Category Archives: Messages from Listeners

512. My Experiences of (not) Learning French [Part 2] Learning Language in a Classroom vs Learning On Your Own

Talking more about my experiences as a student of French, this time reading from notes I took during my French lessons (when I should have been focusing on the class!) and some considerations about learning a language in a classroom and learning on your own. Notes & transcript available.

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Transcript & Notes

Here’s part 2 of this episode about my experiences of (not) learning French. In the last one I talked about how I learned some French as a child and how I feel I’m not learning it as an adult, despite living in Paris and I made a load of excuses about it, which is exactly what you shouldn’t do of course – because excuses are no substitute for taking action.

In this episode the plan is to talk about some more experiences I had while learning French, specifically some lessons I took at a language school a few years ago in Paris. I wrote some thoughts in a diary while taking those lessons and I’m going to read out those thoughts and then discuss the relative benefits and drawbacks of learning a language in a classroom vs learning on your own using self-guided methods. There will also be some comments and reflections on teaching a foreign language to groups in a classroom environment.

First, some comments from listeners after the previous episode. My listeners are being very kind and understanding, as usual. I received quite a few messages – I can’t read them all out here but this is a selection. On the subject of receiving messages – I’m sorry if you have written to me and I haven’t got back to you. Please know that I do read everything I receive and I appreciate your thoughts and comments very much.

Cat

Luke, I find your lack of French disturbing. 😸

Just kidding.

It must be utterly difficult for you if everyone wants to make use of you as the best known English teacher on the Internet. :) Also your head is busy with all these millions of ideas for your podcast, the gigs and so on. There is almost no room in your brain left free for other languages. You are totally absorbed with creating quality content for your audiences. You shouldn’t be judging yourself too hard. You have your priorities and are doing great job. Now with raising your child bilingually you have the task to pass on to her the exquisite English you have. 👍
We should be doing things we enjoy and not do things that other people expect from us. That guy at the party had been downright rude, he should be thoroughly ashamed of himself. 😸

Jack

C’mon King ! Don’t beat yourself (up) too much. Your French is much better than my English.

Nick

I’ve realized after listening to this ep. that I want to see a French beach!

Mj Moreno 
Funny title! 😂 I’m wishing to listen to the episode. [I’m hoping to listen to it / I’m looking forward to listening to it]

Cesar San Vicente Viñez 
Faut pas se décourager (don’t get discouraged)

Hi Luke,
Ne sois pas si dur avec toi !
I’m pretty sure that you can improve it ;)
Bon courage!
From a Parisian girl

Luke from Poland (?)

Hi Luke. Your story about drilling has inspired me to write a poem for you.
—————————————————
What about my neighbour’s drilling?
I have rather mixed feelings.
I know he just needs some holes
in his floor and in his walls
He needs even lots of drilling
In his ceiling.
But the next sound of a drill
makes me fight , makes me kill
and like a bloody beast
with bare hands, with clenched fists
I will enter his own flat
And I kill him with cold blood.
No !!! I’d rather stop this talk
and I am going for a walk….
—————————————————–
You may read it on the air and for sure it is going to save some lives of innocent neighbours. :-)

Some words & phrases

  • to beat yourself up
  • don’t be too hard on yourself
  • don’t get discouraged
  • self-flagellation (technically means whipping yourself as an act of self-punishment – but also a way to talk about excessive self criticism)

My experience of learning French in a classroom as an adult

The classroom experiences at Alliance Francaise. It’s a bit like the British Council but for French. They promote French culture and also offer French lessons.

So, a few years ago I went to Alliance Francaise to take some French lessons for a couple of weeks.

My wife bought me the lessons as a birthday present, and as an effort to get my French off the ground.

I wrote some notes while I was there. I recently found those notes. I have them here and I thought I’d just talk to you about them now, and try to remember what was running through my head in those classes.

I guess the point here is that I can reflect on my personal experience and generally make a few comments about learning a language in different contexts – paying particular focus to the classroom vs self-directed learning.

Being a student again.

Trying not to fall into all the typical student behaviour: not listening, arriving late, not doing homework and having rubbish excuses, asking unrelated questions, not paying attention to other classmates or listening to them, not really giving a crap about what’s going on, letting the teacher do all the work, not showing enthusiasm for work the teacher has clearly spent time and effort on preparing, not actually speaking French in the classroom, being shy with the other students and not wanting to talk to them, forgetting the book, not really going with activities that the teacher is attempting to set up, looking at my watch, yawning, complaining, judging the teacher on her appearance, etc.

Going for the level check

Got put in an A2 class. Probably because of accuracy, but I’m not really sure. I was never given a summary of my skills and problems.

Bought the book.

This is exactly like my normal experiences as a teacher, but from the other point of view.

Day 1

Joined a class that had already been studying together for a while.

Don’t remember doing much “getting to know you” at the start. I think it was just a quick introduction and then off we went. There were some people in the class I never spoke to at all.

Didn’t catch the teacher’s name at the start, and therefore it was lost forever. Why didn’t I just ask her?

What the class looked like.

Being late!!

Notes I wrote down during classes (when I should have been studying)

Good to see she’s keen. She makes excuses for being 2 minutes late and seems stressed.

Lots of photocopies. It’s very easy to get disorganised. It really helps if the photocopies are hole punched. I don’t mind if they’re not beautifully presented. They should be functional.

I wish she’d just let us talk freely, or try to talk freely!

Too much TTT. I’m very aware of this as a teacher in my own classes. A lot of her talking time is just lost on me. It feels very teacher oriented. She’s explaining a lot and spending a lot of time setting up activities, but I still don’t know what’s going on!

Teach the students, not the plan.

1 hour of pronunciation at the start of the class, with us trying in vain to pronounce certain vowel sounds. I suppose this is really important because mastering these different sounds can make a huge difference to your intelligibility in French. But we spend an awful lot of time on it and I wonder how useful it is. I wonder if perhaps it’s more important to develop fluency in the language, and to perhaps get some remedial correction. I’d like her to let us talk and perhaps listen to us and correct us a bit, and give us some much-needed encouragement. I desperately need encouragement. I really really need someone to tell me “Yes, that’s good! Well done, keep it up!” I can’t remember the last time anyone actually gave me positive feedback about my French. I’m in such a negative rut. I’d love it if she gave me more freedom, some praise and also some remedial correction.

She always expects perfection, but we need encouragement. Sometimes I’d like her to let us talk without interruption and perhaps correct us later. She won’t let us utter anything without it being perfect. I just feel like I’m slamming against a brick wall all the time. Maybe I’m too soft and I expect to just be great all the time. I’m too intolerant of failure. I’m too sensitive. Some of the best language learners I know can tolerate a lot of failure and just keep coming back for more, perhaps out of stubbornness or sheer bloody-mindedness. I need to toughen up a bit.

—— recording had to be abandoned at this point due to crying baby!

[Continuing the next day…]

I wonder which one is better: Loading all the grammar, vocab and pronunciation into the learner and then expecting them to produce correct language as a result, or letting the learner just struggle through with a focus on communication and then helping out in a remedial way.

I’m beginning to prefer the second option. I find it’s more responsive and even natural to emphasise the learner’s personal production of English and work from there, rather than inputting so much. I’m not here to gather information, I’m here to do things, to experiment, to make mistakes and do it my own way. Sometimes the classroom environment and teacher don’t let you own your English. But again, perhaps I’m expecting too much too soon and I might need to stop being so egotistical about it and accept my role as a learner in this situation and just get down to some good old-fashioned studying, and learn those verb conjugations. It’s quite humbling.

But back to the idea of the teacher controlling the class and using quite a rigid programme – being teacher-centred. You could argue that this is a problem from two different angles. Firstly, the teacher might rob the students of their independence, their natural tendency to just try to be understood and to communicate and to discover the language and make mistakes but to essentially “find their voice” in the target language. But also, learners might give up these things as they hand over responsibility to the teacher. In my experience, the best language learners are fiercely self-motivated and take full responsibility for their learning, but the language classroom situation tends to subconsciously cause learners to give up that responsibility to the teacher – so that if no progress is made, it’s the teacher’s fault, and if lots of progress is made – the teacher is a hero. But that ignores the fact that personal motivation might be the most important factor. So, perhaps the whole classroom situation encourages bad habits in learners, by taking personal responsibility away from the learners. Unless the teacher is particularly good, and knows this, and is always making sure that learners take responsibility for themselves while also giving them a structure and framework for learning. It’s hard to be a good teacher – you have to know when to be in charge of the class and be in control, and when to just get out of the way completely.

But then again, perhaps the classroom provides a space in which learners can basically get all the answers that they wouldn’t get if they were just out in the wild west of the real world, where nobody is there to lend a hand and it’s all just a question of survival. (sounds tough)

Anyway, the debate in my head here is about whether the teacher gets in the way of the learners, or is a vital agent in providing the learners with a moment-by-moment study plan.

All too often the teacher isn’t able to just get out of the way, and so you plough through more and more activities, being presented with language that you have to take on – which often leads to that feeling that as a student you’re kind of drowning. It might be nice to just spend some time asking the class some questions, seeing how the students answer them, and then take it from there, doing remedial work, allowing all the students to take part, giving us some discussion time with the corrected language, questions and phrases on the board. Going round, listening to us, gathering feedback to correct us afterwards. There’s not a lot of this happening, so I feel like the classroom situation is not being fully exploited.

This does require a particularly nimble teacher – one who is able to adapt on the spot and come up with feedback, drills, little practice exercises and questions that identify the specific problem the student has, how to remedy it and how to let the students practise it correctly. It also requires that the learners are able to go with the flow too. It’s often more practical to write a plan in advance and just stick to it rigidly regardless of whether the students are really on-board.

They have IWBs, which is nice.

The teacher is sweet, and she got hotter as the course went on.

Her efforts are very admirable. She intends to do an hour of pronunciation at the beginning of each class, and that has to be set up in quite a careful way, involving certain important stages in the exercises. So, she’s made an effort and has obviously spent time preparing this lesson. But a lot of her efforts are just torpedoed by late-comers or just students who seem a bit slow.

I’m aware of how it’s hard to be charming, funny or just yourself in another language. I think I must come across as quite different to my real personality, which is annoying, because I think my teacher and possibly other classmates don’t really understand what I’m saying and therefore who I am. I might give an example of what she’s saying but she doesn’t think it’s related – because I’m unable to specify what I’m talking about because of my poor French. It must seem like I’m not concentrating at all and I’m just rambling or trying to change the topic. I can see how easy it is to seem like a dickhead or a problematic student. Note: for my teaching I have to remember to always give my students a chance. Sometimes somebody will say or do something that I will find strange or perhaps rude. I have to remember that the language barrier often distorts people’s personalities. Then again, sometimes it doesn’t and you find people are the same in both languages. So, maybe I really am someone who doesn’t focus and talks without thinking and rarely makes sense, and perhaps even enjoys derailing things. I hope not.

