Bed bugs in Paris & London, Mosquito hunting in the middle of the night, a home invasion by fleas and the terrors of cockroaches – listen to some anecdotes about encounters with insects with Zdenek who has recently relocated to Vietnam. Also watch out for various insect idioms which appear during the conversation.
Kate Billington returns for her 4th appearance on LEP to create some fun English conversation for you to listen to. We talk about lots of things, as usual, including her cycling trip to Berlin and a nasty accident she had on her bicycle in Paris earlier this year. Expect tangents, vocab, idioms, jokes, stories, cups of tea and some very “professional” podcast eating.
Finally, here is the third part of this series about English slang words and expressions that most British people know, but which will probably confuse almost everyone else! I started this series in 2019. It’s only taken me nearly 4 years to get round to finishing it. Learn loads of slang and culture, plus a bit of British history too.
Hello everyone and welcome back to LEP. This episode is called “88 English Expressions that will confuse everyone (Part 3) and in this episode we’re going to go through some expressions and idioms that, apparently, only British people know, and which confuse everyone else – and that means learners of English but also other native speakers from different countries, particularly the USA. These expressions seem to be unique to the UK for some reason.
Now, this is an episode that has been a long time coming! (Hello Francesco Gaeta!) This is actually part 3 of a series I started bloody ages ago, before COVID came along, and I always intended to finish it off, but never got round to it. So, over 3.5 years and about 200 episodes later it’s time to finish what I started.
Why did it take you so long to finish the series Luke?
I’ve said before that this podcast is a bit like a big ship that’s barreling across the ocean. If I leave something behind (like if someone or something falls overboard) it takes a long time to slow the ship down, turn it around and go back. But anyway, here we are returning to finish this series.
“88 English Expressions that will confuse everyone” – Essentially this is an episode about British slang.
This should be useful for you from a cultural point of view and to help you understand native British English speakers. It should also just be a bit of fun to be honest, so I hope you enjoy it and that you find it interesting to learn about some of our more obscure and weird expressions.
Should you actually use these expressions in your speaking?
This is always an important question when learning slang or idioms. Should you add them to your active vocabulary?
Obviously this is completely up to you, but it’s worth considering what kind of English you should a) be able to understand and b) actually use. This depends on the context in which you are using English. If you want to be able to understand British people when they speak then this is the stuff for you. If you just love English and find it interesting to explore the idiosyncratic aspects of the language, then go for it. But slang isn’t exactly global English (this is the kind of English that most non-native speakers would understand – like the language of international business for example) and so these expressions might just be a bit confusing and weird for other non-native speakers (depending on their level of English).
But again, it is completely up to you, and after all the tagline for this podcast is “Real British English” so here you go. This is the kind of stuff that you might notice in TV shows, song lyrics, books or just the things your English mates say, if you have any, and if you don’t have any, that’s ok, don’t feel bad.
Text in italics has been pasted from the original article (link above).
By the way, there is a video version of this episode on youtube and on the website page. I have been attempting to add more video versions of my episodes recently. I hope you have been enjoying that.
“It’s a real pea-souper out there tonight!”
A “pea-souper” is a thick fog (or smog), often with a yellow or black tinge, caused by air pollution.
I should say that this is an old-fashioned expression and people don’t really use it much any more, but it does pop up every now and again usually in films and TV series which are set in the past. I think Amber said it on the podcast once too.
The idiom was first used to describe the thick, choking smogs that settled over London, caused by lots of people burning fossil fuels in a close vicinity, as early as 1200. The smogs were compared to pea soup due to their colour and density.
Pea soup is very thick and can be a bit yellow in colour if you’re using dried peas in the recipe, so this is why a fog which is very thick (and even yellow in colour) used to be called a “pea souper”. The fog/smog was so thick that it looked like pea soup. Yuck.
“Be careful when you’re driving — it’s a pea-souper out there.”
I would never actually use this phrase unless I was imitating a London cab driver from the 1950s or 1940s. The expression was much more common in those days because very foggy weather was also much more common. We don’t often get fog like that in London these days really, because the air is much cleaner than it used to be.
This is one of the stereotypes of London – thick fog. It’s the sort of thing that comes up in American TV shows and films. In many American’s minds, London is still this foggy 18th century place full of penniless pickpockets, greedy bank managers and cockney prostitutes, and fog. “Foggy London town”, but it’s not really true any more, well the weather bit – the pickpockets, bank managers and prostitutes – that’s probably still true.
All the google News searching I’ve done for this expression has returned the same results – articles about the great smog of 1952.
So, this is as much a history lesson as it is an English lesson then. What was the great smog of 1952 and how did this “pea souper” expression end up in the language?
Details from Wikipedia
Pea soup fog (also known as a pea souper, black fog or killer fog and also London Particular in the case of pea-soupers in London) is a very thick and often yellowish, greenish or blackish fog caused by air pollution that contains sootparticulates and the poisonous gas sulphur dioxide. This very thick smog occurs in cities and is derived from the smoke given off by the burning of soft coal for home heating and in industrial processes. Smog of this intensity is often lethal to vulnerable people such as the elderly, the very young and those with respiratory problems. The result of these phenomena was commonly known as a London particular or London fog.
The Clean Air Act The worst recorded instance was the Great Smog of 1952, when 4,000 deaths were reported in the city over a couple of days, and a subsequent 8,000 related deaths, leading to the passage of the Clean Air Act 1956 (a law which controlled pollution in London and was vital in changing the air quality of the whole country), which banned the use of coal for domestic fires in some urban areas. The overall death toll from that incident is now believed to be around 12,000.
The phrase has cropped up in various bits of popular culture over the years.
Charles Dickens’ Bleak House – when Esther arrives in London, she asks of the person meeting her “whether there was a great fire anywhere? For the streets were so full of dense brown smoke that scarcely anything was to be seen. ‘O, dear no, miss,’ he said. ‘This is a London particular.’ I had never heard of such a thing. ‘A fog, miss,’ said the young gentleman.”
The Arthur Conan DoyleSherlock Holmes stories describe London fogs, but contrary to popular impression the phrase “pea-soup” is not used; A Study in Scarlet (1887) mentions that “a dun-coloured veil hung over the house-tops”; The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans (1912) describes “a dense yellow fog” that has settled down over London, and later notes “a greasy, heavy brown swirl still drifting past us and condensing in oily drops on the windowpane”; while in The Sign of Four (1890), Holmes soliloquises: “What else is there to live for? Stand at the window here. Was ever such a dreary, dismal, unprofitable world? See how the yellow fog swirls down the street and drifts across the dun-coloured houses”; and, later: “the day had been a dreary one, and a dense drizzly fog lay low upon the great city. Mud-coloured clouds hung over the muddy streets.”
The fog plays a role in Michael Crichton‘s 1975 novel The Great Train Robbery “On the evening of January 9th, a characteristic London ‘pea-soup’ fog, heavily mixed with soot, blanketed the town.
The second chapter of the book The Woman in Black (1983) by Susan Hill is titled “A London Particular” and mentions the thick, dense fog of London, which Arthur Kipps witnesses on his journey to work at his solicitors’ office.
Sections of London Below in Neil Gaiman‘s 1996 novel Neverwhere are still affected by “pea soupers”, remnants of the thick fog in London’s past that got trapped in London Below and remained.
