Talking to another runner-up from last year’s listener competition. Robin from Hamburg had a big setback in his learning of English, but worked hard to overcome it. We talk about his English learning trajectory, and ramble about German language & culture, his podcast for learners of German, podcasting microphones and then Robin teaches me some German words which are difficult to pronounce.
Hello everybody, welcome back to the podcast. I hope you are all doing alright today, wherever you are and whatever you are doing as you listen to this.
Here is a new episode, and we are returning to the WISBOLEP series with this one – talking to winners of the competition I did at the end of last year in which listeners chose some guests from LEPland to be featured in episodes of this podcast.
LEPland – that’s Luke’s English Podcast land, you see, L E P land – LEPland. Not LAPland, no, that’s Lapland – a real place, somewhere in the north of Finland. But no, I’m not talking about Lapland. I say this because sometimes people write to me and they say “Another listener here from Lapland” really? Are you from Lapland? Or do you mean LEPland. Maybe you are from Lapland, I don’t know. There are people there. If you are in Lapland, then hello to you too. Maybe you are Santa Claus (because Santa comes from Lapland) Maybe Father Christmas listens to this podcast during the year, just relaxing, taking a break. Anyway, if you are Father Chrismtas then welcome, “welcome” to everyone. But anyway, where was I? So… The competition, last year, Listeners chose some guests from LEPland to be featured in episodes of this podcast.
This episode now is the 4th in that series and the spirit of this whole competition is to let some LEPsters talk on the podcast so we can learn some things from them including insights into how they learned English, perhaps some things about the countries they come from and whatever else they can talk to us about.
This time it is the turn of Robin who comes from Hamburg in Germany.
Robin came joint 3rd in the competition with William from France. So William and Robin both received exactly the same number of votes and in fact their stories are not dissimilar (which is another way of saying that their stories are quite similar). Yes, their stories are not dissimilar in the sense that they both first learned English at school in their neighbouring countries, and then both chose to pursue English in higher education, both decided to become teachers of English and both spent time as teaching assistants in English schools in the South East of England, helping English schoolkids and students learn French or German in the case of Robin. So, funnily enough, Robin and William both have many things in common, including the fact that they both got exactly the same number of votes, so joint 3rd position, but anyway, this is Robin.
And yes, Robin is also an English teacher, just like the other WISBOLEP winners that we have had so far.
Now I would like to address something at this point and that is the fact that all the winners of this competition so far have been English teachers. Obviously they’ve been, let’s say, non-native speakers from different countries, but yes, the four people I’ve spoken to so far – they have all been English teachers, and I get the impression from reading one or two comments that some people might think it’s a bit unfair, for some reason, that the winners all seem to be English teachers, right?
Here’s the rationale, or the logic behind this point of view, as far as I can tell, and actually I should also say, the vast majority of comments on these episodes so far have been really positive. People have loved listening to the guests that we’ve had so far and I think people have found them to be interesting and inspiring and thought-provoking and so on. But anyway, I do get the sense that there is maybe this feeling of “All the winners are English teachers. What’s going on?” and so here’s the rationale, or the logic behind this point of view, as far as I can tell. Something like this…
“Hmm, so you can only win this competition if you’re an English teacher. What about the rest of us who don’t have that advantage?”
This sort of comment seems to suggest that non-native speakers of English who are English teachers have improved their level of English as a result of being teachers, that their English improved because they became teachers or as a consequence of being English teachers, and so being an English teacher gave them an unfair advantage in this competition.
But I think it’s probably the other way round, isn’t it? Surely they reached a proficient level of English before they became teachers, and then became teachers as a consequence of having a good enough level of English. You can’t qualify as a teacher without having a fairly decent level of English first, can you?
So, I think their progress and achievements in English proficiency are still thanks to their own merit just like anyone else who has got good at English, and so I think this still counts.
Sure, perhaps their teaching work has meant that they’ve had to do more language study than most people, and that they get to use English in their work on a fairly regular basis. That’s true. So the job has probably tweaked their English that bit further than many other people, but again, I’m sure the majority of their English progress was made before becoming English teachers.
So, I just wanted to point that out in case some people listening felt there was something amiss about the results of the competition. Personally, I think it’s fine and you probably think so too, right?
But bear with me as I say just one or two other things about this.
Of course there are loads of people who achieve great things in English and who don’t choose to become teachers, and that’s great too. I really don’t mind what people do, as long as they have something to offer to my audience, and I suppose ultimately this is why listeners voted for these people in this competition, because they felt that they would have interesting things to say on the podcast, and probably some insights into improving your English, and I think those things are definitely true. I feel that the 3 interviews we’ve had so far have been very insightful and interesting, and I think that this also applies to the other interviews that you haven’t heard yet. There are three more interviews to listen to. There’s Robin, Michal and Bahar as well.
And I’m sure that even now some people are going “This is unnecessary Luke. You don’t need to justify yourself”. Ok I won’t (as I whack the microphone).
Anyway, so, after this one with Robin, the next one will be Michal from Poland and he has achieved a decent level of English and he’s not an English teacher. Not yet anyway! I don’t know what he will choose to do in the future, but so far he has not qualified as a teacher.
Anyway, I don’t think it matters that much in the grand scheme of things, even though I have just devoted a number of minutes to talking about it. I think ultimately it doesn’t really matter that much, does it? Essentially we are listening to LEPsters who other LEPsters wanted to hear on this podcast and you know what – I am really enjoying these episodes, I think that the LEPsters who voted in the competition made some really good choices, and this series has been very well-received overall, which is great.
And this brings us to our 4th WISBOLEP guest – Robin from Hamburg in Germany (just in case you weren’t sure where Hamburg was. That’s right, it’s in Germany) so here we go.
So I spoke to a few weeks ago. Robin is someone who learned English at school like most people, and liked it, and then chose to pursue his English studies and broaden his English skills while still living in Germany. There were challenges and setbacks, as you will hear, but ultimately he managed to immerse himself in the language and get his English to a good enough level to be able to train to become a teacher of the language in Germany. Later on he went to England to get some work experience as a teaching assistant in German classes at a posh school in the South East.
Along the way Robin also chose to start a podcast for learners of German. So Robin is a podcaster too, just like me. Robin’s podcast is called Auf Deutsch Gesagt, which I hope I’m pronouncing correctly. Speakers of German, indeed Robin, in fact, you could get in the comments section and tell me if I’ve pronounced that correctly. Auf Deutsch Gesagt!
So if you are learning German and you want a podcast that is similar to mine but in German, you could listen to Robin’s podcast Auf Deutsch Gesagt! Which translates as “In plain German” or “In plain language” which I guess means that the German that you can hear in his episodes is the sort of natural German that people use on a daily basis. As Robin has said, he was quite inspired by my approach to LEP, and so I guess Auf Deutsch Gesagt is along similar lines. So that’s Robin’s podcast for people learning German. It’s on Spotify and is available where you normally get your podcasts.
There are links for his podcast on the page for this episode too.
So this conversation ended up being a bit longer than some of the other interviews with WISBOLEP winners, but that’s partly because we found that there were quite a lot of things for us to talk about including Robin’s learning of English after being told by one of his university teachers that he should just give up because he wasn’t good enough, his experience as a teaching assistant at a school in England, some comparisons between English and German language and culture, some slightly geeky stuff about the recording setups and microphones that we use for our podcasts, and then finally we thought it could be fun for Robin to try and teach me a bit of German, so you will hear me struggling to pronounce a few words in German near the end of the conversation, which should give you a bit of a laugh.
So that’s it then for this introduction. I will chat to you again briefly on the other side of this conversation but let’s now meet WISBOLEP runner up Robin from Hamburg, and here we go.
So that was Robin from Hamburg, teaching me a bit of German there, which was a bit of fun wasn’t it? I think it was. I hope you enjoyed it, listening to me struggle with another language for a change.
Again, if you’re learning German and you’re looking for a podcast to listen to, why not check out Auf Deutsch gesagt! (Spell it) So, again, you can just check the page for this episode on my website and you’ll see all of this stuff written. My introduction and this ending part here. It’s all written and you’ll find links to Auf Deutsch gesagt! If you want to listen to it.
It is available wherever you get your podcasts, and you will find links on the website to help you find it. (I’ve just said that!)
As you heard Robin say there, his approach is pretty similar to mine so it might be what you are looking for if you are learning German.
Also, I think it was very interesting to note the trajectory of Robin’s English learning.
Ooh “Trajectory” – there’s a nice word. (spell it)
Let me just talk about it a little bit. Firstly, it refers to the path that an object takes as it flies through the air. Now we’re talking about the trajectory of Robin’s English journey, but I think the first use or meaning of the word trajectory normally refers to objects flying through the air, and the path that they take as they fly through the air.
For example the trajectory of a plane from take off to landing. Imagine a line going up from the ground soaring into the air, over distance, then going back down to the ground. Trajectory – it doesn’t always mean it goes down, up and then back down again. It could just be from down to up.
Also you’ve got the trajectory of a rocket, or the trajectory of a golf ball flying from the ground, up into the air, over the grass and maybe landing on the green, hopefully, if you’re a golfer. The path that an object takes as it moves through the air. That’s the trajectory.
The second use of the word is metaphorical or idiomatic and it’s used to describe the movement or path of other things, like for example someone’s career trajectory, or the growth trajectory of a company, upward trajectory or downward trajectory. Imagine a line showing the movement of something making a curved line going up and over. It could be a line on a graph.
So, it is interesting to follow the trajectory of Robin’s English learning, especially that moment when he was told he wasn’t good enough to pursue his studies, and then he kind of doubled down on his English, and the results kind of spoke for themselves.
Arguably, being told “Oh you’re not good enough, I think you should give up” that is a very damaging thing to say to a learner of English, you would have thought, although not in the case of Robin, because this is the sort of kick up the bum that he needed. This is the kick up the arse that Robin needed apparently. I don’t know, I guess it could go either way. For some people, being told that would just destroy your confidence and you’d never achieve anything as a language learner after being told that. Or it might give you a wake up call and if you’re determined, well, this is the slap in the face that I needed – metaphorical slap in the face that I needed to kind of actually get me going.
Anyway, in the case of Robin it was the thing that kind of made him grasp the challenge.
So, thankfully Robin took it as a challenge and seriously started to immerse himself in English all the time, and probably did self study from grammar books and other things but basically he just put a lot of time and effort into his English and it paid off, and just listen to him now.
It seemed to make a lot of difference, right? Then he was able to qualify as a teacher and help other people with their English learning trajectory too, but the key thing is that he took the bull by the horns and took control of his learning himself [There’s a nice phrase! + some rambling about how you shouldn’t actually take a real bull by the horns because you’ll probably get gored in the stomach…]
The thing is that Robin took the bull by the horns, metaphorically speaking, and took control of his learning himself, realising it was all down to him and he did it in his own way.
Again, I hope you agree that this has been quite inspiring – basically as a way to say, you can do it too if you put your mind to it and you put the time in.
Again, I will echo my statements from the last of these episodes – I often tell you about the importance of motivation and the importance of doing certain types of practice, but also I just want to say, equally don’t worry about doing anything really. Don’t worry about it too much. Don’t feel bad if you’re not doing the things I often say. At the very least, just listen, enjoy listening, be happy, stay positive and enjoy spending time with English in any way that you like. This is probably the most important thing, that you have to maintain a good and positive feel-good relationship with the language, and when the time is right, you can take more control and really apply yourself by doing different kinds of practice, but don’t worry if you just like listening to English and that’s all you do. That’s fine. It’s all good. It’s all good in the hood.
But if you’re always looking for specific tips on ways to improve your English, if you want to take the bull by the horns and you want to improve your English in more applied ways including your pronunciation and your accent then pay attention to some things that Michal from Poland is going to say in the next WISBOLEP episode, which will arrive in a few weeks. Little sneak preview there of the episode with Michal from Poland.
And of course there’s the ongoing LEP Premium project which is designed to be a service that can help you make sure your English is on the right trajectory. Parts 3 & 4 of P29 are coming very soon – and they are going to cover more solid vocabulary, collocations, synonyms and phrases based on things my dad said in episode 704 of the podcast, with listen & repeat pronunciation exercises in part 2 as well. So if you want to hear that, access the PDFs for it and all the other premium content visit www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
But in any case, I hope you enjoyed this episode and thanks again to Robin for his contribution. It was great to talk to him. It was really nice to listen to him and just hear about his story and so on. I apologise if I spoke too much during the conversation, but it was a conversation after all, and that’s fine isn’t it?
As ever, let us know your thoughts in response to this episode in the comments section for this episode, right?
If you’re looking for the episode page where you can write your comments and also read transcripts for the introduction and ending of episodes like this, you will find the link in the description for this, wherever you are listening. [Luke rambles a bit about the Apple podcasts app] or just go to teacherluke.co.uk and then click EPISODES in the menu.
Well, it’s time to finish, isn’t it? It’s time to end.
Thank you for listening to my podcast again. Good luck with your English and I will speak to you soon, but now it’s just time to say bye bye bye bye bye bye bye.
William started learning English at 12 years old and continued at university and beyond, spending a couple of years in England as a teaching assistant and then returning to France to work as a school teacher, in some pretty tough classrooms and less-than-perfect teaching conditions. William talks about how he continues to maintain his English, the importance of finding good language exchange partners, and more.
Notes for the Introduction and Ending Monologues (not a 100% complete transcript)
Hello listeners, I hope you’re doing well. In this episode you’re going to listen to a conversation with another LEPster picked by other LEPsters for an appearance on this podcast. This time it’s the turn of William from France who came joint 3rd in the competition – it was a tie between William and Robin from Hamburg, and Robin will be on the podcast soon as well.
Right so this episode is the latest in the WISBOLEP series and WISBOLEP means Why I Should Be On Luke’s English Podcast and it was a competition I launched last year in which listeners sent in short recordings to persuade members of the audience to vote for them to be chosen for an interview on my podcast. So far I have spoken to the winner – Walaa from Syria and the 2nd place contender Tasha from China. Let’s now return to Europe and talk to William who lives in France. Shout out to all the French LEPsters. Salut les francais, et les francophone, ca va?
I think these WISBOLEP interviews are really interesting and there is a lot to gain from listening to them.
