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.
Hello listeners, here is an episode about English Tests like TOEFL and the Duolingo English Test which I hope will still be an interesting episode even for those who have no plans to take one of these tests. I’m joined by online English teacher Josh MacPherson. I guess you have heard of TOEFL, and the Duolingo English Test is a test made by Duolingo, that company which helps you learn languages on your phone, and which seems to be managed by a green cartoon owl, who is some kind of master of learning English. They make a test now, and it’s getting really big.
Some time is spent describing the tests but we don’t just spend an hour describing TOEFL. Most of the time we are doing samples from the test, commenting on my performance in a TOEFL speaking task, discussing testing methods in general and giving comments on ways to perform well, particularly in the speaking parts of a test like TOEFL and IELTS.
Also, tests should be reliable and having genuinely good English skills should (of course) cause you to get decent results, so a lot of the tips relating to getting a better score are also generally good tips for improving your level of English, so even if you’re not planning to take one of these tests, the tips and advice here should be applicable to your English anyway.
There is a video version of this episode on YouTube and you can see Josh’s screen and can observe our conversation as if you are taking part in a Zoom call with us. You can find the video on the page for this episode or on my YouTube channel.
Again, the audio is not tip top this time round and that was caused by things like microphone echo, which I have managed to fix, but in any case I think you can still hear everything clearly.
That’s it, I hope you enjoy it and you will find all the links you need on the page for this episode on my website.
Let’s get started
I am joined today by Josh MacPherson from TSTPrep.com and the TST Prep YouTube channel.
Josh is an English teacher who specialises in helping learners of English prepare for English tests, particularly TOEFL and also the fairly new DuoLingo English Test.
I thought I’d interview Josh to find out more about these tests and to get some tips from him about how to get the best result that you can.
Also, we’re going to do some test questions during this interview, so we can see how well I perform in these tests too.
Thanks again to Josh for his contribution to this episode.
Don’t forget, links are available on the page for this episode for all the things Josh mentioned there including test practice, sample answers, tips and videos.
Thank you as ever for listening all the way up to this point.
There’s not much more for me to add here. I haven’t played the guitar on the podcast lately, but I will be coming back to that soon, but for now I will just wish you a fond farewell and until next time, good bye bye bye bye bye
Hello and welcome to Luke’s English Podcast. This episode is number 669 and it’s called How To Learn English.
That’s quite a bold title but this really is a lot of what I have to say about learning English. If you really want to learn this language, this is my advice.
I’ve been teaching for about 20 years, podcasting for over 11 years now and I keep finding out more about learning a language through teaching it, getting feedback from listeners and also through my experiences of trying to learn French.
This episode is a distillation of many of my thoughts and advice on how to learn English. It’s not going to cover absolutely every aspect of it, because language learning is a huge subject that encompasses so many different things and you could talk about it all day, but I have decided to talk about learning English, breaking it down into the 4 skills, and giving you as much advice as I can in this single podcast episode. I hope you enjoy it and find it useful.
For those of you who are not so familiar with me and my work. My name is Luke Thompson, I think I am the 4th most famous Luke Thompson in the world. I’m an English teacher, a podcaster, a comedian, a husband and a dad. I am from England but these days I live in France. My podcast is free and is downloaded all over the world. I also have a premium subscription in which I focus specifically on improving your vocab, grammar and pronunciation. To find out more about that go to teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
I expect you want to learn English, right? That’s the main reason you’re listening to this I expect. You want to learn English.
Well, good news! It’s definitely possible. You can learn English and you will if you put in the time and the effort. It’s important to remember that.
What do I mean by “learn English”, though? I mean that you can learn to speak English fluently, clearly and with confidence, expressing yourself with shades of meaning, adapting your English for the situation both in speaking and in writing, knowing and being able to use a wide variety of vocabulary and accurate grammar and ultimately being yourself in the language and developing beneficial relationships with others based on effective communication. Yes, you can. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
That’s it, just a positive and encouraging message at the start. It’s important to always remember that making progress in your learning is a realistic prospect and will happen when you put in the time and effort, and more good news: the more you enjoy it, the easier it is.
I hope this podcast helps you to enjoy getting English into your life on a regular basis, which is a key part of learning the language effectively.
But what else should you be doing in order to improve your English overall?
In this episode I’d like to talk in some detail about learning English and how you can do it.
This episode is a sort of “come to Jesus moment”, which I feel I should do regularly, just to remind everyone listening that there is a method or approach at work here and that it’s not just you listening to people talking.
A “come to Jesus moment” in the world of business is when someone does a passionate speech or event in which fundamental priorities and/or beliefs are reassessed, or reaffirmed. It’s like when Jesus gathers his disciples around him in order to reaffirm their belief in what he’s preaching or to say some deep stuff which strengthens their faith.
This is a come to Jesus moment for me.
Not that I’m comparing myself to Jesus. No, not at all. Not even a little bit, and anyway that’s not for me to say, that’s for other people to point out isn’t it, not me. Anyway…
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is a method to the madness.
In my podcast episodes, I’m always teaching you, using my particular set of professional skills, but rather than presenting it all as a lesson I usually try to present it more like a radio show or a comedy show even.
So, amidst the episodes about music, comedy, interviews and so on, I thought it would be worth restating the core values of LEP, which I seem to do about once every 6 months or so.
I’m going to give loads of advice here, and this is all based on what I’ve learned from:
Teaching for about 20 years
Meeting thousands of learners of English, some of them successful, some of them not, working directly with them as their teacher and listening to them talk about their studying habits and experiences
The academic studies I’ve done, especially the DELTA which involved extensive reading and writing on various aspects of how people learn and teach English
Doing my podcast and getting testimonies over the years from many listeners who told me about how they’ve used it to improve their English
There’s also my own personal experience of working on my French
Anyway, the plan is to talk about learning English with a focus on the 4 skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing.
I have talked about these points quite a few times before on this podcast, and have given tons of specific advice about working on your English, including in episodes like 174 (and others)
So I will probably repeat myself a bit. But I still get asked to talk about “how to learn English” very regularly and I think it’s important for me to talk about learning English on this podcast on a regular basis. Obviously, that is what this podcast is about, first and foremost, even though a lot of the time in my episodes you’ll hear me and my guests talking about all sorts of other things.
Learning English is the main aim of this podcast
Essentially the thinking is that you should listen to natural conversation on a variety of topics and it’s simply listening to things in English (not just listening to things about English) that’s going to help you learn this language, especially if you enjoy the content.
I’ll probably talk about this again in a bit, but let’s say that ultimately the plan with the free episodes is to help you listen to English regularly, for longer periods of time, long term. The more, the better. If the content is enjoyable, that should just make it easier for you to achieve that. In fact, if you’re really into what you’re listening to, you don’t really even notice the time passing.
Then there’s the premium content, which is an effort to push your learning beyond the gains you get from all the exposure and input you get from just listening. The premium content is designed to let you get the benefit of my experience and teaching skills in order to cut out a lot of work that you would otherwise have to do yourself, so I can essentially take you by the hand and lead you through some intensive practice to work on your English more directly.
So that’s my content, but let’s talk now about learning English as a whole then.
Learning English is a holistic thing. It encompasses many aspects and skills that are connected as a whole.
There are receptive skills like listening and reading, productive skills like speaking and writing, language systems like grammar, spelling, vocabulary and phonology, social and psychological factors that come into play when we use language when interacting with others, then there are other factors that come into play like identity issues, body language, culture, literature, pragmatics and all sorts of other things. It’s hard to know where to start when talking about it.
You need to learn it to the point where you don’t even think about it any more.
The more you talk and think about it, the more it starts to sound like the force from Star Wars.
Stretch out with your feelings.
Do or do not, there is no try.
Do not think, feel.
Let go, let the English flow through you.
I am your father (oh wait)
It’s about learning how to do something which goes right to the core of who you are in fact.
It’s a holistic thing. It incorporates many aspects as part of a whole process and so it’s quite tricky to know where to start.
Let’s put it like this. Language goes in, and language comes out. (I told you it sounds like The Force)
Language is within you and language is without you. It flows through you. It binds the galaxy together.
There are receptive skills (this is how language goes in)
And there are productive skills (this is how language goes out)
There’s the written language
And there’s the spoken language
This is our system.
Think of it like a table with two categories on the horizontal axis and two on the vertical axis, so it’s like a grid with 4 squares in it.
On the horizontal access we have receptive and productive skills.
On the vertical we have written and spoken English.
Within the table we have 4 skills – the 4 squares.
So in the box marked “written” and “receptive” we have reading.
Below that in the “spoken” and “receptive” categoriy we have listening.
On the right in the “written” and “productive” side we have writing.
And then in the “spoken” and “productive” side we have speaking.
Those are your four skills. Reading, writing, listening and speaking.
The 4 skills are connected in various ways.
Reading and writing deal with the written word of course.
Reading helps you to write. It helps you to see how the language is built, how words are spelled and how sentences, paragraphs and texts are put together with grammar and textual conventions.
Listening and speaking deal with the spoken word.
Listening helps you to learn how English actually sounds, how words join together in sentences or longer utterances, it helps you get familiar with the speed, rhythm, flow and intonation of the language. It helps you get used to natural pronunciation which in turn helps you produce English in the same way.
Words exist in visual form, and in spoken form.
But reading and listening are connected too because they’re both receptive skills. They provide us with input which is the essential foundation of language learning.
And speaking and writing are connected because they’re productive skills.
These are the skills you need to use when using language for various purposes. This is where you are more active in the sense that you are constructing language and putting it down visually in the form of writing, or using your body to produce it orally.
Let’s talk about those receptive skills and input.
The reading thing there is something we’ll come back to in the section about reading.
This is the academic who is always mentioned in this context, when talking about how to learn English these days. Krashen was one in a long line of linguists who came up with theories about how language is learned and should be taught.
Arguably, we still don’t really know how people learn languages, but various academics over the years have put forward different hypotheses to explain it and these have been the backbone of our understanding of language learning that has informed the way we all learn and teach languages over the years.
Krashen though is the one that people often talk about today, including all the many YouTubers who regularly post videos about the best ways to learn, the only ways to learn, the secrets of learning and all that sort of thing. Krashen is usually brought up because his ideas fit in quite nicely to a model of language learning for today. I mean, it involves a lot of consumption of content in English – plenty of listening and reading and that sort of content is in plentiful supply online, like for example episodes of Luke’s English Podcast.
In his input hypothesis in which he makes the case for the importance of comprehensible input for language learning, he states that in fact the only way we can successfully increase our underlying linguistic competence. This is our system of linguistic knowledge or let’s say that “language instinct” that you have, which even subconsciously gives us a sense of when language is right or wrong. I suppose it could be active in that you know a certain grammar rule and can see when it’s been broken, or passive in that you just feel that something is right or wrong but can’t necessarily explain it.
I would say the passive knowledge is the vital one because ultimately you just want to be able to feel that language is right or wrong without thinking about it.
But that being said, your active knowledge can be really useful when doing things like avoiding common errors as a result of your first language, or consciously pushing yourself to create language which is normal.
Anyway, Krashen says the only way to increase your linguistic competence is through comprehensible input, meaning reading and listening to things that we mostly understand and that with the context of what you do understand, you are able to work out the bits that you don’t know. This is how we acquire new languages.
So basically, we learn a language when we understand it. So, naturally, according to Krashen, the receptive skills come first.
I think this makes a lot of sense to me. I think it’s bound to be true that we learn language by listening to it and reading it. But what about those moments when you have to speak or write, what about learning the grammar and all the rest of it?
Krashen would say that we learn the grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation of a language by listening to it or reading it, and that it’s a natural process and part of how we decode language through comprehensible input.
So, don’t worry about grammar rules and all the rest of it, just listen and do your best to keep up and work out what’s going on, and do it regularly.
Again, I am sure this is true but I also think it’s worth studying the language a bit too, breaking it down a bit, seeing how it works, actively trying to learn more vocabulary, checking up on the rules of grammar and doing some controlled practice. Working on your pronunciation by copying and training your mouth and brain to cooperate with each other, like the way we practise certain movements in sport or musical parts on an instrument.
I do believe that controlled practice and conscious learning like that must also be beneficial because I’ve seen it happen. Doing some active studying can be like a fast track of English learning. It can cut out a lot of time by helping you realise certain things about the language quickly, and I think if you then notice it again while listening and reading that only reinforces what you’ve learned.
Of course, you shouldn’t get blinded by grammar or pronunciation rules and so on, to the point that you can’t see the wood for the trees.
