Category Archives: News

563. The Collins Words of the Year (Part 3)

More vocabulary explanations & discussion of big issues, including how social media affects our worldview, the pros and cons of fidget spinners and debates about gender identity, including thoughts on the new female Doctor in Doctor Who. Transcript available.

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Part 3 – Transcript (99% complete)

Welcome back to part 3 of this series I’m doing about the Collins Dictionary Words of the Year. I’m going through the list of words from 2017 and then the plan is to move onto the words for 2018 and talk about them with Amber. She’s coming round here tomorrow morning actually.

So the Words of the Year – Collins select these lists of words every year, based on which words they’ve noticed being used a lot in this 12 month period. They’re not necessarily new words, and they might be phrases made from existing words. The main thing is that these words have risen in use significantly during the period and as a result they tap into issues, events and feelings that are very current.

Talking about the words of the year on the podcast is both a way for me to explore some vocabulary and also just talk about some issues of the moment.

Check the page on the website for this episode in order to see a lot of the things I’m saying written there, as transcripts and for other information.

Talking about these words, and discussing them also involves using various other useful bits of vocabulary that you can learn from me. Listening to episodes of this podcast can help you raise your level of English, starting with your listening skills – but the benefits to your English can be many, including developing your awareness of pronunciation, expanding your vocabulary, noticing aspects of grammar and all of this helps you with your speaking skills too. That’s the plan. Certainly, listening regularly, listening for longer periods and listening to something that I hope holds your attention – this is all really healthy for your English, so let’s keep going.

I have 6 words/phrases to deal with in this episode, so let’s not hang about.

In part 1 of the series I talked about how Collins uses data to make its dictionaries and other language reference books and I talked for quite a long time about the phrase fake news which topped their Words of the Year list for 2017.

Then in part 2 I talked about other words in the list for 2017, including antifa, corbynmania, and cuffing season. 

I’ve got 6 words left. Let’s see if I can deal with them all in part 3 here. Let’s go.

Echo chamber

noun: an environment, especially on a social media site, in which any statement of opinion is likely to be greeted with approval because it will only be read or heard by people who hold similar views .

The concept is, that if you live in an echo chamber, you only ever hear your own opinions coming back to you.

Echo (a verb and a noun) is when you make a sound and it travels away from you and then bounces off a surface and comes back to you. It’s like if you’re in a huge hallway and you go “hello!” and you then hear your own voice coming back to you, saying “hello!”

Hello hello hello ? ? ?

Echo echo echo ! ! !

So the echo chamber idea – when you live in a world in which you only ever hear or read your own ideas.

Nowadays there is so much media content out there, including news and just different opinions and comments about the world, and we have the ability to filter out certain things.

Eventually, if you only choose to see or hear things that you like, you’ll never hear about any conflicting opinions, you’ll never face disagreement, contradiction, challenge or other points of view. This can be quite dangerous. It makes you soft and unprepared for your ideas to be challenged. It can make you small minded because you only get a blinkered view of the world – you don’t get exposed to different opinions and it makes you unaware of what’s really going on in the world. It’s like living in a bubble. When something big happens, it can seem totally shocking and unbelievable.

Weirdly, in this super connected world, we are less and less connected and more and more divided, as we put ourselves into these more carefully defined personal categories and only receive information that fits with that category, we become more separated from the experiences of other groups of people.

That’s the theory behind the expression, echo chamber. Generally, this expression is a buzz word for this whole phenomenon.

Filtering out opposing viewpoints and living in a bubble.

These circumstances can push us away from each other, and make it harder to understand different opinions.

The results of the Brexit referendum and US presidential election in 2016 were both greeted with disbelief and shock by some people. The people on the losing side could not understand how their opponents refused to have their opinions changed by apparently reasonable arguments, while the winners remained convinced of the rightness of their own cause.

Basically, we were surprised and shocked by the existence of other points of view. Experts said that this situation was due to many people living in an ‘echo chamber’, where they only hear the views of people who share and reinforce their own opinions. This is increasingly possible when people form online communities that exclude any voices that challenge or threaten them.

For example, a lot of people no longer read newspapers or get their news from the TV. Instead they perhaps just look at Twitter to see what’s going on, but on Twitter you choose each and every account that you follow so you cherry pick the content, rather than just receiving the same information as everyone else.

Also it’s quite common to block people who disagree with you or argue with you. The result is an echo-chamber. And it’s not just for people who didn’t vote for Trump or Brexit. There are right-wing echo chambers too, including social media sites that welcome the types of opinions that are not really accepted by more conventional social media. So everyone is capable of living in an echo chamber.

The term ‘echo chamber’ originally referred to a room that scientists constructed to create echoes for use in sound recording or experiments.

Echo chambers are used to create real echoes which can be used for music or sound recording, instead of relying on digital echo (delay) effects.

Often the best echo chambers for music are bathrooms because they have those shiny ceramic tiles that let the sound bounce around nicely. That’s one of the reasons it’s nice to sing in the shower. Your voice echoes off the tiles and it sounds pretty good!

The idea of an environment where you can hear your own voice repeated back to you made this a perfect metaphor for the world of social media, where many people only talk with those who agree with them, thus creating a rather distorted picture of what the world is really like.

Do you live in an echo chamber?

A real echo chamber in a music studio. Actual echo chambers are used to create genuine echo and reverb effects. Check it out! What a cool studio!

Fidget spinner

noun: a small toy comprising of two or three prongs arranged around a central bearing, designed to be spun by the fingers as means of improving concentration or relieving stress.

This is so 2016/2017. I don’t know if people still use them or talk about them. Perhaps kids these days have moved on and talking about fidget spinners is not cool at all.

They look a bit like little wheels and you hold them between your fingers, flick them and they spin around and around quite satisfyingly. They’re fun to just fidget with, and fidgeting with them is quite addictive.

So, it’s just a fun toy that spins in your hand, right? No arguments and politics here, right? Nope – even fidget spinners divide people too!

Let’s look at the for & against.

For
It’s fun!
People say they’re good for kids with ADHD and autism.

From iheisthmus.com www.theisthmus.com.au/2017/06/fidget-spinners-the-for-the-against-the-important/

The biggest argument from the pro-spinners side is that they are a useful tool for kids with ADHD, autism, anxiety, and other similar conditions. Occupational therapist Sandra Mortimer said “It can help with emotional regulation for children feeling anxious, worried and nervous.”

While there is no academic research about fidget spinners in particular, fidget tools (such as putty and stress balls) have long been known to help with this. The lack of specific academic research is to be expected though– fidget spinners are only a few months old, and research takes literally forever (well, a really long time at least).

There are some pretty cool creative uses for it (although as far as I can see this just means letting them spin in different places). E.g. balance a spinner on your fingers, make them spin on a table and see how long it spins, throw them between your hands while they spin, spin them and switch them onto different fingers, spin it and put it onto your nose, etc…

Against
As a fidget tool – it’s not a very good one. It’s big, it requires hand eye coordination so kids have to look at it – so it’s actually very distracting. It’s hard to just spin it in your hand and not look at it. So you can’t use it while working for example, or just have it in your pocket. It tends to use all your concentration.

It’s just an annoying trend and they’ll probably be forgotten in a few years until they come back as the latest nostalgia toy.

Have you ever used one?

Do your kids have them?

Gender-fluid

adjective: not identifying exclusively with one gender rather than another

So, it means when people don’t feel they have a fixed gender. They might feel male sometimes and female at other times and perhaps even feel like they belong to some other gendered category that we don’t even really have the language to describe.

Oh no, we’re back on difficult territory again! This is another minefield of a topic.

Now I remember why I kept putting off doing this episode! Too many trigger warnings, potential problems and complexity! But it’s a big subject at the moment, so let’s have a look…

This word relates to people who don’t identify as having a fixed gender.

Noun: gender fluidity

Some quick examples from a Google News search for “gender fluid”.

Pearl Mackie: It’s 2017- the Doctor is gender fluid
PinkNews-Dec 15, 2017
Outgoing Doctor Who star Pearl Mackie has responded to the backlash against a female Doctor, saying that the Doctor is gender fluid and the gender of the actor doesn’t matter.

Loki will be pansexual and gender-fluid in new Marvel novel
Washington Blade Dec 13, 2017
Marvel is releasing a series of three novels focusing on anti-heroes in 2019. One novel will focus on Loki, Thor’s adopted brother and nemesis. Author Mackenzi Lee took to Twitter to answer questions about the project and informed fans that Loki is “canonically a pansexual and genderfluid character.”

Men in skirts: gender-fluid fashion is no longer a novelty
Times LIVE-Dec 14, 2017
The ancient Egyptians, Romans, Zulus, Scots and countless others didn’t wear trousers and no one thought of them as effeminate. [Luke: I challenge anyone to find a bunch of Scottish men in kilts and to tell them they are effeminate! Ha! Good luck with that pal.] The same could be said of jewellery and many other fashion items. We spoke to a couple of experts to find out why gender-fluid fashion is trending.

Some people see this as progress, others see it and just get really angry. They get ‘triggered’ by it, using that expression again from part 1 of this series.

I’m just not going to get into it at great length because I exhausted myself with “fake news” and “antifa” and I’m going to take a pass on this one.

Do you have an opinion on this?

It’s complex. It’s not just – do you mind that people define their identity outside the traditional binary gender roles. It’s not just that. It’s also things like how this affects various changes in society. Some people think it’s all progress, others are really losing their minds about it, other people are just putting their foot down and saying “wait, I don’t mind how you identify – you’re free to be whoever you want, but don’t force me to change my world” – that type of thing.

Gender-fluid people or transgender people are saying “Hey, it would be really nice and respectful if you could just acknowledge my identity and perhaps make a few changes to make me feel like I belong in this world – like maybe you can use different language to make me feel accepted – in fact, we’re working on making it illegal to refuse to do so”, and those who disagree are saying “you can’t force me to do things like use certain language by law”  – and then other people are far less respectful and reasonable in their dialogue, and there’s just a lot of abuse and hate speech flying around too. And then there are people like me who are going “what? Sorry, what? Who said… wait? Who’s right? What’s going on? What year is it???”

Oh, it’s probably worth mentioning Doctor Who again.

The 13th Doctor, played by Jodie Whittaker

So, as you may know, Doctor Who is a British science fiction TV show that’s been on television longer than a lot of people have been alive. I think it has the record as the longest running TV series ever, having started in 1963 and still going strong today.

In a nutshell, Doctor Who is about a time-travelling alien (who looks human and speaks English and everything) who travels around in a blue police box, generally saving the earth. It’s a lot of fun and is very inventive, creative and funny and many generations of people in the UK grew up as children watching the show. My parents grew up with it, my brother and I grew up with it, our nieces and nephews are growing up with it.

The character, called The Doctor, has actually died lots of times, but every time the Doctor dies – usually when he comes to the end of his current life-span, he regenerates in a new form.

Basically, at the end of a season the Doctor dies and then is reborn but with a new actor in the next season (or series as we usually say in British English actually!)