This expression turned up in series 1 of The Crown (The Netflix drama about the Queen & The Royal Family) in episode 4. The events of the 1952 fog-deaths and their political ramifications take up the whole of the episode.
London fog is now a bit of a cliche and we don’t get that much foggy weather since the air is now a lot cleaner, or at least the pollution we have now doesn’t create smog like it used to. So, pea-soupers and “foggy London” are now a thing of the past
How’s the pollution in your city or country? Do you ever get pea-soupers there?
“Pinch punch first of the month”
This is a rhyme that people say on the first day of the month. It’s sort of a good luck tradition, or maybe just an excuse to punch someone on the arm. For some reason we never ever did this in my family and so “Pinch, punch, the first of the month” is almost as foreign to me as it is to you. It’s the sort of annoying thing that a kid in school would say to you while inflicting physical pain on you, by pinching and then punching you in the arm.
“Pinch punch, first of the month. No returns of any kind” is a school playground rhyme often exchanged between friends on the first day of a new calendar month, accompanied by a pinch and a punch to the recipient.
If the joker forgets to say “no returns of any kind,” the recipient can say “a slap and a kick for being so quick,” accompanied by a slap and a kick.
Why on earth would people do this kind of nonsense to each other, you might be asking? To protect everyone from witches, of course.
According to the Metro, the playground ritual originates from the medieval times (when nobody know anything about anything, most people were completely illiterate and education was something only the richest of the rich could afford and even the school were probably full of unscientific superstitious nonsense too) , when a “pinch” of salt was believed to make witches weak, and the “punch” resembled banishing the witches entirely. As a result, “pinch punch, first of the month” was a way of warding off witches and bad luck for the near future.
Nowadays, it’s mostly a way for kids to pull pranks on their friends.
It’s basically an excuse for punching your friends.
“Pinch punch, first of the month!”
“Ha! A slap and a kick for being so quick!”
Do you have any weird little superstitious traditions relating to the first day of the month?
This is one for the Americans really, and I expect that most long-term LEPsters will be well aware of this.
“Pissed” usually means “angry” in the US. However, in the UK, someone that’s “pissed” is most probably drunk.
“Oh leave him alone, he’s pissed!”
Here’s another expression that means drunk (add it to all those ‘nouns-as-adjective words that posh people might say like trollied, gazeboed, rat-arsed and the other expression which was mortal in Newcastle and probably the surrounding areas – see part 2 of this series).
This word is very common and used a lot. I would definitely use this as a slightly rude alternative to the word drunk.
I’m feeling a bit pissed.
If they started drinking at 6 the’ll all be pissed by now!
Remember, in the US pissed usually means annoyed. The English equivalent is pissed off.
I’m so pissed right now. (Angry – USA)
I’m feeling so pissed off today! (Angry – UK, although I think they sometimes say pissed off in the USA too)
He can’t drive, he’s pissed! (Drunk – UK)
When was the last time you got pissed? Have you ever been pissed?
What pisses you off about life in the place where you live?
*remember, the word “pissed” is quite rude.
“Pop your clogs”
To “pop your clogs” means to die.
This cheery phrase is widely believed to originate from Northern factory workers around the time of the industrial revolution. When they were working on the factory floor, employees had to wear hard clogs to protect their feet.
“Pop” has evolved from “cock,” and when someone “cocked” their clogs, the toes of their clogs pointed up in the air as they lay down dead.
“Did you hear what happened to John’s old man? He popped his clogs, didn’t he…”
Again, there’s an example of how the story of the meaning of the word is more weird than useful, but I suppose people used to die quite frequently in factories and so this phrase became quite common. I’m trying to think of a reasonable situation in which you could use this phrase today. Normally you wouldn’t use a phrase like this if you’re trying to be respectful about a death. Instead this phrase is for situations which are not so serious.
An example from a not-so-serious account of Queen Victoria’s life.
Queen Victoria’s wild royal sex diaries revealed New Zealand Herald-25 May 2019 Sadly, Victoria’s sexual walkabout with Albert ended in 1861 when he popped his clogs and she was heartbroken to have lost her great love.
Something that is nonsense, rubbish, or simply untrue might be described as “poppycock.”
This quintessentially British idiom derives from the Dutch “pap” and “kak,” which translate as “soft” and “dung.”
So it means “bullshit” basically.
“What a load of poppycock!”
Having done a bit of research into this, it seems that they do use it in the USA as well, and no-doubt in Canada too, and other English speaking places.
Here are some examples https://youglish.com/pronounce/poppycock/english?
Other words that mean nonsense
We could add “poppycock” to the list of words meaning nonsense which also includes:
For more info, check here https://www.glossophilia.org/?p=2569
Do you also have lots of words for “nonsense” in your language, or does English just have more nonsense than other languages?
Someone who’s “quids in” has invested in an opportunity which is probably going to benefit them massively.
“Quid” is British slang for “pounds,” eg, “five quid” means £5.
“If it all works out as planned, he’ll be quids in.”
Basically, if you are ‘quids in‘ it means you’ve made some money. It is the sort of thing I might say if I’ve gained some money, like at the end of a comedy show you might say “Ah, quids in!” when someone hands you some cash that has been collected at the door.
This is a good one, and important if you’re going to the pub in the UK.
You might buy a “round” of drinks for your friends at the pub, in the understanding that they will each buy you a drink as part of their “rounds” later on.
“Whose round is it? Is it Steve’s?”
“No way, I’ve already bought a round. It’s your round.”
Do you buy drinks in rounds in your country? I expect that you get a bill at the end, rather than having to keep going back to the bar to order more drinks, but let me know in the comment section.
A disorganised mess or chaotic environment might be described as a “shambles.”
“What’s happened here? This is a shambles!”
Brexit is a shambles. My first lessons as a teacher were a bit of a shambles. The way England play football in the World Cup is often a bit of a shambles, although they’ve been getting better in recent years. Boris Johnson is a shambles, and so is his government. (oops, a bit of politics)
Someone short-tempered or irritated might be described as “shirty”, also to get shirty with someone.
The meaning of this slang has been debated at length. The word “shirt” is derived from the Norse for “short,” hence short-tempered. However, other people believe that “shirty” has connotations of being dishevelled (creased, unironed, in a bad mood).
“Don’t get shirty with me, mister.”
When was the last time someone got shirty with you?
Are you a bit short tempered sometimes? Do you get shirty with people? When? In the mornings? Who do you get shirty with?
I got shirty with a guy who jumped ahead of me in the queue, but I can’t argue in French so I couldn’t do anything about it. (What happened Luke?)
Something that is “skew-whiff” is askew – meaning wonky, not straight.
“Is it just me or is that painting a bit skew-whiff?”
Francois Hollande used to the President of France but it seems he was quite unpopular with French people. I often wondered why. Whenever I asked people about him they would say something about his appearance, or that he’s not presidential enough. I worked out that he was unpopular mainly because he couldn’t wear a tie properly. His tie was always a bit skew-whiff. Clearly, looking Presidential is one of the main qualifications for the job.
Look around the room (if you’re in a room) are any of the pictures or paintings a bit skew-whiff?
to skive off (school)
“Skiving” is the act of avoiding work or school, often by pretending to be ill. Playing truant.
“Skive” is derived from the French “esquiver,” meaning “to slink away” or “to wriggle out of something”.
“He skived off school so we could all go to Thorpe Park on a weekday.”
Did you use to skive off school?
