (and the chances are that these are the people you’ll be talking to anyway)
On your own
You can use all the things I’ve ever mentioned on the podcast to create your own personalised study plan, or any other techniques or materials that you know. The world of language learning is your oyster.
There’s plenty of free stuff for learning English now
You can work out what’s best for you
Set your own schedule
You don’t have to go at someone else’s pace
You don’t have to go to someone else’s place!
If you’re organised, you can build a study plan that is tailored to you specifically
Massive amount of online stuff available including 1-2-1 lessons, e.g. with italki
Plenty of grammar practice and explanation online
You can surround yourself with English by using things like podcasts, books, italki etc
Take all the responsibility yourself
Ultimately, this is the only way because nobody can learn a language for you. Whatever approach you choose you’ll always have to be responsible for your own learning.
There’s a lot of pressure on your shoulders because you’ve got to do it all yourself and keep yourself motivated
You have to be extremely organised and devoted
You have to be able to manage your time and your workflow yourself, and let’s face it most of us need a helping hand
It’s hard to build learning English into everything you do even though that’s probably what you need to get to the higher levels
There’s no teacher to correct your mistakes and give you a plan
It can be lonely
Nobody to actually talk to unless you go online
Materials – which ones?
No guidance or advice from teacher or others – or at least it’s difficult to find – support network
In the end – the classroom is a resource which you have to learn to use. It can be a convenient way to get English practice into your life.
But ultimately, whatever the situation – personal motivation and your approach to what you do – these are the most important things. If you have the right level of motivation, you can use the classroom to your advantage, but it is limited. Outside of class you’ve got more freedom, but that can often result in you doing nothing. Classroom situations give you a bit more focus.
Learning in a classroom is just part of what you can do.
It works really well for lots of people, but not well for others.
It’s all about how you approach it.
In the end – you have to get to know yourself and your own ways of learning.
If classroom learning suits you, go for it – but make sure you use that classroom as a resource and get the most from it.
If classroom learning doesn’t work for you – that’s ok but you need to be very motivated, disciplined so you develop habits in your own time, but you have to be quite organised for that.
I could go on…
I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to this. It has helped me to reflect on my French a bit. I feel a bit better now actually. I think my French is improving, just very slowly indeed – not as quickly as I’d like and it feels overwhelming, but I must remember the example of the elephant. How do you eat an elephant? Just one spoon at a time – but you do have to eat regular spoons – one spoon at a time, as often as you can and enjoy it too! I’ve no idea how an elephant tastes, but since this is just a metaphor, let’s say the elephant is made of the finest Belgian chocolate, shall we?
I also just want to say how impressed I am by those of you out there who have improved your English to a good degree. Many of my listeners – that’s you- you have developed your English really well, often starting from a very basic level and not living in an English-speaking environment and I’m really proud of you. This takes dedication, work, time and effort. I’m also impressed by those of you who have learned English using my podcast. Many of you listen until the end of episodes, you follow me banging on about stuff, you write carefully worded comments and emails, you send voice messages, and of course outside of podcast-related things I’m sure you do plenty of other things that I’m not aware of in order to push your English further and further, even when it’s difficult. You’ve done so well and I just want you to know that I’m really impressed and proud of you. I know the challenge – believe me – so I’m really impressed and proud of you and also flattered that you choose to listen to my episodes as part of your English language lifestyle. There must be moments when you’re listening to my episodes where you’re lost, confused you’ve kept going – and it’s bound to help and I’m sure it has. Well done.
Thanks for listening.
Additional notes (not used in the episode)
Let me remind you of those three things. Just consider how your learning involves these things:
Just how motivated are you to learn the language you want to learn? Where does that motivation come from? Is it external (e.g. I feel I should learn it for other people or other reasons) or is it internal (I really want to learn it for myself). Motivation is like the driving force that you need to power your entire learning process. It’s probably the most important thing, because where there’s a will, there’s a way.
What are the things that you’re actually doing in English? Examine your habits. The main thing is that English practice is in your life as a habit. Habitual practice – regular things – every day probably. But think about those habits too. How many of those things are: Productive (involving you producing English in speaking or writing) Receptive (involving you just consuming English by listening or reading) Regular (on a regular basis – every day if possible) and long (longer than just a few minutes really). Habit is one of the most important things because it makes sure that language learning becomes a regular part of your day. It’s hard to change your lifestyle, so it’s important to try and get into the habit of doing things but little by little. That can mean just spending 10 minutes a day on English. When that has become a fixed habit, you can build on it and push towards longer periods. If you’re already maxing out your English in terms of time, think about pushing towards more intensive productive practice, like writing and speaking.