It’s a really cool way of keeping a TV series going. Each new incarnation of the Doctor is different in that they have a certain look, they have certain characteristics – brought by the different actor in the role each time, but also the Doctor always maintains certain core characteristics like charisma, leadership, strength, courage, eccentricity, humour, love for the humans and a desire to protect us, certain human companions and the blue spaceship or TARDIS (actually a craft that travels through both space and time).

There have been loads of actors playing the doctor over the years, and millions of us are very affectionate towards this character and the actors who have played him (or her).

Then this year, the producers of the show decided that the new Doctor would be played by a woman. Jodie Whittaker was chosen – a good British actress. So now, The Doctor is a woman. It turns out, the Doctor is a gender-fluid character. She doesn’t always regenerate as a man, she can regenerate as a woman too. Naturally, a lot of people were really pissed off, saying things like “The Doctor is not a woman! You’ve ruined this character and my memories of childhood! Stop this PC nonsense from infecting everything! This is just the loony left at the BBC trying to infect everything with poisonous feminism! Leave our TV characters alone!”

I read some comments saying things like, “It’s The Doctor, not The Nurse – he should be a man!” A lot of it is just sexism. I understand that people don’t like change, and this character is very close to people’s hearts, but there’s actually no reason why The Doctor can only be male. It’s a fictional time travelling alien from another planet, that changes shape when it dies. I think it can turn into a woman, that’s fine!

I haven’t actually seen any of the episodes in their entirety. I must admit that these days whenever I watch Doctor Who, I’m just completely confused! It’s great and there’s something very comforting about the fact that the show still going after all these years, but the storylines always confuse me completely. I have seen clips of the new Doctor Who with Jodie Whittaker and it looks good. She’s funny and a bit weird and charismatic and that’s the spirit of the character. I personally don’t mind that the doctor is a woman at the moment. I think the writers can do whatever they like with the character.

As long as the writing is still good, the acting is good, the general hallmarks of Doctor Who are still the same, I think it’s ok.

I’d be more upset if the writers of Doctor Who changed something more important about the character – like deciding she now shouldn’t have a sense of humour, or that she should stop caring about people, or that she loses the Tardis or something like that. That would be worse. The Doctor becoming a woman – doesn’t really change the spirit of the character that much and if anything it brings something fresh to the role, and it looks like Jodie Whittaker is great and loads of fun, like the Doctor should be.

So, female Doctor Who – why not?

But I don’t think this really counts as proper gender fluidity actually, because it’s a fictional alien character. I think gender fluidity is more likely to impact our lives in more real ways than this. Like for example how it is affecting language and conversations about language.

For example, what pronouns do we use to refer to people who have different gender identities, like people who identify as neither a woman nor a man, or some other gender which is a combination of both somehow. People might say “I feel that I am neither a man nor a woman” “I’m both and the language doesn’t have the words to reflect that, so we need to introduce some new words to include us, because if we’re not included in the language, then the culture is extremely prejudiced against us.” Also, trans-gender or gender-fluid people can feel very rejected or unrepresented or offended when their identity isn’t recognised by people, specifically when the wrong pronouns are used.

Pronouns – words like he, she, her, his and so on.

So some people want to introduce new pronouns to reflect the diversity of gender identities out there and they want to introduce new laws which say it’s technically a hate crime to use the wrong pronouns. 

I don’t know if this kind of thing has ever happened before and there are several debates combined in this. There’s the “Do people have the right to change their gender if they feel that way?” and in my opinion I kind of think, well, why not I think people should be allowed to do what they want. But a second debate is, “Do they get to legislate what language we can and can’t use?”

Forcing people to use certain forms of language by law – I just don’t know what to think about that. That does seem a bit like controlling people’s freedom to use language, but this whole thing exists in a very fuzzy and grey area involving freedom of speech and also the problem of hate speech and so on… It’s a moral maze.

And so, that’s where we’ll leave this subject. I’d like to think it’s ok for me not to have an opinion on some things. That’s my “I have rights” card here – I claim the right to just not have an opinion, thanks very much. I’m not ready to decide what I think about it all yet, and that’s ok. I’m allowed to do that, and so are you.

I know, you’re not even asking for my opinion, right? And I have no duty to give you my opinion.

Anyway, it’s interesting and you’re hearing all the words I’m using to talk about it, right?

This is the end of part 3! This series is longer than I expected. Part 4 coming soon…

Dictionary definitions – Collins English Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers

561. The Collins Words of the Year (Part 1)

The first part of an episode series about trending vocabulary – words which have been used a lot in the last couple of years. Listen to me talk about words chosen by Collins Dictionaries as their “Words of the Year”. This first episode focuses on how publishers use big data and then lots of discussion about the 2017 word of the year, which was fake news.

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Episode Transcript (95% complete)

Introduction

Hello hello!

This episode series (and it will be a series of at least 3 episodes) is all about the Words of the Year. It’s going to contain vocabulary and some general discussion from me about current issues in politics, life and culture.

I originally prepared this episode a year ago in 2017 when the Collins online dictionary released their words of the year for that year, but I never got round to recording it.

Now it’s a year later and Collins have released a new list for 2018, so I thought I’d record and publish the episodes about the words from 2017 and then do 2018’s words as well. That’s what this series will be – The Words of the Year for the last two years running.

I still doesn’t feel completely ready to record this and I’m sure there’s more preparation work to be done, but I’ve decided “Oh, what the hell, it’s time to record this”. Sometimes you can just spend forever preparing and still not feel like it’s ready, so here it is, even though this will probably get into some slightly touchy areas of politics in some cases.

Actually, I think this is one of the reasons I didn’t record this episode, because it’s quite hard to talk about some of these words and their contexts without getting all bogged down in the politics of the moment, and frankly a lot of things about the politics of the moment are just exhausting and divisive, meaning – the topic just divides people and triggers people and I don’t need to do that. But I will talk about these things a bit on this podcast for learners of English because it’s worth exploring some touchy subjects sometimes so you can hear the language that relates to these topics, and these are very current topics.

By the way, getting triggered – this is an expression that’s been used a lot over the last few years. If someone gets triggered it means they have a quick and strong emotional reaction to something. It could mean getting angry when someone says a particular thing or talks about a certain topic in a certain way. It’s associated with people getting angry online.

For example, if I started talking about Trump in a negative way, any Trump supporters listening might get triggered and might write some quick, angry message in the comment section and it’s obvious that I upset this person just by even mentioning Trump name in a less than flattering context.

That’s just an example, but really triggered has a more serious meaning and it’s when something reminds people of a past traumatic experience. Like, a war veteran who had horrible experiences and is living with post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), they might be struggling to deal with the emotional and sensory stress of having been in war and perhaps loud noises in a film or loud fireworks at night could trigger their PTSD, causing them to be brought back emotionally or mentally to the battlefield.

Also, people suffering from drug or alcohol addiction who are clean – they’re avoiding drink or drugs, but something might trigger their old behaviour to come back, like perhaps getting involved with an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend and then arguing and splitting up with that person, this could trigger cravings for the drugs or alcohol they used to use a lot in the past.

Also, a trigger in a gun is the part of the gun that causes it to fire. You press the trigger with your finger, and bang!

So you can see where the words trigger or triggered come from.

This is not even one of the words of the year, but I mention it here because I really hope you don’t get triggered by anything in this episode. Instead I’m just talking about some topics that are very current and which probably affect all of our lives in some way. I hope you don’t get triggered by any of it. Not all of it is of political nature, as you will see.

I think my audience aren’t the sort of people to get triggered easily. I don’t think you’re the sorts of people who have knee jerk reactions.

So anyway this is the beginning of this series about the words of the year for the last two years, starting with 2017 and then moving on to 2018. For the 2017 words I’ll be on my own and for the 2018 words I expect to be joined by PODPAL Amber Minogue. OK? Good.

So let’s start with the 2017 Collins Words of the Year. Here we go.

This episode is all about 10 words which were used so much in 2017 that they were put into a list of “the words of the year” by the makers of Collins Dictionary. In this episode I’m going to go through the words, make sure you all are clear about what they mean and then just discuss the issues that relate to these words.

Basically, this episode could even be called “Some of the big issues of the moment” because these words and phrases represent big movements and issues in culture that have been reported on, discussed and talked about a lot recently.

What are “The Words of the Year”?

Every year Collins (the dictionary publisher) publishes its “Words of the Year” list. It’s also done by other dictionaries including Oxford and Merriam-Webster.

In 2015, if you remember, I talked to Amber and Paul about the Collins words of the year, which included the words binge-watch (meaning to watch lots of episodes of a TV show in one long session) and manspread (the way men sit with their legs wide apart, taking up a lot of room and imposing themselves on a situation).

In 2016 the Collins word of the year was Brexit, for obvious reasons. The Oxford word of the year in 2016 was post-truth, defined by the Oxford Dictionary online as:
Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.
For example, ‘in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire’.

So that was 2015 and 2016 but now let’s talk about the words of the year again – this time for 2017. I know this is last year (I’m recording this in 2018), but honestly these words are still very much at the centre of what’s going on. I started planning this episode last year and only now am I managing to record it. So it’s a bit overdue, but this is still worth doing, these words and issues are still very current and apply to life today just like they did a few months ago. The plan is to move onto the words for 2018 after this.

The Full Shortlist of Words
www.collinsdictionary.com/word-lovers-blog/new/collins-2017-word-of-the-year-shortlist,396,HCB.html

Etymology and more details for the words
www.collinsdictionary.com/word-lovers-blog/new/etymology-corner-collins-word-of-the-year-2017,400,HCB.html

Generally – The Words of the Year list reveals the words and phrases which have seen a spike in usage during the year. These are words that were used more in this 12 month period than at other times. In some cases it means words which have been around for ages but which have come back significantly this year.

It’s not just a list of the 12 most frequent words. I expect that list would be a bit boring – it would be words like “the” and “you” or “I”. So it’s not the 12 most frequently used words, but the words which have seen the biggest increase in use over the 12 month period. They might also be new words which have suddenly started being used a lot.

Many of the words are actually two-word phrases or portmanteaus made from already-existing words. A portmanteau is a word made by combining two other words, e.g. Brexit, manspread, spork, hangry etc.

These words reveal the year’s hot-topics – the things that have been discussed a lot over the last 12 months, particularly in the media (including conventional and online media).

It’s not completely clear to me how Collins comes up with the list. What’s their criteria? I’ve been trying to find out for ages.

But basically I think it goes like this (and this is interesting because it tells us how dictionaries work).

How do Dictionaries Work?

How do these dictionary makers (Lexicographers) keep track of language? Do they just decide on their own, because they are experts? Nope, they use data.

Generally, dictionaries use these things called corpora in order to monitor the frequency and context in which words are being used.

A corpora is a huge database of language. Imagine a machine which counts words and word combinations. Imagine if you could record every bit of language usage (every conversation, everything written down) and feed it into the machine. That machine could then tell you exactly how often certain words are used (frequency) and how they are used (e.g. with which other words, in what kind of grammatical form, etc).