But I find that I’m a bit weird. I have to explain myself a lot. My head goes faster than my mouth. I have a tendency to ramble and that’s because I;’m afraid that people don’t understand me so I repeat myself, so I must be pretty weird in class. I probably am a bit weird, but in English I’m quick enough to be able to flip that into being funny – I’m fast enough with the language to be able to manage my weirdness and make it humourous instead. In French, I’m just weird.

We do gap fills – paper exercises that are so common in language learning, but paper exercises don’t necessarily help in production of the language because you use different strategies for solving a gap fill exercise than producing fluent spontaneous speech.

Teacher has to be very patient and intuitive. Listening is so important for a teacher. We have to listen to our students, work out what they’re trying to say, and then give them the English they need to say that. Also, good activities are ones that present the students with a need to say certain things, so that they have to use the target language to complete the task. Then the teacher needs to pay attention to how we are completing the task, and give us the right feedback.

Sometimes the teacher thinks I don’t understand, or misunderstands me, but it’s just because I can’t explain myself properly. I feel like talking about what we’re talking about means that we’re communicating on some metaphysical level where you need meta-language to discuss the language you’re learning. It all gets terribly complicated.

U and OO sound – Imagine you’re being punched in the stomach. Imagine that your mouth is a chicken’s arse. These things totally don’t help me! It shows me how so much of our explanations are wasted if they aren’t truly clear. We have to always think from the students’ point of view. This is more about teaching than learning French isn’t it!

As a learner I get the impression I’m being told one thing about French, and then I go out and hear something different. I wonder “Are they lying or just unaware of how their own language is being used in the real world? Or maybe I’ve got it wrong.”

A lot of the time I have no idea what’s going on or what the teacher is talking about. I’m just constantly spinning in space. No idea what’s going on. I’m always right on the edge of understanding things. On the edge of my comfort zone.

It’s a humbling experience, and quite sweet too because everyone’s a bit shy and just trying to do their best, but I feel very stupid indeed.

Sometimes I just can’t explain why I don’t understand. I don’t have the ‘meta language’ to do describe what I don’t understand.

Organisation is vital in language learning. Keeping a good record of vocabulary and other learning notes – but it’s hard to stay organised when you have a busy life. Learning a language is a full-time thing. You really have to devote yourself to it. It can feel overwhelming, but with step by step practice you can do it.

Slow students in the class bring the whole level of the class down. Sometimes I think “Just leave them behind they’re dead to us!” But obviously the teacher can’t do that.

In a classroom environment everyone has a lot of responsibility to work with each other. You need quite a tight team to make the whole thing work.

I felt a weird sense of camaraderie with the teacher, because I’m a teacher too. She didn’t know this until the end. It was funny to be on the other side for a change.

At the end of the course I felt a weird emotional pull. It was a bit sad or something to be finishing the course. It was all too brief.

Learning English in the classroom vs Learning English on your own

In the Classroom

Positives:
Safe space
Teacher
Actual speaking and writing practice
Group means more varied activities and a chance to practise real communication, not just book work
Method
Programme
Text books
Tests
You can ask questions
Experiment
Other students
Learn with others / peer group / Community
Expert explanation of grammar
Correction
Exam classes
Learn from the mistakes of others – Hearing other people’s English can be a good thing
Competition
Teacher’s own material
Social life
Friends and memories
Nothing is stopping you from studying on your own as well – you can combine your private study routine with classroom study – and use the classroom as a safe space, a place to test yourself and have your questions answered
A way to ringfence several hours in the week for exclusive language practice. For some people it’s too hard to build it into the routine, so they just take classes so someone else can manage it.

Negatives:
Slower or faster than others – held back or confused. Weaker students drag you down to their level (but often these are opportunities to learn – they don’t have to be wasted moments)
Level difference (is it really a problem? The assumption is that you need to be with people who are higher than you, but this is a class, not just a social situation)
Personalities in class – sometimes the wrong balance of personalities means that nothing gets done properly
Class sizes – too big? Hard for the teacher to manage effectively, less STT
You have no control over various factors, like the topic or study point of the lesson, who speaks, what the interaction will be etc. You might get to influence that a bit, but you simply can’t expect it all to be done the way you want – it’s a group
Tendency to sit back and be spoon fed
Reduced responsibility
Reverting to the old mindset of being a pupil at school
Hearing other people’s English can be a bad thing, unless it is being corrected
TTT
Possibly annoying teacher!
Expensive & time-consuming
Choosing the right school
In your own country the students will probably be from your country – this can be an advantage in that you will share things more closely, but this can be a disadvantage in that there’s less variety and a lack of an ‘international mindset’ which is helpful in developing a broad mind and to practice speaking to other non-natives from around the world (and the chances are that these are the people you’ll be talking to anyway)

On your own

Positives:
You can use all the things I’ve ever mentioned on the podcast to create your own personalised study plan, or any other techniques or materials that you know. The world of language learning is your oyster.
There’s plenty of free stuff for learning English now
You can work out what’s best for you
Set your own schedule
You don’t have to go at someone else’s pace
You don’t have to go to someone else’s place!
If you’re organised, you can build a study plan that is tailored to you specifically
Massive amount of online stuff available including 1-2-1 lessons, e.g. with italki
Plenty of grammar practice and explanation online
You can surround yourself with English by using things like podcasts, books, italki etc
Take all the responsibility yourself
Cheap
Ultimately, this is the only way because nobody can learn a language for you. Whatever approach you choose you’ll always have to be responsible for your own learning.

Negatives:
There’s a lot of pressure on your shoulders because you’ve got to do it all yourself and keep yourself motivated
You have to be extremely organised and devoted
You have to be able to manage your time and your workflow yourself, and let’s face it most of us need a helping hand
It’s hard to build learning English into everything you do even though that’s probably what you need to get to the higher levels
There’s no teacher to correct your mistakes and give you a plan
It can be lonely
Nobody to actually talk to unless you go online
Materials – which ones?
No guidance or advice from teacher or others – or at least it’s difficult to find – support network

In the end – the classroom is a resource which you have to learn to use. It can be a convenient way to get English practice into your life.

But ultimately, whatever the situation – personal motivation and your approach to what you do – these are the most important things. If you have the right level of motivation, you can use the classroom to your advantage, but it is limited. Outside of class you’ve got more freedom, but that can often result in you doing nothing. Classroom situations give you a bit more focus.

Learning in a classroom is just part of what you can do.

It works really well for lots of people, but not well for others.

It’s all about how you approach it.

In the end – you have to get to know yourself and your own ways of learning.

If classroom learning suits you, go for it – but make sure you use that classroom as a resource and get the most from it.

If classroom learning doesn’t work for you – that’s ok but you need to be very motivated, disciplined so you develop habits in your own time, but you have to be quite organised for that.

I could go on…

I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to this. It has helped me to reflect on my French a bit. I feel a bit better now actually. I think my French is improving, just very slowly indeed – not as quickly as I’d like and it feels overwhelming, but I must remember the example of the elephant. How do you eat an elephant? Just one spoon at a time – but you do have to eat regular spoons – one spoon at a time, as often as you can and enjoy it too! I’ve no idea how an elephant tastes, but since this is just a metaphor, let’s say the elephant is made of the finest Belgian chocolate, shall we?

I also just want to say how impressed I am by those of you out there who have improved your English to a good degree. Many of my listeners – that’s you- you have developed your English really well, often starting from a very basic level and not living in an English-speaking environment and I’m really proud of you. This takes dedication, work, time and effort. I’m also impressed by those of you who have learned English using my podcast. Many of you listen until the end of episodes, you follow me banging on about stuff, you write carefully worded comments and emails, you send voice messages, and of course outside of podcast-related things I’m sure you do plenty of other things that I’m not aware of in order to push your English further and further, even when it’s difficult. You’ve done so well and I just want you to know that I’m really impressed and proud of you. I know the challenge – believe me – so I’m really impressed and proud of you and also flattered that you choose to listen to my episodes as part of your English language lifestyle. There must be moments when you’re listening to my episodes where you’re lost, confused you’ve kept going – and it’s bound to help and I’m sure it has. Well done.

Thanks for listening.

Additional notes (not used in the episode)

Let me remind you of those three things. Just consider how your learning involves these things:

Motivation
Just how motivated are you to learn the language you want to learn? Where does that motivation come from? Is it external (e.g. I feel I should learn it for other people or other reasons) or is it internal (I really want to learn it for myself). Motivation is like the driving force that you need to power your entire learning process. It’s probably the most important thing, because where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Habit
What are the things that you’re actually doing in English? Examine your habits. The main thing is that English practice is in your life as a habit. Habitual practice – regular things – every day probably. But think about those habits too. How many of those things are: Productive (involving you producing English in speaking or writing) Receptive (involving you just consuming English by listening or reading) Regular (on a regular basis – every day if possible) and long (longer than just a few minutes really). Habit is one of the most important things because it makes sure that language learning becomes a regular part of your day. It’s hard to change your lifestyle, so it’s important to try and get into the habit of doing things but little by little. That can mean just spending 10 minutes a day on English. When that has become a fixed habit, you can build on it and push towards longer periods. If you’re already maxing out your English in terms of time, think about pushing towards more intensive productive practice, like writing and speaking.

Resources
What are the things you’re using to learn English? Are there any other things you could get into your life? How can you really exploit them fully? Some simple examples:
LEP – you’re listening, but do you check the episode pages, take the vocab in the lists, read the transcriptions, check out the videos and other links I recommend?
Books – are you reading books at all? If you never finish the books you read in English – consider buying shorter books or graded books (E.g. Penguin Readers) which are appropriate for your level. Do you note certain words or phrases that you discover in the books you read? Are you choosing books that really interest you, or books that you think you should read? Are you choosing books filled with complex old-fashioned language, or books that contain more normal every day English?
Films and TV – do you sometimes watch an episode several times with and without the subtitles? Do you ever repeat the things you hear? Do you make note of new bits of language? Do you go back to those notes and test yourself? Do you record yourself saying things?
italki – get some lessons or conversations. This can be a good way to get proper, real-life communicative practice into your routine. Don’t be shy – give it a try.

501. Merry Christmas! / Listener Correspondence

Wishing you a Merry Christmas, giving some news and responding to some messages from listeners about vocabulary lists, pronouncing “can’t” without sounding rude and more…


Pic (c) Jairo

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Episode Notes

Hello! Merry Christmas!
Seasons Greetings
Happy Holidays
All the best for the festive season

Here’s episode 501 and really the point of this is that I just want to say “Hi”, wish you all the best, share a bit of news and read through some listener correspondence.

Baby news – still nothing. Both the baby and my wife are fine and in good health, but no signs of labour yet. Apparently this is quite common for a first child. Fingers crossed in any case.