What are the things you’re using to learn English? Are there any other things you could get into your life? How can you really exploit them fully? Some simple examples:
LEP – you’re listening, but do you check the episode pages, take the vocab in the lists, read the transcriptions, check out the videos and other links I recommend?
Books – are you reading books at all? If you never finish the books you read in English – consider buying shorter books or graded books (E.g. Penguin Readers) which are appropriate for your level. Do you note certain words or phrases that you discover in the books you read? Are you choosing books that really interest you, or books that you think you should read? Are you choosing books filled with complex old-fashioned language, or books that contain more normal every day English?
Films and TV – do you sometimes watch an episode several times with and without the subtitles? Do you ever repeat the things you hear? Do you make note of new bits of language? Do you go back to those notes and test yourself? Do you record yourself saying things?
italki – get some lessons or conversations. This can be a good way to get proper, real-life communicative practice into your routine. Don’t be shy – give it a try.
Hello everybody, and welcome to this brand new instalment of Luke’s English Podcast – a podcast for learners of English.
In this episode my dad is going to tell you some true crime stories from England’s history. There are six stories in total and they all involve curious crimes and their punishments which can tell you quite a lot about what life was like in England in the mid 19th century.
We have established the value of listening to stories on this podcast before, right? Listening to stories can be a great way to improve your English, especially when they’re told in an interesting, clear and spontaneous way and of course I’m always happy to get contributions from my dad on this podcast – so I’m feeling good about this episode. I think it should be a good one.
These days my dad is semi-retired but he keeps himself busy doing various things, including some volunteer work for an organisation based in the town where my parents live – Warwick, in the midlands, in England.
The organisation is called Unlocking Warwick and it is a volunteer group based in a restored building in the centre of town.
This building used to be a court-house – a place where, in the past, people who had been accused of committing crimes were sent to be tried and possibly sentenced to various punishments, and back in the Victorian times those punishments could be quite harsh. The building operated as a court room from the early 16th century all the way through to the 1970s when it eventually closed. Then, a few years ago the building was fully restored to its former glory and is now a cultural centre for the town of Warwick. The volunteer group that my parents belong to, Unlocking Warwick, does various events and activities in this building as a way of helping people to explore the history of the town, which is also the site of one of the UK’s best medieval castles. Warwick is a place that’s worth visiting if you’re into English history and it’s only about 30 minutes away from Stratford Upon Avon – the birthplace of William Shakespeare.
Last year you heard me talk to my Mum about the Unlocking Warwick project and she mentioned the regency ballroom in the building, where they organise events like dances with historical themes, and since the building used to be the location of a court room, the group also presents dramatic reconstructions of real court cases that happened there.
These are like plays based on real records of the court proceedings which are stored in local archives, and my dad is the one who writes these dramas. He reads the details of old cases from the archives, picks the ones that sound interesting and then turns them into plays which are performed for the public by volunteer actors. They even get members of the audience to shout things out and generally play along, a bit like they would have done during the real trials back in the 19th century.
So, because he’s written these plays, Dad has a few stories at his disposal and I thought it might be fun, interesting and good practice for your English to hear him describe these stories in an episode of the podcast, so that’s what you’re going to get; six true stories of crimes that actually happened in Warwick, told to you by my dad – and almost all of it is told using past tenses – so straight away, there’s some grammar and pronunciation for you to look out for. I’m not going to go into all the details of those narrative past tenses here, but if you’d like to listen to episodes in which I explain those tenses, give examples and help you to pronounce them then you can check out episodes…
Other episodes dealing with Narrative Verb Tenses in more detail
They’re all (also) in the episode archive on the website.
But right now, let’s jump into this conversation that I had with my dad just the other day when my parents were visiting us. So, without any further ado – let’s get started.
The Six Stories
I’d like to summarise those six stories again now, just to make sure you got the main details and to help reinforce some of the language that you heard in the conversation.
You can find the notes I’m reading from here, written on the page for this episode on the website.
The Case of the Notorious Window Smasher
A woman who would go up and down the high street in Warwick and also in Birmingham, smashing shop windows (cutting up her arms in the process) and stealing goods, including a roll of top quality French material – and she was sentenced to time in the house of correction where she probably had to do hard labour all day, including walking in the treadmill – a kind of human-powered machine for grinding corn or wheat. Imagine being a sort of hamster in a wheel all day long – like going to the gym, but doing it for 10 hours or more and I’m sure the conditions were very dusty and awful. The Victorians, being sort of puritanical and protestant had a strong work ethic, and believed that hard work was the right remedy for people’s problems. You can see how this went together with a certain industriousness that marked that period of British history.