Try not to get hung up on grammar, because it can make you process language in an unnatural and contrived way. It can get stuck in your head and block you a bit. Instead, try to notice patterns and incorporate them into your use of English. Try to see grammar study as a way of confirming things you’ve already noticed, or a way of consulting with a reference book as you also just absorb English more naturally. If you only study English with the grammar, it’s going to be a weird abstract process for learning the language. It’s better to focus on consuming English in the form of messages which you are trying to understand, and then perhaps check your grammar later to straighten things out.
The premium subscription is where I help you with that sort of thing, hopefully combining with the free content to give you all the stuff you need to attack English from several angles.
How can you learn this language if you haven’t heard it and read it a lot?
Read and listen to things that are slightly above your level, so you can understand 60-80%. You need to be able to understand that much for your brain to work out the remaining 20-40% that you don’t know. Meaningful context is vital.
Basically, listen x5 and read x5.
It’s largely a question of finding the right stuff to listen to.
There’s this podcast of course. Others are available.
Watch TV and films with and without subtitles.
Hopefully you’ll find content that you actually want to listen to, not just for studying English. So if you do get addicted to a Netflix series and you can’t wait to find out what happens next, that’s good! That means you will get more comprehensible input and you will be much more focused and involved in it, which is great for your English. Or maybe you want to hear another stupid and funny conversation with my friends just because it makes you laugh and you feel some sort of connection to it. All of that is great because it will help you listen more, listen longer and listen long term.
This one is also a pleasure to talk about because it’s a pleasure to do and there are lots of great things to read.
Let’s hear from Krashen again as he is the master of the whole input model.
This is again from Wikipedia, which I think is fine usually for the basics like this.
Extensive reading, free reading, book flood, or reading for pleasure is a way of language learning, including foreign language learning, through large amounts of reading. As well as facilitating acquisition of vocabulary, it is believed to increase motivation through positive affective benefits. It is believed that extensive reading is an important factor in education. Proponents such as Stephen Krashen (1989) claim that reading alone will increase encounters with unknown words, bringing learning opportunities by inferencing. The learner’s encounters with unknown words in specific contexts will allow the learner to infer and thus learn those words’ meanings.
Of course that system is disputed because this is the academic arena we’re dealing with and people are always putting forward ideas, defending them, disputing them and so on. It’s how we move forwards and learn about this stuff.
So this is extensive reading which is different to the sort of intensive reading you do in English lessons, where you spend ages on just one page of text, break it down into tiny chunks, understanding every single morsel. With extensive reading it’s all about just getting as much English into your head as you can by reading as much as you can, and you focus on reading enjoyable things, especially stories and you don’t stop too much to analyse the language or even check words, you just keep trying to follow what you’re reading. The more involved in it you are, the better.
Again, this point about input is that it feeds your instinct for the language. You get a subconscious sense of what is right or wrong, which comes in very handy for when you’re doing those nasty sentence transformations and use of English tasks in a Cambridge exam like CAE. What you really want in those situations is to know exactly which preposition or auxiliary verb is missing, or to be able to manipulate sentences in a variety of forms. I reckon it helps to do a bit of language practice as well, with a few controlled exercises but the idea is that it should all go in naturally giving you this sense of language competence.
It’s important though to choose texts which are not too difficult for you. You need to be able to understand enough to be able to get a grip on the rest of the language.
So which books do you choose?
We’ve talked about the importance of choosing stuff that’s interesting to you, that reflects the type of English you might need.
Genre isn’t an issue. People assume you need to read or listen to the news but as we’ve already established they don’t really talk like normal people on the news, and they also write in a certain “newsy” style. Funnily enough it might be more useful to read the tabloid papers as they write in a more conversational style, but I think it’s worthwhile looking beyond the news.
Basically, read whatever you want.
Even comic books or graphic novels as they’re known for adults.
Graphic novels can be brilliant because they support your understanding with the images and often the English is in the form of speech so you learn really directly how to apply that stuff to real life. I love graphic novels in French. It’s my favourite way to work on the language.
You could consider the current bestsellers. If other people like the books then why shouldn’t you? Look in the fiction and non-fiction categories.
Or try graded readers, which are an excellent and underused resource. I really recommend them if you’re not a strong reader. They’re previously published books, and often some of the great classics and modern classics in English, but they’re republished with English that is graded for certain levels. The number of words is reduced, it’s truncated and essentially it’s a way to increase the percentage you do understand, and decrease the amount you don’t understand, getting to that 80/20 spot where you can maximise your language learning.
There are lots of titles to choose from and various publishers. Check these ones out
But your English may well be good enough now to have a go at a book for native speakers. So go for it. You have loads of options. Just make sure you enjoy reading on a regular basis.
I would also add that it’s important to choose texts which are written in modern style and perhaps about an area that you are particularly interested in. Perhaps think of it like this – what is the kind of English you want printed on the back of your head (on the inside)? Odd question, but I mean, what is your target English. Perhaps it’s the involving and descriptive storytelling of fiction, or it’s the matter-of-fact world of non-fiction. I reckon non-fiction is probably better because it reflects the kind of English you are more likely to be writing, especially if it’s things like academic work or reports at work, because they’re all about presenting you with information, data, commenting on what’s going on, describing how to do things and that’s probably the sort of thing you’ll need to use English for, especially in writing.
This might be a bit dry but it will really show you loads of examples of emails with full explanations, so you can read and learn.
The Story of English in 100 Words
Anything by David Crystal is fantastic, but this non-fiction book will teach you the entire story of the English language through 100 words and there are some great words in there like
Loaf, Street, Riddle, Arse, Jail, Wicked, Matrix and Skunk, to name but a few.
So you’re bound to learn tons from that.
Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny By Nile Rodgers
The War of the Worlds by HG Wells
The writing is a bit old fashioned. I have to be honest, but it’s mostly modern in style and I think it’s worth it because the story is amazing and it’s not too long. It’s wonderfully descriptive and much better than any movie version could be. Definitely one of my favourite books of all time.
Productive skills / output
This is where we get to the more nebulous world of productive skills. It’s like an alien land where monsters roam, a bit like war of the worlds maybe.
OK I’m exaggerating here but I mean that productive skills are a bit harder to pin down because even more psychological and social factors come into play. You have the public aspect of it, the fact that you’re trying to manipulate the language and get your ideas across in the right way, being coherent and cohesive and in the right style with the right level of politeness with the correct conventional replies and requests and on and on it goes!
Again, I’m making it sound tricky, but I mean that you are involved so much more because you’re making the language and actually using it. This is exciting because you get to express yourself which is the most wonderful and gratifying thing you can do in another language, and when it slides out quite fluidly and you’re not too blocked by who knows what, then it’s all gravy. But sometimes it just doesn’t seem to work out that way and you get mixed up and it doesn’t come out right at all. There’s a sense of performance in productive skills, and a sense that you have to be aware of the right way to conduct yourself, and to be able to utter things in English instantly, following what the other person is saying, it’s all done in a sort of unconscious blur and thinking about grammar in that situation is a killer.
So it’s about getting a level of ease, a level of comfort, a platform from which you can bob and weave your way through the conversation, finding other ways to say things and switching correctly between tenses and situations. I think you get what I mean.
So how do you work on these things?
Ease – a voice, fluency
Control – grammar, vocab, pronunciation
Range – a wide range of language for a wide range of things
Coherence – does it all make sense? Can people follow you easily?
Cohesion – particularly in writing, how does the whole text make sense as a whole?
Social factors – knowing how to put things and how to manage relationships through language
Again, the idea is that this language is just built into you from all that exposure and input.
I would say that there’s a great deal of other stuff you can do to improve your productive skills beyond reading and listening a lot, of course.
In both writing and speaking the first thing to remember is you need to engage in it as much as possible. Real writing and real speaking.
Ultimately this means trying to use language to communicate a message in some way and that’s what you should be focusing on. Meaningful interactions, especially ones in which you have something to offer or something to gain, such as negotiations or even information gap situations in which you’re telling someone something they don’t know. Also social interactions involving being polite or building relations with people. Ultimately, doing it for real is the best workshop in which you can work, rolling with the punches and trying to keep track of what you’re learning.
This is why people learn English best when they’re forced to do it because of their surroundings. They learn by being a waiter in London for a year or working in an office with native speakers, or being plunged into a foreign university for a year, or moving to a new country and having to cope with all the challenges that brings and in a second language. I suppose this is immersion, but it;s more than that. I recommend actually conversing with people to just practise. It’s the 5 Ps.
It’s like going to the gym. Fluency is like physical fitness in your mind and also in your body because you’re using your mouth, your breathing and your head and hands to communicate too.
It applies to writing too. You can observe the way other people write their emails and kind of copy their style, you have to really think about what you’re saying and doubtless you will end up writing emails with requests, with information, with questions and with complaints and so on, so you will have to learn on the job. Being thrown in at the deep end, or if you just have to use English at work it could either be a big stress for you or a huge opportunity to just go for it.
Anyway, let’s talk about specific productive skills – writing and reading, and how to work on them.
Let’s say you’re not actually in a situation where you can talk to people or have correspondence with people, or have to write things which other people will ultimately have to read. Unless you find a tutor on italki for example then that person could be your practice point for speaking and writing, giving you feedback as you go. But let’s say for the purposes of this episode, it’s just you and the English language, facing each other off in a kind of wild west fashion.
How can you practise on your own?
Obviously you need to write. But what are you going to write and who is going to read it?
Firstly – just write, write regularly, write meaningfully and write with a reader in mind, even if nobody reads it. This is important because it will help you get used to simply putting your ideas into words. It’s a creative process and also a mechanical process to an extent. Building sentences is a sort of art or a craft. You have to practise it in order to get some level of comfort with it. Let’s imagine there’s a muscle in your head (this is not scientific at all) which, if you never exercise it, will be quite weak and underdeveloped. But if you exercise that muscle regularly it will be strong, reactive and quick. I expect there is a part of the brain responsible for creating written language, and a sub-section for creating written English. Keep that part of your brain fresh by writing English as much as you can. That’s as scientific as I can get here.
So, here are some things you could write
What to write
Email an imaginary person (spooky?) or yourself (think outside the box here ok?)
Academic writing – text types
Emails – email types and conventions
Reports – same!
Formal and informal letters – same!
Applications – same same!
Basically – Whatever you have to write, you should try to find some samples of these texts and aim to copy them. Copy the style, the arrangement, the language they use and reproduce it yourself. Texts that you write will invariably be very practical so it’s about reporting information and asking questions. Look at the sample texts and copy them.
It helps if you have a specific workbook. I recommend Email English by Paul Emmerson. It’s a simple workbook that helps you work on almost all those things and I’m not even sponsored by Macmillan or anything, it’s genuinely a great book.
They also have downloadable email writing tasks on the Macmillan website or here
Ideally you’ll have a teacher to proofread your work, correct you and give you feedback.
If this isn’t possible, it’s still a good idea to write.
A diary (just describe things that happened, or make it more personal and really explore your thoughts and feelings. If the words don’t come, just use basic words. If you feel unable to express yourself perfectly, express yourself imperfectly but try to express yourself.
Writing is not just sentences, it’s paragraphs and pages. The thing you are writing will define how you write it. This means – conventions of certain texts, formality level of the language.
Specific exam tasks → IELTS, FCE, CAE, CPE, BEC higher and vantage
These will often push you to learn the conventions of different types of text, so it could be a good idea to take a Cambridge exam if you want to work on your writing.
You might write some notes on vocab and I would recommend here that you take a more extensive approach to doing this. Don’t just have one word per line. I want to see one word or phrase at the top of the page, and then loads of text underneath full of examples and your own examples with the language. You can then come back and cover up some of the words and try to remember. Alternatively you can use my PDFs with the notes and memory tests if you’re a premium subscriber. Little plug there for my other podcast.
But making more extensive vocabulary notes with plenty of examples means that not only are you recording vocabulary, you’re practising using it in writing too.
I mentioned italki before and you can find tutors, teachers and conversation partners there for regular practice and I do recommend doing that.
Otherwise, let’s look at some ways you can work on your speaking other than in actual spoken practice with others. Developing your speaking on your own.
This is quite a tricky thing to do because normally speaking is an instantly interactive form of communication. It also involves a lot of listening and then being able to produce English instantly and without hesitating too much.
It’s also quite physical as it involves using your mouth to produce words and sentences in the right way.
And of course there are all those cultural things to think about too.
But really speaking should just be your attempt to find your own voice in English, with fluency and with a specific tone. Of course it comes through a lot of practice, of having conversations in which you’re not really thinking about what you’re saying on a grammatical level but it’s pouring out of you due to necessity and not being able to really think a lot. Doing that regularly helps your brain map out the extent of the English you have and increase it, keeping it sort of fresh. That’s not scientific but more a metaphor of what I think speaking can do. It activates something in you that you have to maintain and keep active or those parts of the brain go dull.