Also, this probably means that our daughter will have her birthday on Christmas Day or boxing day or later, which is not ideal for her (because people don’t care after Christmas, Christmas will overshadow the birthday etc, but it’s possible to make up for it by perhaps having an “official birthday” like the Queen – later in the year).

Listener correspondence

Another message from Jesus. (Not that one)

Original message (read out in episode 500)

Name: Jesus

Message: Hi Luke, I´m one of your ninjas who has decided to come out of the shadows.

My name is Jesus and I´ve been listening regularly to your podcast for three years. I´ve never written something like this before, and forgive me, because I´m not much of a writer.

Your podcast has been the soundtrack of many of my trips, running sessions, moments of ironing, cleaning, and especially cooking. I put my earphones on, and the magic flows in the kitchen.

In a way, you´ve been there in the good moments and also in the bad moments, sadly I´ve been through those lately. Listen to you during that time helped me to move on, and also to improve my understanding of your language and culture.

Now it has also inspired me to work on a new project, it´s something related with cooking. I´m not going to tell you more because the project is still in diapers (got it? pfff I know, it sucks…) I promise you´ll have more news if it gets to something real.

In any case I just want to thank you a lot for all the effort that you put into the podcast and wish you and your wife nothing but the best for the new challenge that you have ahead. You are a great guy, and great people deserve the best.

May the force be with you. Jesus.

Response from Jesus

Name: Jesus

Message: Hi Luke, this is Jesus again.
First off all, I didn’t mind that you read my message. I wasn´t sure that you would read it, since you are very busy these days, but what I wasn´t expecting was you giving me a few minutes in such a special episode.
I know that for you it may be a little thing but it meant a lot to me, in fact, today is my birthday ( that´s right, it´s not the 24th…hehehe), so I´ve considered your gesture as THE birthday present.

I´d like to share something with your audience that it may interest them. You were saying that there are some topics ,like religion, were you have to be careful in order to not offend anybody. Well I think that as long as you are respectful and don´t cross the line with your jokes it´s all right.

Once, I was living in Edinburgh, I went there to learn english, I thought if I go for the hard one the rest would be easy.

Let me tell you that it wasn´t easy but I love the Scots.

In there, everybody had the same reaction that you had when hearing my name, or reading it, because most of the times I had to show my ID for them to believe it.

Thanks to that I wasn´t so nervous when english speakers were talking to me, they were always joking, making me feel more confident and suddenly I was speaking with them.

If you are nervous and trembly when speaking a different language, try to find something funny in common with the other person, if you don´t find anything, whisky helps.
Luke, as I told you before, it´s my birthday. I´m 32, may this be the last one? who knows…just in case I will live it to the maximum.

You said, you don´t get an email from Jesus everyday, well you don´t get to be heard by such an audience like yours everyday either.

I don´t know if you are going to read this, but if you do, this is my birthday present for the world…

Forget your f*cking ego, and use the energy that you use to think of yourself to empathize a little bit with the person next to you. We need to stop all the b*llshit, and work together because the resources are not inexhaustible ( the last part is a message from a friend called Esther, it´s a message inside a message, she also wanted to say something to the world…).

I guess that this is what rumble feels like Luke, I´m kidding, of course.

Merry Christmas, Jesus.

Huxi – Vocabulary Lists

Hi, it’s Huxi.

I absolutely love your Podcast. Thank you for sharing all this info through transcripts and vocab lists.

Talking about lists, Would it be possible to keep posting them? I personally find them incredibly valuable for reviewing, by placing them in Anki as flashcards.

Thanks a lot!

Kristin – Vocabulary Lists

Name: Kristin

Message: Dear Luke,

Before asking a question, I want to give you a big Thank You for providing us learners of English such helpful and valuable material! :-)

I want to relate to episode 496 “Ramblecast”, in which you talk about methods of learning a language and emphasise that just repeating word lists does not make a lot of sense.

Weeell, in fact I have known that, but the problem is that, during the last 2 years, I gathered 117 lists containing 100 words respectively, so about 12,000 words. Until a year or so I managed to revise the words I had until then regularly, but now it’s become too much. To cut a long story short, I am sort of obsessed with learning words, because I just wish to get better, as I love English so so much. Whenever I read an article or a book or watch something on Youtube I kind of feel obliged to look up new words and write down on my lists. It’s depressing, though, that I realize after a few weeks that I just haven’t remembered them.

My question is: Do you know if it’s somehow scientifically confirmed (or what do you personally think about it?) that people learn a language and become more fluent by reading books, listening to audiobooks and watching films without writing down and learning and repeating all the words? I just can’t imagine that I could ever memorise all the new words I pick up by dealing with English material.

Sorry for this long text, but I think I’m going to send it now anyway, because I’m currently at work and have no more time to write it once again in a shorter version.

I would be very grateful and happy if you could send me a little answer whenever you have time.

Thank you so much in advance!

Kristin

Luke’s response

Hi Kristin,

This is a great question. Please don’t think that your efforts in collecting vocabulary has been a waste of time. I’m sure it hasn’t been. I think that your approach to saving words is probably evidence of your motivation to learn and your mindfulness of language while reading and listening. Perhaps just the act of recording the words in a list (words you’ve already encountered in context) could help you acquire them.

But there are other things you could and perhaps should be doing with the words, for example adding meaningful sentences in your list for each word. This can help you remember them. Also consider how you’re revising the word lists. What are you doing as you go through the list? Are you testing yourself and trying to reproduce those words in meaningful ways?

Also, it might be wise to take a selective approach. Instead of recording all the new words you encounter, you could just pick ones that you think are more useful or common. Don’t try to consume too much. Let some words go. You’ll remember more if you try to remember less. Don’t overwhelm yourself.

Also you could try googling those words and looking at the way they are used in the news (select the news tab in google results). That can reinforce the words for you.

As for the scientific studies you asked about. I don’t think there is 100% reliable scientific proof that one particular method works better than another. There are theories, like Language Acquisition Theory by Stephen Krashen and other theories too.

I think the best source of info on this probably comes from successful language learners. You could check out Olly Richard’s Podcast and blog at iwillteachyoualanguage.com He has some good methods and advice for remembering vocabulary. That might help. You could also ask him your question and he might answer it on his Podcast. I would also like to tackle your question on the podcast if I manage to fit it into my upcoming episodes! Your mail is now saved in my to-do list.

I hope my answer helps a bit although I haven’t given a fully fleshed-out response with specific steps you can take.

As a final thought, it seems that your English is really good, with a wide range of vocabulary. So perhaps your method has worked well despite what I said on the Podcast.

In the end, applying yourself to language learning, being motivated and having some kind of system – these are the things that make the difference regardless of what form they take. It doesn’t matter – in language learning all roads lead to Rome. You just have to make sure you’re always moving.

All the best,

Luke

Kristin’s response

Dear Luke,

Thank you so much for your detailed e-mail! I was very blown away by your deep thoughts about my question and I really appreciate your tips. You are probably right, it depends on HOW one tries to learn new words – just by provided lists in a book for students or by self-made lists containing words from specific contexts that one is able to relate to. I also realised that through writing down almost every new word my listening skills have improved a lot, as I’m able to recognise words better. On the other hand, I really SHOULD select at least a little bit, you’re very right in that. Since it is just frustrating to realise that after a few weeks I can’t remember anymore what I learnt.

Olly Richard’s podcast and googling are good tips, thanks for these!
Also, my English language exchange partner from England learns with Memrise nd finds it quite enriching, maybe I’m gonna have a look into it when I find the time (Christmas holidays are approaching ;-) ).

Thank you for the compliment about my English. My written English is quite good I guess, but my spoken English is sadly another story, as the little additional moment to think about the words is missing and I can’t often remember the words in the particular moments.

My dream is to go to England next year in summer for a few months. My New Year’s Resolution let’s say ;-)

Have a great Christmas and all the best to you, your wife and your almost-born baby!

Cheers,

Kristin

Serdar – Becoming a Dad

Name: Serdar

Message: Hello Luke.

I had once contacted you via this form but you didn’t reply. Hope you see this one this time. I have been listening to your podcasts over a year and really enjoying it a lot as well as learning many new vocab. So thanks for your contribution to those who thrive by learning. Recently I listened to a podcast of yours titled becoming dad and found out that you would become dad quite soon. Don’t know when you recorded it so you may even be holding your lovely baby now.

I know you have been told so many times that how difficult parenting is. As a father of 3 year old,I bet you all of it is true but i would like to emphasise how wonderful being a dad is. They used to tell me that my life would completely change after becoming dad and they’d say this change would be positive. Now I totally agree with my friends that there is no such feeling compared to being a dad. It is the greatest thing to happen to a man. I can’t even believe that there are words to express this. I couldn’t do it in my native language either. you must experience it ( maybe you have just started to ) At first weeks you really don’t know what’s happening. You look at a baby but still don’t have any idea about how it feels like a dad. It gradually starts, and this magnificent feeling gets extensive day by day and you finally find yourself and your toddler talking to each other one day. you start enjoying every single day, you rush back home to see them as soon as possible.

I even remember untying my shoe lashes in elevator just to gain few seconds! you look at their pictures when you are away. you keep thinking about them. I don’t know if you have ever fallen in love truly like mad but this overshadows it without doubt. It is much more intense than love. there is no word describing your love for your child. Although some days, especially when you are exhausted, or sleep deprived you will face to the hardest part of parenting, you will still stand up and go for it. even when you have %1 battery left :)
I hope you share your experience in a podcast. If you reply me letting me know about it, I’d be so happy.
Thanks again and good luck :)
Serdar, Istanbul

Message from Kei – Pronouncing “can’t”

Gleidson from Brazil

I’d like to see you online in video conference, would be really interesting. And I suggest you give some links to us practice grammar in sites as British Council, BBC English learning or so on related to the current episode podcast. It’s a great chance for us to practice grammar.

Your accent is really clear for us students. Don’t fear about share something about your personal life, for me, it makes your podcast quite personal and friendly.
This is the positive point for your podcast and a good way to share some vocabulary to a specific occasion, as wedding ceremony, childbirth, baptism, Christmas celebrations and so on

I am living in Ireland for 4 months, but I listen to you since as was living in my country (I have to thanks to a Brazilian friend of mine that shows me your podcast).

I wish all the best to you.
Keep posting your amazing podcasts and thanks again.

Send a warm Hello to all Brazilian that listening to you.

(sorry for English mistakes, I am learning, so I can not write in English as a write in my native language yet).

Kind regards,
See you.