What Happened to the Extremely Drunk Man?
He was brought into the court by a policeman simply for being very very drunk, and was sentenced to 6 hours in the stocks.
The Story of the Poor Lunatic Woman
Her husband took her to the authorities claiming she was hysterical and completely impossible to live with, and she was promptly taken to the local lunatic asylum where she probably spent the rest of her life – but was she really mad, or did her husband just want to get rid of her?
The Woman Who Ran Away from the Workhouse
There were different places you could end up if you were found guilty of a crime, or simply didn’t have the means to look after yourself. The worst would be Australia, which was probably a very tough place to try and survive back in those days and the long boat journey would probably kill you anyway. Then there was prison, and I’m sure 19th century prisons would have been full of disease and all kinds of hideous misery. You heard about the hulks – these broken old ships that were moored on the river Thames in London, which worked as prisons. I expect the ones on the land weren’t much better. Then there were the houses of correction – essentially prisons where you did hard labour all day long. Then there were workhouses – not exactly prisons, but places that would house people who had no money. They’d give them accommodation and food in return for work. Honestly, I think places like this still exist in many parts of the world and it’s really sad and terrible, especially when we realise that some of the products that we consume might have been made in places like these – we call them sweatshops these days – places where people work long hours in awful conditions. The woman in this story ran away from her workhouse because, as she claimed, they weren’t feeding her. I expect that could be true. I think the food given to people in workhouses was often just very weak and watery soup (called gruel) which probably contained next to no nutritional value, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some people were denied food as punishment in a workhouse. There was so much cruelty in those days. This woman ran away, and was caught – but she hadn’t really committed a crime, had she? A workhouse wasn’t a compulsory place to stay. It’s not a jail. She ran away of her own free will. But they caught her and charged her with theft of the clothes she was wearing. I expect the clothes were provided for her by the workhouse – so that’s how they got her. It makes me wonder if there wasn’t some sort of personal revenge or some kind of personal vendetta against this woman, or some kind of conspiracy against her. Her sentence? 3 months hard labour in the house of correction. I’m sure some people profited from all this free labour.
Why did Joseph Smith Break a Lamp in the Market Square?
Just to get arrested and put in the house of correction – because he had no money and no food. So he did it just to get fed and housed, even if it meant having to do menial work. It sounds like he was pretty desperate. There was no such thing as welfare or social security in those days. That didn’t arrive for nearly another 100 years, after WW2.
What Happened to the Shoemaker’s Rabbit?
It was stolen – and footprints were found in the garden of the house where the theft happened. Emmanuel Cox was charged with the theft – and accused of stealing the rabbit and cooking it in a pot. The police officer that arrested Cox seems to have been tipped off by someone. The constable mentioned “Information received” – so did someone tip him off about Emmanuel Cox? Was someone trying to set Cox up, or did they have genuine information about Cox? In any case, when Cox’s place was searched they found a rabbit skin hanging up in the kitchen, which the shoemaker identified. It looked like an open and shut case. The evidence was a dead giveaway! But during the trial a woman in the audience defended Cox (she turned out to be someone he lived with – so probably not a great witness) and it was claimed that there was a witness who could testify to Cox’s innocence – but he couldn’t be found. In the end Cox was acquitted – the magistrate let him go without a charge, because he said the evidence was not sufficient. I wonder what the punishment would have been, for stealing and eating a pet rabbit? I’ll hazard a wild guess at 3 months in a correctional house, because it seems that doing pretty much anything would land you in the correctional house for 3 months, if you were a petty criminal and you lived in Warwick.
Well there you have it, the case of the shoemaker’s rabbit and 5 other stories.
I hope you enjoyed it, that you learned some English or at least you had some nice and nourishing listening practice – yum yum yum.
You can find notes and some transcriptions on the page for this episode on the website, where you can see some of the words and phrases used in this episode.
Don’t forget to download the LEP app for your smartphone. It’s free – that’s where you’ll find the entire episode archive on your phone and there are various app-only episodes and other bonuses for you to check out.
Join the mailing list on the website to get an email whenever I upload new content. That email will contain a link that’ll take you straight to the page for that content – usually a new episode and sometimes some website-only content, like when I’m interviewed on someone else’s podcast or if I want to write to you about something in particular that I think might interest you.