So practice x5
But with who?
The fact is, it just helps to talk to other people and that’s the best and most basic advice I can give. Outside of that, you have to manipulate your surroundings and use your imagination to practise speaking on your own.
Talking on your own (and even in your head)
This might sound a bit odd, but it’s a surprisingly effective way to activate English that is in your head. You essentially talk to yourself, out loud, in English, describing what’s going on, what you’re doing, what you’re thinking about, say it all in English. Alternatively you can just do it in your own head and just think the sentences. This also keeps that system of language production in your head fresh.
Listen and repeat
You can use certain audio and play a bit, pause, repeat what you heard, rewind, repeat again and keep going until you’ve got it, and then check the transcript or subtitles to see if you’re correct, check any new words and carry on. Always find ways to vocalise the things you are learning and that means saying them out loud even to yourself.
You can also practise different speaking scenarios.
Preparing for a Cambridge exam you can find past papers with speaking part preparation and practise. Find out what’s required in the different parts, watch videos of people taking the speaking part on YouTube, practise answering common questions about yourself, practise speaking on a topic for a minute or two, practise discussing your opinion on the issues of the day. Those are all specific speaking skills that you can practise on your own. I particularly recommend listen and repeat, especially when you have to take quite a long utterance in English, hold it in your head and repeat it like it’s one word? It’s like going to the gym in English. It involves a lot of things: Understanding the clip, identifying the words and grammar, being able to remember it all, being able to produce it in a similar way. That’s a whole punch of different kinds of practice. And if you repeat the sentence straight away, and again, you might notice certain little errors you’re making and correct them. So repeat over and over again, a bit like practising boxing combinations in the ring before the big fight.
In reality, the 4 skills are often mashed up together and you find you are doing things like listening and speaking at the same time, while also taking notes, looking at visuals and so on. It all gets very messy when language is actually applied to real communication in the real world.
A little note about pronunciation and a sort of disclaimer.
I think there are probably plenty of other things I have not mentioned in this episode, such as not talking about specific memory techniques (done that) or specific features of pronunciation (done that) or exactly how to read a book to learn English (done) or plenty of other things probably. To be honest this is just a podcast episode that I wanted to make about the 4 skills and it expanded into an episode all about learning English as a holistic process.
Anyway, the note about pronunciation
It is worth learning the phonemic script
It is worth getting the sounds app on your phone
It is worth doing drills and practising different features
It’s worth getting a book called Ship or Sheep or other books of that nature.
It’s worth remembering that if you have an accent when you speak that is fine and it’s part of who you are, the main thing is that you speak clearly, not which regional accent you have. Clarity is the thing to achieve. Also, it’s extremely difficult to “lose” your accent in English. Hardly anyone does it. But you can still be fine with your accent. English is quite open like that. Everyone’s welcome.
But there you have it. That was quite a comprehensive look at how I think learning English is best when you combine two things: comprehensible input, and a clever studying routine.
I think it can work wonders for your English.
And that’s what I try to do with this podcast. Give you all the input in the free episodes and then do some more focused studying in the premium content. Hopefully, together those two channels can boost your English to the max.
A chat with Jessica Beck from the IELTS Energy Podcast about the new computer-based IELTS test, plus some funny stories about doing things for the first time, motivation in language learning, dealing with the stress of public speaking and seeing “The Fonz” on a ski slope. Get a $50 discount on Jessica’s new IELTS online course by going to www.teacherluke.co.uk/3keys
Hello listeners, how are you? I hope you’re alright. How are you all coping? I hope you’re all doing ok out there in podcastland.
Here is a new podcast episode to listen to and this time I am joined by IELTS teacher Jessica Beck who you might know from the IELTS Energy Podcast and All Ears English.
Jessica has been on LEP a couple of times before as you may remember. She is a specialist in IELTS preparation, having taught IELTS courses for many years now both in classrooms and online.
Just in case you don’t know, IELTS stands for the International English Language Testing System. It’s a proficiency test which reveals a person’s English level, and it’s fiendishly difficult, requiring a lot of preparation in order to make sure that you get a result that reflects your English at its best. I recently talked about the speaking part of the test with Keith O’Hare in episode 640.
Jessica recently invited me onto an episode of her podcast – the IELTS Energy Podcast, and we talked about differences between American and British English (because the IELTS test features both versions so it’s interesting to compare them and look at some common vocabulary differences).
That is #850 of The IELTS Energy Podcast, called “What’s a Zebra Crossing? Luke Will Tell You!” There’s a link on the page for this episode if you’d like to hear it.
And now Jessica Beck is back on my podcast again in this episode.
Here’s a little overview of what’s coming up, in order to help you follow the whole thing.
First you will hear some chat about the weather where we live. I’m in Paris and she’s in Portland up in the North West of the USA near Seattle. This smalltalk should give you a chance to get used to the speed of the conversation, before we move on to talk about the computer-based IELTS test.
Planning to take IELTS? You’ll need to prepare properly.
Some of you will be planning to take the IELTS test in the future and you might be wondering about the best way to prepare, especially if you’re studying at home. If that is you, then you could check out the 3 Keys IELTS course which Jessica and the other girls at All Ears English have created. It’s a really solid and complete package which includes pretty much everything you need to get success in this course, including video lessons, test practice and 90 minutes of one-to-one counselling with one of the girls over skype.
I suggest you check out the Personal Coach course for the computer based test. And listeners to my podcast can get a 50$ discount on that, which is nice.
So there’s some chat about the weather and then some chat about taking the computer based version of the test, but it’s not all about IELTS. I think we just talk about IELTS for the first 10 minutes in fact and then you will hear us sharing a couple of personal stories about doing things for the first time, one involving the importance of not giving up even when it hurts, and the other story is about how to deal with the stress of public speaking. We reflect on the lessons learned from those experiences and their relevance to the challenge of learning a language.
Also, listening to this you will be able to notice differences between Jessica’s American English and my British English, not necessarily in terms of vocabulary used but more just in terms of our intonation patterns or the tone of our speaking in general. It will probably seem really obvious at the beginning, especially if you are very used to hearing me speak.
Listening back to this conversation myself and during I somehow felt extra British (a bit awkward, perhaps a bit posh and quite wordy) and that Jessica was being extra American (super enthusiastic, energetic, positive). Actually, we end up making fun of each other’s speaking style at one point as we do impressions of each other presenting our podcasts. It’s a bit of a laugh and you should enjoy it.
Anyway, I will now stop rambling now so you can listen to this conversation with Jessica about IELTS and about what we learned from the challenge of doing some things for the first time and I’ll talk to you again briefly at the end of the episode.
Not sure who “Fonzie” is? Have a look… (he’s the guy in the leather jacket on the motorbike)
Thanks again to Jessica for coming on the podcast again and sharing that story. I can’t believe she saw The Fonz on a ski slope. That doesn’t happen every day, does it?
I’m genuinely curious to see if any of you actually know who The Fonz is. He is mentioned in the film Pulp Fiction, if you remember. The scene in the diner with Samuel L Jackson, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer and John Travolta. There’s a kind of Mexican stand-off (of course there is, it’s a Quentin Tarantino film!) and if you don’t know what a Mexican stand-off is, it’s when loads of people point guns at each other in a film (and maybe in real life I don’t know).
Anyway, Samuel L Jackson manages to make Amanda Plummer’s character calm down by saying “We’re going to be like 3 little Fonzies here, alright? And what’s Fonzie like?” and she’s like “What? Wh…” “WHAT’S FONZIE LIKE???” “He’s cool.” “That’s right he’s cool. So we’re going to be like three little Fonzies here ok” etc. It’s a memorable moment, if you remember it that is.
Anyway, if you are considering preparing for IELTS and you have, say, 30 or 60 days available ahead of you, then you might consider the 3 Keys IELTS Personal Coach course for the computer test, and if you’re interested go to teacherluke.co.uk/3keys to get a $50 discount.
It’s a tough and weird time, there’s no doubt about it. As I’ve said before, this virus isn’t just a threat to your physical health. Obviously you need to take steps to avoid catching it, but also to avoid spreading it too, but at the same time please do look after your mental health. Keep yourself busy, find a routine in your daily life, do some indoor exercise like Yoga. Read books. Don’t spend the whole day staring at social media or watching 24 hour news. Use this as a chance to get some things done that you’ve been putting off for a while. Keep in touch with friends and family. Just a few ideas. I mean, what do I know? In any case, do take care of yourselves out there and I hope that this podcast can keep you company just a little bit during this weird time.
Luke wishes you a Happy New year and rambles about recent podcast statistics, new year in the UK, welcoming new listeners to the podcast, and some stories about travelling to the UK with a toddler by plane. Transcript available below.
Hello there and welcome back to Luke’s English Podcast. I hope you’re doing fine wherever you are in the world. I’m back from my holiday and am now ready to record a new episode for you, and here it is – this is it right now, it’s actually happening and you are actually listening to it with your actual ears which should be connected to your actual head which contains your very real brain which is now processing sentences in English as you are hearing them. Welcome back to the podcast!
I have listeners all over the world. Let’s have a look at my top ten countries for 2019 to get a sample of where my audience is located.
In this one I’m going to do a few things, including welcoming any new listeners that I have here at the beginning of this new decade. I’m going to give a reminder about the aims and methods of this podcast for learning English. I’m going to talk about what I did during the Christmas holiday, give an update on my daughter’s English progress, give some news about the podcast and upcoming episodes, new year’s resolutions, a comment about one of my heroes who died on 29 December, and a few other bits and pieces. This might get long so it could be a double-ramble. We’ll see.
How are you?
Where are you?
What are you doing?
What’s the weather like?
How are you listening to this?
How long have you been listening to the podcast?
How’s your English coming along?
New Year – New Decade – New Start → here’s to fresh new challenges for the 2020s and to another decade of listening to English with this podcast. I am looking forward to making more and more episodes this year and into the future, and I can’t wait to actually take ideas that are swimming around in my head and make them happen in upcoming episodes of this podcast. So many things to talk about, so many things to do, so much English to teach you.
Transcript / Notes on the website
By the way, I am reading most of this from a script that I’ve been writing for a couple of weeks. 90% of the episode is transcribed in advance, and the rest is being read from notes.
I haven’t been able to podcast during the last 3 weeks or so, but in spare moments I’ve been writing notes in a google document on my computer and my phone and I’ve put them together to make a sort of transcript for this episode. You can find the transcript on the page for this episode in the archive at teacherluke.co.uk You’re listening to episode 634.
Happy New Year!
Happy new year! I hope you had a good celebration. I expect new year is a bigger celebration around the world than Christmas. Certainly, in my experience living in other countries I’ve noticed that new year’s eve is recognised all over the world as the big event, with fireworks in all the major cities and so on. It’s pretty cool.
I wonder what you did out there in podcastland. What are the typical things that happen on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day in your country?
In the UK it sort of depends on your age.
When I was younger it was sort of mandatory to go out to a party or a club or something and when you get back to college or work everyone’s asking each other what they did for New Year’s. I remember many occasions when I went out in the centre of town with some mates for a nightmare evening of loud music, too much drinking, singing, hugging and shaking hands and an impossible mission of getting back home to bed when all the public transport is closed and the taxis are all taken.
I actually had a very quiet New Year’s Eve this year. I generally don’t really like to do much on new years eve these days, maybe because I’m so boring now, or perhaps it’s because I just like the company of friends or family at home to see out the old decade and see in the new one, in some comfort. Also the fact that we’ve got a 2 year old daughter can make it a little bit more tricky to go out and party like I used to.
Anyway, this year I was in, my wife had gone back to Paris a bit early, I was at my parents’ house. My mum went to bed to get her energy back and so Dad and I sat up and from about 11pm we started podcasting, recording a conversation about some of his favourite aspects of Britain, which will be coming in an episode soon. We were actually podcasting while Big Ben counted down to midnight and you’ll be able to hear it soon.
Welcoming New Listeners
First of all I’d like to welcome any new listeners that I have. Welcome! My name is Luke and this is my podcast for learners of English. I expect you’ve found the podcast by searching things like iTunes or Spotify for podcasts for learning English, or maybe a friend recommended it for you or something – leave a comment in the comment section (my website is the best place for that) saying how you found the podcast.
So I’ve been doing this for more than 10 years now and I’ve been teaching English for nearly 20 years now. This podcast has won awards, don’t you know. Yep, 4 awards based on audience votes, a British Council Elton nomination, and I came third in the British Podcast Awards in 2017 – not bad!
