🎧 Learn English with a short story. 🗣 Listen & repeat after me if you’d like to practise your pronunciation. 💬 Learn some vocabulary in the second half of the video. 📄 I found this story in answer to a post on Quora.com asking about true scary stories. I thought I could use it to help you learn English. Can you understand the story, and predict the twist at the end?
About 7 years ago I got an invitation to attend a dinner party at my cousin’s house. I have a pretty large family and I had never actually seen this particular cousin before. I had only ever spoken to him on the phone. I was surprised that his family unexpectedly invited me over, but I was curious to finally meet them.
The invitation had an address that I didn’t know and the GPS was unfamiliar with it too. It was in one of those areas where Google Maps doesn’t work properly because of poor phone reception,
so I had to use an old fashioned paper map. I marked the location on the map, tried to get a sense of where I was headed, and set off in my car.
As I was driving I started to notice how far I’d travelled into the countryside, away from civilization. I saw trees, farms and fields passing by. Just trees, farms, and fields, and more trees, more farms and more fields.
“Where the hell am I going?” I thought to myself. I’d never ventured out so far in that direction before.
I drove for quite a long time, trying to locate the address I had marked on the map.
The thing is, in this area, a lot of the roads don’t have names, or the names aren’t clearly marked by road signs. I just had to try to match the layout of the streets, to the layout I could see on the map.
I finally found a place at a location that looked like the one I had noted on my map. I was pretty sure this was the right spot, so I parked and got out of the car.
Approaching the house I noticed how dull and dreary it looked. It was completely covered in leaves, branches and overgrown trees.
“This can’t be it.” I said to myself.
But as soon as I walked onto the rocky driveway my aunt and uncle came out to greet me. They seemed excited and welcoming.
“Hello! Hello! Come in! Come in!” they said, beckoning me inside.
Walking into the house, I asked where my cousin was. Answering immediately one of them said, “Oh, he just went to run a few errands. He should be back later.”
I waited in their kitchen and we spent a couple of hours talking about my mother and my family. My aunt made a delicious homemade pot roast that I finished off in minutes.
After dinner we played an enduring game of Uno. It was surprisingly fun and competitive. My aunt in particular seemed delighted to be playing.
When we finished the game of Uno it was almost dark and there was still no sign of my cousin. My aunt and uncle assured me that he’d be back any time soon. Despite what they said, I decided that I had to leave.
It was almost dark outside and I knew it would be a nightmare to find my way out of this dreadful place after sunset, with no streetlights or road signs. As my GPS just wasn’t working, I asked my aunt and uncle the most efficient way to get to the highway.
They gave me a puzzled look.
“But, we thought you were staying the night?” they said.
I told them I couldn’t because I had work the next day and couldn’t afford to miss another day. “It’s much better if you leave tomorrow morning. Trust us. You’ll get lost” they said.
I shrugged it off and told them not to worry,
“Don’t worry. I’ve got a pretty good sense of direction. I could find my way out of the Sahara desert.” I told them.
Looking aggravated, they strongly advised me to stay the night for my own sake. Their body language was weird too as they became more serious and insistent. My uncle stood shaking his head, and my aunt began to move about the place, picking up a set of keys to unlock what I assume was a spare bedroom.
At this point I was getting annoyed and irritable. I sighed, “Fine I’ll stay the night then, but I have to get up very early for work.” I said. Both of them seemed strangely ecstatic that I was staying the night.
As soon as they went out of the room to get bed sheets and pillows,
I ran out of the door, got in my car and hastily pulled away. I know it was rude, but I suddenly felt the urge to get out of there, quickly.
It seemed to take me ages, but I finally found my way back to the main highway and drove back through the night, wondering why my cousin had never turned up.
I got home several hours later than I expected. It was after midnight and I didn’t want to wake my parents up. Climbing over my fence and entering the back door, I noticed that the kitchen lights were on.
As soon as I took my first step through the door, I saw my mom sitting there looking impatient.
How would the same car accident be described in over 15 completely different styles of English? What are the differences in vocabulary, grammar and organisational structure? How should I change my voice to read each description? Let’s see how English changes in different situations. Styles presented include: formal and informal English, news reports, an action movie screenplay, an Eminem rap, a romantic novel, a Shakespeare play, a politician making a speech, a stand-up comedian, Liam Neeson in the film Taken, and Luke in an episode of Luke’s English Podcast. PDF transcript available.
Reading an article by Gavin Lamb (PhD) about the conclusions of academic studies into language learning, and adding my own reflections and comments. What does research tell us about the best way to learn a language? What are the most important things to consider? What are the best methods? The article boils it all down to three main points.
Carlos Soares, from the University of Aveiro in Portugal, is doing a master’s degree dissertation all about language learning podcasts. He contacted me to conduct an interview as part of his research, and he agreed for me to publish it as an episode of my podcast. Carlos asks me about my thoughts on learning English through listening, my approach to making my podcast and some other details.
In this final part of the series I’m going to evaluate ChatGPT’s ability to work as a dictionary with definitions, example sentences, synonyms, phonetic transcriptions, etc. I test its ability to convert texts into British English or other varieties, see if it can help with sentence stress and word stress, and check its ability to create grammar and vocabulary quizzes and other useful exercises.
This is the 3rd and final part of this little series of episodes I’ve done about using ChatGPT to learn English.
I’m experimenting with lots of different prompts to see if it can do things like:
Create study plans for you
Simulate natural conversations
Correct your errors
Provide role play practice for specific situations like job interviews
Help you with Cambridge exam tasks and practice
In this part I’m going to try to answer these questions:
Can you use ChatGPT like a dictionary?
Can it give us correct definitions, information about parts of speech, pronunciation, example sentences, synonyms, antonyms, collocations?
Can it provide information about the etymology of words and phrase?
Can it transcribe things into phonemic script?
Does it accurately transcribe things into British English pronunciation?
Can it convert between different dialects of English, e.g. will it convert American English into British English, or into specific dialects of British English?
Is it able to help us to practise reading texts or presentation scripts with the right sentence stress, word stress, pausing and intonation?
Can it help us practise grammar by creating quizzes or tests? Are those tests reliable?
Can it help you to remember vocabulary with tests?
Can it help you remember words and spelling with mnemonic memory devices?
Can it create text adventure games?
Can it adapt its English to different levels?
What are my overall thoughts and conclusions about ChatGPT?
You can get a PDF of the script for this episode which includes all the prompts I am using to get ChatGPT to do specific things.
Check the episode description and you will find a link to my website page where you can get the PDF scripts for parts 1,2 and 3 of this series.
If you are watching on YouTube I recommend using full screen mode so you can read the on-screen text more easily.
OK, so without further ado, let’s play around with ChatGPT a bit more and see how it can help you learn English.
Ask it to define words What does “rambling” mean?
It gave pretty good definitions I have to say.
Arguably it’s not as good as a proper dictionary.
Just type the words into a dictionary and you’ll get way more info, including parts of speech, pronunciation, example sentences, related phrasal verbs etc.
But having said that you can ask ChatGPT for more specific details about words, including:
Can you give me some example sentences with the verb “ramble” in different tenses?
What are common collocations with the word ramble?
What are some synonyms of the word “ramble”? (I had to specify for ways of talking)
Can you transcribe the word “ramble” in phonemic script?
What is the origin of the expression “break a leg?”
Create mnemonics to help you remember vocabulary
Can you create some mnemonics to help me remember these words and phrases?
ramble, waffle, meander, go off on a tangent, get sidetracked
It did it, and I must say this is pretty impressive.
You still need to use your imagination a bit, but these mnemonics are certainly a good starting point.
Ask it to transcribe things into phonemic script
But only in standard American?
Is it good at transcribing things in British English?
Can you transcribe this sentence into phonemic script? I’d like a hot dog with lots of tomato sauce.
Different versions of the language
Can you convert this story into (insert dialect here)?
This is a paragraph I came up with which contains loads of words that are different between US and UK English.
Let’s see if it can convert this UK version into US English.
First I’ll read it out. See if you can identify the words which will probably be different between US and UK English.
I just popped out of my flat to get some post from the postman when I realised I had locked myself out. I was stuck outside with only a pair of slippers on and it was the middle of autumn. To make matters worse I really needed the toilet. My car was there but of course I’d left the car keys in the house as well, although I couldn’t see where they were because my curtains were closed. Then I noticed that some bloody yob had put a big scratch across the bonnet of my car. That made me really angry I can tell you. “You’ll be hearing from my solicitor” I said to myself. Just when I thought my day couldn’t get any worse the TV aerial on the roof of my house fell off and crashed into the windscreen of my car, smashing it to pieces. I thought “I’ll need to make a trip to the chemist for some medicine to help me recover from this!” I walked along the main road and on the way I stopped to get some chips from the fish & chip shop at the main crossroads near my house. When I had finished, I put the paper bag in the rubbish bin and walked under the flyover to the chemist’s. I got my medicine and headed home. Of course, I was still locked out so in the end I had to jump over the fence into my back garden and climbed into a window which I had left open. Luckily I lived on the ground floor so I didn’t actually need to climb up the wall or anything, but unfortunately I broke a mug which was on the window sill. I used my hoover to clean up the broken pieces. Suddenly I heard a siren and someone knocked at the door. “Oh no, it’s the old bill!” I thought. “They think I’m burgling my own house!” I went to answer the door, but I didn’t realise that I’d ripped my trousers climbing in the window. I opened the door and stood there with my trousers hanging open. They could see my pants and everything! How embarrassing!
