Category Archives: Podcast Information

838. A 3-Hour Mega-Ramble / Reflecting on a Wonderful Spring Day in Paris

This is the longest episode of LEP so far, and it’s a solo ramble. Relax, follow my words, hang out with me for 3 hours, get stranded on a desert island of the imagination, and then get rescued. Includes a haircut, a sleep and a t-shirt change during the episode.

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PDF Script / Notes for this episode 👇

836. Life & Life Only with Antony Rotunno [Part 2] David Blaine, Food & Diet, The Shining, Conspiracies, Comedy, Happiness

Since recording part 1 of this conversation, Antony caught COVID-19 and lost a bit of weight, but he managed to talk for about 100 minutes here about more topics he has previously covered in episodes of his podcast “Life & Life Only”. Here we discuss diverse things, including the extraordinary feats of endurance by David Blaine 🕴🏻, food and dieting 🍔, Stanley Kubrik’s film “The Shining” 🪓, the term “conspiracy theory” 🤫, the ways that comedy shows can reveal the truth 🎭, and the complex art of happiness 🙂.

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☝️The audio version includes some extra content at the end, including a song on the guitar

Topics covered in this episode

David Blaine

  • Who is David Blaine? 
  • What can we learn from his tricks?

Food

  • Do you watch what you eat or have a particular diet?

Films

  • What are your favourite films? 
  • What’s so interesting about The Shining?

Conspiracy Theories

  • What’s wrong with the phrase “conspiracy theory”?

Comedy

  • What’s your favourite comedy show?
  • Is British and American comedy different?

Happiness

  • What is the art of happiness?

Song Lyrics – “Coffee & TV” by Blur

https://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/blur/coffee-and-tv-chords-800996

Luke & Antony talk about the film “Sorcerer” (1977) on the Film Gold podcast

835. Life & Life Only with Antony Rotunno [Part 1] Cats, Titanic, Travelling, Teaching & Life Coaching

Antony is an English teacher, podcaster, life-coach and writer and he returns to LEP today for a conversation about topics which he has discussed in episodes of his podcast called “Life & Life Only”. Listen to us chat about why cats are good for your health 🐱, what the Titanic disaster tells us about social class 🚢, how losing his backpack while travelling taught Antony a valuable life lesson 🎒, how psychology is involved in English teaching 🧠 and more.

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Antony’s Podcast 👉 Subscribe to Life & Life Only wherever you get your podcasts https://plinkhq.com/i/1549021296?to=page

Topics for discussion in this episode

Life & Life Only (the podcast)

  • What is Life & Life Only, and what’s it all about?

Cats

  • What do you like about cats?

The Titanic

  • Why are you interested in the Titanic?
  • Can you give us a quick version of the story?

Travelling

  • Tell me about your travelling experiences.
  • Where have you been?
  • Did the experience change you at all?
  • What about losing your luggage? What happened?

Teaching English

  • How have you found the group dynamics and interpersonal dynamics of teaching?
    • Groups
    • Individuals
  • Have you had good and bad groups? What’s the difference?
  • What have you done in order to try to get the right atmosphere in a classroom?
  • Have you ever had bad or difficult experiences with students?
  • What are some of the weirdest situations in which you have taught English?

Life Coaching

  • What is life coaching and how do you do it?

Antony & Luke talk about the film “Sorcerer” (1977) on Antony’s Film Gold podcast

831. Learning How to Learn with Hadar Shemesh

A conversation with Hadar Shemesh, a non-native speaker who has improved her English to a very high level, and who now shares her knowledge and experience with the world through her podcast and YouTube channel. Hadar describes her own experiences of learning English and mastering pronunciation. This episode is all about the voyage of discovery that is learning a language.

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👉 Hadar’s website https://hadarshemesh.com/

👉 Hadar’s podcast (InFluency Podcast) https://hadarshemesh.com/influency-podcast/

👉 Hadar’s YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClPyOwXLnSMejFdLvJXjA5A

👉 Hadar’s episode with Luke 👇

Audio & podcast links 👉 https://hadarshemesh.com/magazine/interview-with-luke-from-lukes-english-podcast/ 

Video version 👇

828. PARIS STORIES with Amber Minogue

Amber returns to the podcast to tell us some grisly stories about the history of Paris. Amber is a bit of an expert about Paris. She has read pretty much every book about the city and is also a registered tour guide here. A few years ago she set up a podcast called Paname Podcast (Paname is a nickname for Paris). Each episode contains a true story from history, with tales of battle, execution, romance, tragedy and adventure. You can get it where you get your podcasts. In this episode Amber comes onto LEP to share a few stories from her podcast series. Includes a 30-minute ramble at the end of the episodes.

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☝️Listen to the audio version of the episode to to hear an extra 30 minutes of rambling after the conversation with Amber.

Listen to Luke’s English Podcast on your phone – audio episodes are usually longer than video ones

Scan this QR code on your phone 👇 and choose a podcast app of your choice. I recommend PocketCasts.

👉 Listen to Amber’s podcast https://plinkhq.com/i/1241927554?to=page

827. An Interview for a Study about Language Learning Podcasts (Carlos Soares, University of Aveiro)

Carlos Soares, from the University of Aveiro in Portugal, is doing a master’s degree dissertation all about language learning podcasts. He contacted me to conduct an interview as part of his research, and he agreed for me to publish it as an episode of my podcast. Carlos asks me about my thoughts on learning English through listening, my approach to making my podcast and some other details.

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👉 Take Carlos’ survey here https://forms.ua.pt/index.php?r=survey/index&sid=699278&lang=en

825. Time-Travel Story, English Immersions in Malta & Playing the Bagpipes (with Alastair Budge)

Is that a confusing title? Hopefully not. As you might expect, it’s a little summary of what’s included in the episode. To give you some more details, Alastair Budge is the host of a podcast called “English Learning for Curious Minds” and he has created a new audio drama for English learners called “Pioneers of the Continuum”. It’s a time-travel adventure for English learners, and Alastair asked me to be the narrator for episode 1. In this episode of LEP, we talk about Alastair’s story, living in Malta, learning English by immersion, cliches and complaints from English speakers visiting Paris and Alastair’s story about playing the bagpipes on the streets of Paris. The audio version includes 30+mins of rambling from me at the end. Enjoy!

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Alastair’s website (podcasts + more) https://www.leonardoenglish.com/

Listen to Pioneers of the Continuum wherever you get your podcasts, from 23 May 2023 👇

Wonderwall on the bagpipes (yes, of course someone did it!)

821. ChatGPT & Learning English PART 1

An episode exploring the various ways that ChatGPT might be able to help you learn English. Can it create study plans? Can it correct your errors and explain the corrections? Can you use it to simulate natural conversations? This is the first of a three-part series in which I test ChatGPT’s usefulness as an AI language learning tool.