In these episodes I talk about all sorts of things, but the main aim is to help you improve your English through listening. The principle is twofold. Firstly, we all know that doing plenty of listening in the target language is a vital part of developing your English. You can’t expect to learn a language unless you actually listen to it, get to know how it sounds, the rhythms of English and also the typical ways in which it is structured. You need to do plenty of listening, regularly, long term – and hopefully this podcast can help you achieve just that.
In each episode you have to just follow what I’m saying or follow a conversation with someone else and just try to keep up. I try to make my episodes entertaining as well as educational. I talk about learning English, give tips and advice, but also talk about loads of other topics in some depth to give you a chance to hear a range of different vocabulary.
The second part of the principle here is that you can develop your vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation a lot through listening. The grammar and vocab come from both trying to notice new language while you’re listening, and from the episodes in which I am specifically teaching or explaining new language to you.
The pronunciation part comes from copying me, shadowing me, and doing the pronunciation drills that I also publish. I also have a premium subscription in which I specifically teach language and give you plenty of pronunciation practice.
So if you keep up with my episodes, follow the advice I give, enjoy the different topics and conversations and follow my instructions for working on your English, you should find that your English improves accordingly.
Of course, this podcast is best consumed as part of a balanced diet. I mean, it’s also necessary to practise your speaking, your reading and your writing too in active ways. You could check out my sponsor italki for the speaking practice and check out my episode archive for plenty of other episodes in which I give specific advice about other areas of your English and also for specific things like the IELTS test.
The best way to listen to my podcast is through the LEP app which is available free in the app store. With the app you have the whole archive, some app-only episodes and access to the premium content. When you listen with a podcast app on your phone, the app will remember where you stopped listening (like at the end of your morning commute to work) and when you press play again (like at the end of your working day) the episode will continue where you left off.
Also on YouTube you can check most of my episodes (just audio but some videos) and there you can find the automatic subtitles which are 99% accurate.
I also have a transcription project done through my website in which a team of keen LEPsters (listeners to this podcast) transcribe my episodes by dividing each one into 3 minute chunks, then each member of the team transcribes his or her chunk and the whole episode is then completed. After that the more high-level listeners proofread the scripts, the end goal being for me to eventually publish them on the website or turn them into an ebook perhaps. Transcribing 3 minute chunks of my episodes is an excellent way to work on your skills as it requires a lot of things – being able to listen intensely for every single word, being able to recognise different words and phrases and how they are actually said by native speakers, being able to write with correct spelling, grammar and punctuation, being able to reproduce exactly what you hear. It’s great training for your English.
Check my website for the entire episode archive and loads of other things. The episode archive on the website also contains loads of other content, like episodes of other people’s podcasts that I’ve been invited on, YouTube interviews with me and so on.
Sometimes I’m featured on other people’s shows and I usually will add a post in the archive so you can listen to it or watch it.
IELTS Speaking with Keith O’Hare
For example, recently I was featured in a video with a YouTube English teacher called Keith O’Hare. He specialises in helping people prepare for the IELTS speaking exam and he’s been doing a series in which he asks other online teachers to take a speaking test on video so you can learn how it is done.
He interviewed me in December and it’s now available on YouTube (link below). So, watch the video in order to see me taking an IELTS speaking test, to learn some of the language I used and also to get feedback from Keith on my performance. I also give some tips for learning English. I’ll be having Keith on the podcast at some point to interview him about IELTS speaking.
So if you are new to the podcast – a hearty welcome to you. I hope you stick around and listen to the other episodes too, and consider becoming part of my online community by putting your comments in the comment section and maybe taking part in the transcription project. You can find the details for that on my website.
A New Year Ramble, meaning that I’m talking about all the stuff that has been building up in my brain over the holiday period.
Obviously, it has been very busy, with looking after the little one, travelling to London, Birmingham, other parts of the country, dealing with the stress of Christmas, but also having an amazing time catching up with the family, exchanging presents, eating delicious food cooked by my mum and walking in the park to get some fresh air.
Normally I am podcasting quite a lot during any given week, pouring out ideas or teaching content into my podcast feed. Then I go on holiday and things start backing up a bit – I mean it feels a bit like a traffic jam with things that want to come out but the road is closed. So I’ve been imagining doing this episode and planning the next few episodes ahead.
And this episode is going to be me pouring those things out onto the podcast..
Let me talk you through what I’ve been thinking at certain quiet moments when my mind has been able to think about the podcast a little bit. Sometimes, like when my daughter is having a nap and I sort of have a nap too, or just before I go to sleep or something, my mind drifts to what I’m going to do on the podcast when I come back in January. I think about what my audience seems to like, what excites me about doing this, what things I think would be fun or useful for you to listen to and I turn it all over in my head, planning and thinking about the next episodes and waiting for some kind of inspiration to strike. Normally I keep thinking like this until I get a tangible idea of what the episode is going to be like, then it’s just a case of preparing for it and recording it. But once I know basically where the thing is going to go, the rest is just a case of trying to make the vision in my head into some kind of reality.
So during the holiday, I didn’t have many chances to record things, but plenty of chances to just think about it all.
Order of upcoming episodes and thoughts about previous ones
Whenever I go away on holiday and leave the podcast for a couple of weeks, the most recently uploaded episode gets loads of downloads. It stands to reason. The top episode in the list is going to be listened to more because it’s there. And so if you upload one episode and another one straight after it, the first one gets fewer downloads because they don’t know it’s there. It gets hidden behind the next one, which should be an argument for spacing out your episodes a bit more to give them time to breathe and for the audience to catch up. But then again, you want to keep uploading regularly to keep the interest up. For me, I tend to just upload whatever I make, and I try to give enough time for people to notice and listen to all the episodes, and there are those times when I go away on holiday and everyone can catch up.
But I do have to consider which episode I will be leaving at the top of the list when I go on holiday. This will be the episode that everyone will notice for the next 2 or 3 weeks, and if that’s the new year period it is especially important because a lot of people choose to start listening to podcasts as a resolution, and so they’ll be looking and new people will be finding Luke’s English Podcast, so the first impression is important.
So, sometimes I was worrying a bit, because the last two episodes I uploaded (except for some premium ones) were about Star Wars episode 9 and that’s not really a fair representation of what I do on this podcast. Also, I was stressing because I think the last episode, number 633 is not that great because I couldn’t remember the plot of the film and I was umming and ahhing.
So I wasn’t completely pleased with that episode and also not too pleased it was the episode at the top of the list for all those new listeners.
But I still wasn’t done with Star Wars, because it has become something of a tradition that at Christmas time, James, Dad and I go to see the new Star Wars film and this is the 4th time it has happened. The Force Awakens in 2015, Rogue One in 2016, The Last Jedi in 2017 and then The Rise of Skywalker in 2019 and the tradition also includes a long rambling podcast to dissect the film afterwards, so James and I duly went off to Birmingham on the train to see the film, had a beer afterwards and chose to discuss it all on the podcast. The result I think is very funny and quite interesting, and I’m much more pleased with it than my previous spoiler review. Anyway, I thought “I can’t wait all that time and then upload yet another Star Wars episode, which is nearly 2 hours long!!”
So I’ve decided to record this episode first, which is why it has taken so long. I have already edited and prepared the James & Luke Star Wars Discussion which will go up quite soon after this episode appears. So, it will be there so all you Star Wars fans can check it out and then we will continue with podcasting as usual. More about that later.
Christmas / New Year Holiday? What did you do?
What have you been up to during the break then Luke?
My wife, my daughter and I travelled to the UK -first to London and then to the midlands where my parents live. We spent just over 2 weeks away.
On new year’s eve I was actually with my dad and we decided to do a podcast from 11pm until midnight when the year ended. I’ll mention that again later.
Travelling with a toddler – describe what it’s like taking a child on a plane journey
Years of helping drunk friends in nightclubs to get home has really prepared me for this. Little kids or babies are a lot like drunk friends on a Friday night. They fall over a lot and might hurt themselves. They’re liable to suddenly run into the street. They sing like hooligans. They might break down and start crying, and could easily piss themselves, shit themselves and puke on themselves all at the same time. And they’re quite rowdy, annoying and loud too, which makes them a liability in things like queues and the confines of a seat on a plane, surrounded by other passengers.
Describe taking a toddler on a flight with just one person. With two it’s better, even though you have more bags, but with one adult it’s tricky.
This is what I described to Paul recently, because he basically can’t imagine flying with his daughter because she cries all the time and thinks it would be a huge operation to travel somewhere with all the equipment and baggage that you need for a child, with the travel cot, the car seat, the pram, the bottles and devices, the cleaning stuff and nappies, spare clothes and then all your stuff too! Paul can’t imagine it, and he listened sort of wide eyed as I explained it to him, like this.
I take: One large suitcase (really big) with all our clothes, bottles, powdered milk, powdered cereal, washbag, thermometer, doliprane (paracetamol), books, toys, pacifier, doodoo (teddy bear or comforter), sleeping bag, my computer, my podcast stuff, leads, microphones, recorders, the pram, the waterproof cover for the pram (we’re going to England), A bag with food, drink, snacks, a bag with nappies, wipes and a towel, a change of clothes, some cartoons downloaded on netflix as a last line of defence, colouring books, pencil, sticker book, story book, maybe a farm animal, a book for me which I will never read, passports and my daughter.
So a pram (foldable) a huge suitcase, a backpack and my daughter and me.
Taxi to the airport. It’s expensive, but it’s just a much much smoother and efficient way to get this show on the road and get to the airport. Otherwise it’s taking a metro, walking a lot, then onto the RER, many many lifts and corridors and horrible air. The taxi option is amazing as they drop you right at arrivals.
Cruise through the terminal like a sort of huge articulated lorry, with the pram in front, my daughter probably sitting forwards and taking it all in, then me with my backpack and my other arm dragging the huge suitcase behind on its little wheels. A huge articulated truck moving through the airport.
Straight to the display, then probably to area C to queue up and check in the massive suitcase which could easily be overweight.
At this point JNR (my daughter) is sitting in the pram and probably demanding to be given the passports to be held. This could be her outstretching her hand, pointing at your pocket and saying “hand hand!” or even some mangled version of “passport”.
She’s being very insistent and we’re surrounded by silent queueing zombies so I give her the passports and just hope that she doesn’t drop them. She’s normally pretty good at holding onto them because she knows they’re important, which is why she wants to hold them.
But she has dropped things in airports before. Maybe the last time we were going through the airport and she was holding her doodoo (a teddy bear) . After walking for a while I noticed that bear was not with us any more and I went to JNR, where’s bear? And she looked around herself and then just went “huh!?” like, “Oh my god, where’s bear!?” This is like, worse than losing your phone for her.
So we wheel backwards and retrace our steps, both of us scanning the floor for bear, and I see him on the floor in the distance, lying next to a wall, slumped, and a woman is picking him up and having a look, she’s a member of staff and other people are gathering around. I just get there in time and explain that the bear belongs to my daughter and they are reunited and all’s well that ends well. Everyone sort of laughs and maybe waves at JNR and she says “bye bye “ and maybe “Aassiii” which is a combination of “thank you” and “merci”.
By the way, her languages are coming along quite well. She spends most of her time in French during the day at creche, but at home it’s mostly English. Her French has come on quicker than her English as she has certain standard phrases like “encore” and “oui” and “Cel-la” but the last two weeks she was in the UK really boosted her English.
First we spent some time with my cousin Oli and his family. He’s got three kids, one of whom is a couple of years older than my daughter, and another is the same age as her and they speak English so it was a real boost for her there.
Then with my parents and my brother it was all English for quite a long time, and her English really improved. She was saying things like “and that?” , which is quite a big step I think, and “please” “thank you” “bread” “Nice!” “Happy” “bird” “TV” “Farm” and “Beatles!”
Also a few other sentences that I can’t really remember now. She also babbles a great deal in a weird alien language and makes up songs with nonsense words and sometimes sings like a hooligan while standing on a chair.
Anyway, I give my daughter the passports and she can give them to the woman behind the counter, which is quite cute and a good way to ingratiate myself with the Air France woman, so I can try to get a better seat, maybe with nobody next to us.
She does her best and finds one for me. Air France are pretty awesome. Also, my bag is 26kg and the limit is 23kg but she says she can see it’s for both of us so she lets me off too. Nice.
Then it’s “Operation Get to the Gate” and also “Operation Energy Cancel”.