I never skived off at school, but I did a lot at 6th form college. I spent more time in the park next to the college than I did in the college itself.
Lacking in energy; usually after a long period of exertion.
“Do we have to go to the dinner party tonight? I’m slumped.”
Hmm. I would use slumped but not to mean exhausted. I’d use it to describe someone’s body position.
to be Slumped (over) = to lean, lie or sit so that your body is completely lifeless, as if you have died or just passed out. To be slumped over a desk, to be slumped on the floor, in a corner etc.
I’m sure that in the recent detective story episodes (Episodes 612-614) the word “slumped” came up. You can imagine someone slumped over their desk because they’ve been studying English so hard that they’ve passed out, or they’ve just been listening to an especially long episode of LEP.
The students were all slumped over their desks. The teacher was slumped over his desk. There was even a guy slumped in the corner, holding a grammar book. What happened here? I wondered. Then I realised. It must have been an English grammar lesson.
Is it considered rude to be slumped over your desk in your country?
It always used to alarm me to see my Korean students slumped over the desks during break time, especially if they had their heads on the desks. I thought they had just all given up, but apparently they were just resting. (Or maybe they just couldn’t stand my lessons)
Someone that comes across as scheming or untrustworthy might be described as “smarmy.”
He’s such a smarmy bastard.
Although the adjective’s origins remain largely unknown, early documented uses seem to use the word as synonymous with “smear,” further suggesting that someone who is “smarmy” is also “slick” or “slippery.”
“Don’t trust him — he’s a smarmy git.”
Draco Malfoy is a smarmy little git. Jacob Rees Mogg is a really smarmy politician.
James Bond is not smarmy, he’s classy. But there are plenty of blokes who fancy themselves as classy like Bond, but they just come across as smarmy.
Do you know anyone you could describe as smarmy?
Imagine a slippery, maybe slimy, charming but disreputable person.
A British axiom (saying)( that boils down to the idea that: “If anything can go wrong, then it definitely will go wrong.”
“Sod’s law” is often used to explain bad luck or freakish acts of misfortune. This is more commonly known in the US as “Murphy’s law.”
“Of course my toast had to land on the floor butter-side-down. It’s Sod’s law.”
Here are some situations in which would count as sod’s law:
Dropping your toast. It always falls butter side down.
When you have to choose a queue at the bank or at border control. The queue you choose always ends up being longer than the queues you didn’t choose.
In the USA they would probably say “Murphy’s Law”, which could be a bit offensive as it’s an Irish name and so this might count as an ethnic slur – a rude expression which offends a certain ethnic group, in this case the Irish.
“Great, it’s been dry all summer and on our wedding day it decides to pour with rain.” “Sod’s law, isn’t it?”
“a Spanner in the works”
An event that disrupts the natural, pre-planned order of events could be described as a “spanner in the works.”
The phrase describes the mayhem caused when something is recklessly thrown into the intricate gears and workings of a machine.
“By getting pregnant, Mary threw a spanner in the works.”
UK: spanner US: wrench Spanish: an English key (?)
Before the pandemic threw a spanner in the works I was planning a world tour of stand up comedy shows.
“Spend a penny”
To “spend a penny” is a polite euphemism for going to the toilet.
The phrase goes back to Victorian public toilets, which required users to insert a single penny in order to operate the lock.
Although it sounds crude, the phrase is actually considered a polite way of announcing that you are going to visit the bathroom. Historically, only women would announce they were going to “spend a penny,” as only women’s public toilets required a penny to lock. Men’s urinals were free of charge.
“I’m going to spend a penny.”
“I’m just off to spend a penny”
Other euphemisms for urination:
to have/take/go for a slash / whazz
to answer the call of nature
This is nothing to do with the previous expression.
To “splash out” means spending significant amounts of money on a particular item or event.
If you’re “splashing out,” it’s implied that you’re spending money on a treat to mark a special occasion or celebration.
“Wow — you’ve really splashed out on this party!”
Note: to splash out on something
I’ve been working super hard recently, so I decided to treat myself and splash out on a new guitar.
Have you splashed out on anything recently, or are you saving up for something?
Similar to “nerd” or “geek” but less derogatory — someone that takes academic study very seriously might be described as a “swot.”
“Swot” can also be used as a verb.
“I haven’t seen Tom since he started revising for his exams. He’s turned into such a swot!”
“Yeah, he’s been swotting like mad for his Spanish exam.”
“Take the biscuit”
If someone has done something highly irritating or surprising in an exasperating fashion, you might say that they’ve “taken the biscuit.”
“Taking the biscuit” is the equivalent of taking the nonexistent medal for foolishness or incredulity.
“I could just about deal with the dog barking at 5:30a.m., but the lawnmower at 3 a.m. really takes the biscuit.”
“Take the Mickey”
To “take the Mickey” means to take liberties at the expense of others — and can be used in both a lighthearted and an irritated fashion.
“Take the Mickey” is an abbreviation of “taking the Mickey Bliss,” which is Cockney rhyming slang for “take the piss.”
“Hey! Don’t take the Mickey.”
“I’m just taking the Mickey.”
Something that is “tickety-boo” is satisfactory and in good order.
This classic British idiom may seem stereotypically twee, however, some sources believe that “tickety-boo” in fact derives from the Hindu phrase “ṭhīk hai, bābū,” meaning “it’s alright, sir.”
“I hope everything’s fine, grand, splendid and tickety boo in podcastland”
When someone makes a great speech while skirting around a subject or saying little of any value, you might say that they’re talking “waffle,” or that they’re “waffling.”
In the 17th century, to “waff” went to yelp, and quickly evolved to mean to talk foolishly or indecisively.
“I wish he’d stop waffling on.”
“What a load of waffle!”
Other words for this: rambling, prattling.
Someone silly or incompetent might be described as a wally.
Although its origins are largely debated, the term’s meaning has evolved over the last 50 years alone.
In the 1960s, someone that was unfashionable might be nicknamed a “wally,” according to dictionary.com.
“Don’t put down a leaking mug on top of the newspaper, you wally!”
If you’ve “wangled” something, you’ve accomplished or attained something through cunning means.
“I wangled some first-class seats by being nice to the cabin crew!”
To “whinge” means to moan, groan, and complain in an irritating or whiney fashion.
“Wind your neck in”
If you want to tell someone to not concern themselves with issues that don’t directly affect them, you might tell them to “wind their neck in.”
This classic phrase is another way of telling someone that their opinion is not appreciated in the given scenario.
“Wind your neck in and stop being so nosy!”
To be honest, I only ever heard this phrase being used by my friends from Northern Ireland and I hadn’t heard it before that.
Someone that makes comments just to spark controversy or argument might be labelled a “wind-up merchant.”
The “wind-up merchant” will often claim to be making their comments as a light-hearted jest when the recipients start becoming irritated.
If you’re “winding someone up,” you’re making them tense or irritated, a bit like the way you might wind up a toy.
to wind someone up = to make fun of them, to take the mickey out of them
a wind up merchant = someone who winds people up
“Stop being such a wind-up merchant and be serious for one second!”
“I was going to go out tonight but when I finished work I was absolutely zonked.”
Other words for zonked: knackered, worn-out, shattered.
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.
Talking to author Natasha V Broodie who has written a book which aims to help learners of English understand the subtle codes of polite language when making requests and giving information in professional and personal contexts. In the conversation we explore the topic and consider some tips for making your language more culturally appropriate.