Make a funny dialogue between two friends in a pub in London speaking British English. Include a joke at the end of the dialogue.
Generate the same response but the two friends are from Belfast, in Northern Ireland.
Sentence stress, pausing and intonation
Ask it to help you read out a text with the right pausing, stress and intonation.
Can you help me to read out this paragraph, showing where the pauses, stress and intonation should be?
Chat GPT or chat-based generative pre-trained transformer models, is a type of artificial intelligence that allows users to interact with a virtual assistant using natural language. This technology is based on the principles of GPT-3, the third generation of the popular generative pre-trained transformer model.
One of the key features of chat GPT is its ability to generate responses in real-time, based on the user’s input.
That is from an article about ChatGPT which I found on medium.com 👇
but it’s bad at showing word stress or sentence stress.
☝️bad bad bad bad bad! ☝️
Grammar or vocab quizzes or tests
Let’s ask it to create a grammar review test for upper-intermediate level.
Create a 10-question grammar test to help me practise English at an upper-intermediate level.
10 questions isn’t really enough to cover all areas of grammar but you would expect it to cover at least 10 different grammar points. Did it?
What happens if I ask it to make a 20-question grammar test for B2 level? Does it use a wide variety of forms? Does it require the test taker do demonstrate control over the language or is it just multiple choice?
The results are not as rigorous, complete, reliable or detailed as similar tests in published materials such as the diagnostic test at the back of English Grammar in Use by Murphy.
It’s also not focused on language that you have been studying in your course.
It always uses multiple choice.
Basically – it doesn’t produce a very reliable test.
Vocabulary review tests, to help you remember words and phrases
Create a vocabulary test to help me remember and use these words and phrases.
ramble, waffle, meander, go off on a tangent, crack on, Get away with, get by, get on with, get off on, get through to, get around to
The test it created was multiple choice and only contained definitions.
Definitions are good but not the best way to help you remember vocabulary. You need example sentences and it’s best if you have to use the words in a meaningful and contextualised way. At least give us example sentences with the words and phrases removed and ask us to put the correct words in the correct place, perhaps in the correct form.
But it’s better than nothing, and I think this could be useful if you have a list of words or phrases that you’re trying to remember.
Text adventure games to practise grammar
I’ve always wanted to create one of these but have never got round to it. One of the reasons is because it’s quite a time consuming task and requires a lot of patience to make sure I’m using plenty of good grammar questions and combining that with an interesting story with engaging choices. Maybe ChatGPT can cut out a lot of the work.
Create a 5 minute text adventure game to help me practise English grammar
Nice idea but it did a bad job. It ended up creating a game with virtually no grammar questions and then it played the game itself.
I’m sure there are other language practice exercises or activities which ChatGPT could do.
If you can think of some other things, put them in the comment section.
Ask it to adapt its English level to yours
You can write things like “please adapt your English to B1 level” or something similar.
Actually I just tested this with this prompt:
Give me some advice on how to set up a podcast studio. Please use A2 level English.
Can you adapt this passage from Hamlet by Shakespeare into elementary level (A2) English?
So you can ask it to use simple English at your level.
You can also prompt it in your first language of course, but you have to request that it responds in English.
Overview / Comments / Conclusions
It’s definitely way better than any chatbots I’ve ever seen before.
There’s no denying how impressive it is in many ways. I only scratched the surface here. It can do lots of other things including creating legal contracts, writing song lyrics, writing short stories, movie plots, essay plans, essays etc.
But I think we still need to be a bit sceptical or critical about it at this stage. It’s impressive at first, but working closely with it shows us its limitations.
Don’t assume that it is answering your questions correctly or reliably. It seems to miss things, and contradict itself sometime and also it lacks the overall vision and emotional intelligence that a good teacher can have.
There are also questions about things like how it could encourage cheating, and also other criticisms (I’ll explore some more in a few minutes).
They’ve done wonders with the marketing – allowing us all to use it freely, which has caused us all to talk about it and as a result it’s gone viral with everyone talking about it. This is helping them to make money now (by selling it as a service which people can incorporate into their websites etc, and charging people for the PRO version of it) and also it’s allowed them to get a lot more data (as millions of people have been using it) which is allowing them to develop it further. In fact it is improving and changing all the time, becoming more and more accurate and sophisticated.
For learning English, there are definitely ways it can help, including taking out some of the time-consuming things like creating little memory tests, creating sample texts and dialogues which you can use, having some limited conversation practise.
One of its main strengths is error correction. It can quickly correct errors in your writing and even explain the reasons, although the explaining is a bit limited.
It can correct your English, but don’t rely on it too much. Try to use this as a tool to help you improve your English, not just something that you rely on at the expense of making progress on your own. Learn from it, but don’t let it do all the work.
You need to have a pretty good level of English to prompt ChatGPT properly. Sometimes you need to find “clever” ways to get it to do exactly what you want and I think this requires a lot of control over your language.
As I mentioned before you often need to find different ways to ask your question or to give your prompt before you get what you’re looking for.
Remember you can tell it *exactly* what to do. So keep getting specific.
It’s still a bit early for us to completely rely on it as a personal language teacher or a conversation partner, but it can be a convenient tool for certain basic tasks that can be time consuming.
Chat GPT has no emotional intelligence. It isn’t great at working out what you really want it to do, which is something I have to do as a teacher all the time. I’m always interpreting my students intentions and what they want to say, and then helping them find the right words or sentences to do that, and then helping them produce that again and again, adapting and reacting all the time and also managing the students feelings and emotional responses. It’s a special kind of dance that you have to do with the student and this is extremely complicated and requires a lot of sensitivity and also plenty of teaching experience to allow you to pinpoint exactly what is needed of you as a teacher.
ChatGPT has a long way to go before it can do that.
For the time being it is no replacement for the interaction you can have with a real human and this is still one of the best ways to practise and develop proper communication skills in English. It is definitely better to practise interacting in English with a real human, preferably one who is able to help you with your English learning because they have skills and experience in this area.
Also, don’t underestimate the importance of those emotional aspects of communication with people. ChatGPT is no replacement for that, at the moment.
Maybe one day it will be so good that talking to it will be indistinguishable from talking to a real person, which is quite an unnerving prospect somehow.
But anyway, it’s important to continue practising your English by interacting with real people in social scenarios.
Talking to people can be a bit intimidating if you are shy or introverted, but it is essential to practise doing it because interpersonal skills are vital in communication.
ChatGPT doesn’t speak or listen yet, so no listening or speaking practice is possible, but no doubt that’ll come eventually.
What does ChatGPT say about its limitations as a language learning tool?
What are some possible problems with using ChatGPT for learning English?
I wonder if it will be free forever. They’ve made it free now to get our attention but eventually we’ll probably have to pay to use it fully. In fact, already the free version is quite limited. It’s slow and stops performing after about 1 hour of interaction.
I wonder if later this year ChatGPT will still be as accessible as it is now. I expect they let us all use it for a while in order to get our attention and now they’re monetising the product and limiting free access to it.
I wonder how ChatGPT will develop. It will certainly get better and better.
Perhaps one day (soon) it will flawlessly do all the things we want it to do.
There are also some frightening aspects to this when we imagine the impact this might have on the world.
Despite what I said about it being no replacement for human interaction, it is remarkably advanced and sophisticated and that is only the current version of the software.
I expect this current iteration of ChatGPT is just the tip of the iceberg and eventually it will be almost impossible to differentiate between the chatbot and a real human.
And when this is combined with life-like speech generation and real life visuals (deepfakes) as well – a video version talking and responding naturally with a lifelike face and voice, in fact so lifelike that we won’t be able to work out if we’re dealing with a human or not, that will be quite frightening because suddenly then we’re living in the film Bladerunner, ExMachina or A.I. with all the ethical and social ramifications explored by those films.
By the way, those films seem to explore questions of whether it is ethical for us to create highly intellilgent AI capable of human-like emotions, and whether it is ethical for us to treat them like slaves or as sub-human. They are like us, even better than us in many ways, but they don’t have the same rights as us.
Other films have explored the threat to humankind of artificial intelligence. This includes things like The Terminator series and The Matrix which show a world in which AI becomes self-aware and decides to fight against humans or to enslave us.
A more immediate and realistic problem with something like ChatGPT is how it can affect the job market and whether it will make lots of people redundant.