Operation Get to the Gate basically means getting through all the stuff like passport control, security and duty free and then being able to set up a base from which you can send out the child on exploratory missions to research and discover everything in the general area. That can be difficult because you have to deal with another queue, and then go through x-ray security, which means taking everything out of my backpack, separating all the baby food and water for the milk, take JNR out of the pram, fold it up and put it through as well, then coax my daughter to walk through and pretty much command her to stand in one spot while you get everything off the trays and your belt on and keys in your pocket and everything.
Then there’s a fight because I want her to get back in the pram but she’s not having it. I eventually decide that sometimes there’s no point struggling with a kid who doesn’t want to do something so we agree to walk, I push the pram and she sort of follows along and I have to constantly give her pointers like “this way” and “come on” “we’ve got to get to the gate” and she goes “GATE” and I say “Yes”. And there’s plenty of “no” “stop” Don’t do that, don’t touch. No hands. No, No No. Etc.
I try not to say no too much and to always explain to her what we’re doing and involve her somehow too.
So we keep going and I get her to push the pram, but it gets a bit tricky when we get to the big hall with all the gates because there are loads of distractions and also large open spaces. There are the arcade games and she always wanders in among the games of street fighter, fifa and pac man. I have to go and grab her, pick her up even though she doesn’t want to go and carry her, explaining that we have to get to the gate, then find some water for her and sandwiches for me.
So we get in the queue at Pret a Manger, leaving the pram over there, keeping one eye on it, while my daughter is wandering along the sandwich fridge, picking up salads and I’m telling her to put them back and come here. She wanders around but generally is quite cute and nice so people don’t get too annoyed. She wants to use the card machine and hold my credit card, anything that means she’s involved in what’s happening.
Normally it’s pretty good but sometimes it can be quite difficult following her around and picking her up as she kicks and screams if she doesn’t want to go, but usually it’s fine because I’ve explained exactly what’s happening and she likes that. I explain a day or so before that we’re going to the airport (she has an airport book) and do the motion of a plane in the sky and she knows what that is and she does it too and she goes “fly , fly” and maybe “plane!” or “avion!”. So she knows what’s going on and I’ve tried to explain that she needs her seatbelt, so the seatbelt is always in the story. Now she’s ok with seatbelts and says “seatbelt”.
Then there’s some running around after we’ve found our base of operations at one of the chairs next to our gate, and it’s “Operation Energy Cancel” or energy drain or something. The main aim here is to burn off as much of her energy as possible, and usually this involves running along side her going “run run run run run run run” and she gets really excited and giggly and runs along with you, looking like super mario. Run run run run run run. We do that up and down until she’s pretty tired or we have to queue up for the plane.
This bit might also involve lunch depending on how much time you have, and sometimes lunch is done on the plane. In any case lunch is always more like a drug that you give to your child than an actual meal! You know that when you’ve given them lunch, they’ll probably fall asleep about an hour later, so lunch is more like a sleep drug that you apply to your child so you can have a break. In fact all meals, milk, food are more like drugs that you give to your children.
The aim is to make her tired on the plane. At this point it is difficult to keep everything under control because I have a heavy backpack on my back full of podcasting equipment and kid stuff, a folded pram over my shoulder and my slightly hyper daughter investigating everything and kind of giggling or pointing at things.
When people start queuing for the plane I like to hang back until almost everyone is on board. Why would you want to get on board early and spend even more time sitting in that cramped little seat. I prefer to wait until all the stressed out people have struggled with their bags before sliding in at the end while everyone else watches you get on board and my daughter walks along the aisle looking at everyone. I have a huge backpack and a pram over my shoulder so I’m probably bumping people in the arm or in the head if I turn quickly. I have to shove some bags out of the way to push the folded pram in the overhead locker.
Then it’s operation distraction, subtitled “I hope she goes to sleep”.
There are basically six levels of “kid on a plane”
Distracted by something quite wholesome, like drawing, stickers, reading a book. She’s quite happy to sit on your lap and try to pick up stickers and put them in places. I also don’t care at all if she puts stickers all over the seat or the magazine. Not a problem, if my daughter isn’t making a fuss, it’s all good. I might have to try and ingratiate myself with the person next to us, like a smile or just by talking to my daughter and hoping she does something cute, which usually works. So level 1 is – doing an activity.
Walking up and down. This one is vital for when level 1 just doesn’t work and your child has some pent up energy. I walk her up and down the plane and also let her hang around at the end near the weird little shelves and kitchen area at the end of the plane. That tends to use up some energy and stop her kicking the chair in front or complaining or making a police siren noise.
Changing the nappy. This can be quite a big operation depending on whether it is a #1 or a #2 and if there has been some kind of “leak”.
Obviously the worst possible one is a leaked #2 which can be a sort of Armageddon in the underpants, and can be really tricky to deal with in a plane toilet. You hope to hell that there’s a baby changing table, and if there is my daughter hardly even fits on it. She’s tall for her age. Anyway, I put her on the table and she’s a bit freaked out but very curious about everything in this grotty plane toilet. Then you change the nappy making sure she doesn’t touch it and you use loads of wipes to clean everything up, meanwhile your arse is pressed against the unit behind you, your left shin is pressed against the edge of the toilet and your head might be pressed against the curved ceiling on some planes. It might also be necessary to change her clothes, which is why it is vital to bring the other outfit. So that’s level 3.
Watching a video on your phone. This is a sort of fallback position which might help you to get to Level 5. It’s not ideal because you don’t really want your child to be watching a phone for any length of time, and sometimes she tries to play with the phone and ends up going into your emails or photos or something. But it can be a great way to pacify a child who is being boisterous.
We tend to show her Babar The Elephant, which is basically like Downton Abbey for kids. They’re exactly the same thing. In fact it’s the other way round, Downton Abbey is like Babar The Elephant for grown ups.
It’s very cute and they have adorable Canadian accents.
Blissful sleep when you can just take a break and even have a nap yourself which is the thing you’ve been craving all this time, ever since you were woken up at 6AM by her crying, then you take her in bed with you and she sort of kicks you and falls asleep until 7AM when she starts wailing for milk like a heroin addict and then after she downs it in about 2 minutes, she spends the next half an hour sort of rolling around and kicking in a half asleep trance, maybe in a bad mood, before sort of waking up and immediately giggling and playing around. So, getting the chance for a nap is just sensational.
…is meltdown. There are different stages of meltdown of course, but this is what you are trying to prevent at all times. Wrestling in your arms Refusing to cooperate Pushing your hands away so you end up doing some weird Chinese gung fu together Wailing and crying loudly Police sirens Car alarms Going red, tears Sometimes this develops into a full on raging demonic possession but that has only ever happened once on the Eurostar in the evening when she was really tired but didn’t want to sleep or go in the pram, and it was like The Exorcist or something.
Anyway, normally it is a mix of levels 1-4 which is basically ok. Then there are more queues, more giving her passports and then fighting with her to get her in the pram and possibly failing, waiting for the huge bag and then going to meet my dad, get her in the back of the car and drive, and she always falls asleep within the first 2 minutes of the ride.
I’ll talk a bit more about my daughter later, including some details about her English and her bilingualism.
I don’t normally talk about her this much but I did spend loads of time with her this holiday so it’s pretty fresh in my mind.
That’s it for part 1. Part 2 will be available soon!
Recently I was reading a book about listening and learning English. This episode is a summary of what I read, including details of how listening fits in with learning English, some considerations of the importance of listening and also some tips for how to improve your English with audio.
This episode is all about the importance of listening in the learning of English. It’s full of various thoughts and reflections about this topic and my aim to a large extent is to give you ideas and inspiration to help you keep learning through listening and to keep doing it more effectively, also to consider some things we know about learning through listening, to encourage you to reflect and form some metacognitive strategies towards your listening and also to give you some practical tips to help you learn English through listening and to improve your listening skills. I suppose ultimately I’d like to develop your process of understanding the place of listening in your learning so that you can take more and more responsibility for that learning. So that’s what this episode is all about. It’s quite appropriate I suppose considering this is an audio podcast for learners of English and you’re listening to this as a way to improve your English through listening, it’s worth taking time to think about the academic points on this subject.
Before we start I just want to say to any premium subscribers that I’ve got a series of episodes probably coming out next week all about grammar, focusing on tenses. We’ll be looking mainly at present perfect, but also comparing it to other tenses. So it’ll be a sort of tense review, focusing mainly on present perfect. There’s also going to be a series about the language which came up in my conversation with James that you heard on the podcast earlier in the year. So, grammar stuff coming next week and vocabulary later. If you want to get access to that stuff and all the other premium content go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium
Recently I was thumbing through some books at work. One of the books was a copy of Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom by Tricia Hedge, which is something of a bible for English teachers. A lot of teachers use this book during their DELTA and CELTA courses as it is absolutely filled with insights about language teaching and learning, all based on academic studies done over the years. It is a great book and covers most aspects of the work of an English teacher, including how people learn English and how, accordingly, English teachers should adapt their teaching methods.
I remember reading the book intensely while taking my DELTA. You heard me talking about the DELTA course with Zdenek earlier this year.
So I remember reading the book very thoroughly when I was doing my DELTA. Can you believe it, that was 13 years ago! It stuns me to imagine that it was so long ago. Anyway, during that time, when I was taking the DELTA and I had nothing else going on in my life – I used to work, come home from work, make myself tea and then retire to my bedroom where I would listen to ambient music and desperately try to focus on my work without getting distracted by absolutely everything in the universe! Because, somehow, when you’re working – everything becomes a major distraction. Anyway, one of the books I used to pour over was this one. I had loads of post-it notes marking various important pages.
Anyway, the other day I was at work and I noticed the very same book on the shelf, so I picked it up and started thumbing through it. 13 years later my situation has changed a bit. These days I’m doing this podcast and the majority of the people I am essentially teaching English to are not in the same room as me, they’re not even in the same country and in fact the only way I can communicate with them is through the medium of audio. I can also write things and post pics and videos on the website, but most of my audience don’t check the website – only about 10% actually go to the page.
Anyway, the point is – it’s now all about listening, which is amazing.
One of my aims in the beginning was to get people listening more, and it’s working. I have always thought listening to English must be an essential way to learn the language. It’s got to be a vital part of the learning process, surely. It’s like music – there’s music theory, music technique and all that, but for most musicians the best way to learn how to play well is to listen to plenty of music, and to practise every day. Listening probably comes first, right? Then it’s a question of practice x 5 and trying to replicate what you’re hearing. But first you have to get to know what music can sound like and to hear the way it is produced. When I first learned to play the drums I became obsessed with listening to my favourite drummers, who were: Mitch Mitchell, Stuart Copeland and Ringo Starr. Playing the drums at the beginning gave me a sense of how the music was produced, so I could listen to those songs and hear what the drummers were doing. I knew how they were doing it – which parts of the kit they were hitting, how those sounds were made. It was all a question of practising until I could do it too. In most cases I couldn’t replicate what they were doing (except in the case of Ringo!) but in practising like that I developed my own style, my own ease, my own technique and ultimately I was able to do things on the drums, play the kinds of beats I wanted to play, fit in with a band in the way I wanted. Obviously, listening was vital. It sounds ridiculous, obvious, right? To learn music, you must listen to it a lot – pay attention to how it all works. It’s the same thing with learning a language.
Obviously there are differences – the thing about music is that you understand it from birth without having to learn it first, right? It’s just something you feel. But anyway, I think the point still stands – that listening is a vital part of the learning process, just like it is with music.
So, back to the book. Now I’m interested in listening and I’m interested in what Tricia Hedge has to say on the subject of listening. So when I had the book in my hands, I flicked straight to the sections about listening and I made a note of what I found there.
In this episode I’m going to explain some of the things I’ve read and reflect on them.
Academics often write that listening is overlooked in ELT
Think about the average English lesson. Most of the time is spent on other language skills and language systems.
Listening is one of the 4 Skills
It is one of the 4 skills and it is a very important part of Cambridge Exams such as FCE, CAE and IELTS. Those exams give equal weight to the 4 skills, so listening is 25% of the whole exam. Is 25% of your study time in class devoted to listening?
We don’t do much listening in class
The majority of classroom work is devoted to other things, probably speaking and writing skills, grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. I totally understand why. I wouldn’t spend all my time doing listening in my English classes. It wouldn’t make sense to get a bunch of learners of English together and just make them do only listening. Class time should be spent on other things, like communication skills, speaking and remedial work by the teacher.
We often listen to scripted listenings in class
Listening is in a lot of course books but the focus still seems to be on scripted dialogues which are designed specifically to present certain language, such as vocab or grammar. There just isn’t time to do extended listening, using unscripted dialogues that don’t follow a pre-planned agenda, but this is the sort of thing people need to practise listening to. Normal speech, which is a bit random, contains things like sentences that don’t end, false starts, moments when people talk over each other, moments of humour or spontaneous reactions and tangents in the conversation. So, real listening is overlooked.
Listening is vitally important in everyday life
The majority of interactions you will have will involve you speaking to a person, and it’s so important to be reactive to what they’re saying, and this relies on your ability to quickly follow what’s being said. It’s like fluency in a way – being able to follow fluid speech without thinking about it too much. That’s very important, of course.
Listening is linked to pronunciation and speaking
Raising your listening skills means raising your awareness of the connection between the written word and the spoken word – meaning that a good listener is able to recognise English as an oral language and this means being able to decode connected speech, elision of sounds, weak forms, how meaning is expressed through intonation and sentence stress. Getting good at listening means getting to know English as a spoken language. This in turn should help you make your English more natural, rather than just a version of the written language which comes out of your mouth, and that is a big problem. When I listen to learners of English (and I have met many thousands of them over the years) it’s amazing how often their mistakes are a consequence of them essentially speaking English as it looks when it’s written down. So many learners of English got to know English as a written language, to the point that the spoken version is so foreign to them that it’s almost like another language.
How much communication time do we spend on listening?
How much time do we spend on listening, when we communicate, compared to the other 3 skills? Research has been done into communication in English, focusing on the average time spent on the different skills of writing, reading, speaking and listening. How much time, on average, do we spend writing, reading, speaking and listening when we are communicating? The research shows that 9 per cent of communication time is devoted to writing, 16 per cent to reading, 30 per cent to speaking and 45 per cent to listening. (Rivers & Temperley 1978, Oxford 1993, Celce-Murcia 1995). There’s no doubt then that listening is really important and is perhaps the first thing you must master when you’re learning the language, followed by speaking. That’s if we decide that time spent during communication is the most important factor. Of course it depends on your situation. Maybe you work in an office and you have to write a lot of emails in English but you never speak it. I guess for you, writing would be the most important thing. But anyway, the numbers speak for themselves. We seem to spend most of our time listening. But we don’t spend most of our learning time on listening. The result is that when we are learning, we focus on learning words, learning structures and so on, but when we actually interact with the spoken version of the language, it all seems totally weird because the way we deliver those words and structures with our mouths often bears no relation to the English we have become familiar with during our studies.
Listening will be more and more important
Listening will only get more important. It’s almost definitely true that society in general is moving away from print media towards sound, so listening has become and continues to become more and more important as we move forward. Much more of our information comes through audio than ever before. With the internet a lot of the news we’re exposed to on social media is small video clips, we send each other audio messages, talk via Skype, FaceTime or WhatsApp, there are frequent audio and video conferences at work, we have a plethora of podcasts available to us and much more than ever we are tapping into entertainment on a global level with platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime where there are loads of English language TV programmes in the original language version, perhaps with subtitles in your language. The internet has allowed us to use listening as the primary source of information transfer today. So, listening is more and more important all the time.
How do people learn English through listening?
But what do we know about how people can learn English from listening? How does this affect the way I can produce LEP and how my listeners can consume LEP?
Input vs intake
This is part of the theory of language acquisition which is very popular. The principle is that if learners listen to English which is understandable but slightly higher than their level, and they focus on understanding the message within a meaningful context, that they can then pick up the language as a by-product of the process. This is good news for LEPsters. It means that you can pick up the language from my episodes by listening carefully to the main message being communicated. By interacting with English like this, you’re just naturally exposed to language and learn the functions of phrases and grammar through context. The argument is that you learn a language when you can understand it, and the process of getting to fluent speech comes first through a lot of exposure to the language, at the right level. It’s important that you understand most of what you hear, and that allows you to learn the new things you are hearing.
This is the principle that people only learn from the bits which are genuinely important to them. Learners won’t learn everything they hear. They’ll be selective, based on their own personal motivations. For whatever reason, each person will value certain parts of the listening content more than others. This is the stuff they’ll really learn. This means, there are certain things that will make the listeners prick up their ears, and a lot of that is based on the preconceptions of the listeners, their values and so on. For example, learners might believe that they can only learn from an authority figure like a teacher, and therefore their words will carry more value and will become part of the intake. On the other hand, words spoken by someone they don’t respect will just go in one ear and out the other side. It’s not just respect of course. It could be other things. E.g. if a listener is an engineer, they’re naturally going to be more motivated towards the language of engineering. What this means for my podcast is that I have to constantly think of ways to keep you engaged in order to turn most of the listening input into intake. It also means trying to cover a wide range of topics, which I try to do. But I also think it’s something to do with being personable, real and relatable while talking. I try to always address my listeners and think about what it’s like for you and hopefully this keeps you focused, which is good for your English.
The point is that the language should be understandable yet not without challenge, and the content should be presented as valuable but with the understanding that you can’t please everyone all the time – that each individual brings their own personal motivation to the listening experience, which means that different parts are valuable to different people. Each person will focus their attention on slightly different parts based on their feelings and attitudes.
What can I do on LEP?
What I can try to do is make each individual feel personally involved, in any way I can. I believe this is done best when I address the listener directly and sometimes avoid speaking from a script. It’s more human and engaging to talk ‘off the cuff’. Also I should keep the topics varied and also have a variety of people on the podcast.
Why listening is more difficult than reading
The language is transient – I mean, the words are only audible for a moment before they disappear. You can’t normally go back and listen again, unlike when reading when you can simply read the sentence again or scan the text to find something again. Listening comes and goes into the ether very quickly. You need to learn to think in a slightly different way and get used to interacting with the listening text by remembering what is being said, predicting what’s going to come next, and so on.
The written word has a standardised spelling system which everyone more or less follows. Also there are gaps between words on the page, and punctuation to show when one sentence begins and ends etc. With listening you don’t get any of these things. It’s not standardised like writing. You’re dealing with a lot of diversity in terms of accent and different ways the language can sound (and English is an extremely diverse language in which there are many, equally valid, versions of the spoken word).
What can you do?
It’s important to bridge the gap between the spoken version of the language and the written version. One way to do this is to do plenty of listening and reading, so that you’re familiar with the conventions of both versions of the language, but also there are other things you can do.
Listen and read at the same time
Dictation or listen + repeat dictations (use audio with a script)
This allows you to turn an interconnected stream of sounds into sentences, words, syllables, phonemes.
I’ve talked about this on the podcast before and I will no doubt talk about it again because I think it’s a great technique and in fact I’ve been working on some content which is designed specifically for this technique. Basically, listen to some audio, repeat what you hear bit by bit, then compare it to the script. You can then do things like use a pen to mark emphasis, intonation, connected speech, pauses on the script, then record yourself reading out the script, then try and replicate the main ideas without reading (it doesn’t matter if you say it differently – it’s not a memory test, you just have to communicate the main ideas in your own voice – and you might find that you remember some of the lines that you repeated before. You can also try writing down what you’re hearing and comparing that to the script as well. All of it can help you turn fluent speech into individual words, phrases and sentences, helping you work on pronunciation and speaking skills too.
Engage with the subject, not just the language. We know that we tend to understand what we hear more when we are engaged in the subject. This means that you should think about the topic being talked about and perhaps predict some of the things we’re going to hear. Basically, before you listen to something, just take a moment to make sure you are intellectually and perhaps emotionally engaged in that subject. Find some way to relate it to yourself personally. Use your imagination to picture the whole subject, issues relating to it and the things which might be said. We know that this helps you to listen more accurately, rather than just going straight into the listening, cold.
Learn the phonetic chart and practise it. Get an app, like Sounds or Sounds Right by the British Council. Do all the exercises, learn the phonetic alphabet. These are the basic building blocks of English and can really help you to break down, recognise and replicate sounds, words and so on.
When you’re repeating, pay attention to the emphasis. Which word in a sentence is being emphasised? Why? When you repeat, try to say the whole sentence like a word with the emphasis on the same part that you heard it. This can help you not only learn good sentence stress (which arguably is the most important factor in pronunciation) but also can help you identify the key information when you are listening.
Listen to a variety of things. Different genres of audio tend to follow their own “macro-script”, meaning that they follow the same kinds of conventions. For example, listening to the news you’ll notice certain things they always say, certain things that they only do on the news. Sports reports have their own characteristics, political speeches have their own style, a radio drama sounds unmistakably like a radio drama, an academic lecture sounds like an academic lecture, etc. You’ve got to get used to recognising certain conventions of different types of audio recording. So listen to a variety of audio.
But also, listen to the same thing again and again. Listen to your favourite English podcast every day for a month. You should wait about a month before you make a judgement. Listening to just one episode isn’t going to make a huge difference. Listening to many episodes, regularly, over a longer period – this is what makes the difference. It is a compound effect and to an extent it’s not even noticeable, but keep it up! This is one of the main issues today. People want instant, measurable results, but the reality is that language learning occurs over time and is sometimes not noticable. It sort of happens under the surface. But you have to be in it to win it. If you don’t use it you lose it. So keep listening every day for at least a month, then you’ll see that suddenly you can understand more and more and a whole new world of English can open up for you.
Listen to things you enjoy and are really motivated to hear. This helps turn input into intake.
Listen several times.
Don’t assume that movies and TV series are the best things to listen to. They tend to focus on visuals first. There’s music and other sound effects which actually get in the way. Sometimes dialogue is so naturalistic that it’s kind of impossible to follow. Often I can’t actually hear what’s being said in movies. Audio podcasts are probably better because they’re made for you, and you can just focus on the English exclusively. But, of course, if you like watching films in English don’t let me stop you. If you’re a big fan of the MCU for example – go ahead and watch Avengers: Endgame in English, twice!
Watch out for subtitles. Watching Netflix with English subtitles is something that everyone assumes is a great idea, and it is good. You can read what you’re hearing, notice the way the written language is expressed in speaking, you can pick up new words and phrases and so on. But for working on listening skills alone, it’s important to try some other ideas. For example, try to spend time listening without subtitles, then rewind and listen to that section again with subtitles and see what you’ve understood. Use subtitles or scripts after you’ve listened, in order to identify which bits you got and which bits you didn’t. But don’t get too used to always having subtitles when you listen, because this means you don’t develop proper listening skills. Also, don’t feel you always have to have the subtitles on or off. Switch between having them on, having them off, watching scenes several times with and without subtitles. Good learners of English actively use TV and films and think outside of the box a bit. It’s not just a case of switching Netflix to English and then just relaxing on your sofa.
Another thing is this – if you listen to podcasts a lot, then you’re immediately pushing yourself ahead of your peers who don’t do this. Think of the advantage you’re getting over other people who just don’t do any listening.
Motivation, reducing anxiety and building confidence. Listening a lot can really help you with these things, because you become friends with the spoken word. Imagine if you’re a regular and long term LEPster and you have to do a listening test. While other people are probably panicking because listening is a nightmare for them, for you it’s like you’re entering your comfort zone. Make listening your friend. Get to know the spoken version of the language and get a leg up on the competition.
So finally, the points are…
Listen a lot! Yey! This is probably good news because if you’re a regular listener to this podcast you just need to keep going! Keep it up!
Listen to various things. I’ll try and keep it varied here, but consider checking out some other things. Check out BBC podcasts on different subjects and shop around a bit.
Use some techniques, like listening and repeating audio that has a script and learning the phonemic script.
But ultimately, just relax and enjoy the process! Take time to reflect personally on what you’re listening to and enjoy yourselves!
I am sure that many of you have some interesting things to add here – either stories of how you’ve improved your English through listening, or specific things that you do relating to learning through listening. So please, add your comments under this episode. Your input is extremely valuable because as well as all these academic studies that underpin many of the things in this episode, it’s the testimony and personal experience of people who have learned English to a decent level that is what counts. So, please, tell us your stories, give us your thoughts regarding learning through listening.
And thank you for listening to this!
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More conversation with Ben Worthington from IELTSPodcast.com, talking about English skills and exam skills, considering the whole approach and mindset that you need to succeed in IELTS. Includes questions from listeners.
I hope you’re doing well. Here is Part 2 of this double episode that I’m doing about IELTS, this well known exam that tests your level of English. Learners all over the world are taking IELTS, preparing for it, suffering from it, recovering from it. So I’m sure most of you are aware of it. Here’s an episode about it.
As usual in these multi-part episodes I suggest that you listen to the first part before listening to this.
In this episode I’m talking to Ben Worthington from IELTSPodcast.com He specialises in helping people get ready for IELTS and in this episode we’re going through questions from listeners on social media about this test.
Listen up if you have experience of IELTS, but equally if you don’t have to take the test I hope you can enjoy this episode in full relaxation mode, since you won’t actually have to take this evil test.