In this episode I am talking to author Natasha V Broodie who has written a book which aims to help learners of English to find the right tone in their speaking and writing. Tone is something which is very much affected by culture and often relates to things like being direct, indirect, formal, informal, the use of modal verbs and phrasal verbs and so on. In English the general tone is often quite friendly, indirect and polite, and this can sometimes cause problems for English speakers coming from different places where codes of politeness or professionalism are different.
Natasha has worked as an English teacher and has also worked in international contexts for the UN and so she has direct experience of observing people communicating in English and not quite getting the tone right.
So in her book, “Give me tea, please. Practical Ingredients for Tasteful Language” she lays out a sort of style guide with theory, practical tips and a glossary of defined vocabulary at the back.
It sounds like an interesting book which could be a worthwhile read for my listeners, so I thought it would be good to chat with Natasha a little bit and explore some of the ideas presented in her book.
“Give me tea, please” is currently available on Amazon but from 24 September should be available from all other providers too.
Right, so now you know what sort of thing we’re going to be talking about, let’s meet Natasha Broodie and find out some of those practical tips for tasteful language.
Talking to Christian again about some of the themes and controversial opinions he talks about in his YouTube videos, plus some bits about men wearing thongs on the beach, an obsession with rabbits and if Christian was the Donald Trump of English teaching. Video version available.
How are you today? You are now listening to episode 732, and in this one I am talking again to Christian Saunders from Canguro English.
This is the second time I’m talking to him on the podcast. I previously interviewed Christian in episode 686 last year and got to know him a bit, but I wanted to talk to him again after having seen some of his most recent videos on YouTube about language and language learning.
In his videos Christian often challenges certain assumptions and myths about language learning, and so I thought it might be interesting to talk to him about those things, so I came up with some questions about language, learning language and teaching English on the internet.
There is a video version of this conversation on my YouTube channel too, so don’t forget to check it out and of course to like and subscribe while you’re there.
There’s no more for me to add here in the introduction. I hope you enjoy this conversation and get some good things from it. Once again, Christian’s YouTube channel is called Canguro English and his website is canguroenglish.com
Let’s get started.
So that was Christian from Canguro English. Thanks again to Christian.
And here we are, at the end of yet another episode. I wonder what you thought of the points which came up in that conversation? Feel free to let us know in the comment section or perhaps under the YouTUbe version of this. Where do you stand on things like comprehensible input, workbooks and clickbait titles? Let us know.
For me, this is one of the last episodes I’m recording before officially starting my summer holiday. As usual I have loads of stuff to record and publish before I go away, and I might end up recording some of it while I am back in the UK. But here’s a little overview of what’s in the pipeline right now.
A Summer Ramble
War of the Worlds
So I have my work cut out.
In terms of holiday – we’re going back to the UK to stay at my parents’ place and we will have to deal with the whole quarantine thing, and the day 2 and day 8 testing process and all that. It’s quite annoying. But after we quarantine we will be going to a posh camp site for some “glamping” and generally spending a couple of weeks in the UK.
Meanwhile our new flat in Paris is being demolished (on the inside) and remade to our specifications. Let’s hope that all goes according to plan.
I’ll talk more about this stuff in that rambling episode which is coming up.
Learn English with The Beatles as we explore lyrics from Beatles songs and pick out some idioms, descriptive language and other vocabulary for you to learn. Featuring Antony Rotunno from the Glass Onion: On John Lennon podcast.
In this episode you can learn English with The Beatles as we look at specific bits of English which appear in the lyrics of their songs.
I’m joined again by Antony Rotunno from the Glass Onion on John Lennon Podcast. Antony is also an English teacher and something of a John Lennon expert. He is also a musician, and a lot of the credit for this episode goes to him, because he did most of the preparation, going through lyrics of Beatles songs and picking out specific use of English, including certain phrases and idioms.
This is like a quiz actually. Can you name the songs when Antony plays them?
Can you beat me?
Can you name the songs from the lyrics and from the music?
There are a few references to The Rutles and Neil Innes of course, but for us those songs are all part of The Beatles extended universe.
I’ll chat to you again at the end of the episode and will sum up some of the bits of language that come up, but now let’s get started.
Phrases / Vocabualry
Using lots of pronouns, me, you, us, I etc
Using more imagery in the lyrics
I’m going to love her until the cows come home
A chip on my shoulder
My heart went boom when I crossed that room
Buzz, hum, boom (Onomatopoeia)
It won’t be long ‘til I belong to you
I don’t know why she’s riding so high
To be on your high horse
I’ll make a point of taking her away from you
I sat on her rug biding my time, drinking her wine
This bird has flown
Please don’t spoil my day, I’m miles away, and after all, I’m only sleeping
If she’s gone I can’t go on, feeling two foot small
Feeling 10 foot tall
Ouch, you’re breaking my heart
To upset the applecart
Where there’s a will there’s a way
He was like a wolf in sheep’s clothing
Or an iron hand in a velvet glove
Working like a dog
Sleeping like a log
Sleeping like a baby
If you need a shoulder to cry on
To give someone a shoulder to cry on
To open up the doors
My independence seems to vanish in the haze
It was anotherstring to their bow
There is a place, where I can go, when I feel low, when I feel blue
To feel blue
Everybody’s green because I’m the one who won your love
Green = 1. Jealous 2. inexperienced
Oh dear what can I do, baby’s in black and I’m feeling blue
When the sun shines they slip into the shade, and sip their lemonade
With tangerinetrees and marmaladeskies, cellophane flowers of yellow and green
No-one I think is in my tree
Nobody is on my wavelength
Semolina pilchard climbing up the Eiffel Tower
The clouds will be a daisy chain, so let me see you smile again
Her hair of floating sky is shimmering, glimmering, in the sun
My mother was of the sky, my father was of the earth but I am of the universe and you know what it’s worth
Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy
Don’t need a gun to blow your mind
No longer riding on the merry go round, I just had to let it go
Luke talks on his own without stopping, restarting or editing, including responses to comments about recent episodes, thoughts on the methodology behind this podcast, some vocabulary teaching, a few songs on the guitar and more. This is no-stress episode, and a chance for me to just check in on you and make sure you’re all doing ok out there in the world! 😉
These are just notes and not a full transcript. Some chunks of target vocabulary are highlighted in bold.
In this episode you’re going to hear me talking on my own, which probably means it’s going to be easier to understand and follow what I’m saying than some of the episodes I’ve uploaded recently, because I’ve uploaded some pretty challenging episodes over the last few weeks and months, and years… I try to mix it up a bit, with some challenging ones and some easier ones. Let’s say the easier ones are when I’m on my own and the more challenging ones are when I’m with other people or when we are breaking down recordings of other people.
But this one is just me, and you, because you’re involved. You’re listening aren’t you?
I hope this will come as something of a relief to you, at least to those of you who are pushing yourselves by listening to my podcast, and who might have quite a tough time understanding the more challenging episodes.
I know that some episodes are difficult to follow sometimes, because of the speed of English you’re hearing from my guests and me, and because we might be talking about subjects that you aren’t so familiar with.
Anyway, no stress today, there’s enough stress in the world. The plan here is just to chat to you, have a good old-fashioned ramble on LEP.