What will we do when so much of our work can be done by AI that doesn’t need to eat, sleep, or take breaks? What will happen to us? Will people still be employable? What happens when the human population continues to rise, but the number of jobs we can do in order to earn money, decreases?
I have no idea.
And will AI eventually make it completely unnecessary to even learn another language? Will we simply have simultaneous automatic translations? Will AI augment our reality completely? Will we somehow be connected in the most intimate and integral way with technology, which will mean we won’t need to learn languages any more?
I’m not sure to be honest. What people usually say in response to that question is that we will always want to learn languages because there can be no replacement for the experience of communicating with people naturally using language and no technology can replace or replicate this experience sufficiently.
Let’s ask ChatGPT some more questions about itself, relating to things like people’s fears about it and if it will cause more cheating
What are people’s fears about how ChatGPT will change the world for the worse?
How might AI become a threat to humans?
Will ChatGPT help people to cheat?
Yes, probably. I can’t see how this won’t be a problem. I mean, this will almost certainly be a problem. Surely, students will just take the easy route and get ChatGPT to write essays for them, or other assignments. That’s obviously bad, because these students will not actually learn the skills and knowledge they’re supposed to learn during their studies and also it could compromise the effectiveness of education in general.
I don’t know how this problem is going to be solved. I don’t know how OpenAI have responded to this.
Let’s see what ChatGPT says about people using it to cheat in their homework.
Will ChatGPT help people to cheat in homework and academic essay tasks?
Will there be more cheating as a result of ChatGPT?
So it encourages people to cheat and it doesn’t know how people will use its services, but let’s be honest – it’s definitely going to result in more cheating.
It will be very interesting to see how ChatGPT and other software (because it’s not just OpenAI – there are loads of other competing companies also developing similar systems all over the world) It’ll be very interesting to see how this changes the world and of course we all hope that it changes things for the better and that it ultimately improves the human experience, making our lives better, allowing us to thrive.
That’s it – thanks for listening!
Leave your comments in the comment section.
I’m probably going to do another episode about ChatGPT just because it is fun to mess around with it and really see what it can do, including asking it to plan a podcast episode for me, write an introduction to an episode, have funny conversations, write jokes and short stories and lots of other things.
An episode exploring the various ways that ChatGPT might be able to help you learn English. Can it create study plans? Can it correct your errors and explain the corrections? Can you use it to simulate natural conversations? This is the first of a three-part series in which I test ChatGPT’s usefulness as an AI language learning tool.
You just type in your prompt or question and away you go.
How do people use ChatGPT?
I asked it that question. Let’s see what it said.
Most people use ChatGPT to ask questions and seek answers on a wide range of topics.
As an AI language model, ChatGPT can provide information, explanations, and guidance on a variety of subjects, such as science, technology, history, culture, and more.
People may also use ChatGPT for language learning, writing assistance, and brainstorming ideas. Additionally, ChatGPT can be used for entertainment purposes, such as generating jokes, riddles, or trivia questions.
Overall, people use ChatGPT as a helpful tool for obtaining information, learning new things, and solving problems.
I’m recording this episode in March 2023 and I’m talking about ChatGPT3, which as the name suggests is the third iteration of this software, released by OpenAI in November 2022. This is the version that has got everyone talking.
What is OpenAI?
This is the company that has created ChatGPT.
According to Wikipedia, OpenAI is:
“… an American artificial intelligence research laboratory consisting of the non-profit OpenAI Incorporated and its for-profit subsidiary corporation OpenAI Limited Partnership. OpenAI conducts AI research with the declared intention of promoting and developing a friendly AI.”
For-profit subsidiary corporation
Research “…with the declared intention of promoting and developing friendly AI”
Declared intention → Interesting wording!
That seems to suggest that there are also undeclared intentions, doesn’t it?
Does this mean that they have other intentions that they’re not declaring, like maybe developing “unfriendly AI”, and what would that be like?
Would it just be rude to you if you asked it a question?
Like if you ask it,
“Can you recommend some good mystery stories to help me learn English?”
and it just says…
“No. What do you think I am, Google? Go and find out for yourself, and don’t ask such me stupid questions, human.”
That would be unfriendly AI.
And that’s probably the best case future scenario for “unfriendly AI” isn’t it? Just a rude and unhelpful chatbot.
Of course unfriendly AI could end up being a lot worse than just that.
It could be… I don’t know… Terminators.
But don’t worry, because thankfully, this is not the case and they are developing “friendly AI”.
So, everything is ok. I hope.
Am I a bit cynical or suspicious about this?
Forgive me if come across as slightly suspicious, cynical or even paranoid about this kind of thing, but I have to admit that when I read about companies like OpenAI that develop artificial intelligence products like ChatGPT or robotic developers like Boston Dynamics (you know the ones that make those vaguely terrifying robots)
and things like that, when I read about those things, it does make me feel like I’m living in a dystopian science fiction film or something. Just a little bit.
It all has that kind of “dark sci-fi” atmosphere to it.
But no, this technology is not evil of course, yet, probably.
I suppose it depends who is in charge of it and all sorts of other things, but having watched so many of those science fiction films, well, I can’t help feeling slightly alarmed or at least uncomfortable to some extent.
But of course those are just films and companies like Open AI are in no way similar to the fictional corporations in those films. Not similar at all.
Anyway, this episode is supposed to be about how ChatGPT can help you learn English, and whether or not it will make me (and countless other people) completely redundant and unemployed.
So, let’s get back to the point:
ChatGPT and Learning English
Despite my ironic comments about science fiction films, I am fascinated by ChatGPT and the way it can be used as a tool.
The potential is huge. Its use as a language learning assistant is only the tip of the iceberg really.
The more you play with it the more you realise what it can do, depending on the prompts that you give to it. You also realise its limitations and how it sometimes gets things completely wrong.
For example, the other day I was asking it random questions and I asked it this:
Who is the most famous guest ever to have appeared on Luke’s English Podcast?
So it does often get things completely wrong.
That is something to bear in mind.
Useful ChatGPT Prompts
Chat GPT is basically a chat bot. It works like you’re having a conversation with it, in text form.
You write prompts into the chat box and then get responses as if it is a person writing back to you.
Usually these prompts are in the form of questions to request information or to ask ChatGPT to do things.
What time is it?
I can’t tell you the time because I don’t know and anyway I’m above that kind of thing. Just consult some of your 20th century technology and don’t bother me with such petty simple requests.
Can you give me some tips on how to make my podcast introductions shorter?
For some reason this screenshot was lost!
You can also enter imperative instructions, like this:
Make a list of evil corporations in science fiction films
So, as I go through this episode I’ll be using various prompts. If you are looking at the notes/transcript on the page for this episode on my website or while watching the YouTube version, you will see all the prompts I’m using written in italics.
Tip: Writing prompts for ChatGPT
It’s quite important that you word your prompts carefully, and if you don’t get the response you’re looking for first time round, you should keep trying with more specific and detailed prompts in order to get the right response.
I’ll show you some examples of this during the episode.
Specific Ways You Can Use ChatGPT to Learn English
Let’s look at some specific things you can do with ChatGPT to help with your English. I’ll show you specific prompts that you can write into ChatGPT and I will give my comments about each response it gives.
These are the things we are going to explore and assess during the episode.
Ask it to create a study plan for you
Ask it to correct your errors
Use it for conversation practice
Use it for practising English in different situations (e.g. job interview role plays)
Ask it to create texts or dialogues to study with
Ask it to help you with exam preparation (IELTS, FCE, CAE etc)
Ask it for definitions of words, and synonyms, antonyms, and collocations
Ask it about the etymology of words and phrases
Ask it to help you remember words with mnemonics
Ask it to transcribe things into phonemic script
Ask it to convert things into different versions of English (i.e. between UK and US English, or other varieties)
Ask it to help you with sentence stress, pausing, intonation etc
Ask it to create grammar or vocabulary quizzes or tests
Ask it to create text adventure games to help you learn English
Ask it to adapt its English level (e.g. for low level reading)
Ask it to create a study plan for you
I am an upper-intermediate learner of English, currently stuck at the intermediate plateau. My main areas of weakness are listening, speaking and pronunciation. I want to speak with a British accent and I want to be completely fluent at a C1 level or higher. Can you create a step-by-step study plan for me?
Yes, I can help you create a study plan to improve your listening, speaking, and pronunciation skills and reach a C1 level of fluency in English.
Here is a step-by-step study plan for you:
Step 1: Improve your listening skills Listen to English language podcasts, news broadcasts, and audiobooks for at least 30 minutes a day. Try to watch English language TV shows, movies and videos without subtitles to help you develop your listening skills. Focus on understanding the overall meaning of what is being said, rather than getting stuck on individual words.
Step 2: Improve your speaking skills Start speaking English every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. You can practice with a language partner, tutor or a language exchange program.Focus on fluency rather than accuracy at first, don’t worry too much about making mistakes.Record yourself speaking and listen back to identify areas where you need to improve. Try to use vocabulary and grammar structures that you have learned in context, rather than simply memorizing them.