Sometimes episodes arrive on the website a day earlier than everywhere else, so being an email subscriber might be the fastest way to find out about new episodes when they’re released.
So, be an email subscriber, be an app-user and if you enjoy my episodes and find them useful and if the spirit moves you – please recommend this podcast to at least one person who you think might like it, leave LEP a review on iTunes or the Google Play store, and you could consider sending a donation to the podcast to help with running costs and perhaps as a sincere way to say thanks for my work.
In any case, I’d just like to say thanks for listening and I’ll speak to you again soon!
A conversation about travelling and learning languages with Ethan from RealLife English. Ethan is very well-travelled, having lived in at least 6 different countries. He’s also learned a few different languages to a good level as an adult. Let’s talk about his advice for adapting to new cultures and learning languages in adulthood. Vocabulary notes and language test available below.
Arrive with an open mind and be ready to try anything
Don’t just hang out with people from your country
You have to make an effort to integrate into the country
Things might be weird, but you’ll end up having some really memorable experiences
Push yourself to live like a local, even if at first you feel like the lifestyle isn’t as good as it is in your country
Get over yourself! Get out of your comfort zone
Don’t go just to learn English, go somewhere for the whole experience – and if you do that you’ll probably learn English more effectively as a result
Ethan’s advice for learning English on your own
Watch a popular TV show with subtitles – it’s important to choose a show that you like.
Listen to music and taking the time to look up the lyrics.
He just talked to people, even though he was really awkward and shy because he made lots of mistakes.
Motivation is key – he fell in love with Catalan and this gave him the motivation to push through the difficult moments, the awkwardness etc. So build and nurture your motivation to learn a language. Realise how good it is for you to come out of your shell and remember that you can get over your barriers if you really want to.
Find the right people to talk to, find people who are understanding and sympathetic to your situation (someone who’s learning a language too).
Do a language exchange because the other person will be much more likely to tolerate your errors, and will be willing to help you out because you’re going to do the same for them. (you can use italki to find language partners in many countries – www.teacherluke.co.uk/talk )
Be voraciously curious – cultivate the desire to do more. If you’re listening to music, check the lyrics and look them up. While watching TV use a notepad or an app like Evernote on your phone to note down vocab and then look it up later.
Practice by speaking to other non-native speakers of the language you’re learning. Other learners of the language are likely to be more sympathetic, they’ll probably have more in common with you, they might have some good advice, you’re going through a similar experience. Having peers with whom you can share your experience is really important.
Some language from the first part of the conversation (Quiz below)
Listen to this episode to get some definitions and descriptions of this language.
Refurbished buildings (made to look new again)
You can see some random smokestacks and things sticking up (tall chimneys)
Three blocksfrom the beach. (distance between his place and the beach)
I tend to go running there (I usually go running there. Not – I am used to going running there)
The weather hasn’t really been beach-appropriate (appropriate for a beach!)
We’re just rolling into fall here (entering) (fall = autumn)
I enjoy running by the beach, especially because the whole area around the beach is very iconic from when they had the Olympics here (impressive because it’s a famous symbol of something)
A modernist humongous whale structure (massive)
Every time I look at it I’m just astounded, it’s beautiful. (amazed)
Language for describing Ethan’s background (background – narrative tenses, past simple, past continuous, maybe some past perfect)
I moved back here (already) two months ago.
I was living here two times before, once for a year and a half and once for 3 months. (normally I’d use ‘I lived’ but perhaps he was thinking of it as a temporary thing in both cases)
Ways he talks about his current situation – present perfect to describe past events with a connection to now.
I’ve come back to stay, probably indefinitely, hopefully for a couple of years. (this is the only example actually)
Describing your background and your current situation
Describing your background
You need to use narrative tenses to describe your background story, and you need to learn how to do this in English and to be able to repeat it with some confidence. It might be worth thinking of how you can make your background story quite interesting or entertaining, or at least say how you felt about it. It just helps in social situations.