Sure, there will be some people who will decide that they just can’t listen to another learner of English and only native speakers of English are worth listening to. I can understand that to an extent, but I do think that completely dismissing non-native speakers of English like that is a mistake.
Learning English is a complex and personal process and I think there is a great deal to be gained from listening to other learners describe their experiences and methods of learning English. This can give you inspiration in terms of specific things you can do to improve your learning, and generally it can give you a lot of perspective about what it really means to be a learner of English or a speaker of English as a second language, what proficiency really is, what fluency really means, how important perfection is compared to having the initiative to just go out there and start using English. Also it can give you a sense of camaraderie with other fellow learners, and it’s very healthy to know that you are part of a community of similar language learners around the world, all of whom are trying to work on their English level in various ways. Some people are better than others, but everyone is going through a similar process.
We are all learners of English in a way, including me, and it’s wrong to think that learning English has a specific end point or conclusion to it. It’s a never ending process and there are always things to learn and ways to improve in terms of how we use this tool to communicate with people more effectively.
Perfection is not necessarily the thing to expect from yourself or others. It’s a high ideal to strive towards but if you only accept perfect English, then prepare to be disappointed, both by yourself and by others. Setting perfection as your ultimate goal is quite unrealistic and doesn’t really reflect the nature of English as a pragmatic language. When you’re using English in the real world, it’s not necessarily about having flawless English but about the results that you achieve with your English. It’s “connection not perfection” as the girls from AEE always say.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be ambitious or that you shouldn’t try to do your very best in English. It’s important to try to be better at English of course. But little mistakes are inevitable, holes in your knowledge of English are inevitable and you should not let these things stop you on your journey with this language. We have to try to accept that we will make mistakes and we have to learn from them. You have to be philosophical about it.
Another idea that strikes me as I listen to these WISBOLEP episodes is that curiosity and a willingness to take a few risks are really important. It seems to help your progress in English if you are willing to go out of your comfort zone a bit and throw yourself into situations that will ultimately help your English to develop. Be curious all the time and keep moving forwards in your quest to know more, learn more and get more control over the language, even if you never really get to the end – in fact there isn’t really an end point. Be patient and don’t let little obstacles get in your way.
I could bang on about this kind of stuff all day, but I will conclude by saying that it’s up to you to find your own motivation to keep going with English. There is no “one perfect way”. Everyone has to find their own path, and I think it’s a long-term thing. At the very least, certainly for the next hour or so I hope you simply enjoy listening to William and me talking about his experiences, with an open mind and a sense of curiosity, and don’t underestimate the value of listening to fellow learners of English.
I would say, try not to compare yourself to others too much, and equally, don’t judge others too harshly. Just try to take inspiration from other people’s stories and examples.
This brings us to William from France, and in fact this conversation demonstrates a lot of those ideas that I just mentioned.
Just a little bit of background info on William before we start, just to give you a sense of the context from which he learned English.
William is from a town just outside Paris, called Combs de Ville. His parents are from the French West Indies and more specifically from an island called Guadeloupe, which is a French overseas department and region of France in the Caribbean. So his parents were from there originally and they moved to France in their twenties. William was born in France. He grew up learning French as his first language, but his parents did still speak Creole (the local language from Guadeloupe – but no English. In his own words “Creole and French were the main languages used at home but my parents didn’t want me to use Creole. We were in France so French was the only language I was allowed to use. So it was a bit strange to be able to understand a language without being able to use it.”
As you’ll hear, English didn’t come into William’s life until he started learning it at school like everyone else in France at the time, at about the age of 12. But he took to it and liked it. I wonder if having several languages in the household growing up had anything to do with that. It’s possible. But in any case, William didn’t get a head start on his peers in terms of English.
I’m not going to explain in advance all the main points in our conversation. Instead, I will let you discover it as you go. What I will say is that I really enjoyed this chat, and you will find that it gets more focused, more specific and more insightful as it goes on.
That’s it from me now. I will speak to you again on the other side of this conversation with a few reflections and thoughts, but now, let’s hear from William from France, who came joint 3rd in the WISBOLEP competition.
Oh one other thing, before I forget. William wanted me to add something at the start of this episode – and that is to say a big thank you to all the people who voted for him in the competition, giving him the chance to be featured in an episode of the podcast. So, thanks from William.
So that was William from France. I really enjoyed talking to him. He’s a lovely guy and here are some of the things I took away from this. Here are some thoughts and reflections.
English is a journey not a destination.
There’s no end point in terms of learning English. It’s like being a musician or a sports player. There’s always training to be done and room to improve in terms of technique, general fitness and fluency and so on. You have to practise all the time and there are always ways in which you can gain more control and more efficiency in how you use English to express ideas. This is true for native speakers of the language as well, including me. I see myself as a work in progress too, in terms of how effective I am as a speaker or writer of English.
Finding language partners for language exchanges can be a great way to get regular practice into your life, but you have to find the right person, and this can take a long time, but don’t let that stop you – keep searching, keep talking to different people until you find someone who is right for you. This could be true of one to one teachers as well. Sometimes you need to shop around a bit. Remember, like William you can find language exchange partners, conversation partners and English teachers on italki. Italki is both a sort of marketplace for online teachers, but also a social network which you can use to find other language learners, and that could include fluent English speakers who want to learn your language, and like William you could just informally set up conversations with these people and spend some time speaking English and some time speaking in your language, and if you get the right person that can be an invaluable source of practice for you. To sign up for italki you can still use my link, which is www.teacherluke.co.uk/talk and if you access italki that way and then buy some lessons with a teacher, italki will send you a discount voucher worth 10 dollars which you can use next time.
BUt the point there is → be patient, be dedicated, keep searching, don’t give up and you could find someone who you can practise your English with on a regular basis in a mutually beneficial way. It could be a way to make new friends as well.
Finally – stay curious, about English – especially in terms of learning about how the language works in order to work on your grammar in a sort of organic way – just trying to work out how the language works, referring to grammar books (a tip could be Practical English Usage by Michael Swan – a good reference book for English grammar and usage) and also stay curious about other people, because this is really important in developing good communication skills. It’s not just about how well you can speak and express yourself, it’s about how well you interact with other people and listening to others is a big part of that. So, be curious about the language, but just be curious about people you meet and be interested in other people when you talk to them and you’ll find that your communication skills will thrive as a result of that. I feel that that’s something William does – he is interested in other people and that’s a strength of his. It’s one reason why he communicates well.
OK, just some thoughts that occurred to me at the end of this episode here.
Feel free to share your thoughts too in the comment section.
I would also like to say that talking to William gave me a little boost. He said some nice and sincere things about this podcast, about how it has helped him and how I might be helping other people and I appreciated it. So good luck to you William and all the listeners who are still listening all the way up to this point in the episode.
That’s it from me,
I will speak to you in the next episode. Again – a reminder that I am also working on Premium series 29 – What did Rick Say? And so premium subscribers – look out for new episodes in that series arriving very soon. teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo for more details and to sign up.
Have a lovely day, morning, evening, night! Stay safe! Stay positive! Stay curious!
Walaa Mouma from Syria has an amazing and inspiring story for all learners of English around the world, and some specific tips on how to improve your English long-term. Listen to this episode to hear all about it. Transcript and text video available.
In this episode the plan is to wish you a happy new year, welcome back all my regular listeners (and maybe some irregular listeners too) and also say a big hello to any new listeners who might have just discovered this podcast and are wondering what it’s all about. I normally do episodes like this at the start of the year because at this time, during the new year period, it’s normal to turn over a new leaf, make a fresh start, perhaps make some new year’s resolutions and generally try to pick up some good habits for the year to come – and that often includes working on your English and trying to find good listening resources to help you do that.
So, in this episode I’d like to welcome you to LEP or welcome you back to LEP, just summarise what this podcast is all about, restate my objectives for doing this and generally make sure we are all on-track for a good year of podcasting and learning English in 2021.
I’ve decided to answer some Frequently Asked Questions. These are the questions people typically ask me when they find out that I have a podcast for learning English and they want to know more.
So during the episode, you’ll learn or be reminded of what the main ideas are for this podcast, what teaching principles this is based on, what my methods are, what you can expect from my episodes in general, how you can use them to improve your English and also some info about me too, because it’s a good idea to get to know the person you’re listening to, isn’t it? I have always found, as a teacher, that it really helps when I put my personality into my English lessons. It just seems to make things more enjoyable and effective for the learners. Not because I have an award-winning personality or anything, but just that I think learning a language is a deeply personal process and so it makes sense to have a more personal approach to teaching it as well as learning it. It helps if you know who I am. It gives you context, it brings the language to life and it’s just more fun too, isn’t it. If you like, as you listen to this, you can imagine we’re in a cafe or something (even though I’m doing all the talking – but you can pause me at any time and put your thoughts into words if you want. I can’t hear or respond to you, but it’s better than nothing isn’t it? That’s the least you can say about my podcast , haha, “Well, it’s better than listening to nothing”)
By the way, other podcasts are available of course. As you probably know, there are quite a lot of podcasts for learners of English including ones by the BBC and other ones by other people, and they’re great, but obviously I hope you listen to my podcast, don’t I?
So, what’s this podcast? How can it help your English? Who are you listening to? Those are the sorts of questions we’ll be covering, but also plenty of other random bits and pieces.
Happy New Year!
Welcome back to the podcast! I hope you had a fairly good holiday period – as good as it can be during this mad mad time that we are all living in. When’s the world going to go back to normal? When’s that going to happen? We don’t know. Was it even normal in the first place? Probably not. In any case – I hope you’re well and that you’ve started 2021 in a reasonably positive frame of mind and that you’re ready to embark on some new audio adventures with me and my podcast.
If you are a brand new listener – then welcome. I really hope you simply enjoy listening to me talking to you, or talking with my guests in English in these episodes. I hope that this will help you to get regular English listening practise into your life, and that you enjoy it too.
Because enjoying your listening practise is so important. This will help you to listen regularly, listen for longer periods of time and listen long-term in your life as well.
We all know that it is very important and useful to listen to plenty of clear, natural English, spoken at a fairly normal speed, focusing on a variety of topics.
Reading is good. Studying grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation – that’s good. Doing plenty of speaking practice is really important. Watching videos in English is helpful. But do not underestimate the importance of just listening to English – for as long as possible each time. That’s what this podcast aims to help you do – at a very minimum. There is more to it than that of course. A lot more. But basically – I want you to do more listening in English.
The first and most basic aim of this podcast is just to help you to get more English in your life through listening to the spoken word – listening to English as it is spoken naturally, by me in this case, and my guests.
Let’s go through my list of frequently asked questions, which will form the backbone of this episode, which is probably quite long.
What is this podcast?
Is it for me?
It’s for everyone, but it might be difficult if → You’re lower than an intermediate level (intermediate might be hard – you’ll have to be extra motivated) or you are a really visual learner. (My wife doesn’t listen to podcasts – even in French. She can’t really do it. She feels she has to close her eyes or do nothing else, whereas I love just listening to audio and it works really well for me – better than watching videos because I can multi task)
How long have you been doing it?
Why did you start doing this podcast?
Who are you Luke? I mean, can you tell us a bit more about yourself, your background and your career so that we can feel totally confident that you know what you’re talking about and that you’re just some guy who can speak English?
Will it really help my English to listen to this?
How do you know? First-hand accounts from listeners.
Common sense. Of course. It’s about a billion times more effective than listening to nothing at all. Plus, what else are you going to do? Watch Netflix with subtitles (yes, do that too, but switch the subs off sometimes) REad books (yes definitely – both graded and non-graded ones if you’re ready) Speak English with people you know who speak English (yes) Take English classes (good idea as long as you take part properly and take responsibility for your learning too). You can do all of those things. But I don’t want to make this complicated. Listen to my podcast regularly and it will help with your English.
Academic studies I’ve done – while preparing my teaching qualifications I read a lot of books and other texts based on proper academic studies into how people learn languages.
Professional experience after having met many thousands of learners of English from many places, and working with them closely to help their English. Observing what works for them, what people respond to, the realities of learning a language.
All of that has shown me that regularly listening to something like my podcast can help your English a lot. I could go into that more (and I have in previous episodes) but that’s all I will say at this point.
Will it help me improve my grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation?
Yes, both directly (when I teach language) and indirectly (through exposure). I can also help you think about the way that you learn, which can make you a more skillful and effective learner.
What’s your method then, Professor Thompson?
5 Ls, 5 Ss, 5 Ps, being a smart-learner, the 5 Ms, DISCIPLINE, commitment. There are many ways to approach language learning. You have to choose one that works for you and that helps you to keep doing it even when it’s tough. Basic: Get as much English into your life as possible and make it meaningful. Hopefully I can help by giving you something you enjoy and want to listen to. More complex: Be a conscious learner too → notice structures and phrases, notice pronunciation (how I say things), try to record them, understand them in context, remember them, record them and repeat them. My premium content is designed specifically to help you do that. I cut out a lot of the annoying work and put it all on a plate for you. Just listen, follow the PDFs and do what I tell you to do – memory tests, repeat after me etc.
Can I really learn English on my own, only by listening to you Luke?
I always recommend my podcast as “part of a balanced diet” and that does include doing other things, especially plenty of speaking practise with real people, probably qualified teachers who can help give you bits of feedback and correct your errors, but also just speaking with people helps you develop the social side of using in English for communication.
I should also mention writing and reading of course, but since this is an audio podcast we focus mainly on the spoken version of English.
What level is it for?
Should I do anything else, other than just listening?
Share your thoughts in the comment section on my website – practise little bits of writing there and chat with other listeners.
Your episodes are quite long. Aren’t they too long, in fact?
How should I listen? (the technology you can use, what you can do while listening, where you listen, how often you listen)
Are there transcripts for these episodes?
What’s your accent Luke?
Do you only have native speakers on your podcast? Most of the time my guests have English as a first language, but sometimes I talk to people who have learned English in adulthood because these people are extremely inspiring as they have done what so many people want to do, and they have great insights into the process of learning English and it’s also really important for you to listen to non-native English speakers speaking English too because it’s vital to hear a variety of English being spoken in your life. English is a diverse language. There are many people around the world using it and speaking it in slightly different ways. It’s important for you to be able to understand all those different varieties. This is true for the different accents and dialects in native English speakers too – you should become accustomed to hearing English spoken with various regional accents. If you only ever listen to my standard RP which is probably very clear to your ears, you might not be able to understand others. Also I really want to encourage you to love the different regional accents and to see their value. Sometimes learners of English will say that they only want RP and they see other accents as somehow being “lower forms of English” with less value. I don’t agree with this of course. The idea that a regional accent makes you sound uneducated or even lazy or something – that idea deserves to stay in the 1950s where it belongs.