VP – Withnail & I episode.
Hiya everyone! This is my first comment ever. #497 is so cool an episode I couldn’t keep a low profile anymore! First of all, I want to thank you tremendously, Luke, for all you’ve done for us lovers of English. Your podcast means a lot and it’s extremely helpful for me in my effort to keep learning the language all by myself now. I’ve been listening to LEP for quite a while, and it’s always ace but this time that was something special. The thing is, Withnail &I is one of the most hilarious and unique British films I’ve watched. Boy, was I chuffed when I saw the name of a new episode! I guess I found this film after I’d seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which perhaps has something in common with Withnail&I. Indeed, I failed to enjoy the film from the start, but its dialogues, humour and Richard E.Grant’s superb performance made me grow fond of it finally! By the way, I also like ‘How to Get Ahead in Advertising’ with this actor and am a huge fan of Mike Leigh’s works, ‘Naked’ featuring David Thewlis, for instance. Has any of you LEPsters seen any of those movies, by any chance? I wonder what British people think of Leigh’s films.
P.S. The description of a person who likes Withnail&I was merciless!

Marta KL • 19 days ago
I’ve just downloaded the film (with subtitles – I don’t think I’m able to make it without them) – looking forward to watch it in the next days.
Btw I have just noticed that James’s voice is quite similar to your dad’s voice :)
Thanks for the new episode, cheers!
Luke Thompson
Yep – he’s a chip off the old block
Hope you enjoy the film.
Cat
Could one say ‘He is a chop off the old wood’ as well?
Luke
Nope!

**UPDATE: Technical problems with the website :( **

I’m having some technical problems with my website at the moment. Some pages are not displaying properly and this is also affecting the Disqus comment system, so the comment section might be unavailable. Sorry! I hope to have it fixed soon.

500. EPISODE 500 CELEBRATION! (PARTS 1 & 2)

Celebrating 500 episodes of LEP with a mega-ramble featuring lots of messages from listeners, expressions of gratitude, a cool announcement for all my listeners, some singing, some talk of becoming a dad, the future of the podcast, Star Wars, and loads of fun and good times. Thank you for listening! Parts 1 & 2 are both available on this page.

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Thank you to everyone who took part in episode 500 by sending me a message.

This became a massive celebration. I didn’t expect to receive so many messages. Thank you for all of your kind words, support, and joyful sentiments. I really appreciate it!

Thank you for listening to my podcast all these years. It means a lot to me. I’m looking forward to making more episodes in the future. Seasons greetings for the festive period and have a Happy New Year!

The Luke’s English Podcast APP is NOW AVAILABLE

Get the app on your phone. Download links below.

This is the best way to keep up with episodes of the podcast and get access to special app-only content.

All episodes of LEP are available in the app – every archived episode, all new releases and some exclusive app-only content. Also, check out the bonus gifts and easter eggs, pdfs and more…

Download Luke’s English Podcast App from the Apple App Store, the Google Play Store or the Microsoft App Store. Links below.

 iPhone/iPad – APPLE APP STORE |ANDROID – GOOGLE PLAY STORE 📱

Description

This is the most convenient way to access all episodes of Luke’s English Podcast on your iPhone, including special bonus episodes only available in the app.

This app gives you complete access to Luke’s English Podcast and if you’re a fan of the show you will not want to live without it!

The app contains the following features:
* Option to stream or download all episodes for offline listening
* Access to exclusive app-only episodes and pdfs
* Episode notes and transcripts available in the app
* Always updated with the latest episodes – and the full episode archive
* You can *star* your favourite episodes and save them to a list in order to easily enjoy them over and over again
* Speed control so you can listen faster or slower if you want
* Skip forwards or backwards by 30 seconds if you missed something
* Sleep timer so you can fall asleep to my voice without missing anything!
* Playback resume (when interrupted by a call or other distraction)
* Quick access to all the contact methods for Luke like email, website, Facebook and Twitter. Don’t be a ninja! Send me an email through the app whenever you want.

Thank you for downloading this app and supporting the show!

Luke

Luke’s English Podcast is a free audio podcast for learners of English as a foreign language, hosted by Luke Thompson – a comedian and English teacher from London, UK. Listen, learn and have fun while picking up natural British English as it really is spoken.

496. RAMBLECAST

Rambling about life, learning English, Star Wars, screwing up paper into a ball and more…

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Here’s a rambling episode with a few bits of news and some tangents.

Episode 500 – Please send me your voice messages

Please send me a 30 second voice message to luketeacher@hotmail.com

Tell me your name, where you’re from and something else.

Don’t be shy, give it a try!

Penguin Readers https://www.pearsonelt.com/tools/readers.html#productComponents

493. Catching Up with Amber & Paul #7 (Human Pollution)

Amber and Paul are back on the podcast as we catch up with their recent news and the conversation goes off on many tangents covering subjects such as: pollution and fog in Paris, a possible new word – ‘pog’, other potential new words of the year, Harvey Weinstein, wanking in the office, ‘human pollution in the swimming pool’, Paul’s recent showbiz news, seeing The Rolling Stones on stage and a slightly worrying email from a LEPster. Includes a cameo appearance by young Hugo, saying his first words on the podcast.

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Episode Notes

This is quite a disgusting episode at certain moments. There’s talk of masturbation and poo. Please prepare yourself accordingly.

  • The pollution and fog in Paris.
  • Potential new words of the year for 2017.
  • The Harvey Weinstein sex abuse scandal.
  • The Comedian’s Comedian Podcast with Stuart Goldsmith (and Reginald D Hunter)
  • Wanking (masturbating) in the Office (Big Train) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKH9ECC_Qa4
  • What’s Amber been doing?
  • A play date
  • “Human pollution” in the swimming pool.
  • Having to wear “speedos” or “budgie smugglers” in the swimming pool in France
  • How to fix technical issues:
    • Blow on it
    • Take the batteries out and put them back in again
    • Turn it off and turn it back on again
    • Leave it for a bit
  • Blowing at a hairdryer (they do get a bit clogged up at the back)
  • “Poo-l-lution”
  • What’s Paul been doing?
  • Touring around different cities in France
  • Making episodes of What’s Up France?
  • PHOTO OF PAUL’S SOCK
  • Seeing The Rolling Stones on their European Tour

A slightly worrying email from a LEPster

iñaki Sanchez
I really hate you and your podcast lucky Luke. Let me explain it please. I usually listen to certain podcasts like culips, vaughan radio etc. Those are very good podcasts and I have lived happily with them for quite a long time. I do not know yet how it came to my mind to find something else and here you are. Finally I found you….. or I´d better say I found your podcast. It seemed to be nice and I started using it. After a while I got hooked and started downloading all your podcasts.
It was then that I became horrified by the fact that there are around 500 episodes. I have to recognize they are quite good, to be honest they are very good…. Let´s say the truth they are awesome and that is the bad thing. I discover myself listening your episodes from the very beginning. As I cannot listen to more than 1 episode a day I reckon I will be doing it for good….. or maybe for bad because you are going to be the cause of my divorce.
My wife has begun accusing me of a lack of attention. Even my cat is angry with me now.
My neighbours look at me strangely, and I don´t know if I have to say I hate you or I love you. What do you recommend me Luke? Tell me the truth, because I trust you. Should I get divorced or just keep on listening to your marvelous podcasts. In the meantime here I am on the fence waiting impatiently for your answer. Could I ask you please not to do so well so that I can hook off [unhook from, or just “get off” if it’s a drug or “clean up”] and come back to life?
I think I am going bananas and this letter is the evidence. Help me Si´l vous plait and do not do it so well, because your podcast is driving me mad.
Cheers
Iñaki from the Basque Country

Luke Thompson
Just get divorced.
Either that, or you try to convert your wife to the podcast. Have you tried that?
Try it, and if it doesn’t work – divorce.
;) :) :)

Why does the UK have so many accents? (Recorded February 2017)

This episode was originally recorded in February 2017 and is being uploaded in August 2017. In this episode I’m going to answer several questions from listeners about accents, including how regional accents occur in the UK and why there are so many accents there. Video available.

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Video – I’m not sick, I’m English, and it was winter. ;)

uk accents

There is a very wide variety of accents in the UK (not to mention the accents you find in other English-speaking countries like Ireland, Canada, the USA, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and more. English is a hugely diverse language and in my experience foreign learners of English don’t usually know a lot about the different accents – particularly all the regional varieties in the UK, and they often just find it difficult to understand them, and as a result learners of English can’t enjoy the great variety of sounds in English and the sheer diversity of character and personality you get from the different varieties of English, and therefore it’s worth talking about on the podcast.

This is such a big subject that to do it justice would require me to write a whole book about it. Instead I just do episodes about accents fairly regularly in an effort to cover as much of the topic as possible. For example, I recently did some episodes about British accents that you hear in the Lord of the Rings films, which gave me a chance to talk about the different associations we have with different accents in the UK and how those associations were used to provide some colour and character to the movie versions of Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings stories. I also did episodes about the accents you might hear in Glasgow and I spoke to Korean Billy about regional dialects and accents too.

Since uploading those episodes I’ve noticed a few comments from listeners wondering why there are so many accents in the UK, so I’ve prepared this episode which I hope will help you understand that a bit more.

The plan, in this episode (or episodes) is to talk about these things:

  • Why there are so many accents in the UK
  • How our accents develop as part of a natural psychological process
  • What this means for learners of English and teachers of English

Also, we’ll listen to someone speaking in a Liverpool accent and I’ll help you understand it

So, this episode is about the way people speak, but it’s also about history, psychology, how to learn English, what my friends sound like, and how to understand a football player from Liverpool.

How are all those things connected? Listen on and you’ll find out!

Why do we have so many accents in the UK? (Communication Accommodation Theory)

One of the things I said in those episodes about LOTR was that there is a really wide variety of accents in the UK, and that your accent reveals lots of things about you such as where in the country you’re from and what social background you come from.

Remember, when I say “Accent” this means simply the way that you pronounce the words you’re using.

If you remember, one of the things I mentioned in one of those episodes was a quote from George Bernard Shaw, which said “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him”, George Bernard Shaw.

This gives the impression that we all hate each other of course, and I don’t agree. The point which is made by this quote is that we all have prejudices about each other’s accent and this is an expression of the class system probably. That middle class people probably look down on people with strong regional accents and resent people who speak with very posh accents and so on…

Here’s a comment from Nick in response to those episodes.

Nick 2 hours ago – [These bits in brackets are Luke’s comments]
What a complicated life there in the UK… Everybody resents each other because of their accents… [we don’t resent each other really, but we do judge each other a bit – we also love each others accents too] Wow I never thought that accents in the UK had such an important role in people’s lives. [Yes, they’re very important indicators of our identity – but they’re also a source of great fun, joy, amusement and celebration] Luke, thanks for this episode. You opened up the UK in a new way for me. Even though I knew about different accents in the UK (and from your podcast too) I somehow didn’t realize the deep meaning of accents in English life.
But I don’t really understand how it happened that you have so many accents in quite a small area. I can understand that different levels of society may have different words in their vocabulary, but why they should have SUCH different accents especially when they live in one city or region… maybe it was people’s desire to make something with the language, or at least with pronunciation in order to be somehow unique from others. Like different groups of people or subcultures dress in different clothes or different nations have their own folk costumes.

This is a really good question and there are so many interesting aspects to the answer. I’m now going to try and deal with that question.

