Category Archives: Pronunciation

703. Walaa from Syria – WISBOLEP Competition Winner 🏆

Walaa Mouma from Syria has an amazing and inspiring story for all learners of English around the world, and some specific tips on how to improve your English long-term. Listen to this episode to hear all about it. Transcript and text video available.

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695. Pronunciation, Pragmatics & Procrastination with Emma

Talking to Emma from YouTube channel Pronunciation with Emma about accents, improving your pronunciation, understanding pragmatics in English, and learning English through video games.

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Introduction & Ending Transcripts

Hi listeners, welcome to the podcast. It’s mid December and Christmas is coming very soon. I hope I find you well and in good spirits. You might be wondering about the competition results after having voted for your favourite candidates. Thank you if you did vote, that’s fantastic. I’ll be revealing the results on the podcast soon when I’ve worked out the specifics of how to proceed with the competition. Once I have worked out the details of the next step I will let you know all the results. 

This episode is sponsored by LEP Premium. Go to teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo to get the details. Regular lessons with language teaching, memory tests for target language and pronunciation drills to work on your speaking, with plenty of stupid examples, nonsense fun and impressions too. Series 27 is currently being produced and you can expect to get episodes 3-8 in the next few weeks. teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo for all the details.

697. Pronunciation, Pragmatics & Procrastination with Emma

Hello listeners,

Welcome to episode 695 which is called “Pronunciation, Pragmatics and Procrastination with Emma” which is quite a mouthful isn’t it? 

Can you say it? Pronunciation, Pragmatics and Procrastination. 

What does this mean exactly? I’m going to tell you in this introduction.

What you’re going to hear is another conversation with a new guest on the podcast. I’ve had lots of guests on the podcast in the last few months. Here’s another one.

This time it’s Emma from the YouTube channel Pronunciation with Emma.

So, what can I say now to set up this conversation for you, and help you to enjoy it and learn from it as much as possible?

Emma is an English teacher with lots of qualifications – in language teaching and linguistics, as you will hear. 

Pronunciation

The pronunciation part is that in her YouTube videos she focuses on helping learners of English improve their knowledge and use of natural English pronunciation – you know, all the different features that make up natural English speech, including things like the specific vowel sounds & consonant sounds, sentence stress, word stress, intonation, elision, connected speech, and so on. 

Emma is particularly interested in pronunciation as it is one of the things that she focused on during her university studies.

So we talk about pronunciation as you might expect, with some bits about different accents and the question of what kind of pronunciation learners of English should aim for, and what kind of accent teachers should present to learners of English. 

Pragmatics

Another thing Emma focused on at university was the linguistic area of pragmatics. When we think about language, we usually analyse it in terms of grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation, but pragmatics is also a very important thing to consider. 

David Crystal says it’s actually the most important factor to consider when looking at how language works. 

According to David Crystal, pragmatics is the study of the choices you make when you use language, the reasons for those choices and effects that those choices convey. That’s a bit abstract at this point, but we do get into some examples during the conversation, examples like how to phrase requests in English, and how different types of requests can give a different impression on the people you are talking to. Or more simply, how certain requests can make you seem more or less rude. 

For example, what’s the difference between these things? And let’s imagine you’re on an aeroplane and the flight attendant wants you to put your bag under your chair. What’s the difference between making that request in these different ways? 

Put your bag under your chair” and “Please put your bag under your chair” and “Can you put your bag under your chair?” and “Could you put your bag under your chair, please?” and “Could you just pop your bag under your chair for me please, thanks.” 

That could also apply to the way people use English when requesting things from me, in comments or emails, for example, as I discussed in a recent episode, if you remember, and if you don’t remember too.

So that’s the bit about pragmatics. 

But this episode is called “Pronunciation, Pragmatics and Procrastination with Emma”. I’ve mentioned the pronunciation and the pragmatics, so what about the procrastination part? 

Procrastination

Well, this relates to Emma’s other online English teaching channel – Procrastination with Emma, which is on Twitch.tv. Basically, Emma also does Twitch live-streams in which she plays computer games and helps people with their English while she’s doing it.

As you may know, procrastination means putting off doing other things which you have to do by wasting time doing something else. Like, for example if you have some important work to do, but you don’t want to do it for some reason, so you end up telling yourself you’ll do it later and then doing something else instead, essentially wasting your time. How do you procrastinate? Let’s say you’ve got English homework to do, but you end up spending your time playing computer games instead. Is playing computer games a waste of time? Maybe not. Maybe it can help you learn English. That’s the spirit behind Emma’s Twitch.tv gaming channel “Procrastination with Emma”.

So, stuff about accents & pronunciation, stuff about the pragmatics of how we make requests in English, and some stuff about improving your English through computer games. 

Actually those things mostly come up in the second half of this conversation. The first half is spent mainly getting to know Emma, finding out the usual things like where she’s from, what her accent sounds like, how she approaches language learning (because she speaks Spanish and also enjoys learning other languages from scratch) and any tips she has about learning English.

I won’t say much more here, except that I really enjoyed talking to Emma and you should certainly check out her YouTube videos and her live streams on Twitch.

Keep listening all the way through and I will chat to you again at the end of the episode, but now, let’s get started!


Links

Pronunciation with Emma on YouTube (Pronunciation videos) – www.youtube.com/channel/UCNfm92h83W2i2ijc5Xwp_IA

Emma’s website (Classes & Courses) – pronunciationwithemma.com/

Procrastination with Emma on Twitch (Live streaming/Gaming/English) – www.twitch.tv/procrastinationwithemma


Ending

So that was pronunciation, pragmatics and procrastination with Emma from Pronunciation with Emma on YouTube and procrastination with Emma on Twitch. That’s quite a mouthful isn’t it, again!

Right, well I hope you got a lot out of that conversation in various ways including just general knowledge, linguistic knowledge and not to mention specific vocabulary and phrases you might have noticed.

Thanks again to Emma for being a great guest on the show.

So Christmas time is approaching fast.

Normally at Christmas I take a break for a couple of weeks, but since I’m not going back to the UK this year I might continue podcasting. I certainly have a few episodes in the pipeline and they’ll drop over the coming weeks. I might take a break in the new year but we will see.

So, episodes in the pipeline include more conversations with guests on different topics and a returning guest who is a friend of the podcast who we haven’t heard from in a while.

Also P27 parts 3-8 are coming with the usual language practise and pronunciation work. Remember all my premium series have a lot of pronunciation drills so you can improve your speaking by simply repeating after me, paying attention to certain little language features as we go. www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo

In terms of the competition. Thank you to those of you who voted. As I said before, voting is closed now and I am working on the next stage in which I will announce the winner or winners and then the next steps for things like interviews, which will probably happen in the new year.

So hold tight for the results of the competition, and thanks for voting.

That’s all I have to say at this point except that I hope you are well. Please stay safe, stay positive, be excellent to each other and I will speak to you again soon, but for now, goodbye…

691. Jerome Butler – Dialect Coach

How do professional actors change the way they speak for different acting roles? What can learners of English take from the way actors do this, in order to apply it to their language learning? In this conversation I speak to Jerome Butler who is a very experienced dialect coach working in the TV and film industry in the USA, and we discuss these questions.

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Introduction Transcript

Hi folks, I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been working on the WISBOLEP competition and it is coming soon. I’ll let you know exactly what I’ve decided, I will play you recordings from listeners and you’ll be able to vote and we’re going to find a LEPster to be interviewed on the podcast. So the next installment of Why I Should Be On LEP is coming soon.

Also some premium content is coming. Just a reminder that I recently uploaded a 28-minute video of one of my comedy shows. It’s me doing stand-up comedy in London a couple of years ago. I’d been holding on to that video for a while, but I finally decided it was time to publish it considering I’m not doing any gigs at the moment and I’m not sure when I will be able to. So, premium subscribers – check it out, as well as all the pronunciation videos I’ve uploaded and at least 100 premium episodes. teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo if you want to sign up or know more.

Also you can expect more free episodes, including the next WISBOLEP episode and more conversations with guests. 

I’ve been doing a lot of interviews recently as you’ve probably noticed. It’s been a really good run of guests that we have never heard before on the podcast, but I will go back to the old favourites soon enough, with hopefully Amber & Paul making a return and an episode of Gill’s Book Club – the book in question will be 1, 2, 3, 4: The Beatles in Time by Craig Brown – an interesting, recent book which explores the story of the Beatles in various interesting ways. We’ll be doing that in the new year because I’m getting it for Christmas and I’ll need a chance to read it. I think it will basically be a chance for me to talk about The Beatles with my mum and she was a huge fan back in the Beatlemania days and saw them live twice. So, you might want to get that – 1, 2, 3, 4 by Craig Brown. Anyway, onto this episode and this one is all about pronunciation, so get ready to think about accents and changing the way you speak. It goes quite nicely with other episodes like the recent one I did about Key Features of English Accents (682). So the question is, how can you change your accent? Let’s ask a dialect coach.

Jingle —

Jerome Butler – Dialect Coach 

Hello everyone – here is an episode all about accents and dialects and specifically how to convincingly sound like you come from a different place, with a different accent. 

You’re going to hear me in conversation with Jerome Butler who is a dialect coach. Jerome works with actors who need to change the way they speak. 

To give you an example of what this means, let’s say I’m an actor from England, and I’ve got a part in a TV show that takes place in the USA in a southern state. Perhaps the film is set in Atlanta or something like that (like in The Walking Dead perhaps) and the character I’m playing was born and grew up in that area, and so I need to change my RP English accent to a general Southern accent from the USA for the filming of the show. 

How can I do it? How can I change my voice? How can I consistently speak like I am from a southern state in the USA? Well, I would need a dialect coach, and that is what Jerome does. 

Actually, having to change your accent is quite common for actors in the English language TV and film industry. There are loads of famous actors who have successfully changed the way they speak for different roles. I mentioned The Walking Dead before and it is quite a good example – so many of the actors in that show are from the UK but they sound like they could come from Georgia or a neighbouring state. No doubt those actors worked closely with dialect coaches like Jerome. 

And it’s not just British actors working in the USA, it’s anyone who normally speaks in one way and needs to learn to speak in another way, and remember the English language is so diverse in terms of accents and dialects across different parts of the world that it’s very common for actors to have to make this kind of change in their work.

Now, talking to Jerome about this is actually a great opportunity for us to listen to someone who has a lot of experience and expertise in helping people change their accents. He’s been doing it for years now and has worked on loads of different film and TV projects and with loads of different actors from different parts of the world. Jerome is amazing actually, and we’re really lucky to have him on the podcast. I really enjoyed talking to him and it was very interesting to find out the specifics of what he does in his job.

For you as learners of English this should be particularly interesting, because the whole point of this conversation is to answer two questions really:

  • How can actors change their accents and dialects for different roles?
  • What can learners of English take from the way actors do this, in order to apply it to their language learning?