Having said that – let me put my cards on the table and be as clear as possible.
What accent should you develop in English?
The first thing is that you need to be clear. People need to understand you. Work on that.
It’s a good idea to pick a certain accent which you can use as a model. This is the accent/pronunciation you can aim for or try to copy. Why not choose RP? It’s a perfectly good choice as most people will be familiar with it. If you have a particular reason for wanting to copy a regional accent, then go for it. Perhaps you live in the north of England and you want to do things like your neighbours. Or maybe you just love a certain regional accent for personal reasons and you’ve decided that this is the one for you. That’s fine too. Go for it. Try to keep things natural. I could talk about this more but I won’t go on about it too much.
Basically – I love all the accents in English. I really do. But I would probably recommend RP as the one to go for, just because it’s still a standard form. I know someone is thinking “but only about 5% of English speakers use RP” yes – but I can’t think of another accent which is more common. Think of British accents in a pie chart. There isn’t one accent that really dominates that chart, I expect. Each segment in the chart is probably around the same size. So which one do you pick? Again, I think RP is fine and makes sense because it’s a standard. I don’t mean you should speak like a posh person, like The Queen or something, because that would be weird.
Listening for understanding others Listening in order to develop your pronunciation
How do I pronounce your name, actually?
How do I pronounce the name of the podcast?
What sort of episodes can we expect?
What are your favourite episodes?
You’re on episode 699 of LEP. Do you have anything special planned for episode 700? No, I don’t! I think it will just be another episode this time. I can’t think of anything specific I can do. Maybe I will do a YouTube livestream “Ask Me Anything” kind of thing. I’ll see. I know that if I do a YouTube live stream then you will all want to know about it in advance. This isn’t always possible. You’ll just have to subscribe to my YouTube channel.
What are LEPsters?
Where are your listeners?
In many places around the world! All over the world.
Why do you talk about ninjas sometimes? What are LEP Ninjas?
Can you explain the Russian Joke please? No.
What do you think of Brexit? It’s a bad idea. I think it was an opportunity for a bunch of nutters to take control of my country and push it in a different direction. I think it’s the wrong direction, but now we have to live with it and make it work. I am not a fan of Boris Johnson and his gang. I feel they’re doing a bad job. That’s probably enough politics isn’t it. Oops, nearly slipped on politics there. Watch out everyone, there’s some politics on the floor. Don’t step in it. “Can someone clean that up please?” (I have made that joke before)
Do you have a team of people helping you to do this? No, it’s just me.
Can we see you perform stand-up comedy on stage?
Are you married and do you have kids and stuff?
What’s your favourite football team?
Do you like music? Do you play music? Do you have any songs stuck in your head today?
Can you sing songs for us on the podcast sometimes? Yes, I do that occasionally, when I feel inspired to do it. I’m not the greatest singer or the greatest guitarist. I’m just learning. But I love it and I feel moved to do it. If I do sing in an episode, most of the time, I do it right at the end of the episode so that people who might not like it don’t feel obliged to listen to it. But the ones who like hearing my versions of other people’s songs (I usually sing cover versions of songs) those people can listen and hopefully enjoy hearing me. I always make an effort to sing clearly so you can hear all the words of the song. I also don’t use any reverb to cover up the imperfections in my voice or guitar playing. I just get the guitar on my lap, point the microphone somewhere between the guitar and my mouth and do my best.
Are you on YouTube?
Yes, I have a YouTube channel as you may know.
I post my audio episodes there, usually with a single static image. I don’t think YouTube is necessarily the best way to listen to my content, but I guess if you are sitting at your computer, perhaps doing something else (like gaming or working or something) then it’s convenient to have one of my episodes running in the background. But also, YouTube’s automatically generated subtitles are usually pretty accurate. When I’m talking on my own, the accuracy is about 95% but when I’m with guests that accuracy can drop to about 85-90% I think. That’s not 100 perfect, but it’s pretty good.
I’m always working on ways to deliver 100% correct transcripts to you because I know how useful and important they are. To an extent I’m just waiting for the technology to catch up. I think it won’t be long before automatic transcriptions are basically perfect but we’ll see.
I’ve been working with some new software which is quite mind-blowing. I don’t want to make any promises about it because I’m just experimenting with it at the moment, but basically it allows me to generate transcripts for episodes in a really convenient way, then edit those transcripts quite easily while also editing the audio. This is too complicated to get into now.
Have you forgotten anything?
Yes, I am certain that I have forgotten to mention something really important, and someone is going to think “Hey you forgot to mention this specific thing! Or You didn’t mention this specific person!” Sorry about that.
You ramble quite a lot Luke, you sometimes talk too much and repeat yourself a bit.
Yes, I do. Sue me. To paraphrase Shakespeare: There is a method in my madness.
From Shakespeare’s Hamlet, 1602. The actual line from the play is ‘Though this be madness yet there is method in it’.
The main message I want to give you here is this:
Listen to my episodes regularly and enjoy doing it.
Download my app to get easy access to all the episodes on your phone. (more than in Spotify and anywhere else)
Become a premium listener if you want to go further in your learning with me.
Don’t be a ninja – come out of the shadows and write a comment from time to time.
This is a weird period of history in which we are living? I hope you’re getting on ok. Here in France the government has just put some new lockdown restrictions in place and we’re all trying to work out what they really mean. I don’t want to go on about covid on this podcast too much, except to say “hang in there everyone” and keep calm and carry on. Check out my episode from earlier this year which is all about language for talking about lockdown and dealing with lockdown, including the word lockdown, if you’re wondering what that is.
Here’s an episode in which I’m on my own, doing a bit of housekeeping – general podcast admin. I’m mainly going to talk about the WISBOLEP competition (as you can see from the title of the episode), but also I’m going to ramble about a few other things too including teaching you a bit of English – just some simple advice about making polite requests, also an inspiring message from a listener and maybe a song on the guitar at the end, we will see.
I’m publishing this episode hot on the heels of the last episode, which was my conversation with Christian from Canguro English (LEP686). Have you heard that? I only published it a few days ago and conventional podcasting wisdom says that you shouldn’t publish another episode so quickly after the last one, because the last one will sort of get ignored, lost, forgotten or sidelined as people won’t notice it and it won’t get as many listens as it should.
I think it’s a good episode, so if you haven’t heard it – be sure to listen to episode 686 with Christian. There’s also a video version of it on YouTube. It’s had a great response with people saying generally positive things, which is nice. Some people are requesting more video content. My position on this is that most of my content will always be audio, because that’s what I do – I make audio content, but every now and then I’ll do video versions of episodes and stick them on YouTube as well. OK. So subscribe to LEP on YouTube to make sure you get notified when I publish a video episode. I’ll probably tell you on the podcast too.
Also the episode before last has had some really interesting comments on the website. That was the episode about bilingual children in which we heard Alex in Moscow and his daughter Alice. Very interesting to read the comments from LEPsters or LEPlanders who are also bringing up their kids to speak English. Go to the episode archive and find 685 and read the comments. It’s all interesting stuff. I will do more of those bilingual kids episodes at some point. It’s a bit hard to mentally keep track of everything. There are a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous – a lot strands in this old dude’s head, man.
The deadline for sending in your entries was 15 October, so that’s long gone. One person is now freaking out.
The results aren’t ready yet or anything. You still have to vote for your favourites and all that – “how can we vote?” Steady on, the voting’s not ready yet either. All in good time.
All the recordings are sitting there in my inbox and I haven’t had a proper chance to work on the next stage of the competition yet. Things take time around here, you know how it is.
First of all I should say that it was great to get all the entries. I’ve managed to listen to almost all of them. I should say that it’s amazing to hear the voices of some of my listeners (some of them – obviously only a tiny portion of you sent in recordings because the vast majority of you are ninjas as we know, and that’s fine). It’s inspiring to hear little snippets of people’s stories of learning English, with the help of this podcast in many cases. That’s also quite flattering – that’s not the point of it all of course – just to flatter me or something. The point was to encourage you to step out of your comfort zone a little bit and record something and send it in, to celebrate my audience a bit and also to just find a new guest with an interesting story to tell in an episode of the podcast. I want to say well done for everyone who plucked up the courage to record a sincere entry into the competition. Some of them are particularly inventive and… well, you will see.
It’s going to be very difficult to choose a winner, because there are quite a lot of really interesting people and I’m sure you are going to want to hear more from many of them.
But the thing is, I have a bit of a problem. We have a bit of a problem with this competition. It’s a logistical issue. Logistical refers to the organisation of something complicated.
It’s not a major problem. It’s not like a Tom Cruise jump out of a plane to save-the-world Mission Impossible to problem or anything – no explosions. It’s quite a good problem really, but still, I’ve been scratching my head and wondering what to do about it.
What’s the problem Luke?
The problem is… I’ve had 100 entries – each one 2 minutes in length – that’s about 200 minutes in total, and that’s about 3 and a half hours if I play all the entries back to back without any pause or comment from me between them and without any introduction from me, and I will have to do some kind of introduction at the start, and it will also be necessary for me to say the names of each person again plus maybe one or two other things to help you remember them.
So, 200 minutes or 3.5 hours, plus an introduction in which I explain the voting rules etc, and little comments from me – that’s at least 4 hours of audio.
It’s too much, isn’t it? It’s too much audio for me to expect everyone to listen to. And I need everyone to listen to it all because I want to do some kind of fair voting process for this. Hmmm.
I like doing long episodes, but this goes beyond that, especially since I would like every single two-minute entry to be heard and you’ll need to remember which one or ones are your favourites in order to vote for them on my website.
Imagine a presidential election with 100 candidates, all presenting themselves to you one after the other. You’d never remember who they were, even if they were all extraordinary.
So this is the issue. Too many entries. It’s become a bit of a logistical nightmare.
It’s my fault. I take full responsibility of course. I set the 2-minute time limit for each recording because I thought you’d need that long to say something meaningful.
What did I expect though? For some reason I thought not many people would enter, but I don’t know why I thought that. I should have known that I’d get at least 100 entries!
Anyway, what’s the problem? You might think.
Let’s go through the options I have ahead of me now and we’ll see.
Why am I telling you this?
Transparency – I want everyone to know what’s going on, so that I don’t get loads of messages from people asking my why I’m doing it this way, and not that way and why didn’t you do this, and I thought you would do that, and I’m disappointed with this and why didn’t you play my recording, and I thought you’d play them all, and I was disappointed by the last Star Wars film and English is too complicated because the spelling and pronunciation are weird and there are too many accents and why can I understand you Luke but I don’t understand other native speakers and can you explain the Russian Joke and why why why and all that kind of stuff.
To avoid confusion and questions, I want you to know the situation like I do.
Also I’m curious to see what you think and I would like you to tell me your thoughts because it can help me make the right decision. (although to be honest I think I’ve already made up my mind)
I’d like to have some input from you but ultimately, I do maintain supreme executive power, so I will still do what I personally think is best, but nevertheless, I am interested in your ideas and I want you to know my decision making process.
Some of you will think this is all unnecessary and that I’m overthinking it, but I disagree. I think it’s necessary and I’m applying the appropriate amount of thinking and talking time to this. So there.
The main things we need to do are:
I want you, the audience, to be able to hear all the entries that have been sent to me (because I think people sent them to me with the understanding that they would be published for public scrutiny) and I want you to be able to vote for your favourites, rather than it just being a solo decision from me.
I would like to give an introduction before playing all the entries, because there are things I need to say about the voting process and stuff like that. Also I would like to make one or two little comments after some or all of the entries, as well as repeating the names of the contestants. All those things will increase the time this will all take, of course – so we’re looking at 4hours plus in total.
Then, based on the voting by you the audience, I will interview the winner. There might be a couple of runners up too, we will see.
I want to do this in a way which is fair, and which gives everyone an equal chance (because I am committed to maintaining some democratic standards in this world!)
Here are the different options which I’m considering. None of them are perfect, because of the whole “too many entries” issue. (by the way, saying “too many” does sound negative, but like I said before, this is quite a good problem in a sense. It’s a bit like having too much chocolate in your cupboard or something, or too much cake. Oh we’ve got too much cake! When and how will we eat it all? We can’t throw it away can we?) You see? Yes, you see. The cake metaphor is good.
So, the options I’m considering. And I’ll say right now that I think I’m going to choose option 4. Anyway, here we go.
I play all the entries (in alphabetical order, or chronological order) in one single epically long episode – probably about 4 hours long or more.
Problem: This is obviously far too long and just not a practical length for one single episode of the podcast. The chances are, people will not listen to the whole thing and most of the entries will not be heard and so the voting will be unfair.
I play all the entries, but in a series of episodes (that all get uploaded on the same day). It would probably be 5 or 6 episodes → Introduction, WISBOLEP 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5. 20 entries in each episode. Each episode is about 45 minutes long.
Problem: It’s more or less the same as option 1. Will people listen to all the entries? The people in parts 4 and 5 might not get as much attention as the ones in the first part.
Also, I have to say that I have to be a bit careful about what I publish to my podcast feed.
Dropping 5 episodes of only competition entries into my podcast feed is not the greatest idea – and I say that as a podcaster and podcasters must be fairly careful about what they publish. I have to be honest, I think that the majority of my audience aren’t that invested in the competition and the entries.
I have a survey on my website asking people to vote for their favourite types of episode (find it in the CONTANT section) and this kind of episode – competition entries from listeners – is actually the least popular type of episode that I do. I like doing them, but I have to make sure I do it right. I think the reason this type of episode got low votes in my survey is because the last time I did this (YEP competition) I published all the entries from round 1 (8 episodes in total, all in a row) and it probably wasn’t what a lot of people wanted in their podcast feed. I shouldn’t really do that again.
I choose what I think are the best entries and create a shortlist of something like 20 entries, and play them in one episode, and let people vote on just those 20.
Problem: 80 people’s entries just get rejected and never get played or published in any way, which is a pity and I think that would disappoint about 80 people who took the time to record something thinking that it would appear on LEP. I don’t think I ever said that all the entries were guaranteed to be played on the podcast, but I may have given that impression.
