How do professional actors change the way they speak for different acting roles? What can learners of English take from the way actors do this, in order to apply it to their language learning? In this conversation I speak to Jerome Butler who is a very experienced dialect coach working in the TV and film industry in the USA, and we discuss these questions.
Hi folks, I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been working on the WISBOLEP competition and it is coming soon. I’ll let you know exactly what I’ve decided, I will play you recordings from listeners and you’ll be able to vote and we’re going to find a LEPster to be interviewed on the podcast. So the next installment of Why I Should Be On LEP is coming soon.
Also some premium content is coming. Just a reminder that I recently uploaded a 28-minute video of one of my comedy shows. It’s me doing stand-up comedy in London a couple of years ago. I’d been holding on to that video for a while, but I finally decided it was time to publish it considering I’m not doing any gigs at the moment and I’m not sure when I will be able to. So, premium subscribers – check it out, as well as all the pronunciation videos I’ve uploaded and at least 100 premium episodes. teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo if you want to sign up or know more.
Also you can expect more free episodes, including the next WISBOLEP episode and more conversations with guests.
I’ve been doing a lot of interviews recently as you’ve probably noticed. It’s been a really good run of guests that we have never heard before on the podcast, but I will go back to the old favourites soon enough, with hopefully Amber & Paul making a return and an episode of Gill’s Book Club – the book in question will be 1, 2, 3, 4: The Beatles in Time by Craig Brown – an interesting, recent book which explores the story of the Beatles in various interesting ways. We’ll be doing that in the new year because I’m getting it for Christmas and I’ll need a chance to read it. I think it will basically be a chance for me to talk about The Beatles with my mum and she was a huge fan back in the Beatlemania days and saw them live twice. So, you might want to get that – 1, 2, 3, 4 by Craig Brown. Anyway, onto this episode and this one is all about pronunciation, so get ready to think about accents and changing the way you speak. It goes quite nicely with other episodes like the recent one I did about Key Features of English Accents (682). So the question is, how can you change your accent? Let’s ask a dialect coach.
— Jingle —–
Jerome Butler – Dialect Coach
Hello everyone – here is an episode all about accents and dialects and specifically how to convincingly sound like you come from a different place, with a different accent.
You’re going to hear me in conversation with Jerome Butler who is a dialect coach. Jerome works with actors who need to change the way they speak.
To give you an example of what this means, let’s say I’m an actor from England, and I’ve got a part in a TV show that takes place in the USA in a southern state. Perhaps the film is set in Atlanta or something like that (like in The Walking Dead perhaps) and the character I’m playing was born and grew up in that area, and so I need to change my RP English accent to a general Southern accent from the USA for the filming of the show.
How can I do it? How can I change my voice? How can I consistently speak like I am from a southern state in the USA? Well, I would need a dialect coach, and that is what Jerome does.
Actually, having to change your accent is quite common for actors in the English language TV and film industry. There are loads of famous actors who have successfully changed the way they speak for different roles. I mentioned The Walking Dead before and it is quite a good example – so many of the actors in that show are from the UK but they sound like they could come from Georgia or a neighbouring state. No doubt those actors worked closely with dialect coaches like Jerome.
And it’s not just British actors working in the USA, it’s anyone who normally speaks in one way and needs to learn to speak in another way, and remember the English language is so diverse in terms of accents and dialects across different parts of the world that it’s very common for actors to have to make this kind of change in their work.
Now, talking to Jerome about this is actually a great opportunity for us to listen to someone who has a lot of experience and expertise in helping people change their accents. He’s been doing it for years now and has worked on loads of different film and TV projects and with loads of different actors from different parts of the world. Jerome is amazing actually, and we’re really lucky to have him on the podcast. I really enjoyed talking to him and it was very interesting to find out the specifics of what he does in his job.
For you as learners of English this should be particularly interesting, because the whole point of this conversation is to answer two questions really:
How can actors change their accents and dialects for different roles?
What can learners of English take from the way actors do this, in order to apply it to their language learning?
How can you change your accent?
It’s quite a complicated question as you can expect – it involves many linguistic factors and a lot of work. In just a one-hour conversation we can’t give you all the answers of course. It’s a complex and very personal process, but at least we can get a sort of window into that process by listening to what Jerome has to say.
Let me tell you a bit about Jerome’s CV before we listen to him talking, just so you get an idea of who you are listening to.
Jerome Butler has had a really diverse career working for over 25 years in acting, teaching and dialect coaching. He graduated from The Juilliard School which is one of the most prestigious acting and performance art schools in the USA. Loads of great actors went there, including well-known people like Adam Driver, Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaacs, Anthony Mackie, Robin Williams and plenty of others.
He’s done various acting roles in theatre, TV and film productions even including episodes of Star Trek Voyager and ER but the majority of the work he has done in the industry is that of a dialect coach and if you look at his IMDB page the list just goes on and on, working on various productions with various performers including names you might recognise, like Emily Mortimer, Tom Hardy, Gerard Butler, Robert Downey Jr., Jonathan Pryce, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Impressive, most impressive.
OK so I just dropped a bunch of names on you there, but this episode is not a celebrity gossip type thing. It’s not about that. I’m not asking him to tell us what Robert Downey Jnr is really like. I just wanted to let you know that Jerome is a proper, professional dialect coach who has lots of real industry experience, so he knows what he is talking about.
He’s also taught classes at universities like MIT and has been involved in an artistic rehabilitation program in the California prison system. That’s quite a glittering and diverse CV, and of course now he has reached the high point of his professional career – appearing in an episode of Luke’s English Podcast. Haha.
In this conversation we start by talking about the work he does and what it involves, and the conversation gets more and more specific as it goes, as we try to understand what he does and relate it to your learning of English.
Now, I would also like to say that I think as a learner of English, the decision to change your accent or perhaps I should say the decision to try to sound exactly like a native speaker of English is completely up to you but in the EFL/ESL community this is actually quite a contentious issue. Should learners of English aim to or expect to ultimately sound exactly like native English speakers? People seem to disagree about it.
Even now I can sense, using my jedi force abilities that some of you are saying “yes we should try to sound like native speakers!” whereas others are saying “no, we shouldn’t” and probably most of you are saying “I don’t really know Luke, I haven’t made up my mind!” and a couple of you are saying “Sorry, what was the question?”
Let me repeat it.
Should learners of English spend time and effort on trying to sound exactly like native speakers? Should we all aim for “native level speech” as our ultimate goal? Or is it better to keep your accent when you speak English because this is all part of who you are and it’s perhaps even damaging to set such high standards?
These are questions that are often discussed and people continue to disagree on the answers.
To an extent it is a question of personal choice – people can do whatever they like and if sounding like a native speaker is your personal goal, then fine. Some people manage to do it really well.
One thing’s for sure – nobody can argue against the importance of intelligibility – being understandable and clear, but exactly who you should sound like seems to be up to you.
But anyway, I felt I should mention this whole argument in the introduction here, and Jerome mentions it too before going on to describe the specifics of how someone could shift their accent.
Also keep listening to hear Jerome start training me to speak in that southern American accent that I mentioned earlier. Can he help me learn to speak like I’m in The Walking Dead and I’m from a southern state like Georgia or Tennessee or South Carolina or maybe even Alabama?
OK, I will talk to you again at the end in order to recap and sum up some of the main points that are made in this conversation. But now, let’s start this conversation with me in Paris and Jerome Butler across the Atlantic in New York City.
So, that was dialect coach Jerome Butler. Thank you again to Jerome for all that information he gave us.
So, for me that was fascinating and also reassuring to know that Jermoe uses more or less the same methods and approaches in the TV and film industries as I use in my English teaching. I think Jerome gave us some really valuable insights into how people can change their accents. As I said before, this is a huge and complex subject so we only scratched the surface here.
If you’d like to know more from Jerome and use the tools he mentioned then visit his website, which is dialectcoachescorner.com/ You can create a free profile there and then start exploring and practising. It is for a general American English accent though, as Jerome pointed out.
Let me now just recap and sum up the main bits of advice in that conversation. If you found it a bit difficult to follow or to pick out all the specifics, this summary should help.
Summarising Advice from this conversation
Learn the phonemic script because it will help you become more aware of the different sounds that are used in English. There are apps you can use to do this. Check “Sounds” by Macmillan. This will really help you to identify and then produce specific sounds that are used in English → British English in the case of that. “Sounds” contains various tasks that will help you learn the sounds, practise recognising them, transcribing words phonetically and more. The full name is “Sounds: The Pronunciation App” and the best way to download it is from the Macmillan website www.macmillaneducationapps.com/soundspron/
Categorise words by the different sounds – for example, what is the vowel sound in the stressed syllable of the word?
You can take all the vowel sounds – monophthongs and diphthongs and consider them to be categories. Try putting different words into those categories.
Vowel sounds would be good.
Also certain consonant sounds like voiced and unvoiced pairs, TH sounds and so on. Also, -ED endings for regular verbs.
A textbook like Ship or Sheep by Ann Baker can help because in that book all the different vowel sounds are listed chapter by chapter and you can practise recognising, categorising and repeating words with those sounds.