How can you change your accent?

It’s quite a complicated question as you can expect – it involves many linguistic factors and a lot of work. In just a one-hour conversation we can’t give you all the answers of course. It’s a complex and very personal process, but at least we can get a sort of window into that process by listening to what Jerome has to say.

Let me tell you a bit about Jerome’s CV before we listen to him talking, just so you get an idea of who you are listening to.

Jerome Butler has had a really diverse career working for over 25 years in acting, teaching and dialect coaching. He graduated from The Juilliard School which is one of the most prestigious acting and performance art schools in the USA. Loads of great actors went there, including well-known people like Adam Driver, Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaacs, Anthony Mackie, Robin Williams and plenty of others.

He’s done various acting roles in theatre, TV and film productions even including episodes of Star Trek Voyager and ER but the majority of the work he has done in the industry is that of a dialect coach and if you look at his IMDB page the list just goes on and on, working on various productions with various performers including names you might recognise, like Emily Mortimer, Tom Hardy, Gerard Butler, Robert Downey Jr., Jonathan Pryce, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Impressive, most impressive.

OK so I just dropped a bunch of names on you there, but this episode is not a celebrity gossip type thing. It’s not about that. I’m not asking him to tell us what Robert Downey Jnr is really like. I just wanted to let you know that Jerome is a proper, professional dialect coach who has lots of real industry experience, so he knows what he is talking about.

He’s also taught classes at universities like MIT and has been involved in an artistic rehabilitation program in the California prison system. That’s quite a glittering and diverse CV, and of course now he has reached the high point of his professional career – appearing in an episode of Luke’s English Podcast. Haha. 

In this conversation we start by talking about the work he does and what it involves, and the conversation gets more and more specific as it goes, as we try to understand what he does and relate it to your learning of English.

Now, I would also like to say that I think as a learner of English, the decision to change your accent or perhaps I should say the decision to try to sound exactly like a native speaker of English is completely up to you but in the EFL/ESL community this is actually quite a contentious issue. Should learners of English aim to or expect to ultimately sound exactly like native English speakers? People seem to disagree about it. 

Even now I can sense, using my jedi force abilities that some of you are saying “yes we should try to sound like native speakers!” whereas others are saying “no, we shouldn’t” and probably most of you are saying “I don’t really know Luke, I haven’t made up my mind!” and a couple of you are saying “Sorry, what was the question?” 

Let me repeat it.

Should learners of English spend time and effort on trying to sound exactly like native speakers? Should we all aim for “native level speech” as our ultimate goal? Or is it better to keep your accent when you speak English because this is all part of who you are and it’s perhaps even damaging to set such high standards? 

These are questions that are often discussed and people continue to disagree on the answers. 

To an extent it is a question of personal choice – people can do whatever they like and if sounding like a native speaker is your personal goal, then fine. Some people manage to do it really well. 

One thing’s for sure – nobody can argue against the importance of intelligibility – being understandable and clear, but exactly who you should sound like seems to be up to you.

But anyway,  I felt I should mention this whole argument in the introduction here, and Jerome mentions it too before going on to describe the specifics of how someone could shift their accent.

Also keep listening to hear Jerome start training me to speak in that southern American accent that I mentioned earlier. Can he help me learn to speak like I’m in The Walking Dead and I’m from a southern state like Georgia or Tennessee or South Carolina or maybe even Alabama?

OK, I will talk to you again at the end in order to recap and sum up some of the main points that are made in this conversation. But now, let’s start this conversation with me in Paris and Jerome Butler across the Atlantic in New York City.

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Ending Transcript

So, that was dialect coach Jerome Butler. Thank you again to Jerome for all that information he gave us.

So, for me that was fascinating and also reassuring to know that Jermoe uses more or less the same methods and approaches in the TV and film industries as I use in my English teaching. I think Jerome gave us some really valuable insights into how people can change their accents. As I said before, this is a huge and complex subject so we only scratched the surface here. 

If you’d like to know more from Jerome and use the tools he mentioned then visit his website, which is dialectcoachescorner.com/ You can create a free profile there and then start exploring and practising. It is for a general American English accent though, as Jerome pointed out.

Let me now just recap and sum up the main bits of advice in that conversation. If you found it a bit difficult to follow or to pick out all the specifics, this summary should help.

Summarising Advice from this conversation

Learn the phonemic script because it will help you become more aware of the different sounds that are used in English. There are apps you can use to do this. Check “Sounds” by Macmillan. This will really help you to identify and then produce specific sounds that are used in English → British English in the case of that. “Sounds” contains various tasks that will help you learn the sounds, practise recognising them, transcribing words phonetically and more. The full name is “Sounds: The Pronunciation App” and the best way to download it is from the Macmillan website www.macmillaneducationapps.com/soundspron/ 

Categorise words by the different sounds – for example, what is the vowel sound in the stressed syllable of the word?

You can take all the vowel sounds – monophthongs and diphthongs and consider them to be categories. Try putting different words into those categories.

Vowel sounds would be good. 

Also certain consonant sounds like voiced and unvoiced pairs, TH sounds and so on. Also, -ED endings for regular verbs.

A textbook like Ship or Sheep by Ann Baker can help because in that book all the different vowel sounds are listed chapter by chapter and you can practise recognising, categorising and repeating words with those sounds.

Mechanical practise is important. Repetition is the mother of skill – I think that’s the phrase that Jerome used. It’s reassuring to know this – and he’s a man with a proven track record of results. He knows that to help someone change the way they speak it is a combination of heightening your awareness of the different sounds and how they are made, then mechanical practise with those sounds until they “enter your body” and you acquire the ability to quickly switch between the categories and quickly work out how to say words in the accent you have chosen.

So, again, practise identifying which sound is used – practise categorising words over and over again.

Then practise saying these words by repeating after someone. Again – Ship or Sheep can help because there is an audio CD. Other books or websites may be available.

But there are many things to take into account. It’s not just vowel sounds. If I’d had more time with Jerome we might have got onto other things like intonation, connected speech, elision of sounds, sentence stress, weak forms and all that stuff.

It can be hard to do it on your own so you might also need a personal coach of some kind, like a one to one teacher who can work closely with you.

Let me point you towards Jerome’s website again dialectcoachescorner.com/ where you can contact Jerome, create a free account to access all the resources and more. Remember, that is if you are looking for a general American accent, or perhaps more specific regional accents in the USA. For British English, well of course I’d recommend my premium subscription!

So, work with someone, work with resources designed to help you with this.

Alternatively, you can practise simply repeating after someone whose accent you want to copy. 

If you want to copy my accent, you can repeat words and sentences after me. 

Do this either by shadowing – just try to repeat as you listen, or perhaps pause and repeat.

Or you can use the pronunciation drills in my premium episodes, because they are designed to help you repeat after me and I focus my attention on things like sentence stress and other specific features.

Practise practise practise.

Have fun with it too.

But also remember that it is a question of personal choice. Please don’t feel that you have to sound exactly like a native speaker. In my opinion, it is totally fine and reasonable to retain traces of your native language when you speak English. That’s part of who you are. Like Jerome said, perhaps the only reason to completely lose all trace of your first language in your English accent is if you are an actor or a spy. 

Also, I think it requires a lot of time, dedication and effort to work on your accent to the same level as a professional actor. This isn’t always a realistic proposition for learners of English who are also busy in their lives. So, working on being clear is the main thing and if you have a regional accent in English, that’s fine – it’s part of who you are, just like someone from Liverpool has a Liverpool accent, someone from Glasgow has a Glasgow accent, someone from Essex has an Essex accent – you can have an accent from your country, as long as people understand you.

It’s all a question of personal choice at the end of the day – but there it is, I think speaking to Jerome shows us that there are ways of working on the way that you sound, if you are prepared to put in the time and the effort.

I also wonder sometimes if some people are more naturally talented at changing their pronunciation than others, but that is a question I’m not completely able to answer at this moment. What do you think? Do you think some people are naturally better than others at matters of pronunciation?

A Few Expressions in the Episode

My tongue is firmly in my cheek – This just means he’s not being serious. He said calling himself a dialect coach would mean he’d get paid more.

We’re splitting hairs – To split hairs means to make very specific and unnecessary distinctions between things. Jerome could be called an accent coach or a dialect coach and it doesn’t matter – although to be specific, dialect refers to the words and the grammar, and accent refers to the pronunciation.

I’m not going to go into the weeds – This means getting deeply involved in very specific details. He’s not going into all the complex details, he’s just giving us a simple overview.

Links

Here are some of those useful links again

669. How to Learn English

Giving you as advice about learning English across the four skills of reading, listening, writing and speaking. Full transcript available.

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Transcript

Hello and welcome to Luke’s English Podcast. This episode is number 669 and it’s called How To Learn English.

That’s quite a bold title but this really is a lot of what I have to say about learning English. If you really want to learn this language, this is my advice. 

I’ve been teaching for about 20 years, podcasting for over 11 years now and I keep finding out more about learning a language through teaching it, getting feedback from listeners and also through my experiences of trying to learn French. 

This episode is a distillation of many of my thoughts and advice on how to learn English. It’s not going to cover absolutely every aspect of it, because language learning is a huge subject that encompasses so many different things and you could talk about it all day, but I have decided to talk about learning English, breaking it down into the 4 skills, and giving you as much advice as I can in this single podcast episode. I hope you enjoy it and find it useful.

For those of you who are not so familiar with me and my work. My name is Luke Thompson, I think I am the 4th most famous Luke Thompson in the world. I’m an English teacher, a podcaster, a comedian, a husband and a dad. I am from England but these days I live in France. My podcast is free and is downloaded all over the world. I also have a premium subscription in which I focus specifically on improving your vocab, grammar and pronunciation. To find out more about that go to teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo

Click here for information about LEP Premium

Right, let’s get started.

Hello, welcome to my podcast. 

I expect you want to learn English, right? That’s the main reason you’re listening to this I expect. You want to learn English.

Well, good news! It’s definitely possible. You can learn English and you will if you put in the time and the effort. It’s important to remember that.

What do I mean by “learn English”, though? I mean that you can learn to speak English fluently, clearly and with confidence, expressing yourself with shades of meaning, adapting your English for the situation both in speaking and in writing, knowing and being able to use a wide variety of vocabulary and accurate grammar and ultimately being yourself in the language and developing beneficial relationships with others based on effective communication. Yes, you can. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

That’s it, just a positive and encouraging message at the start. It’s important to always remember that making progress in your learning is a realistic prospect and will happen when you put in the time and effort, and more good news: the more you enjoy it, the easier it is.

I hope this podcast helps you to enjoy getting English into your life on a regular basis, which is a key part of learning the language effectively. 

But what else should you be doing in order to improve your English overall?

In this episode I’d like to talk in some detail about learning English and how you can do it.