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DOWNLOAD THE TRANSCRIPT FOR 821. ChatGPT & Learning English PART 1

Episode Transcript

Hello everyone,

Welcome back to my podcast for learners of English around the world.

I hope you are doing well today and that you are ready for this epic episode, which is called ChatGPT and Learning English

Yes, it’s time for me to talk about ChatGPT, just like everyone else this year! Everyone’s been talking about it. Now it’s my turn. It’s taken me a while to get round to doing this, but here it is.

There are absolutely loads of ways ChatGPT can be used. We are all discovering just how useful this is.

There have also been lots of discussions going on about how it might change the world, for better or worse. 

People have been raising ethical questions about things like whether it is a form of plagiarism, whether it will encourage and enable cheating and other issues. 

I’m going to focus here on learning English, mainly.

ChatGPT is basically an extremely sophisticated AI (Artificial Intelligence) chat bot developed and run by a company called OpenAI. 

It’s free for anyone to use. Just create an account at OpenAI and then go to https://chat.openai.com/chat and you can start. 

You just type in your prompt or question and away you go.

How do people use ChatGPT?

I asked it that question. Let’s see what it said. 


Most people use ChatGPT to ask questions and seek answers on a wide range of topics. 

As an AI language model, ChatGPT can provide information, explanations, and guidance on a variety of subjects, such as science, technology, history, culture, and more. 

People may also use ChatGPT for language learning, writing assistance, and brainstorming ideas. Additionally, ChatGPT can be used for entertainment purposes, such as generating jokes, riddles, or trivia questions. 

Overall, people use ChatGPT as a helpful tool for obtaining information, learning new things, and solving problems.

I’m recording this episode in March 2023 and I’m talking about ChatGPT3, which as the name suggests is the third iteration of this software, released by OpenAI in November 2022. This is the version that has got everyone talking.

What is OpenAI? 

This is the company that has created ChatGPT. 

According to Wikipedia, OpenAI is:

“… an American artificial intelligence research laboratory consisting of the non-profit OpenAI Incorporated and its for-profit subsidiary corporation OpenAI Limited Partnership. OpenAI conducts AI research with the declared intention of promoting and developing a friendly AI.”

  • Non-profit laboratory
  • For-profit subsidiary corporation
  • Research “…with the declared intention of promoting and developing friendly AI”

Declared intention → Interesting wording! 

That seems to suggest that there are also undeclared intentions, doesn’t it? 

Does this mean that they have other intentions that they’re not declaring, like maybe developing “unfriendly AI”, and what would that be like?  

Would it just be rude to you if you asked it a question? 

Like if you ask it, 

Can you recommend some good mystery stories to help me learn English?” 

and it just says… 

“No. What do you think I am, Google? Go and find out for yourself, and don’t ask such me stupid questions, human.”

That would be unfriendly AI. 

And that’s probably the best case future scenario for “unfriendly AI” isn’t it? Just a rude and unhelpful chatbot. 

Of course unfriendly AI could end up being a lot worse than just that. 

It could be… I don’t know… Terminators.

But don’t worry, because thankfully, this is not the case and they are developing “friendly AI”. 

So, everything is ok. I hope.

Am I a bit cynical or suspicious about this?

Forgive me if come across as slightly suspicious, cynical or even paranoid about this kind of thing, but I have to admit that when I read about companies like OpenAI that develop artificial intelligence products like ChatGPT or robotic developers like Boston Dynamics (you know the ones that make those vaguely terrifying robots)

and things like that, when I read about those things, it does make me feel like I’m living in a dystopian science fiction film or something. Just a little bit. 

It all has that kind of “dark sci-fi” atmosphere to it.

But no, this technology is not evil of course, yet, probably. 

I suppose it depends who is in charge of it and all sorts of other things, but having watched so many of those science fiction films, well, I can’t help feeling slightly alarmed or at least uncomfortable to some extent.

But of course those are just films and companies like Open AI are in no way similar to the fictional corporations in those films. Not similar at all. 

Look at their website – https://openai.com/ 

It is decidedly non-scary. It’s all nice with friendly people sitting around smiling and chatting and lots of green plants in the background and it’s all natural and sunny and safe.  

“Safe” is definitely a key word on their website. 

They really want us to know that they are making sure their projects are definitely safe and friendly and beneficial to humanity

No need to worry! We’re making it safe. 😊

https://chat.openai.com/chat

Anyway, this episode is supposed to be about how ChatGPT can help you learn English, and whether or not it will make me (and countless other people) completely redundant and unemployed. 

So, let’s get back to the point: 

ChatGPT and Learning English

Despite my ironic comments about science fiction films, I am fascinated by ChatGPT and the way it can be used as a tool. 

The potential is huge. Its use as a language learning assistant is only the tip of the iceberg really.

The more you play with it the more you realise what it can do, depending on the prompts that you give to it. You also realise its limitations and how it sometimes gets things completely wrong.

For example, the other day I was asking it random questions and I asked it this:

Who is the most famous guest ever to have appeared on Luke’s English Podcast?

So it does often get things completely wrong. 

That is something to bear in mind.

Useful ChatGPT Prompts

Chat GPT is basically a chat bot. It works like you’re having a conversation with it, in text form.

You write prompts into the chat box and then get responses as if it is a person writing back to you.

Usually these prompts are in the form of questions to request information or to ask ChatGPT to do things. 

What time is it?

So basically: 

I can’t tell you the time because I don’t know and anyway I’m above that kind of thing. Just consult some of your 20th century technology and don’t bother me with such petty simple requests.

Prompt: 

Can you give me some tips on how to make my podcast introductions shorter?

For some reason this screenshot was lost!

You can also enter imperative instructions, like this: 

Make a list of evil corporations in science fiction films

So, as I go through this episode I’ll be using various prompts. If you are looking at the notes/transcript on the page for this episode on my website or while watching the YouTube version, you will see all the prompts I’m using written in italics.

Tip: Writing prompts for ChatGPT

It’s quite important that you word your prompts carefully, and if you don’t get the response you’re looking for first time round, you should keep trying with more specific and detailed prompts in order to get the right response. 

I’ll show you some examples of this during the episode.

Specific Ways You Can Use ChatGPT to Learn English

Let’s look at some specific things you can do with ChatGPT to help with your English. I’ll show you specific prompts that you can write into ChatGPT and I will give my comments about each response it gives.

Overview

These are the things we are going to explore and assess during the episode.

  • Ask it to create a study plan for you
  • Ask it to correct your errors
  • Use it for conversation practice
  • Use it for practising English in different situations (e.g. job interview role plays)
  • Ask it to create texts or dialogues to study with
  • Ask it to help you with exam preparation (IELTS, FCE, CAE etc)
  • Ask it for definitions of words, and synonyms, antonyms, and collocations
  • Ask it about the etymology of words and phrases
  • Ask it to help you remember words with mnemonics
  • Ask it to transcribe things into phonemic script 
  • Ask it to convert things into different versions of English (i.e. between UK and US English, or other varieties)
  • Ask it to help you with sentence stress, pausing, intonation etc
  • Ask it to create grammar or vocabulary quizzes or tests
  • Ask it to create text adventure games to help you learn English
  • Ask it to adapt its English level (e.g. for low level reading)

Ask it to create a study plan for you

I am an upper-intermediate learner of English, currently stuck at the intermediate plateau. My main areas of weakness are listening, speaking and pronunciation. I want to speak with a British accent and I want to be completely fluent at a C1 level or higher. Can you create a step-by-step study plan for me?


Yes, I can help you create a study plan to improve your listening, speaking, and pronunciation skills and reach a C1 level of fluency in English.

Here is a step-by-step study plan for you:

Step 1: Improve your listening skills
Listen to English language podcasts, news broadcasts, and audiobooks for at least 30 minutes a day. Try to watch English language TV shows, movies and videos without subtitles to help you develop your listening skills. Focus on understanding the overall meaning of what is being said, rather than getting stuck on individual words.

Step 2: Improve your speaking skills
Start speaking English every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. You can practice with a language partner, tutor or a language exchange program.Focus on fluency rather than accuracy at first, don’t worry too much about making mistakes.Record yourself speaking and listen back to identify areas where you need to improve. Try to use vocabulary and grammar structures that you have learned in context, rather than simply memorizing them.

Step 3: Improve your pronunciation
Watch and listen to videos of native speakers and try to mimic their pronunciation. Practice individual sounds, such as vowel and consonant sounds, using resources like pronunciation apps, websites or audio resources. Work on intonation, rhythm and stress patterns in connected speech, which are important aspects of British accent. Take pronunciation classes or work with a speech therapist, if possible.

Step 4: Build your vocabulary
Learn new words every day and use them in sentences to help you remember them. Try to learn words in context by reading articles, books or watching videos in English. Use flashcards, vocabulary lists and apps to help you memorize new words.

Step 5: Work on grammar and writing
Study English grammar rules and practice them through exercises and quizzes. Write short paragraphs, essays, and emails in English to practice your writing skills. Get feedback on your writing from a tutor, teacher or language partner.

Step 6: Take formal English language exams
Take a C1 level English language exam such as the Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) to measure your progress and get certified.Remember to stay motivated, practice consistently and have fun with the process of learning.

Good luck!

That’s all good advice. But as a teacher, I know that when I give advice like this to my students, there are always other questions, doubts and obstacles that the students have.

I wonder how ChatGPT would respond to these kinds of comments.

  • But I don’t have time to do all those things
  • I can’t understand that podcast that you shared with me, and it was too long
  • I can’t understand TV series without subtitles
  • I don’t have anyone to practise my speaking with
  • You say “don’t worry about making mistakes” but how can I improve if that doesn’t matter?
  • I try to copy native speakers, but who should I copy? Who has the best accent?
  • I copy native speakers but I still can’t lose my accent
  • Can you recommend a good book or website to help me practise my grammar?
  • If I write things in English, who can correct them for me?

Actually, I tried inputting those comments into ChatGPT and it did come back with some pretty useful and relevant advice. I won’t share it all here because there isn’t time, but you could try it if you like.

Error correction 

It can correct your errors. Just ask it to. 

Write a sentence or enter a paragraph and it’ll correct it.

Let’s try that. Let’s ask it to correct the errors in this comment which someone wrote on my website a few weeks ago. 

Can you correct the errors in this website comment please?

Hey Luke. How’s it going? Hope u enjoy. I’m walk to this website. Very well, its so exactly for me. I’m listening and hear you podcast (british), tbh i really like british accent. It posh vibes! And i like it. Thankyou so much for learn (british) english with your podcast in comedian, story telling, etc 


Sure, here’s the corrected website comment:

“Hey Luke, how’s it going? I hope you’re doing well. I’ve recently discovered this website and it’s been a perfect fit for me. I’ve been listening to your podcast, and as a fan of the British accent, I really enjoy it. The posh vibes are great! Thank you so much for helping me improve my British English through your podcast which features comedy, storytelling, and more.”

Let’s ask it to explain the corrections it has made. 

Can you give explanations for the corrections you made?


Certainly! Here are the explanations for the corrections I made:
“Hope u enjoy” –> “I hope you’re doing well.”

I changed this phrase because “hope u enjoy” is an informal and abbreviated way of asking how someone is doing, which might not be appropriate in all situations. Instead, I replaced it with a more standard greeting that asks how Luke is doing.

“I’m walk to this website” –> “I’ve recently discovered this website”

“I’m walk” is grammatically incorrect. I replaced it with “I’ve recently discovered” to convey the same idea in proper English grammar.

“Very well, its so exactly for me” –> “it’s been a perfect fit for me”

The original phrase is not grammatically correct and does not convey a clear message. I replaced it with “it’s been a perfect fit for me,” which expresses the idea that the website meets the writer’s needs and expectations.

“I’m listening and hear you podcast” –> “I’ve been listening to your podcast”

“I’m listening and hear you podcast” is not grammatically correct, and it’s not clear whether the writer is currently listening or has listened to the podcast in the past. I changed the phrase to “I’ve been listening to your podcast” to express that the writer is a regular listener.

“tbh i really like British accent” –> “As a fan of the British accent, I really enjoy it.”
“tbh i really like British accent” is an informal and abbreviated way of expressing admiration for the British accent. I changed the phrase to “As a fan of the British accent, I really enjoy it” to express the same idea in more formal language.

“It posh vibes!” –> “The posh vibes are great!”
“It posh vibes!” is an incomplete sentence and not grammatically correct. I changed the phrase to “The posh vibes are great!” to convey the same idea in a complete and grammatically correct sentence.

“Thankyou so much for learn (british) english with your podcast in comedian, story telling, etc” –> “Thank you so much for helping me improve my British English through your podcast which features comedy, storytelling, and more.”
The original phrase is not grammatically correct and does not convey a clear message. I changed it to “Thank you so much for helping me improve my British English through your podcast which features comedy, storytelling, and more” to express the idea that the writer is grateful for Luke’s assistance in improving their British English through his podcast.

This is actually very impressive for a chatbot, although it doesn’t provide the same level of detail in its explanations that I would as a teacher and of course a teacher can deal with questions, interpret what the learner wants/means, and adapt more organically while allowing the learner to practise their English communication skills in the process. But still, it’s impressive.

Use ChatGPT for conversation practice

  • Can you practise having a conversation with it? 
  • Is it capable of having a proper, meaningful conversation?
  • Can it provide the kind of conversation practice that you need for language learning? 
  • Can it pretend to be your English teacher or someone else?

Chatbots have always been very limited and quite annoying when it comes to having a normal conversation, because they just can’t do it, frankly. 

Let’s see if ChatGPT has made big improvements in that area. Is it easy to chat to, or does it quickly become weird and unnatural?

I’ve chosen some questions which I think would be totally normal conversation starters (with humans). 

Let’s see if we can start a conversation with it, using these questions.

Conversation starters

Let’s input these and see if we can have a conversation in real time. (no screenshots, just a realtime chat here in a new window https://chat.openai.com/ )

  • How are you?
  • Have you been busy recently?
  • What have you been up to?
  • I’ve been listening to a podcast about The Beatles. Are you a fan of The Beatles by any chance?
  • What’s your favourite Beatles album?
  • Who do you think is going to win the 6 Nations this year?
  • Did you see the Scotland vs France rugby game at the weekend?
  • Any idea what the weather will be like this weekend?
  • My brother’s birthday is coming up but I’ve got no idea what to get for him.

It’s better than previous chatbots but conversation is still limited.

Ask it to pretend to be someone else

Conversation becomes a bit easier and more natural.

Can you pretend to be Ringo Starr so I can have a chat with you?

How are you at the moment Ringo?

Ask it to correct your errors while having the conversation

Can you pretend to be my English teacher, and correct my errors while we chat?

It can continue the conversation and also correct your errors.

This works ok sometimes but, it doesn’t pick up on all your errors and after a few responses it seems to forget to correct you. 

It’s a bit difficult to keep a conversation going with a chatbot that has no emotions or opinions.  You have to carry the conversation quite a lot and, well, it’s not the best conversationalist. It tends to switch into “information mode” where it just gives you Wikipedia-like responses.

E.g. If you try to talk about Premier League football, it will mainly explain what the premier league is, rather than sharing opinions on it. I said “Let’s talk about the premier league”. It asked me what my favourite team was. I said I didn’t really have one but I liked Liverpool. I asked what it’s favourite team was. It gave me the same old response “As an AI language model I don’t have personal preferences or emotions…” and then proceeded to kind of lecture me about Liverpool FC, giving me a kind of summary of the club, like what you might read at the top of Liverpool’s Wikipedia page. 

So, it’s not the best conversationalist. It’s not bad, but it seems that sharing personal opinions or sharing our emotional reactions to things, is pretty vital in human conversation and since it can’t do that, conversations with it fall a bit flat. 

But it is fun to play around with it.

I tried having a conversation with it in French (a language which I am learning, badly) and wanted to see if my experience was different from the point of view of a language learner.

I found that it really helped. It was a good experience in terms of learning French. 

Just trying to express myself in written French was a challenge, and this was good. I need these challenges in order to progress. 

I asked it to correct my mistakes. It did it, and it felt almost like having a conversation with a person. 

I didn’t feel judged or stressed (as I often do when talking to a person) and I learned some correct phrases. I felt free to repeat certain things over and over again in order to practise, without judgement.

Ending script for part 1

This is where we are going to stop. This is the end of part 1. We will continue in parts 2 and 3.

I hope you’re enjoying this so far and finding it useful as a way of considering how ChatGPT might be able to help you learn English, or how it might not. 

This video is actually in 3 parts. I recorded all of this last week and it ended up taking me 3 hours to go through all the ideas I mentioned earlier, all the various ways you can use ChatGPT for learning English. 

Parts 2 and 3 will be available very soon. If I have already published them by the time you watch this, you will find links for them in the show notes.

Also you can get the PDF of the script for this episode and for the other parts – with most of the things I am saying and all the ChatGPT prompts which I’m using. Check the show notes/ episode description.

Coming up in part 2 I will be playing around with ChatGPT more and doing these things:

  • Continuing to evaluate ChatGPT as a way of simulating natural conversations
  • Seeing if it can pretend to be your English teacher and correct your errors and explain them
  • Testing if it can pretend to be someone else, to make conversations more fun or interesting
  • Checking how well it handles role plays in order to let you prepare to use English in specific situations
  • Seeing if you can simulate job interview situations with it
  • Asking it to create useful texts or dialogues for studying with
  • Looking at exam preparation by asking it to provide sample written texts in response to FCE or CAE writing tasks
  • Seeing if it can give yu good advice for doing Cambridge exams
  • Seeing if it can create reliable, useful exam practice tasks to help you prepare for IELTS

All of that coming up in part 2, which will be available soon or maybe now.

Personally I am finding it fascinating to experiment with ChatGPT and seeing what it can do, and wondering how it might change the world for better or worse.

There’s no doubt that AI like this will increasingly become a normal part of lives as we move into the future. What will the effect of that be on society and the planet?

There are some fairly strong feelings about ChatGPT going around. I’m curious to know what you think about it, so leave your comments in the comment section.

I’ll continue to discuss all these things and test ChatGPT further in upcoming episodes.

Thank you for listening or watching. If you enjoy my content, then share it with your friends, like and subscribe, leave a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to this, and consider signing up for my premium episodes to get vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation episodes with stories.

OK, I will speak to you again in part 2 of this, but until then – goodbye bye bye!

End of part 1

820. A Springtime Ramble 🌷🌸 Learn English with LEP

Rambling on my own about getting stuck in a time-loop 🔁, protests and strikes in Paris 🔥, the arrival of child 2 👶, and more.

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Tony Kaizen interviews Luke on his podcast

Michael McIntyre talks about having children

819. What does it really mean to be “good at English”?

How do we know when someone’s English is good? Is it just about having the right accent, or speaking with no errors? In fact, there is a lot more to it than that. IELTS can show us how someone’s level of English is properly assessed by looking at a wide range of skills and sub-skills and there is a lot more to it than making no errors while speaking with a “British accent”. This episode should help you consider your own level of English level, get some perspective on what language competence really means, and hopefully cause people to think twice when making snap judgements about other people’s English.

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Transcript

What does it really mean to be “good at English”? 

  • How do we assess someone’s English level? 
  • How can IELTS help us to understand what “good English” is?
  • Why is all of this important anyway?

Here’s an episode which I hope will be really useful as a way of helping you to understand what it really means to be good at English. 

We’re going to consider some things about

  • how English is assessed (how your English level is judged), 
  • the different skills which are involved in using English, 
  • and what aspects of English are the most important.

I hope this episode gives you a bit more perspective on what it means to have a good level of English.

Also there will be a lot of vocabulary for describing English skills and English levels or assessment in English, and that includes a lot of metalanguage – the language we use for talking about language. So try to notice all that vocabulary too.

Hopefully this episode will help you think about 

  • your level of English, 
  • how to assess a person’s level of English 
  • and also how to talk about both of those things.

It’s important for any language learner to get a sense of what they should be aiming for in their learning, so that they don’t spend their time on the wrong things, and that they have the right things prioritised in their learning.


Do you remember the episode I published at the beginning of the year (2023) with Santi from Spain, working in a top job at Oxford University Press? 

806. PERSEVERANCE, POSITIVITY & PRACTICE with Santiago Ruiz de Velasco from Oxford University Press

806. PERSEVERANCE, POSITIVITY & PRACTICE with Santiago Ruiz de Velasco from Oxford University Press

You will find it in the episode archive and if you haven’t heard it, go back and check it out.

This episode follows on from that one. I was inspired to do it after seeing some responses from my audience.

Just as a reminder, Santi learned English mostly as an adult when he moved to London after studying at university in Spain. 

He had some very challenging experiences being immersed in the English language and eventually found his way to a top job in the English teaching industry itself – not as a teacher, but in publishing. He ended up as the Managing Director of English Language Teaching at OUP, and he got to that position despite the fact that his English is not “perfect”. 

I was pleased with that episode because it allows us to use Santi’s personal experience as a way to consider the importance of motivation and attitude in dealing with challenges in learning English (or any language) and also it raised questions about what “good English” really means.

With Santi, “the proof is in the pudding”, which means that we know his English is good because he uses it successfully every day.

Every single day at work he uses English to successfully perform a number of different communication tasks. I expect he writes emails and reports in English, conducts interviews in English, does presentations, has meetings, probably does negotiations, sells products and services in English, and builds relationships with people in English – no doubt both professional relationships but also meaningful personal relationships too. 

I’m assuming a lot of that because I don’t know every single thing he does in his job every day – but I’m pretty sure that he does all of those things. They’re just totally normal communication tasks at work. And it’s not just at work for Santi. I’m sure he also socialises in English. 

So, I think the fact that he does all those things, seemingly successfully, this is proof of his competence in English, right?

I think it would be very hard to be the Managing Director of the ELT Dept of Oxford University Press without those kinds of communication skills in English. 

But, as I mentioned, his English is certainly not “perfect” by any means (and he says this himself too), and a number of listeners in the comment section on YouTube pointed this out, saying things like “He clearly has a Spanish accent” or “He made mistakes which made me surprised that he is in that position” and “I expected someone with RP English.” etc. I am paraphrasing there, but that’s the gist of it. 

What does it actually mean to have a “bad accent”?

Maybe he could use some different fillers, just to avoid repeating the same thing. But why did this person focus only on that when there were so many other positive things to take away from the episode?

What is wrong with saying “you know” ?

  • It doesn’t stop us understanding him. It doesn’t stop him expressing himself.
  • It’s just an aesthetic issue, not a functional issue.
  • It’s just annoying for some people, but it doesn’t actually change the message or cause anyone misunderstandings. 

Perspective here – it’s not such a big deal, unless you’re really focused on it. Sure, Santi could work on this, but we all have things to work on. 

Fair enough, that one is quite funny.

I shouldn’t focus on the negative comments. The vast majority were positive, I must say. But I notice that whenever I feature someone on this podcast who is not a native speaker, and even some guests who are native speakers but have accents that are not RP, some listeners have to comment or criticise what they are hearing. I don’t think this is really the right attitude to have.

It’s not a competition, is it?

But, the fact that Santi has that job, has achieved that and continues to do that in English is something that can’t be taken away from him. I mean, people can point out errors in his English, but ultimately, the fact remains that he uses English very successfully on a daily basis. That’s important – the fact that he uses English “successully”.

Because this is the point of language. It is functional and it should be judged first and foremost on that – whether it works as a communication tool.

Sure, aesthetics are important too. The absolute best communicators also have English which is a pleasure to listen to, which is easy on the ears and is rich, pleasant and entertaining. But that stuff is also a matter of opinion and taste, and is really just the cherry on the top of the cake most of the time. Why focus on the cherry? You need to have a cake first, before you can have the cherry. You need something for the cherry to go on, right? 

Priorities – focus in the really important things first – the cake – and then work on the aesthetics – the cherry on the top.

I’m getting a bit lost in this metaphor now, but I hope you get what I mean. 

Common attitudes and assumptions about “good English” 

The point is that these comments are indicative of certain attitudes about English proficiency. They show us what a lot of people think makes someone “good at English”, namely:

  • Accuracy (using English without making errors) especially grammatical accuracy is the most important thing and speaking with zero errors is what makes you good at English. No mistakes.
  • All learners of English should have RP as their target in terms of pronunciation, and if you speak with a different accent or with obvious traces of your first language then this is a problem. And hearing someone use English with an accent is somehow “shocking” or even “unpleasant”.
  • You’re good at English if you use complex English, meaning longer words, formal words, idioms and convoluted sentence structure.

So, basically, you need to make no “pronunciation errors” or “grammar mistakes” and use complex “impressive” language.

That short list of assumptions is based on the things I’ve heard and read from learners of English during my teaching career. I’ve met thousands of learners of English and also read thousands of online comments from learners of English too and I often notice those attitudes. 

I suppose it is understandable really, that some people think like that. 

Not everyone has thought about this subject a lot because they don’t work in language teaching, people have been taught that English is all about correct grammar and correct pronunciation, and these things are obvious “low hanging fruit” in terms of English assessment.

It’s not everyone’s job to think about how to assess someone’s language level, and to be honest I only learned about this from doing professional training, reading academic books, teaching IELTS courses and working out the assessment criteria for Cambridge Exams and stuff. 

And we’re going to look at that official assessment criteria for judging someone’s language level later in this episode in order to find out that it’s not just about grammar and pronunciation errors and that there are other important factors. Obviously, being “correct” in pronunciation and grammar are important things, but only to a certain extent.

Like with the example of Santi. I feel like some of those comments are trying to take away Santi’s achievements, but you can’t, can you? 

The fact remains that although he makes a few mistakes in grammar, and clearly has a Spanish accent when he speaks English – despite those things, he is a very successful user of the English language and you can’t take that away from him. So how does he manage it, without being “perfect”?

What makes someone good at English then? What else is important? 

What I’d like to do now is to talk about actually what makes someone good at English and to show that there is a lot more involved than just accuracy (making no errors) and also complexity (using big impressive, rare words that nobody else knows).

Defining what makes someone good at English should be an important thing for us all to consider and remember. 

For you, if you are a learner of English, this is all about how you can get a sense of what you should be focusing on and what you should be trying to achieve. Also it can help you get out of a negative frame of mind when learning English. If you’re afraid that your pronunciation is not perfect or that you know you make errors, it might help to know that those things are not the be-all and end-all in this English speaking game.

Also, if you are a teacher of English, like me, thinking about this can help us to guide our students and provide the right kind of teaching to help them to achieve things in English. 

How do you assess someone’s English level?

Let’s use IELTS as a way of helping us to answer this question. By looking at how IELTS measures someone’s English level, we can work out what “good English” actually means.

What is IELTS?

The International English Language Testing System, is an international standardized test of English language proficiency for non-native English language speakers. It is jointly managed by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge Assessment English, and was established in 1989. (Wikipedia)

Basically it is probably the standard international test for assessing someone’s level of English as a foreign or other language. 

Working out someone’s level of English accuractely and reliably is not easy. Sure, I could speak with a learner of English for 10 minutes and get a good idea of their level, but to get a fully detailed assessment including different reading, writing, listening and speaking skills, a longer and more rigorous test is needed.

This is why the IELTS test is quite long and quite complex. It takes a few hours to do the test and it’s divided into lots of different parts. It’s all done in a serious and thorough way.

IELTS is a test that has been developed over a very long time, by experts in English language teaching and testing, based on a lot of academic research and professional experience into how people learn and use the English language. 

IELTS was developed by academics, teachers and examiners from Cambridge University and The British Council. These people know what they’re doing when it comes to finding out someone’s level of English. They want to do it properly, because this is important. 

Universities and employers want to get a reliable sense of the level of English of potential students or employees so they can be sure that those people will be able to use English to study or work successfully. A reliable test is vital for this, and that’s what IELTS is for. 

It might not be a perfect test. There’s probably room for improvement. In fact, it probably could be even longer and even more thorough, but that might just be impractical.

Anyway, let’s look at the way IELTS works, and we’ll see if we can draw from it some conclusions about the whole question of what it means to be good at English.

IELTS is in 4 sections – Speaking, Listening, Reading, Writing.

Already this shows that there are 4 skills involved in someone’s English ability, and of course this reflects the type of things that you might need to do in English.

You have to speak to people, listen to people speaking in various situations, you have to read English in different forms, and you have to be able to write in English. OK. 

So it’s not just speaking skills. That’s just one part of the picture. 

Speaking

Of course speaking is often considered as the most important skill. It’s the obvious skill. This is what we notice in people. As well as being vital for functional social communication, speaking is very closely connected to our identity and the way we express who we are to the world. 

Naturally, it is often the way your English is judged. Because people meet you, talk to you and then immediately get a sense your English level from that conversation. Fair enough. Speaking is important, but in IELTS it is only 25% of the test. It represents 25% of your final IELTS score. And as we will see, speaking can be divided into different sections too – and pronunciation is only one of those sections.

Listening

This is underestimated in terms of its importance. I’ve talked before about how, perhaps surprisingly, we spend more time listening than doing any of the other skills. 

Episode 586. The Importance of Listening | Luke’s ENGLISH Podcast

This YouTube video from a couple of years ago 👇

Also, it is absolutely vital that we understand the people we are talking to. If not, everything breaks down. 

One way that I judge someone’s language level when I’m talking to them, is the amount of effort I have to make for me to be understood by that person. This is a way for me to judge their listening skills in conversation. 

If I just talk normally, without having to adapt my English or pay close attention to make sure the other person is following me, if I can just talk normally and be myself, it means their English is great. 

I have met people who have had good English on paper and who were capable of producing sophisticated spoken English, but they were simply bad at having a conversation because their listening skills were not so great. They didn’t seem to be listening or just did not pick up on a lot of the things I was saying. 

For example, while listening to me talk, they didn’t seem to realise how I felt about certain things we were talking about, they didn’t notice little jokes I was making, they didn’t react to certain points I made and did not respond to my efforts to talk about certain things, and it wasn’t because they were just bad communicators even in their own language. It’s because their listening just wasn’t good enough and they were not able to follow what I was saying, and in fact didn’t even realise it. 

Listening also relates to being able to deal with different accents. English is a diverse language and people speak it slightly differently all over the world, and this is a good thing and a beautiful thing, so being good at English means being able to understand English in all its diversity. 

Only a very small percentage of people speak English like me, with my accent (let’s call it standard modern English RP). If you hear someone from, well, anywhere, and they have an accent which is in any way different from my standard British English, or whatever accent you consider to be neutral, and you don’t understand it then I’m afraid that is not the fault of the accent or the person speaking it. 

It’s because your listening skills are still not good enough. You are still not familiar with spoken English. Don’t feel bad about it though, that’s not the point. 

The point is, listening skills are a huge part of the puzzle. Think of Santi. He described struggling so much every day when working in London as a waiter. He did not understand what people were saying to him. 

People were asking for a coke and he was bring them their coat. His first arrived in London and actually heard real English being spoken and he freaked out. It wasn’t like in the text books at school. 

In London I expect he met various English people from different parts of the country. The English he heard was unrecognisable to him at the beginning, because he simply had never heard it before. 

His English listening skills improved dramatically while living in the UK. When I spoke to him I felt he was completely on my wavelength and I didn’t have to struggle or make a lot of effort to kind of adapt my English or myself during the conversation. I could relax and I felt like he would be able to follow my train of thought. 

A lot of listening is connected to pronunciation. Good listening skills also relate to an ability to understand the way people produce the oral version of English, and this means being familiar with things like connected speech, elision, sentence stress, word stress, weak forms and all of those things. It’s about knowing the oral version of the language, which is often very very different to the written version. This doesn’t just mean knowing it academically (understanding the phonology), but knowing it through familiarity – having heard a lot of English from diverse sources so that you have kind of trained your ears to it, so it’s not a huge shock or surprise when you actually hear it being used in the normal way.

Reading

I don’t have so much to say about this except that reading is not just about knowing the words that you are seeing, and knowing which grammatical forms are being used. It involves being able to identify the bigger picture – what those words and that grammar are really communicating to you. 

  • Can you identify the opinion or attitude of the person who wrote the text? (What they think, or whether they are being serious or humorous in their writing)
  • Can you identify their mood, their intentions, the overall purpose of the writing? 
  • Can you identify what kind of text it is – an article in a newspaper, a business report, an advertisement, a formal email, a personal email, an internal email, an external email, a piece of fiction, a humorous true story, a religious text, an old fashioned piece of writing, something modern? 
  • Are you aware of the different stylistic and linguistic conventions of different types of text? 
  • Are you able to read between the lines? 
  • Can you identify specific information as well as more general things? 

It’s more than just knowing individual words and grammar forms. It’s also about overall text structure, organisation, and tone.

Again, it’s not just about speaking. In the real world, all of these things come into play, all the time. It’s all a mix of dealing with input, understanding it, and responding to it, while managing the pragmatics of communication – what impact language has on other people.

Writing

This relates to reading in the way that’s it’s not just about knowing lots of words or grammar points, but knowing how to put those words and structures together to make a piece of writing that is coherent (easy to understand), cohesive (logical and organised) and which does what it is supposed to do (persuade, inform, request information, entertain, etc). 

With writing, sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a bit like cooking a good meal. It’s not just the ingredients and the cooking utensils, it’s about having the overall vision for making a delicious meal and then using those ingredients and utensils to produce the intended result, and deliver it at the right time and have your guests say “Mmm, this is delicious” at the end of the process. Writing is a bit like that. 

In terms of words that you might use in writing (or speaking) it’s not about knowing a lot of words. That helps of course but some people might judge their English by the number of words they know – like, the higher the number, the better they are at English. 

And it’s not about how fancy or obscure those words are. Some people might judge their English by the rarity of the words they know – e.g. knowing some words that even a lot of native English speakers don’t know. That’s not necessarily an indication of being good at English. What’s the use of writing something that most people just can’t understand because you’re using very old or very obscure words? 

It’s not about the number or the value of each word on its own, it is about using the right words, in the right combinations, at the right moments, to achieve the right result. 

It’s no good writing an email to someone and filling it with loads of complex and literary words than nobody really uses on a daily basis. The effect on the reader will be just to confuse them. That’s failing to communicate.

Watch out for those teaching materials, videos, whatever that say things  like “Use these 5 words to get a high score in IELTS”. It’s not just about using certain fancy words. It’s all about whether you are able to achieve certain results in English communication. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

English is not just about what you know, it’s about what you can do.

It’s about your ability to complete tasks in English effectively. To understand other people and then have other people understand you. It’s about knowing when to use simple English and when it is appropriate or necessary to use something more complex, or something more specific. Right words, right form, right order, right time.

So I just talked about the 4 skills in English – speaking & listening,  writing & reading. 

Speaking & listening are together because they deal with the oral version of the language. The language in the air.

Reading & writing go together because they deal with the written version of English – the language written down.

Now, because I’m referring to my interview with Santi, which was an oral interview, let’s focus our attention for the rest of this episode on the spoken word, on speaking skills. 

I did say that speaking is only a quarter of the whole picture, but I think for many of you out there, speaking is what you want to focus on, right? 

So let’s consider what makes someone a good speaker of English? 

What I’m going to do now is look at IELTS assessment criteria. 

Assessment criteria means the specific ways in which English is judged. The specific standards by which English is assessed.

How do IELTS examiners judge someone’s level of English?

When you take an IELTS speaking test you will receive a score. 

This score is calculated by the examiner after they have listened to you and then marked you in a few sub-categories. Speaking is broken down into a few sub-categories and you’re given a score for each category, and then those scores are added together and then an average score is worked out. 

What are those categories?

  • Fluency & coherence
  • Lexical resource
  • Grammatical range & accuracy
  • Pronunciation

Each category is defined further and certain criteria or standards are defined which help the examiners decide what score to give in each category. 

In other Cambridge Exams, like FCE and CAE, speaking scores are assessed with similar criteria to IELTS, but there’s also a score for Global Achievement. This is like a score for overall task achievement. 

When you do a speaking test, you’re given a few tasks to do (short interview, having a discussion, doing a short monologue or presentation) and global achievement basically means “did the person manage to complete the task effectively”.

Quote from the CambridgeEnglish website explaining how speaking scores are measured for FCE. https://www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/210434-converting-practice-test-scores-to-cambridge-english-scale-scores.pdf 

Candidate speaking performances are assessed using scales which are linked to the CEFR. The assessor gives 0–5 marks for each of the following criteria: 

Grammar and Vocabulary; 

Discourse Management; 

Pronunciation; 

and Interactive Communication. 

Marks for each of these criteria are doubled. 

The interlocutor gives a mark of 0–5 for Global Achievement. 

This mark is then multiplied by four. 

Basically, this means that “global achievement” is more important than any other single criteria.

What is “global achievement”? For me, this is how well the person succeeded in the communication task. 

Your ability to complete a communication task effectively is more important than just your correct pronunciation or grammar. Having a few errors in your English is not the end of the world and what’s more important is task achievement. And that includes all that stuff about getting things done in English and getting the right result from a bit of speaking. 

For example, did you work well with your speaking partner in order to achieve the task you were doing – maybe to discuss some travel options before deciding together which one was the best, or having to make another joint decision.

Actually, let’s have a look at a sample part 3 section from a CAE speaking test.

Here you will see extracts from a sample speaking test from this page https://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams-and-tests/advanced/exam-format/

By the way, CAE is another English test, designed by Cambridge English. If you pass the test, you get a certificate which proves that you have advanced level English at C1 level. 

CAE is similar to IELTS, is based on the same research and conclusions that have been used in creating IELTS, so it can also help us to understand how English is assessed. 

Let’s look at the extracts to see an example of a speaking task that people have to do when taking CAE. In part 3 the examiner is interested in seeing how people use English to achieve something in collaboration with someone else. It’s about interaction and working together for a common goal. Important communication skills, right?

You should see how Global Achievement or Task Achievement is important here. This is about how you were able to use English to complete a communication task and I think that is a really important thing to be included in the exam and for people taking the exam to consider. Remember what language is for – it is for achieving things and completing tasks effectively. 

If you can do that, you’ll get a good score for Global Achievement.

So this means that having good English is not only about the individual words being used, the accuracy of the grammar or the accuracy of the pronunciation. It is about those things, but it is also about whether you organised your ideas correctly and clearly, whether you listened carefully to the other person, understood their intentions and responded with relevance to what they said, and that you were both able to complete the task.  

It’s not about any one single thing, any one single aspect of English. It’s about all of them, in combination. 

Ultimately, communication is a means to an end (a tool for a job). The means (the tool) is the language, but the end result is to actually make an agreement, make someone feel something, make someone understand something, organise something with someone, and successfully complete a specific task.

So, Santi didn’t pronounce some words and sentences “correctly” or in the same way that I would, but in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter. 

He might have conjugated some verbs wrongly (like getting a few ED endings wrong, or forgetting 3rd person S or even just using present tenses when he should have used past tenses, sometimes) but in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter. 

Now, those things are still important to get right – don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that you don’t need to be correct in grammar or pronunciation or that it doesn’t matter which words you’re using. Santi would get more points in an exam if he improved some of those little errors.

Of course those things are important. The point I’m making is that it’s about the bigger picture and there are plenty of other factors involved.

Specific IELTS Speaking Band Descriptors

I’m going to get really specific now. Let’s look at the specific IELTS speaking band descriptors.

What the hell does that mean Luke?

IELTS scores are given in bands. 

Band 0, Band 1, Band 2, Band 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. 

9 is high, 0 is low.

Cambridge English (IELTS.org) publishes a list of “descriptors” for each band score. These describe what the different bands mean in terms of specific speaking skills. This should reveal the ways in which speaking is assessed in IELTS.

You can consider your English as we talk about these “descriptors”.

We’re going to look at them all in a moment, on a PDF from the IELTS website.

First, let’s picture the IELTS speaking test.

Image: https://ielts.com.au/australia/prepare/ielts-preparation-material/speaking 

How do IELTS examiners assess someone’s spoken English?

I’ve done IELTS training before and I’ve done mock IELTS tests quite a lot of times. I’ve also done the same with FCE, CAE, BEC Vantage, BEC Higher etc. They’re similar. 

If I was doing a mock IELTS test with my students and I was the examiner, I would interview the candidate, give them speaking tasks to do and at the same time I would have to work out their score.

On the desk in front of me I would have a script for me to follow, different tasks and questions for the test and some paper and a pen for writing the person’s score.

But it’s not just a single score for speaking. 

I wouldn’t just have a single category on that paper called “Speaking” with a space for a number.

Instead, I would have a piece of paper in front of me with at least 4 sub-categories on it.

✅ 

      Overall score / average: _________

I’d give a score in each category and then work out an average across the 4 categories. 

I’m not an official IELTS examiner, I’m a teacher who is trained to prepare students for IELTS, so that’s just the way I do it. 

But I know for certain that the examiners use at least 4 sub-categories when assessing a candidate’s speaking.

Here are those categories. 

  • Fluency & coherence
  • Lexical resource
  • Grammatical range & accuracy
  • Pronunciation

Note that accuracy is only half of one of those categories.

What do the categories mean?

Let me talk about what those categories actually mean, and then we will look at the descriptions of different scores for each category. What’s the difference between an IELTS 6 and IELTS 7 for example.

This information is from IELTS.org again 👇

Speaking test: How are bandscores awarded for Speaking?.

What is “Fluency & Coherence”?

Fluency and coherence refers to the ability to talk with normal levels of continuity, rate and effort and to link ideas and language together to form coherent, connected speech.

The key indicators of fluency are speech rate and speech continuity.

The key indicators of coherence are logical sequencing of sentences; clear marking of stages in a discussion, narration or argument; and the use of cohesive devices (e.g. connectors, pronouns and conjunctions) within and between sentences.

What is “Lexical Resource”?

Lexical resource refers to the range of vocabulary the test taker can use and the precision with which meanings and attitudes can be expressed.

They key indicators are the variety of words used, the adequacy and appropriacy of the words used and the ability to circumlocute (get around a vocabulary gap by using other words) with or without noticeable hestitation.

What are “Grammatical range and accuracy”?

Grammatical range and accuracy refers to the range and the accurate and appropriate use of the test taker’s grammatical resource.

The key indicators of grammatical range are the length and complexity of the spoken sentences, the appropriate use of subordinate clauses, and the range of sentence structures, especially to move elements around for information focus.

The key indicators of grammatical accuracy are the number of grammatical errors in a given amount of speech and communicative effect of error.

What is “pronunciation”?

Pronunciation refers to the ability to produce comprehensible speech to fulfill the Speaking test requirements.

The key indicators will be the amount of strain caused to the listener, the amount of the speech which is unintelligible and the noticeability of influence from the test taker’s first language.

Now let’s have a look at some of those descriptions from IELTS.org

https://www.ielts.org/-/media/pdfs/speaking-band-descriptors.ashx

Perhaps use my level of French as an example, also Santi’s English.

We could compare the different levels (maybe the difference between 5 and 7) across each sub-category.

Which categories are the most important?

The 4 categories are of equal importance in the exam, I expect, but if I had to choose, I would say that they go in order of importance from left to right, but of course if any one of those categories is significantly weak, they will drag down the overall level. For example, if you are unintelligible in pronunciation, it sort of doesn’t matter how many words you know or if you don’t pause to think.

Grammatical accuracy is mainly significant if errors cause misunderstandings, but I guess errors can give the wrong impression. 

Interestingly, I feel like pronunciation, grammar and lexis all help us to achieve fluency. Fluency is where those three systems combine. Without a wide range of words which we can recall and use instantly, we can’t express ideas quickly, specifically and coherently.

Without grammatical structures, we can’t link ideas together clearly and express complex things without our speech breaking down and falling apart.

Without pronunciation we can’t get our words out fluidly and clearly, with words linked, and yet stressed to give emphasis and impact. 

Assessing Santi’s English (I hope you don’t mind Santi!)

I wonder what score Santi would get if he took an IELTS speaking test. 

I shouldn’t really speculate about that, but I can say that his weak spot is probably pronunciation, (although this is still at a good level because I was able to understand him and after all he is Spanish and so it’s normal that he has a Spanish accent)

and then perhaps grammatical accuracy (he made a few grammar mistakes which probably stuck out because we were looking for them – I bet a lot of people listening were focusing intently on his English and judging him a lot – and he handled that very well), 

but he really makes up for his weak spots by having:

  • Good grammatical range. He was able to employ a range of structures which allowed him to have control over what he was saying and to express some complex ideas.
  • Strong Lexical resource. He was able to find just the right words, he used words which were appropriate for the conversation (switching from bits of slang when it was appropriate, to more formal language to describe his work etc) and generally used some very nice, descriptive, idiomatic and frequently used expressions, phrases and words.
  • Excellent fluency and coherence. He organised his ideas with clarity, he didn’t seem to struggle any more than someone might in their first language, he didn’t pause excessively, he was able to keep going and going, linking one idea to the next.

So there you have it. Some things to think about.

Conclusions

Being good at English is not all about having “a British accent” or never making a grammar mistake. There are plenty of other things involved in being “good at English”.

Of course, it is up to you. If your goal is to have a British accent (which one?) then I’m not going to stop you, but I do want you to put that in perspective and to realise all the many other things which you can focus on.

And finally, at the end here, I just want to give you a message of encouragement, because one of the main lessons learned from my conversation with Santi was that perseverance, positivity and practice are 3 of the most important factors in this game that we call learning English.

So keep your chin up! Keep practising! 

Don’t stop, even if it seems difficult! 

Don’t let your weaknesses stop you! There are other areas where you can be strong.

Don’t worry about achieving perfection! 

Just keep going and do your best and you might find that is enough or more than enough! 

And enjoy it! You only get one life and it’s happening right now, so what are you waiting for – go ahead and use English and make some connections with people. 

Be curious about others, be keen to connect with them and be kind. Be kind and generous with your time and your attention, to other people you meet and talk to, and be kind to yourself as well. 

Don’t judge other people’s English too harshly. It’s not a competition.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode.

If you did, and you found it useful – give me a like or a comment or a review.

Have a nice morning, afternoon, evening or night and I will speak to you soon.