Why do we have so many accents in the UK?

It could be explained by “Communication Accommodation Theory” or CAT for short.

Collins dictionary: “Accommodation” 3. countable noun
Accommodation is a kind of agreement between different people which enables them to exist together without trouble. (not a written agreement, but a social or psychological tendency to come closer to each other and form communities based on shared behaviour)

Communication Accommodation Theory suggests that the way we communicate is an expression of our desire or natural tendency to become part of a social group.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communication_accommodation_theory (Wikipedia)

E.g. When I was living in Japan I picked up a lot of the body language because I wanted to fit in, basically. I didn’t even realise I was doing it.

That’s non-verbal communication, but we’re talking about verbal communication.

Also, it’s not just limited to individuals. Imagine whole communities of people, over many many generations being affected by this process.

scottthornbury.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/a-is-for-accommodation/ (Thornbury)

This could explain:

  • Why there are so many different accents associated with different regions in the UK
    For example, why people in Liverpool speak differently to people in Manchester, or why the ‘cockney’ dialect came about (more on this kind of thing in a bit)
  • Why we naturally change the way we speak depending on the people around us
  • Why speaking to a diverse range of people is very good for your accent
  • Why native English speakers sometimes change the way they speak when talking to foreigners – e.g. when travelling or meeting a foreign person.

The tendency is to unconsciously adapt.

I’m going to try and deal with all these things, but not quite in that order!

Why native speakers sometimes adapt their language when talking to foreigners
According to Scott Thornbury (a well-known teacher and author of teaching materials and a bit of a legend in the world of English teaching) there are two versions – ‘caretaker talk’ and ‘foreigner talk’.

“This is especially obvious in the way we talk to children and non-native speakers, [using] forms of talk called ‘caretaker talk’ and ‘foreigner talk’, respectively. Both varieties are characterized by considerable simplification, although there are significant differences. Caretaker talk is often pitched higher and is slower than talk used with adults, but, while simpler, is nearly always grammatically well-formed. Foreigner talk, on the other hand, tolerates greater use of non-grammatical, pidgin-like forms, as in ‘me wait you here’, or ‘you like drink much, no?’”
I’ve seen this happening to some English teachers. They adapt their speech to the students, speaking this weird form of English that’s easy for foreigners to understand but might not be helping them learn.

It’s really difficult to judge it correctly as a teacher. How much do you grade your language, and how do you do it? It’s important to speak correctly – meaning in the sort of full English that you normally would use and in the same way that most native speakers talk to each other, while making sure it’s comprehensible. If you’re too ‘natural’ your students won’t understand you. But if you simplify your English too much, you end up doing this ‘foreigner talk’ which is just not a good model of the language.

I guess this is part of being a good teacher; knowing how to strike the balance between being comprehensible and yet also realistic and natural.

I always try to keep these things in mind when I speak. It’s probably why my voice becomes more and more like standard RP, which I think is just generally accepted to be clearest version of the language, and that’s how I was brought up to speak by my parents. That’s not to say other versions of the language aren’t correct of course, and as I’ve said many times before I love the different accents.

Do I accommodate when I talk to native speakers with different accents?

Yes I do – a bit – I mean, only to accents that are a part of me. I have a few slightly different accents in me and my speech slides in slightly different directions depending on who I am with. They’re not radical changes because I’m still being myself, but my speech does change a little bit. When I’m back in Birmingham my speech becomes a bit more Brummie. When I’m in London it does the same. Only a little bit of course. This is totally normal.

It’s also why it’s important to speak to other people on this podcast because it’s in the interaction with others that language really becomes most alive and natural. When I’m talking to you on my own I speak in my neutral voice, but when I’m in conversation with others you might hear my voice changing slightly. You might not notice to be honest because it’s a pretty mild change. Perhaps it doesn’t happen that much because I am still aware that I’m being listened to by my audience.

For example, when I spoke to Rob Ager from Liverpool about movies last year, my accent didn’t change that much. But maybe if I’d spent the weekend in Liverpool, just hanging out and talking, my accent might have changed a little bit.

When I lived in Japan I spent a lot of time working with people from Australia and apparently I picked up some of accent – particularly the rising intonation pattern. So, the conclusion – I do accommodate a bit, but usually to an accent that I have personal history with, and only if I’m exposed to it for fairly long periods of time and when I’m feeling self-conscious it happens less.
Certainly when I’m back in Birmingham my accent changes a bit, because that’s where I spent a lot time when I was younger.

Cat’s question: What are Paul and Amber’s accents?
Amber & I are pretty similar. It’s just RP. Paul speaks RP too but with a bit more local influence. He’s from Kent so he speaks with some traces of a Kentish accent – e.g. glottal stops. “Native speaker” “Excited” Maybe some “th” sounds sound a bit like “d” or “v” sounds.

Some people seem to think that his voice is influenced by French. It’s isn’t.

That kind of influence would only happen if French was Paul’s first language, and he’d learned English as a second language in adulthood. That’s not the case – in fact to an extent he learned both languages while growing up. He’s certainly native level in English, and he probably is native level in French too. He certainly sounds it. So, because he’s got, basically, two native level languages, they exist independently in his head and therefore don’t influence each other much in terms of accent. Every now and then it influences his vocabulary but he instantly recognises it and self-corrects. You might have heard him do it on the podcast sometimes.

Paul speaks very clearly, which is evident in the way people always tell him that they can understand what he’s saying. His English accent is influenced more by where he grew up in the south-east of England and by the wide variety of people he’s spoken to in his life. He spent many years travelling with Apple, studying and living in different parts of the UK. RP again is probably the default setting for someone like Paul, when trying to speak clearly, but those glottal stops and some dropped consonant sounds reveal that his most formative time for English was in Canterbury, and he is also not the sort of person to listen to a lot of BBC Radio 4.
Paul is also a natural mimic. He’s able to hold different accents in his head at the same time and switch between them. He’s something of a chameleon in that way. Put him in with a bunch of Scottish people for a long time and he’d probably emerge with traces of that accent I expect. Anyway, when he’s with Amber and me his accent is pretty much like ours but with traces of his Kentish background, which is why he says “Native speaker” like that.

So, that’s a bit about ‘accommodation theory’ in relation to my friends and me.
What about Nick’s original question about the diversity of accents in the UK. I’m going to talk more specifically about that in a moment.

But first let’s check out a funny example of a professional footballer from Liverpool who moved to France to play for Olympique de Marseille football club.

Now this is an example of an English person accommodating to French people around him, and we see that this is certainly not happening to Paul Taylor

Joey Barton’s weird French accent

Who is Joey Barton? What was the situation?

Joey Barton speaking with this weird French voice

He was heavily criticised for this – a lot of people mocked him and called him stupid.
He’s definitely not stupid. Maybe he wasn’t aware of the different ways he could have changed his voice – e.g. speaking with RP probably just wasn’t something that would occur to him. This lad is a scouser through and through. He’s not going to start speaking RP – he’s going to accommodate to the French instead.

The reason he’s doing it, as explained by accommodation theory is to make it easier for the French journalists to understand him. His scouse accent is difficult for the French to understand. He was just trying to be intelligible and he ended up accommodating to their speech.

Also he did it to win social approval. I imagine being the only English guy there, in front of all those French journalists, with the pressure of playing for this big club and not speaking French, he wanted to win their approval. This probably happens in Football quite a lot because of the emphasis on teamwork. I expect during training and while bantering with other players and staff, Barton had to very quickly adapt his speech to be part of the team. I imagine speaking Scouse English more clearly wouldn’t help the French.

(Joey Barton talks about the French accent incident)

It’s not just speech – it’s also non-verbal communication. Barton does a couple of typically French things, including the kind of ‘sigh’ or blowing of air through the lips which is really common.

According to research we are naturally wired to copy the speech and behavioural patterns of the people we’re talking to. It’s a natural, neurological process that humans engage in when they want to communicate, be understood and be accepted by others.

Significance for Learning English
For learning English this suggests some of the most important ways to improve your English pronunciation and your English in general are to a) actually communicate with people in real conversations about real things b) have the desire to understand others and really be understood by others c) have the desire to share things (info) with the people you’re communicating with d) have the desire to be socially accepted by the people you’re talking to.

So, spend time talking naturally with English speakers because you want to! Or at least, practise communicating in English not just because you think it’s important for your career or for your English, but because you are genuinely interested in sharing ideas, finding out about people and the world, and broadening the scope of your identity. The more motivated you are by these things, the more you’re opening yourself up to the natural neurological conditions for language learning.

Got it? Talking to different people with good English and who come from diverse origins about things you are interested in, really helps your English and your accent in particular!
Being engaged in genuine communication because you care about sharing ideas is going to help your brain in a natural process of language learning.

Other work helps too – like studying the phonemic chart, analysing the physical ways we pronounce different sounds, how speech is connected and all that stuff, and doing plenty and plenty of mechanical, physical practice – it’s important too, but certainly this theory suggests that our brains are wired to adapt our speech patterns in the right conditions as part of a social process.

But also, it may be vital for you to learn how to accommodate yourself to the English of the people you’re talking to. This from Scott Thornbury:

So, what are the implications for language teaching? In the interests both of intelligibility and establishing ‘comity’, Joey Barton’s adaptive accent strategy may be the way to go. For learners of English, whose interlocutors may not themselves be native speakers, this may mean learning to adapt to other non-native speaker accents. As Jenkins (2007: 238) argues, ‘in international communication, the ability to accommodate to interlocutors with other first languages than one’s own… is a far more important skill than the ability to imitate the English of a native speaker.’

So, when you’re chatting to other non native speakers in English, how should you make yourself more intelligible in order to establish good relations? Do you suddenly start sounding like Luke Thompson, or do you accommodate to their way of speaking, following the rule of accommodation theory?

What do you think? Feel free to either agree with accommodation theory here, or disagree with it, but do give a good reason why.

But why are there so many accents in the UK?

It’s a really complex question which probably needs to be answered by someone with a PhD on the subject, but here’s my answer!

It’s probably a big mix of geography, culture, politics, history and human nature.
Tribalism.

Perhaps it’s because we’re a small nation with quite a high population.

Geography. We’re an island (group of islands actually) so that creates a clear land border – meaning that we’re a bit more ‘penned in’ than some other cultures.

The class system. RP was the standardised version, but ordinary folk spoke in their own way and weren’t expected to speak RP because they knew their place. They could never break away from that. We never had a revolution proclaiming everyone as equal, so working people didn’t take on the standard form of English.

Irregular relationship between the written word (spelling) and the spoken version mean that the spoken version is perhaps more open to interpretation than others. Our written language is not phonetic, therefore the pronunciation is not tied down. There’s no solid rule book on how to pronounce English – there’s the phonetic chart, but that is based on RP and that’s where the class system comes into it. RP is associated with a certain class of people and then identity politics come into play.