This episode is a sort of “come to Jesus moment”, which I feel I should do regularly, just to remind everyone listening that there is a method or approach at work here and that it’s not just you listening to people talking.

A “come to Jesus moment” in the world of business is when someone does a passionate speech or event in which fundamental priorities and/or beliefs are reassessed, or reaffirmed. It’s like when Jesus gathers his disciples around him in order to reaffirm their belief in what he’s preaching or to say some deep stuff which strengthens their faith.

This is a come to Jesus moment for me.

Not that I’m comparing myself to Jesus. No, not at all. Not even a little bit, and anyway that’s not for me to say, that’s for other people to point out isn’t it, not me. Anyway…

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is a method to the madness.

In my podcast episodes, I’m always teaching you, using my particular set of professional skills, but rather than presenting it all as a lesson I usually try to present it more like a radio show or a comedy show even.

So, amidst the episodes about music, comedy, interviews and so on, I thought it would be worth restating the core values of LEP, which I seem to do about once every 6 months or so.

I’m going to give loads of advice here, and this is all based on what I’ve learned from:

  • Teaching for about 20 years
  • Meeting thousands of learners of English, some of them successful, some of them not, working directly with them as their teacher and listening to them talk about their studying habits and experiences
  • The academic studies I’ve done, especially the DELTA which involved extensive reading and writing on various aspects of how people learn and teach English
  • Doing my podcast and getting testimonies over the years from many listeners who told me about how they’ve used it to improve their English
  • There’s also my own personal experience of working on my French

Anyway, the plan is to talk about learning English with a focus on the 4 skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing.

I have talked about these points quite a few times before on this podcast, and have given tons of specific advice about working on your English, including in episodes like 174 (and others)

So I will probably repeat myself a bit. But I still get asked to talk about “how to learn English” very regularly and I think it’s important for me to talk about learning English on this podcast on a regular basis. Obviously, that is what this podcast is about, first and foremost, even though a lot of the time in my episodes you’ll hear me and my guests talking about all sorts of other things. 

Learning English is the main aim of this podcast

Essentially the thinking is that you should listen to natural conversation on a variety of topics and it’s simply listening to things in English (not just listening to things about English) that’s going to help you learn this language, especially if you enjoy the content.

I’ll probably talk about this again in a bit, but let’s say that ultimately the plan with the free episodes is to help you listen to English regularly, for longer periods of time, long term. The more, the better. If the content is enjoyable, that should just make it easier for you to achieve that. In fact, if you’re really into what you’re listening to, you don’t really even notice the time passing.

Then there’s the premium content, which is an effort to push your learning beyond the gains you get from all the exposure and input you get from just listening. The premium content is designed to let you get the benefit of my experience and teaching skills in order to cut out a lot of work that you would otherwise have to do yourself, so I can essentially take you by the hand and lead you through some intensive practice to work on your English more directly.

Click here for information about LEP Premium

So that’s my content, but let’s talk now about learning English as a whole then.

Learning English is a holistic thing. It encompasses many aspects and skills that are connected as a whole. 

There are receptive skills like listening and reading, productive skills like speaking and writing, language systems like grammar, spelling, vocabulary and phonology, social and psychological factors that come into play when we use language when interacting with others, then there are other factors that come into play like identity issues, body language, culture, literature, pragmatics and all sorts of other things. It’s hard to know where to start when talking about it.

You need to learn it to the point where you don’t even think about it any more. 

The more you talk and think about it, the more it starts to sound like the force from Star Wars.

  • Stretch out with your feelings.
  • Do or do not, there is no try.
  • Do not think, feel.
  • Let go, let the English flow through you.
  • I am your father (oh wait)

It’s about learning how to do something which goes right to the core of who you are in fact.

It’s a holistic thing. It incorporates many aspects as part of a whole process and so it’s quite tricky to know where to start.

Let’s put it like this. Language goes in, and language comes out. (I told you it sounds like The Force)

Language is within you and language is without you. It flows through you. It binds the galaxy together.

There are receptive skills (this is how language goes in)

And there are productive skills (this is how language goes out)

There’s the written language

And there’s the spoken language

This is our system.

Think of it like a table with two categories on the horizontal axis and two on the vertical axis, so it’s like a grid with 4 squares in it.

On the horizontal access we have receptive and productive skills.

On the vertical we have written and spoken English.

Within the table we have 4 skills – the 4 squares. 

So in the box marked “written” and “receptive” we have reading.

Below that in the “spoken” and “receptive” categoriy we have listening.

On the right in the “written” and “productive” side we have writing.

And then in the “spoken” and “productive” side we have speaking.

Those are your four skills. Reading, writing, listening and speaking.

The 4 skills are connected in various ways.

Reading and writing deal with the written word of course. 

Reading helps you to write. It helps you to see how the language is built, how words are spelled and how sentences, paragraphs and texts are put together with grammar and textual conventions.

Listening and speaking deal with the spoken word. 

Listening helps you to learn how English actually sounds, how words join together in sentences or longer utterances, it helps you get familiar with the speed, rhythm, flow and intonation of the language. It helps you get used to natural pronunciation which in turn helps you produce English in the same way.

Words exist in visual form, and in spoken form. 

But reading and listening are connected too because they’re both receptive skills. They provide us with input which is the essential foundation of language learning.

And speaking and writing are connected because they’re productive skills.

These are the skills you need to use when using language for various purposes. This is where you are more active in the sense that you are constructing language and putting it down visually in the form of writing, or using your body to produce it orally.

Let’s talk about those receptive skills and input.

Receptive Skills / Input

Prof. Stephen Krashen 

This from Wikipedia

Stephen Krashen has a PhD. in Linguistics from the University of California, Los Angeles.[2] He has more than 486 publications, contributing to the fields of second-language acquisition, bilingual education, and reading.[3] He is known for introducing various hypotheses related to second-language acquisition, including the acquisition-learning hypothesis, the input hypothesis, the monitor hypothesis, the affective filter, and the natural order hypothesis.[4] Most recently, Krashen promotes the use of free voluntary reading during second-language acquisition, which he says “is the most powerful tool we have in language education, first and second.”

The reading thing there is something we’ll come back to in the section about reading.

This is the academic who is always mentioned in this context, when talking about how to learn English these days. Krashen was one in a long line of linguists who came up with theories about how language is learned and should be taught. 

Arguably, we still don’t really know how people learn languages, but various academics over the years have put forward different hypotheses to explain it and these have been the backbone of our understanding of language learning that has informed the way we all learn and teach languages over the years.

Krashen though is the one that people often talk about today, including all the many YouTubers who regularly post videos about the best ways to learn, the only ways to learn, the secrets of learning and all that sort of thing. Krashen is usually brought up because his ideas fit in quite nicely to a model of language learning for today. I mean, it involves a lot of consumption of content in English – plenty of listening and reading and that sort of content is in plentiful supply online, like for example episodes of Luke’s English Podcast.

In his input hypothesis in which he makes the case for the importance of comprehensible input for language learning, he states that in fact the only way we can successfully increase our underlying linguistic competence. This is our system of linguistic knowledge or let’s say that “language instinct” that you have, which even subconsciously gives us a sense of when language is right or wrong. I suppose it could be active in that you know a certain grammar rule and can see when it’s been broken, or passive in that you just feel that something is right or wrong but can’t necessarily explain it. 

I would say the passive knowledge is the vital one because ultimately you just want to be able to feel that language is right or wrong without thinking about it.

But that being said, your active knowledge can be really useful when doing things like avoiding common errors as a result of your first language, or consciously pushing yourself to create language which is normal.

Anyway, Krashen says the only way to increase your linguistic competence is through comprehensible input, meaning reading and listening to things that we mostly understand and that with the context of what you do understand, you are able to work out the bits that you don’t know. This is how we acquire new languages.

So basically, we learn a language when we understand it. So, naturally, according to Krashen, the receptive skills come first.

I think this makes a lot of sense to me. I think it’s bound to be true that we learn language by listening to it and reading it. But what about those moments when you have to speak or write, what about learning the grammar and all the rest of it?

Krashen would say that we learn the grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation of a language by listening to it or reading it, and that it’s a natural process and part of how we decode language through comprehensible input.

So, don’t worry about grammar rules and all the rest of it, just listen and do your best to keep up and work out what’s going on, and do it regularly.

Again, I am sure this is true but I also think it’s worth studying the language a bit too, breaking it down a bit, seeing how it works, actively trying to learn more vocabulary, checking up on the rules of grammar and doing some controlled practice. Working on your pronunciation by copying and training your mouth and brain to cooperate with each other, like the way we practise certain movements in sport or musical parts on an instrument. 

I do believe that controlled practice and conscious learning like that must also be beneficial because I’ve seen it happen. Doing some active studying can be like a fast track of English learning. It can cut out a lot of time by helping you realise certain things about the language quickly, and I think if you then notice it again while listening and reading that only reinforces what you’ve learned.

Of course, you shouldn’t get blinded by grammar or pronunciation rules and so on, to the point that you can’t see the wood for the trees.

Try not to get hung up on grammar, because it can make you process language in an unnatural and contrived way. It can get stuck in your head and block you a bit. Instead, try to notice patterns and incorporate them into your use of English. Try to see grammar study as a way of confirming things you’ve already noticed, or a way of consulting with a reference book as you also just absorb English more naturally. If you only study English with the grammar, it’s going to be a weird abstract process for learning the language. It’s better to focus on consuming English in the form of messages which you are trying to understand, and then perhaps check your grammar later to straighten things out.

The premium subscription is where I help you with that sort of thing, hopefully combining with the free content to give you all the stuff you need to attack English from several angles.

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Anyway, what Krashen is saying I suppose is:

Input is vital. This is like your food.

Receptive skills / input

Language has to go in before it comes out.

How can you learn this language if you haven’t heard it and read it a lot?

Read and listen to things that are slightly above your level, so you can understand 60-80%. You need to be able to understand that much for your brain to work out the remaining 20-40% that you don’t know. Meaningful context is vital.

Basically, listen x5 and read x5.

It’s largely a question of finding the right stuff to listen to.

There’s this podcast of course. Others are available.

Watch TV and films with and without subtitles.

Hopefully you’ll find content that you actually want to listen to, not just for studying English. So if you do get addicted to a Netflix series and you can’t wait to find out what happens next, that’s good! That means you will get more comprehensible input and you will be much more focused and involved in it, which is great for your English. Or maybe you want to hear another stupid and funny conversation with my friends just because it makes you laugh and you feel some sort of connection to it. All of that is great because it will help you listen more, listen longer and listen long term.

Reading

This one is also a pleasure to talk about because it’s a pleasure to do and there are lots of great things to read.

Let’s hear from Krashen again as he is the master of the whole input model.

This is again from Wikipedia, which I think is fine usually for the basics like this.