Remember: Past simple – the main events of the story – the main sequence Past continuous – the situation at the time, or longer events which are interrupted by shorter actions Past perfect – background events to the main events of the story
E.g. I went to university in Liverpool and studied Media & Cultural Studies. It was a really interesting degree, but it wasn’t very useful. I stayed in Liverpool for a while and played music in a band but we didn’t make it and I left and moved back in with my parents which was a bit of a nightmare. I didn’t really know what to do with myself for a while, but I decided I wanted to travel and go somewhere quite different, and I‘d always been curious about teaching, so I trained to be an English teacher and I got my first job in Japan. I stayed there for a couple of years, had a great time but decided that I wanted to come back because of family reasons. I taught English in London for 8 years, did my DELTA, got a job in a good school in London and then I met a French girl and I moved to France so we could be together. I’m very romantic. (actually that was almost exclusively past simple, wasn’t it?)Describing your current situation
Then you also need to talk about your current situation. We do this with present simple (permanent situations) and present continuous (temporary situations) and present perfect to talk about past actions with a connection to now.
E.g. I live in Paris these days. I’ve been here for about 5 years. I’ve worked for a few different schools, teaching English. These days I teach at The British Council. I’ve been there for about 3 years now. I’m also developing some online courses which I hope to release on my website before too long!
I’m from Colorado in the USA. Luke: Oh cool. (I said cool – because you should say cool when someone tells you where they’re from, or at least you should show some interest or curiosity, and be positive about it.)
It’s below Canada and above Mexico, between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. (my non-specific description of where Colorado is – basically, it’s somewhere in the USA, haha etc)
It’s (to the) north east of Arizona, (to the) east of Utah, above New Mexico.
What’s the difference between ‘east of London’, ‘to the east of London’ and ‘in the east of London‘?
The four corners – it’s just a couple of hours away from the town I grew up in. (how would you put that in your language? “It takes two hours to get there”, “It’s a couple of hours from here”
It’s a tourist trap now. You go and put your hand in the middle and you’re in four states at once. (a place that attracts tourists and is probably best avoided)
I was born in my house. Durango, Colorado. That’s the town I lived in.
When I was 17 I moved to Germany for 6 months.
It’s interesting to see that, when you’ve lived in a place for 20 years, how it evolves. (how it changes gradually over time)
Colorado is wonderful, it’s spectacular. (magnificent, amazing, breathtaking)
We’re so active, we’re always outdoors. There are spectacular hikes you can do.
There are 4,000 or 5,000 metre peaks. (summits, mountain tops)
It’s very different to Europe because you get that kind of old-west feeling. (from the period of western expansion) (wild west – cowboys and lawlessness)
My only criticism is that I lived there for 20 years, which is more than enough. (nice way to start a sentence with something negative in it)…. (more than enough = too much)
I’ve never seen a grizzly, and they are dangerous. (grizzly bear)
Mountain Lions – if you were by yourself and you encountered one, it might not be a great end for you. You might get eaten alive by a huge cat. (You don’t meet a wild animal, you encounter one.)
We have deer and elk and in the north we also have moose, and a lot of, we’d say, critters, like small animals. (deer = animals that look like they have trees growing out of their heads – you know what I mean. Like Santa Claus’ reindeer. Elk = big deer. Moose = really big elk. Critters – little animals like rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, rats, raccoons, skunks)
In the US you drive from city to city and you see endlessexpanses of mountains and plains. (wide open spaces)
That’s a fun question so I’d have to think. (a nice way to buy time for yourself when someone asks you a question, like saying “that’s a good question, let me think”)
When I was in high school I did a 6 month exchange in Germany and during that time I also got to live in Poland for 2 weeks. (difference between for and during?)
I lived in Spain in Majorca for a year during college, which is when I fell in love with this place.
Some time expressions to help you tell a story:
After that, after school, I moved to Brazil.
I joined RealLife English because they had started a few months before I moved there.
That’s when I moved to Barcelona. Then I moved to Chile for 6 months. Now finally I‘ve moved back here.
After that you can imagine I’m a bit tired of jumping around so much and living out of a back pack. Now I’m here to stay for a while.
The plan in this episode is to go through some of the language that you heard during the last two episodes.
If you listened to episodes 464 and 465 you will have heard me telling you to watch out for certain language that I would be explaining later.
Well, it is now ‘later’ – later has arrived. This is later. So let’s check out some of that language, shall we?
Check the page for this episode to see the words, phrases and some example sentences written for you to look at with your eyes and then remember with your brains (your brain – you’ve only got one, right?)
So, how much stuff did you notice? How many phrasal verbs, collocations and instances of ‘get’?
I’ve been through the episodes and have picked out some of that language that I thought was worth highlighting, and there was loads of it, tons of it, considerable amounts, too much for one episode. So in this one I’m just going to focus on the uses of get, which is one of the most common verbs in the English language. Let’s consider all the uses of ‘get’ which came up in the last two episodes.