Perhaps the multicultural ‘mongrel’ nature of the Brits has something to do with it. We’re a mongrel nation. Maybe the diversity of accents is the result of this patchwork or melting pot of different people and languages. E.g. celtic, nordic, germanic, norman French, gallic French, latin, Irish celtic, Scots celtic, commonwealth nations like Jamaica, India & Pakistan – especially Jamaica which has had a massive influence the way young people in London speak, and now media, like American and Australian English that we hear on a daily basis.

Our islands have been visited, invaded, populated and influenced by migrating people and their voices for many many years. This goes deep into the past and continues to this day, even though the official version of history will suggest that we have one unbroken family line (The Royal Family that we all learn about in school). There’s a lot more diversity than this narrative would suggest. This could result in a wide variety of influences, creating diversity which is not obvious just by looking at people. It’s also interesting to me that the narrative of the ‘unbroken line of history’ which we get from the monarchy, is also aligned with a certain way of speaking – this old-fashioned RP which is the standard form. Underneath that standard form, or next to it, there is a lot more variety and diversity.

There was a long period before the emergence of the single unifying monarchy in which the country was essentially split up into different, independent areas, ruled by competing monarchs. Tribalism was seriously important. Think: Game of Thrones. Community, loyalty, rejection of others – these were vitally important principles. It was the breeding ground for different local versions of a language. It must be the same in many other countries.

This relates to aspects of the accommodation theory. Convergence is when people pull together in a community and naturally speak in the same way to express this shared identity. At the same time there is divergence – pulling away from other communities which could be rivals or whatever. If you’re part of one community you’ll speak like them and you won’t speak like the others. Either you’re in one or the other. This could account for why people in Liverpool and Manchester speak differently even though the two cities are pretty close. Just look at the football fans to see how much of a rivalry there is between the two cities.

I expect a number of other factors have come together to cause the UK to have this wide diversity. But perhaps we’re just a lot more aware of the diversity because the place is really connected – it’s a pretty small island and we’re all squeezed in together with a clear natural border of the sea, and the industrial revolution happened there bringing the train – mass transport which suddenly brought everyone much closer together, making us a lot more aware of our different versions of English. I imagine if you examined other countries you would find similar differences in Accent. The USA for example has definite differences, and it’s quite a young country in comparison. So, I expect many countries have similar diversity in accent and dialect, perhaps we’re just a lot more aware of it in the UK.

We also have the class system which has added another dividing line – another factor which pushes communities together (convergence) or pushes them apart (divergence). Perhaps working class communities held onto their accents as a way of expressing their sense of local identity as a contrast to the less region specific upper classes, who seemed to be less fixed geographically. E.g. The Royal Family has it’s own geography, which moves between international borders and not just across domestic community borders. I mean, Prince Phillip for example was born in Greece. The QUeen’s ancestors were German. Despite the fact that they are the figureheads for the UK, they are not really fixed to local areas within the country.

This also would apply to the nobility – the proper upper classes, who probably owned land that perhaps their families hadn’t lived on for centuries. I expect one area of England for example was ruled by one family for a period, then another family became the rulers – either by conquest, trade, marriage etc. The ruling class probably were quite mobile. The people who lived and worked on the land, were of that land for generations. So, working class people have stronger regional accents than upper class people. It’s absolutely nothing to do with so-called “lazy pronunciation”, it’s more to do with identity – strengthening local communities by having their own version of the language. Power, identity and economics.

No governing body to standardise English. Just powerful people through their influence have guided the narrative that RP is the standard form – this also happens to be the English that the educated, wealthy class use.

So, that’s my fairly long and rambling answer Nick.

We’re not finished with accents though. I’ve just talked about how C.A.T. might explain why we have so many accents in the UK, and also what the theory can tell us about things like my accent, the accents of my friends and also how you can work on your accent too. I still plan to spend some more time focusing on specific accents and playing around.

Now, I would like to ask all of you a few questions

  • How many different accents can you identify in your country?
  • Are accents in your country related to geography?
  • Is there a standard accent? Is that accent associated with a particular region?
  • What attitudes to people have about accents where you come from?
  • In English, which accent do you prefer? If you don’t know a region, can you think of an individual person whose accent you like? Feel free to say Amber Minogue of course.
  • If you’ve been shipwrecked and you get washed up on a remote island populated by a local tribe of native people who seem to use English as their main language and yet look like they might be hostile, or hungry, or both, what’s the best way to get into their good books? Speak like me, or speak like them? Or get back in the sea and swim?

467. A Boiling-Hot Evening Ramble – Comments & Questions

Rambling (in my sweltering hot flat) about the benefits of playing football, giving encouragement to a shy new listener, some prepositions with transport, comparing formal and informal styles and commenting on the risks of using humour in emails.

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Notes & Transcriptions Below

It’s evening and it’s boiling hot!

sunset episode 467

I played football for the first time in 5 years

  • Aching muscles
  • Team work
  • Psychology of the game / tactics
  • Scoring goals, tackling, making saves as a keeper
  • Social side
  • Endorphins (not dolphins)
  • Effects of exercise on the body and mind (less stress, less anxiety, less frustration – clear head, positive feeling, lighter feeling etc)

Teaching

Intensive courses

Are there any LEPsters in Germany who are up for a meetup?

There are rumours of a LEPsters meeting somewhere there. If you’re in Germany – let us know!

Messages and Comments from Listeners

Encouraging Laurentiu
Adam
Hi Luke
I just have done one of the best or the worst things in my life – only time will tell.
I have just visited one of my colleagues in Romania, during a business trip. His name is Laurentiu. I have never seen such a shy person who completely has no trust in his English skills – except myself years ago.
One could ignore this if English was not a must in our international company. But without English he will lose the chance for communication among colleagues, professional development, promotion etc. What is funnier is that probably 30% of the words in our language are almost the same (based on Latin origin).
I gave him homework for the next 30 days. I have copied for him about 50 of your podcasts. I hope he will hear at least one per day traveling to the plant and back home. He spends 2 hours daily on the bus.
I think everybody deserves a chance, like I got several times. I was thinking that you could give some courage to Laurentiu. If it isn’t me, he might believe you.
Thank you Luke
Regards Adam
p.s.
I still measure time in Lukes ;-). Today about 4.5 Lukes to get home.

Luke’s Comments to Laurentiu
Laurentiu – if you’re listening. Hello! I know how you feel, because of my experiences with French.

How can you persuade someone to change their mind? How can we change your mind Laurentiu?

I hate it when people go on at me and put pressure on me.

I’m sure Laurentiu knows the reasons why he should learn English.

I think, what do I need to hear to get me to do more French?

Here are some ideas:

  • It’s loads of fun. The more you do it the better it is.
  • You can do it in your own way! It’s totally up to you. Anything and everything you do with
  • English is good. It’s all good man! Don’t worry about the best way to start, just start even if it’s not perfect. Listen, read, speak. Make mistakes. It’s fun. You WILL make progress.
  • Just do a little bit per day. Just 10 minutes of reading or listening. Try 10 mins of a podcast per day. If you don’t like it, just stop after 10 minutes. If it’s not too bad, keep going for a bit.
  • Just try to understand what’s being said and relax.
  • That’s it – no pressure, just take it step by step and start with a little bit.

Adam continues…

Hi Luke,

I am just finishing my business trip to Romania (no vacation just a job in many plants in different places in Europe). Last week I was trying to convert Laurentiu to English – let’s wait and see how it works.

I have a feeling that I have successful infected my other Romanian colleague – Cristian with LEPoholism.

I hope you are not angry if I try to cure myself with the In Our Time podcast?

Please if you could encourage Laurentiu and he could hear this, it would be great (see my previous podcast comment).

Can you imagine being so afraid to say more than 3 words and then you jump to your comfort zone – to your language. He is like this ;-(.
I know the following story. 17 years ago a young well educated guy went to an interview to get a good job in a big American food company. He got, like other candidates a case study – a real problem and he gave quite an interesting solution to it. Finally he qualified for the next round. Everything went well until the check of the English language. The guy wisely said: I have learned German in one year, so for sure I will learn English, but at the moment I cannot say anything longer than “my name is …” . The manager seemed to understand, so he tried to encourage the guy. The discussion was like this: “please say anything” and the answer was like this – “no, no, not now, but I will learn for sure.” Eventually the guy was so convincing that the manager could not give the job to him.
I hope Luke you will not ask who the guy, was.
Thank you in advance.
Regards
Adam

More Things to say to Laurentiu

  • Don’t be shy, give it a try.
  • The worst thing you can do is to say nothing and do nothing.
  • If you’re worried about making mistakes – the biggest mistake is to do nothing.
  • Don’t do it later. Do it now. Right now! Even if you’re on your own, speak some English to yourself. Don’t put it off until later. Later doesn’t exist in language learning, there is only now. Speak English now, you must.
  • Do or do not, there is no try.
  • Stretch out with your feelings. Use the force.
  • Feel the English! Breathe, relax. Let the English flow through you.
  • Worried about looking stupid? Don’t worry too much. Sorry, but nobody really cares that much. Nobody is judging you as much as you are judging yourself. So give yourself a break.
  • Every day millions of people are experiencing exactly the same feeling as you, in exactly the same situation. Do you think you’re different?
  • Anyone can learn English, the only thing stopping you, is you.
  • You feel like an idiot when you speak another language and you don’t want to look like an idiot who can’t express yourself and who can’t make the right sounds, but nobody will think that you’re an idiot. They’ll actually be impressed that you’re making an effort. They’ll find it charming and nice. And if someone judges you, it means they’re a loser who’s not worth worrying about.
  • When you speak English it feels like you’re not in control. But not being in control is the most fun thing ever. People love not being in control. Drinking, going crazy to music, going on a rollercoaster at Disneyland or something. You’re not in control then and it’s fun. Enjoy the feeling of danger and excitement in taking a risk with English. (and anyway, it’s not that risky, what’s the worst that’s going to happen? YOu’re going to break your tongue? Injure your chin?)
  • Take it one step at a time. You don’t have to be brilliant at the start. Be crap at the start, it’s fine! Anyway, I’m sure you’re not that crap.
  • Just improvise. Make it up as you go along. Nobody has a clue what they’re doing anyway.
  • You’ll be fine.
  • Everyone has to be a beginner when you begin, that’s why it’s called being a beginner. But when you don’t even begin, you’re nothing – just a monkey spinning through space – there is no name for you if you do nothing. You’re a zero. So open your mouth and say something and you’ll automatically be upgraded from ‘nothing’ to ‘beginner’. Immediate level up!
  • My French is terrible and I often feel awful about it – I know how you feel! But I promise you, when I do open my mouth and say a few things I feel much better than before I started speaking. And when I don’t say anything because I feel shy, I regret it. The only cure for this situation is to just speak the language.

Jilmani’s 15 Day Challenge
If you’re part of the challenge, I hope you’re managing to keep up with it and that you’re discovering or rediscovering some episodes from the archives.