So you can have a bit of a breather today and just enjoy listening to this. And I hope you listen to all of it, from start to the finish. If it makes any difference to you, I will sing you a song or two with my guitar at the end. So if you’d like to hear me singing again, as I do at the end of episodes sometimes, then stick with it and keep listening until the end. Don’t be tempted to skip forward. That’s cheating.
Two words: deferred gratification.
It’s important to have a bit of self-discipline and I’m talking to myself there as much as I’m talking to you.
When I decided to do this episode I thought (and it’s always like this, with these rambling episodes as I’ve come to call them) I decided initially to just talk without preparing anything in advance. Just no pressure, no specific agenda, just speak my mind and try to express the ideas which have been building up in my head since the last time I spoke to you like this.
The idea is that I can keep it authentic, in the moment and I don’t have to spend ages working on it before I even start recording. That’s what I think when I decide to do an episode like this.
But that’s easier said than done, because…. (What happens Luke? How do you end up writing so much in advance?)
Basically: I want to talk with no preparation, but then I have to write some things down or I won’t remember to mention them, but then I end up starting to type out everything in advance.
It’s hard to know when to stop preparing and when to start recording.
So I’ve decided to just get started here without worrying too much about having every single detail prepared in advance.
I know it’s probably not an issue for you, but I’m just giving you bit of insight into what goes through my mind when I prepare and record an episode.
So → No more preparing, it’s time to start talking, which might mean there is some rambling here, which is fine and great.
The main aim of this episode is to check in on you (make sure you’re doing alright) but not check up on you (to investigate, gather information, spy on someone)
And just chat to you about various things on my mind, things that I think are of interest to you as a member of my audience.
Talk a bit about recent episodes, just to establish where we are.
Give a few bits of news.
Respond to a couple of comments I’ve received
Have a bit of a laugh → just have some fun on the podcast because that is one of my favourite things about doing this. Just messing about and having fun, with no stress involved!
Sing one, two or maybe three songs on the guitar, which I will leave until the end.
As we go through all of this, I am sure that there will be various expressions, vocabulary and other language points that will come up. [A lot of it is highlighted for you here]
When I talk in episodes of this podcast I am sure that some people don’t notice what the method is. Most people like to think there is a specific pedagogical method at work and in my experience it is necessary to tell people (my students for example) exactly what the method is in order to put their minds at rest so they know they’re in safe hands.
What I will say is this – it might not be obvious all the time, but there is method to the madness I can assure you. I’ve been teaching for nearly 20 years now and to an extent I am now just always teaching. I’m always in teaching mode. This means that I’m always thinking about what you while I am talking. I’m always thinking about the listener not because I’m so selfless and wonderful but because I know what I’m doing.
*You don’t need to justify it Luke*
Let’s just say this → Even when it’s not obvious that I am teaching you, I am teaching you. Every minute you listen to this (and indeed most other things you could listen to, but the difference here is that I am doing this specifically for you as a learner of English and even more specifically as a LEPster) … every minute you listen to this is a minute in the bank of your English.
I’ll talk more about methodology and this podcast in a bit. I’m still technically in the introduction here.
I have no idea how long this will take, but it usually takes longer than I expect, so this could easily be two episodes.
But seriously, let’s forget about the clock for a while, ok? Don’t worry about how much time is passing. If you need to stop for some reason, just stop. Your podcasting app will remember where you were when you stopped and you can carry on again when you’re ready.
The main thing is: just listen, just try to follow everything. If you can follow it all without trouble, then fantastic, give yourself a little pat on the back. If you can’t follow it all, just do your best, keep going, don’t give up, rewind and listen to certain bits again if you need to.
And this is where your podcasting app will help once more because you should have those helpful buttons which let you skip back by a few seconds. I use them a lot when I’m listening to podcasts, including ones in French (Any good french podcasts to recommend Luke? I’ll add that to the list for this episode – see below)
You will see various notes on the page for this episode. This is all the stuff I wrote down before recording. It’s not a transcript, but if you hear me saying something and you’re wondering what it is, check out the page and you might see it written there.
I understand that checking a website isn’t all that convenient, even when you have a smartphone to hand.
But anyway, it is there. If you’re listening in an app (including the LEP app) check the show notes → There is a link there that takes you right to the relevant page each time. That’s one of the fastest ways to get straight to the correct page. Otherwise, join the mailing list to have the link sent to your inbox, or just check out the episode archive on teacherluke.co.uk where you can find everything.
Is everyone ok out there? Let’s be honest, this is a pretty crazy time. I hope you’re doing ok. Hang in there, stay positive!
Ian Moore → It’s interesting that Jack in the comment section mentioned that he found it waaaay easier to understand Ian this time compared to last time. This could well mean that his English listening skills have improved in that period – considering there are about 300 episodes between Ian’s first appearance and his second. So, I’m very happy to hear that, basically.
I’m also happy to have had Ian on the podcast again. He really is a very witty man, not to mention well-dressed. There are a few videos of him online, doing comedy, being interviewed on TV and so on, and he is very good.
Alan Partridge episodes
What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. (or so they say)
“You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”(and you shouldn’t try to) ~originally attributed to John Lydgate and then Abraham Lincoln.
Slightly puzzling stats for the AP episodes. Part 4 and 6 have a similar number of listens, but episode 5 has about 25% fewer listens. What’s that all about?
The Intercultural Communication Dance with Sherwood Fleming → The main point is, focus on the message, not how the message has been delivered to you. I would also add: be thoughtful, be respectful, think about the other person, listen to them and pay attention to them, adapt your style accordingly. Ultimately it comes down to compassion. Be compassionate. Think about the other person, think about their situation, be less self-involved. Thinking about the other person, what they want and what they are really trying to say → this helps a lot. It helps you avoid conflict and it helps to bring more respect to you. In theory.
RecentAmber & PaulEpisodes
It was fantastic to speak to them on the podcast recently. I think it’s best when the three of us have a specific aim for an episode, especially if it is a game of some kind.
Amber had her baby! It’s a girl. Mum and baby are both doing fine. I’m hoping to speak to Amber soon about it, with Paul there too. Congratulations to Amber, her husband, and their little boy who now is the brother to a little baby sister.
Quintessentially British Things
James – A few people going Hmmm. Some saying how fun it is to listen to the two of us, a couple of people saying they found James to be a bit rude because he kept cutting me off. We have a close relationship, but like all brothers we fight sometimes etc… conditions for recording, we both had a lot to say, etc. We mention it at the end of an upcoming episode we’ve done about music.
Hi people, sorry if I came across as rude / impatient. It was late, we were tired, and I’m afraid to say I was very, very drunk. ; )
Ones with Mum and Dad – all positive saying they found them interesting and lovely and I’m lucky to have a family like that, and I am. Episodes of Gill’s Book Club (which it will probably be called) should arrive this year. RT report too, when we feel like it!
A lot of conversations with native speakers at normal speed. What is your method, Luke?
Upcoming music episode with James
Thoughts about the challenge of listening to some of my episodes.
I like to consider the thoughts of my listeners but ultimately I have to go with my gut and use my own judgement
The majority of comments come from LEPsters with pretty good English. So I don’t hear from lower-level listeners so much.
Comments on the website → More people came out of the woodwork and that’s great. I’m not concerned. People need to go out of their way to visit the website, find the episode page, find the comment section, possibly sign into the comment section (Disqus) and write a comment in English. Most people just end up being ninjas often because there are various little barriers in the way. I get it!
People comment in various ways → comment section, email, twitter, facebook, Youtube. The LEPsters’ comments are spread out all over the place. So they’re not all consolidated in one place. Maybe I should just stick to ONE platform, but I think this would ultimately make it more complicated for people to listen.
Premium → I am working on new stuff all the time. I say it’s about grammar, vocab & pron, and it is, but that sounds a bit dry doesn’t it? Remember – it’s still me, I’m still trying to do it in the LEP way, which means I make efforts to keep it entertaining at all times, as well as clear. Upcoming episodes will be about common errors I’ve noticed in comments and emails and things.
You’re reading a book, right? What are you reading?
Message: Hello there Luke, it is a great pleasure to be one of your thousands of listeners. Must admit that I am on the ninja´s listener side…Just a quick question, What kind of book would you suggest I should read in order to improve my english comprehension? I am going for the c1 advanced by the way and the big deal for me is the huge amount of sources offered on the Internet…
Thanks in advance my friend, carry on the good work!
To be honest Miguel, you should just pick a book that you really want to read and that you will probably enjoy. You could pick the English version of one of your favourite books or perhaps a book of a film you like.
You can also get graded books at the C1 level, which would also be a good idea.
I’m assuming you mean reading novels rather than grammar/vocab books.
Hope that helps.
Check these episodes from the archive
French podcasts (difficult to find the right one for me, I must be quite picky)
Un Cafe Au Lot 7 → Louis Dubourg chats with French stand-up comedians, including some of my friends and acquaintances. Paul is interviewed there, so is Seb Marx and also some other big names like Fary and Gad Elmaleh.
French Voices → Conversations with interesting people with some things to look out for in English at the start)
French Your Way Podcast –> Specifically about teaching us French, making things clear and memorable, correcting certain mistakes, a lot of it is in English. Jessica is on maternity leave, starting in June. She’s probably fully involved with her baby. I hope she comes back soon when she is able to.
This comment is sponsored by LEP Premium – www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium
Message: Hello Luke,
I have been a regular listener of your fantastic podcasts since 2018 and I am the one who requested an episode on the topic of “articles” a couple of weeks ago.
I just finished the fifth episode of this series this morning and I must say that it is the most brilliant episode that you have ever recorded. I didn’t not think you were capable of doing that in 2009 because this requires a lot of experience. I do not know if the Lepsters realize the amount of work that you have performed to complete this series. During the last 20 years, I have often searched for such a lesson focused on the right use of articles but I have never found it. There are so many rules but also exceptions that it drives me nuts. As a neuroradiologist at Lille University hospital, I regularlly write scientific papers on neurovascular diseases in international journals and I am frustrated to systematically see the editorial office of the journal change my sentences by adding or removing articles. I feel more confident now even if it takes a long time to master the correct use of articles.
I don’t know if I have correctly used the articles in this message but I am very happy to get a comprehensive document on this topic.
Thanks a lot Luke and keep it up. You are such a lovely person who is very inspiring to me.
Oh what a wonderful email, thank you very much Xavier.
Yes, you used all the articles correctly in this email. I’m glad to see my episode has helped you!
I’m also very glad to receive emails such as this, from interesting and intelligent people who actually use my content to actively improve their English. It’s very inspiring.
This is a community effort in which LEPsters can transcribe episodes of the podcast.
I’ve mentioned it before, now I’m mentioning it again.
The transcription project is one of the most powerful options we have in this podcast.
Since I started learning English, I’ve always heard the same piece of advice from teachers I’ve been listening to, which is: “We must read, listen and write to have better English skills.”
Well, the transcription project is the perfect example and could allow us to reach this goal entirely.
The transcription project does not only involve transcribing but also proofreading episodes. That’s why I created two teams. The Orion team makes the transcriptions, and the Andromeda team proofreads and corrects the texts done by the Orion team.
And I want to tell to people, asking to join the project, that we can fulfil our goals staying in this project longer than one or two episodes. Nobody is going to encourage us or give a hug or give a kiss. Still, the joy of seeing this project growing up and becoming better than when we started participating in it is immense. Staying for an extended period allows you to see your real improvement.
When you proofread the episodes you did one year before, you are going to find a lot of mistakes and misheard words. That means that you can hear sounds and terms you couldn’t hear previously. That also means that you are becoming a better English speaker.
As I’ve often said, the transcription project is a hard task to do, sometimes we can feel bored, but we can not forget why we are doing it and what goal we want to reach. Mastering a language when you don’t live with native speakers is very hard. This project and Luke’s English Podcast episodes allow us to fill the gap. However, we need something more to stay in this project longer. We need to have another goal. A different goal than learning English. A goal which means giving back something to others.
Yes! Learning plus giving back is something much more powerful. We learn English for free, and we transcribe episodes and correct them for free.
Doing that we fulfil another goal: We help everyone coming to LEP to learn faster with our transcripts. The number of them is close to 342. (probably more since this was done – because 618. The Climate Crisis is also finished now and needs to be proofread).
I started my collaboration in 2015, and even if I am not as good an English speaker as I want, I know I am much better than then.
Thanks to people joining the Orion and Andromeda teams, staying with me, and helping me to continue with this project.
I don’t think people realise how important it is to keep listening and coming back to the same material, instead of just moving on to the next thing. Your engagement becomes much deeper and you’re more likely to learn and remember the new words, as well as improve your listening skills. I also really like the fact that it’s collaborative and that the transcription improves over time as more people listen to it – a community effort!
Every version of every language has slang and also cultural reference points that are unique to that language. English is no exception of course and because it is such a diverse language in terms of the number of different dialects it has, it is quite possible for there to be slang in certain dialects that other speakers of the same language don’t understand. For example, Americans might not understand certain things said in British English. Of course it’s also difficult for learners of English to deal with slang. It’s not normally the language you encounter in the coursebooks and so on, and yet slang is very commonly used.
So, a dialect of English like British English might be difficult to understand for anyone who wasn’t born or grew up there.
That’s what this article was all about and the 88 bits of English (either words or expressions) listed, reflect this uniquely British version of English that might be confusing for everyone else in the world.
But I am here to try to lessen that confusion with my explanations and examples.
You can use this episode series to quickly learn a whole world of slang, which will help you understand and be understood by Brits more easily.
And even if you’re not planning to get chatting to some British people any time soon, you can consider this series just to be a chance to broaden your horizons as far as the English language is concerned and learn yet more of this precious vocabulary – because vocabulary probably is the most precious stuff of all. This is the difference, often, between intermediate English and advanced or proficient English – knowing how to adjust your style of English to meet various different situations. A knowledge of slang is essential, I think, in order to know all the possible light and shade in this language.
As ever with these articles, there are always a few little words or phrases that I dispute or at least don’t know. Last time it was “dench” which neither my brother nor I use, ever. (I made several edits to the episode after initially releasing it, with some comments that my brother sent to me via text). Let’s see if there are other similar words and phrases that I don’t use, perhaps because it’s a regional thing and not said in my area growing up.
As we go through the list I will let you know which ones I actually use and which ones I don’t. If you’re using me as a model for the type of English you want to speak, you can perhaps disregard any of the ones which I don’t use. But of course you should always be listening carefully to the English language as it is used and if you spot any of these expressions being used on TV, in music, films or just in normal life then that’s worth noting.