GET the word ‘get’ into your life
Open a dictionary and look up this little word. You’ll see pages and pages of entries. Different meanings, grammatical functions, uses, phrasal verbs, fixed expressions and so on.
*actually read out loads of uses of get…*
You can’t underestimate the importance and usefulness of this little word. Native English speakers use get an awful lot. It’s one of the features of native level English.
Now, actually I should point out that it’s not just this one word on its own. That’s slightly misleading. Instead you realise that you’re not learning ‘get’ over and over again, you’re learning all the many different phrases in which it occurs. So, don’t focus on what ‘get’ really means – on its own it doesn’t mean that much, that’s why it’s a delexical verb. The meaning is to be found in the whole phrase – so that means you need to pay particular attention to how the word collocates with prepositions like ‘in’ or ‘on’ and auxiliary verbs like ‘have’ and also how these phrases affect the grammar of the sentence (e.g. if they’re followed by a gerund or an infinitive).
Sounds difficult? That’s because it is. In fact, I think ‘get’ is an example of exactly how English can be extremely tricky for learners of English.
Some aspects of English are easier than other aspects.
Some of the ‘easier’ things about our language are – there are not so many verb forms (e.g. with ‘go’ – to go, go, goes, going, went, gone, been) or verb endings (-ed, s or es) , no gender – so no need to change the gender of the adjective or pronoun and so on. Obviously I would say English was easy because it’s easy for me and I know that, admittedly, there are some tricky bits like some adjective and adverb morphology (with comparatives and superlatives – er, ier, est, iest), our irregular verbs and spelling are an irregular nightmare, we have lots of vocabulary with many synonyms, indirect language is hard to deal with, modal verbs are hard to get to grips with and there’s massive diversity in the way the language is spoken with many different accents around the world and so on, but compared to something like French or German there is less grammar to deal with, like the number of verb forms for example is quite limited.
I guess this is why it’s fairly common for people to get to a certain level of functional English (intermediate level) quite quickly but then get stuck at the intermediate plateau. Many people get to that level where they can basically say what they want to say and hold down a basic conversation but then that’s it, they stay there or they get stuck there because they hit a wall when it comes to the more complex stuff – the really nitty-gritty of native level English usage – the stuff that allows you to communicate shades of grey, subtlety, nuance and humour.
This is where English becomes particularly tough stuff. It’s the sheer diversity of little phrases which are created by combining certain ‘delexical verbs’ with prepositions, pronouns, gerunds and infinitives.
‘Delexical verbs’ are verbs which don’t carry much meaning on their own. Often they are little verbs. E.g. get, have, keep, put, take, make, give. They combine with other words in phrases. It’s the phrase as a whole that carries the specific meaning.
We end up with sentences like: “I’ve just got to get in on some of that action.” or “I just can’t get used to being out of the loop.” or “I’ve got to get round to getting you back for that thing that you did to me.”
“I’ve just got to get in on some of that action.”
to have got to do something = to have to do it, to need to do it
to get in on something = to become involved in something, take part in something from which you will benefit.
Is the meaning obvious from the words? Not really. The only big word there is “action”. All the others are little ‘grammar words’. The whole thing is quite idiomatic.
Is it easy to spot all the words being used when someone says it? Not really
You might eventually understand it, but can you use and pronounce it quickly and confidently?
Jim: Do you want to get in on some of this action? *points to chips and salsa*
Pete: No thanks, I’m Good.
(from the Urban Dictionary – which isn’t always reliable by the way, there’s a lot of stupid, rude slang in there)
“I can’t get used to being out of the loop” = I’m in a really difficult position because I don’t know what’s going on and I haven’t known what’s going on for a while. This position is not getting easier for me.” e.g. you’ve got no internet connection and life just doesn’t seem normal.
“I’ve got to get round to getting you back for that thing that you did to me.”
to get round to doing something = to finally do something you should have done before
to get someone back for doing something = to get revenge on someone
This is where English gets really quite difficult. It’s a nightmare, I know.
A lot of these ‘bits of English’ with get are phrasal verbs, others are just fixed expressions. They are difficult, right? But what are you going to do? Ignore them? Pretend they don’t exist? Bad move. You’ll end up speaking an unnatural form of English. You’ll end up not really understanding what native speakers are talking about or getting at.
So, don’t underestimate the importance of little verbs like ‘get’ or ‘make’ or ‘put’. They’ve very common and this is the real English that is used all the time every day, but which is hard to learn because it’s probably quite different from your native language and because they’re not the ‘big heavy latin words’ that are more noticeable. These delexical words are like the ninjas of English. Yes, more ninjas on the podcast. I am obsessed with ninjas.