Extensive reading, free reading, book flood, or reading for pleasure is a way of language learning, including foreign language learning, through large amounts of reading. As well as facilitating acquisition of vocabulary, it is believed to increase motivation through positive affective benefits. It is believed that extensive reading is an important factor in education. Proponents such as Stephen Krashen (1989) claim that reading alone will increase encounters with unknown words, bringing learning opportunities by inferencing. The learner’s encounters with unknown words in specific contexts will allow the learner to infer and thus learn those words’ meanings. 

Of course that system is disputed because this is the academic arena we’re dealing with and people are always putting forward ideas, defending them, disputing them and so on. It’s how we move forwards and learn about this stuff.

So this is extensive reading which is different to the sort of intensive reading you do in English lessons, where you spend ages on just one page of text, break it down into tiny chunks, understanding every single morsel. With extensive reading it’s all about just getting as much English into your head as you can by reading as much as you can, and you focus on reading enjoyable things, especially stories and you don’t stop too much to analyse the language or even check words, you just keep trying to follow what you’re reading. The more involved in it you are, the better.

Again, this point about input is that it feeds your instinct for the language. You get a subconscious sense of what is right or wrong, which comes in very handy for when you’re doing those nasty sentence transformations and use of English tasks in a Cambridge exam like CAE. What you really want in those situations is to know exactly which preposition or auxiliary verb is missing, or to be able to manipulate sentences in a variety of forms. I reckon it helps to do a bit of language practice as well, with a few controlled exercises but the idea is that it should all go in naturally giving you this sense of language competence.

It’s important though to choose texts which are not too difficult for you. You need to be able to understand enough to be able to get a grip on the rest of the language.

So which books do you choose? 

We’ve talked about the importance of choosing stuff that’s interesting to you, that reflects the type of English you might need. 

Genre isn’t an issue. People assume you need to read or listen to the news but as we’ve already established they don’t really talk like normal people on the news, and they also write in a certain “newsy” style. Funnily enough it might be more useful to read the tabloid papers as they write in a more conversational style, but I think it’s worthwhile looking beyond the news.

Basically, read whatever you want.

Even comic books or graphic novels as they’re known for adults.

Graphic novels can be brilliant because they support your understanding with the images and often the English is in the form of speech so you learn really directly how to apply that stuff to real life. I love graphic novels in French. It’s my favourite way to work on the language.

You could consider the current bestsellers. If other people like the books then why shouldn’t you? Look in the fiction and non-fiction categories.

Just check Amazon bestsellers or Waterstones.com www.waterstones.com/books/bestsellers for their current lists.

Graded Readers

Or try graded readers, which are an excellent and underused resource. I really recommend them if you’re not a strong reader. They’re previously published books, and often some of the great classics and modern classics in English, but they’re republished with English that is graded for certain levels. The number of words is reduced, it’s truncated and essentially it’s a way to increase the percentage you do understand, and decrease the amount you don’t understand, getting to that 80/20 spot where you can maximise your language learning. 

There are lots of titles to choose from and various publishers. Check these ones out

But your English may well be good enough now to have a go at a book for native speakers. So go for it. You have loads of options. Just make sure you enjoy reading on a regular basis.

I would also add that it’s important to choose texts which are written in modern style and perhaps about an area that you are particularly interested in. Perhaps think of it like this – what is the kind of English you want printed on the back of your head (on the inside)? Odd question, but I mean, what is your target English. Perhaps it’s the involving and descriptive storytelling of fiction, or it’s the matter-of-fact world of non-fiction. I reckon non-fiction is probably better because it reflects the kind of English you are more likely to be writing, especially if it’s things like academic work or reports at work, because they’re all about presenting you with information, data, commenting on what’s going on, describing how to do things and that’s probably the sort of thing you’ll need to use English for, especially in writing. 

So, just read and enjoy it!

Here are some more book recommendations

Book of email correspondence

www.amazon.co.uk/Executive-Guide-mail-Correspondence-Including-ebook/dp/B07J1XGRZ6/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=email+correspondence&qid=1592316807&sr=8-1

This might be a bit dry but it will really show you loads of examples of emails with full explanations, so you can read and learn.

David Crystal 

The Story of English in 100 Words

Anything by David Crystal is fantastic, but this non-fiction book will teach you the entire story of the English language through 100 words and there are some great words in there like 

Loaf, Street, Riddle, Arse, Jail, Wicked, Matrix and Skunk, to name but a few. 

So you’re bound to learn tons from that.

Biography

Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny By Nile Rodgers

Fiction

The War of the Worlds by HG Wells

The writing is a bit old fashioned. I have to be honest, but it’s mostly modern in style and I think it’s worth it because the story is amazing and it’s not too long. It’s wonderfully descriptive and much better than any movie version could be. Definitely one of my favourite books of all time.

Productive skills / output

This is where we get to the more nebulous world of productive skills. It’s like an alien land where monsters roam, a bit like war of the worlds maybe.

OK I’m exaggerating here but I mean that productive skills are a bit harder to pin down because even more psychological and social factors come into play. You have the public aspect of it, the fact that you’re trying to manipulate the language and get your ideas across in the right way, being coherent and cohesive and in the right style with the right level of politeness with the correct conventional replies and requests and on and on it goes!

Again, I’m making it sound tricky, but I mean that you are involved so much more because you’re making the language and actually using it. This is exciting because you get to express yourself which is the most wonderful and gratifying thing you can do in another language, and when it slides out quite fluidly and you’re not too blocked by who knows what, then it’s all gravy. But sometimes it just doesn’t seem to work out that way and you get mixed up and it doesn’t come out right at all. There’s a sense of performance in productive skills, and a sense that you have to be aware of the right way to conduct yourself, and to be able to utter things in English instantly, following what the other person is saying, it’s all done in a sort of unconscious blur and thinking about grammar in that situation is a killer.

So it’s about getting a level of ease, a level of comfort, a platform from which you can bob and weave your way through the conversation, finding other ways to say things and switching correctly between tenses and situations. I think you get what I mean. 

So how do you work on these things?

  • Ease – a voice, fluency
  • Control – grammar, vocab, pronunciation
  • Range – a wide range of language for a wide range of things
  • Coherence – does it all make sense? Can people follow you easily?
  • Cohesion – particularly in writing, how does the whole text make sense as a whole?
  • Social factors – knowing how to put things and how to manage relationships through language

Again, the idea is that this language is just built into you from all that exposure and input.

I would say that there’s a great deal of other stuff you can do to improve your productive skills beyond reading and listening a lot, of course.

In both writing and speaking the first thing to remember is you need to engage in it as much as possible. Real writing and real speaking.

Ultimately this means trying to use language to communicate a message in some way and that’s what you should be focusing on. Meaningful interactions, especially ones in which you have something to offer or something to gain, such as negotiations or even information gap situations in which you’re telling someone something they don’t know. Also social interactions involving being polite or building relations with people. Ultimately, doing it for real is the best workshop in which you can work, rolling with the punches and trying to keep track of what you’re learning. 

This is why people learn English best when they’re forced to do it because of their surroundings. They learn by being a waiter in London for a year or working in an office with native speakers, or being plunged into a foreign university for a year, or moving to a new country and having to cope with all the challenges that brings and in a second language. I suppose this is immersion, but it;s more than that. I recommend actually conversing with people to just practise. It’s the 5 Ps.

It’s like going to the gym. Fluency is like physical fitness in your mind and also in your body because you’re using your mouth, your breathing and your head and hands to communicate too.

It applies to writing too. You can observe the way other people write their emails and kind of copy their style, you have to really think about what you’re saying and doubtless you will end up writing emails with requests, with information, with questions and with complaints and so on, so you will have to learn on the job. Being thrown in at the deep end, or if you just have to use English at work it could either be a big stress for you or a huge opportunity to just go for it.

Anyway, let’s talk about specific productive skills – writing and reading, and how to work on them.

Let’s say you’re not actually in a situation where you can talk to people or have correspondence with people, or have to write things which other people will ultimately have to read. Unless you find a tutor on italki for example then that person could be your practice point for speaking and writing, giving you feedback as you go. But let’s say for the purposes of this episode, it’s just you and the English language, facing each other off in a kind of wild west fashion.

How can you practise on your own?

Writing

Obviously you need to write. But what are you going to write and who is going to read it?

Firstly – just write, write regularly, write meaningfully and write with a reader in mind, even if nobody reads it. This is important because it will help you get used to simply putting your ideas into words. It’s a creative process and also a mechanical process to an extent. Building sentences is a sort of art or a craft. You have to practise it in order to get some level of comfort with it. Let’s imagine there’s a muscle in your head (this is not scientific at all) which, if you never exercise it, will be quite weak and underdeveloped. But if you exercise that muscle regularly it will be strong, reactive and quick. I expect there is a part of the brain responsible for creating written language, and a sub-section for creating written English. Keep that part of your brain fresh by writing English as much as you can. That’s as scientific as I can get here.

So, here are some things you could write

What to write

  • Anything
  • A diary
  • Email an imaginary person (spooky?) or yourself (think outside the box here ok?)
  • Academic writing – text types
  • Emails – email types and conventions
  • Reports – same!
  • Formal and informal letters – same!
  • Applications – same same!

Basically – Whatever you have to write, you should try to find some samples of these texts and aim to copy them. Copy the style, the arrangement, the language they use and reproduce it yourself. Texts that you write will invariably be very practical so it’s about reporting information and asking questions. Look at the sample texts and copy them.

It helps if you have a specific workbook. I recommend Email English by Paul Emmerson. It’s a simple workbook that helps you work on almost all those things and I’m not even sponsored by Macmillan or anything, it’s genuinely a great book.

They also have downloadable email writing tasks on the Macmillan website or here

Email English by Paul Emmerson

Worksheets www.businessenglishonline.net/resources/email-english-worksheets/

Ideally you’ll have a teacher to proofread your work, correct you and give you feedback.

If this isn’t possible, it’s still a good idea to write. 

Other ideas

A diary (just describe things that happened, or make it more personal and really explore your thoughts and feelings. If the words don’t come, just use basic words. If you feel unable to express yourself perfectly, express yourself imperfectly but try to express yourself.

Writing is not just sentences, it’s paragraphs and pages. The thing you are writing will define how you write it. This means – conventions of certain texts, formality level of the language.

Specific exam tasks → IELTS, FCE, CAE, CPE, BEC higher and vantage

These will often push you to learn the conventions of different types of text, so it could be a good idea to take a Cambridge exam if you want to work on your writing.

Vocabulary Notes

You might write some notes on vocab and I would recommend here that you take a more extensive approach to doing this. Don’t just have one word per line. I want to see one word or phrase at the top of the page, and then loads of text underneath full of examples and your own examples with the language. You can then come back and cover up some of the words and try to remember. Alternatively you can use my PDFs with the notes and memory tests if you’re a premium subscriber. Little plug there for my other podcast.