Mechanical practise is important. Repetition is the mother of skill – I think that’s the phrase that Jerome used. It’s reassuring to know this – and he’s a man with a proven track record of results. He knows that to help someone change the way they speak it is a combination of heightening your awareness of the different sounds and how they are made, then mechanical practise with those sounds until they “enter your body” and you acquire the ability to quickly switch between the categories and quickly work out how to say words in the accent you have chosen.
So, again, practise identifying which sound is used – practise categorising words over and over again.
Then practise saying these words by repeating after someone. Again – Ship or Sheep can help because there is an audio CD. Other books or websites may be available.
But there are many things to take into account. It’s not just vowel sounds. If I’d had more time with Jerome we might have got onto other things like intonation, connected speech, elision of sounds, sentence stress, weak forms and all that stuff.
It can be hard to do it on your own so you might also need a personal coach of some kind, like a one to one teacher who can work closely with you.
Let me point you towards Jerome’s website again dialectcoachescorner.com/ where you can contact Jerome, create a free account to access all the resources and more. Remember, that is if you are looking for a general American accent, or perhaps more specific regional accents in the USA. For British English, well of course I’d recommend my premium subscription!
So, work with someone, work with resources designed to help you with this.
Alternatively, you can practise simply repeating after someone whose accent you want to copy.
If you want to copy my accent, you can repeat words and sentences after me.
Do this either by shadowing – just try to repeat as you listen, or perhaps pause and repeat.
Or you can use the pronunciation drills in my premium episodes, because they are designed to help you repeat after me and I focus my attention on things like sentence stress and other specific features.
Practise practise practise.
Have fun with it too.
But also remember that it is a question of personal choice. Please don’t feel that you have to sound exactly like a native speaker. In my opinion, it is totally fine and reasonable to retain traces of your native language when you speak English. That’s part of who you are. Like Jerome said, perhaps the only reason to completely lose all trace of your first language in your English accent is if you are an actor or a spy.
Also, I think it requires a lot of time, dedication and effort to work on your accent to the same level as a professional actor. This isn’t always a realistic proposition for learners of English who are also busy in their lives. So, working on being clear is the main thing and if you have a regional accent in English, that’s fine – it’s part of who you are, just like someone from Liverpool has a Liverpool accent, someone from Glasgow has a Glasgow accent, someone from Essex has an Essex accent – you can have an accent from your country, as long as people understand you.
It’s all a question of personal choice at the end of the day – but there it is, I think speaking to Jerome shows us that there are ways of working on the way that you sound, if you are prepared to put in the time and the effort.
I also wonder sometimes if some people are more naturally talented at changing their pronunciation than others, but that is a question I’m not completely able to answer at this moment. What do you think? Do you think some people are naturally better than others at matters of pronunciation?
A Few Expressions in the Episode
My tongue is firmly in my cheek – This just means he’s not being serious. He said calling himself a dialect coach would mean he’d get paid more.
We’re splitting hairs – To split hairs means to make very specific and unnecessary distinctions between things. Jerome could be called an accent coach or a dialect coach and it doesn’t matter – although to be specific, dialect refers to the words and the grammar, and accent refers to the pronunciation.
I’m not going to go into the weeds – This means getting deeply involved in very specific details. He’s not going into all the complex details, he’s just giving us a simple overview.
This episode of Luke’s English Podcast is sponsored by Luke’s English Podcast Premium. Premium LEPlanders, did you know that in the LEP App, as well as the category for premium audio episodes, there’s a category called Pronunciation Videos? Did you know that? There are currently 13 pronunciation videos in there with drills for you to repeat after me with annotations on the screen, plus a new video which I created and uploaded just the other day – a set of pronunciation drills for present perfect simple and continuous. I just thought I would let you know. I’m also working on a new premium audio series which is coming soon, so keep checking the premium category in your LEP App and also on my website. If you’d like to become a premium listener, then go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
Hello listeners, how are you today? I hope you’re basically doing alright.
Sometimes I get messages from people who say things like this:
“Luke, when you talk on the podcast, are you talking at your normal speed, because I can understand everything you say” and “Can you speak at your normal speaking speed on the podcast please? Because we want to hear natural, fast speech – like the way native speakers usually speak.”
OK then. Actually, I think I do speak at my normal speed on this podcast more or less, most of the time, but as I’ve said before it’s probably easier for you to understand me when I’m talking on my own than when I’m talking to a guest. My conversations with guests tend to speed up. As you may have noticed.
But if you are one of those listeners who is looking for English listening at a fast, natural speed, then this kind of episode (that’s this one, that you’re listening to right now) is for you, because the conversation I’m presenting this time goes at a really rapid pace.
My guest and I got quite carried away during this conversation, which does happen when I speak to guests. We didn’t see the time passing and we covered a lot of different little topics with some bits of humour thrown in and we weren’t simplifying our English throughout. It’s just like when you’re talking to your friends in your native language I expect.
Basically, listeners – are you up for another English listening challenge? If the answer is “yes” then, great. Here you are. Here is this episode.
But it might be difficult, so brace yourself. It depends on your level of English of course. Maybe you’ll have no problem understanding this at all. But I think for some people, it might be a challenge.
Nevertheless, I’m not going to explain all the main points you are going to hear in advance, like I do sometimes at the start of episodes – that kind of explaining can be very helpful, but I’m not doing it this time, mainly because I want to keep the episode length under control – I don’t want it to end up being tooooo long. In fact, I’m going to stop this introduction in a moment and just let you listen to the conversation in full without loads of support from me. You’ll be alright. You’ll be fine.
My guest this time is Kate Billington, who you haven’t heard on this podcast before – so another new voice for you to get to know.
Kate does a lot of different things – she speaks multiple languages. British English is her mother tongue but she also speaks Chinese, French, Spanish too I believe. She is an English teacher like me. She makes cakes at a professional level (unlike me – I’m not great at making cakes but I’m very good at eating them) But Kate is a pro. I mean she is a professionally-qualified cake maker. She has a particular set of skills as you will hear – and watch out for some descriptions of some classic British cake recipes. Kate is a stand-up comedian (yes, another one), and she is interested in lots of other things too, as you will hear.
Kate and I really enjoyed this conversation. I hope you do too and that you just get really involved in listening to us and that you don’t see the time passing. If you do lose track of what we’re talking about at any point, which is quite possible, maybe use your podcasting app to skip back a bit and listen again.
If it is difficult, all I can do now is just encourage you to complete the episode from start to finish, even if you don’t get 100% of what we’re saying. It’s important when learning a language to persevere. It’s worth it. Anyway, if you simply enjoy the atmosphere and the things we say, hopefully that will make things much more pleasant for you.
Remember you don’t have to listen to the whole thing in one go. If you need to stop at any point, your podcast app will remember where you were and you can just carry on again later, which is one of the great things about podcasts.
The icing on the cake
Juuuust before we start, I feel I should explain one idiom in English which comes up near the beginning. “The icing on the cake”
I was thinking of calling this episode “The Icing on the Cake with Kate Billingon” but then I thought “no, people don’t know what that means”. But I want to explain it anyway because it does come up and you’re here to learn English, right?
If you say that something is “the icing on the cake” it means that it is something extra that is added to an already good situation, which makes it even better.
You have a situation which is already good, and then you add a little extra something to make that situation even better.
“The episode was good – but that joke that Kate told at the end was the icing on the cake”.
This is an idiom in English of course. It’s not only used to refer to cakes.
Icing is a sugary frosting which is added as a thin layer on top of a cake. So, the icing on top of a cake is an extra little layer of yummy sweet stuff which is added, making it even better. A cake is already amazing, right? Well, adding icing on top makes it even more amazing.
For exmaple: “It was incredible seeing Neil Young doing a concert in Hyde Park but Paul McCartney arriving on stage at the end of the show was the icing on the cake.”
This idiom comes up at the start. Watch out for it.
OK, I’m going to stop this introduction now. So let’s meet Kate Billington for the first time on Luke’s English Podcast, and here we go…
So, that was Kate Billington in an epically long conversation. Thanks again to Kate.
Hello you! You made it until the end. Nice one. How was that for you? I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
If this episode was a cake, what kind of cake would it be?
Maybe a long fruit cake – rich, quite heavy, fruity, made in the run up to Christmas, very British and best enjoyed with copious amounts of brandy.
Or maybe you found it more like a Victoria sponge cake – light, fluffy, sweet and moreish.
Or perhaps a battenburg cake – it looks like one solid whole, but when you get into it you realise that it’s made up of different sections.
Anyway, thank you for listening all the way up to this point.
Let us know any thoughts or reactions you have by writing something in the comment section on the website.
How was this episode for you?
Did you learn anything from it?
Do you have any specific questions about vocab that came up?
Do you have any thoughts that you’d like to share?
Do you have any thoughts in your head, generally? (I hope so)
Check out the page for this episode on my website where you will see things like transcriptions for my introduction and this ending bit, plus pictures of most of the cake types and pastry types that we talked about → Victoria sponge, fruit cake, Battenberg cake (aka window cake) plus some lovely French things like croissants, pain au chocolate and more.
Kate Billington on Instagram
Check out Kate’s Instagram to see lots of lovely pictures of lovely delicious cakes that she has made – yum yum yum and indeed, yum.