On “30. The Mystery Continues” (15 Day Challenge)
Naomi – Episode 30 The Mystery Continues (Click here to listen)
Thank you Jilmani for day 2.
I love this story. It’s amazing and funny both the story and Luke’s narration!
In the term of grammar I often get confused between ‘jumped in a cab’ ‘jumped on a bus’
‘on the train’ etc. Does it depend on the vehicles? How do I know which preposition to use?

Luke:
Carrick Cameron once told me this: if you can stand up it’s ‘on’, if you can’t stand up it’s ‘in’.
Test it out on different modes of transport. All of them.
Car, taxi, horse, bike, motorbike, canoe, helicopter, plane, spitfire, tank, camel, skateboard, train, boat, dinghy, hovercraft, UFO. [Listen for the answers]

Formal vs Informal
Salwa El Zallawi
Brilliant! I like the idea of dedicating the whole episode to one specific delexical verb. I love learning phrasal verbs and expressions. Learning these will help us end the intermediate plateau. Looking forward to more episode on other verbs, ( go , put, keep….).
But we shouldn’t use them in formal speech and formal writing, should we ?
I don’t know. I know that I shouldn’t use phrasal verbs in formal e-mails. But again, articles in newspapers today are taking more and more of an informal tone. The line between formal and informal English is not clear for me, and is a bit confusing.
Thank you, Luke, for this wonderful episode.

Luke
Salwa – you’re right.
Don’t use them in really formal writing like impersonal emails & letters, academic writing.
But they do appear in newspaper articles that use a neutral tone and sometimes in financial reports that use quite a lot of idiomatic language, including phrasal verbs – like “shot up” and “picked up” etc.

Formality in writing. It depends on the situation. It’s also true of speaking.

Let’s look at writing first.

People seem to think phrasal verbs might be these very informal and therefore disrespectful language or something. Not so. Phrasal verbs are very common in neutral speech and writing, including in professional contexts, in newspaper articles including stories about financial reports and so on. You see them all the time in those contexts.

To be honest the vast majority of the English you’ll use will be neutral in tone.

There are 3 forms, I would say. 1. Formal 2. Neutral 3. Informal

Formal language – primarily an impersonal form. E.g. university essays and assignments, professional correspondence in which you have to use lots of distance because of the respect that you’re attempting to show in a business relationship. You use it when you’re communicating on behalf of the company with people you don’t know and you want to add that impersonal distance to show respect, high levels of politeness and so on. It can also make you sound incredibly old fashioned and distant, like a bad guy from a science fiction movie, or Dracula.

Informal language – much more personal. This is like the way you would speak to a friend or a family member. It can sound friendly, but very out of place and rudely familiar in the wrong situation. Imagine writing to the Queen. “Hi Liz, what’s up? How are you handling this heatwave? It’s a nightmare isn’t it! I’m totally boiling here in my flat – no aircon because my landlord’s an idiot. WTF right? Bet you’re keeping cool tho cos you’ve got so many fans! LOL!” On one hand it’s really friendly and relaxed, but on the other hand it shows no respect if you aren’t personal friends with that person because it’s too close – there isn’t enough distance.

Neutral language – somewhere in the middle. In fact, you can get formal/neutral and informal/neutral. It’s a bit personal and friendly sounding, but not to the extent that you seem overly familiar. The vast majority of language that we use every day is neutral. It can be a bit more formal, e.g. using no contractions, probably using the bigger latin words, certain polite constructions.

Examples
Are these formal, neutral or informal situations? Let’s play around a bit. (Listen for the answers)

  • Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine are visiting your office and you’re writing a welcoming letter to be presented to them on arrival.
  • A letter from the RMC about the annual expenditure and building costs (which I have to pay for).
  • You are writing to a manufacturing company (maybe a weapons manufacturer) requesting information about a new product range.
  • You are a marketing manager writing an internal email to a member of the accounts department to ask for some sales data. You know this person because you sometimes have meetings with them and you have had lunch together a few times.
  • You’re writing to your best friend because you want to remind them to water the plants in your flat when you go away.
  • You’re writing to your wife to suggest that you have pizza for dinner this evening.

With phrasal verbs, I’d say – it’s a fairly reliable rule that the more formal you get, the less you use them.
There’s usually a formal equivalent – probably a latin origin word.
E.g.
Phrasal verb – more formal equivalent
Call off – cancel
Put off – postpone
Carry out – execute
Get across – communicate
Hold up – delay
Pick up – collect
Get off – alight
Turn down – refuse

Phrasal verbs are less formal than their ‘latin’ equivalents, but you will find them in language including some financial reports, professional emails and so on.
If you’re being really formal, avoid them. If you’re being just neutral, you will probably want to use some.
If you’re being informal, you’ll use them a lot.
That’s the best I can say right now without writing a whole book on the subject. Keep your eyes peeled when you’re reading or hearing different types of English.

Cat in reply to Salwa
I have the same confusion here, Salwa. I have to write tons of emails each day, to people from different countries, using English, of course. The question I’m always asking myself is — how formal and how informal can I get without confusing the other side… Often I have to check myself before I wreck myself; and at times failing badly, I fear…
The other day I wrote to a lady in UK with the name “Clare” — she wanted to double check on something — and I wrote to her “Hi Clare! I see, there is a need for some Clare-fication here. ;)” Now I’m a bit worried, maybe I shouldn’t have written such things…. What do you think?

Then, on the same day, I was desperately trying to invite some students to one event we were organising for the said Clare. And I wrote to our students:
“Come and build a bridge
to the University of Cambridge!”
(she was from Cambridge). I don’t know how it sounds for native speakers… But sometimes it’s fun to have a bit of fun at work. :))

Using Humour in Emails
It’s fun – but beware of making jokes in emails it almost never works.
If you’re lucky, and Clare is 100% lovely, she will find it charming.
But what are the chances she is 100% lovely?
There’s a big risk that she will think it’s pretty cheesy.
Humour is very hard to pull off unless you’re being self-deprecating (and I don’t recommend that too much either, especially in emails).
Beware of making jokes with people’s names. They might just get a bit triggered by that and won’t see the funny side.
I feel a bit awkward here because I have said that humour is everywhere in British culture, but remember that we go for self-deprecating humour a lot – understatement, putting ourselves down a little bit. If you do wacky puns on someone’s name, they might just think you’re the annoying office joker.
But maybe not! Brits love a pun, and Catherine you are very charming and I don’t know the relationship you have with Clare, so maybe she will like it and it will help you two bond more.
Thing is, how is she now supposed to respond? It’s hard for her to adopt the same tone. That’s why it’s potentially inappropriate.
Clare might think you’re a bit nuts, to be honest!
But I think you’re wise enough to know what you’re doing Cat, right?

The Cambridge University joke is better, because it’s not a joke about someone’s name. But, does she work at Cambridge University? If not, she might be thinking, “well, what do I have to do with Cambridge University, just because I’m from Cambridge?”
I’m teachersplaining now, and possibly making you feel bad, I don’t know. The jokes are sweet and nice but the danger is that they will backfire on you.
But if it was me, I would avoid that kind of thing in emails. Mainly because there’s no chance for you to react quickly to rescue the situation if she doesn’t like it or understand it, and email lacks all the subtlety of body language, facial expressions and intonation that you need to help make a joke like that.
I speak from experience as someone who has put my foot in it by making silly jokes which impressed nobody, and as someone who has found silly jokes to be slightly inappropriate, annoying and awkward.

That’s it for now! Thanks for listening.

Join the mailing list and watch out for some website-only content coming in the future.

Cheers,

Luke

464. How I make episodes of the podcast (Part 1)

Talking about the creative side of making podcast episodes, including some thoughts on how to come up with ideas and how to speak in front of an audience.

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Introduction

Today I’m talking all about how I make episodes of this podcast including details about the technical side (all the gear I use and how I use it) and the creative side (how I come up with ideas and make them into episodes).

I’ve also decided to make sure there’s plenty of language content in this one too. Obviously it’s all English – these are all words, you know.

But what I mean is that later I’m going to highlight certain bits of vocabulary that will come up in my descriptions, including;

  • vocabulary for talking about technical stuff like recording audio
  • some uses of the word “get”, which is one of the most commonly occurring verbs in the English language
  • and also just some other fixed expressions and bits of language I think are worth pointing out to you.

As you listen to this, you can watch out for vocabulary and try to predict which bits you think I will be explaining later.

So, even if you’re not completely married to the subject matter of this episode, you can just try to get through the bits about how I make the podcast, try to spot some vocab and then hold on until the end when you’ll hear me going through that language for you which should help you to get your head around it all.

In fact, did you notice that I’ve already used ‘get’ several times. I said ‘try to get through the bits I say about recording equipment [how I make the podcast]’ and also ‘help you get your head around it all’.

To get through something = to finish it, or pass from one end to the other. “I’ve just got to get through this work.” or “I’ve got a lot of emails to get through” or “I know it’s hard when you have depression, but don’t give up, you’ll get through it.”

To get your head around something = to understand it. It’s often used in the negative form. “I just can’t get my head around all this recording equipment.” or “I can’t get my head around this tax return. It’s a nightmare.”

So, watch out for that kind of thing – other uses of ‘get’ and more expressions, I’ll be highlighting and explaining it later.

Let’s get back to the topic of this episode: How I make episodes of Luke’s English Podcast.

Message from Carlos in Barcelona

Just to explain why I’ve chosen to do this episode, here’s a message I got not long ago from a LEPster in Spain.

Hello Luke,

My name is Carlos and I’m a listener of your Podcast. I’m from Barcelona.

First of all, I’d like to congratulate you, your podcast is excellent. It helps me to improve my English and it’s also fun. Hence, I think it’s a way of learning English without realizing that I’m actually studying it.

In addition, I’d like to suggest a topic to be talked in one of your programmes. It would be great if you told us how you record a podcast, like how you prepare it and record it and what software and hardware you use.

Well, it would be fun to know what the podcast is like. Sometimes, I wonder about the insides of it.

I hope you like my suggestion.

Yours sincerely,
J.Carlos Mena

I do get quite a lot of messages like that, from people asking me either about the technical side of the podcast making process – like what kind of gear I use, or the creative side – like, where I get the inspiration for episodes, how I come up with ideas.

I’ve been meaning to do this episode for a while now and so finally I’m glad to have actually got round to doing it at last.

OK, so let’s talk about what goes into the making of episodes of this podcast – the whole process from me starting from scratch to you listening to the podcast and, if I’m doing it correctly, you learning some English and maybe even getting the giggles on a bus somewhere while people give you weird looks, if I have managed to amuse you at all.

Listen to the episode for all the details… the expressions with ‘get’ will be explained later.

Music created at www.jukedeck.com/

463. News, Comments & Questions

Giving some news, responding to comments & questions, rambling about new shoes and getting lost in the jungle.