There are actually about 29 different uses or different phrases with ‘get’ in this episode. Maybe more.
That’s a lot, I know. Normally in lessons we don’t teach more than about 12 words at a time. There’s a good chance not every phrase will stick.
It can feel overwhelming. There are so many usages and phrases. It feels like you’ll never learn them all. But don’t worry about it all too much. It does take a while to pick up these difficult aspects of English but it’s not impossible. It helps if you stay positive.
Tips for dealing with all this tricky vocabulary
Here are some tips that I hope will help:
Remember – it feels like there’s an infinite number of these little phrases. There isn’t. It’s a finite number. You can learn them all if you try. It is achievable. You can do it. Yes, you can.
OK, so you might not learn them all, it’s quite difficult. But don’t worry, you don’t have to learn them all. Just learn some and the ones you do learn properly will stick with you forever as long as you keep noticing and using them. That’s better than just going “Oh to hell with it!” and learning nothing. Something is better than nothing, even if it is not everything. So, don’t worry if you don’t get all of these expressions. Just learn some now and get the others later.
You could check a phrasal verbs dictionary like the Cambridge Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs to see the frequency of expressions, which might help you see which expressions are more common than others.
When you’ve learned a phrase, or started learning some phrases. Listen out for them, watch out for them. You’ll find you start noticing them more and more. This will help you remember them a bit. The ones you notice a lot are the really useful ones worth remembering.
Watch out for tricky little details such as whether the expression is followed by an -ing form or an infinitive form (with or without to) or if there are sneaky little prepositions, auxiliaries or pronouns. Don’t just learn the big solo verbs or words, train yourself to be on the lookout for vocabulary in phrases, or chunks. E.g. “to get used to doing something” or “be used to doing something” – both of those expressions with ‘used to’ have 4 parts, not just ‘used to’.
Always study vocabulary with real examples, not just definitions. Beware of translating everything directly from or into your language, this might not work. English is a different language, remember.
Try to use expressions with your own examples. Own the language. Personalise it. Use examples that mean something to you. This will help it stick in your mind, especially if your examples are visual or spatial – e.g. involving you in a particular space.
Listen back to episodes 464 and 465 and focus on spotting the uses of ‘get’ either in phrasal verbs or other uses. You could play ‘vocab hunter’ if it makes you feel more excited.
These phrases can be difficult to notice because of connected speech – the way certain sounds are cut, or even added in order to say the phrase quickly. All the words in the phrase run into each other and it ends up sounding like one word or even just a noise. E.g. “things might get a bit technical” (try it with and without the /t/ sounds)
Check out my series called “A Phrasal Verb a Day”. It’s currently on hiatus, but there are about 130 phrasal verbs explained in individual episodes with their own examples. Each episode is just a few minutes long and there’s not much rambling. I just get straight to the point each time. It might help.
So, let’s carry on and look at the ways in which ‘get’ is used with some examples from episodes 464 and 465.
Uses of GET
Get on its own can mean a few things. See below for examples.
The list below is in order of frequency from episodes 464 and 465. The most frequent uses in those episodes are at the top of the list.
Get = receive (get a letter), obtain (get permission to do something), achieve (get a good result)
e.g. (to get an idea, to get the giggles, get the motivation to do something)
here’s a message I got not long ago
I do get quite a lot of messages like that
I get messages like this quite a lot
where I get the inspiration for episodes
getting the giggles
Zdenek got a teaching job off the back of his podcast
Get some inspiration to record something
get the right results
getting a sense of what works with learners of English
some things that I’m sure will be a hit seem to get a muted response
trying to get their approval
it’s great to get your feedback
you can’t get that lovely close sound with the laptop mic
Get = become (get + adjective)
e.g. get old, get hot, get dark, get famous, get bored
This might get a bit technical later on
which could get quite geeky
if you get too focused on controlling everything
I think she gets distracted at work
I have to get myself pumped up
That’s how a British person gets pumped up
Come on, let’s get pumped!
Let’s get pumped up!
things get a bit more fun in the second half of the episode
Ooh, suddenly this has got way more exciting, hasn’t it. Hasn’t it?
Get = the auxiliary verb in passive forms (sometimes)
e.g. to get paid, to get downloaded, to get noticed, get caught, get arrested, get involved in something
if you get too focused on controlling everything you might stifle the conversation
I think she gets distracted at work
Let’s get pumped up!