Also, I think that sometimes I use these expressions but in a knowing, ironic way. For example, if I called someone “the bee’s knees” I think I’d be doing it largely because I like the sound of the expression, but knowing it’s a bit old-fashioned. It can be fun sometimes just to use these different expressions for a laugh as a way to add colour or humour to your speaking.
So I will also let you know if I think I use these expressions with a bit of irony.
In part 1 I did 30 of these. Let’s see if I can do the next 30 and then the final 28 in part 3.
I’m going to have to be quick, so pay attention!
Text in italics has been pasted from the original article (link above).
to faff about/around
To “faff” is to waste time doing very little.
“Faff” comes from the 17th century word “faffle,” which means to flap about in the wind.
“We were just faffing about.”
Stop faffing around. Come on, let’s go!
How much time in your typical day do you spend just faffing around?
What do you actually do when you faff around?
A “fag end” is also the ratty bits towards the ends of a reel of fabric, which are the worst and the cheapest bits of the reel. Historically, “fags” were the cheaper cigarettes made of lower grade tobacco, however, the slang has spread to encompass all cigarettes.
“Could I scrounge a fag off you, please?”
In American English it’s a gay person (very offensive word) so watch out for that. – “Can I bum a fag off you mate?”
What’s the nickname you give to cigarettes in your language?
A fag butt, to stub out a cigarette, to ask for a light, a ciggie
“She’s really fit though, isn’t she?”
When I was a kid we all thought our maths teacher was really fit.
Used to describe someone physically attractive, usually referring to their physique.
“She’s got a fit body”
Obviously it also means to be in good physical condition, like an athlete.
Which actor or actress do you think is quite fit/fit/really fit?
To “flog” means to sell something — usually quickly and cheaply.
“I’m trying to flog my old sofa. Do you know anyone that might be interested?”
What is the last thing that you flogged?
Flog It (TV show)
5. “the Full Monty”
The entire thing, with all the extras included.
After “The Full Monty” film was released in 1997, there was some international confusion over the phrase in which it was taken as a euphemism for stripping. However, “the full Monty” actually refers to pursuing something to the absolute limits.
“The full Monty” historically refers to an old tailor called Sir Montague Burton. Going “the fully Monty” meant purchasing a full three-piece suit, a shirt, and all of the trimmings.
“Our Christmas dinner had everything from sprouts to Yorkshire puddings. If you’re going to have a roast, have the full Monty!”
I’m going to go for the full monty. A full English breakfast.
I very rarely use it.
Have you ever had a full English breakfast? Did you go for the full monty? How about a Sunday roast? Full monty?
6. “Full of beans”
Someone that’s energetic, lively, or enthusiastic might be described as “full of beans.”
This phrase could be a reference to coffee beans, although these claims have been disputed.
Beans generally give you energy (and gas) so the meaning is pretty clear for me.
“Goodness, you’re full of beans this morning!”
How do you feel right now? Do you feel full of bean? Or are you feeling knackered?
Where do you want to do it? Your gaff? My gaff?
“Gaff” is an informal word for “home.”
It sounds cockney to me.
“What are you up to this weekend? We’ve got a party at our gaff, if you fancy it?”
I’d use it ironically because it sounds really cockney. It’s the kind of thing you hear in Eastenders.
Have you ever seen Eastenders?
Withnail &a I?
To “gallivant” means to roam, or to set off on an expedition, with the sole intention of having some light-hearted fun. I imagine someone skipping through a forest or a hilly meadow.
You’re supposed to stay and be a princess, not go gallivanting after pirates!
I’m going to gallivant right over (Game of Thrones S6E5) https://getyarn.io/yarn-clip/6b807166-bb4c-482d-99fd-ad1247186bcc
“Off they go again, gallivanting.”
I would only use this in a kind of sarcastic way, in order to complain about someone doing other things when they should be focusing on something more serious.
Off he goes, gallivanting around the South of France when he should be at home sorting out all the problems.
A “geezer” is a man that could be described as “suave” or “dapper,” and is often suited and booted. Men from east London are also commonly referred to as “geezers.”
A geezer is a slang word for a man, like a bloke.
“That guy’s got such swagger — he’s a proper geezer.”
I use this one quite a lot although it does sound quite cockney (other regional dialects use it too). You can also say “bloke”.
10. “Give me a tinkle on the blower”
“Give me a call” or “ring me.” The phrase is sometimes shortened to “give me a tinkle.”
“Tinkle” refers to a phone’s ring, while “blower” is slang or telephone and refers to the device that predated phones on Naval ships. Sailors would blow down a pipe to their recipient, where a whistle at the end of the pipe would sound to spark attention.
“Give me a tinkle on the blower.”
I never say it.
Astounded; bewildered; shocked.
“Gob” is slang for mouth, so if you’re gobsmacked, you’re shocked to the point of clasping your jaw in disbelief.
“I was gobsmacked!”
It’s a good word which everyone should know.
When was the last time you were gobsmacked? Have you ever felt gobsmacked while watching a film or TV show, like when a character dies unexpectedly?
Not to be confused with literally being disembowelled, someone that says they’re “gutted” is devastated or extremely upset.
“I was absolutely gutted.”
It’s one of the most common and recognisable bits of UK slang, along with knackered and chuffed.
How would you feel if you got invited onto Luke’s English Podcast? Would you feel gutted or chuffed?
13. “Half past”
While Americans are more likely to say “seven thirty” or “five fifty,” Brits will more often than not refer to times in “minutes past” the hour (or minutes to). Eg, “half past seven,” and “ten to six.”
It’s unclear why Brits appear to favour analogue time-telling while Americans go for the digital format. (we don’t do it so much any more)
“It’s twenty past eleven.”
On the right hand side of the clock, it’s past (including half past).
On the left hand side of the clock, it’s to.
1:10 “ten past one”
2:15 “a quarter past two”
3.20 “twenty past three”
4.25 “twenty five past four”
5.30 “half past five”
6.35 “twenty five to seven”
7.40 “twenty to eight”
8.45 “a quarter to nine”
9.50 “ten to ten”
10.55 “five to eleven”
Sometimes these are abbreviated to “half past” “quarter past” “ten to” etc.
What time do you get up?
What time did you start listening to this?
What time do you go to bed?
What time does your lunch end?
14. “Hank Marvin”
“Hank Marvin” is Cockney rhyming slang for “starving.”
“I’m Hank Marvin” means “I’m hungry” or “I’m ravenous.”
“When are we going to eat? I’m absolutely Hank Marvin.”
I do use this one, and my wife has learned to understand it.
How are you feeling right now? Full, stuffed, fine, a bit peckish, hungry, absolutely Hank Marvin?
“Innit” is an abbreviation of “isn’t it” most commonly used amongst teenagers and young people.
You can add it as a tag question on the end of a sentence, no matter what the auxiliary verb is.
He hasn’t done his homework, innit.
He ain’t done his homework innit.
You ain’t done your homework innit.
It can also be used as a response as a way to confirm something.
“It’s really cold today.”
I think also we use “Is it?” as a way to show surprise.
“My mum won the lottery”
“Is it?” or “Yo, is it fam!?”
Sounds terrible when I say it.
I use “innit” quite a lot, but ironically, meaning I know I’m not normally the type of person who uses it and I’m kind of imitating Ali G.
16. “Leg it”
Make a run for it; run away; scarper.
“That’s when all of the lights came on, and so we legged it.”
We used to say this all the time when we were kids.
I never say this and if I did it would be embarrassing. It’s the sort of thing I’d hear from schoolkids on the bus in London.
The same people who’d say things like “innit” and “blud” or “fam”.
Something that takes a lot of effort and probably isn’t going to be worth all of the effort, either, could be described as “long.” This could be due to the lengths that the person will have to go to in order to complete the task.
Something that is “long” is probably also annoying or aggravating.
“Cleaning the kitchen is long.”
18. “the Lurgy”
If someone’s “caught the lurgy,” they’re suffering from cold or flu-like symptoms.
“She’s come down with the dreaded lurgy.”
When was the last time you got the lurgy? Did you take time off work or college? How do you protect yourself from the lurgy? What’s a cure for the lurgy?
19. Making random words past-tense to mean drunk
Brits are known for favouring a drink or two, so much so that almost any noun can be used as a substitute for “drunk.”
In his stand-up show, British comedian Michael MacIntyre said: “You can actually use any word in the English language and substitute it to mean drunk. It works.”
Examples include “trollied,” “smashed,” and “gazeboed.”
I’ve never heard or used this phrase (except the “I’m on it” part).
This colloquialism might be said by someone that has the situation under control.
“I’m on it” is definitely a phrase.
“How’s the report going, Steve?”
“Don’t you worry, Alan, I’m on it (like a car bonnet).”
Alan thinks “That would have been alright if he hadn’t said ‘like a car bonnet at the end’….. He’s going to have to go.”
“Don’t worry Alan. I’m on it!”
26. “On the pull”
Someone that’s “on the pull” has gone out, usually on a night out, with the intention of attracting a sexual partner.
“Pull” can also be used as a verb. If you’ve “pulled,” you’ve kissed someone.
“You look nice. Are you going on the pull?”
“Get your coat, you’ve pulled.”
Also: on the lash
27. “Over-egg the pudding”
“Over-egging the pudding” means embellishing or over-doing something to the extent that it’s detrimental to the finished product. Going over the top.
Basically though, it means going too far, doing too much, pushing a situation to the max, but it is said in a pejorative and disdainful way, like “Don’t over-egg the pudding Luke”.
“We get it — you’ve injured yourself. Don’t over-egg the pudding.”
Do you think they over-egged the pudding at the end of Avengers Endgame? Too many superheroes?
Rubbish; terrible, really bad. Poor quality.
“This is pants.”
“That film was total pants.”
How was the film? Pants
What about the match? Pants
How was England’s performance? It was pants
What about the pub where they showed the game? Pants
The beer? Pants
How about your pants? They’re pants.
Actually no, my pants are great. They’re the only thing that isn’t pants, my pants.
That’s ironic isn’t it, that your pants are great but everything else is pants, but not meaning great.
I think it’s because pants in general are bad, but my pants just happen to be great so they’re
The exception that proves the rule.
Yes, but I’ve never understood that phrase. How can an exception prove a rule? Surely it should be the opposite?
29. Par (diss)
I never ever use this. I’m much more likely to say “diss” as in “disrespect”. So let’s replace “par” with “diss” instead.
A “diss” is a disrespectful comment.
“Diss” can also be used as a verb, eg, “You just got dissed.” “Are you dissing my English?”
It comes from the word disrespect or disrespected.
“I don’t mean this as a diss, but did you remember to wash this morning?”
I don’t think I would use it unironically.
Are you dissing me?
A situation which has quickly evolved into an accident waiting to happen might be described as “gone pear-shaped.”
The phrase is reportedly old slang from the Royal Air Force and was used to described awry expeditions and flights.
“Well, this has all gone a bit pear-shaped.”
Simon, where have you been?
Well, I went out to buy some milk but things got a bit pear shaped and I ended up going to Area 51.
Hello everyone and welcome back to this podcast which is made by me in my flat in order to help you learn English and also enjoy learning English too!
If you heard the last episode, you’ll remember that I was planning to play an idioms game with Paul. That’s what you’re going to hear in this episode – a game with Paul in which we have to try to include some idioms into our conversation seamlessly.
What you can do in this episode is not only follow the conversation as usual, but also try to spot all the idioms as they crop up. There are 15 in total. Admittedly, about 3 of them are explained and defined at the beginning, but 12 others are slipped into the conversation and then explained and defined at the end.
So, can you spot all the idioms during the conversation? Do you know them already? Can you work out what they mean from context? This is good practice because it encourages you to pay attention and notice new language as it occurs in natural conversation. Noticing is actually an important skill which can really help with language acquisition.
This from the British Council’s website for teacher development, teachingenglish.org.uk
When learners “notice” new language, they pay special attention to its form, use and meaning. Noticing is regarded as an important part of the process of learning new language, especially in acquisition-driven accounts of language learning, when learners at some point in their acquisition, notice their errors in production. Noticing will only occur when the learner is ready to take on the new language.
A learner might make an error in the use of a preposition, but “notice” its correct use by another learner, or in an authentic text. This might allow them to begin to use it correctly.
It’s an important skill to develop – to be able to notice language, to identify certain bits of grammar, or certain fixed expressions like idioms, notice the form (all the individual words used to create the idiom) and the meaning. It helps you identify differences between your use of English and the way it is used by natives, and that comparison allows you to then adapt your English accordingly. This awareness of what kind of English you’re aiming for is vital.
Developing noticing skills is an important part of developing learner autonomy and your language acquisition skills. The better you are at noticing, the more you are able to learn English by just listening to audio that you enjoy, rather than going through a language coursebook which teaches you specific language items. So, I encourage you to pay special attention during this episode on idioms and fixed expressions. Obviously idioms are confusing because they’re not literal – the whole phrase means something different to the individual words being used.
About the idioms you will hear. These are all very common ones. Some of them you are bound to have heard before and will not be new to you. In a way though, if you have heard them before I’m not concerned. That just means that you’re starting to learn all our idioms, which is a good thing. Remember that you also have to be able to use these idioms, not just understand them. When you do use them, be extra sure that you’re using them 100% correct – for example you’re not using a wrong little word here or there, or perhaps collocating the phrase with the wrong verb or something.
The topic of conversation just happens to be Paul’s brother Kyle who we talk about on the podcast occasionally. In case you don’t know – Kyle Taylor is a professional footballer who plays for the Premiership team Bournemouth FC, although he is still yet to make his Premiership debut. A debut is your first game. So he hasn’t played in the Premiership yet (he’s only about 20) but he has played in the FA Cup.
Alright, so you can listen to Paul and I discussing Kyle and his footballing career, amongst other things, and you have to spot the idioms, which will all be explained at the end. All the idioms are listed on the page for this episode on the website, so check them out there if you want to see specific things like spellings, the specific form of the idioms and so on.
Right, without any further ado, let’s begin!
Remember, all those idioms are listed on the page for this episode. So check them out.
The Idioms List from this game
(to go) back to the drawing board
to mind your Ps and Qs
to feel under the weather
to be all ears
to take the bull by the horns
to save something for a rainy day
to pull your socks up
to be down in the dumps
to let the cat out of the bag
to bend over backwards
to get your skates on
to call a spade a spade
to be full of beans
not a sausage
What did you think of the episodes about the mystery game? I don’t know what you all thought of that? Did you enjoy it? Was it too difficult to follow? Give me your feedback. You can do that on the website.