Step 3: Improve your pronunciation Watch and listen to videos of native speakers and try to mimic their pronunciation. Practice individual sounds, such as vowel and consonant sounds, using resources like pronunciation apps, websites or audio resources. Work on intonation, rhythm and stress patterns in connected speech, which are important aspects of British accent. Take pronunciation classes or work with a speech therapist, if possible.
Step 4: Build your vocabulary Learn new words every day and use them in sentences to help you remember them. Try to learn words in context by reading articles, books or watching videos in English. Use flashcards, vocabulary lists and apps to help you memorize new words.
Step 5: Work on grammar and writing Study English grammar rules and practice them through exercises and quizzes. Write short paragraphs, essays, and emails in English to practice your writing skills. Get feedback on your writing from a tutor, teacher or language partner.
Step 6: Take formal English language exams Take a C1 level English language exam such as the Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) to measure your progress and get certified.Remember to stay motivated, practice consistently and have fun with the process of learning.
That’s all good advice. But as a teacher, I know that when I give advice like this to my students, there are always other questions, doubts and obstacles that the students have.
I wonder how ChatGPT would respond to these kinds of comments.
But I don’t have time to do all those things
I can’t understand that podcast that you shared with me, and it was too long
I can’t understand TV series without subtitles
I don’t have anyone to practise my speaking with
You say “don’t worry about making mistakes” but how can I improve if that doesn’t matter?
I try to copy native speakers, but who should I copy? Who has the best accent?
I copy native speakers but I still can’t lose my accent
Can you recommend a good book or website to help me practise my grammar?
If I write things in English, who can correct them for me?
Actually, I tried inputting those comments into ChatGPT and it did come back with some pretty useful and relevant advice. I won’t share it all here because there isn’t time, but you could try it if you like.
It can correct your errors. Just ask it to.
Write a sentence or enter a paragraph and it’ll correct it.
Let’s try that. Let’s ask it to correct the errors in this comment which someone wrote on my website a few weeks ago.
Can you correct the errors in this website comment please?
Hey Luke. How’s it going? Hope u enjoy. I’m walk to this website. Very well, its so exactly for me. I’m listening and hear you podcast (british), tbh i really like british accent. It posh vibes! And i like it. Thankyou so much for learn (british) english with your podcast in comedian, story telling, etc
Sure, here’s the corrected website comment:
“Hey Luke, how’s it going? I hope you’re doing well. I’ve recently discovered this website and it’s been a perfect fit for me. I’ve been listening to your podcast, and as a fan of the British accent, I really enjoy it. The posh vibes are great! Thank you so much for helping me improve my British English through your podcast which features comedy, storytelling, and more.”
Let’s ask it to explain the corrections it has made.
Can you give explanations for the corrections you made?
Certainly! Here are the explanations for the corrections I made: “Hope u enjoy” –> “I hope you’re doing well.”
I changed this phrase because “hope u enjoy” is an informal and abbreviated way of asking how someone is doing, which might not be appropriate in all situations. Instead, I replaced it with a more standard greeting that asks how Luke is doing.
“I’m walk to this website” –> “I’ve recently discovered this website”
“I’m walk” is grammatically incorrect. I replaced it with “I’ve recently discovered” to convey the same idea in proper English grammar.
“Very well, its so exactly for me” –> “it’s been a perfect fit for me”
The original phrase is not grammatically correct and does not convey a clear message. I replaced it with “it’s been a perfect fit for me,” which expresses the idea that the website meets the writer’s needs and expectations.
“I’m listening and hear you podcast” –> “I’ve been listening to your podcast”
“I’m listening and hear you podcast” is not grammatically correct, and it’s not clear whether the writer is currently listening or has listened to the podcast in the past. I changed the phrase to “I’ve been listening to your podcast” to express that the writer is a regular listener.
“tbh i really like British accent” –> “As a fan of the British accent, I really enjoy it.” “tbh i really like British accent” is an informal and abbreviated way of expressing admiration for the British accent. I changed the phrase to “As a fan of the British accent, I really enjoy it” to express the same idea in more formal language.
“It posh vibes!” –> “The posh vibes are great!” “It posh vibes!” is an incomplete sentence and not grammatically correct. I changed the phrase to “The posh vibes are great!” to convey the same idea in a complete and grammatically correct sentence.
“Thankyou so much for learn (british) english with your podcast in comedian, story telling, etc” –> “Thank you so much for helping me improve my British English through your podcast which features comedy, storytelling, and more.” The original phrase is not grammatically correct and does not convey a clear message. I changed it to “Thank you so much for helping me improve my British English through your podcast which features comedy, storytelling, and more” to express the idea that the writer is grateful for Luke’s assistance in improving their British English through his podcast.
This is actually very impressive for a chatbot, although it doesn’t provide the same level of detail in its explanations that I would as a teacher and of course a teacher can deal with questions, interpret what the learner wants/means, and adapt more organically while allowing the learner to practise their English communication skills in the process. But still, it’s impressive.
Use ChatGPT for conversation practice
Can you practise having a conversation with it?
Is it capable of having a proper, meaningful conversation?
Can it provide the kind of conversation practice that you need for language learning?
Can it pretend to be your English teacher or someone else?
Chatbots have always been very limited and quite annoying when it comes to having a normal conversation, because they just can’t do it, frankly.
Let’s see if ChatGPT has made big improvements in that area. Is it easy to chat to, or does it quickly become weird and unnatural?
I’ve chosen some questions which I think would be totally normal conversation starters (with humans).
Let’s see if we can start a conversation with it, using these questions.
Let’s input these and see if we can have a conversation in real time. (no screenshots, just a realtime chat here in a new window https://chat.openai.com/ )
How are you?
Have you been busy recently?
What have you been up to?
I’ve been listening to a podcast about The Beatles. Are you a fan of The Beatles by any chance?
What’s your favourite Beatles album?
Who do you think is going to win the 6 Nations this year?
Did you see the Scotland vs France rugby game at the weekend?
Any idea what the weather will be like this weekend?
My brother’s birthday is coming up but I’ve got no idea what to get for him.
It’s better than previous chatbots but conversation is still limited.
Ask it to pretend to be someone else
Conversation becomes a bit easier and more natural.
Can you pretend to be Ringo Starr so I can have a chat with you?
How are you at the moment Ringo?
Ask it to correct your errors while having the conversation
Can you pretend to be my English teacher, and correct my errors while we chat?
It can continue the conversation and also correct your errors.
This works ok sometimes but, it doesn’t pick up on all your errors and after a few responses it seems to forget to correct you.
It’s a bit difficult to keep a conversation going with a chatbot that has no emotions or opinions. You have to carry the conversation quite a lot and, well, it’s not the best conversationalist. It tends to switch into “information mode” where it just gives you Wikipedia-like responses.
E.g. If you try to talk about Premier League football, it will mainly explain what the premier league is, rather than sharing opinions on it. I said “Let’s talk about the premier league”. It asked me what my favourite team was. I said I didn’t really have one but I liked Liverpool. I asked what it’s favourite team was. It gave me the same old response “As an AI language model I don’t have personal preferences or emotions…” and then proceeded to kind of lecture me about Liverpool FC, giving me a kind of summary of the club, like what you might read at the top of Liverpool’s Wikipedia page.
So, it’s not the best conversationalist. It’s not bad, but it seems that sharing personal opinions or sharing our emotional reactions to things, is pretty vital in human conversation and since it can’t do that, conversations with it fall a bit flat.
But it is fun to play around with it.
I tried having a conversation with it in French (a language which I am learning, badly) and wanted to see if my experience was different from the point of view of a language learner.
I found that it really helped. It was a good experience in terms of learning French.
Just trying to express myself in written French was a challenge, and this was good. I need these challenges in order to progress.
I asked it to correct my mistakes. It did it, and it felt almost like having a conversation with a person.
I didn’t feel judged or stressed (as I often do when talking to a person) and I learned some correct phrases. I felt free to repeat certain things over and over again in order to practise, without judgement.
Ending script for part 1
This is where we are going to stop. This is the end of part 1. We will continue in parts 2 and 3.
I hope you’re enjoying this so far and finding it useful as a way of considering how ChatGPT might be able to help you learn English, or how it might not.
This video is actually in 3 parts. I recorded all of this last week and it ended up taking me 3 hours to go through all the ideas I mentioned earlier, all the various ways you can use ChatGPT for learning English.
Parts 2 and 3 will be available very soon. If I have already published them by the time you watch this, you will find links for them in the show notes.
Also you can get the PDF of the script for this episode and for the other parts – with most of the things I am saying and all the ChatGPT prompts which I’m using. Check the show notes/ episode description.