This would be a corpora containing every single bit of language usage – every single word which is spoken or written down. This isn’t really possible I guess, because dictionary makers don’t have access to that kind of information. They can’t record absolutely everything, right? That would be a bit creepy and scary – imagine them recording everything we said. I know some people think that governments and corporations are actually doing this – like, perhaps using our phones to spy on us and record what we say so they can sell the data to marketing companies, or perhaps for some other more sinister reasons – but that’s another story for another time.

The point here is that it’s very difficult for dictionary makers to know exactly how language is used, but they do their best to get as much data as possible.

This machine I mentioned is not far from being true. The corpora that dictionary makers like Collins actually use are huge databases but they don’t contain records of absolutely all the English that is spoken or written. However – they are often very extensive. They make them as extensive as possible in fact. They get as much English into them as possible. In fact, it’s impressive and amazing how much language usage they manage to record and monitor.

Collins Dictionaries use the Collins Corpus.

This is from Collins.co.uk collins.co.uk/page/The+Collins+Corpus

What’s in the Collins Corpus?

The Collins Corpus is an analytical database of English with over 4.5 billion words. It contains written material from websites, newspapers, magazines and books published around the world, and spoken material from radio, TV and everyday conversations. [Luke: I don’t know which conversations, or who they are listening to and how] New data is fed into the Corpus every month, to help the Collins dictionary editors identify new words and meanings from the moment they are first used.

What does the Corpus tell us?

All COBUILD* dictionaries are based on the information found in the Collins Corpus. The full Corpus contains 4.5 billion words. The Bank of English™ is a subset of that corpus – just 650 million words from a carefully chosen selection of sources, to give a balanced and accurate reflection of English as it is used today.

(*COBUILD, is an acronym for Collins Birmingham University International Language Database, and it’s a British research facility set up at the University of Birmingham in 1980 and funded by Collins publishers.)

So it’s not just a panel of judges or experts who decide which words go in, it’s the data which tells Collins which words people are actually using, and therefore the dictionary becomes an accurate and impartial source of information. Basically – it can tell us how English is really used, not how some people think it should be used.

I feel like it’s worth pointing that out, because when some people think about dictionaries, grammar books and linguistics, they immediately start to think of people judging other people’s English and deciding what’s right and wrong. It’s much more, for want of a better word, democratic than that.

However, in the case of the Words of the Year, I think there are some limitations and these limitations sometimes cause us to think “What? Really?” when we actually see the list of words of the year when it is published.

Because the data comes from mainly written sources and from the media in general (conventional and social media I expect) I think the language is skewed towards the kinds of things that are written about or discussed online or in the press. So, it’s not completely representative of the things people have been saying. It’s more representative of what people have been saying or writing about in the media and online. So the Words of the Year end up telling us a lot about the stories being reported in the press, and trends in the general culture.

These are words that have seen a spike in usage. We might not use these words that much in everyday conversation (well, in some cases yes, but in other cases less so – in my conversations anyway), but they have been used this year more than before and they do reflect issues which have been important in society.

Also, Collins do have judges who help to pick the words of the year, so it’s not just based on data – there is some human selection going on there too.

Dictionaries and grammar books (the ones published by the big publishers) are based on the big data mostly.

I have picked the Collins list this year (rather than, say, The Merriam Webster dictionary) because:

  • It’s generally a British English dictionary, but they do include American English and English from other places. So it’s global English but from the British point of view.
  • Their list just seems to me personally to be better than other lists. E.g. Oxford in 2017 chose Youthquake as their word of the year. I didn’t hear that word at all in 2017, whereas the Collins word of the year is definitely something I’ve heard a lot and I think is really relevant to the current culture.
  • I really like the Collins online dictionary. It’s well designed, works well and they provide all the information you need when looking for a word, including all the things you’d expect like the definition, examples, part of speech, phonetic script, audio of the word – but also things like the frequency of the word over time and a simple rating showing you if it’s commonly used (and therefore worth knowing) or not.

Not every word you find is vital to your English. It’s worth considering how frequent it is used when deciding if you’re going to learn it, remember it and use it yourself. It helps you to be more selective about the vocabulary you’re learning.

Collinsdictionary.com – use it when you’re checking new words. Remember to check what kind of dictionary you’re using, e.g. make sure it’s an English-English dictionary.

Most of these words reveal important trending issues and deep divisions in society today.

Almost all of them involve some level of debate.

Let’s get started

Words of the Year (2017)

Fake news

noun: false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting

Information that has been presented as fact, usually in some sort of news report, but is actually not true and is probably just being used for propaganda purposes.

The phrase “fake news” strikes right at the core of the struggle that currently exists around objective truth and the manipulation of information for political advantage. I think it proves that we’re living in a scary time where our basic right to objective and impartial news reporting is under threat, which in turn threatens our basic human rights.

“Fake news” could mean several things, depending on who you are. It’s very contentious (controversial – likely to cause disagreement) except that everyone is using it. The contentious thing is that nobody quite agrees on which news is the fake news. Different people with different political agendas use the phrase in different ways. I’m going to talk about 2 ways it’s used.

  1. Reporting things that aren’t true, or distorting facts in order to push an agenda.
  2. Calling things “fake news” in order to discredit them for some political reason.

Starting with the first point, the term “fake news” is used to talk about genuinely fake stories which are written and disseminated in the traditional media and online and which are full of mistruths, lies and deception. These sorts of stories are used either just to make profit, or for some political motive. For example, there are suggestions that there are ‘clickbait farms’, targeting certain internet users with clickbait stories or with carefully placed fake news stories which are used as propaganda to serve certain agendas, like to influence public opinion, voting behaviour and so on.

More specifically there are the claims that the voting in the 2016 US presidential election and the UK Brexit referendum were affected by campaigns of fake news on social media. The origins of this fake news could be anywhere – whichever power block or interest group wants to push a certain viewpoint, or in this case, influence the outcome of the election. The allegations are that certain groups would benefit from Trump getting in, and so they disseminated fake news about Hillary Clinton in order to tarnish her image.

This sort of thing is particularly widespread on social media, and it’s not just limited to news outlets. It means certain social media profiles, pages on Facebook, Twitter accounts etc pushing a certain narrative which isn’t really true. It can be done by anyone.

There are other examples of publishing false, distorted or clearly biased information which is passed off as news, but which is there to support a particular motive.

E.g. biased reports about the EU in the right-wing press.

Read the one about children’s playgrounds.

blogs.ec.europa.eu/ECintheUK/safety-rules-force-the-closure-of-uk-playgrounds/

It appears to say this: The EU is shutting down kids’ playgrounds. Kids are now unable to enjoy old-fashioned fun, like swings, roundabouts, climbing frames – and it’s all because of EU law. The EU is going to ban children from enjoying traditional British playing areas. The EU is crushing the very foundation of British culture again and this time they’re going for our kids.

Reality: This law was in fact just a voluntary guideline from a non-EU body (not even the EU) which also includes a British representative (so it’s not “them and us” – we’re involved too). It’s there to publish advisory safety guidelines, like “Hey, here are some tips if you want playgrounds to be a bit safer. Take it or leave it! OK have a nice day, take care bye!!”

It’s nothing to do with the EU and city councils have no obligation to comply with it. The story was printed as a deliberate distortion as part of an anti-EU bias. And anyway, it was probably really good advice.

I remember, growing up in the 80s in England – our playgrounds were pretty dangerous. They were just concrete on the ground. I cut my head open loads of times, and so did my brother, just falling off roundabouts or the swings. Now playgrounds have to have a kind of rubbery surface wherever there are swings or things like that. Good. British playgrounds of the past were obviously wonderful in the sense that we grew up there and childhood is full of fun memories. But a lot of kids got hurt too. Sometimes certain newspapers in the UK just look at the past through rose-tinted glasses.

Moving onto the 2nd use of “fake news” – this is when people label certain reporting as “fake” just because they want to discredit it as part of their attempt to gain control or power.

For example, people say that Trump, his entourage and his supporters use the phrase “fake news” to discredit any report that criticises him and his agenda.

Media outlets that don’t follow the current pro-Trump narrative, for example, might report on stories such as the number of people attending Trump’s inauguration or even details of inquiries and allegations about criminal acts involving the president. These reports make Trump look bad, and also could get him in serious legal trouble.

However, Trump supporters who just want to believe in the man for whatever reason (even if that reason is somehow an honest one – like, “we think Trump will be good for jobs” – a decent reason) but… people who support Trump, and certain media companies (who perhaps support Trump because the owners of those media companies have some kind of vested interest in keeping him in power) these people and media outlets simply dismiss the reports against Trump as “fake news” and part of a so-called “liberal” or “left wing” conspiracy to remove Trump from office.

Trump himself often talks about how the “mainstream media” is fake, mainly because it doesn’t say positive things about him. Perhaps this is egotism, or perhaps it’s a far more calculated and cynical attempt to silence the media. In any case, Trump and his supporters use “fake news” to discredit negative news reports about him.

You might argue that it works for other people and other groups too. Other people lie as well, or make false accusations. Yep, I’m sure they do. I’m just using Trump here as a very famous case of someone crying “fake news” in response to reporting that doesn’t fit their agenda. Feel free to name other cases of this happening, because there are plenty.

This kind of silencing of the media happens because when you control the information being received by the public you then have a massive amount of influence over how people see the world, which certainly means that you can control how you’re perceived, how your enemies are perceived, what you’re doing and so on.

Basically, when the government controls the media in your country, it’s akin to living in a controlled state. It’s almost like controlling the media, and now online media means you get to control reality itself.

It’s complicated. Things aren’t black and white.

Facts are slippery and the truth can be hard to hold onto.

It’s really hard to know which information is real and which information is fake when you consider that a single story can look very different from various points of view. Maybe we can argue that there is no such thing as objective truth because the position from which you view something can totally affect the way you see it.

Also, our attitude towards the story can cloud our judgement. Even when you don’t mean to put a certain spin on an event, you might subconsciously do it in the way you describe the story. It’s also true about the way people consume news. Confirmation bias is a well-established concept, which basically means that people tend to just understand events in ways that confirm their existing world view.

Some people might see the same event and come away with two completely different conclusions of what it all means. E.g. the London riots of 2011 when protests against police brutality turned into fighting with the police and then the damaging of public property.

This is probably a generalisation, but a Labour voter might see the riots as evidence that the government is not doing enough to support poor communities in London, and Conservative voters might conclude that the rioters just need hard justice and to take more individual responsibility. The way you already see the world affects how you interpret events and this includes the way people react to news.

E.g. I made a YouTube video about the Royal Family in 2010 or 2011 I think. I just wanted to collect footage of various people giving their opinions about the Royals. I wanted to get as many different opinions as I could find, and I wanted to collect samples of language for giving opinions.

Some comments in the comment section on YouTube oscillated between “He’s obviously against the royals” to “He’s not very objective – he’s obviously looking for positive comments about the Royals.” Some people were saying I was obviously biased in favour of the royals, others were saying I was obviously biased against them.