Also you can check out Comedy Croissant on Instagram & Facebook, especially if you are in the Paris area and you’d like to come to one of the shows when they eventually come back. And as I record this ending bit France is again under strict lockdown measures, which means the comedy shows are not happening for the foreseeable future, but when they’re back, which they will be one day, you’ll know about it if you follow Comedy Croissant on Facebook.
LEP App users – There is a little outtake in the app (extra audio – just in case you didn’t get enough from this episode) – tap the gift icon while listening to the episode and you’ll hear a couple of bonus minutes of Kate and me talking about some blue bookends that I have in my pod-room. Bookends are things you put on the end of shelves to stop the books falling off. Usually they are rectangular in shape, but also L shaped – because part of the bookend has to go under the books. My blue bookends, which you might have seen in my videos, look like the Tardis from the TV show Doctor Who. The Tardis looks like a blue telephone box. Doctor Who fans will know. If you’d like to hear us talking about my Tardis-shaped bookends and whether I am a proper Whovian (Doctor Who fan) or not, then find the gift icon for this episode in the LEP app and tap it!
Posh, or not posh? Gap yah, etc…
Another thing is, if you are wondering about posh people – how to know if someone is posh, what a posh accent sounds like, and that whole “Gap Yah” thing, then go to the episode archive and find the “Posh or not posh” episodes – 581, 582 and 584. They should explain everything relating to poshness and how posh people speak.
Thank you again to Kate for this episode. Thanks Kate.
Dear listener, I will speak to you again soon on the podcast in either a free episode or a premium one (I’m working on more content for you), and yes the next part of the WISBOLEP competition is on it’s way. I am working on that too.
Thank you for choosing to listen to my podcast.
If you are feeling up for it you could leave a nice review for LEP on iTunes – it helps the podcast appear in those recommended lists and things. Like and subscribe and leave a comment if you’re listening on YouTube. Consider donating to support the podcast by clicking a donate button on my website. Download the Luke’s English Podcast app from the app store and consider becoming a premium lepster by going to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
And finally, please remember to be excellent to each other, stay safe, stay healthy, stay positive.
This is a weird period of history in which we are living? I hope you’re getting on ok. Here in France the government has just put some new lockdown restrictions in place and we’re all trying to work out what they really mean. I don’t want to go on about covid on this podcast too much, except to say “hang in there everyone” and keep calm and carry on. Check out my episode from earlier this year which is all about language for talking about lockdown and dealing with lockdown, including the word lockdown, if you’re wondering what that is.
Here’s an episode in which I’m on my own, doing a bit of housekeeping – general podcast admin. I’m mainly going to talk about the WISBOLEP competition (as you can see from the title of the episode), but also I’m going to ramble about a few other things too including teaching you a bit of English – just some simple advice about making polite requests, also an inspiring message from a listener and maybe a song on the guitar at the end, we will see.
I’m publishing this episode hot on the heels of the last episode, which was my conversation with Christian from Canguro English (LEP686). Have you heard that? I only published it a few days ago and conventional podcasting wisdom says that you shouldn’t publish another episode so quickly after the last one, because the last one will sort of get ignored, lost, forgotten or sidelined as people won’t notice it and it won’t get as many listens as it should.
I think it’s a good episode, so if you haven’t heard it – be sure to listen to episode 686 with Christian. There’s also a video version of it on YouTube. It’s had a great response with people saying generally positive things, which is nice. Some people are requesting more video content. My position on this is that most of my content will always be audio, because that’s what I do – I make audio content, but every now and then I’ll do video versions of episodes and stick them on YouTube as well. OK. So subscribe to LEP on YouTube to make sure you get notified when I publish a video episode. I’ll probably tell you on the podcast too.
Also the episode before last has had some really interesting comments on the website. That was the episode about bilingual children in which we heard Alex in Moscow and his daughter Alice. Very interesting to read the comments from LEPsters or LEPlanders who are also bringing up their kids to speak English. Go to the episode archive and find 685 and read the comments. It’s all interesting stuff. I will do more of those bilingual kids episodes at some point. It’s a bit hard to mentally keep track of everything. There are a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous – a lot strands in this old dude’s head, man.
The deadline for sending in your entries was 15 October, so that’s long gone. One person is now freaking out.
The results aren’t ready yet or anything. You still have to vote for your favourites and all that – “how can we vote?” Steady on, the voting’s not ready yet either. All in good time.
All the recordings are sitting there in my inbox and I haven’t had a proper chance to work on the next stage of the competition yet. Things take time around here, you know how it is.
First of all I should say that it was great to get all the entries. I’ve managed to listen to almost all of them. I should say that it’s amazing to hear the voices of some of my listeners (some of them – obviously only a tiny portion of you sent in recordings because the vast majority of you are ninjas as we know, and that’s fine). It’s inspiring to hear little snippets of people’s stories of learning English, with the help of this podcast in many cases. That’s also quite flattering – that’s not the point of it all of course – just to flatter me or something. The point was to encourage you to step out of your comfort zone a little bit and record something and send it in, to celebrate my audience a bit and also to just find a new guest with an interesting story to tell in an episode of the podcast. I want to say well done for everyone who plucked up the courage to record a sincere entry into the competition. Some of them are particularly inventive and… well, you will see.
It’s going to be very difficult to choose a winner, because there are quite a lot of really interesting people and I’m sure you are going to want to hear more from many of them.
But the thing is, I have a bit of a problem. We have a bit of a problem with this competition. It’s a logistical issue. Logistical refers to the organisation of something complicated.
It’s not a major problem. It’s not like a Tom Cruise jump out of a plane to save-the-world Mission Impossible to problem or anything – no explosions. It’s quite a good problem really, but still, I’ve been scratching my head and wondering what to do about it.
What’s the problem Luke?
The problem is… I’ve had 100 entries – each one 2 minutes in length – that’s about 200 minutes in total, and that’s about 3 and a half hours if I play all the entries back to back without any pause or comment from me between them and without any introduction from me, and I will have to do some kind of introduction at the start, and it will also be necessary for me to say the names of each person again plus maybe one or two other things to help you remember them.
So, 200 minutes or 3.5 hours, plus an introduction in which I explain the voting rules etc, and little comments from me – that’s at least 4 hours of audio.
It’s too much, isn’t it? It’s too much audio for me to expect everyone to listen to. And I need everyone to listen to it all because I want to do some kind of fair voting process for this. Hmmm.
I like doing long episodes, but this goes beyond that, especially since I would like every single two-minute entry to be heard and you’ll need to remember which one or ones are your favourites in order to vote for them on my website.
Imagine a presidential election with 100 candidates, all presenting themselves to you one after the other. You’d never remember who they were, even if they were all extraordinary.
So this is the issue. Too many entries. It’s become a bit of a logistical nightmare.
It’s my fault. I take full responsibility of course. I set the 2-minute time limit for each recording because I thought you’d need that long to say something meaningful.
What did I expect though? For some reason I thought not many people would enter, but I don’t know why I thought that. I should have known that I’d get at least 100 entries!
Anyway, what’s the problem? You might think.
Let’s go through the options I have ahead of me now and we’ll see.
Why am I telling you this?
Transparency – I want everyone to know what’s going on, so that I don’t get loads of messages from people asking my why I’m doing it this way, and not that way and why didn’t you do this, and I thought you would do that, and I’m disappointed with this and why didn’t you play my recording, and I thought you’d play them all, and I was disappointed by the last Star Wars film and English is too complicated because the spelling and pronunciation are weird and there are too many accents and why can I understand you Luke but I don’t understand other native speakers and can you explain the Russian Joke and why why why and all that kind of stuff.
To avoid confusion and questions, I want you to know the situation like I do.
Also I’m curious to see what you think and I would like you to tell me your thoughts because it can help me make the right decision. (although to be honest I think I’ve already made up my mind)
I’d like to have some input from you but ultimately, I do maintain supreme executive power, so I will still do what I personally think is best, but nevertheless, I am interested in your ideas and I want you to know my decision making process.
Some of you will think this is all unnecessary and that I’m overthinking it, but I disagree. I think it’s necessary and I’m applying the appropriate amount of thinking and talking time to this. So there.
The main things we need to do are:
I want you, the audience, to be able to hear all the entries that have been sent to me (because I think people sent them to me with the understanding that they would be published for public scrutiny) and I want you to be able to vote for your favourites, rather than it just being a solo decision from me.
I would like to give an introduction before playing all the entries, because there are things I need to say about the voting process and stuff like that. Also I would like to make one or two little comments after some or all of the entries, as well as repeating the names of the contestants. All those things will increase the time this will all take, of course – so we’re looking at 4hours plus in total.
Then, based on the voting by you the audience, I will interview the winner. There might be a couple of runners up too, we will see.
I want to do this in a way which is fair, and which gives everyone an equal chance (because I am committed to maintaining some democratic standards in this world!)
Here are the different options which I’m considering. None of them are perfect, because of the whole “too many entries” issue. (by the way, saying “too many” does sound negative, but like I said before, this is quite a good problem in a sense. It’s a bit like having too much chocolate in your cupboard or something, or too much cake. Oh we’ve got too much cake! When and how will we eat it all? We can’t throw it away can we?) You see? Yes, you see. The cake metaphor is good.
So, the options I’m considering. And I’ll say right now that I think I’m going to choose option 4. Anyway, here we go.
I play all the entries (in alphabetical order, or chronological order) in one single epically long episode – probably about 4 hours long or more.