Coming up in part 2 I will be playing around with ChatGPT more and doing these things:
Continuing to evaluate ChatGPT as a way of simulating natural conversations
Seeing if it can pretend to be your English teacher and correct your errors and explain them
Testing if it can pretend to be someone else, to make conversations more fun or interesting
Checking how well it handles role plays in order to let you prepare to use English in specific situations
Seeing if you can simulate job interview situations with it
Asking it to create useful texts or dialogues for studying with
Looking at exam preparation by asking it to provide sample written texts in response to FCE or CAE writing tasks
Seeing if it can give yu good advice for doing Cambridge exams
Seeing if it can create reliable, useful exam practice tasks to help you prepare for IELTS
All of that coming up in part 2, which will be available soon or maybe now.
Personally I am finding it fascinating to experiment with ChatGPT and seeing what it can do, and wondering how it might change the world for better or worse.
There’s no doubt that AI like this will increasingly become a normal part of lives as we move into the future. What will the effect of that be on society and the planet?
There are some fairly strong feelings about ChatGPT going around. I’m curious to know what you think about it, so leave your comments in the comment section.
I’ll continue to discuss all these things and test ChatGPT further in upcoming episodes.
Thank you for listening or watching. If you enjoy my content, then share it with your friends, like and subscribe, leave a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to this, and consider signing up for my premium episodes to get vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation episodes with stories.
OK, I will speak to you again in part 2 of this, but until then – goodbye bye bye!
How do we know when someone’s English is good? Is it just about having the right accent, or speaking with no errors? In fact, there is a lot more to it than that. IELTS can show us how someone’s level of English is properly assessed by looking at a wide range of skills and sub-skills and there is a lot more to it than making no errors while speaking with a “British accent”. This episode should help you consider your own level of English level, get some perspective on what language competence really means, and hopefully cause people to think twice when making snap judgements about other people’s English.
How can IELTS help us to understand what “good English” is?
Why is all of this important anyway?
Here’s an episode which I hope will be really useful as a way of helping you to understand what it really means to be good at English.
We’re going to consider some things about
how English is assessed (how your English level is judged),
the different skills which are involved in using English,
and what aspects of English are the most important.
I hope this episode gives you a bit more perspective on what it means to have a good level of English.
Also there will be a lot of vocabulary for describing English skills and English levels or assessment in English, and that includes a lot of metalanguage – the language we use for talking about language. So try to notice all that vocabulary too.
Hopefully this episode will help you think about
your level of English,
how to assess a person’s level of English
and also how to talk about both of those things.
It’s important for any language learner to get a sense of what they should be aiming for in their learning, so that they don’t spend their time on the wrong things, and that they have the right things prioritised in their learning.
Do you remember the episode I published at the beginning of the year (2023) with Santi from Spain, working in a top job at Oxford University Press?
806. PERSEVERANCE, POSITIVITY & PRACTICE with Santiago Ruiz de Velasco from Oxford University Press
You will find it in the episode archive and if you haven’t heard it, go back and check it out.
This episode follows on from that one. I was inspired to do it after seeing some responses from my audience.
Just as a reminder, Santi learned English mostly as an adult when he moved to London after studying at university in Spain.
He had some very challenging experiences being immersed in the English language and eventually found his way to a top job in the English teaching industry itself – not as a teacher, but in publishing. He ended up as the Managing Director of English Language Teaching at OUP, and he got to that position despite the fact that his English is not “perfect”.
I was pleased with that episode because it allows us to use Santi’s personal experience as a way to consider the importance of motivation and attitude in dealing with challenges in learning English (or any language) and also it raised questions about what “good English” really means.
With Santi, “the proof is in the pudding”, which means that we know his English is good because he uses it successfully every day.
Every single day at work he uses English to successfully perform a number of different communication tasks. I expect he writes emails and reports in English, conducts interviews in English, does presentations, has meetings, probably does negotiations, sells products and services in English, and builds relationships with people in English – no doubt both professional relationships but also meaningful personal relationships too.
I’m assuming a lot of that because I don’t know every single thing he does in his job every day – but I’m pretty sure that he does all of those things. They’re just totally normal communication tasks at work. And it’s not just at work for Santi. I’m sure he also socialises in English.
So, I think the fact that he does all those things, seemingly successfully, this is proof of his competence in English, right?
I think it would be very hard to be the Managing Director of the ELT Dept of Oxford University Press without those kinds of communication skills in English.
But, as I mentioned, his English is certainly not “perfect” by any means (and he says this himself too), and a number of listeners in the comment section on YouTube pointed this out, saying things like “He clearly has a Spanish accent” or “He made mistakes which made me surprised that he is in that position” and “I expected someone with RP English.” etc. I am paraphrasing there, but that’s the gist of it.
What does it actually mean to have a “bad accent”?
Maybe he could use some different fillers, just to avoid repeating the same thing. But why did this person focus only on that when there were so many other positive things to take away from the episode?
What is wrong with saying “you know” ?
It doesn’t stop us understanding him. It doesn’t stop him expressing himself.
It’s just an aesthetic issue, not a functional issue.
It’s just annoying for some people, but it doesn’t actually change the message or cause anyone misunderstandings.
Perspective here – it’s not such a big deal, unless you’re really focused on it. Sure, Santi could work on this, but we all have things to work on.
Fair enough, that one is quite funny.
I shouldn’t focus on the negative comments. The vast majority were positive, I must say. But I notice that whenever I feature someone on this podcast who is not a native speaker, and even some guests who are native speakers but have accents that are not RP, some listeners have to comment or criticise what they are hearing. I don’t think this is really the right attitude to have.
It’s not a competition, is it?
But, the fact that Santi has that job, has achieved that and continues to do that in English is something that can’t be taken away from him. I mean, people can point out errors in his English, but ultimately, the fact remains that he uses English very successfully on a daily basis. That’s important – the fact that he uses English “successully”.
Because this is the point of language. It is functional and it should be judged first and foremost on that – whether it works as a communication tool.
Sure, aesthetics are important too. The absolute best communicators also have English which is a pleasure to listen to, which is easy on the ears and is rich, pleasant and entertaining. But that stuff is also a matter of opinion and taste, and is really just the cherry on the top of the cake most of the time. Why focus on the cherry? You need to have a cake first, before you can have the cherry. You need something for the cherry to go on, right?
Priorities – focus in the really important things first – the cake – and then work on the aesthetics – the cherry on the top.
I’m getting a bit lost in this metaphor now, but I hope you get what I mean.
Common attitudes and assumptions about “good English”
The point is that these comments are indicative of certain attitudes about English proficiency. They show us what a lot of people think makes someone “good at English”, namely:
Accuracy (using English without making errors) especially grammatical accuracy is the most important thing and speaking with zero errors is what makes you good at English. No mistakes.
All learners of English should have RP as their target in terms of pronunciation, and if you speak with a different accent or with obvious traces of your first language then this is a problem. And hearing someone use English with an accent is somehow “shocking” or even “unpleasant”.
You’re good at English if you use complex English, meaning longer words, formal words, idioms and convoluted sentence structure.
So, basically, you need to make no “pronunciation errors” or “grammar mistakes” and use complex “impressive” language.
That short list of assumptions is based on the things I’ve heard and read from learners of English during my teaching career. I’ve met thousands of learners of English and also read thousands of online comments from learners of English too and I often notice those attitudes.
I suppose it is understandable really, that some people think like that.
Not everyone has thought about this subject a lot because they don’t work in language teaching, people have been taught that English is all about correct grammar and correct pronunciation, and these things are obvious “low hanging fruit” in terms of English assessment.
It’s not everyone’s job to think about how to assess someone’s language level, and to be honest I only learned about this from doing professional training, reading academic books, teaching IELTS courses and working out the assessment criteria for Cambridge Exams and stuff.
And we’re going to look at that official assessment criteria for judging someone’s language level later in this episode in order to find out that it’s not just about grammar and pronunciation errors and that there are other important factors. Obviously, being “correct” in pronunciation and grammar are important things, but only to a certain extent.
Like with the example of Santi. I feel like some of those comments are trying to take away Santi’s achievements, but you can’t, can you?
The fact remains that although he makes a few mistakes in grammar, and clearly has a Spanish accent when he speaks English – despite those things, he is a very successful user of the English language and you can’t take that away from him. So how does he manage it, without being “perfect”?
What makes someone good at English then? What else is important?
What I’d like to do now is to talk about actually what makes someone good at English and to show that there is a lot more involved than just accuracy (making no errors) and also complexity (using big impressive, rare words that nobody else knows).
Defining what makes someone good at English should be an important thing for us all to consider and remember.
For you, if you are a learner of English, this is all about how you can get a sense of what you should be focusing on and what you should be trying to achieve. Also it can help you get out of a negative frame of mind when learning English. If you’re afraid that your pronunciation is not perfect or that you know you make errors, it might help to know that those things are not the be-all and end-all in this English speaking game.
Also, if you are a teacher of English, like me, thinking about this can help us to guide our students and provide the right kind of teaching to help them to achieve things in English.
How do you assess someone’s English level?
Let’s use IELTS as a way of helping us to answer this question. By looking at how IELTS measures someone’s English level, we can work out what “good English” actually means.
What is IELTS?