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JILMANI’S 15 DAY CHALLENGE

LEP MEETUP GROUPS

ALEXANDER GREK’S DETECTIVE NOVEL

SONG

 

457. Conclusions about Language Learning from the David Crystal Interview (Part 2)

A follow-up to episode 455 consolidating the insights of Professor David Crystal including various pearls of wisdom about language learning.

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Notes & Transcriptions

Hamid
If English keeps taking on words from other languages, will it stop being English?
This is the story of English.
English is a vacuum cleaner of a language.
Something like 300-600 languages have influenced English with words. If you look at English today. Where are the germanic words? They’re only about 20%. The other 80% is from French, Spanish, latin and others.
There is no single dominating influence on English today.
How many Urdu words have gone into English? Maybe 100. But English has over 1,000,000 words. No new cluster of words coming in is going to come in all at once (tidal wave) they come in drip drip drip.
New words are assimilated to reflect a need – e.g. for new types of food.
This is no threat to English.
In fact it’s evidence of the power of English, that it absorbs so many other influences from other languages and cultures. It’s like the blob!

Jilmani
What’s the future of English?
Unpredictable! Absolutely an unanswerable question. You should never try to predict the future of a language. It’s all about events which just happen, e.g. the Norman invasion, Trump or Brexit.
Will Brexit reduce the influence of English in EU?
Not much. But it will change its character because it won’t be used by so many native speakers, so there will be more developments “Euro English” (I think it has emerged a bit).
But English will continue to change and diversify.

Jairo wants help managing the workload of studies.
Learning about language is a huge burden.
Learning about a language you have to learn about the history, society and events of the time to understand why people were using language in those particular ways.
What was it like to be an old norse speaker?
But most philologists don’t have a psycholinguistic background to their studies.
Philology can be a bit dry.
David prefers the socially aware approach to the history of language which doesn’t just ask “what happened and when” but “why?” – let’s explore the nature of the people who made it happen. This should ease the process.

Cat
English syntax – can you explain it?
Come on you’re asking for a book here!
English has a simple morphology compared with German (or French).
How many possible word endings are there for a verb in English?
The difference between English and German is morphological but also syntactic.
English and German are quite close. They only diverged 2000 years ago.
Word order is a bit different.
Everyone understood David when he went to Germany and spoke German with the wrong word order.
There aren’t that many differences, although the few differences are noticeable.
Cat, why are you worried about local areas of syntactic difference between English and German. Why has this become an issue?
It usually comes down to identity. German English (used by people who have learned it really well) still is distinctively German English.
The point is, don’t be too concerned about micro differences in syntax between your language and English. As long as we understand you that’s the main thing, although obviously style is important so I imagine you want to write in the style of a native speaker (but which one though!) You might have to accept that it’s important to find your own voice in English, which might be influenced a bit by who you are (it is your own voice after all) – which is someone who lives in Germany. That’s not to say your English can be totally different and like German with English words – that would probably be unintelligible and a bit ridiculous. But micro differences aren’t such a big deal.
Don’t sweat the small stuff, it’s just small stuff.

Wesley
Do people who speak different languages think differently?
It’s difficult to translate words sometimes because there are some words which don’t directly translate because there isn’t an equivalent word. 10-15% of the words might be untranslateable. But in Chinese it’s a lot more.
But when you do psycholinguistic experiments we discover that people can see the different concepts, but having those specific words makes it easier to talk about those things. You can see the colours but you might not have the language for describing it.
Different languages might not have the same word for something but it doesn’t mean they think about them any differently.
E.g. in English we don’t have a word for a certain thing in Japanese – natsukashii for example. But we find other ways of describing it. Ah, it takes me back or “good old” or “it feels nostalgic” or “it’s good to be back”.
So it doesn’t seem to be the case that languages affect or reflect different perception of the world.
*But I reckon there might be something to it Wesley. E.g. sense of humour, patterns of understatement, all contribute towards expressing a sardonic outlook on life (UK) rather than a direct attitude in the mediterranean for example.
The fallacy is that it’s words that translate, but it’s not it’s sentences. A group of words together are what hold meaning. So even if there’s no single word equivalent, you put some words together and make a sentence and that’s how the language transcribes.
“Snow that you use to build an igloo with” – he can still express that thing with a sentence and you can see that kind of snow.

Learn the vocabulary of a new language and you’ll see the cultural things that it reflects. It shows that to learn the language properly you should learn about the culture too – the mindset, the reference points and so on. You can see all those things too, but having certain words and expressions makes it easier to talk about them.
The result is that in languages it’s easier to talk about commonly occurring cultural phenomena because the language has the tools to do it, but people are all still basically the same, we might just take a bit longer to talk about a concept that in your language is very normal.

Mayumi
Why do Brits use indirect language?
It’s just a cultural difference. It’s the British temperament. The reason for that is hard to say. Maybe it’s because the UK is an island and the psychogeographic factors might affect that kind of language use.
Pragmatics – the study of why people are using specific bits of language.
Language norms reflect the cultural context – that’s the identity argument.
But why does the UK use this polite language? We don’t really know! You have to ask why British people want to be polite. (obviously it’s because we’re such nice people)
You just have to accept the cultural differences. Learn about them and accept them. “That’s who we are.” should be a good enough answer.
As ever, you must accept cultural differences. They’re not weird, they’re just different. It’s a good bit of advice for anyone coming into contact with another culture. You can speculate about why people behave the way they do, but ultimately you’ve just got to accept it and move on, like the way you often have to accept in English that “this is just what people say in this language” and that’s it.

Synchronic not diachronic method.

Wikipedia:
Synchrony and diachrony are two different and complementary viewpoints in linguistic analysis. A synchronic approach (from Greek συν- “together” and χρόνος “time”) considers a language at a moment in time without taking its history into account. Synchronic linguistics aims at describing a language at a specific point of time, usually the present. By contrast, a diachronic approach (from δια- “through” and χρόνος “time”) considers the development and evolution of a language through history. Historical linguistics is typically a diachronic study.

DC says we should use a synchronic approach to understanding these things – why is this particular person choosing to say it in this way, right now?
Some more modern dictionaries now contain essays about usage and pragmatics, which help us to identify how culture affects language. It’s worth reading the extra comments and information pages you find in many dictionaries.
Also, consider reading cultural guides as well as purely linguistic ones.

Antonio
Will AI replace the need for language learning?
Babel fish (Hitchhiker’s Guide)
In 100 years it’ll probably be perfect.
(I’ve seen auto subs have improved recently).
Imagine a situation where the babelfish is operating perfectly. It would solve lots of problems, but identity hasn’t been addressed. I still want to “be French” and the AI might not include those differences. People will still hold onto their languages in order to express their identity. It won’t affect language diversity.
But it might mean that AI might make the need for a global language redundant. Maybe AI will replace English. Why bother learning an international language?
But there are various answers to that – tech might let you down so people might not choose to constantly rely on it – some conditions in which there is no electricity.
Will AI manage to be perfect like a human, with the ability to translate with a view to expressing the culture?
Human translators choose between different competing nuances. I could say it this way, or this other way. We make those decisions based on complex social and psychological factors. A computer might not have that cultural sensitivity, maybe only in the long term.
The number of people learning languages might be reduced, but it’s also ignoring another factor in learning another language – the want to become aware of the culture, history and literature of the other language. There’s a personal satisfaction in learning another language and enjoy the pleasant things about it. People learn languages because they want to not because they need to. It’s a pleasure.
There are many reasons to want to continue to learn, it’s not just about intelligibility.
For the forseeable future he can’t see that it would be economically viable to create that technological solution for language when the traditional methods are the best way to foster relationships.

Jack – I don’t know where you come from.
First of all, David doesn’t mind being addressed in the Ali G dialect.
“Me” instead of “I”.
“Me wants to know…”
“I is well impressed…”
Subject verb agreement. “I is…”
“Booyakasha”
“It is a well big honour”
It’s quite a skill to be able to switch between registers. Sometimes we break the rules as a stylistic choice, like with the expression “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
It’s important to be able to switch between different styles and registers but you also have to know when it is appropriate to do it.
I’m not bothered by it in the comment section of my site, but you should be aware that some other people might find it weird or inappropriate, like for example if you write that in forums on other websites, in the comment section of Amber’s new podcast about Paris history, or in some business meeting. It’s going to seem really weird. So, you need to seriously think about the appropriacy of the things you’re doing and that means the style of English you’re using, or the decision to post dodgy pictures of cakes on my website.
Should the listeners learn the rules of grammar, or should they just focus on meaning, and let the rules look after themselves?
Both but in a structured sort of way.
In communicative teaching the structured side was a bit lost.
Just listening and working things out by being dropped in at the deep end is a bit of a big step – it takes a while.
It’s also important to do some structure work, but also to expose the learners to things that illustrate the language point being used in a functional way.
So it’s not just about form, but also about function and trying to balance the two.
So, as we’ve said before – do both. Some structured language work, combined with exposure in which you are really focused on following the meaning of what’s being communicated. Then probably some more reflection on the way it was done. Moving between grammar and pure meaning all the time. Juggling.

Back to the conversation with friends recently.

People get upset by failing standards in English.

Again, David doesn’t mind – as long as the language is intelligible then it’s a sign of changing identities – a sigh of the times.

Are we better at communicating than we used to be?

It is possible to measure, but not possible to give a simple answer. It depends on the situation.
Book: “The Gift of the Gab” How eloquence works.

Eloquence standards do vary from generation to generation, circumstances, individual to individual. E.g. Obama and Trump – differences in eloquence. Is Trump incoherent? Is Obama a better communicator? Some people say Trump is incoherent and inarticulate. But it’s not necessarily true considering Trump’s ability to communicate with his core voters.
People cite various things as examples of falling eloquence standards, e.g. using “like” but often these aren’t really examples of falling standards, it’s just a question of style.

How do we use “like”?
As long as it doesn’t get in the way, it’s just a question of style.
Again, people see language changes and they equate it with decline. It’s not.
Usually, people are giving examples of things that are just a different type of eloquence (again, change not death).

Trump’s English has a style with its own values. He avoids the rhetorical style of Obama with balanced, complex sentences. Trump uses everyday conversational strategies. “Look, believe me folks..” Every day conversational strategies. He doesn’t use carefully crafted sentences, he changes direction even mid sentence. These are all features of informal American speech.
Semantically it can be extremely difficult to understand what he really means. But adopting that style allows him to appeal to certain people.

These days he might have become a bit more formal, but during the campaign he was noticeably less formal and more colloquial than Clinton and the other candidates. As a result he clearly stood out from the crowd, during a climate of dissatisfaction with the traditional political class. People were fed up with the type of boring politician speaking in that boring old way. They thought they were out of touch with ordinary people, and part of a crooked system. Trump got in by presenting himself as an alternative to this established political system and the way he used English was a big part of that.

Thanks for listening! I hope that helps!