Problem: This is obviously far too long and just not a practical length for one single episode of the podcast. The chances are, people will not listen to the whole thing and most of the entries will not be heard and so the voting will be unfair.
I play all the entries, but in a series of episodes (that all get uploaded on the same day). It would probably be 5 or 6 episodes → Introduction, WISBOLEP 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5. 20 entries in each episode. Each episode is about 45 minutes long.
Problem: It’s more or less the same as option 1. Will people listen to all the entries? The people in parts 4 and 5 might not get as much attention as the ones in the first part.
Also, I have to say that I have to be a bit careful about what I publish to my podcast feed.
Dropping 5 episodes of only competition entries into my podcast feed is not the greatest idea – and I say that as a podcaster and podcasters must be fairly careful about what they publish. I have to be honest, I think that the majority of my audience aren’t that invested in the competition and the entries.
I have a survey on my website asking people to vote for their favourite types of episode (find it in the CONTANT section) and this kind of episode – competition entries from listeners – is actually the least popular type of episode that I do. I like doing them, but I have to make sure I do it right. I think the reason this type of episode got low votes in my survey is because the last time I did this (YEP competition) I published all the entries from round 1 (8 episodes in total, all in a row) and it probably wasn’t what a lot of people wanted in their podcast feed. I shouldn’t really do that again.
I choose what I think are the best entries and create a shortlist of something like 20 entries, and play them in one episode, and let people vote on just those 20.
Problem: 80 people’s entries just get rejected and never get played or published in any way, which is a pity and I think that would disappoint about 80 people who took the time to record something thinking that it would appear on LEP. I don’t think I ever said that all the entries were guaranteed to be played on the podcast, but I may have given that impression.
This would essentially solve the main problem of there being too many entries, but I don’t really want to just just chuck 80 recordings in the bin. Those people recorded them expecting them to be heard by more than just me.
I create two rounds of voting.
The first round is done on the website only, meaning that all the entries are posted on my website but not played in an episode of the podcast.
That way, the people who really want to listen to all the entries and vote for them, can do it by going to the website and listening there. I would probably post all the audio as an unlisted YouTube video because I can create time stamps for each entry, making it easier for you to find them and hear them.
So, the episodes would all be available for listening on the website (so they are made publically available) and people can vote for their favourites there. The winners of the first round could be decided by a combination of votes from listeners and my own choices.
Round 2 would be something like the most popular 20 entries from round 1 and all of them would be played in an episode of the podcast.
This would make it much easier for the whole audience to vote.
The winner of round 2 would be interviewed on the podcast.
It might be possible for some runners up to be featured too.
So, which option do you prefer?
To be honest, I’m leaning towards option 4. I think I’m going to choose option 4 but I’d also like to run it by you to see what you all think.
The chances are, you’ll all have different opinions and different advice, which is fine.
I get the final say and you’ll just have to trust me on that.
Let me just recap
Option 1 – one mammoth 4 hour episode with all the entries. No.
Option 2 – one mammoth 5-part WISBOLEP series. I don’t fancy it.
Option 3 – I choose the top 20 entries and publish them, and just bin the rest, never to be heard by the public.
Option 4 – Put all the entries on the website and those people who want to listen to every single one, can do it, and they can vote too.The most popular 20 (let’s say) will then be published in a single WISBOLEP episode for the second round of voting. The selection process will be based on a combination of the listener voting and my own judgement (which will probably be more or less the same I expect).
Again, some of you might say I’m overthinking this whole thing. But I’m just trying to do it properly and fairly.
I think I’m going to choose option 4, but as I said, let me know your thoughts.
You might have an idea for an option 5 for example, so feel free to share that.
But do bear in mind that I also have to limit the time and cost that is involved on my side for this.
For example, if your idea for Option 5 could be for me to do a YouTube live stream in which I play all the entries one by one, with some comments from me… well, that could be fun, but it would also mean me live streaming on YouTube for a lot more than 4 hours probably, and it’s rare that I ever get 4 free consecutive hours in my life these days! So, that would just not be practical from my side. [Do it at night!] No, sorry. I need my beauty sleep.
My name is Luke not Luck / look / Mr Luke / luke (lower case L) or Luke’s
I’ve been doing this for 11.5 years, nearly 700 episodes (a lot more in fact) and I’m still talking about how to spell my name (I remember saying this in episode 1 of the podcast).
People often spell my name Luck → but maybe it’s autocorrect!
Proofread your emails and comments before you send them! (advice for us all)
So this whole “Luck English Postcard” thing might just be a conspiracy by computers and phones that are “just trying to make the world a better place” by helping us with our spelling (and yes, “postcard” is often what people type when they mean podcast – maybe that’s because they think the word is postcard – it is the sort of word people learn in lower-level English classes, or it’s because your computer doesn’t have very good English and it’s “helpfully” autocorrecting podcast to postcard. I don’t know.)
Having said that, I remember many many times when I was actually called Luck, look, ruku or rook or whatever by learners from around the world that I have met, but again that’s probably because it’s hard to pronounce Luke, or people don’t realise that Luke is a name and they think my name is Luck.
For example, if I was learning Chinese or Russian or any other language with words that look different to English I am sure I would make similar errors and worse probably. I do it in French.
Basically, what I’m saying is I forgive you. But please do remember to proofread your emails and comments. ;)
Making Polite Requests
Another language point here with reference to people getting in touch with me: making requests.
People often request certain things from me. Like for example they’re very keen to hear me talk about a certain topic.
Luke, make an episode about Peaky Blinders.
Luke, do more videos.
Luke, publish an episode about Ricky Gervais.
Honestly, when I read that, probably in the queue at the supermarket or something, my first reaction is “no”. “No-one tells me what to do! … well, except maybe my daughter, and my wife, and my boss at work, and the government, and.. well ok fine, some people tell me what to do, but you get the point.”
Even though I would quite like to do an episode about Peaky Blinders, or Ricky Gervais and I like doing videos when I can.
My first, stressed out, overloaded mind, trying to not catch COVID reaction is “no – don’t tell me what to do!”
I think this is just because of the way the request has been presented to me.
In most cases, when people request things from me, I am sure they are being very well-meaning and there is no malice behind it at all, quite the opposite. They’re showing their enthusiasm and it’s motivated by positive feelings. They like the podcast and would love to hear something about Peaky Blinders or whatever it is.
What I’m saying is, think about how you word your requests.
Think of the difference between a request and an order (or an imperative).
Requests are polite (they should be), orders are not really polite. Orders are what the police do, for example. “Get in the back of the van!”
I could get into the fine details and all the linguistic specifics, but this is not LEP Premium, so let’s just keep it simple.
Order / imperative
Make an episode about Ricky Gervais.
Even your boss at work doesn’t use imperatives.
“Write this report and send it to me by 5pm Friday, and also come in to work on Sunday, we need you.” –> if you work in a horrible place with a boss who doesn’t care about your feelings even a little bit.
Usually bosses will at least sugarcoat their requests a little bit, to help the medicine go down.
“If you could wrap up this report and ping it to me by end of play on Friday, that would be great, and I’m afraid you’re going to have to come in on Sunday – there’s nothing we can do about it – I’ll see if I can get you a day off later in the year maybe.”
Let’s consider how to turn an imperative into a simple and polite request.
Luke, make a new video with Amber and Paul.
You could add a “please” to that, because we all know that adding please makes it more polite, right?
Luke, please make a new video with Amber and Paul.
That’s better, but adding please to an order isn’t enough. It is still an order, and it just sounds like you are a rich person giving commands to a member of staff or something.
Also, adding thanks at the end makes it sound a bit dismissive and a little bit rude even.
Luke, please reunite the Beatles on the podcast. Thanks.
Saying thanks for something before it’s been done, I think, sounds a bit pushy. It’s like assuming it’s going to be done.
We sometimes write “Thanks in advance” at the end of an email with a request, but it can still come across as a bit pushy. [Thinks: I need to do an online course about writing emails…]
The issue is with the structure. Any imperative structure still sounds quite rude even if you add lots of stuff at the start or end, because it is still an imperative. It’s still an order.
Luke, please consider making an episode about James Bond. [good, you’ve added “please consider” – a nice bit of hedging but you’re still ordering me to do it.]
Luke, if you have time, please consider making an episode about James Bond. [“If you have time” is a thoughtful thing to add, but again this is still an order.]
Both those things are better, but this is still not what I’m looking for.
What are you looking for Luke?
You need to make your request into a question. To cut a long story short I just recommend that you add “Could you” at the start and “please” at the end. That’s it. That’s probably enough, probably. Don’t forget the question mark.
Luke, could you make an episode about Ricky Gervais please?
This is much better. It just comes across as much more polite and nice and I don’t feel like I’m being ordered to do something. I’m more willing to have an instantly positive response to that.
Even better would be a bit more hedging (adding things before or after the main statement), just to show more respect.
You don’t have to go too far.
Luke, your podcast is a work of genius unrivalled in all forms of art, culture and human endeavor, and I am certain that in your infinite wisdom have you have considered all possible topics for an episode of your esteemed podcast. Having said that, and I pose this most humble of requests to you with the deepest level of respect, sir, would it be at all possible if you could consider spending even a tiny speck of your most valuable time on the consideration of an episode devoted to the subject of Richard Gervais. I am certain that you would bring new insights and depth to this topic, and that all other commentary on it would pale in comparison to the profound work that you would undoubtedly produce.
That’s obviously too much.
But you could do this:
Hi Luke, thanks for your episodes. I particularly enjoy the ones about comedy, especially the one you did about Karl Pilkington. Could you do an episode about Ricky Gervais at some point, please? I’d really like to hear your thoughts on his stand up and TV shows. Don’t know if you’ve already considered that, but it would be really interesting to hear your thoughts.
Or, more simply – Luke, could you do an episode about Ricky Gervais please?
I know online culture is to just put things in the simplest and quickest way possible, but let’s not abandon the pragmatics of politeness in the process.
This is not just me by the way – I’m not just ultrasensitive or anything – this is a cultural thing and I think it’s true across the English speaking world.
Some of you might think that my comments here are waaaay too much and that it’s completely mad, unnecessary and over-sensitive to phrase your requests like this, but if you want my professional opinion I’d say → this is the right way to do it.
And that’s it.
Just to recap. If you are requesting something from me, just add “Could you…” at the start and “please?” at the end. Nice one.
Inspiring message from Daniel ER on Facebook
Dear luke, [actually it should be Luke with a captal L :) ]
I´m not sure whether you will have time to read this comment but here it goes anyway.
Three years ago, I got a ticket to Australia. With no English at all, I was determined to have an amazing adventure, live in another country, and obviously, learn English.
To be honest, it was really hard at the beginning. I had to play music in the street to earn some cash and I felt bad when I couldn´t say what I thought to the kind people of Australia.
Six months went by like nothing so I grabbed my backpack and accordion and took a road trip towards the north of Australia (Queensland).
I could [was able to] get a job in a resort as maintenance and although I [‘ve] gotta say that Australian English “is a thing”, all of them helped with my English, they were really patient with me.
Most of the time I was sad: People speak too fast, where is that accent from? What do you mean by “smoko” mate? It was then when I found your podcast. I had lots of time to listen to Spotify while I was fixing something at the resort so I took advantage of that. This really helped me a lot, I couldn´t be more grateful. I won´t forget episode 297 called “be positive” as I listened to it just on time, just when I was feeling that this fight wasn´t worth it.
Now, being fully aware that my English is not the best one, it is at least functional and that´s the point of all this, isn´t it? We must keep improving but at the end of the day you should be nicer to yourself, I mean that we have to recognize the achievements done so far.
I am back in my country (Chile) and I could [was able to] get an amazing job in which I speak English all day long, and you don´t know how awesome that is to me.
I honestly believe that maybe you are not fully aware of what do you actually do… you help people to achieve their dreams so be proud of all your efforts because we – your listeners- will be eternally grateful.
If someone out there is reading this comment and you are feeling frustrated and sad, just keep going! You can do this, it is not impossible and you have everything you need to learn this beautiful language. The key, in my opinion, you must be willing to go through the tough and uncomfortable moments that are on this path. You will remember them since they are the ones that teach us most. (quite sure I wrote that badly hahaha)
Thanks a lot for everything and I´ll certainly be listening to the podcast.
An episode exploring the subject of how to raise a child to speak English. I speak to Alex, an English teacher from Moscow about how he has been speaking exclusively in English to his 4-year-old daughter Alice since she was born. Let’s find out how it’s going.
Just in case you don’t know. My name is Luke and this is my podcast for learners of English all around the world. Welcome.
Just a reminder at the start here that this podcast is made possible thanks to donations from listeners and the paid premium subscription that you can sign up for in order to get access to over 100 episodes all devoted to helping you improve your grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. The library is growing all the time as I publish new premium stuff, and I am currently working on some new episodes which I hope to record and publish soon. Being a Premium LEPster means you get access to all that content, as well as the free stuff, and it also means that you support this whole project too. To get all the information, including the very reasonable prices just go to teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
One other thing – there’s a big vote coming up, a very important election in which one person is going to be chosen and it’s all very tense and historic – everyone’s talking about it – yes that’s right I’m referring to the WISBOLEP competition on LEP (what else?) I just wanted to mention this because people have been asking about it. The competition is closed now and I am working on the next stage of it, which will be to let you hear all the competition entries and then let you vote for your favourites, then based on the results of that vote, I’ll choose a LEPster to be interviewed on the podcast. I can tell you that there have been lots of strong entries so it will be difficult to choose just one person, but that’s what we have to do. So, stay tuned to LEP to hear an episode with everyone’s 2 minute speeches in which they try to convince you to pick them for LEP. That’s coming soon, when I’ve worked out how to manage it all. It’s coming in any case. Right, that’s that then, and now it’s time to start this episode properly, and here is the jingle!
Jingle – You’re listening to Luke’s English Podcast, for more information visit teacherluke.co.uk
Hello and welcome back to the podcast everyone.
This is the first in a series of episodes called Raising Bilingual Children, and it is about exactly that – the topic of bringing up children to speak several languages, or more specifically bringing up children who speak English as well as another language.
Ever since my daughter was born nearly 3 years ago I have been meaning to talk about the topic of raising bilingual children, or at least raising children who speak English fluently.
My podcast is mainly here to help my listeners improve their English, but a lot of you out there have kids and naturally your thoughts turn to them and their English.
I have had lots of requests from listeners asking me to talk about this topic, so that’s why this series exists, this being the first proper episode on the topic. I’m not sure how often I’ll be doing these, but it’s a topic I plan to return to in various ways in the future.
Maybe you have children and you want them to speak fluent English as well as another language. This is for you if that is the case. Maybe you don’t have children yet, but you might in the future, in which case you are thinking about how to help your future children learn English. We know that starting early is so important in language development. So, it’s certainly useful to have an awareness of this topic so you can do the right things when children come into your life.
Or maybe for you, having children is not a concern, because you’re not going to have children or you’ve already done it, but I still hope this will be interesting for you, because ultimately it is all about learning English and certain essential principles related to doing that.
The topic of raising bilingual children is massive. I am by no means an expert on this specifically, although it’s something I’ve been reading about, thinking about, talking about and also I’ve been doing it myself because I am raising a bilingual child, or hoping to, anyway.
As you may know, I live in France, and I have a young daughter – she’s nearly 3. My wife is French and and we are doing our best to make sure that our daughter learns to use both French and English with ease and confidence. So, I have experience in this area. But I haven’t done a masters degree in this topic or anything like that. My qualifications and experience are in teaching English to adults mainly. So I’m learning about it myself too.
It’s a complex topic.
There are big questions that come up when you start to talk about bilingualism in children, like “What is bilingualism exactly?”, “How do we define “bilingual?” “What is a native speaker?”, “How do children acquire languages? And is this different to the way adults do it?” and more… “What are the standards that we can realistically expect from children who aren’t living in an English speaking country and whose parents aren’t native English speakers?”
Also there are the many combinations of factors involved – many different situations that make it quite hard to get a proper grip on the topic.
For example, (and let’s just let’s use France as an example here, because that’s where I live, but you could replace France with any other country and this will still work)
Examples of Different situations
These different situations might require slightly different approaches or they might involve different challenges for parents.
One parent is French, the other is a native English speaker, they live in France. (like my situation)
One parent is French, the other is a native English speaker, they live in England.
Both parents are French, neither is a native speaker of English, but they live in England, the child is at school in English.
Both parents are English, both are native speakers, but they live in France and the child goes to school in French.
This is the holy grail: Both parents are French, neither is a native speaker of English, they live in France and the child is going to school in French.
Or similarly, one parent is French and let’s say the other is Korean, neither is a native speaker of English, and they live in Brazil and their child is going to school in Brazilian Portugese.
There are probably more possible combinations, and also there are other factors to take into account, like whether there is a wider community that exists in the target language (like grandparents who speak English that live nearby) or whether the child is going to a “bilingual school” (and there are various versions of that) or a monolingual school (only in English).
The more you think about the possible combinations, the more complex it gets! Especially from my point of view as I want to cover all the bases.
Also, there are different approaches you can take.
One parent, one language.
English in the home, another language outside.
English at the weekend and another language during the week.
Lots of combinations.
But, without getting too academic about it, I think one of the best ways to explore this subject is just to talk to people in various situations who are raising their children to speak English or who have done it, and just find out as much as possible about them.
Actually there are loads of people I can talk to about this, including my wife, our friends like Amber for example – who lives in France and has two children now, some of my colleagues at the British Council whose job it is to teach English to children and a lot of LEPsters who have success stories to share.
Alex Suvorov and his daughter Alice (4 years old)
This brings me to this episode in which I am talking to a long-term LEPster Alex Suvorov, and his 4-year-old daughter Alice.
I have been meaning to talk to Alex on the podcast about this topic for quite a long time now.
As you’ll hear, Alex fits into the category of a non-native speaker in a non-English speaking country (I mean one where English is not the first language) who has been raising his child to speak English.
There’s a lot to unpack here, but basically I want to find out firstly how Alex got his English up to its current level, and then talk about his daughter’s English. That’s it, basically.
Hopefully we can shed some light on this whole subject and maybe give you some inspiration or food for thought.