In this episode you’ll hear Ben and me saying various things about IELTS. Here’s a run-down of the conversation and the things we mention.
How to prepare for IELTS, self-study and using a course.
Tips for writing, reading, listening and speaking.
The importance of getting feedback on essay writing
Check online samples of people taking the test, like this one
The potential risks of taking group IELTS courses
Tips for how to get the best out of an online tutor
The importance of making a good first impression in part 1 of the speaking test
How to get ideas in speaking part 2
Using cue cards to practice the speaking test
Thinking on your feet and speaking spontaneously
Focusing on core skills
So we’re talking about a lot of specific English skills and exam skills, considering the whole approach and mindset that you need to succeed in IELTS.
As a special gift to my listeners, Ben is offering a 15% discount on his IELTS prep course called “Jump to Band 7 or It’s Free”. On his website check out the course and use the offer code LukeIELTSPodcast15 to get a 15% discount. Not bad.
Anyway, you know what to expect from this episode, so let’s carry on.
There you go. Unfortunately we couldn’t answer all the questions because we ran out of time, but you might find more answers and support on Ben’s website, which is IELTSpodcast.com. You can ask Ben and his team questions and of course Ben is offering you all 15% off his course, called “Jump to Band 7 or it’s Free”. Just use the offer code LukeIELTSPodcast15 at checkout.
Thank you so much for listening, I hope you’ve enjoyed it.
A conversation with IELTS teacher Ben Worthington about the IELTS test, with advice for getting your best score in speaking, writing, reading and listening. Includes questions from listeners. Part 1 of 2.
This episode is all about the IELTS test. Yes, that dreaded test that many of you will have either experienced or heard people talking about, probably saying things like “I need IELTS 6.5. HOW CAN I GET IELTS 6.5??” Like they’ve been poisoned, and IELTS6.5 is the name of the antidote that’s going to save their life – I need IELTS6.5! How can I get IELTS 6.5?? Tell me, quickly!!!”
It’s known for being a tough test. Not all the stories are horror stories of course. It’s important to be positive. There are plenty of success stories of people who managed to raise their score to the level they require. It is definitely possible to get success in IELTS. People do it all the time. But how?
Well, in this episode I’ll be talking to Ben Worthington from IELTS Podcast about various things relating to this test. This episode is full of good advice and insights into how to prepare for this test and ways to improve your score.
Do you know IELTS? I don’t know if you are familiar with it.
I think most learners of English who are serious about doing things in English will probably end up considering taking an exam like IELTS in order to get some kind of certificate confirming your level, which you can then use to do something like get a job, get a visa or get a place in a university. There’s TOEIC and TOEFL as well, but those are the American exams.
Actually I did get some questions about TOEIC and TOEFL, which Ben and I didn’t have time to respond to in this episode. Speaking personally, I am less familiar with TOEIC and TOEFL because I’ve rarely had to work with those tests. I’m much more familiar with IELTS and other Cambridge exams, and so this is what I’m more qualified to talk about.
IELTS is the standard testing system in the UK and also other English-speaking countries such as Australia and Canada and I think IELTS is probably now established as the world’s #1 English test. I wouldn’t be surprised if you, listening to this, have taken IELTS or are thinking about taking it. Or maybe you’ve looked into other Cambridge exams like FCE or CAE or something.
Basically, it’s very common for people to take this test and prepare for this test. So it’s worth talking about again on the podcast.
IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. It’s administered both by Cambridge English and the British Council and there are centres in most countries where you can take the IELTS test.
It’s a notoriously difficult test. I think anyone who takes it finds it hard, no matter what level you are, even native English speakers would find it challenging to be honest.
Here’s a quick summary of the IELTS test
IELTS tests your skills in 4 areas – reading, listening, writing and speaking.
It takes about 2h45m to complete the test.
The reading section involves a number of texts (3 texts in the academic version and about 5 or 6 in the general version) with comprehension tasks which test various reading skills.
Similarly the listening section has about 4 listening texts with various task types to test a range of listening skills.
The writing part takes an hour and involves two sections. In part 1 of the academic test you have to write a description of a graph, table, chart or diagram. In part 2 of the writing test you have to write an essay which probably involves explaining different sides of an argument with an introduction and conclusion.
The speaking test is in 3 parts and takes about 15 minutes. The first part involves chatting with the examiner for a few minutes, answering some questions about yourself. In part 2 you have to talk on your own for 2 minutes based on a cue card given to you by the examiner, and part 3 is a discussion with the examiner in which you talk about some more abstract things like social issues.
So this test is pretty long and covers all 4 skills. It requires all your abilities in English – accurate and diverse grammar, a wide range of vocabulary, fluency, clear pronunciation and the ability to complete communicative tasks effectively in English.
The way it works is that the overall score you get is converted into a band number which is an indicator of your level across the 4 skills. There’s no pass or fail mark. It’s just a case of the higher your score, the higher your band or level at the end.
So this test reveals your level in English. Levels go from 1 to 9. 9 being the highest.
So, it’s a tough test.
People all over the world need an IELTS score for various purposes, so it is an extremely common challenge for learners of English to undertake.
Schools in many places offer IELTS preparation courses to help people learn exactly how to improve their IELTS score. Preparation courses are obviously important to help you raise your English core skills across the 4 areas, but they’re also important to help you develop exam skills – which means becoming familiar with the test, familiar with the task types, familiar with the way the test is administered, and familiar with the little tricks and traps that are intentionally put into the test. It’s important not only to improve your level of English to prepare for IELTS but also to get an understanding of what the examiners at Cambridge English are looking for. This is also true for other similar tests.
To be honest, the test is so contrived and the marking criteria so specific that it’s very unwise to take an IELTS test without some preparation in advance because you simply must get familiar with it and develop your own strategies for each section. So I always advise students to do some test preparation, be it self-study or by following some sort of course either online or offline.
Offline options would probably be to find a preparation course in a school near you and the online options include finding and using self-study materials and practice tests, taking one to one lessons with a tutor for feedback (using iTalki for example) or finding other online resources that offer alternative ways to work on your exam skills.
One of those resources is IELTSpodcast.com run by Ben Worthington, my guest today.
As the website name suggests, IELTSpodcast.com is a podcast about IELTS with lots of tips about each section, but it’s also a website with lots of resources – videos, blog posts, practice tasks and also paid courses for specific exam skills and services including things like essay correction and feedback from Ben and the other teachers he works with.
Ben Worthington has been training people in IELTS preparation for some time now and has got lots of advice to share, all of which can really help you improve your IELTS score. A lot of his advice is shared on his website and in his courses, but in this episode he’s going to share some of that with us.
You can sign up to Ben’s full IELTS preparation course, called “Jump to Band 7 or it’s Free”, which is a confident name if ever there was one. If you don’t get to band 7 then it’s free. You can get it at IELTSpodcast.com and Ben has offered to give a 15% discount on the course for listeners to the podcast. So this episode is all about good advice for IELTS and it should be a genuinely useful episode, but if you want more thorough preparation for IELTS you can get a 15% discount on the Jump to Band 7 Or It’s Free course by using the offer code LukeIELTSPodcast15 – if you’re interested.
Ben originally is from Yorkshire in the north of England. You might notice some slight differences in his accent compared to mine. I’m from the south and the midlands, basically – but I sound mostly like I’m from London probably. Ben has a slight northern accent because he’s from Yorkshire. His accent is not that strong, but you might notice a few differences.
Now, the IELTS test is big and there is a lot to say about it – more than can be covered in just one or two episodes of this podcast (and I think this will be a two-part episode).
If you follow me on social media you might have noticed that I asked my audience for questions about IELTS and I received quite a lot across the different platforms. I’ve tried to include as many questions as possible, but we didn’t have time to deal with every single one.
So, apologies if your question isn’t mentioned in the episode. You can actually ask questions to Ben on his website if you like.
What if you’re not taking IELTS?
This will be relevant to the large numbers of people in my audience who are taking or have taken this test, but also hopefully to those of you who don’t need to take this test right now. I think it’s a good idea for any learner of English to have a sense of what’s involved in the IELTS test and of course the skills you need for IELTS are skills that anyone needs if they want to be more than just a competent user of the English language.
I have done several episodes about IELTS before. If you haven’t heard those episodes it’s probably a good idea to check them out, especially if you’re preparing for the exam.
Episode 256 is called IELTS Tips and Tricks. In that episode I tried to include as much of my personal advice as possible into just one episode, so that should be useful to you.
Anyway, let’s talk to Ben Worthington from IELTS Podcast. He produces lots of content online for learners of English who are preparing to take this test. He’s been teaching students IELTS for a number of years now.
We’ll start by getting to know Ben a bit (this is the first time I’ve spoken to him actually) and then we’ll get into his advice for preparing and taking the different parts of the test, and I’ll ask him some of those questions sent in by my audience on social media.
Let’s see what we can cover about this big test for learners of English.
You’ll have to wait for part 2 of this episode to hear what Ben has to say about preparing correctly for IELTS.
This is the end of part 1. Remember if you’re interested in using Ben’s online course for getting ready for IELTS, which is called Jump To Band 7 Or It’s Free, go to IELTSpodcast.com and use the code LukeIELTSPodcast15 at checkout to get a 15% discount.
So, we will leave the episode here and you can pick up the rest of the conversation in the next part.
By the way, there was a short quiet period at the end of February, and that’s because I was uploading a lot of LEP Premium episodes. There are now over 30 full episodes with tons of vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation, focusing on teaching you the most common phrases and talking points in English and how to say them all clearly and fluently.
There are now premium episodes about language which came up naturally in conversations I’ve recorded for the podcast. Recently I did ones about the episode I did on Paul Chowdhry. In the premium pipeline I have episodes about the conversation with James, my conversation with Jessica from English Across the Pond and also this episode with Ben. I’ve been noting extracts, vocabulary, grammar, phrasal verbs, idioms as we go.
To sign up for LEP premium just go to teacherluke.co.uk/premium and all the details are there. It’s the equivalent of a cup of coffee a month from you to me, that’s less than 10 cents a day. It’s pretty good value I’d say!
Right, in any case I hope you’re doing well. Fun fact, I’ve been using different microphones while recording episodes recently. All the P11 episodes were with different mics and this one that I’m using now isn’t a usual mic I use for intros and outtros.
My question is, outside of IELTS, can you even notice a difference in the sound because I’m using a different microphone? Can you tell the difference between the different mics I use or does it all sound basically the same? Let me know in the comments section.
And the IELTS conversation will continue in the next episode.
Here’s part two of my interview with the famous linguist Professor David Crystal.
In this one I asked him some questions from my listeners. I didn’t get a chance to ask all the questions I received, so if your question isn’t included then I do apologise. I left out some questions because I think he had already answered them in one way or another, or because we just didn’t have time.
But the questions I did ask him covered quite a wide range of different topics, including the way foreign words get absorbed into English, predictions for the future of English, how to deal with the workload of studying linguistics at university, the nature of English syntax, how languages affect the way we think and see the world, why British people use indirect and polite language, the influence of AI on language learning, the effects of Brexit on English in the world, whether it is appropriate to speak like Ali G, some study tips and some comments on the English of Donald Trump and Barack Obama.
Don’t forget to check out www.davidcrystal.com where you can see a reading list of David’s books, read his blog, see videos of him in action and even contact him by email.
I would just like to thank David for his time again, and I hope all of you out there in podcast land enjoy listening to our conversation.
QUESTIONS FROM LISTENERS
Influence of foreign languages on English
Hamid Naveed (Pakistan) I’m an English language teacher. My question for David Crystal is: www.oald8.com (The Oxford Learners’ Dictionary) has a lot of new words from Urdu such as ‘ badam’ ‘ chai’ ‘ aloo’ ‘ bagh’ ‘ dharna’ and many more. If English keeps on taking words from Urdu or any other language, then what will be the future of English? I mean English will no longer be English. What is your take on this ? Thanks.
Jilmani My question for David Crystal is what is the future of the English language? Will it be the same or will it be a little bit different since we know that english has changed over the decades? How do you think English will develop over the next few years? How will non-native speakers be part of this?
Tips for students of Linguistics
Jairo Trujillo García (from Tenerife) I am studying an English and Spanish linguistics ( and philology ) degree , and even though I like it , it can be really hard at times ; What recommendations would you give me to make the burden of vast information more manageable in the time allotted ?