The International English Language Testing System, is an international standardized test of English language proficiency for non-native English language speakers. It is jointly managed by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge Assessment English, and was established in 1989. (Wikipedia)
Basically it is probably the standard international test for assessing someone’s level of English as a foreign or other language.
Working out someone’s level of English accuractely and reliably is not easy. Sure, I could speak with a learner of English for 10 minutes and get a good idea of their level, but to get a fully detailed assessment including different reading, writing, listening and speaking skills, a longer and more rigorous test is needed.
This is why the IELTS test is quite long and quite complex. It takes a few hours to do the test and it’s divided into lots of different parts. It’s all done in a serious and thorough way.
IELTS is a test that has been developed over a very long time, by experts in English language teaching and testing, based on a lot of academic research and professional experience into how people learn and use the English language.
IELTS was developed by academics, teachers and examiners from Cambridge University and The British Council. These people know what they’re doing when it comes to finding out someone’s level of English. They want to do it properly, because this is important.
Universities and employers want to get a reliable sense of the level of English of potential students or employees so they can be sure that those people will be able to use English to study or work successfully. A reliable test is vital for this, and that’s what IELTS is for.
It might not be a perfect test. There’s probably room for improvement. In fact, it probably could be even longer and even more thorough, but that might just be impractical.
Anyway, let’s look at the way IELTS works, and we’ll see if we can draw from it some conclusions about the whole question of what it means to be good at English.
IELTS is in 4 sections – Speaking, Listening, Reading, Writing.
Already this shows that there are 4 skills involved in someone’s English ability, and of course this reflects the type of things that you might need to do in English.
You have to speak to people, listen to people speaking in various situations, you have to read English in different forms, and you have to be able to write in English. OK.
So it’s not just speaking skills. That’s just one part of the picture.
Of course speaking is often considered as the most important skill. It’s the obvious skill. This is what we notice in people. As well as being vital for functional social communication, speaking is very closely connected to our identity and the way we express who we are to the world.
Naturally, it is often the way your English is judged. Because people meet you, talk to you and then immediately get a sense your English level from that conversation. Fair enough. Speaking is important, but in IELTS it is only 25% of the test. It represents 25% of your final IELTS score. And as we will see, speaking can be divided into different sections too – and pronunciation is only one of those sections.
This is underestimated in terms of its importance. I’ve talked before about how, perhaps surprisingly, we spend more time listening than doing any of the other skills.
Also, it is absolutely vital that we understand the people we are talking to. If not, everything breaks down.
One way that I judge someone’s language level when I’m talking to them, is the amount of effort I have to make for me to be understood by that person. This is a way for me to judge their listening skills in conversation.
If I just talk normally, without having to adapt my English or pay close attention to make sure the other person is following me, if I can just talk normally and be myself, it means their English is great.
I have met people who have had good English on paper and who were capable of producing sophisticated spoken English, but they were simply bad at having a conversation because their listening skills were not so great. They didn’t seem to be listening or just did not pick up on a lot of the things I was saying.
For example, while listening to me talk, they didn’t seem to realise how I felt about certain things we were talking about, they didn’t notice little jokes I was making, they didn’t react to certain points I made and did not respond to my efforts to talk about certain things, and it wasn’t because they were just bad communicators even in their own language. It’s because their listening just wasn’t good enough and they were not able to follow what I was saying, and in fact didn’t even realise it.
Listening also relates to being able to deal with different accents. English is a diverse language and people speak it slightly differently all over the world, and this is a good thing and a beautiful thing, so being good at English means being able to understand English in all its diversity.
Only a very small percentage of people speak English like me, with my accent (let’s call it standard modern English RP). If you hear someone from, well, anywhere, and they have an accent which is in any way different from my standard British English, or whatever accent you consider to be neutral, and you don’t understand it then I’m afraid that is not the fault of the accent or the person speaking it.
It’s because your listening skills are still not good enough. You are still not familiar with spoken English. Don’t feel bad about it though, that’s not the point.
The point is, listening skills are a huge part of the puzzle. Think of Santi. He described struggling so much every day when working in London as a waiter. He did not understand what people were saying to him.
People were asking for a coke and he was bring them their coat. His first arrived in London and actually heard real English being spoken and he freaked out. It wasn’t like in the text books at school.
In London I expect he met various English people from different parts of the country. The English he heard was unrecognisable to him at the beginning, because he simply had never heard it before.
His English listening skills improved dramatically while living in the UK. When I spoke to him I felt he was completely on my wavelength and I didn’t have to struggle or make a lot of effort to kind of adapt my English or myself during the conversation. I could relax and I felt like he would be able to follow my train of thought.
A lot of listening is connected to pronunciation. Good listening skills also relate to an ability to understand the way people produce the oral version of English, and this means being familiar with things like connected speech, elision, sentence stress, word stress, weak forms and all of those things. It’s about knowing the oral version of the language, which is often very very different to the written version. This doesn’t just mean knowing it academically (understanding the phonology), but knowing it through familiarity – having heard a lot of English from diverse sources so that you have kind of trained your ears to it, so it’s not a huge shock or surprise when you actually hear it being used in the normal way.
I don’t have so much to say about this except that reading is not just about knowing the words that you are seeing, and knowing which grammatical forms are being used. It involves being able to identify the bigger picture – what those words and that grammar are really communicating to you.
Can you identify the opinion or attitude of the person who wrote the text? (What they think, or whether they are being serious or humorous in their writing)
Can you identify their mood, their intentions, the overall purpose of the writing?
Can you identify what kind of text it is – an article in a newspaper, a business report, an advertisement, a formal email, a personal email, an internal email, an external email, a piece of fiction, a humorous true story, a religious text, an old fashioned piece of writing, something modern?
Are you aware of the different stylistic and linguistic conventions of different types of text?
Are you able to read between the lines?
Can you identify specific information as well as more general things?
It’s more than just knowing individual words and grammar forms. It’s also about overall text structure, organisation, and tone.
Again, it’s not just about speaking. In the real world, all of these things come into play, all the time. It’s all a mix of dealing with input, understanding it, and responding to it, while managing the pragmatics of communication – what impact language has on other people.
This relates to reading in the way that’s it’s not just about knowing lots of words or grammar points, but knowing how to put those words and structures together to make a piece of writing that is coherent (easy to understand), cohesive (logical and organised) and which does what it is supposed to do (persuade, inform, request information, entertain, etc).
With writing, sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a bit like cooking a good meal. It’s not just the ingredients and the cooking utensils, it’s about having the overall vision for making a delicious meal and then using those ingredients and utensils to produce the intended result, and deliver it at the right time and have your guests say “Mmm, this is delicious” at the end of the process. Writing is a bit like that.
In terms of words that you might use in writing (or speaking) it’s not about knowing a lot of words. That helps of course but some people might judge their English by the number of words they know – like, the higher the number, the better they are at English.
And it’s not about how fancy or obscure those words are. Some people might judge their English by the rarity of the words they know – e.g. knowing some words that even a lot of native English speakers don’t know. That’s not necessarily an indication of being good at English. What’s the use of writing something that most people just can’t understand because you’re using very old or very obscure words?
It’s not about the number or the value of each word on its own, it is about using the right words, in the right combinations, at the right moments, to achieve the right result.
It’s no good writing an email to someone and filling it with loads of complex and literary words than nobody really uses on a daily basis. The effect on the reader will be just to confuse them. That’s failing to communicate.
Watch out for those teaching materials, videos, whatever that say things like “Use these 5 words to get a high score in IELTS”. It’s not just about using certain fancy words. It’s all about whether you are able to achieve certain results in English communication.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
English is not just about what you know, it’s about what you can do.
It’s about your ability to complete tasks in English effectively. To understand other people and then have other people understand you. It’s about knowing when to use simple English and when it is appropriate or necessary to use something more complex, or something more specific. Right words, right form, right order, right time.
So I just talked about the 4 skills in English – speaking & listening, writing & reading.
Speaking & listening are together because they deal with the oral version of the language. The language in the air.
Reading & writing go together because they deal with the written version of English – the language written down.
Now, because I’m referring to my interview with Santi, which was an oral interview, let’s focus our attention for the rest of this episode on the spoken word, on speaking skills.
I did say that speaking is only a quarter of the whole picture, but I think for many of you out there, speaking is what you want to focus on, right?
So let’s consider what makes someone a good speaker of English?
What I’m going to do now is look at IELTS assessment criteria.
Assessment criteria means the specific ways in which English is judged. The specific standards by which English is assessed.
How do IELTS examiners judge someone’s level of English?
When you take an IELTS speaking test you will receive a score.
This score is calculated by the examiner after they have listened to you and then marked you in a few sub-categories. Speaking is broken down into a few sub-categories and you’re given a score for each category, and then those scores are added together and then an average score is worked out.
What are those categories?
Fluency & coherence
Grammatical range & accuracy
Each category is defined further and certain criteria or standards are defined which help the examiners decide what score to give in each category.