At the beginning of the conversation Alex is joined by Alice, and you’ll be able to hear her speaking a little bit, but after a few minutes she goes into the other room and it’s just Alex and me, but at the end you will be able to hear a short recording that Alex made of him speaking to Alice, which will give you a little idea of what her English is really like.
So, without any further ado, let’s go.
So that was my conversation with Alex Suvorov, about his approach to giving his daughter a headstart in English. I’d like to say thanks to Alex and his daughter Alice.
Now, it would be interesting to hear a bit more from Alice so I’m now going to play a quick recording that Alex & his daughter made together, so you can hear her speaking in English.
This is about 5 minutes long and you’ll hear Alex basically trying to get Alice to show us her English, which is quite hard, because as you might know, it can be quite difficult to get little children to cooperate sometimes, but if you listen carefully you can hear Alice responding to Alex’s questions and prompts and saying little comments here and there.
Bear in mind that she is only 4 years old. So in terms of her English we’re not looking for Dame Judy Dench here – you’re never going to get spectacular and fully formed language from a child of that age, in any language. So don’t expect to hear Amber Minogue here. THat’s not what we’re looking for.
What we are looking for is the ease with which she speaks in English. Listen out for how comfortable she is speaking English. Actually, I don’t hear any grammar or vocabulary errors from Alice but she might be a bit hesitant or shy – because 4 year old children often are and Alice knew she was being recorded here. Her accent might sound a bit Russian, but as we said near the end of the conversation, for a 4 year old the main thing is that sense of confidence and comfort in English – and I think Alice has that. Specific points of pronunciation can be worked on later. But a foundation of comfort, confidence, fluency and the feeling that English is your own language combined with an instinctive sense of grammar and vocabulary are the most important things you can give a child. I think you can hear that from Alice.
Anyway, let’s listen…
Listen to Alex and Alice talking…
So that was Alex and Alice.
Some of you will be desperate to say that she has a Russian accent, and maybe she does a bit, but like we said before, that’s fine. We’re not looking for perfection here. We are looking for a baseline or foundation of comfort in English, and I think it’s fair to say that Alice has got that. You heard her producing correct grammar, fairly complex little chunks of English, decent and other things might come later, like her accent, especially if she continues to listen to English from things like cartoons, films, and also audiobooks and so on.
But the main advantage that little Alice has got is that English is part of her life.
Is Alice “bilingual” – well that depends on how you define bilingualism.
As Alex said, he estimates her vocabulary to be about 20% behind that of a native speaker of her age. That’s great. Remember: Connection, not perfection. For those of you who cannot get over the fact that Alice still sounds a bit Russian, I would ask you this – Is Alex wasting his time? Would it be better for Alice if her father only spoke Russian to her? Is it realistic to expect Alice to speak like a native speaker, like mini Amber Minogue? Is Alice’s English 20% worse than a native speaker, or is it perhaps 80% better than a child who only ever speaks Russian?
Food for thought there.
Of course it is about personal choice.
But still, it is worth thinking about.
If you are also raising your child in English to some extent, do get in touch and tell us about your experiences in the comment section of this episode. We’d like to know what you think and what you are doing, including your doubts too.
Thanks again to Alex for talking to us and sharing his story.
You can find Alex on Instagram by the way, and everything he posts is in English, so check it out.
The website’s test is fairly reliable I would say, if you answer it honestly. It’s all based on an academic research project and every time you take the test the data gets added to their database, and the database is there to help with the academic study. Anyway, to cut a long story short, it seems quite reliable, but that’s the best I can say.
I just took the test. It took about 5 minutes. Would you like to know how many words I know?
Well, apparently I know 31,200 words which is ever so slightly above average for a native speaker of English in my age group. So, this means I am entirely normal, or a tiny amount above normal, which is good to know. So, my English appears to be a very good sample of what the average British person knows, which is quite reassuring.
Do you have a story of raising a bilingual child that you’d like to share? Tell us about it in the comment section below!
A conversation with English-teaching stand-up comedian Elspeth Graty, which covers lots of different topics including Elspeth’s background in England, teaching English, cultural differences, “French-bashing”, old-fashioned telephones and The Tellytubbies. Enjoy!
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How are you today? Doing alright all things considered? I do hope you’re managing to keep calm and carry on during this weird and difficult period of history that we are all experiencing.
Shall we start the episode? OK.
Here’s the second in a series of interviews I’ve been doing lately featuring people I’ve been meaning to talk to on the podcast for quite a while (quite a while — is that a short time or a long time? Quick answer: It means a long time.)
I just wanted to record natural conversations with some new guests so you can hear their voices, their stories, their thoughts so you can notice bits of language and practise your English listening as usual.
The first of these recent interviews was with Marie Connolly from Australia, which was the last episode of course. I hope you all enjoyed it.
This conversation is with a friend of mine called Elspeth who is from England.
Elspeth is an English teacher and she also does stand-up comedy in the evenings, which is how we met each other. Yep, she’s another English-teaching comedian friend of mine.
Explaining this episode’s title
The title of this episode is “Chasing the Tangent Train with Elspeth”.
The title is just a metaphor – please don’t expect a conversation about train travel!
It’s just a metaphor to explain the fact that this conversation is full of tangents and I hope you can keep up with it. In fact, it’s mainly tangents.
What is “a tangent”? Long term listeners should know this, but plenty of people won’t know so let me explain.
In a conversation, a tangent is when the topic changes to something quite different and seemingly not related to the main point of that conversation.
It’s when you digress from the main point, go away from the main point or get sidetracked.
“To go off on a tangent”
There are lots of tangents in this conversation. So, for the title of the episode, I was trying to think of a way to describe the experience that you will have of just following the changes in direction in a conversation and seeing where it goes.
I ended up with “chasing the train”, which is not actually an expression you will find in the dictionary – I made it up.
Let’s imagine, then, that this conversation is a train and it’s going down the tracks and every now and then it switches to new tracks and continues for a while, then it switches to another new track and then does it again, and again and so on. Can you keep up with the train? I think you get the idea.
My overall aim for this interview was mainly to get to know Elspeth in more depth and to capture an authentic conversation to help you learn English. That is the destination for this train journey. But as I said, the topics move around a bit, which is totally normal in a conversation. Just ask David Crystal, he wrote a book all about it and he’s a professor and definitely knows what he’s talking about.
What I’m getting at is that this might be hard for you to follow – depending on your level of English.
So you’ll have to focus.
Nevertheless, I can help you keep up with this if I let you know what the main changes will be in advance.
So I’m now going to give you a quick overview of the main changes in topic in this chat.
The main points in this conversation are, thus: (these aren’t spoilers)
We talk about
Where Elspeth comes from originally, and how her family moved around parts of England
Being the daughter of a vicar (that’s her, not me obviously) A vicar is a priest in the Anglican church – the church of England. The cliche of the typical English vicar is that they wear black with a little white collar, they’re often softly-spoken grey haired men with glasses who ride bicycles around their parish and love drinking tea, eating cake and generally worshipping god.
Our accents, which are not strongly affected by the region where we grew up (we actually come from the same general area in England)
Having harvest festivals at church when we were children
Then there’s a big, random tangent → Remembering the old dial telephones we had in our houses when we were children. Remember them? You had to put your finger in and turn numbers around a dial, and it went went kkkkkkkkk. You don’t remember? That must be because you’re young, or you’re old and you’ve lost your memory.
Services you could get on the old analogue telephones, like the operator (a person who you could speak to and who would deal with your telephone-related enquiries) and the talking clock (a recorded voice that was constantly telling the time and you could call a number and listen to it)
Coventry Cathedral in Coventry, which was almost destroyed during World War 2 but was rebuilt and is now definitely worth a visit if you’re in the city
Elspeth’s life in France, her French, and whether or not she feels French or English after living here for quite a long time
Some of the cultural differences between England and France that frustrate us a bit, like the usual things – being punctual, walking down the street and in particular, queueing – standing in line to wait for things in public
Teaching English to young engineers, and the challenges that French students have when learning English
Some of Elspeth’s experiences of learning French
How Elspeth can behave slightly differently in English and in French, especially when doing stand-up comedy in the two languages
Elspeth’s thoughts on her own clothing choices and fashion sense, and how people react to it, especially the Nike Air Max trainers that she wears
Teaching English online using Zoom – and what that is like
Doing stand-up (going on stage and telling people jokes and stories to make them laugh) and Elspeth’s favourite and least favourite things about doing that Where her inspiration for comedy material comes from and “flow activities” or being in a “flow state”
If there is a connection between stand-up and English teaching
A little story about The Tellytubbies that Elspeth uses in her English lessons, which makes the students laugh (The Tellytubbies is a children’s TV show) The story involves The Tellytubbies, William Shakespeare, the county of Warwickshire in England and April Fool’s Day. Basically, the county council of Warwickshire played an April fool’s trick on the people of Warwickshire, and it involved The Tellytubbies and Shakespeare, and people didn’t like it.
Why English people get into rages – like road rage, or trolly rage in the supermarket
The concept of French-bashing (criticising or making fun of the French and French culture) and why Parisians seem to complain about each other’s behaviour quite a lot (Parisians are people living in Paris)
How people’s behaviour in public in Paris compares to behaviour in the UK and in Tokyo
Things we love about France – because there’s a lot to love about this country too
Finally, a bit at the end where we both conclude that Paul Taylor is basically a cake – a delicious British cake.