Get = understand
e.g. to get the message, get a joke, to get the idea
nobody gets the joke
you get the idea
Do you get what I’m trying to say?
I just don’t get it
have got = have (possessive)
I’ve got two Shure SM58s and a Shure SM7B
Send out a search team for Carlos. Sweep the area, we’ve got a missing LEPster. (actually he’s not missing, he got in touch)
Imagine you’re a presenter and you’ve got your own radio show
Watch out for:
*we don’t use it in the past (I had)
*auxiliary verbs in negatives and questions
(+) I have an idea / I have got an idea
(-) I don’t have an idea / I haven’t got an idea
(Q) Do you have any ideas? / Have you got any ideas?
Have got to = have to (obligation)
I’ve just got to get through this work
“I’ve got to concentrate!”
Watch out for:
*not in the past (I had to)
*negatives and questions
I have to do it / I have got to do it
I don’t have to do it / I haven’t got to do it
Do you have to do it? / Have you got to do it?
Get = reach/arrive at a place/stage
e.g. to get home, to get to work, to get to where you want to be
to get to where I need to be to start recording something about it
Get = manage to put something somewhere
e.g. to get it on the table, to get the ball in the hole
get it online, get those files online
Phrasal verbs and other expressions with get
To get through something = to finish something, to pass from the start to the finish
e.g. We need to get through the woods before the sun goes down.
Things got a little bit difficult in the middle of the marathon but I got through it.
try to get through the bits about how I make the podcast
To get your head around something = to understand it
I’ll explain the vocab later, which should help you to get your head around it all
To get round to doing something = to do something you have intended to do for a long time
I’m glad to have actually got round to doing it
I wonder if I’ll ever get round to making all those episodes
To get into something (literal) = to enter something (e.g. get into the car please sir) or change into a particular state (e.g. get into the right mood to do something)
I just try to get into the right frame of mind to record an episode
To get into something (idiomatic – ish) = become interested or involved in something
You might want to get into it too
To get back (to something) = to return to a place, or return to something you were doing before
e.g. “Get back! Get back! Get back to where you once belonged. Get back Jo Jo!”
Let’s get back to the topic of this episode
To get something across = to communicate something to someone, to make someone understand something
I have to come up with ideas and get them (my ideas) across to my audience
How to actually get the message across
To get on with someone = to have a good, friendly relationship with someone
Listen to people who know each other and get on well
To get rid of something = to throw something away, to discard it
Sometimes I have to get rid of what I recorded and start again
Other expressions and uses of ‘get’
To get going / to get started = to start
So let’s get going.
Let’s get started properly.
To get on with it = Start doing something that you should be doing.
e.g. Come on, stop wasting time! Get on with it!
Let’s get on with it.
To get down to business = to start talking about the subject which is to be discussed
Let’s get down to business.
To get something done = do it, finish it – ‘get’ is a causative verb here – either you do it or someone else does it
Control the podcast settings and get it published to iTunes
I need to get this finished by the end of the day
I need to get my teeth looked at
To get someone to do something = another causative verb – it means to make someone do something, to persuade someone to do something – someone else does it (in USA they might say “have it done”
getting people to download it
How I get people to know about what I’m doing, how to get people to listen.
To get someone doing something = to put someone in a state, to make someone do something over and over
Here are just a few questions to get you thinking.
What’s the difference between ‘get someone to do something’ and ‘get someone doing something’?
The first one means persuade someone to do it, and it might only be once. (e.g. I got him to give me the money)
The second one means that you make someone do something over and over again, or put them in a state, not just do one single thing. (e.g. “now you’ve got me worrying” or “I really want to get you running every day”)
To get used to doing something = to become accustomed to doing something, to become familiar with something
I want you to get used to noticing different bits of language
To get the hang of doing something = like ‘get used to -ing’ but more informal, to learn how to do something
I want you to get the hang of noticing language
To get the most out of something = to achieve the most from something that is possible, to take advantage of something
I want you to be able to get the most out of these episodes
to get the most out of the people you’re listening to
Also: to make the most of something
To get in touch (with someone) = to contact someone by phone, text, email etc
Get in touch
Also: keep in touch, stay in touch
To get it right/wrong = do something correctly or incorrectly
I’m sure I don’t get it right every time
I try to get it right
To get together = meet socially
Get people together
Get together with someone
If you get the right people together
Also – (n) a ‘get together’
Let’s have a get together at the weekend