I just wanted to get both sides of the opinion in my video. I was looking for both positive and negative comments and was pushing for both (e.g. if someone said something positive, I asked them about a negative point, and vice versa – if someone told me their favourite royal, I’d then ask about their least favourite. If they said something negative, I’d then ask if they had any positive things to say too – so I was doing it in both directions) but people just saw one aspect – the bits they didn’t agree with. They only saw me pushing either a positive or negative agenda.

Generally, those people who don’t like the Royals thought I was trying to promote the monarchy, and those who love the monarchy just thought I was looking for negative opinions.

So, people’s existing attitude towards the subject influenced their assessment of my video, which was only supposed to provide a record of authentic language and therefore I just wanted to collect some engaging and truthful opinions. This kind of thing happens a lot. People consume information in the way that confirms their existing beliefs and prejudices.

I think this is a major aspect of life today in which we are so plugged into information systems like the internet. It’s like so much of what we experience of the world is mediated. I know it sounds scary and maybe I’m being pessimistic, but it’s like we’re getting closer and closer to the Matrix, where all of our experience is not through primary experience, but through the secondary experience of seeing it in a video, or a social media post.

It’s really hard to know what the truth is and in fact people are so bombarded by information, which is often manipulated to the point where people no longer trust “facts” and they just go with gut instinct. The whole idea of “objective fact or truth” has been worn down. Basically, we’ve been bullshitted and lied to so much over the years, and we’ve become cynical as a result that the entire system of trust has broken down and we just believe what we want to believe and that’s it. This is exactly why “post-truth” was the 2016 word of the year. It’s no longer about the facts. It’s about people being driven by emotion and feelings, not expert opinion.

But even gut instincts are manipulated by information. Go back to the Euromyths for a moment. For decades the right-wing press in the UK has been drip feeding the UK various myths about the EU, to the point that many British citizens have an instinctive distrust of anything EU related, without really being able to explain why.

This is bound to be connected to very powerful inbuilt feelings from thousands of years of British people living on an island and living in fear of the “others” who live beyond the borders of that island. That must be a deep-seated feeling of distrust, which comes from basic tribalism from a bygone era.

Perhaps that kind of feeling is what certain newspapers have profited from over the years. There’s always a large section of the British population that is innately mistrustful of the countries on the European continent. Poking this sense of mistrust is what sells papers. That’s why these papers always bang on about Churchill, show pictures of UK flags, and shock their readers with stories about how Britain is being invaded and controlled in some way. It’s not just Britain either. This happens all over the place doesn’t it?

Perhaps we are all victims of manipulation by the media, or the limitations of the media, and this doesn’t just mean the stuff on TV and in newspapers – but by the way our culture is expressed, represented and consumed by all forms of information delivery today – this means, all the media – TV, papers, advertising, films and absolutely everything online that is now part of our everyday reality. More and more of what we see is a construct, especially when we live our lives through the internet. What’s interesting to me is that reality itself is being negotiated by political forces which use our information systems in strategic ways. What can we do about it? I’m not sure! And I’m not sure I’m the one to come up with the solution!

It’s probably a good idea to get off social media or at least take it with a pinch of salt, because that (particularly Facebook as we know) is a breeding ground for fake news, twisting of facts, emotional storytelling and a lack of accountability, where you don’t really know where the information is coming from or who is behind it.

It’s also worth remembering to use critical thinking at all times. Don’t just accept what you see or read. Think about where this information is coming from, and whether it is being used to push a certain agenda. That’s easy to say of course.

It’s hard to know what to do and what to believe.

But then again, some stuff is just obviously bullshit isn’t it. Yeah.

Part 2 – coming soon…

557. I’m a Rambling Guy (Monologue – Autumn 2018)

A rambling monologue about my recent French test, a duck-related error, responses to the Alan Partridge episodes and the Russian comedy club video, moving out of the sky-pod, and life with my wife and daughter. A video version of this episode is available for Premium subscribers in the LEP app and online. www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium

Yes, this episode is long… but you don’t have to listen to it in one sitting. Listen to a bit, then stop and go to work/college, then listen to the rest later. This is much more convenient if you are using a podcast app, like the LEP app (available in the app store on your phone of course!) because it will remember where you stopped listening.

Audio Version

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Video Version (only available for Premium subscribers)

Unlock the video by becoming an LEP Premium subscriber here www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium

Notes, Transcripts & More – A Rambling Monologue (October 2018)

Hello!

I’m going to just talk in this episode without much preparation. It’s so tempting to prepare all of this in advance and I’ve been sitting here going – “OK let’s record this episode without preparation this time” and I keep adding more stuff to my notes here but it’s time to stop writing and start talking!

Like everyone I suppose, I have to plan my speeches quite carefully or they will go off on weird tangents and get a bit out of control. Imagine talking to an audience and making it all up as you go. You’ll end up talking too much or not getting to the point. It’s the same for my podcast. If I have an episode that needs some careful preparation, I will write a lot of stuff down in advance, but then sometimes it’s fun to speak without much preparation, like in these rambling episodes. It’s fun and it’s also more authentic because I’m just making up my sentences on the spot.

I’ve got some notes here. Some things are written down but I’ve decided to stop writing now and just start talking.

So my challenges in this episode are…

  • To talk without preparing most of it in advance
  • To just keep going even if I feel like I’ve made a mistake and I’d like to start again. Just keep going Luke!

I’m videoing this too. The video version will be available for Premium subscribers. If you’re a subscriber you’ll find the video in the app (either in the Videos category or Premium category) and online at www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium which is also where you can go if you want to sign up and become a premium subscriber to get bonus stuff like this as well as regular premium episodes that focus on teaching you grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation.

Rambling = talking in an unplanned and slightly unorganised way, probably for too long.

I have been accused of rambling in the past. “Luke, you’re rambling!” Yes, yes I am!

It’s sometimes a weakness of mine, that I struggle to be brief when I talk, but I like think that like Batman I can turn my weakness into my greatest strength.

Batman is actually afraid of bats (or he was when he was a kid), so he becomes a bat in order to conquer his fear. Bats were his weakness, so he became a bat, well, a man dressed as a bat. By doing that he becomes fear itself and then he uses this power to fight crime and all that stuff.

Similarly, my weakness is that I can talk and talk without really getting to the point – I ramble and so I can become RambleMan and I can use rambling to my advantage to become some sort of super hero, although I have no idea how I can fight crime with this skill, except perhaps to give would-be criminals something else to do – just distract them with talking so they don’t commit any crimes.

OK the analogy doesn’t work, but it was worth a try!

Here’s a run-down of the stuff I’m going to ramble about in this episode.

  • French test
  • My recent duck-related error
  • Responses to the Alan Partridge episodes
  • Responses to me talking with Amber and Paul about the Russian comedy club video
  • Moving out of the sky-pod
  • How’s your daughter?
  • How’s your wife?

But first, I have a shoutout to the Orion Team – everyone involved in that, and in particular a listener in the comment section called Syntropy.

Transcripts

Message from Jack
Dear teacher, I’m writing to you to let you know that my acquaintance from the transcription team “Syntropy” has single-handedly transcribed two long episodes of the podcast. I just thought that it would be nice of you to thank him in the next episode of the podcast.

Syntropy has single-handedly transcribed two long episodes of the podcast. That’s amazing.
Normally you just do a few minutes, and everyone works together to finish episodes. Doing a whole episode is long. Thank you Syntropy and thank you to all the members of the Orion Transcription Team. Listeners, you can check out their work and get involved too by visiting the website and clicking transcripts in the menu.

Thank you Syntropy.

In fact, here is a comment from Syntropy that I got the other day and which I thought was worth sharing.

Comment from Syntropy
Hi Luke, and Hello LEPsters :)
Luke, I just wanted to say thank you so much. I’m a long-term listener, although I haven’t been able to catch up with all episodes. Luke’s English Podcast has been my main resource for learning English, and thanks to you I’ve managed to score C1 level in a placement test.
I travelled to Manchester 🐝🐝 in order to study English for a couple of months. Before the trip, I had listened to your Alan Partridge episodes. When the teacher asked me about my method for learning English, you were the first person that crossed my mind. She got really surprised, since few learners of English really listen to podcasts. Then, I mentioned Alan Partridge, and we even had a small talk about comedy. If it wasn’t for LEP, I wouldn’t have such knowledge on British culture, for example (not to mention other things, like pronunciation and vocabulary). You definitely helped me to achieve a high level in this crazy language.
In the end, she told me that my level was actually higher than advanced. You have no idea of how happy I got after what she said. And I must say that it was pretty much all due to you, and your podcast.
I remembered that rambling chat with Moz in which you talked about a similar experience you had with a student who also listened to your podcast haha.
I can’t thank you enough, Luke 😊. Also, a special thanks to the brilliant Orion Team for transcribing the episodes.
Keep it up. There’s definitely method to the madness.
Cheers,
Syntropy

French test and citizenship

I had to take a French level test as part of my application for French citizenship. “But Luke, why are you becoming French?” One word: Brexit.

My Duck-related error

In episode 555 I talked to Raphael and we ended up talking about Disneyland and how there are weird illogical mistakes in Disney cartoons. It sounded like this (26:05). Can you spot the duck-related error I made?

Donald duck not daffy duck! (Episode 555) I hate to get my duck names wrong. Impressions? It’s funny when you spot these inconsistencies in cartoons. Obviously, that’s the joy of cartoons, and you’re not supposed to think about it too much, but I like to do that! Another listener pointed out another scene in which Donald and his 3 kids are sitting down for dinner and there’s a big roast bird on the table. Is it a chicken? Turkey? It could be a duck. They’re cannibals, basically.

Responses to the Alan Partridge episodes

I feel like I’ve made a breakthrough because I’ve had so many positive comments about these episodes. There was one person who wrote a comment saying that the comedy episodes weren’t for him because he just didn’t get the jokes and this made him feel stupid, but on the whole the response was very positive which is great for me because it makes up for those painful moments in the past when I’ve failed to help my students to enjoy comedy. I think the key is to pre-teach a lot of details before even listening to the clip and then to go through it all very carefully afterwards.

…and the Russian Comedy Club video from episode 552

I’ve had messages with various opinions. Most of the comments are from Russian listeners, as you would expect. Most people were happy to hear us talking about the sketch. Some people say they this is a pretty crappy sketch and an example of mainstream entertainment (we also have mainstream stuff in the UK too which is basically shit – although that makes me sound a bit snobbish) and that these guys used to be better but now they’ve kind of lost it. Other people say I still don’t really get the joke and that it’s about how non-native speakers understand each other but non-natives don’t understand them (but that’s not really true) Apparently there is underground comedy which is much more nuanced and good. In fact I know for certain that there is stand up in Russia, in the main cities, including stand up in English. I was going to interview some people involved in that at some point but it never happened.

Moving out of the sky-pod

It’s the end of an era

How are your wife and daughter?

They’re great thanks! There’s a premium episode with my wife coming soon (because she’s a premium person – yes, and so are my family and friends, ok ok)

What George Harrison said about becoming a dad (paraphrased).