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But making more extensive vocabulary notes with plenty of examples means that not only are you recording vocabulary, you’re practising using it in writing too.

Speaking

I mentioned italki before and you can find tutors, teachers and conversation partners there for regular practice and I do recommend doing that.

Otherwise, let’s look at some ways you can work on your speaking other than in actual spoken practice with others. Developing your speaking on your own.

This is quite a tricky thing to do because normally speaking is an instantly interactive form of communication. It also involves a lot of listening and then being able to produce English instantly and without hesitating too much.

It’s also quite physical as it involves using your mouth to produce words and sentences in the right way.

And of course there are all those cultural things to think about too.

But really speaking should just be your attempt to find your own voice in English, with fluency and with a specific tone. Of course it comes through a lot of practice, of having conversations in which you’re not really thinking about what you’re saying on a grammatical level but it’s pouring out of you due to necessity and not being able to really think a lot. Doing that regularly helps your brain map out the extent of the English you have and increase it, keeping it sort of fresh. That’s not scientific but more a metaphor of what I think speaking can do. It activates something in you that you have to maintain and keep active or those parts of the brain go dull.

So practice x5

But with who?

The fact is, it just helps to talk to other people and that’s the best and most basic advice I can give. Outside of that, you have to manipulate your surroundings and use your imagination to practise speaking on your own.

Talking on your own (and even in your head)

This might sound a bit odd, but it’s a surprisingly effective way to activate English that is in your head. You essentially talk to yourself, out loud, in English, describing what’s going on, what you’re doing, what you’re thinking about, say it all in English. Alternatively you can just do it in your own head and just think the sentences. This also keeps that system of language production in your head fresh. 

Listen and repeat

You can use certain audio and play a bit, pause, repeat what you heard, rewind, repeat again and keep going until you’ve got it, and then check the transcript or subtitles to see if you’re correct, check any new words and carry on. Always find ways to vocalise the things you are learning and that means saying them out loud even to yourself.

You can also practise different speaking scenarios.

Preparing for a Cambridge exam you can find past papers with speaking part preparation and practise. Find out what’s required in the different parts, watch videos of people taking the speaking part on YouTube, practise answering common questions about yourself, practise speaking on a topic for a minute or two, practise discussing your opinion on the issues of the day. Those are all specific speaking skills that you can practise on your own. I particularly recommend listen and repeat, especially when you have to take quite a long utterance in English, hold it in your head and repeat it like it’s one word? It’s like going to the gym in English. It involves a lot of things: Understanding the clip, identifying the words and grammar, being able to remember it all, being able to produce it in a similar way. That’s a whole punch of different kinds of practice. And if you repeat the sentence straight away, and again, you might notice certain little errors you’re making and correct them. So repeat over and over again, a bit like practising boxing combinations in the ring before the big fight.

In reality, the 4 skills are often mashed up together and you find you are doing things like listening and speaking at the same time, while also taking notes, looking at visuals and so on. It all gets very messy when language is actually applied to real communication in the real world.

A little note about pronunciation and a sort of disclaimer.

The disclaimer

I think there are probably plenty of other things I have not mentioned in this episode, such as not talking about specific memory techniques (done that) or specific features of pronunciation (done that) or exactly how to read a book to learn English (done) or plenty of other things probably. To be honest this is just a podcast episode that I wanted to make about the 4 skills and it expanded into an episode all about learning English as a holistic process.

Anyway, the note about pronunciation

  • It is worth learning the phonemic script
  • It is worth getting the sounds app on your phone
  • It is worth doing drills and practising different features
  • It’s worth getting a book called Ship or Sheep or other books of that nature.
  • It’s worth remembering that if you have an accent when you speak that is fine and it’s part of who you are, the main thing is that you speak clearly, not which regional accent you have. Clarity is the thing to achieve. Also, it’s extremely difficult to “lose” your accent in English. Hardly anyone does it. But you can still be fine with your accent. English is quite open like that. Everyone’s welcome.

But there you have it. That was quite a comprehensive look at how I think learning English is best when you combine two things: comprehensible input, and a clever studying routine.

I think it can work wonders for your English.

And that’s what I try to do with this podcast. Give you all the input in the free episodes and then do some more focused studying in the premium content. Hopefully, together those two channels can boost your English to the max.

Thanks for listening.

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658. [2/2] Why do Brits sing with American accents?

This is part 2 of a double episode exploring the question of why British people often change their accent when they sing. This episode contains more examples, including some (dodgy) singing from me in order to hear how it sounds when different songs are sung in different accents. Notes, lyrics and transcriptions available on the page below.

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Notes & Transcriptions

Introduction

Hello, welcome back to the podcast. I hope you’re doing ok out there in podcastland during this difficult period.

It’s necessary to say that isn’t it these days. You have to acknowledge the fact that everyone’s struggling, or you have to explain that things are perhaps not happening normally because of the coronavirus and there are various ways of saying it – both informal and formal, perhaps in a work email or something. I saw something on Twitter which made me laugh and I retweeted it. If you follow me on Twitter you might have seen that. My Twitter handle is @EnglishPodcast by the way. So the thing I saw on Twitter was just a little meme about how in normal English we say “because of the coronavirus” but in  formal writing (like in a work email) we have to dress that up in more fancy language, like “due to the ongoing situation regarding covid-19”.

So I hope that you are not having too much of a bad time because of the coronavirus, or perhaps I should say “I trust that you are managing to maintain your working routines effectively in the context of the current situation regarding covid-19.” 

This is episode 658 and it’s part 2 of a double episode. This is part 2. Don’t listen to this, until you’ve heard part 1. Seems obvious, doesn’t it, but I just want to make it clear. Part 1 contains loads of context and details which I think you should hear before listening to this.

In part 1 I started answering a question from a listener, and the question is “Why do British people sound American when they sing?” It’s actually a bit complicated. It’s all about the conventions of modern pop music which has its roots in the USA. But there are also plenty of examples of British singers singing in British accents. It’s a mix of language, identity, music and phonology. In part 1 I answer the question in some detail and also point out some features of what I’m calling the American Singing Accent, including things like the way certain words which I pronounce with diphthongs (that’s double vowel sounds) become ‘flattened’ to single long vowel sounds, like in the words I, find, time, mine in the line “I need to find my time to get what’s mine”.

So let’s continue and in this part, which is part 2 I’m going to continue to explore this whole area by singing some songs in different accents and by listening to some samples of music. I hope you enjoy it and find it interesting. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section or perhaps links to YouTube videos with other examples that you can think of – examples of British artists singing with American accents, or perhaps British artists singing with British accents, or artists from anywhere else for that matter, singing in any other accent. It’s not just British and American of course, there are so many other accents that you might hear in English language songs. Reggae music from Jamaica for example is usually sung with a Jamaican accent of course.

Anyway, let’s carry on with part 2 and here we go…


Singing songs in different accents

I want to experiment with this by singing some well-known songs in either an American accent (The American Singing Accent as defined above) or a British accent (again, which one? Probably my own standard British RP but also I might try some cockney or maybe Liverpool or something).

Brits singing with American accents

What happens when you sing certain American songs in a British accent (let’s be more specific, let’s say my British RP)

If you sing some songs in a British accent they usually sound weird and wrong. You might disagree, because you might have a soft spot for British accents (and in fact more recently there have been some very successful artists who seem to sing in British RP as a stylistic choice) but I think overall, most people would think it sounded wrong, like my previous example with “Shallow”.

My Girl by The Temptations

Tell the story (briefly) of someone who sang “My girl” at a party once. It was ridiculous.

I’m now going to sing the songs in their normal American voice, then in a British accent.

“My Girl, talking about, my girl!”

Lyrics: tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/the-temptations/my-girl-chords-86366

Take it Easy by Eagles

Eagles’ “Take it Easy” in a British accent (especially the 2nd verse)

Lyrics: tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/eagles/take-it-easy-chords-14322

Hit me Baby One More Time by Britney Spears

Lyrics: tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/britney-spears/baby-one-more-time-chords-279810

Under The Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers

Lyrics: tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/red-hot-chili-peppers/under-the-bridge-chords-44981

Songs by British artists sung in an American accent

I could pick almost any song by a British pop artist and the chances are that it’ll be sung in an American singing accent.

Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin

We Are the Champions by Queen

Weirdly, Freddie seems to drift from an English sounding voice in the verse to an American one in the chorus. Listen to how he sings “time” (Time after time) in the verse and then “time” in the chorus (No time for losers).

This is so tricky! The accents seem to drift around while people sing.

Ultimately, I think this shows that when people sing they change their voice to suit the music. Freddie Mercury wasn’t just a rock singer, he was also quite operatic and theatrical and I think he probably chose to sing in different ways depending on the feeling he was choosing, including some bits where he sings with a more English sounding voice and some bits where he’s in full-on rock mode and sounds American.

British bands/singers singing with British accents

Let’s consider some songs which are clearly sung in British accents, or moments where British accents are more obvious. 

There will be billions of examples of great British bands who sing in British accents. Here are some ones which I can think of right now.

The Beatles

They’re a difficult case because it’s quite hard to tell when they’re singing with American accents, when they’re singing with Liverpool accents but there are definitely times when their Liverpool accents came through.

It seems to me that their accents became a bit more English as they went on because in the early days they were (to an extent) imitating American artists they loved like Elvis, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Chuck Berry & so on (especially when doing cover versions like “Long Tall Sally” (“Oh baby, some fun tonight”) and “Twist & Shout” (“And let me know that you’re mine”).

But later as they wrote more of their own music and became more original, their own accents came in. They also used to make a point of singing in a Liverpool accent sometimes.

Penny Lane by The Beatles

“In Penny Lane the barber shaves another customer” 2:00

Lennon singing Polythene Pam (intentionally putting on a strong Scouse accent)

John Lennon – Norwegian Wood “I once had a girl” – the “I” is rounded like Lennon would say it.

Paul McCartney – I’m Looking Through You

Paul McCartney’s English accent is quite recognisable in “I’m Looking Through You”
“I thought I knew you… what did I know?”
“Why tell me why did you not treat me right?”

Although some bits still sound a bit American – “You’re naaat the same”

Steve Earle – I’m Looking Through You

But when US country singer Steve Earle did a cover version of it, he did it in a Southern sounding American accent.

“Aaah thought aaah knew yewwww whut did aaaaah know?”
“Yurrr voice eis soootheuyin , but the wrrrrrds arrrrnt clearrrr”
“Whaaaaa tell me whaaa did you naaat treat me right?”

The Smiths – Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now

“Why do I give valuable time” –all with rounded diphthongs

The Undertones – My Perfect Cousin

The Undertones were from Northern Ireland and you could hear it in some of their songs, like this one.

“He’s sure to go to heaven”
“He thinks that I’m a cabbage because I hate university challenge”

A lot of Britpop bands sang with British accents, because it was Britpop. BRITpop, you see.