Actually, reading out that list – it doesn’t seem like there are that many tangents, but there are tangents ok? What I’ve just given you there is the main flow of the conversation.
Right. Now that you have an overview of the track layout, let’s get this train rolling.
Let’s just get started. Here is my conversation with Elspeth, and here we go.
Luke’s fuddy-duddy slippers (a Christmas present from a couple of years ago)
Right, so that was my conversation with Elspeth. I enjoyed it a lot, especially because we have quite a lot in common, not least because we are from the same neck of the woods (a local area where someone lives).
How did you get on? Did you manage to follow it ok? Well, you must have done, because you made it. You’ve caught up with the train. You can have a rest now. Well done for keeping up.
I expect you’re getting out your phone now. If that’s what you’re doing, open up Instagram on your phone and check out Elspeth’s page, which is @elslostinfrance which I now realise would have been the perfect name for this episode, right?
I could do a lot of rambling on now, about all sorts of things, like what’s been going on and the WISBOLEP competition (which is now closed by the way – no more entries please. The deadline has passed, unless maybe you’re in a part of the world where it is still the 15th October – in which case, you have until midnight).
I’ve received loads of entries and let me tell you – it is going to be difficult to choose just one winner. There are so many really interesting recordings and stories of how people learned English and all kids of other things. It will be hard to pick just one person. Also I’m now wondering how I’m going to manage the whole thing. I’ve had nearly 90 entries. I don’t know why I didn’t expect to get so many. Each entry is about two minutes long and so – 180 minutes, even without my comments (and I really want to make even very short comments).
Shall I play them all on the podcast? That’s a lot, isn’t it?
I think the best way to do it might be to make a YouTube video of all the audio (if that makes sense) and then I can add time stamps for each person, which will make it much easier for everyone to find each recording.
In any case, I will find a way to manage this. It could take a while though, so be patient.
I do want to re-state that it has been amazing listening to all the recording (I’ve had brief listens to most of the recordings sent). There are some awesome people in my audience. I just want to give a shout out to anyone who sent in a recording. Well done for plucking up the courage to do that. The competition is going to be a bit of a celebration of my audience from around the world.
Not much more to add here, except the usual mention of LEP Premium which you can find out more about by going to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo I’ve been getting some very positive feedback about it. There are now over 100 episodes of LEPP now in audio and video form. Check it out to see what you’ve been missing.
I’ll be back again soon with another episode, perhaps one in which I just ramble on about all the stuff that I’ve been meaning to say on the podcast for a while, a few listener emails, some songs perhaps and more…
Let me say thank you again to Elspeth for her contribution to this episode. Thank you Elspeth.
Everyone: Hang in there. Keep your chin up.
Hey, do you want some anti-covid funk music to cheer you up? (Yeah)
OK. This is something that I recorded this morning. I probably should have been doing some work but after dropping off my daughter at school I suddenly felt compelled to play some bass, and one thing led to another and I ended up recording a little 2-minute funk groove. The drums are from a youtuber called Dimitri Fantini (link on the episode page). I needed a 90bpm 16-beat funk groove and he delivered. Credit to Dimitri for the drum track. I’ve added bass using my Mexican-made Fender P-Bass, some rhythm guitar with my Fender Stratocaster (also made in Mexico) as well as some string sounds which are from my Yamaha P-45 electric piano.
I called the track Funk in the Kitchen, because it’s supposed to make you dance in your kitchen, or indeed in any other location.
Brace yourselves – music is coming… In 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, let the funk commence…
Announcing a new LEP competition which everyone is welcome to enter, plus an anecdote about the first time I said a rude word in front of my parents. Send your competition entries to firstname.lastname@example.org
LEP is brought to you by LEP Premium. This is how I pay for this podcast, along with donations from kind philanthropic listeners using the PAYPAL DONATE BUTTONS. LEP Premium though is my paid subscription service which includes loads of audio and video content to help develop your grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. You can get episodes in the LEP App or online, with PDFs, tests and pronunciation drills. For all the information you need go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
Notes & Transcriptions for #681
Hello everyone! In this episode I’m going to tell you about a new competition for LEP, which you can enter, and then I’m going to tell you a true story of something that happened to me when I was a child. In fact, the title of the story is “The First Time I Said F*ck”. I’m reluctant to blurt out the F word so early in the episode, but anyway, the story is about the first time I swore in front of my parents, and it’s a story I wrote for doing stand up comedy on stage, but I’m going to read it out on the podcast today.
But first, what about this new…
I’ve decided to launch a new competition and I’m going to tell you all about it in this episode.
I hope you feel welcome to take part. Everyone is invited to enter this competition, and that includes you, so I hope you consider taking part this time.
I mentioned this in the last episode and got a number of positive responses from people saying things like “I really hope you do the competition!” and so on.
Again, I want to say thanks to a listener called Vadim for prompting me to do this.
It’s been ages since the last competition (the last one concluded with episode 407 – the interview with Kristina from Russia) and I sort of wasn’t planning to do a new one, but then Vadim sent me this email and I just thought “OK, why not!?”
Here is Vadim’s message (with some error correction).
There are a few errors in here I’m afraid, Vadim. I’m going to correct those errors as I go along, hope you don’t mind.
I have an idea for new competition! It’s been awhile, since you have launched one.
I have an idea for a new competition. It’s been a while since you launched one.
So, an idea is very simple. It will be called WSIBOLEP, or Why Should I Be On Luke’s English Podcast [Actually, I’ll call it WISBOLEP – Why I should be on LEP].
So, the idea is very simple. It will be called WSIBOLEP
All you need, it’s just ask your listeners to record a little voice message, telling Why you MUST interview them on your Podcast.
All you need to do is just ask your listeners to record a little voice message saying why you must interview them on your podcast.
Because I believe that you have a lot of interesting people listening to you. Russian oligarchs, pornstars, ex-nazis hiding in Argentina, bobsleigh world champions, writers, celebrities, presidents, royal family members etc, etc.
And then your listeners will vote for the person who has a story that they want to listen to in more detail.
What do you think about it? I believe that it will be a good way to encourage people to do a bit of a practice and stop being a ninjas [being ninjas]. And those who don’t want to take part in this competition can just have a fun [just have fun], listening to exciting intriguing stories from all around the world.
Well, I actually think this is a fine idea and I’m curious to see what happens.
Let’s do another competition on LEP.
The prize this time – being interviewed in a full episode. I hope you consider that to be a prize!
WISBOLEP (Why I should be on LEP)
So let me summarise the plan for this competition.
You have to:
Record up to 2 minutes of audio explaining why you should be interviewed on LEP, then send it to me at email@example.com (only)
Listeners will hear all of the clips and vote for the person they want to hear, then I’ll interview the winner.
Remember: You are talking to the listeners, not to me.
You can use a script, or no script, but I encourage you to not use a script, and instead make some notes and do some improvising too. If you do read from a script, make an effort to make it sound natural, rather than robotic.
Also, if you’re wondering how to record – it’s pretty easy these days. You could make a voice recording on your phone and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or you could use Quicktime on a Mac or the equivalent on a PC and then email it to email@example.com or you could use SpeakPipe.com – just go to speakpipe, record a message, put your name on it, then send the link to firstname.lastname@example.org
What am I going to say?
Now, you might be thinking, “what am I going to say?”
Well, first, remember that you’re trying to persuade the audience that you should be on the podcast, so think of some reasons you should be on, and not just because you really want to (although that’s ok too).
Basically, you’re saying “Hi listeners, Hi Luke. Thanks for this opportunity, and this is why I think I should be on LEP…”
Then you’d need to explain why you should be on LEP (obviously).
Remember, you have UP TO 2 minutes. This means that you don’t have to do 2 minutes. It could be 1 minute if you like, but no more than 2 minutes.
2 minutes is your maximum allotted time.
You might be thinking “Just two minutes?? That’s not very long.”
I’ve chosen 2 minutes because I need to keep this manageable! I have no idea how many people will send me entries to this competition, but since I’m going to be playing the audio recordings on the podcast, I need to limit how long they are, otherwise I’ll have too much audio. So, 2 minutes MAX, please. If your recording is over two minutes, it might not be entered into the competition.
Here are some ideas of why you should be on LEP.
Maybe you have an interesting story to tell – either related to English, to the podcast, or to neither of these things! Do you have something interesting you could share with us? Some kind of story, perhaps related to you or someone else?
Maybe you want to talk about how you learn or have learned English, and give some advice.
Perhaps you’ve had some success with a particular technique that you could share with the listeners.
Perhaps you have experienced progress in some way, and you could share that.
Perhaps you discovered the podcast in a special way.
Perhaps the podcast has been a way for you to connect with other people.
Perhaps you met your partner because of LEP, or got a job because of LEP.
Maybe you have an interesting story or experience relating to English that you can share.
Perhaps you have a cross-cultural experience you could talk about.
Maybe you are involved in something interesting that you think people will want to know about.
Perhaps you are particularly funny, or have something to offer to the audience.
Or maybe you’re just up for a proper conversation with me, on the podcast!
And maybe you just have something original to say.
In any case, prepare two minutes – with or without a script – in which you convince the audience that you should be picked for a feature length episode of LEP.
Then record it and send it to me! And then maybe you will be on LEP.
This competition is open to everyone. Anyone and everyone can take part, regardless of your level of English.
This is Why I Should Be On LEP – WISBOLEP
I expect the rules this time might limit the number of participants, because some people will be too shy. But I still hope that people send me recordings!
I expect there will be fewer entries than before, but hopefully I’ll still get some people!
So, if you have something to offer the audience, get in touch and try to persuade everyone to pick you for LEP!!
In terms of level of English, as I said – there are no rules at all.
You can have a low level, you can have a high level.
It’s not about who has the best English.
It’s more about who would be the most interesting and engaging guest, not just because of their level of English.
15 October. That’s your last chance. Midnight on 15 October 2020. [Previously the date was 31 October, but I have changed it]
As I said, I’ll probably get fewer people sending me recordings this time, but we’ll see – I often underestimate this kind of thing.
Last time I had over 100 recordings which was great, but obviously that was a ton of preparation work for me – downloading all the recordings, preparing them, balancing out the sound levels of each one, making them into podcast episodes, dealing with the voting and counting etc. Quite a lot of work as you can imagine! I don’t mind of course, I liked hearing from everyone, but it messed with my workflow quite a lot!
But do send me your recording, especially if you have something interesting to say to the audience.
When I’ve received all the recordings, I’ll edit them together, play them on the podcast and let you vote for the one you want.
Then I’ll arrange an interview with that person, and Bob’s your uncle.
So there you go! That is the new competition – WISBOLEP – Why I Should Be On LEP.
2 minutes max
Persuade the audience to choose you for a full-length interview
I hope you take part even if you’re not completely sure.
Go to the page for this episode on my website to read the rules and the details again if you like. Teacherluke.co.uk then click EPISODES and this is episode 681.
Feel free to ask questions in the comment section.
Premium LEPsters, I just wanted to remind you that P24 is drawing to a close. We’ve been through my massive list of homophones and expanded your vocab a bit in the process, now there are just two episodes left and they’re the ones that feature the jokes (not just crap ones made up by me). So P24 parts 11 and 12 are in the pipeline and will be coming to your Premium subscription soon.
To get the premium episodes, download the LEP App on your phone to listen to the episodes, or listen online. For all the info you need, go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
Professor David Crystal returns to talk about his latest books, and more. The first book is all about the art of conversation in English, and the second one is a spy thriller inspired by real events. David Crystal is one of the world’s leading linguists and an expert on the English language. He is also a national treasure and it’s a treat to be able to talk to him in this episode. Video version also available on the Luke’s English Podcast YouTube channel.
This episode is unedited and contains all my pauses, mistakes and thoughts while I attempt to talk about what’s coming up on LEP, my recent appearances on other people’s podcasts, comments and emails of the week and a couple of songs on the guitar.
Do you have any other comments or feedback?: “Please please me” and read this email!
Dear Luke „Because“ I don‘t know if I deleted my first email or if I sent it „Across the universe“ to the other Luke, I decided to write another special one „ From me to you“ „ With a little help from my friends“! I‘ve been listening to your Podcast since February and „Do you want to know a secret“? The „Chains“ are broken, „I‘ve got a feeling“ for the English language and my listening skills are „Getting better“ and better all the time. I listen to LEP „Here, there and everywhere“ „Eight days a week“!Don‘t „Ask me why“ I discovered it so late. With LEP „In my life“ „I feel fine“ every day, especially in these difficult times. „Your mother should know“, that she has an amazing, kind, honest, funny and creative son (her two „Boys“ are so special) and an amazing family! I want to tell you, that LEP is a great „Help“ for English learners! „Yes, it is“! I hope, „It won‘t be long“, till my English is as good as I would like it to be. „Don‘t let me down“ and please keep going in „What you‘re doing“! I send „All my loving“ to you and your family especially your sweet little „Girl“. I wonder if her name is „Michelle“;) Stay healthy, take care and if it is too much loving at „The end“ because we don’t know each other I just say „Good night“! Greetings from Elma
PS. :) I hope, this is not a grammar disaster!! It is not my fault, my friends from Liddypool whispered the words in my ear!;)
I am the Eng-man! Goo-goo-ga-joob!
I love getting emails like this “Any Time At All” because it makes me feel like it’s my “Birthday” or “Something”. I’m “Flying”! I really “Dig It”. “Every Little Thing” in that email is impressive!
Would you mind if I read out the email on the podcast at some point? I’d like to share this with my listeners. I won’t reveal your email address, and If you prefer I can keep your name anonymous, or not – it’s up to you. Some of my listeners don’t want their name to be read out on the podcast for some reason.
Anyway, I should probably “Get Back” to my wife and daughter because “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party” we are having together this Sunday afternoon.
So, let me say again, “Thank You Girl” for sending your “Words of Love” about my podcast.
More episodes are coming soon, and when you want to listen to something in English, “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)”.
All the best!
Another comment of the week from Victoria
This appeared under episode 674 about driving insurance claims and car crashes.
I did some corrections and edits while reading the comment on the podcast. This version is how the comment was originally written.
Really enjoyed this episode! And you singing at the end of episodes is like the cherry on the cake! And as for the topic of the episode… I’ve never been in a car crash myself, though, Ihave a story to tell. It happened about 6 years ago when I was in my second year in college. It was a few minutes after a class started when my friend – Lena – stormed into a classroom and slumped into a chair in front of me. Her winter coat was slightly dirty, her hair was a bit of a mess and her hands were trembling while she was fishing out her textbook and other stuff. Lena is a type of person who always is in a rush and bumps into something. And so knowing that, I didn’t ask her what happened right away. However, as time went on, I noticed that she was rubbing a side of her body and occasionally her knees. My other friend who was sitting right next to me noticed that, too. When we asked Lena what’s wrong she said that a car hit her just a few minutes ago. To say that we were gobsmacked would be an understatement… Her tone of voice was casual and it seemed that she didn’t give much attention to the whole situation. We asked her how she feels and she said that she feels a bit dizzy. My friend and I told her to go to a nurse. But Lena refused and carried on writing in her notebook. We tried several times convince her to go to a nurse but she didn’t want to hear us out, apparently. All this time Lena didn’t stop rubbing some spots on her body… When it was time for a short break we noticed that she was paler than usual. Though, she smiled and chatted with us. She told us that when she was in the middle of a zebra crossing a traffic light changed to red all of a sudden. It was supposed to blink green a few seconds before going red. This traffic light was known for its acting up. She started running towards the other side of a road but was hit by a car. Lena was a lightweight girl. The next thing she registered was that she was laying on a bonnet of that car. Apparently, a driver of the car started pulling off without looking at a zebra crossing so they didn’t notice a rushing pedestrian. Lena hopped off the hood of the car and headed over to a college building. To be honest, I don’t really remember whether the driver got out of the car and offered some help or not. After Lena told us this story she lifted up her sweater slightly and we saw a few forming bruises. Shortly after that she said that she feels worse. In the end, she went to a nurse and then was sent home. She didn’t show up at classes a few weeks after the incident. She got a concussion.
For No One by The Beatles (Paul McCartney was the main writer) 1966
Hello folks and welcome to the podcast. I hope you are doing fine on this particular day. This episode features a conversation, recorded a couple of weeks ago now, with a comedian and writer from the UK about various things, as you’ll see. Your task is to follow along and see what you can pick up and what bits of language learning wisdom you can glean from this conversation.
I don’t really know James that well. I’ve only actually met him once in fact.
He’s a comedian and a writer, he speaks several languages and his twitter feed is good value. He tweets about politics, learning languages, the issues of the day, comedy and various other things. We share a mutual friend – that’s Dharmander Singh from Birmingham, who I used to be in a band with and who is now a stand up comedian in Berlin. The time I met James was in Berlin when I was there on holiday, and I did some stand up on the same show as him.
So why have I invited him on the podcast? Well, it’s mainly because of Twitter. As I said his Twitter feed is interesting. He takes a moderate and balanced view of things, and his interests are pretty wide-ranging, including the fact that he’s very international. He’s married to a Chinese girl, he’s lived abroad, he used to work as a tour guide in several countries, he used to be an English teacher like me, he speaks very good German and French, he’s working on his Chinese, he works as a translator and he’s generally an articulate and interesting guy and so I just thought that he could be worth talking on the podcast.
The language learning thing is obviously very appropriate and I’m always interested in finding out as much as possible about how someone has learned a second language to a very decent level in adulthood, and that is something that we talk about for at least 50% of this conversation. The first half of our chat is basically me getting to know James properly, talking about his work, his studies, his experiences of going to Oxford University, why he chose to move to Germany, being married to a Chinese girl. Then we get into the details of how he learned German mainly, but also French and now how he’s working on his Chinese.
No need to say much more except that I hope you manage to follow the conversation clearly all the way through. Let me know how it was for you and I will speak to you again on the other side of this conversation, probably with some background music going over the top.
Long thread about languages (1/24): One of the most frequent ambitions I've seen for people during the lockdown is to learn a foreign language. I'm something of an exception, an Anglophone person who's managed to do this as an adult, and I have some thoughts on the matter.
Did you pick up any useful nuggets from that conversation? I think there was some pretty good advice there especially the stuff about reading and noting down certain words, being a bit rigorous about your studying and believing that you can do it, really helps.
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.