You get tons of perspective. You can become a child again, but you also become your father too. So you live 3 generations at the same time.

Steve Martin – I’m a Rambling Guy (on Spotify)

555. Raphael Miller’s Summer School Report

Raphael Miller is back on the podcast to tell us about his experience of running a summer school for international teenagers in Liverpool.

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The conversation includes lots of stories and descriptions of what happened at the school this summer, including things like teenage sleeping habits, a Chinese celebrity teenager, the proper way to eat a pizza, piano-playing Italian wonder-kids, making tie-dye t-shirts, riding roller-coasters, and blossoming friendships across national borders.

Your English Summer website www.yourenglishsummer.co.uk/

Goofy and Pluto – WTF?

Donald Duck?

Alton Towers – Oblivion

Raph’s previous appearance on LEP (April 2018)

522. Learning English at Summer School in the UK (A Rambling Chat with Raphael Miller)

554. ODD NEWS STORIES (with Mum & Dad)

Discussing some strange and funny news stories with my parents. Thanks to my Mum & Dad for their contribution to this episode. Transcripts and notes available.

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Introduction Transcript

This episode is all about some strange news stories that I found on theweek.co.uk .

I’ve used these stories in class in the past because they’re full of grammar and vocabulary but also because they make quite good talking points.

This time I tried my “Odd News” worksheet with my parents and you can hear the results in this episode.

There are 8 stories being discussed. First there is a guessing game involving the possible headlines and what they could mean, and then we get into the stories, all of which are available on the page for this episode as transcripts.

So you could check those out and pay attention to the vocabulary or the way the sentences are constructed, and just enjoy listening to my parents and me having a relaxed chat about these weird stories.

And I must say that when I listened back to this recording I laughed out loud a few times, mainly because of my parents’ contributions.

I hope you enjoy listening to it to.

Let’s get started.

ODD NEWS STORIES

More odd news stories at www.theweek.co.uk/odd-news-0

Man charged over stolen toes
A New Zealand man has been charged with stealing two human toes from an exhibition displaying human corpses and organs. He has reportedly returned the toes, which are valued at £2,900 each, but also faces charges of improperly interfering with the dead body of an unknown person

Woman injured after being shot in the face with a hot dog
A Philadelphia Phillies fan has reportedly been injured after the team’s mascot shot her in the face with a hot dog cannon. The woman was left with minor bruising under one eye, and has been offered free tickets to the next Phillies game as compensation.

Algeria turns off the internet to tackle cheating
Officials in Algeria have cut off the country’s internet access in a bid to stop cheating during high-school examinations. The Algerian government will maintain the internet blackouts for the next six days, following widespread cheating during the 2016 high school diploma exams.

Massive cannabis crop found at Unesco site
Police in Turkey have revealed that a Unesco world heritage site in the country’s southeast has been used to grow cannabis crop. More than 200 police were called to the Diyarbakir Fortress to dispose of hundreds of plants, some of which had grown more than three metres tall.

Baby born on train gets free travel
A French baby born on a train has been given 25 years worth of free train travel. His birth. on the RER A line in Paris, disrupted commuters for more than an hour yesterday.

Child calls police after being served salad
A 12-year-old Canadian child has been cautioned by police after twice calling 911 to complain that he had been served a garden salad during a meal. Police say the boy called to report the unwanted dish, then shortly afterwards called again to ask how long it would be before officers arrived to deal with the issue.

Man killed by his mother’s coffin
An Indonesian man has died after his mother’s coffin fell on him during her funeral. Dozens of other men were injured while trying to carry the coffin up a makeshift ladder to a lakkean, a traditional wooden stilt house in which dead bodies are stored during the Toraja traditional funeral ceremony.

Woman kills rabid bobcat with her bare hands
A 46-year-old Georgia woman has reportedly killed a rabid bobcat after the animal attacked her in her driveway. DeDe Phillips told local reporters that her first thought when the animal attacked was “I am not dying today”. She saved herself by strangling the animal.

Ending

And what a pleasure indeed it was to have my parents on such good form, making everyone laugh on the podcast.

That was a lot of fun.

Remember – stories + vocab on the website!

Sign up for LEP Premium!

There are now 17 episodes of LEP Premium, as I record this, with more coming and some YouTube live events and other things.

The most recent episode I did was called The Grammar of Gandalf. What do you think of that?

The Grammar of Gandalf and it’s basically a verb tense review with comparison between lots of different verb forms like present perfect continuous and simple, different ways of expressing regret, , passive structures, using past subjunctives, modal verbs and all the pronunciation of that, all coming from some dialogue from the first Lord of the Rings film. Quite a thorough grammar review, also with transcripts and 3 test exercises, along with pronunciation drills it’s quite a little grammar package of 3 episodes of LEP Premium, that went up just recently.

Sign up for LEP Premium to get those episodes and pdfs, as well as the other 14 episodes that are in the growing library of content for my subscribers.

If you’re already a Premium LEPster I would like to say thank you for supporting this podcast and ensuring that I can raise general quality levels as much as possible.

Nice one.

Sign up at www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium – all the instructions are there.

My #AccidentalPartridge Moment

One more thing, sometimes I sound a bit like Alan Partridge. Someone told me once that I sounded like Alan. We all have a bit of Alan inside us (sounds weird) but I feel like I wander into Partridge territory sometimes when podcasting, giving lots of detail, over explaining, rambling and going a bit too far. Also there’s something about the tone of broadcasting in any format that makes you a bit Partridge.

In fact there is a well-known Twitter account called Accidental Partridge @AccidentalP twitter.com/AccidentalP and it’s a hashtag too #accidentalpartridge which people on Twitter use to share moments they’ve seen in the media of people saying things that sound just like Alan.

In this episode I had an accidental Partridge moment and so here it is. It was when I was explaining the pancreas.

[Extract at end of episode edit]

I think we’ll end it here. Thanks as ever for listening and being the most excellent of audiences.

Speak to you soon.

553. Fighting Wildland Fires with Benny the Russian Firefighter

Talking to firefighter Anton Beneslavsky (aka “Benny”) who works as the leader of an international fire fighting project. We talk about becoming a firefighter, the work that he’s doing with Greenpeace around the world and the very serious threat of climate change.

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Introduction Transcript

Hi folks,

This summer I received a message from a listener in Russia called Sasha, suggesting that I talk to his friend Benny on the podcast.

This is what Sasha wrote to me:
I know a guy who works on the Greenpeace Global Fire project. His name is Benny (actually Anton Beneslavsky but that’s just a formality). He has been fighting wildfires almost all over the world and teaching volunteers and Greenpeace staff how to fight wildfires. In fairness, I must say that teaching people how to fight all types of wildfires is not the main purpose of the project. What is more important is raising people’s awareness of wildfires and the consequences of these fires. So they’re trying to do all these sorts of things within the project, fighting wildfires, teaching and mind shifting as they call it. Benny is really of great experience in this topic.
I would like to ask you (with great humbleness:)) if there is any chance that you’ll find it possible to have a conversation with Benny on your Podcast for the sake of pleasure and good things?

Well, since you asked so nicely…!

Anton “Benny” Beneslavsky (Photo credit: Ivan Burov)

Benny sounded to me like an interesting person doing important work and so we arranged an interview over Skype and you’re going to listen to it in this episode.

Benny first became a firefighter as a volunteer 8 years ago in order to fight large wildfires (wildland fires) which were burning near where he lived in Moscow. For the non Russian listeners, 2010 is infamous in Russia as the year of big wildfires in various parts of the country that became a major public health issue.

This from Wikipedia
The 2010 Russian wildfires were several hundred wildland fires that broke out across Russia, primarily in the west in summer 2010. They started burning in late July and lasted until early September 2010. The fires were associated with record-high temperatures, which were attributed to climate change[4]—the summer had been the hottest recorded in Russian history[5]—and drought.[6]
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declared a state of emergency in seven regions, and 28 other regions were under a state of emergency due to crop failures caused by the drought.[7] The fires cost roughly $15 billion in damages.
A combination of the smoke from the fires, producing heavy smog blanketing large urban regions and the record-breaking heat wave put stress on the Russian healthcare system. Munich Re estimated that in all, 56,000 people died from the effects of the smog and the heat wave.[8] The 2010 wildfires were the worst on record to that time.

This is what got Benny to become a volunteer firefighter in the beginning, and in this episode you’re going to hear Benny talking all about becoming a firefighter, the work that he’s doing with Greenpeace to fight wildfires and their causes around the world, the impact of climate change, the best and worst things about being a firefighter and projects that he’ll be working on in the future.

Some of the dedicated language learners listening will, no doubt, be paying attention to Benny’s English during this interview, but don’t judge him on his English which he uses every day in his work, instead judge Benny on that work that he’s doing and the important issues relating to climate change that he mentions during our conversation.

And this is quite timely because climate change is back in the headlines again.

This from theweek.co.uk just a few days ago

UN report warns of global warming
A new report from the UN warns of a huge risk if global warming is allowed to exceed 1.5C and calls for unprecedented action within the next 12 years to prevent extreme heat, drought, floods and poverty. The authors of the report, some of the world’s leading scientists, say the goal is affordable and feasible although it is ambitious.

So this is a big issue right now for all of us.

I don’t always feature non-native speakers on this podcast, but sometimes I do and I think it’s worth remembering that as long as you’re communicating effectively and playing your part as a member of a team in English then that’s the main thing. I mean, you don’t necessarily have to wait to have 100% native-level English before you can start doing important work in English. Perhaps knowledge of vocabulary is the most important thing, and being a clear speaker.

On the subject of vocabulary, look out for all the words and phrases relating to fire in this episode.

There is a bit of disturbance in the sound quality unfortunately as Benny’s headset microphone picked up all the plosive sounds that he made. Those are the /p/ / b/ /s/ /k/ /tch/ /f/ sounds, etc. So while Benny is speaking his microphone does sort of explode a bit sometimes, but there it is, this is just what we’re dealing with. I’m sure when you do your conference calls or when you’re on the phone to another part of the world the sound quality isn’t always perfect. In fact, it’s often quite poor isn’t it? So, this is good practice for you, and it’s also good practice to listen to non-native speakers because if you’re working internationally you’re probably going to speaking English to other non-natives and that’s an important thing to consider.

Right, so without any further ado, let’s get started.


Ending

If you’d like to know more there are links on my website for…

Greenpeace Indonesia www.greenpeace.org/seasia/news/-Fires-burning-inside-palm-oil-concessions-linked-to-major-household-brands/

Greenpeace Russia www.greenpeace.org/international/story/15550/the-incredible-firefighting-women-of-russia/

Fighting fires sparks dialogue and builds respect

Want to support Greenpeace Russia and the work they’re doing? Click this link to their crowdfunding page where you can donate money to help them buy equipment and other resources join.greenpeace.ru/firefighters/index.phtml

Thank you for listening.