Blur – Parklife (they were making a point of singing in a British accent)

There are billions of other examples, I’m sure.

But it’s weird and not black and white.

It’s not like all punk bands or all Britpop bands sang with their local accents. Sometimes they did, sometimes it was definitely American.

There’s no escaping that rock & roll is basically American.

Singing in an American accent when it should be British, and people get annoyed

Alesha Dixon sings the national anthem in a “soul” voice. Basically, she sang the word “god” in an American accent, which pissed off the Daily Mail readers.

She got quite harshly criticised for this. She said she did it on purpose because it was a “soul” version of the anthem. Naturally a lot of Brits were triggered by this.

What’s the conclusion?

  • Singing is different to speaking.
  • Accents change to suit the music and the social rules are a bit different when people sing.
  • Singing is a more open and free form of expression than speaking. Our accent when we speak is completely tied to our identity. But when we sing it’s more tied to the feeling we are trying to create or express.
  • Some types of music or some songs just have to be sung in an American accent and it’s usually not a big deal.
  • Some artists sing with British accents because they are expressing something uniquely British, like a folk singer such as Billy Bragg or a rapper like Stormzy.
  • It’s also interesting to note that a lot of non-native speakers of English can sing in a native-like accent, but when they speak English it’s not the same story.

    For example: Paul Taylor’s bit about his wife saying “Hello how are you?” –> His wife can sing “Hello” when she’s singing along with Adele’s song but when she has to say it, she says “‘ello ‘ow ‘are you?”

Leave your comments, thoughts and video suggestions below

657. [1/2] Why do Brits sing with American accents?

Have you ever wondered why British people sometimes change their accent when they sing? This episode explores the question of why this happens, with various examples and some (dodgy) singing by me. Notes, videos and transcripts available on the page below.

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Notes & Transcriptions

Hello listeners,

This is episode 657 and it’s called “Why do Brits sing with American accents?”

Essentially this episode is about accents in English, and how our accents sometimes change when we sing.

This is all based on an email I got from a listener recently. Here is that email.
I’m curious to see if you have ever wondered the same thing.

An email from a listener, with a question about accents

Name: János Bernhardt /jænɒʃ bɜːnhɑːt//

Janos gave me the OK to read this out, and I’ll make some corrections as we go.

Message:

Dear Luke,

I have just watched this video (attached) and one question came to my mind about the british english accent.

A couple of corrections from Luke

“British English” should have a capital B and a capital E (British English) because we capitalise the first letters of nationality adjectives and the names of languages in English. Also, I’d avoid saying “The British accent” or “The British English accent” because there are lots of British accents, and this often annoys British people, who often get a bit offended by other people writing “the British accent” and they say “There’s no such thing as The British Accent!”. So, I suggest that instead you should say “British accents”, just “British English” or maybe “a British accent”.

Let’s rephrase Janos’s sentence like this:

I’ve just watched this video and one question came to my mind about British accents…

The video in question is of a British singer called Charlotte Awbery who became a sensation (in February) due to a viral Instagram and YouTube video in which she was randomly asked to sing in a Tube station in London.

In the video sent by Janos, we see that she sings Lady Gaga’s song “Shallow” from the film A Star Is Born really well, just like Lady Gaga, but when she speaks she does so in a completely different accent to the one she was singing in.

We’ll listen to the video in a moment, but let’s continue Janos’ email.

In the video Charlotte clearly loses her accent when she sings, but when she speaks I can hear her beautiful british accent. Is this a normal thing or she has to pay close attention to this during singing? Does she have to…

Sorry for disturbing you if it is a stupid question and also sorry for my bad english.

By the way I love your podcast. I just discovered it recently but I really try to relisten as much episodes as I can.

I am really trying to relisten to as many episodes as I can.

Thanks a lot Luke!
Kind Regards,
János Bernhardt

This is an example of an email from a listener which immediately sent me down a huge rabbit hole (a complicated journey in which you get lost looking for an answer).

That doesn’t always happen when listeners send me questions, but it did with this one. To be honest, I should have been working on other things but when I received this email it caught my attention and then I got sucked in! I thought it would make a perfect episode of the podcast because it’s about accents in English, it’s about American and British English, it’s about music, it’s about culture, it’s about identity and I am certain this is a question that a lot of you have thought of → Why is it that British singers often sing with American accents?

Brits don’t always sing with American accents (there are plenty of cases when this doesn’t happen, as we will see later in the episode), but they often do.

This is the stuff I’m interested in. Also it gives me a chance to play a bit of guitar and do some singing on the podcast too, which I will probably do a bit later when we get stuck into this properly.

God knows how long this episode will be, because there’s a lot to unpack here. It might be a double episode. We’ll see.

Before we go any further, we should check out that clip that Janos sent to me, so we know what he was talking about.

Let’s listen to the video that he mentioned.

Charlotte Awbrey on The Ellen Show

This is a clip from the Ellen show (an American chat show), and you’ll hear various people speaking including chat show host Ellen Degeneres, and also some other people. I won’t explain any more. Let’s just listen to the clip and your job is to work out what is going on, who is speaking and where they are from.

Comprehension Questions

  1. What’s happening?
  2. Who is talking?
  3. Where are they from?
  4. What accent does Charlotte have?
    Don’t just say “British”. Can you be more specific?

In summary…

Charlotte Awbery: 5 Things To Know About The Subway Singer Who Nailed Lady Gaga’s ‘Shallow’ 

Charlotte Awbery is an internet sensation after a video of her showcasing her incredible singing voice went viral on February 20. Just four days prior, a content creator named Kevin Freshwater shared a video of a segment he hosted called, “Finish the Lyrics.” In the video, Freshwater can be seen traveling through the streets and subways, asking random people to finish the lyrics of popular songs. And, that’s where he came across Charlotte, who was making her way to a train in the subway. [The Underground!]

Freshwater approached Charlotte who was visibly caught off guard, and began singing the lyrics to “Shallow” — Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper‘s Oscar-winning hit from the film, A Star Is Born. Charlotte began singing the lyrics quietly, but just enough for Freshwater to recognize how talented she is. When he kept asking her to sing more, Charlotte went all out and it took the internet by storm.“

Then she was invited onto the Ellen show with Ellen Degeneres, to sing the song and then be interviewed.

The thing is, she sang with an American accent but then spoke with a really broad Estuary English accent (some call it cockney, some call it Essex – basically it’s a strong local accent from the area to the east of London.)

So, going back to Janos’ original question then:

Why did Charlotte Awbery switch from an American accent when singing, to a British accent when talking?

Is this normal?
Do British people normally do that when they sing?
Do they/we have to make special effort to do it?
What’s going on?

Is this normal? Do Brits normally do this when they sing?
Yes, lots of Brits suddenly change their accent and sound American when they sing. (Why? We’ll see). I’m talking about singing pop music, which sort of covers various forms of modern music that largely originate in the USA, like jazz, blues, soul, country, rock & roll, rock, gospel –> all the main ingredients of modern pop music.

It’s not just Brits. Irish people, Australian people, people from New Zealand, people from South Africa, any English speaker, including non-native speakers of English in France, Germany, Japan, wherever! Everyone does this.

I’m sticking with Brits though because that’s what I am and that’s what I know.

Yes it is very normal and very common. There are various degrees of it – sometimes it’s just a slight American accent, sometimes it’s really strong. We’ll be looking at some examples later.

But it doesn’t happen every time. There are plenty of examples of British singers singing in their own accent too (again, more on this later).

Do British people have to make a special effort to sing in an American accent?
I would say “no”, it normally happens completely effortlessly but it does depend on the song, or the style of the song. In fact, in many cases it would take a lot of effort to sing some songs in a British accent even if that is your native accent. I’ll hopefully demonstrate this later when I try to sing some songs myself.

What’s going on?
Various things! This is a complex question to answer and that’s what the rest of this episode is about. I’m going to explore the answer to the question, although I’m not a linguist or a sociologist or anything so I’m kind of working it out myself. One thing that can help is to listen to some samples of music and also it might help if I try and sing in different accents myself and we can see what happens.

Basically, singing and speaking are different. Let’s talk about why.

Social, linguistic and musical conventions 

American accents are conventional in music which has its roots in the USA.

Certain genres of music were born in the USA, including most pop music, soul, rock, R&B, jazz, funk, hip hop → this goes back to the roots of modern pop music, American blues, gospel and country music.

Therefore, when singing pop songs an American accent is the standard and is therefore easier, more normal and more natural.

Singing those songs with an obvious RP accent (or other) just ends up being weird, unnatural and wrong sounding, mainly because it would be unconventional. It just doesn’t sound right to sing certain songs with a British accent like mine.

But there are plenty of exceptions to this too, and that’s songs, genres or bands that have something authentically British about them.

In the case of this song (Shallow) Charlotte is singing a Lady Gaga song, and Lady Gaga sings it with an American accent because she is American. It’s a cover version and it would be a bit weird if she made it sound different to the original. Also the song is in a country-rock style, and in country music it’s normal to sing with a really pronounced accent – probably a southern or mid-western drawl. “Shallow” is a song from the film “A Star is Born” which is about a country singer.

Singing “Shallow” in a British accent

Let’s play “Shallow” on the guitar and first sing it in an American accent and then in a British accent.

How does it sound in my accent?

What’s your accent Luke?
Just a reminder (and because people often ask me questions about this) My accent is basically standard RP, which is said to be not specific to any region of the UK, but to be honest it’s usually associated with educated, middle-class people, probably from the South East of England. I’m not trying to say I’m educated (and of course you can be highly-educated and everything and have a regional accent), but I’m definitely middle class and from the south east of England, but I also spent time growing up in the midlands as well as west London, so you might hear a bit of west-midlands Brummie in my voice or a bit of a London accent – if you’re listening very carefully. But basically, I speak with standard British RP from the south east of England but I’m not posh.

“Shallow” Lyrics (written by Lady Gaga with Andrew WyattAnthony Rossomando and Mark Ronson)

Lyrics: tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/misc-soundtrack/a-star-is-born-shallow-chords-2488086

Shallow doesn’t really sound right in my accent.

I don’t know what you think. There’s bound to be some people who prefer my British version. It’s a question of taste, but I think overall my British RP version wouldn’t really be accepted by most audiences. It would be weird, different, unconventional. Most people in the USA would think it was weird and wrong, I reckon.

But some songs and genres are definitely British and British voices are more obvious → things like folk music, UK hip hop (does Rapping count? It’s basically talking), Britpop, merseybeat, punk – in fact any music which is uniquely or authentically British in some way, or in which the local identity is being emphasised.

Brits sing in a British accent when they’re really being themselves, when it’s traditional British folk music, or when they’re pushing the British identity in the music.

Some British musicians make an effort not to sound American. You can hear that in some of the Beatles’ output (although sometimes they’re a bit American sounding too) and definitely in punk bands, new wave bands, britpop bands and so on → any musical movements in which a British identity gets pushed to the forefront.

Some examples of British music sung in a British accent

Madness – My Girl

Original version

Me singing it with an American accent (sounds wrong!)

Lyrics: tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/madness/my-girl-chords-202328

So, in summary, I’d say that although this seems a bit weird, it’s common for Brits to sing with American accents because of the conventions of pop music which has its roots in the USA, but there are also examples of Brits singing in their own accents.


There’s a lot more to talk about and to investigate here, so let’s go into a bit more detail.

This article from thrillist.com has some more comments (read some extracts) 

I might be re-emphasising what I just said, but I think it’s worth reading these extracts from an article I found on a website called Thrillist.com

www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/why-do-british-singers-sound-american

One of the most prominent academics on this case is Peter Trudgill. In 1983, the man published an oft-cited study that examined the disconnect between how so many British pop singers talk in real life and how they perform. He concluded that acts like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones incorporated American phonetics because they were so influenced by Yankee musicians — particularly blues acts. (Remember, the Stones got their name from a Muddy Waters track.) It was an attempt to ape their idols and break into the U.S. market.

Rolling Stones singing “Not Fade Away”

Trudgill noted the American-ness got less aggressive as time wore on, and the British Invasion acts became more comfortable with their native speaking voices. By the time the ’70s arrived, punk bands like The Clash were turning away from American affectations.

So, basically –> In the beginning, UK singers were copying their American idols, but later this influence lessened.

Here are a couple of examples of UK punk bands singing in obvious British accents, to illustrate what Peter Tudgill said.

Sham 69 – Hurry Up Harry

Peter & The Test Tube Babies – Banned from the Pubs

That’s one explanation, but seeing as we still have modern fakers like Adele, it’s incomplete.

Adele speaks with a cockney accent like Charlotte Awbrey but sings in an American accent.

Some people argue that the phenomenon is more a matter of technique. Billy Bragg, who’s normally pretty cool with singing like a Brit, once said, “You can’t sing something like ‘Tracks of My Tears’ in a London accent… the cadences are all wrong.”

Billy Bragg singing normally

Billy Bragg singing Tracks of My Tears by Smokey and the Miracles.

So the point here is that it is just easier to sing in an American accent and sometimes an American accent is just appropriate for the song.

A recent study by Andy Gibson, a sociologist in New Zealand, would appear to back Bragg up. Gibson found that Kiwis defaulted to an American singing voice across the board, and it wasn’t a conscious choice. He surmised it was just easier to sing in that accent. That’s partially because of the way we round off certain words when we sing, and partially because the world is so used to hearing American accents in pop songs, it requires more effort and concentration to sing in a different accent. Even if that “different accent” is your default speaking voice.

Clearly, researchers are still working on a definitive answer. But people do “lose” their accents through song, and it’s not some weird conspiracy. It’s just linguistics! Or Mick Jagger’s fault. You decide.

What are the phonetic features of this “American Singing Accent”?

Let’s break down “the American singing accent” vs my British accent

I’ve decided called it “the American singing accent” because it might not match perfectly with General American or with all American accents.

America is a diverse place and there are many diverse accents there. But it seems that there is a certain kind of American accent that we can hear in a lot of music.

I get the feeling that this accent comes from the people who sang the blues and gospel (basically that means black communities in southern states) and from people who sang country (mostly white singers from southern or midwestern states) but I’m not a musicologist.

Features of The American Singing Accent (my own made-up term)

  • Diphthongs are flattened to long single vowel sounds. This can help in singing, because it allows you to hold one note for a long time.
  • Common examples:
    I (often) sounds like aaaa
    My (often) sounds like maaa
    Try sounds like traaaaa
    Life sounds like Laaaaaaaf
    Time 
    “Out” sounds like “aaaat”
    “Sight” sounds like “saaaaat”
  • /r/ sounds are often more rounded “Now you’re out of sight here” “Now yurrrraaaaatu saaaaat heRe”
  • It’s generally a bit more nasal “Tell me something girl. Are you happy in this modern world? Or do you need more?” “Tell me something boy. Aren’t you tired tryin’ to fill that void?”
  • “Baby” sounds like “Baybeeee”

I’m sure there are other features. Let me know in the comment section if you can think of others.

To be honest, the best way I can demonstrate this is to try and sing some more songs in different accents and see what happens.


Ending

That’s where we’re going to pause. This is the end of part 1, and we will continue in part 2, which will be available soon, possibly already.

In part 2 the plan is to explore this question further by doing some more singing. I’m going to take some songs which are normally sung in that American singing voice, sing them normally and then sing them in my accent and we’ll see how it sounds. 

We’ll also hear some more examples of British singers singing in American accents, and also British singers singing in British accents. 

So, a lot more examples in part 2 to illustrate what I’ve been talking about in this episode.

As ever, I’m interested in your comments. Perhaps you have examples of British singers singing in American accents, or British singers singing in British accents.

Or maybe there’s a song which you like, but you don’t really know what the accent is?

In any case, you can share your thoughts and YouTube videos in the comment section.

I hope you’re keeping well, that you’re not climbing the walls or going stir crazy if you are currently in self-isolation at home. If you’re cooped up with members of your family I hope you’re managing to make it work and that you’re not at each other’s throats. Maybe you’re a lovely lovely time, in which case I am happy for you. If you’re struggling then hang in there, this won’t last forever. And if you or anyone else you know is currently unwell, then I wish you a speedy recovery and what else can I say –> may the force be with you? Actually, that’s when the lockdown is supposed to be lifted here. May the 4th (although I suspect it will be extended) but anyway, “May the 4th be with you”.

Alright, that’s enough. I hope you have found this interesting and part 2 should be available now or very soon, so you can get stuck into that. 

So, speak to you again in part 2 but for now –> bye bye bye!

Click here for part 2

610. British Comedy: James Acaster

Listen to a lovely bit of stand up comedy that will require quite a lot of breaking down in order for you to understand all the jokes like a native speaker, but there’s lots to learn in the way of language and culture in the process.

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Transcripts and Notes

This is LEP episode 610. and it’s called British Comedy: James Acaster.

In this one we’re going to listen to a lovely bit of stand up comedy that will require quite a lot of breaking down in order for you to understand all the jokes like a native speaker, and there’s lots to learn in the way of language and culture in the process.

James Acaster is a popular stand up comedian from the UK who has won various awards, done Netflix specials, Edinburgh shows and who appears on panel shows and TV comedy programmes all the time. He’s now a very popular and well-known stand up in the UK.

I’ve got a clip of one of his performances from the New Zealand Comedy Gala in 2013 on YouTube.

I’m going to play the video in about two parts.

You have to try to understand it – not just what he’s saying, but why is it funny?

Then I’ll go back through the clip, sum it up, go through it line by line, breaking it down for language.

You can then listen again using the video on the page for the episode.

Who is James Acaster? (Wikipedia)
James Acaster is an English comedian originally from Kettering, Northamptonshire. (accent?)
He has performed for several consecutive years at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and won two Chortle awards in 2015.[3] He has been nominated for Best Show five times at the Edinburgh Fringe.[4] Acaster has appeared on several panel shows, including Mock the Week and Would I Lie to You? He has a 2018 Netflix show entitled Repertoire, consisting of four hour-long stand-up comedy performances.[5] He has also written a book, James Acaster’s Classic Scrapes, consisting of true stories, most of which were originally told on Josh Widdicombe’s show on XFM.[6] He currently hosts panel show Hypothetical alongside Widdicombe and food podcast Off Menu with fellow comedian Ed Gamble.

Accent-wise
He’s originally from Northamptonshire which is in the east midlands. He doesn’t have a strong northern accent or a brummie accent, although I do think he would say “podcast” instead of “podcast” and “bath, grass, laugh” with that short a sound too.

The main thing is that he drops all his “T” sounds and also “TH” sounds.
So, “bring them” sounds like “bring em”
“Sitting in a tree, eating all the apples” sounds like “si’in in a tree, ea’in all the apples”
“Theft” becomes “Feft”
He also says “Raver” instead of “rather”.
All very common features of local English – dropping Ts and TH sounds is common all over the country.

What is his comedy style?
Whimsical (unusual, strange and amusing)
Thoughtful
Thinking of things in a different way, unconventional (quite normal in stand up)
Weird
Acting a bit cool even though he isn’t
Geeky looking, wears sweaters, clothes even a granddad might wear
Ginger-ish hair
Looks a bit like Jarvis Cocker

James bought some ‘ready-to-eat Apricots’ and he went on a lads’ night out

Ready-to-eat apricots

You get these bags of fruit in the UK (and elsewhere I’m sure) of fruit which is ready to eat.

It’s been cut up, washed, prepared. It’s ready to eat.

For example, you might get “ready-to-eat apricots”. That’s what James is talking about here.

Also, the expression ”You are what you eat?”

Play the clip: What’s the joke about apricots?

Stop and explain it

What kind of apricots are these?
They are ready-to-eat apricots.
How do you feel?
I feel ready. Ready to eat apricots.
In fact, you could say I was ready to eat these ready-to-eat apricots.
Maybe you’re not ready to eat apricots.
Maybe you just want some, which is why they’re in a resealable bag.
So, they should be renamed ready-to-eat-some-apricots.

A lads’ night out / You wouldn’t bring an apple to an orchard

James went on a night out with a bunch of lads.

For James, this was not an enjoyable night.

It wouldn’t be for me either. I’ve never been one of those guys who likes to go out on a lads’ night out.

Lets me explain what a lads’ night out is like.

Lads are usually English young men, together, doing male things and generally being aggressive, overly sexual, crude, rude and competitive.

  • Lots of alpha male behaviour
  • Heavy drinking
  • Taking the piss and general one-upmanship and aggressive, laddish, competitive behaviour
  • Spending time in bars and clubs that you hate but they think are brilliant (terrible, terrible music, awful people, loud, smelly, horrible)
  • Trying to pick up girls and the general lack of a moral code – cheating, lying, using alcohol – all in an attempt to get lucky with a girl. This includes cheating on your girlfriend if you have one.
  • Medieval-level sexual politics – being openly judgemental about women’s appearances, giving women marks out of ten, saying whether or not you would shag any of the women around, looking at their bodies and comparing notes etc.
  • You get sucked into it through peer pressure and become part of it even though you hate it.

One of the lads, who has a girlfriend and yet plans to pick up a girl at the club, when asked why he didn’t bring his girlfriend, says “You wouldn’t bring an apple to an orchard”

An orchard is a place where apples are grown. It’s full of trees and there are apples everywhere. You might pay to access the orchard and pick the apples.

You wouldn’t bring an apple to an orchard. Presumably because you wouldn’t need to bring one because there are loads there anyway.

How about bringing your girlfriend to a night club. Is it the same?

This leads James to kind of question the logic of that statement and go off an a monologue about bringing an apple to an orchard and how that compares to bringing your girlfriend to a nightclub.

Vocab
To be an accessory to something (like a crime)
An apple a day keeps the doctor away

Play the clip: Do you understand all the comedy about the nightclub and bringing an apple to an orchard?

Stop and explain it

Going to a nightclub with a bunch of lads
One of them cheats on his girlfriend and you become an accessory to it, like it’s a crime and now you’ve become pulled into it. You’re involved in it, without intending to be, and you could go down, like you’re an accessory to a crime.

In this sense, you just have to keep a secret, you’re being expected to lie on behalf of someone else. The guy is a twat basically.

This lad says “You wouldn’t bring an apple to an orchard”.
But then James deconstructs this analogy in a brilliant way.

This is nuanced comedy which is subtly making fun of stupid lad culture in a clever and funny way, with some weirdness and surrealism.

Go through it line by line

One of the reasons I like it is that a lot of people might just say James is being weird and that he’s some sort of loser, but he’s absolutely right in my opinion and he’s just clever and not afraid to be himself and he embraces the slightly weird things in life, because let’s face it, life is weird.

Types of humour / how nuanced & subtle humour can be all about changing the context of the situation in order to reveal new perspectives.

This acknowledges the fact that there are many different perspectives or layers to any situation and a good comedian can make you realise a whole different underlying meaning by just changing one bit of perspective.

Despite the fact that I like this a lot and so do many other people, I’m sure plenty of others don’t find it funny because it’s not fast enough, there aren’t enough dynamic changes (he doesn’t change his voice a lot, a lot of the jokes are left to the audience’s imagination), it’s pretty low energy, maybe little things like (I can’t get into it – I just don’t like his hair cut or his shoes or something) and also some people just don’t really want to look at the world from a different point of view. Some people prefer more direct humour, perhaps with a more obvious target or more relatable things, like observational comedy or something.

As usual, I’m worrying that nobody will get it, but what’s the point of that? Some people just won’t get it because “you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”.

And it doesn’t matter. If you didn’t find it funny, that’s totally fine. At least you’ve learned some English in the process. :)

Vocab list

  • Ready-to-eat apricots
  • They say “you are what you eat”
  • A resealable bag
  • A lads’ night out
  • Check out the arse on that
  • Big time
  • Normal people perv solo
  • To outnumber someone
  • Sinister
  • A dented suitcase
  • To cheat on someone
  • An accessory to a crime
  • Despicable
  • An orchard
  • Fit birds
  • Eloquent use of language
  • A little bit miffed
  • This godforsaken pisshole of an orchard
  • Who in their right mind compares women to apples?
  • Another saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”

Here’s another short clip of James Acaster, this time talking about Brexit and comparing it to a tea bag in a cup.

Should you take the bag out or leave it in?

James Acaster Brexit Tea Bag

Now explain that Luke!

Tea / Brexit

Should you leave the bag in or not?
If the bag stays in, the cup as a whole gets stronger. It might look like the bag is getting weaker in some way but it’s actually part of a good strong cup of tea.
If you take the bag out, the tea is actually quite weak, and the bag goes straight in the bin.

Do I even need to explain how that analogy works with Brexit?

Should the UK stay in or go out?

If the UK remains, the EU as a whole gets stronger. It might look like the UK is getting weaker in some way, but it’s actually part of a good strong union of nations.
If the UK leaves, the EU gets weaker and the UK goes straight in the bin.

Quite clever really.

You can watch James Acaster clips on YouTube.
You can see his Netflix specials “Repertoire” on Netflix
You can read his book “Classic Scrapes” from any half-decent book shop.

That’s it for this episode!

591. London Native Speaker Interviews REVISITED (Part 1)

Revisiting a video I made for YouTube in 2009 and teaching you some descriptive and idiomatic vocabulary in the process. Transcripts and video available.

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Introduction

Hello, you’re listening to episode 591, which is called London Native Speaker Interviews Revisited Part 1.

The plan in this episode is to revisit some videos I recorded 10 years ago…

We’re going to listen to the audio from one of those videos and break it all down in order to help you understand everything word for word, teaching you some lovely, descriptive and idiomatic vocabulary in the process.

This episode is a bit of a flashback to 10 years ago when I first started doing the podcast.

What happened 10 years ago Luke, in 2009?
Ooh, all sorts of things happened, but one of them was that I went into central London armed with my video camera, an Oyster card and a question to ask some members of the public: What is London really like?

What is London like? = tell me about London, describe London

I interviewed people in the street and edited the footage into a series of 5 videos which I published on YouTube, and the videos actually did very well! Part 1 now has 1.6 million views. Part 2 has 1 million.

You might be thinking – are you rich because of those videos? Nope. Not at all. I didn’t monetise them until after they’d got most of their views, or I couldn’t monetise them because of some background music. Anyway, that’s another story for another time – how YouTubers make or don’t make money from their videos.

I also published the videos and their audio tracks as episodes of this podcast in 2009. Some of you will have heard them and seen those videos.

I thought that this time it would be interesting to revisit those videos on the podcast because there’s loads of English to learn from them. When I published them on the podcast in 2009 I just published them with no commentary from me. It was just the video/audio with transcripts on the website.

But this time I’m not just going to play them again. Instead I’m going to go through the audio from the first video and kind of break it down bit by bit, explaining bits of vocabulary and generally commenting on things as we go. This is going to be a bit like one of those director’s commentary tracks that you get on DVDs, but the focus is mainly going to be on highlighting certain items of vocabulary and bits of pronunciation/accent that come up in the videos.

*Luke mentions his Avengers Endgame Spoiler Review, which you can listen to in the LEP App (in the App-only episodes category).*

If you want to watch the original video that I’m talking about here, you’ll find it embedded on the page for this episode on my website (A script is also available), it’s also in the LEP App (with a script in the notes) which you can download free from the app store on your phone – just search for Luke’s English Podcast App and you can just find it on my YouTube channel, which is Luke’s English Podcast on YouTube. The video is called London Native Speaker Interviews Part 1, or maybe London Video Interviews Part 1 (website), London Interviews Part 1 in the app.

So, let’s now travel back in time to 2009 and revisit Native English Speaker Interviews Part 1.

The theme of the videos is London – what’s it really like to live there? What are the good and bad things about living there?

So there’s a lot of descriptive vocabulary for describing cities and life in cities.

Video script available here teacherluke.co.uk/2010/03/25/london-video-interviews-pt-1/

Definitions of some vocabulary and expressions

What’s London really like?
This question: “What is it like?” means “tell me about it” or “how is it?”. It does not mean: “What do you like about London?”
e.g. What is London like? – it’s busy
What do you like about it? – I like the theatres

It’s gone to the dogs = everything is much worse now than it was before

grimy = dirty

to recharge your batteries = to give yourself some energy, by doing something pleasant and stimulating

to shout someone down = to disagree with someone loudly in order to stop them talking

to take advantage of something = to use something good which is available to you

commuting = travelling from home to work every day

584. Posh or not posh? (Part 3) with Amber & Paul

Amber & Paul join me to talk again about poshness, posh accents and posh celebrities. This episode is full of different British accents – posh, RP and regional differences. It’s also full of comedy and I found myself laughing out loud while editing this, especially the interview with the football player that Paul tells us about. I hope you enjoy it.

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Are these celebrities posh or not? What are the features of posh accents, RP and regional accents in the UK?

Kate Beckinsale

Victoria Beckham

Sadiq Khan

Kenneth Branagh

Stephen K Amos

Elton John

Daniel Craig

Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling

George Martin

Jacob Rees Mogg (again)

Danny Dyer

Keep adding your videos of British celebrities in the comment section. Are they posh or not posh?

582. Posh or not posh? (Part 2) Guess the Posh British Celebrities

Can you identify which UK celebrities are posh and which are not? Let’s listen to some British celebrities speaking, check their Wikipedia pages and work out of these people are truly posh or not. You’ll hear samples of lots of spoken English in this episode and we’ll focus on accent and pronunciation.

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Introduction Transcript (Videos below)

This is episode 582 and it’s called “Posh or not posh? (Part 2) Guess the Posh British Celebrities” and in this one we’re going to listen to a lot of famous British people and work out if they are posh or not.

This follows on from the last episode in which I talked about what makes a person posh and what posh people sound like when they speak.

You should listen to episode 581 before listening to this I reckon.

In the last episode you heard me say that a really important thing is to listen to people speaking and to hear lots of examples of posh speech. In this episode you’re going to hear loads of different people speaking. Some of them sound posh and others don’t. So you’re going to hear a mix of different accents. I could probably break it down like this – posh RP, standard RP and regional accents.

We’re going to go through a list of British celebrities. Can you identify if these people are posh?

I’ll name the person. We’ll listen to some audio of them speaking and see if their accent is posh. We’ll look out for some little clues that kind of give it away. Then I’ll have a look at their Wikipedia pages to get some more info and find out if they really are posh.

Remember the 7 types of poshness we talked about before.

  • poshness of birth
  • poshness of wealth
  • poshness of accent
  • poshness of education
  • poshness of excellent taste – the fine arts, fine wine, fine food – anything with ‘fine’ before it
  • poshness of exuberant vulgarity (e.g. over-the-top excessive and showy expressions of bad taste – bling)
  • poshness of assumed superiority

The key things in the Wikipedia biography are: educational background (private schools, boarding schools, single-sex schools, prep schools) and family background (any connections to nobility). Also we’ll pay attention to the way they speak.

So it’s basically – poshness of birth, poshness of education and poshness of accent that we’re looking at here.

Remember that hardly anyone has all the traits of being posh. For example, I expect that most of the people in my list don’t score very highly in the “poshness of assumed superiority” because most of them are humble actors but maybe some of them actually are arrogant enough to assume that they’re better than everyone else. Anyway, the main things we’re looking at are birth (family connections) education (which school) and accent.

Again, it’s not very fair to judge people, and I’m just trying to help learners of English to be able to identify certain things about people from England.

As we go through these video clips which are on YouTube, the focus for me is on just the way the people speak. We might have to skip past some of the language (vocabulary) while doing this. Normally when I use audio like this on the podcast I break it down word by word so you can understand everything. There might not be time for in-depth analysis like that. We’ll focus on the accent, I might explain what’s being said a bit, and then we’ll check the Wikipedia page for that person and move on.

So, are these people posh or not? Let’s go.

Videos & Speech Samples

Jacob Rees-Mogg

Adele

Prince Harry (duh)

Keira Knightley

Wayne Rooney

Jack Whitehall (and his Dad)

Paul McCartney

Idris Elba

Emma Thompson

Brian Sewell

Any other UK celebrities you can think of? Add a video in the comment section.