This would essentially solve the main problem of there being too many entries, but I don’t really want to just just chuck 80 recordings in the bin. Those people recorded them expecting them to be heard by more than just me.
I create two rounds of voting.
The first round is done on the website only, meaning that all the entries are posted on my website but not played in an episode of the podcast.
That way, the people who really want to listen to all the entries and vote for them, can do it by going to the website and listening there. I would probably post all the audio as an unlisted YouTube video because I can create time stamps for each entry, making it easier for you to find them and hear them.
So, the episodes would all be available for listening on the website (so they are made publically available) and people can vote for their favourites there. The winners of the first round could be decided by a combination of votes from listeners and my own choices.
Round 2 would be something like the most popular 20 entries from round 1 and all of them would be played in an episode of the podcast.
This would make it much easier for the whole audience to vote.
The winner of round 2 would be interviewed on the podcast.
It might be possible for some runners up to be featured too.
So, which option do you prefer?
To be honest, I’m leaning towards option 4. I think I’m going to choose option 4 but I’d also like to run it by you to see what you all think.
The chances are, you’ll all have different opinions and different advice, which is fine.
I get the final say and you’ll just have to trust me on that.
Let me just recap
Option 1 – one mammoth 4 hour episode with all the entries. No.
Option 2 – one mammoth 5-part WISBOLEP series. I don’t fancy it.
Option 3 – I choose the top 20 entries and publish them, and just bin the rest, never to be heard by the public.
Option 4 – Put all the entries on the website and those people who want to listen to every single one, can do it, and they can vote too.The most popular 20 (let’s say) will then be published in a single WISBOLEP episode for the second round of voting. The selection process will be based on a combination of the listener voting and my own judgement (which will probably be more or less the same I expect).
Again, some of you might say I’m overthinking this whole thing. But I’m just trying to do it properly and fairly.
I think I’m going to choose option 4, but as I said, let me know your thoughts.
You might have an idea for an option 5 for example, so feel free to share that.
But do bear in mind that I also have to limit the time and cost that is involved on my side for this.
For example, if your idea for Option 5 could be for me to do a YouTube live stream in which I play all the entries one by one, with some comments from me… well, that could be fun, but it would also mean me live streaming on YouTube for a lot more than 4 hours probably, and it’s rare that I ever get 4 free consecutive hours in my life these days! So, that would just not be practical from my side. [Do it at night!] No, sorry. I need my beauty sleep.
My name is Luke not Luck / look / Mr Luke / luke (lower case L) or Luke’s
I’ve been doing this for 11.5 years, nearly 700 episodes (a lot more in fact) and I’m still talking about how to spell my name (I remember saying this in episode 1 of the podcast).
People often spell my name Luck → but maybe it’s autocorrect!
Proofread your emails and comments before you send them! (advice for us all)
So this whole “Luck English Postcard” thing might just be a conspiracy by computers and phones that are “just trying to make the world a better place” by helping us with our spelling (and yes, “postcard” is often what people type when they mean podcast – maybe that’s because they think the word is postcard – it is the sort of word people learn in lower-level English classes, or it’s because your computer doesn’t have very good English and it’s “helpfully” autocorrecting podcast to postcard. I don’t know.)
Having said that, I remember many many times when I was actually called Luck, look, ruku or rook or whatever by learners from around the world that I have met, but again that’s probably because it’s hard to pronounce Luke, or people don’t realise that Luke is a name and they think my name is Luck.
For example, if I was learning Chinese or Russian or any other language with words that look different to English I am sure I would make similar errors and worse probably. I do it in French.
Basically, what I’m saying is I forgive you. But please do remember to proofread your emails and comments. ;)
Making Polite Requests
Another language point here with reference to people getting in touch with me: making requests.
People often request certain things from me. Like for example they’re very keen to hear me talk about a certain topic.
Luke, make an episode about Peaky Blinders.
Luke, do more videos.
Luke, publish an episode about Ricky Gervais.
Honestly, when I read that, probably in the queue at the supermarket or something, my first reaction is “no”. “No-one tells me what to do! … well, except maybe my daughter, and my wife, and my boss at work, and the government, and.. well ok fine, some people tell me what to do, but you get the point.”
Even though I would quite like to do an episode about Peaky Blinders, or Ricky Gervais and I like doing videos when I can.
My first, stressed out, overloaded mind, trying to not catch COVID reaction is “no – don’t tell me what to do!”
I think this is just because of the way the request has been presented to me.
In most cases, when people request things from me, I am sure they are being very well-meaning and there is no malice behind it at all, quite the opposite. They’re showing their enthusiasm and it’s motivated by positive feelings. They like the podcast and would love to hear something about Peaky Blinders or whatever it is.
What I’m saying is, think about how you word your requests.
Think of the difference between a request and an order (or an imperative).
Requests are polite (they should be), orders are not really polite. Orders are what the police do, for example. “Get in the back of the van!”
I could get into the fine details and all the linguistic specifics, but this is not LEP Premium, so let’s just keep it simple.
Order / imperative
Make an episode about Ricky Gervais.
Even your boss at work doesn’t use imperatives.
“Write this report and send it to me by 5pm Friday, and also come in to work on Sunday, we need you.” –> if you work in a horrible place with a boss who doesn’t care about your feelings even a little bit.
Usually bosses will at least sugarcoat their requests a little bit, to help the medicine go down.
“If you could wrap up this report and ping it to me by end of play on Friday, that would be great, and I’m afraid you’re going to have to come in on Sunday – there’s nothing we can do about it – I’ll see if I can get you a day off later in the year maybe.”
Let’s consider how to turn an imperative into a simple and polite request.
Luke, make a new video with Amber and Paul.
You could add a “please” to that, because we all know that adding please makes it more polite, right?
Luke, please make a new video with Amber and Paul.
That’s better, but adding please to an order isn’t enough. It is still an order, and it just sounds like you are a rich person giving commands to a member of staff or something.
Also, adding thanks at the end makes it sound a bit dismissive and a little bit rude even.
Luke, please reunite the Beatles on the podcast. Thanks.
Saying thanks for something before it’s been done, I think, sounds a bit pushy. It’s like assuming it’s going to be done.
We sometimes write “Thanks in advance” at the end of an email with a request, but it can still come across as a bit pushy. [Thinks: I need to do an online course about writing emails…]
The issue is with the structure. Any imperative structure still sounds quite rude even if you add lots of stuff at the start or end, because it is still an imperative. It’s still an order.
Luke, please consider making an episode about James Bond. [good, you’ve added “please consider” – a nice bit of hedging but you’re still ordering me to do it.]
Luke, if you have time, please consider making an episode about James Bond. [“If you have time” is a thoughtful thing to add, but again this is still an order.]
Both those things are better, but this is still not what I’m looking for.
What are you looking for Luke?
You need to make your request into a question. To cut a long story short I just recommend that you add “Could you” at the start and “please” at the end. That’s it. That’s probably enough, probably. Don’t forget the question mark.
Luke, could you make an episode about Ricky Gervais please?
This is much better. It just comes across as much more polite and nice and I don’t feel like I’m being ordered to do something. I’m more willing to have an instantly positive response to that.
Even better would be a bit more hedging (adding things before or after the main statement), just to show more respect.
You don’t have to go too far.
Luke, your podcast is a work of genius unrivalled in all forms of art, culture and human endeavor, and I am certain that in your infinite wisdom have you have considered all possible topics for an episode of your esteemed podcast. Having said that, and I pose this most humble of requests to you with the deepest level of respect, sir, would it be at all possible if you could consider spending even a tiny speck of your most valuable time on the consideration of an episode devoted to the subject of Richard Gervais. I am certain that you would bring new insights and depth to this topic, and that all other commentary on it would pale in comparison to the profound work that you would undoubtedly produce.
That’s obviously too much.
But you could do this:
Hi Luke, thanks for your episodes. I particularly enjoy the ones about comedy, especially the one you did about Karl Pilkington. Could you do an episode about Ricky Gervais at some point, please? I’d really like to hear your thoughts on his stand up and TV shows. Don’t know if you’ve already considered that, but it would be really interesting to hear your thoughts.
Or, more simply – Luke, could you do an episode about Ricky Gervais please?
I know online culture is to just put things in the simplest and quickest way possible, but let’s not abandon the pragmatics of politeness in the process.
This is not just me by the way – I’m not just ultrasensitive or anything – this is a cultural thing and I think it’s true across the English speaking world.
Some of you might think that my comments here are waaaay too much and that it’s completely mad, unnecessary and over-sensitive to phrase your requests like this, but if you want my professional opinion I’d say → this is the right way to do it.
And that’s it.
Just to recap. If you are requesting something from me, just add “Could you…” at the start and “please?” at the end. Nice one.
Inspiring message from Daniel ER on Facebook
Dear luke, [actually it should be Luke with a captal L :) ]
I´m not sure whether you will have time to read this comment but here it goes anyway.
Three years ago, I got a ticket to Australia. With no English at all, I was determined to have an amazing adventure, live in another country, and obviously, learn English.
To be honest, it was really hard at the beginning. I had to play music in the street to earn some cash and I felt bad when I couldn´t say what I thought to the kind people of Australia.
Six months went by like nothing so I grabbed my backpack and accordion and took a road trip towards the north of Australia (Queensland).
I could [was able to] get a job in a resort as maintenance and although I [‘ve] gotta say that Australian English “is a thing”, all of them helped with my English, they were really patient with me.
Most of the time I was sad: People speak too fast, where is that accent from? What do you mean by “smoko” mate? It was then when I found your podcast. I had lots of time to listen to Spotify while I was fixing something at the resort so I took advantage of that. This really helped me a lot, I couldn´t be more grateful. I won´t forget episode 297 called “be positive” as I listened to it just on time, just when I was feeling that this fight wasn´t worth it.
Now, being fully aware that my English is not the best one, it is at least functional and that´s the point of all this, isn´t it? We must keep improving but at the end of the day you should be nicer to yourself, I mean that we have to recognize the achievements done so far.
I am back in my country (Chile) and I could [was able to] get an amazing job in which I speak English all day long, and you don´t know how awesome that is to me.
I honestly believe that maybe you are not fully aware of what do you actually do… you help people to achieve their dreams so be proud of all your efforts because we – your listeners- will be eternally grateful.
If someone out there is reading this comment and you are feeling frustrated and sad, just keep going! You can do this, it is not impossible and you have everything you need to learn this beautiful language. The key, in my opinion, you must be willing to go through the tough and uncomfortable moments that are on this path. You will remember them since they are the ones that teach us most. (quite sure I wrote that badly hahaha)
Thanks a lot for everything and I´ll certainly be listening to the podcast.
An episode exploring the subject of how to raise a child to speak English. I speak to Alex, an English teacher from Moscow about how he has been speaking exclusively in English to his 4-year-old daughter Alice since she was born. Let’s find out how it’s going.
Just in case you don’t know. My name is Luke and this is my podcast for learners of English all around the world. Welcome.
Just a reminder at the start here that this podcast is made possible thanks to donations from listeners and the paid premium subscription that you can sign up for in order to get access to over 100 episodes all devoted to helping you improve your grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. The library is growing all the time as I publish new premium stuff, and I am currently working on some new episodes which I hope to record and publish soon. Being a Premium LEPster means you get access to all that content, as well as the free stuff, and it also means that you support this whole project too. To get all the information, including the very reasonable prices just go to teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
One other thing – there’s a big vote coming up, a very important election in which one person is going to be chosen and it’s all very tense and historic – everyone’s talking about it – yes that’s right I’m referring to the WISBOLEP competition on LEP (what else?) I just wanted to mention this because people have been asking about it. The competition is closed now and I am working on the next stage of it, which will be to let you hear all the competition entries and then let you vote for your favourites, then based on the results of that vote, I’ll choose a LEPster to be interviewed on the podcast. I can tell you that there have been lots of strong entries so it will be difficult to choose just one person, but that’s what we have to do. So, stay tuned to LEP to hear an episode with everyone’s 2 minute speeches in which they try to convince you to pick them for LEP. That’s coming soon, when I’ve worked out how to manage it all. It’s coming in any case. Right, that’s that then, and now it’s time to start this episode properly, and here is the jingle!
Jingle – You’re listening to Luke’s English Podcast, for more information visit teacherluke.co.uk
Hello and welcome back to the podcast everyone.
This is the first in a series of episodes called Raising Bilingual Children, and it is about exactly that – the topic of bringing up children to speak several languages, or more specifically bringing up children who speak English as well as another language.
Ever since my daughter was born nearly 3 years ago I have been meaning to talk about the topic of raising bilingual children, or at least raising children who speak English fluently.
My podcast is mainly here to help my listeners improve their English, but a lot of you out there have kids and naturally your thoughts turn to them and their English.
I have had lots of requests from listeners asking me to talk about this topic, so that’s why this series exists, this being the first proper episode on the topic. I’m not sure how often I’ll be doing these, but it’s a topic I plan to return to in various ways in the future.
Maybe you have children and you want them to speak fluent English as well as another language. This is for you if that is the case. Maybe you don’t have children yet, but you might in the future, in which case you are thinking about how to help your future children learn English. We know that starting early is so important in language development. So, it’s certainly useful to have an awareness of this topic so you can do the right things when children come into your life.
Or maybe for you, having children is not a concern, because you’re not going to have children or you’ve already done it, but I still hope this will be interesting for you, because ultimately it is all about learning English and certain essential principles related to doing that.
The topic of raising bilingual children is massive. I am by no means an expert on this specifically, although it’s something I’ve been reading about, thinking about, talking about and also I’ve been doing it myself because I am raising a bilingual child, or hoping to, anyway.
As you may know, I live in France, and I have a young daughter – she’s nearly 3. My wife is French and and we are doing our best to make sure that our daughter learns to use both French and English with ease and confidence. So, I have experience in this area. But I haven’t done a masters degree in this topic or anything like that. My qualifications and experience are in teaching English to adults mainly. So I’m learning about it myself too.
It’s a complex topic.
There are big questions that come up when you start to talk about bilingualism in children, like “What is bilingualism exactly?”, “How do we define “bilingual?” “What is a native speaker?”, “How do children acquire languages? And is this different to the way adults do it?” and more… “What are the standards that we can realistically expect from children who aren’t living in an English speaking country and whose parents aren’t native English speakers?”
Also there are the many combinations of factors involved – many different situations that make it quite hard to get a proper grip on the topic.
For example, (and let’s just let’s use France as an example here, because that’s where I live, but you could replace France with any other country and this will still work)
Examples of Different situations
These different situations might require slightly different approaches or they might involve different challenges for parents.
One parent is French, the other is a native English speaker, they live in France. (like my situation)
One parent is French, the other is a native English speaker, they live in England.
Both parents are French, neither is a native speaker of English, but they live in England, the child is at school in English.
Both parents are English, both are native speakers, but they live in France and the child goes to school in French.
This is the holy grail: Both parents are French, neither is a native speaker of English, they live in France and the child is going to school in French.
Or similarly, one parent is French and let’s say the other is Korean, neither is a native speaker of English, and they live in Brazil and their child is going to school in Brazilian Portugese.
There are probably more possible combinations, and also there are other factors to take into account, like whether there is a wider community that exists in the target language (like grandparents who speak English that live nearby) or whether the child is going to a “bilingual school” (and there are various versions of that) or a monolingual school (only in English).
The more you think about the possible combinations, the more complex it gets! Especially from my point of view as I want to cover all the bases.
Also, there are different approaches you can take.
One parent, one language.
English in the home, another language outside.
English at the weekend and another language during the week.
Lots of combinations.
But, without getting too academic about it, I think one of the best ways to explore this subject is just to talk to people in various situations who are raising their children to speak English or who have done it, and just find out as much as possible about them.
Actually there are loads of people I can talk to about this, including my wife, our friends like Amber for example – who lives in France and has two children now, some of my colleagues at the British Council whose job it is to teach English to children and a lot of LEPsters who have success stories to share.
Alex Suvorov and his daughter Alice (4 years old)
This brings me to this episode in which I am talking to a long-term LEPster Alex Suvorov, and his 4-year-old daughter Alice.
I have been meaning to talk to Alex on the podcast about this topic for quite a long time now.
As you’ll hear, Alex fits into the category of a non-native speaker in a non-English speaking country (I mean one where English is not the first language) who has been raising his child to speak English.
There’s a lot to unpack here, but basically I want to find out firstly how Alex got his English up to its current level, and then talk about his daughter’s English. That’s it, basically.
Hopefully we can shed some light on this whole subject and maybe give you some inspiration or food for thought.
At the beginning of the conversation Alex is joined by Alice, and you’ll be able to hear her speaking a little bit, but after a few minutes she goes into the other room and it’s just Alex and me, but at the end you will be able to hear a short recording that Alex made of him speaking to Alice, which will give you a little idea of what her English is really like.
So, without any further ado, let’s go.
So that was my conversation with Alex Suvorov, about his approach to giving his daughter a headstart in English. I’d like to say thanks to Alex and his daughter Alice.
Now, it would be interesting to hear a bit more from Alice so I’m now going to play a quick recording that Alex & his daughter made together, so you can hear her speaking in English.
This is about 5 minutes long and you’ll hear Alex basically trying to get Alice to show us her English, which is quite hard, because as you might know, it can be quite difficult to get little children to cooperate sometimes, but if you listen carefully you can hear Alice responding to Alex’s questions and prompts and saying little comments here and there.
Bear in mind that she is only 4 years old. So in terms of her English we’re not looking for Dame Judy Dench here – you’re never going to get spectacular and fully formed language from a child of that age, in any language. So don’t expect to hear Amber Minogue here. THat’s not what we’re looking for.
What we are looking for is the ease with which she speaks in English. Listen out for how comfortable she is speaking English. Actually, I don’t hear any grammar or vocabulary errors from Alice but she might be a bit hesitant or shy – because 4 year old children often are and Alice knew she was being recorded here. Her accent might sound a bit Russian, but as we said near the end of the conversation, for a 4 year old the main thing is that sense of confidence and comfort in English – and I think Alice has that. Specific points of pronunciation can be worked on later. But a foundation of comfort, confidence, fluency and the feeling that English is your own language combined with an instinctive sense of grammar and vocabulary are the most important things you can give a child. I think you can hear that from Alice.
Anyway, let’s listen…
Listen to Alex and Alice talking…
So that was Alex and Alice.
Some of you will be desperate to say that she has a Russian accent, and maybe she does a bit, but like we said before, that’s fine. We’re not looking for perfection here. We are looking for a baseline or foundation of comfort in English, and I think it’s fair to say that Alice has got that. You heard her producing correct grammar, fairly complex little chunks of English, decent and other things might come later, like her accent, especially if she continues to listen to English from things like cartoons, films, and also audiobooks and so on.
But the main advantage that little Alice has got is that English is part of her life.
Is Alice “bilingual” – well that depends on how you define bilingualism.
As Alex said, he estimates her vocabulary to be about 20% behind that of a native speaker of her age. That’s great. Remember: Connection, not perfection. For those of you who cannot get over the fact that Alice still sounds a bit Russian, I would ask you this – Is Alex wasting his time? Would it be better for Alice if her father only spoke Russian to her? Is it realistic to expect Alice to speak like a native speaker, like mini Amber Minogue? Is Alice’s English 20% worse than a native speaker, or is it perhaps 80% better than a child who only ever speaks Russian?
Food for thought there.
Of course it is about personal choice.
But still, it is worth thinking about.
If you are also raising your child in English to some extent, do get in touch and tell us about your experiences in the comment section of this episode. We’d like to know what you think and what you are doing, including your doubts too.
Thanks again to Alex for talking to us and sharing his story.
You can find Alex on Instagram by the way, and everything he posts is in English, so check it out.
The website’s test is fairly reliable I would say, if you answer it honestly. It’s all based on an academic research project and every time you take the test the data gets added to their database, and the database is there to help with the academic study. Anyway, to cut a long story short, it seems quite reliable, but that’s the best I can say.
I just took the test. It took about 5 minutes. Would you like to know how many words I know?
Well, apparently I know 31,200 words which is ever so slightly above average for a native speaker of English in my age group. So, this means I am entirely normal, or a tiny amount above normal, which is good to know. So, my English appears to be a very good sample of what the average British person knows, which is quite reassuring.
Do you have a story of raising a bilingual child that you’d like to share? Tell us about it in the comment section below!
Announcing a new LEP competition which everyone is welcome to enter, plus an anecdote about the first time I said a rude word in front of my parents. Send your competition entries to firstname.lastname@example.org
LEP is brought to you by LEP Premium. This is how I pay for this podcast, along with donations from kind philanthropic listeners using the PAYPAL DONATE BUTTONS. LEP Premium though is my paid subscription service which includes loads of audio and video content to help develop your grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. You can get episodes in the LEP App or online, with PDFs, tests and pronunciation drills. For all the information you need go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
Notes & Transcriptions for #681
Hello everyone! In this episode I’m going to tell you about a new competition for LEP, which you can enter, and then I’m going to tell you a true story of something that happened to me when I was a child. In fact, the title of the story is “The First Time I Said F*ck”. I’m reluctant to blurt out the F word so early in the episode, but anyway, the story is about the first time I swore in front of my parents, and it’s a story I wrote for doing stand up comedy on stage, but I’m going to read it out on the podcast today.
But first, what about this new…
I’ve decided to launch a new competition and I’m going to tell you all about it in this episode.
I hope you feel welcome to take part. Everyone is invited to enter this competition, and that includes you, so I hope you consider taking part this time.
I mentioned this in the last episode and got a number of positive responses from people saying things like “I really hope you do the competition!” and so on.
Again, I want to say thanks to a listener called Vadim for prompting me to do this.
It’s been ages since the last competition (the last one concluded with episode 407 – the interview with Kristina from Russia) and I sort of wasn’t planning to do a new one, but then Vadim sent me this email and I just thought “OK, why not!?”
Here is Vadim’s message (with some error correction).
There are a few errors in here I’m afraid, Vadim. I’m going to correct those errors as I go along, hope you don’t mind.
I have an idea for new competition! It’s been awhile, since you have launched one.
I have an idea for a new competition. It’s been a while since you launched one.
So, an idea is very simple. It will be called WSIBOLEP, or Why Should I Be On Luke’s English Podcast [Actually, I’ll call it WISBOLEP – Why I should be on LEP].
So, the idea is very simple. It will be called WSIBOLEP
All you need, it’s just ask your listeners to record a little voice message, telling Why you MUST interview them on your Podcast.
All you need to do is just ask your listeners to record a little voice message saying why you must interview them on your podcast.
Because I believe that you have a lot of interesting people listening to you. Russian oligarchs, pornstars, ex-nazis hiding in Argentina, bobsleigh world champions, writers, celebrities, presidents, royal family members etc, etc.
And then your listeners will vote for the person who has a story that they want to listen to in more detail.
What do you think about it? I believe that it will be a good way to encourage people to do a bit of a practice and stop being a ninjas [being ninjas]. And those who don’t want to take part in this competition can just have a fun [just have fun], listening to exciting intriguing stories from all around the world.
Well, I actually think this is a fine idea and I’m curious to see what happens.
Let’s do another competition on LEP.
The prize this time – being interviewed in a full episode. I hope you consider that to be a prize!
WISBOLEP (Why I should be on LEP)
So let me summarise the plan for this competition.
You have to:
Record up to 2 minutes of audio explaining why you should be interviewed on LEP, then send it to me at email@example.com (only)
Listeners will hear all of the clips and vote for the person they want to hear, then I’ll interview the winner.
Remember: You are talking to the listeners, not to me.
You can use a script, or no script, but I encourage you to not use a script, and instead make some notes and do some improvising too. If you do read from a script, make an effort to make it sound natural, rather than robotic.
Also, if you’re wondering how to record – it’s pretty easy these days. You could make a voice recording on your phone and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or you could use Quicktime on a Mac or the equivalent on a PC and then email it to email@example.com or you could use SpeakPipe.com – just go to speakpipe, record a message, put your name on it, then send the link to firstname.lastname@example.org
What am I going to say?
Now, you might be thinking, “what am I going to say?”
Well, first, remember that you’re trying to persuade the audience that you should be on the podcast, so think of some reasons you should be on, and not just because you really want to (although that’s ok too).
Basically, you’re saying “Hi listeners, Hi Luke. Thanks for this opportunity, and this is why I think I should be on LEP…”
Then you’d need to explain why you should be on LEP (obviously).
Remember, you have UP TO 2 minutes. This means that you don’t have to do 2 minutes. It could be 1 minute if you like, but no more than 2 minutes.
2 minutes is your maximum allotted time.
You might be thinking “Just two minutes?? That’s not very long.”
I’ve chosen 2 minutes because I need to keep this manageable! I have no idea how many people will send me entries to this competition, but since I’m going to be playing the audio recordings on the podcast, I need to limit how long they are, otherwise I’ll have too much audio. So, 2 minutes MAX, please. If your recording is over two minutes, it might not be entered into the competition.
Here are some ideas of why you should be on LEP.
Maybe you have an interesting story to tell – either related to English, to the podcast, or to neither of these things! Do you have something interesting you could share with us? Some kind of story, perhaps related to you or someone else?
Maybe you want to talk about how you learn or have learned English, and give some advice.
Perhaps you’ve had some success with a particular technique that you could share with the listeners.
Perhaps you have experienced progress in some way, and you could share that.
Perhaps you discovered the podcast in a special way.
Perhaps the podcast has been a way for you to connect with other people.
Perhaps you met your partner because of LEP, or got a job because of LEP.
Maybe you have an interesting story or experience relating to English that you can share.
Perhaps you have a cross-cultural experience you could talk about.
Maybe you are involved in something interesting that you think people will want to know about.
Perhaps you are particularly funny, or have something to offer to the audience.
Or maybe you’re just up for a proper conversation with me, on the podcast!
And maybe you just have something original to say.
In any case, prepare two minutes – with or without a script – in which you convince the audience that you should be picked for a feature length episode of LEP.
Then record it and send it to me! And then maybe you will be on LEP.
This competition is open to everyone. Anyone and everyone can take part, regardless of your level of English.
This is Why I Should Be On LEP – WISBOLEP
I expect the rules this time might limit the number of participants, because some people will be too shy. But I still hope that people send me recordings!
I expect there will be fewer entries than before, but hopefully I’ll still get some people!
So, if you have something to offer the audience, get in touch and try to persuade everyone to pick you for LEP!!
In terms of level of English, as I said – there are no rules at all.
You can have a low level, you can have a high level.
It’s not about who has the best English.
It’s more about who would be the most interesting and engaging guest, not just because of their level of English.
15 October. That’s your last chance. Midnight on 15 October 2020. [Previously the date was 31 October, but I have changed it]
As I said, I’ll probably get fewer people sending me recordings this time, but we’ll see – I often underestimate this kind of thing.
Last time I had over 100 recordings which was great, but obviously that was a ton of preparation work for me – downloading all the recordings, preparing them, balancing out the sound levels of each one, making them into podcast episodes, dealing with the voting and counting etc. Quite a lot of work as you can imagine! I don’t mind of course, I liked hearing from everyone, but it messed with my workflow quite a lot!
But do send me your recording, especially if you have something interesting to say to the audience.
When I’ve received all the recordings, I’ll edit them together, play them on the podcast and let you vote for the one you want.
Then I’ll arrange an interview with that person, and Bob’s your uncle.
So there you go! That is the new competition – WISBOLEP – Why I Should Be On LEP.
2 minutes max
Persuade the audience to choose you for a full-length interview
I hope you take part even if you’re not completely sure.
Go to the page for this episode on my website to read the rules and the details again if you like. Teacherluke.co.uk then click EPISODES and this is episode 681.
Feel free to ask questions in the comment section.
Premium LEPsters, I just wanted to remind you that P24 is drawing to a close. We’ve been through my massive list of homophones and expanded your vocab a bit in the process, now there are just two episodes left and they’re the ones that feature the jokes (not just crap ones made up by me). So P24 parts 11 and 12 are in the pipeline and will be coming to your Premium subscription soon.
To get the premium episodes, download the LEP App on your phone to listen to the episodes, or listen online. For all the info you need, go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
Hello folks and welcome to the podcast. I hope you are doing fine on this particular day. This episode features a conversation, recorded a couple of weeks ago now, with a comedian and writer from the UK about various things, as you’ll see. Your task is to follow along and see what you can pick up and what bits of language learning wisdom you can glean from this conversation.
I don’t really know James that well. I’ve only actually met him once in fact.
He’s a comedian and a writer, he speaks several languages and his twitter feed is good value. He tweets about politics, learning languages, the issues of the day, comedy and various other things. We share a mutual friend – that’s Dharmander Singh from Birmingham, who I used to be in a band with and who is now a stand up comedian in Berlin. The time I met James was in Berlin when I was there on holiday, and I did some stand up on the same show as him.
So why have I invited him on the podcast? Well, it’s mainly because of Twitter. As I said his Twitter feed is interesting. He takes a moderate and balanced view of things, and his interests are pretty wide-ranging, including the fact that he’s very international. He’s married to a Chinese girl, he’s lived abroad, he used to work as a tour guide in several countries, he used to be an English teacher like me, he speaks very good German and French, he’s working on his Chinese, he works as a translator and he’s generally an articulate and interesting guy and so I just thought that he could be worth talking on the podcast.
The language learning thing is obviously very appropriate and I’m always interested in finding out as much as possible about how someone has learned a second language to a very decent level in adulthood, and that is something that we talk about for at least 50% of this conversation. The first half of our chat is basically me getting to know James properly, talking about his work, his studies, his experiences of going to Oxford University, why he chose to move to Germany, being married to a Chinese girl. Then we get into the details of how he learned German mainly, but also French and now how he’s working on his Chinese.
No need to say much more except that I hope you manage to follow the conversation clearly all the way through. Let me know how it was for you and I will speak to you again on the other side of this conversation, probably with some background music going over the top.
Long thread about languages (1/24): One of the most frequent ambitions I've seen for people during the lockdown is to learn a foreign language. I'm something of an exception, an Anglophone person who's managed to do this as an adult, and I have some thoughts on the matter.
Did you pick up any useful nuggets from that conversation? I think there was some pretty good advice there especially the stuff about reading and noting down certain words, being a bit rigorous about your studying and believing that you can do it, really helps.
Hello and welcome to Luke’s English Podcast. This episode is number 669 and it’s called How To Learn English.
That’s quite a bold title but this really is a lot of what I have to say about learning English. If you really want to learn this language, this is my advice.
I’ve been teaching for about 20 years, podcasting for over 11 years now and I keep finding out more about learning a language through teaching it, getting feedback from listeners and also through my experiences of trying to learn French.
This episode is a distillation of many of my thoughts and advice on how to learn English. It’s not going to cover absolutely every aspect of it, because language learning is a huge subject that encompasses so many different things and you could talk about it all day, but I have decided to talk about learning English, breaking it down into the 4 skills, and giving you as much advice as I can in this single podcast episode. I hope you enjoy it and find it useful.
For those of you who are not so familiar with me and my work. My name is Luke Thompson, I think I am the 4th most famous Luke Thompson in the world. I’m an English teacher, a podcaster, a comedian, a husband and a dad. I am from England but these days I live in France. My podcast is free and is downloaded all over the world. I also have a premium subscription in which I focus specifically on improving your vocab, grammar and pronunciation. To find out more about that go to teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
I expect you want to learn English, right? That’s the main reason you’re listening to this I expect. You want to learn English.
Well, good news! It’s definitely possible. You can learn English and you will if you put in the time and the effort. It’s important to remember that.
What do I mean by “learn English”, though? I mean that you can learn to speak English fluently, clearly and with confidence, expressing yourself with shades of meaning, adapting your English for the situation both in speaking and in writing, knowing and being able to use a wide variety of vocabulary and accurate grammar and ultimately being yourself in the language and developing beneficial relationships with others based on effective communication. Yes, you can. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
That’s it, just a positive and encouraging message at the start. It’s important to always remember that making progress in your learning is a realistic prospect and will happen when you put in the time and effort, and more good news: the more you enjoy it, the easier it is.
I hope this podcast helps you to enjoy getting English into your life on a regular basis, which is a key part of learning the language effectively.
But what else should you be doing in order to improve your English overall?
In this episode I’d like to talk in some detail about learning English and how you can do it.
This episode is a sort of “come to Jesus moment”, which I feel I should do regularly, just to remind everyone listening that there is a method or approach at work here and that it’s not just you listening to people talking.
A “come to Jesus moment” in the world of business is when someone does a passionate speech or event in which fundamental priorities and/or beliefs are reassessed, or reaffirmed. It’s like when Jesus gathers his disciples around him in order to reaffirm their belief in what he’s preaching or to say some deep stuff which strengthens their faith.
This is a come to Jesus moment for me.
Not that I’m comparing myself to Jesus. No, not at all. Not even a little bit, and anyway that’s not for me to say, that’s for other people to point out isn’t it, not me. Anyway…
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is a method to the madness.
In my podcast episodes, I’m always teaching you, using my particular set of professional skills, but rather than presenting it all as a lesson I usually try to present it more like a radio show or a comedy show even.
So, amidst the episodes about music, comedy, interviews and so on, I thought it would be worth restating the core values of LEP, which I seem to do about once every 6 months or so.
I’m going to give loads of advice here, and this is all based on what I’ve learned from:
Teaching for about 20 years
Meeting thousands of learners of English, some of them successful, some of them not, working directly with them as their teacher and listening to them talk about their studying habits and experiences
The academic studies I’ve done, especially the DELTA which involved extensive reading and writing on various aspects of how people learn and teach English
Doing my podcast and getting testimonies over the years from many listeners who told me about how they’ve used it to improve their English
There’s also my own personal experience of working on my French
Anyway, the plan is to talk about learning English with a focus on the 4 skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing.
I have talked about these points quite a few times before on this podcast, and have given tons of specific advice about working on your English, including in episodes like 174 (and others)
So I will probably repeat myself a bit. But I still get asked to talk about “how to learn English” very regularly and I think it’s important for me to talk about learning English on this podcast on a regular basis. Obviously, that is what this podcast is about, first and foremost, even though a lot of the time in my episodes you’ll hear me and my guests talking about all sorts of other things.
Learning English is the main aim of this podcast
Essentially the thinking is that you should listen to natural conversation on a variety of topics and it’s simply listening to things in English (not just listening to things about English) that’s going to help you learn this language, especially if you enjoy the content.
I’ll probably talk about this again in a bit, but let’s say that ultimately the plan with the free episodes is to help you listen to English regularly, for longer periods of time, long term. The more, the better. If the content is enjoyable, that should just make it easier for you to achieve that. In fact, if you’re really into what you’re listening to, you don’t really even notice the time passing.
Then there’s the premium content, which is an effort to push your learning beyond the gains you get from all the exposure and input you get from just listening. The premium content is designed to let you get the benefit of my experience and teaching skills in order to cut out a lot of work that you would otherwise have to do yourself, so I can essentially take you by the hand and lead you through some intensive practice to work on your English more directly.
So that’s my content, but let’s talk now about learning English as a whole then.
Learning English is a holistic thing. It encompasses many aspects and skills that are connected as a whole.
There are receptive skills like listening and reading, productive skills like speaking and writing, language systems like grammar, spelling, vocabulary and phonology, social and psychological factors that come into play when we use language when interacting with others, then there are other factors that come into play like identity issues, body language, culture, literature, pragmatics and all sorts of other things. It’s hard to know where to start when talking about it.
You need to learn it to the point where you don’t even think about it any more.
The more you talk and think about it, the more it starts to sound like the force from Star Wars.
Stretch out with your feelings.
Do or do not, there is no try.
Do not think, feel.
Let go, let the English flow through you.
I am your father (oh wait)
It’s about learning how to do something which goes right to the core of who you are in fact.
It’s a holistic thing. It incorporates many aspects as part of a whole process and so it’s quite tricky to know where to start.
Let’s put it like this. Language goes in, and language comes out. (I told you it sounds like The Force)
Language is within you and language is without you. It flows through you. It binds the galaxy together.
There are receptive skills (this is how language goes in)
And there are productive skills (this is how language goes out)
There’s the written language
And there’s the spoken language
This is our system.
Think of it like a table with two categories on the horizontal axis and two on the vertical axis, so it’s like a grid with 4 squares in it.
On the horizontal access we have receptive and productive skills.
On the vertical we have written and spoken English.
Within the table we have 4 skills – the 4 squares.
So in the box marked “written” and “receptive” we have reading.
Below that in the “spoken” and “receptive” categoriy we have listening.
On the right in the “written” and “productive” side we have writing.
And then in the “spoken” and “productive” side we have speaking.
Those are your four skills. Reading, writing, listening and speaking.
The 4 skills are connected in various ways.
Reading and writing deal with the written word of course.
Reading helps you to write. It helps you to see how the language is built, how words are spelled and how sentences, paragraphs and texts are put together with grammar and textual conventions.
Listening and speaking deal with the spoken word.
Listening helps you to learn how English actually sounds, how words join together in sentences or longer utterances, it helps you get familiar with the speed, rhythm, flow and intonation of the language. It helps you get used to natural pronunciation which in turn helps you produce English in the same way.
Words exist in visual form, and in spoken form.
But reading and listening are connected too because they’re both receptive skills. They provide us with input which is the essential foundation of language learning.
And speaking and writing are connected because they’re productive skills.
These are the skills you need to use when using language for various purposes. This is where you are more active in the sense that you are constructing language and putting it down visually in the form of writing, or using your body to produce it orally.
Let’s talk about those receptive skills and input.
The reading thing there is something we’ll come back to in the section about reading.
This is the academic who is always mentioned in this context, when talking about how to learn English these days. Krashen was one in a long line of linguists who came up with theories about how language is learned and should be taught.
Arguably, we still don’t really know how people learn languages, but various academics over the years have put forward different hypotheses to explain it and these have been the backbone of our understanding of language learning that has informed the way we all learn and teach languages over the years.
Krashen though is the one that people often talk about today, including all the many YouTubers who regularly post videos about the best ways to learn, the only ways to learn, the secrets of learning and all that sort of thing. Krashen is usually brought up because his ideas fit in quite nicely to a model of language learning for today. I mean, it involves a lot of consumption of content in English – plenty of listening and reading and that sort of content is in plentiful supply online, like for example episodes of Luke’s English Podcast.
In his input hypothesis in which he makes the case for the importance of comprehensible input for language learning, he states that in fact the only way we can successfully increase our underlying linguistic competence. This is our system of linguistic knowledge or let’s say that “language instinct” that you have, which even subconsciously gives us a sense of when language is right or wrong. I suppose it could be active in that you know a certain grammar rule and can see when it’s been broken, or passive in that you just feel that something is right or wrong but can’t necessarily explain it.
I would say the passive knowledge is the vital one because ultimately you just want to be able to feel that language is right or wrong without thinking about it.
But that being said, your active knowledge can be really useful when doing things like avoiding common errors as a result of your first language, or consciously pushing yourself to create language which is normal.
Anyway, Krashen says the only way to increase your linguistic competence is through comprehensible input, meaning reading and listening to things that we mostly understand and that with the context of what you do understand, you are able to work out the bits that you don’t know. This is how we acquire new languages.
So basically, we learn a language when we understand it. So, naturally, according to Krashen, the receptive skills come first.
I think this makes a lot of sense to me. I think it’s bound to be true that we learn language by listening to it and reading it. But what about those moments when you have to speak or write, what about learning the grammar and all the rest of it?
Krashen would say that we learn the grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation of a language by listening to it or reading it, and that it’s a natural process and part of how we decode language through comprehensible input.
So, don’t worry about grammar rules and all the rest of it, just listen and do your best to keep up and work out what’s going on, and do it regularly.
Again, I am sure this is true but I also think it’s worth studying the language a bit too, breaking it down a bit, seeing how it works, actively trying to learn more vocabulary, checking up on the rules of grammar and doing some controlled practice. Working on your pronunciation by copying and training your mouth and brain to cooperate with each other, like the way we practise certain movements in sport or musical parts on an instrument.
I do believe that controlled practice and conscious learning like that must also be beneficial because I’ve seen it happen. Doing some active studying can be like a fast track of English learning. It can cut out a lot of time by helping you realise certain things about the language quickly, and I think if you then notice it again while listening and reading that only reinforces what you’ve learned.
Of course, you shouldn’t get blinded by grammar or pronunciation rules and so on, to the point that you can’t see the wood for the trees.
Try not to get hung up on grammar, because it can make you process language in an unnatural and contrived way. It can get stuck in your head and block you a bit. Instead, try to notice patterns and incorporate them into your use of English. Try to see grammar study as a way of confirming things you’ve already noticed, or a way of consulting with a reference book as you also just absorb English more naturally. If you only study English with the grammar, it’s going to be a weird abstract process for learning the language. It’s better to focus on consuming English in the form of messages which you are trying to understand, and then perhaps check your grammar later to straighten things out.
The premium subscription is where I help you with that sort of thing, hopefully combining with the free content to give you all the stuff you need to attack English from several angles.
How can you learn this language if you haven’t heard it and read it a lot?
Read and listen to things that are slightly above your level, so you can understand 60-80%. You need to be able to understand that much for your brain to work out the remaining 20-40% that you don’t know. Meaningful context is vital.
Basically, listen x5 and read x5.
It’s largely a question of finding the right stuff to listen to.
There’s this podcast of course. Others are available.
Watch TV and films with and without subtitles.
Hopefully you’ll find content that you actually want to listen to, not just for studying English. So if you do get addicted to a Netflix series and you can’t wait to find out what happens next, that’s good! That means you will get more comprehensible input and you will be much more focused and involved in it, which is great for your English. Or maybe you want to hear another stupid and funny conversation with my friends just because it makes you laugh and you feel some sort of connection to it. All of that is great because it will help you listen more, listen longer and listen long term.
This one is also a pleasure to talk about because it’s a pleasure to do and there are lots of great things to read.
Let’s hear from Krashen again as he is the master of the whole input model.
This is again from Wikipedia, which I think is fine usually for the basics like this.
Extensive reading, free reading, book flood, or reading for pleasure is a way of language learning, including foreign language learning, through large amounts of reading. As well as facilitating acquisition of vocabulary, it is believed to increase motivation through positive affective benefits. It is believed that extensive reading is an important factor in education. Proponents such as Stephen Krashen (1989) claim that reading alone will increase encounters with unknown words, bringing learning opportunities by inferencing. The learner’s encounters with unknown words in specific contexts will allow the learner to infer and thus learn those words’ meanings.
Of course that system is disputed because this is the academic arena we’re dealing with and people are always putting forward ideas, defending them, disputing them and so on. It’s how we move forwards and learn about this stuff.
So this is extensive reading which is different to the sort of intensive reading you do in English lessons, where you spend ages on just one page of text, break it down into tiny chunks, understanding every single morsel. With extensive reading it’s all about just getting as much English into your head as you can by reading as much as you can, and you focus on reading enjoyable things, especially stories and you don’t stop too much to analyse the language or even check words, you just keep trying to follow what you’re reading. The more involved in it you are, the better.
Again, this point about input is that it feeds your instinct for the language. You get a subconscious sense of what is right or wrong, which comes in very handy for when you’re doing those nasty sentence transformations and use of English tasks in a Cambridge exam like CAE. What you really want in those situations is to know exactly which preposition or auxiliary verb is missing, or to be able to manipulate sentences in a variety of forms. I reckon it helps to do a bit of language practice as well, with a few controlled exercises but the idea is that it should all go in naturally giving you this sense of language competence.
It’s important though to choose texts which are not too difficult for you. You need to be able to understand enough to be able to get a grip on the rest of the language.
So which books do you choose?
We’ve talked about the importance of choosing stuff that’s interesting to you, that reflects the type of English you might need.
Genre isn’t an issue. People assume you need to read or listen to the news but as we’ve already established they don’t really talk like normal people on the news, and they also write in a certain “newsy” style. Funnily enough it might be more useful to read the tabloid papers as they write in a more conversational style, but I think it’s worthwhile looking beyond the news.
Basically, read whatever you want.
Even comic books or graphic novels as they’re known for adults.
Graphic novels can be brilliant because they support your understanding with the images and often the English is in the form of speech so you learn really directly how to apply that stuff to real life. I love graphic novels in French. It’s my favourite way to work on the language.
You could consider the current bestsellers. If other people like the books then why shouldn’t you? Look in the fiction and non-fiction categories.
Or try graded readers, which are an excellent and underused resource. I really recommend them if you’re not a strong reader. They’re previously published books, and often some of the great classics and modern classics in English, but they’re republished with English that is graded for certain levels. The number of words is reduced, it’s truncated and essentially it’s a way to increase the percentage you do understand, and decrease the amount you don’t understand, getting to that 80/20 spot where you can maximise your language learning.
There are lots of titles to choose from and various publishers. Check these ones out
But your English may well be good enough now to have a go at a book for native speakers. So go for it. You have loads of options. Just make sure you enjoy reading on a regular basis.
I would also add that it’s important to choose texts which are written in modern style and perhaps about an area that you are particularly interested in. Perhaps think of it like this – what is the kind of English you want printed on the back of your head (on the inside)? Odd question, but I mean, what is your target English. Perhaps it’s the involving and descriptive storytelling of fiction, or it’s the matter-of-fact world of non-fiction. I reckon non-fiction is probably better because it reflects the kind of English you are more likely to be writing, especially if it’s things like academic work or reports at work, because they’re all about presenting you with information, data, commenting on what’s going on, describing how to do things and that’s probably the sort of thing you’ll need to use English for, especially in writing.
This might be a bit dry but it will really show you loads of examples of emails with full explanations, so you can read and learn.
The Story of English in 100 Words
Anything by David Crystal is fantastic, but this non-fiction book will teach you the entire story of the English language through 100 words and there are some great words in there like
Loaf, Street, Riddle, Arse, Jail, Wicked, Matrix and Skunk, to name but a few.
So you’re bound to learn tons from that.
Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny By Nile Rodgers
The War of the Worlds by HG Wells
The writing is a bit old fashioned. I have to be honest, but it’s mostly modern in style and I think it’s worth it because the story is amazing and it’s not too long. It’s wonderfully descriptive and much better than any movie version could be. Definitely one of my favourite books of all time.
Productive skills / output
This is where we get to the more nebulous world of productive skills. It’s like an alien land where monsters roam, a bit like war of the worlds maybe.
OK I’m exaggerating here but I mean that productive skills are a bit harder to pin down because even more psychological and social factors come into play. You have the public aspect of it, the fact that you’re trying to manipulate the language and get your ideas across in the right way, being coherent and cohesive and in the right style with the right level of politeness with the correct conventional replies and requests and on and on it goes!
Again, I’m making it sound tricky, but I mean that you are involved so much more because you’re making the language and actually using it. This is exciting because you get to express yourself which is the most wonderful and gratifying thing you can do in another language, and when it slides out quite fluidly and you’re not too blocked by who knows what, then it’s all gravy. But sometimes it just doesn’t seem to work out that way and you get mixed up and it doesn’t come out right at all. There’s a sense of performance in productive skills, and a sense that you have to be aware of the right way to conduct yourself, and to be able to utter things in English instantly, following what the other person is saying, it’s all done in a sort of unconscious blur and thinking about grammar in that situation is a killer.
So it’s about getting a level of ease, a level of comfort, a platform from which you can bob and weave your way through the conversation, finding other ways to say things and switching correctly between tenses and situations. I think you get what I mean.
So how do you work on these things?
Ease – a voice, fluency
Control – grammar, vocab, pronunciation
Range – a wide range of language for a wide range of things
Coherence – does it all make sense? Can people follow you easily?
Cohesion – particularly in writing, how does the whole text make sense as a whole?
Social factors – knowing how to put things and how to manage relationships through language
Again, the idea is that this language is just built into you from all that exposure and input.
I would say that there’s a great deal of other stuff you can do to improve your productive skills beyond reading and listening a lot, of course.
In both writing and speaking the first thing to remember is you need to engage in it as much as possible. Real writing and real speaking.
Ultimately this means trying to use language to communicate a message in some way and that’s what you should be focusing on. Meaningful interactions, especially ones in which you have something to offer or something to gain, such as negotiations or even information gap situations in which you’re telling someone something they don’t know. Also social interactions involving being polite or building relations with people. Ultimately, doing it for real is the best workshop in which you can work, rolling with the punches and trying to keep track of what you’re learning.
This is why people learn English best when they’re forced to do it because of their surroundings. They learn by being a waiter in London for a year or working in an office with native speakers, or being plunged into a foreign university for a year, or moving to a new country and having to cope with all the challenges that brings and in a second language. I suppose this is immersion, but it;s more than that. I recommend actually conversing with people to just practise. It’s the 5 Ps.
It’s like going to the gym. Fluency is like physical fitness in your mind and also in your body because you’re using your mouth, your breathing and your head and hands to communicate too.
It applies to writing too. You can observe the way other people write their emails and kind of copy their style, you have to really think about what you’re saying and doubtless you will end up writing emails with requests, with information, with questions and with complaints and so on, so you will have to learn on the job. Being thrown in at the deep end, or if you just have to use English at work it could either be a big stress for you or a huge opportunity to just go for it.
Anyway, let’s talk about specific productive skills – writing and reading, and how to work on them.
Let’s say you’re not actually in a situation where you can talk to people or have correspondence with people, or have to write things which other people will ultimately have to read. Unless you find a tutor on italki for example then that person could be your practice point for speaking and writing, giving you feedback as you go. But let’s say for the purposes of this episode, it’s just you and the English language, facing each other off in a kind of wild west fashion.
How can you practise on your own?
Obviously you need to write. But what are you going to write and who is going to read it?
Firstly – just write, write regularly, write meaningfully and write with a reader in mind, even if nobody reads it. This is important because it will help you get used to simply putting your ideas into words. It’s a creative process and also a mechanical process to an extent. Building sentences is a sort of art or a craft. You have to practise it in order to get some level of comfort with it. Let’s imagine there’s a muscle in your head (this is not scientific at all) which, if you never exercise it, will be quite weak and underdeveloped. But if you exercise that muscle regularly it will be strong, reactive and quick. I expect there is a part of the brain responsible for creating written language, and a sub-section for creating written English. Keep that part of your brain fresh by writing English as much as you can. That’s as scientific as I can get here.
So, here are some things you could write
What to write
Email an imaginary person (spooky?) or yourself (think outside the box here ok?)
Academic writing – text types
Emails – email types and conventions
Reports – same!
Formal and informal letters – same!
Applications – same same!
Basically – Whatever you have to write, you should try to find some samples of these texts and aim to copy them. Copy the style, the arrangement, the language they use and reproduce it yourself. Texts that you write will invariably be very practical so it’s about reporting information and asking questions. Look at the sample texts and copy them.
It helps if you have a specific workbook. I recommend Email English by Paul Emmerson. It’s a simple workbook that helps you work on almost all those things and I’m not even sponsored by Macmillan or anything, it’s genuinely a great book.
They also have downloadable email writing tasks on the Macmillan website or here
Ideally you’ll have a teacher to proofread your work, correct you and give you feedback.
If this isn’t possible, it’s still a good idea to write.
A diary (just describe things that happened, or make it more personal and really explore your thoughts and feelings. If the words don’t come, just use basic words. If you feel unable to express yourself perfectly, express yourself imperfectly but try to express yourself.
Writing is not just sentences, it’s paragraphs and pages. The thing you are writing will define how you write it. This means – conventions of certain texts, formality level of the language.
Specific exam tasks → IELTS, FCE, CAE, CPE, BEC higher and vantage
These will often push you to learn the conventions of different types of text, so it could be a good idea to take a Cambridge exam if you want to work on your writing.
You might write some notes on vocab and I would recommend here that you take a more extensive approach to doing this. Don’t just have one word per line. I want to see one word or phrase at the top of the page, and then loads of text underneath full of examples and your own examples with the language. You can then come back and cover up some of the words and try to remember. Alternatively you can use my PDFs with the notes and memory tests if you’re a premium subscriber. Little plug there for my other podcast.
But making more extensive vocabulary notes with plenty of examples means that not only are you recording vocabulary, you’re practising using it in writing too.
I mentioned italki before and you can find tutors, teachers and conversation partners there for regular practice and I do recommend doing that.
Otherwise, let’s look at some ways you can work on your speaking other than in actual spoken practice with others. Developing your speaking on your own.
This is quite a tricky thing to do because normally speaking is an instantly interactive form of communication. It also involves a lot of listening and then being able to produce English instantly and without hesitating too much.
It’s also quite physical as it involves using your mouth to produce words and sentences in the right way.
And of course there are all those cultural things to think about too.
But really speaking should just be your attempt to find your own voice in English, with fluency and with a specific tone. Of course it comes through a lot of practice, of having conversations in which you’re not really thinking about what you’re saying on a grammatical level but it’s pouring out of you due to necessity and not being able to really think a lot. Doing that regularly helps your brain map out the extent of the English you have and increase it, keeping it sort of fresh. That’s not scientific but more a metaphor of what I think speaking can do. It activates something in you that you have to maintain and keep active or those parts of the brain go dull.
So practice x5
But with who?
The fact is, it just helps to talk to other people and that’s the best and most basic advice I can give. Outside of that, you have to manipulate your surroundings and use your imagination to practise speaking on your own.
Talking on your own (and even in your head)
This might sound a bit odd, but it’s a surprisingly effective way to activate English that is in your head. You essentially talk to yourself, out loud, in English, describing what’s going on, what you’re doing, what you’re thinking about, say it all in English. Alternatively you can just do it in your own head and just think the sentences. This also keeps that system of language production in your head fresh.
Listen and repeat
You can use certain audio and play a bit, pause, repeat what you heard, rewind, repeat again and keep going until you’ve got it, and then check the transcript or subtitles to see if you’re correct, check any new words and carry on. Always find ways to vocalise the things you are learning and that means saying them out loud even to yourself.
You can also practise different speaking scenarios.
Preparing for a Cambridge exam you can find past papers with speaking part preparation and practise. Find out what’s required in the different parts, watch videos of people taking the speaking part on YouTube, practise answering common questions about yourself, practise speaking on a topic for a minute or two, practise discussing your opinion on the issues of the day. Those are all specific speaking skills that you can practise on your own. I particularly recommend listen and repeat, especially when you have to take quite a long utterance in English, hold it in your head and repeat it like it’s one word? It’s like going to the gym in English. It involves a lot of things: Understanding the clip, identifying the words and grammar, being able to remember it all, being able to produce it in a similar way. That’s a whole punch of different kinds of practice. And if you repeat the sentence straight away, and again, you might notice certain little errors you’re making and correct them. So repeat over and over again, a bit like practising boxing combinations in the ring before the big fight.
In reality, the 4 skills are often mashed up together and you find you are doing things like listening and speaking at the same time, while also taking notes, looking at visuals and so on. It all gets very messy when language is actually applied to real communication in the real world.
A little note about pronunciation and a sort of disclaimer.
I think there are probably plenty of other things I have not mentioned in this episode, such as not talking about specific memory techniques (done that) or specific features of pronunciation (done that) or exactly how to read a book to learn English (done) or plenty of other things probably. To be honest this is just a podcast episode that I wanted to make about the 4 skills and it expanded into an episode all about learning English as a holistic process.
Anyway, the note about pronunciation
It is worth learning the phonemic script
It is worth getting the sounds app on your phone
It is worth doing drills and practising different features
It’s worth getting a book called Ship or Sheep or other books of that nature.
It’s worth remembering that if you have an accent when you speak that is fine and it’s part of who you are, the main thing is that you speak clearly, not which regional accent you have. Clarity is the thing to achieve. Also, it’s extremely difficult to “lose” your accent in English. Hardly anyone does it. But you can still be fine with your accent. English is quite open like that. Everyone’s welcome.
But there you have it. That was quite a comprehensive look at how I think learning English is best when you combine two things: comprehensible input, and a clever studying routine.
I think it can work wonders for your English.
And that’s what I try to do with this podcast. Give you all the input in the free episodes and then do some more focused studying in the premium content. Hopefully, together those two channels can boost your English to the max.
Lots of practical advice and comments about how you can use films and TV series to work on your English. This episode is a recap of some advice in episode 523 with Cara Leopold. Transcript available below.
Have you heard the last episode of this podcast (#659)? I spoke to Cara Leopold about being stuck indoors during the lockdown. Cara is an English teacher who likes to help her students to improve their English with TV series and films and we know that because of the lockdown, loads of people at the moment are watching more TV and films on platforms like Netflix and are probably thinking about how to use those things to learn English.
Cara and I talked about that a bit near the end of the last episode, and we also did a whole episode about it a couple of years ago. That was episode 523, called Tips for Learning English with Films & TV Shows.
I mentioned before that I would sum up the main bits of advice that Cara and I gave in that episode.
So here we are, that’s what I’m going to do now – I’m going to consolidate some advice for learning English with TV series and films.
Then, when I’ve done that I’ll give you some personal recommendations for British TV shows and films that you can watch on Netflix.
Learning English with Films & TV – Summary of Advice Given in Ep.523 + more comments
Time and time again we have heard this advice – “Want to improve your English? Just watch TV series and films in English with English subtitles!”
It seems that people assume that you should just watch TV series in English with English subtitles and you’ll learn English magically as a consequence. People say it all the time, and I do think there is some truth in this. Watching lots of content in English is definitely a good idea, although of course that might not be enough on its own. There are plenty of other things you need to do, including regular speaking practice, writing, plenty of reading, using a systematic approach to learning vocabulary, taking time to understand how grammar works.
I suppose the thing is, there are two approaches that seem to be important in learning a language. One approach involves absorbing loads of English just through reading and listening. This is exposure, or immersion or comprehensible input – whatever you want to call it. You have to see and hear the language a lot if you want to be able to use it properly.
This is input. It is really important to get loads of English into your everyday life. You must regularly connect with English, get exposure to English and immerse yourself in English and binging on TV series is probably a pretty good and usually fun way to do that.
Personally I would say that podcasts are the best way, but whatever floats your boat. Ultimately it’s about finding the thing you really want to do. Obviously if you are a regular listener to my podcast then you might agree with me. But if TV shows and films are your thing then go for it.
The point there is you can get loads of English input from TV series and films in English and there are so many amazing shows and films available to us now. It’s amazing. We are spoiled for choice. Anyway – input is important.
Added to that is the importance of using the language regularly in order to communicate. This is output. So this means doing loads of speaking practice and writing practice in order to develop your ability to express yourself, find your voice, develop genuine fluency without just translating everything in your head. So, plenty of input and output.
I’m being quite general here but anyway, the point is → you’ve got to spend lots of time with the language in both receptive and productive ways.
Then the other approach is to be more systematic and disciplined – examining the language in some way, understanding how the English language is structured both in terms of grammar but also in terms of pronunciation so that you know how English is not only written but also produced orally, how it sounds when people actually speak it which helps you understand native speakers and also how to speak fluently yourself. It also involves using monolingual dictionaries to expand your vocab and investigate words, doing controlled practice for grammar and pronunciation and finding ways to remember vocabulary.
And throughout all of that you need to maintain your motivation, because enjoying the whole process is vital. If you’re motivated, you’re likely to do more, spend more time on the language, remember more things and generally get into a more positive and confident frame of mind about your relationship with English.
Using TV and films seems to fulfil the first category to some extent (input) because it allows you to immerse yourself in English, spend lots of time absorbing the language and it should be motivating because watching TV and films should be enjoyable.
It’s also worth stating that learning English doesn’t have to be a chore. It doesn’t have to be a boring thing that you’re forced to do by other people, like teachers or parents. I suppose people often say “Just watch Netflix in English with English subtitles” and this feels like good news because it means “this doesn’t have to be boring homework! It can be enjoyable if you give it a chance”. So, getting addicted to a TV show in English is a good thing for your English.
But is it just a case of just sitting back and watching all the episodes of Peaky Blinders or any other show that you’re into? What about the other things I just mentioned like speaking practice, writing, pronunciation, studying grammar and vocabulary? Well, it is possible to use TV and films in a more active way in order to achieve some of those things too if you’re willing to do more than just sit back and watch.
So here are some bits of advice which did come up in my conversation with Cara in episode 529 but given again and with a few other comments from me.
Watching to learn English and watching just for pleasure are two different things. Watching in order to learn English might involve thinking outside the box and doing things a bit differently.
Using TV and films for learning English is not just a simple or easy way to learn, despite what people say “Just watch stuff in English and bingo you’ll be a native speaker!” It’s not that simple.
In your first language you might just switch on a film or show and then kind of veg out while watching it – without really concentrating. This probably won’t work in English. Be prepared to focus and perhaps be more active while watching, often that mainly involves using the English subtitles, which are a real advantage.
I do recommend choosing content that gives you the option to have English subtitles. Watching with subtitles in your language can be useful because you can see how things are being translated and you can compare your language with the English you’re hearing, but generally speaking it’s best to operate only in English so I’d recommend that you forget about subtitles in your language, or watching something in your language with English subtitles. Do everything in English. So, put the audio in English and the subtitles in English too.
“So, should I always watch with the English subtitles on?” There are no hard and fast rules about using subtitles. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options.
Using English subtitles can help you understand what you’re hearing, especially when you realise that spoken English and written English can be very different. Subtitles can help bridge the gap between how words and sentences sound, and how they are written. You might hear something and then read the subtitles and kind of go “Ooooh that’s what she said! Ahhhh! That’s it then!” which is a great moment in language learning → that kind of “Oh it’s THAT?” moment when you realise something. But watch out because sometimes the subtitles are slightly different to the speech you’re hearing, because they might have to use fewer words than were spoken in order to actually fit them on the screen. But that only happens occasionally. So, an advantage of subtitles is that they help you bridge the gap between what language sounds like and what it looks like. When you listen without subtitles, you will no-doubt miss a lot of what is being said, without realising you’re missing it.
But be aware that if you only ever watch with subtitles you might not develop real listening skills, because you’re basically just reading while you watch and as we know, in the real world, you don’t get subtitles appearing in the air when people speak, unfortunately (well, yet. I expect eventually you’ll be able to get augmented reality glasses or perhaps some kind of biotech which lets you see simultaneous automatic subtitles when people talk, but not yet… that does sound like something out of an episode of Black Mirror…) Anyway, the point is, there are pros and cons of subtitles and no subtitles so you should have both. Experiment with switching the subtitles on and off while you are watching in order to try to get the best of both worlds.
Watch stuff more than once. You can watch a film or show several times, especially if you enjoy it or already know it. Some films improve with multiple viewings. So, try watching certain films several times, perhaps first with subtitles in your language, then subtitles in English and then in English with no subtitles at all. You will be surprised at how much more you notice, understand and remember after watching things numerous times. You will probably appreciate the show or film on a new level too, if you do this. There’s nothing wrong or weird about watching more than once. Like I said – think outside the box a bit.
If you’re watching a TV show you can alternate between watching episodes with and without subtitles. Perhaps do one episode with subtitles, then the next one without. If you just can’t understand episodes without subtitles, try watching the episode with subtitles first then watch again without subtitles. Again, don’t worry, that’s not a weird thing to do, it’s fine – because I say so. And anyway, like I said before if it is a genuinely good show, you might appreciate it even more the second time you watch it and this can actually raise the quality of your listening practice. There are no rules here. Watching episodes several times is normal and useful.
So, we’ve talked about watching films several times, watching episodes several times, but you don’t have to watch the entire thing again from the start. You could just do it with certain scenes. Watch certain scenes several times, with and without the subtitles.
Test yourself on what you heard and check with the subtitles. You could try watching a scene, then trying to explain what just happened, and what people said. Then watch again with the subtitles in order to check. When you explain what you saw, you can do it out loud, with a friend, or just in writing.
You could keep a sort of viewing diary for films or series. Write down little summaries of scenes, episodes or perhaps whole films (although it’s probably best to do it in smaller chunks) then review the scene you’ve written about by checking with subtitles, and re-write your summary if necessary. This is a good way to flip listening practise into productive practise. Remember, it is worth writing in English even if nobody else reads it. It’s just a good idea to practise producing English regularly. Of course it would be better if you had a language partner, coach or teacher who could check your writing and correct errors. Consider finding one on italki – www.teacherluke.co.uk/talk – but doing it on your own is still a good idea.
Search for certain new bits of vocabulary when they come up– using monolingual dictionaries. I recommend using online dictionaries like collinsdictionary.commacmillandicionary.comdictionary.cambridge.org Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online www.ldoceonline.com/ or www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/ They’re all decent dictionaries and you can check words and phrases, see examples and crucially hear how the words are pronounced. It’s worth taking a bit of time to get familiar with how these online dictionaries present information to you. It can pay off massively in your learning. Please resist the temptation to just use google translate to get quick translations into your language. It might be a super-fast solution, but it’s not a healthy thing to do for your English long term. Monolingual dictionaries are amazing and can really help you. So use them.
Don’t worry too much about certain specific cultural details. Sometimes characters will talk about stuff that you just don’t know about. For example when I watch some American shows they refer to places, people, sports or events which I don’t know about and it does mean I get a bit lost sometimes. It’s normal. You could google those things of course if you really need to and learn as you go, or just don’t worry about them too much. It’s worth remembering that it might not be your listening skills that prevent you from understanding. It could be your general knowledge too.
Try transcribing certain scenes – especially if you thought it contained really cool dialogue. Then watch again with the subtitles to check your transcription. (I made that suggestion earlier, but there it is again)
It’s not just a case of what you’re doing while you’re watching. Think about doing things both before and after you watch too. In fact, doing some preparation before you start watching can really help you.
Before you watch a film or TV show, check online reviews or summaries to help prepare yourself. Being prepared can help. If you know the general storyline or tone of the thing you’re watching, it can help to prevent you getting lost. Watch out for spoilers though. Maybe you can search for a spoiler-free review of the thing you’re going to see, this can really help put you in the right place before you actually click PLAY.
Similarly, after you’ve watched you can read online reviews of what you’ve watched. That way you can add some extra reading practice to your listening, and you will be a lot more engaged and invested in what you’re reading. Personally I like to read reviews or re-caps of episodes of shows I’ve watched. It helps me understand what I’ve seen and also I like to read other people’s opinions on episodes. Websites like Den of Geek, Vulture, The Independent or The Guardian often do episode recaps of the big TV shows. Read them! It can also help you to appreciate subtle details that you’ve missed and you’ll pick up bits of English from the articles you’ll read. Go the extra mile. It will pay off for your English later. If you find those online newspaper reviews to be a bit “wordy” and opinionated then consider reading IMDB or Wikipedia plot summaries instead as they are often written in slightly more plain English.
I’d also recommend finding YouTube reviews of the films or series you’ve watched. Just go to YouTube and search for the title of the episode or film you’ve seen plus the word review and see what you get. You’ll find this is a great way to get more effective listening input because you’ll be fully engaged in what you’re listening to. You’ll be on the same page as the person speaking because you will understand all their reference points and you’ll be interacting with their opinions and thoughts a lot more. This is an important part of turning listening input into intake → language that is more likely to stick with you.
Be a little selective in your viewing choices – pick stuff that you’d normally enjoy, and remember that films and TV shows can contain very “mumbly” dialogue, and even just “grunting” during long fight scenes. Try to pick films that are pretty simple and perhaps comedies that focus on the dialogue. Also, as Cara mentioned before, some content is in a certain kind of register that might not be applicable to the English you need to use. Documentaries, for example, feature a different style of English than conversational English that you might hear in content with natural dialogue between people.
Pronunciation & Speaking → There’s the concept of shadowing, which works for a lot of people. This involves basically repeating what you hear. It can be a good way to essentially transcribe orally. I mean, you’re attempting to identify word for word what is being said and to replicate speech patterns. You should also check those useful subtitles to help you identify what you’re getting right and wrong. When you come across words and phrases you don’t know, those are opportunities to expand your vocabulary.
It’s hard to practise your speaking on your own. You can essentially do what you’re doing with writing (like keep a diary, summarise things you’ve seen, give your opinions about what you’ve seen and so on) but just do it with your mouth rather than with your fingers, but speaking works best when you’re speaking to another person. So, you could talk to the person you’re living with if they’re up for it. Otherwise, consider italki again.
I want to mention motivation again, and the importance of enjoying what you’re watching or listening to. If you’re not enjoying something you’re watching you definitely have permission to stop and choose something else instead. It might take a little while to find the right show for you. But don’t force yourself to watch something you don’t like.
Also, I’ve mentioned various things in this episode, like watching scenes or episodes several times, writing things down and then comparing with subtitles, shadowing, writing reviews, and all that stuff. I do think it will help, but I know from experience that most people out there probably won’t bother to do it. That’s up to you. If you don’t take initiative and do some of those things, or at least try them a bit, I suppose you’ll never know how they can help you. If you don’t do anything more than just watch, then fine. Don’t feel bad about it.
Understanding films and TV can be really hard! Don’t worry too much if you don’t understand 100%. Even in our first languages we don’t always understand what’s going on in films. So, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not able to understand it all.
Of course you can always listen to LEP or whatever other listening resource you have that you can mostly understand, but it’s worth pushing yourself sometimes. Hopefully you get that from my episodes because they feature a mix of me speaking on my own which is probably easier to understand, with me speaking to guests which is harder. But hopefully you’ll find that you understand my content enough for language acquisition to happen. What’s my point here? I suppose it’s that you’ve always got episodes of my podcast to listen to, but you should also explore films and TV shows too, and try to do more than just sit back on the sofa in comfort while doing it. Try to be a bit more active if you can.
There is probably a lot of other advice that could be given. If you have other things to add, why not share them in the comment section.
Some Netflix Recommendations for British English
There are loads of great shows in American English of course, but I’m trying to narrow my focus to British English stuff here.
Here are some shows and films in British English which are on Netflix, which I have seen and can recommend.
I’ll mention the title, then talk about the show/film a little bit.
These things are all available on Netflix where I am (France) at the time of recording this (April 2020). You can probably find a lot of them elsewhere too, including on DVD.
Some of these shows you will have seen before, others will be new to you.
I’ll try to mention what kind of English you can hear in these shows, including accents.
Shaun of the Dead
Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels
Remains of the Day
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian”
Wallace & Gromit – The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Stand up Comedy
James Acaster – Repertoire
Greg Davies – You Magnificent Beast
Jimmy Carr – The Best of Ultimate Gold Greatest Hits
Also, check out www.OpenCulture.com and spend some time looking through the long list of free documentaries, TV shows and films there. For example, I found a documentary about Pink Floyd which was really fascinating.