Don’t forget to visit the website where you can find all those links, and also links for my sponsors, my premium service and everything else, even updates on my next stand-up shows and my Twitter feed and all that, not to mention the active comment section where LEPsters from around the world chat to each other and express themselves in English.

Jump into the comment section whenever you want. Everyone’s welcome.

Coming up next on the podcast…

I’ve got some more interviews. I haven’t done a rambling episode for a while (although they’re usually a bit rambling but I mean one where I’m on my own) so I’d quite like to do that soon. Maybe just have no notes or script or anything and just talk off the top of my head. It’s been a while since I did that. But I have loads of interviews saved on my computer which I’ve been editing. For some reason September was full of Skype calls to different people. So lots of guests with different accents. Also I managed to get another episode with my parents, for more of our slightly inane rambling and I have to say this one really cracks me up. I think it will give you a chuckle on the bus. That might be the next episode, or very soon anyway.

Anyway, bye for now!

Bye bye bye

Luke

551. Catching Up with Amber & Paul #8 – Stereotypes

Chatting to the pod-pals Amber & Paul again and this time the conversation turns to the subject of national stereotypes, and why Paul has bleached his hair blond. Notes & transcripts below.

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Intro Transcript

OK Amber & Paul are back on the podcast today and I promise to keep this intro as short as possible.

It’s been a while since the last episode with Amber and Paul so it’s great to have them back. It’s been a little difficult to get the three of us in a room together, because we’ve all been busy, especially Paul who has been doing his stand up and working on a TV show and other projects.

So, anyway, here is “Catching Up with Amber & Paul” #8. The idea behind these catching up episodes is that we just see what my friends Amber & Paul have been doing recently and then see where the conversation takes us.

You can expect the usual mix of us talking quite fast, going off on various tangents and making fun of each other. That’s what usually happens in these episodes, and everyone seems to enjoy that, which is great! It’s the tangential trio, the PODPALs – reunited again for much pod-related fun.

Just to help you a bit, here’s a rundown of what we’re talking about in this episode.

  • In my coworking space, not on the terrace or in the sky pod this time. The co-working space is quite trendy and “hipsterish”, and empty.
  • Paul looks very different. His appearance has changed – what’s going on?
  • Paul’s new TV show about stereotypes, called “Stereotrip” (first revealed on this podcast last year)
  • Some talk of stereotypes, focusing on Italian people, Swiss people, German people, Swedish people and English people. What are the stereotypes of those places and are they true, based on the research that Paul and his team did for the TV show?
  • How is Amber’s show with Sarah Donnelly going? The show is called “Becoming Maman” and is about learning how to become a mother in France.
  • The importance of marketing for things like comedy shows, Vlogs, YouTube videos, podcast episodes and the way that certain episode titles or comedy show titles (names) get more success than other ones, like how “clickbait titles” are often more successful. What makes something go viral?

I just want to say again – when the three of us get together we do get a bit excited and we all have things to say, as a result we end up speaking really quickly, talking over the top of each other and cutting each other off. So, be warned – you are about to hear some quite fast speech. See if you can keep up, I hope you can! Listening several times will actually help a lot, so try doing that.

Just one more thing. You might hear some beeping in the background of this episode. There was an electrician working in the next room at the time.

Right, that’s it for this introduction. Let’s now listen to some superfast English from the PODPALS and here we go!

Ending Transcript

So, we’re going to pause right there and carry on in the next episode.

How’s this going for you? It’s nice to have Amber & Paul back on the podcast again isn’t it.

As usual, I wonder how much of this you understand because we do speak very quickly when we’re together.

I realise it might be difficult to follow, but hopefully that’s not such a big issue because it’s just pretty enjoyable listening to the three of us just rambling on like this. Certainly the impression I get is that people out there in podcastland enjoy listening to us.

You can let me know in the comment section.

Also, share your thoughts on the topics in this episode.

What do you think about stereotypes? What are the stereotypes people have of your country? Do they have any truth in them? Why do people have those stereotypes and where do they come from?

Also, what do you think about the titles of episodes? When you listen to this podcast, do the titles make any difference to your listening choices?

Let us know in the comment section and part 2 will be coming your way soon.

546. Death by Meteor

This episode is called Death By Meteor and it’s all about asteroids, space, science, maths, astrophysics and the end of the world! Transcript available.

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Transcript

I’m talking about asteroids and meteors and the possibility that one might strike the earth and what would happen in that situation, or perhaps what will happen in that situation because it is highly likely sooner or later, hopefully later.

There will be lots of English of course! Watch out for vocab on all those topics coming up in the episode, which I will be clarifying for you as we go, because I’m nice like that.
In fact, first of all, here’s a bit of vocab straight off the bat.

What’s the difference between an asteroid and a meteor, a comet and a shooting star?

Oxford dictionary en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/meteor

Asteroid = A small rocky body orbiting the sun. Large numbers of these, ranging enormously in size, are found between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, though some have more eccentric orbits.

Meteor = A small body of matter from outer space that enters the earth’s atmosphere, becoming incandescent as a result of friction and appearing as a streak of light.

Shooting star = A small, rapidly moving meteor burning up on entering the earth’s atmosphere

Meteorite = A piece of rock or metal that has fallen to the earth’s surface from outer space as a meteor. Over 90 per cent of meteorites are of rock while the remainder consist wholly or partly of iron and nickel.

Comet = A celestial object consisting of a nucleus of ice and dust and, when near the sun, a ‘tail’ of gas and dust particles pointing away from the sun.

Originating in the remotest regions of the solar system, most comets follow regular eccentric orbits and appear in the inner solar system as periodic comets, some of which break up and can be the origin of annual meteor showers. They were formerly considered to be supernatural omens.

There’s a lot of talk about what’s going on here on earth relating to the political situation – lots of squabbles going on between people.

It looks like we’re facing a pretty troubled time, and maybe we’re going to spoil everything for ourselves by blowing each other to smithereens, crashing the economy or just ruining the lives of most ordinary people to the point that the world becomes a post-apocalyptic wasteland where the super-rich 0.1% live in protected biodomes in space or something.

Like T800 says in Terminator 2 “You are humans. It is within your nature to destroy yourselves”

However, perhaps before we manage to do that, we might in fact go the way of the dinosaurs, and end up being wiped out by environmental factors, and this includes the very real threat of climate change and how that can affect the careful balance of life on earth, or by some geological event like the eruption of a supervolcano or even a threat from space.

I’m not talking about aliens here. I’m talking about the possibility of the earth being struck by a meteor. And it really could happen within our lifetime. There’s something to look forward to.
This is a real threat to us and makes our petty disputes on earth seem pretty pointless and trivial.

Fairly large asteroids hit the earth on quite a regular basis. The latest one I can remember hearing about was in Russia on 15 February 2013 when an unknown object exploded high above Chelyabinsk, with 20–30 times the energy of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Apparently it flew through the sky at 20 miles per second.

The light from the meteor was brighter than the Sun, visible up to 100 km (62 mi) away. It was observed over a wide area of the region and in neighbouring republics. Some eyewitnesses also felt intense heat from the fireball.

The danger from things like a collision with an asteroid is very real, although it might be possible to do something about it – and protect ourselves, if we manage to work together.
The following is from the PAN STARRS website – a site dedicated to observing the sky for large objects that could collide with earth. An important project!

Since it formed over 4.5 billion years ago, Earth has been hit many times by asteroids and comets whose orbits bring them into the inner solar system. These objects, collectively known as Near Earth Objects or NEOs, still pose a danger to Earth today. Depending on the size of the impacting object, such a collision can cause massive damage on local to global scales. There is no doubt that sometime in the future Earth will suffer another cosmic impact; the only question is “when?” There is strong scientific evidence that cosmic collisions have played a major role in the mass extinctions documented in Earth’s fossil record. That such cosmic collisions can still occur today was demonstrated graphically in 1994 when Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 broke apart and 21 fragments, some as large as 2 km in diameter, crashed into the atmosphere of Jupiter. If these fragments had hit Earth instead, we would have suffered global catastrophes of the kind that inspire science fiction movies.

project.pan-starrs.ifa.hawaii.edu/public/asteroid-threat/asteroid_threat.html

General threat – I did a bit of googling.

‘There’s an asteroid with our name on it’: Brian Cox warns a space rock could wipe out humanity (if robots don’t get there first)

  • Professor Cox says we recently had a ‘near-miss’ with a large asteroid
  • No one knows when next one could be. It ‘could be tomorrow,’ says Cox
  • Engineers are working to mitigate threat, but progress has been slow
  • As well as asteroids, threats to humanity include AI and climate change
  • ‘It’s human stupidity we need to worry about,’ claims Professor Cox
  • He says threats can be prevented through research and education

www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2740010/There-s-asteroid-Brian-Cox-warns-space-rock-wipe-humanity-robots-don-t-first.html

So, asteroids and the asteroid threat to earth!

There are tens of thousands of objects in space that have an orbit around the sun and their orbits cross the orbit of earth. Apparently it’s only a matter of time until there’s a collision. One of these objects, a large asteroid, could collide with the earth at a massive speed. This would cause huge earthquakes and tidal waves. It would also throw massive amounts of dust, gas, molten rock and ash very high into the atmosphere – enough to envelop the entire world in burning hot ash and lava, not to mention various noxious natural gasses and possibly dangerous chemicals from the asteroid itself. The burning ash and lava would probably destroy a lot of life on the surface, like a huge explosion. But also the resulting ash and dust would probably fill the sky above earth, blocking out the rays of the sun and basically turning the whole planet into a nuclear winter wasteland. Lovely!

As far as I know, this is pretty much what happened to the dinosaurs when an asteroid hit the earth near the Gulf of Mexico a very long time ago. Apparently there may also have been volcanic eruptions at around the same time (well, about 250,000 years before the asteroid) that had already filled the atmosphere with ash and gas, making life pretty difficult already (for 250,000 years!) and then as if that wasn’t enough, a huge space rock or two smacked into the earth and that was that. The majority of life on the planet was wiped out, but not all of it of course.

We know this because the evidence is written into the earth itself. All you need to do is explore the carbon records and you can actually see the layers of different types of matter which correspond to the different events occurring, even the remains of living things, the ash, the lava rock and so on – it’s all in layers in the ground. It’s all there.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson – Death by Meteor

Neil DeGrasse Tyson talks about the real possibility of us being struck by an asteroid that scientists have been watching very carefully.

DeGrasse Tyson is one of the world’s most famous astrophysicists. He is the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York and is generally a very media-friendly science guy who is very entertaining on all manner of scientific subjects, especially space.

Listen to DeGrasse Tyson’s predictions with some questions beforehand

Questions
Why is the asteroid called Apophis?
How do we know where Apophis is going to go?
What’s going to happen in 2029?
What are the conditions for it hitting the earth the next time it arrives?
If it does hit the earth, what exactly will happen?

Script

Death by Meteor – Neil DeGrasse Tyson

There is an asteroid, discovered in December 2004, called Apophis. Named for [after] the Egyptian god of death and darkness. It was named only after its trajectory was identified to intersect that of Earth. Had that not been the case we would not have named it Apophis. Could name it like Tiffany or something or Bambi. You know, something not threatening.