In other Cambridge Exams, like FCE and CAE, speaking scores are assessed with similar criteria to IELTS, but there’s also a score for Global Achievement. This is like a score for overall task achievement.
When you do a speaking test, you’re given a few tasks to do (short interview, having a discussion, doing a short monologue or presentation) and global achievement basically means “did the person manage to complete the task effectively”.
Candidate speaking performances are assessed using scales which are linked to the CEFR. The assessor gives 0–5 marks for each of the following criteria:
Grammar and Vocabulary;
and Interactive Communication.
Marks for each of these criteria are doubled.
The interlocutor gives a mark of 0–5 for Global Achievement.
This mark is then multiplied by four.
Basically, this means that “global achievement” is more important than any other single criteria.
What is “global achievement”? For me, this is how well the person succeeded in the communication task.
Your ability to complete a communication task effectively is more important than just your correct pronunciation or grammar. Having a few errors in your English is not the end of the world and what’s more important is task achievement. And that includes all that stuff about getting things done in English and getting the right result from a bit of speaking.
For example, did you work well with your speaking partner in order to achieve the task you were doing – maybe to discuss some travel options before deciding together which one was the best, or having to make another joint decision.
Actually, let’s have a look at a sample part 3 section from a CAE speaking test.
By the way, CAE is another English test, designed by Cambridge English. If you pass the test, you get a certificate which proves that you have advanced level English at C1 level.
CAE is similar to IELTS, is based on the same research and conclusions that have been used in creating IELTS, so it can also help us to understand how English is assessed.
Let’s look at the extracts to see an example of a speaking task that people have to do when taking CAE. In part 3 the examiner is interested in seeing how people use English to achieve something in collaboration with someone else. It’s about interaction and working together for a common goal. Important communication skills, right?
You should see how Global Achievement or Task Achievement is important here. This is about how you were able to use English to complete a communication task and I think that is a really important thing to be included in the exam and for people taking the exam to consider. Remember what language is for – it is for achieving things and completing tasks effectively.
If you can do that, you’ll get a good score for Global Achievement.
So this means that having good English is not only about the individual words being used, the accuracy of the grammar or the accuracy of the pronunciation. It is about those things, but it is also about whether you organised your ideas correctly and clearly, whether you listened carefully to the other person, understood their intentions and responded with relevance to what they said, and that you were both able to complete the task.
It’s not about any one single thing, any one single aspect of English. It’s about all of them, in combination.
Ultimately, communication is a means to an end (a tool for a job). The means (the tool) is the language, but the end result is to actually make an agreement, make someone feel something, make someone understand something, organise something with someone, and successfully complete a specific task.
So, Santi didn’t pronounce some words and sentences “correctly” or in the same way that I would, but in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter.
He might have conjugated some verbs wrongly (like getting a few ED endings wrong, or forgetting 3rd person S or even just using present tenses when he should have used past tenses, sometimes) but in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter.
Now, those things are still important to get right – don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that you don’t need to be correct in grammar or pronunciation or that it doesn’t matter which words you’re using. Santi would get more points in an exam if he improved some of those little errors.
Of course those things are important. The point I’m making is that it’s about the bigger picture and there are plenty of other factors involved.
Specific IELTS Speaking Band Descriptors
I’m going to get really specific now. Let’s look at the specific IELTS speaking band descriptors.
What the hell does that mean Luke?
IELTS scores are given in bands.
Band 0, Band 1, Band 2, Band 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.
9 is high, 0 is low.
Cambridge English (IELTS.org) publishes a list of “descriptors” for each band score. These describe what the different bands mean in terms of specific speaking skills. This should reveal the ways in which speaking is assessed in IELTS.
You can consider your English as we talk about these “descriptors”.
We’re going to look at them all in a moment, on a PDF from the IELTS website.
How do IELTS examiners assess someone’s spoken English?
I’ve done IELTS training before and I’ve done mock IELTS tests quite a lot of times. I’ve also done the same with FCE, CAE, BEC Vantage, BEC Higher etc. They’re similar.
If I was doing a mock IELTS test with my students and I was the examiner, I would interview the candidate, give them speaking tasks to do and at the same time I would have to work out their score.
On the desk in front of me I would have a script for me to follow, different tasks and questions for the test and some paper and a pen for writing the person’s score.
But it’s not just a single score for speaking.
I wouldn’t just have a single category on that paper called “Speaking” with a space for a number.
Instead, I would have a piece of paper in front of me with at least 4 sub-categories on it.
Overall score / average: _________
I’d give a score in each category and then work out an average across the 4 categories.
I’m not an official IELTS examiner, I’m a teacher who is trained to prepare students for IELTS, so that’s just the way I do it.
But I know for certain that the examiners use at least 4 sub-categories when assessing a candidate’s speaking.
Here are those categories.
Fluency & coherence
Grammatical range & accuracy
Note that accuracy is only half of one of those categories.
What do the categories mean?
Let me talk about what those categories actually mean, and then we will look at the descriptions of different scores for each category. What’s the difference between an IELTS 6 and IELTS 7 for example.
Fluency and coherence refers to the ability to talk with normal levels of continuity, rate and effort and to link ideas and language together to form coherent, connected speech.
The key indicators of fluency are speech rate and speech continuity.
The key indicators of coherence are logical sequencing of sentences; clear marking of stages in a discussion, narration or argument; and the use of cohesive devices (e.g. connectors, pronouns and conjunctions) within and between sentences.
What is “Lexical Resource”?
Lexical resource refers to the range of vocabulary the test taker can use and the precision with which meanings and attitudes can be expressed.
They key indicators are the variety of words used, the adequacy and appropriacy of the words used and the ability to circumlocute (get around a vocabulary gap by using other words) with or without noticeable hestitation.
What are “Grammatical range and accuracy”?
Grammatical range and accuracy refers to the range and the accurate and appropriate use of the test taker’s grammatical resource.
The key indicators of grammatical range are the length and complexity of the spoken sentences, the appropriate use of subordinate clauses, and the range of sentence structures, especially to move elements around for information focus.
The key indicators of grammatical accuracy are the number of grammatical errors in a given amount of speech and communicative effect of error.
What is “pronunciation”?
Pronunciation refers to the ability to produce comprehensible speech to fulfill the Speaking test requirements.
The key indicators will be the amount of strain caused to the listener, the amount of the speech which is unintelligible and the noticeability of influence from the test taker’s first language.
Now let’s have a look at some of those descriptions from IELTS.org
Perhaps use my level of French as an example, also Santi’s English.
We could compare the different levels (maybe the difference between 5 and 7) across each sub-category.
Which categories are the most important?
The 4 categories are of equal importance in the exam, I expect, but if I had to choose, I would say that they go in order of importance from left to right, but of course if any one of those categories is significantly weak, they will drag down the overall level. For example, if you are unintelligible in pronunciation, it sort of doesn’t matter how many words you know or if you don’t pause to think.
Grammatical accuracy is mainly significant if errors cause misunderstandings, but I guess errors can give the wrong impression.
Interestingly, I feel like pronunciation, grammar and lexis all help us to achieve fluency. Fluency is where those three systems combine. Without a wide range of words which we can recall and use instantly, we can’t express ideas quickly, specifically and coherently.
Without grammatical structures, we can’t link ideas together clearly and express complex things without our speech breaking down and falling apart.
Without pronunciation we can’t get our words out fluidly and clearly, with words linked, and yet stressed to give emphasis and impact.
Assessing Santi’s English (I hope you don’t mind Santi!)
I wonder what score Santi would get if he took an IELTS speaking test.
I shouldn’t really speculate about that, but I can say that his weak spot is probably pronunciation, (although this is still at a good level because I was able to understand him and after all he is Spanish and so it’s normal that he has a Spanish accent)
and then perhaps grammatical accuracy (he made a few grammar mistakes which probably stuck out because we were looking for them – I bet a lot of people listening were focusing intently on his English and judging him a lot – and he handled that very well),
but he really makes up for his weak spots by having:
Good grammatical range. He was able to employ a range of structures which allowed him to have control over what he was saying and to express some complex ideas.
Strong Lexical resource. He was able to find just the right words, he used words which were appropriate for the conversation (switching from bits of slang when it was appropriate, to more formal language to describe his work etc) and generally used some very nice, descriptive, idiomatic and frequently used expressions, phrases and words.
Excellent fluency and coherence. He organised his ideas with clarity, he didn’t seem to struggle any more than someone might in their first language, he didn’t pause excessively, he was able to keep going and going, linking one idea to the next.
So there you have it. Some things to think about.
Being good at English is not all about having “a British accent” or never making a grammar mistake. There are plenty of other things involved in being “good at English”.
Of course, it is up to you. If your goal is to have a British accent (which one?) then I’m not going to stop you, but I do want you to put that in perspective and to realise all the many other things which you can focus on.
And finally, at the end here, I just want to give you a message of encouragement, because one of the main lessons learned from my conversation with Santi was that perseverance, positivity and practice are 3 of the most important factors in this game that we call learning English.