Cat (Originally from Russia, moved to Germany) I’m very confused about English syntax. I spent many years studying German grammar and syntax but it is of little use for learning English. German and English appear so similar (especially the words) and yet so different (for example, the sentence structure) at the same time. I just feel that something is completely different, but cannot point out the difference. Could you please tell us a little bit about the sentence structure and logic (the syntax) of English? (Perhaps you could compare it to the syntax of other languages) As I don’t like doing grammar exercises at all (I’m sorry!), I was wondering, are there some more enjoyable and fun ways to learn English syntax? Maybe some shortcuts and mnemonics what you can offer us? Also what about the punctuation rules between the main and sub clauses? They can be a real pain in the neck for our transcribers. Thank you! Cat
Language and Psychology
Wesley I have several questions for Prof. David Crystal. The first is whether people who speak different languages think differently, I mean, if they understand and perceive the world in different ways. For example, I’ve heard that while in some places people perceive two colours and give each of them a name, somewhere else there might be others who perceive those same two colours as only one because they have only one name for them. Another example I have in mind is how we position adjectives in a sentence in English compared to in Romance languages. In English, adjectives usually come before the noun they describe. Romance languages, on the other hand, tend to place adjectives after the noun. So in English we first refer to the characteristics of something before we say what it is, and in Romance languages we start with a noun and then describe it. Does it affect, in any way, the way we think? If we learn a second language, do we start to think more like the native speakers of that language? Thank you very much! Wesley
Language and culture
Mayumi (Japan) Why do British people tend to use indirect language, hesitate to say “no” and also frequently say “sorry” in various situations? Is there any story from linguistic history? In my Japanese culture, as far as I know we also find similar tendencies because we’ve lived in this tiny island and if people said whatever they wanted, behaved without caring about other people in this small area, or even argued with each other, they could possibly end up being expelled from this small society. This can be one of the reasons why we have these tendencies as well. This is something stuck in my mind for ages from the university class. Did British people had similar experience when they established their culture or could it be an absolutely different story? Cheers!
The Influence of Technology
Antonio (Spain) My question for David Crystal: Apple, Google, Microsoft and other companies are working on translators in real time based on AI. So we can speak in Spanish with a French person and he will hear French while he speaks in French and we hear Spanish. Skype has this option for 8 languages. What do you think about about the AI related to language learning? Will AI replace our need to learn other languages?
Advice for learners of English
Jack – Origin Unknown
(I don’t know why, but Jack always writes comments on my site in an Ali G dialect. I actually think it’s evidence of how good he is at English, because he can clearly write in normal style, but he chooses to adopt this specific form of English – if he can do that it shows great ability to shift between different registers and dialects – if he can break the rules I presume it means he knows that the rules are there in the first place – for some reason he chooses to write comments in this lingo – are you ready?) I is not that learned but I also has got questions for Professor David Crystal. Dear Sir, Booyakasha, It is a well big honour to have you ere on da podcast, you is da only person me respects in the field of linguists after Norman Chomp The Sky and Stephen The Crasher (Naom Chomsky and Stephen Krashen). What advice would you give to an English language learner to improve his / her language ability? Should the student focus on form (grammar, vocab etc) or should the student focus on meaning and let the subconscious do the rest? Well that`s me questions there Big man. I has to say you is the shining crystal in the field of linguistics. Big up yourself Prof Crystal Respek, Westside.
There was so much interesting content in what David Crystal said in this conversation and so much to take from it. These two episodes are really worth listening to several times so that you can really get a grip on what he said and really absorb it all.
If you sent in a question that I didn’t ask, then I’m sorry about that.
I should do follow-up episode in which I consolidate a lot of what DC said, and highlight various things that you can apply to your whole approach and attitude towards learning English.
Watch out for that.
Check out David’s work at www.davidcrystal.com
He’s got books about grammar, spelling, pronunciation, accents, Shakespeare – pretty much any aspect of English – he’s got it and he always writes in a clear and entertaining style.
I’m not selling his work or anything. It’s just genuinely good stuff that I’d like to share with you. This is why I’m so happy to have spoken to DC on the podcast – he’s ace and you should read his work.
Thanks for listening! I invite you to leave your comments below.
Here’s part 2 of this episode about ways you can push your English to higher levels even if you feel that your progress is stuck or moving very slowly. Click here for part 1 of this episode wp.me/p4IuUx-6Wl
Take a test, do an IELTS or CAE simulation. Speak to people and see how it goes. Try to understand a TV show without help. Read authentic material. Try to do exercises meant for a specific level and see how it feels. Take FCE use of english sample papers. Take the grammar test at the back of Blue Murphy. Download Duolingo and take their level test.
DIALANG is an online diagnostic system designed to assess a person’s proficiency in 14 European languages. Competences tested are reading, writing, listening, grammar and vocabulary, while speaking is excluded for technical reasons.
DIALANG was designed primarily for European citizens to assess their language abilities in adherence to Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference – CEFR – as a basis for determining language proficiency. The CEFR is a widely recognized framework used to describe and measure the language proficiency level of a learner in a particular language.
Practice practice practice practice practice (The 5 ‘P’s)
Practise using it! Again – a language partner on italki can help.
A note about using italki or any 1to1 lessons – make sure you know what kind of teacher you’re looking for. Be clear about what you want from lessons. If you want plenty of speaking, say so – be clear that you want a lot of language feedback. Bring topics yourself. Be imaginative and prepare questions, speaking tasks etc. If you need to do job interviews, ask to do that, and bring some materials to the lessons – e.g. job interview questions. The more involved you are the better. Know exactly what you want before you get into the lessons. In the first lesson or trial lesson, explain what it is you want to practise. This will avoid the trap of just talking aimlessly, or letting the italki teacher talk too much or make it all about them. I think a good italki teacher should do a lot of listening. Make sure you take time to show that you respect them as a teacher and that you’re glad to talk to them, but also make it quite clear what you expect from them.
It’s how you perceive your progress. Where are your priorities? What’s making you feel like you’re not making progress? Perhaps you’re focusing on one thing too much that might not be that important. E.g. you might be frustrated that you can’t lose your accent, but in fact that doesn’t matter too much. Understand that some things will just never be perfect, and realise that you’ve made a lot of progress in other areas. Don’t get caught up on your accent – don’t let one thing hold you back. Keep pushing in other areas too.
Yes we can!
A lot of people just tell themselves they can’t do things.
A student of mine recently told me that she couldn’t speak English. She said “I think I can’t speak. I don’t know why but I just can’t speak English. What do you think?” I said – well, you can speak English because you’re doing it right now. What you mean is that it’s difficult.
When you experience resistance, don’t say “I can’t do this”, just say “this is difficult”. It’s all achievable with practice and the right attitude.
Give yourself little goals, not one big one. Learn English step by step. I know some students who have unrealistic goals, or at least goals that are too high. E.g. I want to become bilingual – it might be possible one day, but at the moment it’s probably best to scale it down to something more achievable, like I want to improve my accuracy, or I want to be able to speak on the telephone about my work more confidently. I want to improve my sales skills in English, for example.
Don’t create a vague goal like “I want to master English”. It’s built for failure.
Create specific goals that will allow you to define a specific set of actions to achieve it.
Goals are pointless unless you have a plan on how to achieve them.
Let’s use the CAE test as a standard. Cambridge English have put a great deal of time and effort into classifying and testing advanced English. Let’s use their test and their assessment criteria to create goals. You’ll see that there are a LOT of goals here! But the point is – they’re specific.
I can/want to/will:
(let’s just use writing and speaking as an example or this will go on forever)
Write a structured ‘for and against essay’ in which I compare two opinions on a subject, write in the appropriate register, use the right linking phrases, develop arguments and give a persuasive point of view.
Write a business email with the appropriate style, including the right opening and closing parts and the appropriate phrases for making requests, agreeing, disagreeing, asking for and giving information.
Write a business report in which I give details of results, numerical data and recommendations for action to be taken.
Write a personal email in a friendly style.
Learn and use the appropriate phrases and style to achieve all those types of writing.
Use a wide range of grammatical structures accurately and with the right amount of control (note that this aim focuses on being able to use the grammar not just understand it)
Use a wide range of vocabulary, especially on abstract areas which are unfamiliar. (again a focus on using vocab not just understanding it)
Produce longer pieces of structured spoken English with little hesitation, e.g. a 1 minute speech on any topic.
Speak clearly and intelligably (not with a perfect British accent!)
Use intonation and sentence stress to help me make a point
Interact naturally in conversation with others, including negotiating things, managing any breakdown in communication. (this is about effective communicative competence and comes from listening as much as from speaking but must be practised in the context of real communication)
You could even break those things down into more specific goals too. E.g. to be able to talk freely about finance, or to be able to write clearly about facts and figures, or simply to be able to say all the numbers and dates without hesitation.
That all might seem a bit challenging, but it has been proven time and time again that breaking down your learning into small yet achievable goals is the way to deal with the challenge.
Step by step
How do you eat an elephant – one spoon at a time. How do you climb a mountain – one step at a time. Don’t try to leap up it. Take it steadily – it’s a long journey but every step is a step in the right direction. Sometimes you take steps backwards and work out where you’ve gone wrong and then find the path again.
Study the grammar again and again and again. Test yourself again and again. Learning a language is difficult. It takes time and effort. Accept that and just keep going day by day. In the end it will all pay off. When I first started teaching English I couldn’t understand a lot of the grammar. I had to study it for ages at the weekend before I taught it, but I learned my own grammar! It helps that I’m a native speaker, but understanding the rules was difficult for me too. Now I know it well and I think it’s because I put the time in and because there was pressure – I had to teach it. Also it’s because I studied and taught the grammar again and again. It’s the same with vocab, and with other areas like listening.
Listen to episodes of the podcast more than once, like this comment from Mayumi
Hi, hope you feel better than the day you recorded this episode. Your voice is kinda sexy like you mentioned and I’ll miss that when your voice is fully recovered, though.;) Anyway, you always keep encouraging us to keep listening even though we have some difficulties to understand everything and listen again. That totally worked this time for me. I’ve repeated last Ian Moore episode maybe 3 or 4 times straight. I could do this because the conversation was just fascinating. Maybe I could understand 70% at first and next time, 80% or more and at the end of this routine, I felt I could get almost everything! After that, I did with different episodes and it went well, too.
Thank you for encouraging us as always and I’m looking forward new episodes.
Enjoy it! Take stock. Enjoy the small victories. See progress as achievable.
Spend some time learning grammar but do it selectively. Use the murphy grammar test to identify things you need to work on. Notice the grammar you’ve been studying in the real world. You’ll start to notice it everywhere.
Don’t get blocked by your grammar knowledge
I suggest studying the grammar, but sometimes you need to know when to just put the grammar rules away and use the force.
Listening and reading a lot are just as important in learning grammar as focusing on the rules. You need to have seen and heard a lot of grammar to be able to judge if something is right or wrong and to make sense of the rules. Always remember to understand and analyse the language in a meaningful context, not just abstract grammar rules. Everything comes back to the way the language is actually used, not the so-called rules on paper. Understanding this can help you study grammar more effectively.
Notice grammar in the real world. Make your own rules. Test them. Check them with the rule book. Keep going.
Writing to get through the Plateau
I should also mention that writing is a really important way to get through the intermediate plateau.
You can use it to help you find errors that you make in your language, correct them and learn to stop making them. Often these errors are simple fossilised mistakes that you know you shouldn’t make. Your own knowledge of the language plus any research you do can help you identify and correct the mistakes, making it less likely that you’ll do it again.
So you can correct yourself by doing some creative writing and then checking it carefully on your own. But also you might need someone to correct your writing or give you feedback. You might have a native speaker, a teacher, an italki teacher or a relative who can check your work, or you can you have your writing corrected through sites like Lang-8 and LingQ.
Different skills in English are connected and mutually beneficial. There are basically 4 skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking, and they’re all connected. There are receptive skills like listening and reading, and then productive skills like speaking and writing. Listening is connected to speaking because it is the oral version of the language, and reading is complementary to writing because of the syntax, the spelling and punctuation.
Writing is also different to speaking in that you have more time to reflect on what you’re putting down. When speaking you have to be spontaneous and it’s linked to body language. Writing is a solo experience and that allows you to think more clearly about the language you’re producing.
Also, as you correct your writing, this will benefit your speaking by giving you an inner monologue which can be converted to speech. All in all, it’s a good idea to practise writing as well as speaking in order to improve your accuracy and fluency.
Enjoy the English you consume and produce. Follow your heart and focus on the aspects of language that you enjoy and that will keep you coming back. Take pleasure in the act of learning a language. Remember that it’s making you a much more rounded and multidimensional person.
Here are some motivational quotes
❝Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can; there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did.❞
❝Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.❞
❝To have another language is to possess a second soul.❞