This one was headed towards Earth. Apophis.

Alright once you discover an asteroid you’ve got to wait a little while to get enough of a segment of its orbit to calculate what the full orbit will be, to know if it will come in harm’s way. So we did that… we the community… I wasn’t the one do it. We got ‘peeps’ who do this, okay?

So, ‘peeps’ if you’re over 30 means people. Okay.

Forgive me but, saying you got “peeps”, it’s people. It’s actually a loving phrase.

Right. It’s not little yellow marshmallow. (I assume they have marshmallows in USA called Peeps) Do not write.

So we get the orbit. [It] turns out in the Year 2029, the month of April, the 13th of April, a Friday. Thanks. Apophis will come so close to Earth that it will dip below our orbiting communication satellites and it is the size of the Rose Bowl. It will be the largest, closest thing we have ever observed to come by earth. Now of course a much bigger asteroid took out the dinosaurs but we weren’t around at the time so this is in the era of observing the cosmos with technology. This will be the closest biggest thing we’ll ever see come by.

Now the orbit we now have for it is uncertain enough, because these things are hard to measure and hard to get an exact distance for. The orbit is uncertain enough so we cannot tell you exactly where that trajectory will be. We know it won’t hit earth. We know it will be closer than the orbiting satellites.

There is a range – a 600-mile zone we call it the keyhole. If the asteroid goes through the middle of that keyhole it will hit the earth, thirteen years later, it will hit the earth, 500 miles, sorry 500 kilometres due west of Santa Monica.

So it doesn’t matter where it goes through that keyhole.

Now that’s if it goes through the center. If it goes through other places within that keyhole then the contact point shifts further into the Pacific or closer towards North America, yes okay.

But if it goes through the center it hits the Pacific Ocean, plunges down into the Pacific to a depth of three miles, at which point it explodes, cavitating the Pacific in a hole it’s three miles wide, three miles deep that will send a tsunami wave outward from that location that’s 50 feet high, five stories.

Oceans don’t like having holes in them, so this three mile high wall does what? [An audience member says something] You say that so timidly sir. It collapses! It’s a three mile high wall of water! Thank you, fall back into the hole sloshing against itself with such ferocity that it rises high into the atmosphere and falls back down to the ocean cavitating the ocean again.

So now you make a cavity a second time. This cycle takes about 50 seconds. You can calculate it okay? So here comes the first tsunami and 50 seconds later comes another tsunami. So there you are on the beaches of Malibu. [A] tsunami comes in. Now, unlike the tsunami in Indonesia which was one wave that went deep into the shore, this first wave needs a supply of water to exist so that the next wave actually sucks back on it to create itself. So this tsunami will only go in about a quarter of a mile. [Someone in the audience makes a noise] We have the sound effects person there [in the] upper row there.

So it only goes into quarter mile before it gets sucked back out for the next wave to come. Here’s the problem. Whatever was there on the coastline is now brought back out to sea and the next tsunami brings it back to the shore. All the million dollar homes in Malibu, they get taken out to the sea and then back. But this time they’re in a slightly different shape, okay?

And so what happens is all of them… all the artificial stuff, all the houses, the factories, they get churned into this ablative force that sandblasts the entire west coast of North America clean. So, have a nice day!

I’m sorry I said 13 years after 2020 I misspoke it’s April 13 2029 and if it threads the keyhole it will hit Earth April 13th 2036. So it’s a it’s a seven year [period].

Repeat what he said.

Highlight some of the language

Jimmy Carr talks to Prof Brian Cox about asteroids. Brian talks about Apophis

07:35

(Wikipedia)
99942 Apophis (/əˈpɒfɪs/) is a near-Earth asteroid that caused a brief period of concern in December 2004 because initial observations indicated a probability of up to 2.7% that it would hit Earth on April 13, 2029. Additional observations provided improved predictions that eliminated the possibility of an impact on Earth or the Moon in 2029. However, until 2006, a possibility remained that during the 2029 close encounter with Earth, Apophis would pass through a gravitational keyhole, a small region no more than about 0.5 miles wide, or 0.8 km[9][10] that would set up a future impact exactly seven years later on April 13, 2036. As of 2014, the diameter of Apophis is estimated to be approximately 370 metres (1,210 ft).[3] Preliminary observations by Goldstone radar in January 2013 effectively ruled out the possibility of an Earth impact by Apophis in 2036. [12] By May 6, 2013 (April 15, 2013 observation arc), the probability of an impact on April 13, 2036 had been eliminated.[3] Using observations through February 26, 2014, the odds of an impact on April 12, 2068, as calculated by the JPL Sentry risk table are 1 in 150,000.[3] As of March 2018, there were seven asteroids with a more notable cumulative Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale than Apophis.[13] On average, one asteroid the size of Apophis (370 metres) can be expected to impact Earth about every 80,000 years.[14]

So, Apophis isn’t going to strike the earth in 2036, thank goodness, but there’s a slim chance that it will hit the earth in 2068, but we’ll all be dead by then so who cares? (will we?)

Still, the threat remains, doesn’t it? Every 80,000 years? I think we’re probably due one again.

What can we do? Call Bruce Willis?

How NASA would deal with the problem

www.indy100.com/article/nasa-apocalypse-earth-asteroid-armageddon-plan-7826791

So, when you think about all this it makes you realise or perhaps remember that despite all our petty troubles on earth, it could all be wiped out by an unexpected collision with an asteroid. Scientists can’t always see them coming.

For me this makes me think that I should just live every day and stop sometimes to just enjoy what I have and be grateful.

So, after listening to this, take a moment to think about all the good things in your life. Even if you’re not happy these days for whatever reason. Just think about any good thing you have and think about how grateful you are for it.

Perhaps call a friend or someone you care about and tell them how you feel and say thank you for something. It might just be a good way to appreciate all of this while it lasts.

544. The Rick Thompson Report: No Deal Brexit

Talking to my dad about the current Brexit situation, including what could actually happen in the UK if we leave the EU with no deal. Expect language relating to politics, economics and the big issues of the day. Intro and outtro transcripts available.

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Introduction Transcript

Hi everyone, how are you doing? Here is a new episode of the Rick Thompson Report. Long-term listeners will be familiar with this type of episode. This is where I talk to my dad about the news, which is almost always about Brexit. We’ve been doing these ever since the referendum happened, tracking the UK government as they attempt to extract the country from the EU. We’ve heard all about the leave campaign and their claims, the impossible job of negotiating a deal with an entity that you’re also leaving – like marrying someone that you’re also divorcing.

The last time I did a RTR was in December last year and we talked about the state of the UK’s negotiation with the EU, with the shaky leader Theresa May attempting to put together a new deal which could somehow keep things as good as possible while also letting us leave. Both my dad and I are quite perplexed by the desperate need to leave the EU, when it looks like just cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Sometimes I hear from people, or read things on social media that suggest that the UK as a whole wants to leave the EU. I might read comments about how Britain wants to leave, or Britain doesn’t want to be in the EU, and I feel a bit annoyed because there are plenty of British people who think Brexit is a bad idea. I’m one and so is my dad, we make no bones about that, but this isn’t for some ideological reason, or because we’ve picked sides. It’s because it doesn’t really make practical sense to close access to our biggest marketplace and a zone which also includes all sorts of environmental, scientific and security communities that we will also be leaving. Also the real prospect of leaving the EU with no deal could be catastrophic in many ways, and even the UK government is issuing advice about stockpiling food and other measures in the event of a no deal Brexit. The deadline is approaching fast and the UK still hasn’t found an agreement with the EU. What will happen next March when we leave officially? How will this affect life in the UK? Listen on to find out.

I do invive your comments of course, so if you feel like you have something to say, leave your comment in the comment section. I’m very curious to know what the rest of the world is thinking.

But now, without any further ado, let’s talk to my dad about the latest Brexit news.


Ending Transcript

So there you have it. There are my dad’s thoughts on Brexit. I certainly hope you have enjoyed this episode of the Rick Thompson Report, keeping you up to date on Britain’s tricky situation.

As I said earlier, please do leave your thoughts in the comment section. I’m curious to know what the rest of the world is thinking. I wonder how Brexit is reported and generally considered in your country? Is the leading narrative that Brexit is a good or bad thing, and why do you think that is? Do you think Brexit would help or harm your country in some way?

Thanks as ever for listening, leaving comments and generally being great audience members.

Have a great day, morning, afternoon, evening or night and I’ll speak to you again soon.

Bye…

543. Britain’s First Insect Restaurant Opens

Talking about the creepy subject of eating insects, which might be the solution to many of the problems that humans face as a species. This episode includes discussion of eating habits, environmental issues and some insect-related idioms and expressions. Transcripts and vocabulary lists available. Bon appetit!

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Transcript

Hello Lepsters! Here’s a new episode of this podcast which is dedicated to providing you with listening materials which are engaging, entertaining, educational and rich with language.

This episode is all about the creepy, yet potentially vital subject of eating insects.

It’s based on a couple of news stories, and also will contain some nice, chewy and nutritious bits of vocabulary and common expressions with words relating to insects and creepy crawlies, the environment, food and more.

Britain’s first insect restaurant opens

And you thought English food was bad enough already – now this.

Grub Kitchen – the UK’s first insect restaurant has opened in Haverfordwest in Wales.

Dishes include: bug burgers, mealworms, grasshoppers and cheesy locust croquettes.

Some vocab “straight off the bat”

  • Grub = two meanings: 1. food (informal) 2. a larva of an insect (the kind of young version of an insect or beetle that looks like a maggot or worm) – hence the joke “Grub Kitchen”
  • Bugs = any insects
  • Mealworms / worms = things that live in the ground and that you use when fishing, they’re long and skinny and they burrow in the ground
  • Grasshoppers = insects that live in the grass and jump quite far when you try to catch them. They’re green and have their ears on their knees.
  • Locusts = like big grasshoppers that can fly and they’re in the bible as a plague. They swarm all over crops and eat everything.
  • Croquettes are normally little potato patties, fried.

So an insect restaurant has opened in Wales, UK.

Bug burgers, anyone? Why we’re opening the UK’s first insect restaurant

theconversation.com/bug-burgers-anyone-why-were-opening-the-uks-first-insect-restaurant-49078

Read the first 3 paragraphs, and the last paragraph.

Some vocab from the article

  • it has huge potential for feeding growing numbers of people (and the livestock they eat)
  • on the street people are daring to try novel and exotic foods
  • We want to champion insects as a sustainable source of protein in modern diets
  • a research and education centre and 100-acre working farm
  • Andy is an award-winning chef, who has become more and more disillusioned with the unsustainability of conventional restaurants.
  • you don’t think that you want to veer into the world of entomophagy

This brings new meaning to the expression “Waiter, there’s a fly in my burger”.

“Waiter, there’s a fly in my …” is a typical joke in the UK. It’s like a cliched restaurant complaint and usually has a funny response from the waiter. “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup”.

Waiter, what’s this fly doing in my soup?
Backstroke, sir.