So keep your chin up! Keep practising!
Don’t stop, even if it seems difficult!
Don’t let your weaknesses stop you! There are other areas where you can be strong.
Don’t worry about achieving perfection!
Just keep going and do your best and you might find that is enough or more than enough!
And enjoy it! You only get one life and it’s happening right now, so what are you waiting for – go ahead and use English and make some connections with people.
Be curious about others, be keen to connect with them and be kind. Be kind and generous with your time and your attention, to other people you meet and talk to, and be kind to yourself as well.
Don’t judge other people’s English too harshly. It’s not a competition.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode.
If you did, and you found it useful – give me a like or a comment or a review.
Have a nice morning, afternoon, evening or night and I will speak to you soon.
Celebrating episode 800 by answering a massive list of questions from listeners. This episode covers things like how to improve your speaking when you live in a non-English speaking country, the headphones and microphone I use, my current favourite episode, the afterlife and spirit world, my favourite brands of tea, my favourite video games, being a father and the recent Star Wars series Andor and plenty plenty more. Video version available.
I recorded parts 1 & 2 on Thursday 8 December. Since then England got knocked out of the World Cup by France (ouch!) and also I got ill with a horrible case of flu which put me in bed for 4 days. I’m still ill, but definitely starting to feel better. I’m going to record the rest of these episodes when I am well again, but time is running out fast before Christmas arrives. I am not sure I will have time to do a World Cup episode, but who cares now that England are out? 😂 (I’m joking – I’d love to talk about the football, but I don’t know if there will be time. We’ll see.) Anyway, enjoy the part 2 of this episode 800 mega-ramble! 🎆🎆🎆
QUESTIONS (Listen or watch the video to hear/see me correcting some errors)
I kicked off listening to your podcact because of your Mom. In one of your first episodes, you were talking about the Beatles. I so much liked her wise answers to your questions, her voice, accent, and most of all her straightforward way of speaking . She’s great!
My question Mr Thomson.
What are High Hopes in your mind ? I’m now referring to Pink Floyd’s song.
Hi Luke ️I have a suggestion for creating a discord server in order to connect LEPsters around the world therefore they would be able to talk and have a chat with each other, what’s your take on this Luke? (anyway you can easily notify LEPsters through discord about contents too and it’s utterly free, that’s awesome isn’t it?) and thanks a lot for your awesome contents, have a blessed day
Hello Luke . Can you make a video about how to be confident on camera? Maybe you could interview some of your YouTuber friends or maybe Paul and Amber , they haven’t been on the podcast for a while have they ?
Hi Luke～How do we improve our speaking skills if we are not living abroad～I mean English language speaking country～ Do you have any practical suggestions? I feel like my listening is much better than speaking~Your podcast is awesome ~thanks~
4 ways of speaking to yourself
Repeat after me, shadowing
Just chatting to yourself “I’m going to do this, and that’s a bottle of shampoo with soap all over it’ etc
I have a suggestion for you to make your podcast greater. You should make more episodes about vocabulary, like topic vocabulary, everyday expressions and some difficult grammatical structures, for example:
I ate anything but an apple
which means I only ate an apple.
I ate nothing but an apple
[Luke: actually this isn’t correct – listen to the episode to hear my comments]
Teacher luke, good morning, greetings from a small country in the horn of Africa called SOMALIA. my question is, can you connect me to an online English Teacher or School where I can study English. Thank you so much.
Hello, Luke! I’m a new listener of your podcast, but I already like it a LOT! I love your sense of humor! Have you seen the movie Hot Fuzz? What do you think about it? Maybe you can recommend some interesting movies with great British humor? Good luck to you and thank you very much for your excellent job!
Hello, Luke! Could detective stories and poetry be more frequent or somehow regular in your podcast? Do you think they are like boosters for vocabulary, or they can make listeners feel a little bit passive? Do you have a special formulae for the balance between different types of lessons?
Celebrating episode 800 and responding to lots of questions sent in on social media. Expect questions about my ill-fated music career, grammar, favourite authors, my daughter, life as an English teaching podcaster and plenty more. Video version available.
Here we are. It’s episode 800. It’s a big occasion but the emphasis is on chill in this episode. We’re just going to chill together and celebrate episode 800. So let’s sit back, relax and enjoy podcasting together.
This episode might take absolutely ages – I don’t know how long this is going to be, but we’re not going to worry about that, or anything else in this episode. No concerns, no worries.
For this one I thought I would answer some questions from listeners on social media, YouTube and my website. I recently asked for questions and I got loads. Billions. I got billions of questions.
I’m going to try and answer them almost all of them in this episode.
That might be seriously over ambitious and this could end up being the longest episode ever, we’ll see. If I have to divide it into parts, so be it. We’ve had episode 300 part 1 and 2, as well as several episode 666s, we can have episode 800 in a few parts. But in fact that does prove that I’ve already done more than 800 episodes. In fact I reckon it’s over 1000 if you include premium ones, bonus ones, app-only ones, phrasal verb ones.
In any case, I’m going to go through the questions and try to answer as many as possible. This is bound to take bloody ages. I mean, hours.
I’ve chosen nearly all the questions which came to me, except for world cup ones because I’ll talk about that in another episode.
They’re presented here in no particular order, from various social media platforms.
And I’m going to correct errors if and when I find them.
So this will be a sort of error correction episode too, I expect.
We will start in a minute, but first I just want to take this moment to celebrate getting to 800 episodes!
What does this really mean to me?
A long term professional project which has been a success and continues to be. No mean feat!
It’s a nice big number
800 is a large amount of anything – name a thing and imagine 800 of it. It’s always a lot!
Satisfying to reach a milestone, but I have my sights on 1000 now.
No need to dwell on it too long…
Thank you for continuing to listen to this podcast, allowing me to keep doing this all these years.
Recently the podcast hit 100,000,000 downloads since it started.
I love doing this podcast and I hope you love listening to it too.
I love the fact that I can do this – spend most of my working time on making content for learners of English, doing it my own way, being my own boss. It’s all thanks to the podcast, which means it’s all thanks to you, and the way it works is that those people who can afford it can become premium subscribers, which keeps the show completely free for those people who can’t afford it, and I get to keep making the episodes.
Let’s get on with the listener questions.
By the way, I’ve removed all World Cup questions because I think I’m going to talk about that in a separate episode.
Hi Luke, thanks for this mini episode :) Congratulations on the 800 episodes. My question is if you are considering doing more rambling episodes because they are fun and I think it is an excellent way to learn how to speak naturally and talk about daily life. Looking forward to seeing more rambling episodes.
800 is a long way, congratulations Tr Luke. I would like to suggest that it would be great if you could upload one story telling episode per week (is it too much?) because as a lazy learner, your story telling can carry me to the end of the episode.
Hey Luuuke! I really like what you do and I’m a fan of your sense humor. I was wondering as a kid at school were you this type of guy who bravely says a joke loudly so that the whole class hears and giggles afterwards?
And do you feel that via humor you make the atmosphere (any place: job, school, family pre Christmas hassle, etc.) more amicable and lighthearted?
Hey Luke, what’s cracking!?Thanks for your fantastic podcast, IMHO for the time being it’s one of the most fascinating podcasts in terms of immersing in British English/humor (or at least I would like to think like that) that I’ve come across. My question is, do you consider moving to somewhere from Paris in particular and from France in general? Cheers.
In your opinion, approximately how many words do you need to have in your vocabulary to be able to speak like you do in your ramble episodes? and is there an efficient method for determining the amount of vocabulary for a non-native speaker?
How does it work? Read the text on the website.
Native speakers know 20,000 – 30,000 words.
I got about 25,000.
Learners of English who get 10,000 can be near-native.
Hello Luke. I really enjoyed your podcasts about comedy TV series, like Alan Partridge. However, I asked you (very politely) quite a long time ago about the possibility of doing an episode (likely more then one) about Peep show. I believe that we could all learn from Peep show loads of useful British expressions/phrases which never occur in textbooks for students. Is there any chance that some comedy episodes are in the pipeline? Respect and best wishes from Poland 🇵🇱️
Hi, Luke! I’m really into your podcasts and watch every single episode no matter what length it is. My favorite videos are about detective and horror quizzes/stories. Are you planning to make a podcast on this topic? If so, I’m looking forward to seeing new episodes soon.
Hi Luke, how is it going? First of all, thank you for teaching us. My question is : is it possible to speak like you, if I only listen to your podcast, I mean your intonation and your pronunciation. You speak very clearly. I like your speech that is why I usually listen to your podcast
My name is Berdiyev Azamat from Khiva in Uzbekistan
Special Guest Mark Steel joins me to discuss cultural and linguistic differences between the UK and France, plus accents in the UK and a little tour of some places in the UK that you don’t know about. Also includes a discussion of swearing and rude language in Britain. What is the R word which you should never say in a specific part of the UK? Listen on to find out. Video version available.