My brother once found a fly in his cake in a restaurant in our home town. He complained and the waiter said “that’ll be extra sir”.

More www.indianchild.com/waiter_jokes.htm

Imagine if you didn’t realise it was an insect restaurant.
“Waiter, excuse me, there appears to be an insect in my salad.”
“Yes, that’s right, it’s the grasshopper salad. Would you like some salt and pepper, or should I say, wasp eyes and ant heads?”

Thoughts & Questions

What do you think?

  • Would you eat there?
  • Have you ever eaten an insect?
  • Could you eat insects for dinner every day? What if they didn’t look like insects?
  • Are you squeamish?

How to cook a locust

What’s his recipe? (answer below)

Recipe

Pan fry the locusts. Enhance the flavour with honey, a little bit of chilli, fry it in a little bit of butter.

Flavour of locusts: almost meaty, like a prawn. Effectively, they’re are basically a land prawn.

Pull the legs off. They tend to get stuck in the throat sort of.

Zingy, earthy…

Eating insects may be the answer in the future. Why?

Video – The Economist “Why Eating Insects Makes Sense”

Listen to this video from The Economist and try to identify some reasons why insects might be the answer to our problems. We’ll go through the language afterwards.

Economist Video + Transcipt

Transcript + Some Vocabulary Items (explained below)

The world’s population is projected to reach 11 billion by the end of the century. Feeding that many people will be a challenge, and it is further complicated by the impact of climate change on agriculture. That is why some people advocate an unusual way to boost the food supply and feed people sustainably: by eating less meat, and more insects.

About 2 billion people already eat bugs. Mexicans enjoy chili-toasted grasshoppers. Thais tuck into cricket stir-fries and Ghanians snack on termites. Insects are slowly creeping onto Western menus as novelty items, but most people remain squeamish. Yet there are three reasons why eating insects makes sense.

First, they are healthier than meat. There are nearly 2,000 kinds of edible insects, many of them packed with protein, calcium, fibre, iron and zinc. A small serving of grasshoppers can contain about the same amount of protein as a similar sized serving of beef, but has far less fat and far fewer calories.

Second, raising insects is cheap, or free. Little technology or investment is needed to produce them. Harvesting insects could provide livelihoods to some of the world’s poorest people. (what a great job!)

Finally, insects are a far more sustainable source of food than livestock. Livestock production accounts for nearly a fifth of all greenhouse-gas emissions – that’s more than transport. By contrast, insects produce relatively few greenhouse gases, and raising them requires much less land and water. And they’ll eat almost anything.

Despite all this, most Westerners find insects hard to swallow. One solution is to use protein extracted from bugs in other products, such as ready meals and pasta sauces. Not having to look at the bugs, and emphasising the environmental benefits, might make the idea of eating insects a bit more palatable.

For more video content from The Economist visit our website: econ.st/1ytKwbp

Why Eating Insects Makes Sense – Summary

Here are the reasons, based on a YouTube video from The Economist (video and transcript on my website, above). This bit has been paraphrased by me from the video.

  • World population is expected to be 11 billion by the end of the century. It’s going to be hard to feed everyone. I don’t know if you’ve ever had guests. 11 guests is a lot of people to feed, but 11 billion, that takes the biscuit – and the biscuit is made out of bees.
  • Climate change is going to make it hard to grow all the food and keep animals, and there will need to be more animals too. Unless we start to eat each other, or become zombies, or become zombies and eat each other we will have to find another solution.
  • We’re running out of space and farmed animals (with all their gas and farting and all that) are making the situation much much worse. Apparently they actually produce more greenhouse gasses than transport does. That’s a lot of methane. Is it methane? Farts, basically. They eat grass and fart, a lot, all day.
  • So we’re running out of space and if we keep farming and eating these fart machines, sorry I mean animals like we do now we won’t be able to feed everyone and we’ll completely ruin the climate. Animals take up quite a lot of space and also we use lots of space to grow their food.
  • Apparently, insects are a solution. Just when you thought insects were a problem that you just want to get rid of, because every single run-in you have with an insect is a bad one. They’re either trying to bite you, sting you, steal your food or shit on your wall. They’re in your car, in your ear at night and sometimes in the bathroom, in the bath. We generally don’t get along with insects very well. Ever had a close up look at an insect? They’re quite frightening in a way. Imagine a massive one. Also, there’s something naturally in us which is disgusted by them – little crawly, creepy things with legs and wings. It makes you feel itchy, doesn’t it. Makes you want to scratch, just at the name of them. Insects, ooh scratch scratch scratch itchy itchy itch. So, we’ve always thought of them as a problem, but now they might just be the solution to our problems.
  • About 2 million people already eat insects. Mexicans eat chilli toasted grasshoppers. Thais eat stir fries with crickets. Ghanians eat termites. In other places people eat grubs, scorpions and spiders. Yum!? So, it’s already happening. If it’s ok for them – why not everyone else?
  • What are the arguments against eating insects? They’re bad for you? They’re no basis for a healthy diet? It eventually turns you into an insect like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly?
  • Well, eating insects is not bad for you. In fact it’s healthier than red meat. There are over 2,000 edible insects and they are all flying towards your face, sorry, I mean there are over 2,000 edible insects and they contain calcium, protein, zinc, fibre, iron. A serving of grasshopper and a similar serving of beef have about the same amount of protein, but the grasshoppers contain fewer calories. I bet it doesn’t taste as good as a good burger though, does it?
  • It’s really cheap to raise insects. You hardly need any technology or anything. I guess you don’t need to move them around much, you keep them in a contained space, provide food and bob’s your uncle. Loads of insects. It might be like going to work in a horror film, but you certainly don’t need to worry about the mountains of shit that cows produce on a daily basis, or all the complications relating to how you breed them. Getting big animals to have sex with each other already feels weird, like, why are we here watching them and in fact making them have sex and then watching, it’s also quite difficult logistically. On the other hand, or should I say leg, insects are really low-maintenance and quite randy. You don’t really have to do anything to make them have sex with each other, they’re at it all the time. They shag like rabbits, if rabbits were insects or somehow made of insects. They shag each other a lot basically, and they have really no standards at all. They’ll do any other insect.
  • Joking aside though, this could really help producers who don’t have much money for equipment or facilities, and generally can save space, time and resources.
  • Insects are generally better at growing and surviving than mammals, like cows and sheep – which you have to look after pretty carefully. Mammals are prone to disease and are far more sensitive than insects. They don’t take criticism very well, for example. If you say to a cow, “you’re really bad at being a cow. The way you eat grass is pathetic” they can be very affected. They’re rubbish, basically, whereas insects are hardcore. Someone once said that if there was a nuclear holocaust, the only survivors would be bugs, and maybe Keith Richards.
  • Insects are also way better for the environment. Livestock (that’s cows, sheep, pigs etc) account for over 1/5 of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. It’s more than transport. More than cars! Apparently, cows fart a lot. That’s a massive amount of fart gas clogging up our atmosphere! But insects don’t produce many emissions. They are very discrete, and you need less food and water to raise them. Insects will eat pretty much anything. They’re so easy to farm. Even if, like I said before, it’s a bit like working with Aliens from the movie Aliens, but much smaller, every day, and eating them.
  • But the downside is – nobody in the Western world, or developed world (or whatever you want to call it) wants to eat them. We’re just not predisposed to finding them appealing. We are naturally turned off by them. We think they’re flipping disgusting, basically. Errrr, insects – that’s disgusting!
  • But maybe there are other ways of using insects. You don’t necessarily need to eat a fly sandwich. If we took the protein from insects and just added it to our food in other ways – like adding it to pasta sauce or veggie burgers, that would make them easier to swallow (literally and metaphorically).
  • If we want to survive in the future – we need to tolerate certain changes. Eating insects, might be something we’ll just have to accept. It might just be “eat some insects or breathe nothing but fart gas”. Just deal with it! Time to man up and chow down on some bug-meat or it’s bye bye planet earth!

I’d love it if the world embraced this idea and didn’t just go – “No, I don’t want it! Screw the planet! I’m not eating a worm!” It would be amazing if the whole human race just went with it and said “yep, this is fine. Bring on the insects, let’s get crazy! It’s dinner time!”

Because the thing is, you probably wouldn’t be eating insects the way they normally look. We’d harvest the insects and then basically turn them into a kind of protein powder which could be turned into all sorts of other things. Generic matter which could be made into a burger, mince meat, chicken nuggets or anything.

I can’t wait for McDonald’s to launch its first bug burger.

Vocabulary Items from the Economist video

  • is projected to reach 11 billion by the end of the century (when you make a prediction about numbers we talk about doing projections and things being projected. For example you might talk about projected sales turnover for year 1, year 2, year 3 when pitching a new company to investors.)
  • some people advocate an unusual way to boost the food supply (to advocate = to argue something, defend something, stand up for something, support something. E.g. to advocate for the legalisation of cannabis.)
  • feed people sustainably: by eating less meat, and more insects. (these days, with the environment being such an important factor affecting everything, we talk more about sustainability, things being sustainable and doing things sustainably and to do something sustainably means that you do it so that it can continue going in the future. For example, sustainable agriculture means farming in a way that protects the land that you’re farming on, so that you don’t use up all the resources and ensure that the land continues to produce food in the future. Similarly, sustainable development is a key type of civil engineering in today’s world. It’s all about making sure that the environment, the economy and society are maintained at certain levels into the future. Insects could be a way to feed people sustainably – give people food in a way that means the environment isn’t damaged.)
  • Thais tuck into cricket stir-fries (to eat)
  • and Ghanians snack on termites (to eat)
  • Insects are slowly creeping onto Western menus as novelty items (creeping onto = moving slowly onto. Also, insects creep – it’s the way they move. Creepy crawlies. So insects can creep onto menus, or other things can creep onto menus, like kale for example. Novelty items are usually quite interesting, original and popular because they are new. It’s also a word for a little toy, like an interesting and enjoyable, original little thing , and something that’s new. Digital watches used to be a novelty, the game boy, fidget spinners)
  • most people remain squeamish (sensitive to disgusting things – you can’t handle the sight of an insect, or blood)
  • There are nearly 2,000 kinds of edible insects (possible to eat. Edible and drinkable)
  • many of them are packed with protein, calcium, fibre, iron and zinc (full of)
  • A small serving of grasshoppers (food is given to you in servings or helpings. If it’s a serving it means someone else served it to you. If it’s a helping it means you helped yourself to it.
  • raising insects is cheap, or free (to raise means to bring up, or help something grow)
  • Harvesting insects could provide livelihoods to some of the world’s poorest people. (harvesting = growing or cultivating things like crops but also insects and then collecting them all for money or food – happens at the end of summer)
  • insects are a far more sustainable source of food than livestock (there’s that word sustainable again) (livestock = live animals kept in farms in fairly large numbers.)
  • most Westerners find insects hard to swallow

Listen to the video again and notice the vocabulary.

You could check the transcript (above) and repeat what you hear.

Insect Idioms and Expressions – www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium