This is the final episode in the WISBOLEP competition series, speaking to Bahar from Iran about the 7-step method she used to improve her English and develop a British-sounding accent. Bahar used to be a terrible student who hated English, but then she made a decision to focus on her English in her own way. Listen to her explain how she did it.
Hello listeners, this is the final episode in the WISBOLEP series – Why I Should Be On Luke’s English Podcast. As you probably know, this was a competition I launched last year in which listeners chose other listeners who they would like to be interviewed in an episode of the podcast, and so far we’ve had 5 people, all of whom have managed to improve their English to a proficient level, while living in a non-English speaking environment for the most part, without having English speaking people in their family or close friends. So these have been stories of English learning success, which I seriously hope have been inspiring and interesting for you to listen to.
This conversation is with Bahar from Iran. Bahar actually came 5th in the competition, but she happened to be the last person I interviewed.
As you will hear, Bahar’s English is excellent but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, according to her she used to be a terrible student who hated English and who couldn’t string a sentence together. But now it’s a completely different story. She is proficient in English, she has a lovely clear accent and is confident and talkative, and loves this language. So how did she do it?
That is the main focus of this episode. Bahar tells us the story of her English journey, and she outlines her 7-step method for improving her English, especially her pronunciation.
Yes, she has come up with a 7-step method. To be clear, she defined this method in retrospect, meaning that having improved her English to a good level she then looked back at what she had done and consolidated her approach into 7 clear steps, and she’s going to go through the entire thing in this episode.
Now, you can try to follow Bahar’s method, but one of the main points here is that you can actually come up with your own method for improving your English as long as you maintain certain key principles in your learning.
There’s no need for me to add much more here really, except that you will find links to the various resources Bahar mentions during this conversation. Those are resources that she has found to be especially useful. You’ll find links to those things on the page for this episode on my website.
So now I will let you meet Bahar from Iran, currently living in Italy and here we go.
So that was Bahar from Iran. Thanks again to Bahar for her contribution. She definitely put a lot of effort into preparing herself for this conversation, coming up with some clearly defined steps and thinking about how she could go into some specific details about the things that worked for her. So, thanks Bahar for doing that.
You will see the hand drawn infographic that Bahar created to show her 7 steps – you’ll see it on the page for this episode on my website, and as the image for this episode on YouTube.
Perhaps the main point is that you can create your own method for learning English. Just go with whatever works for you. There isn’t one single best approach. You just have to make sure you are working with English on a regular basis, that you do things which bring you some joy (there’s no point slogging away with something that you just don’t like doing), you should attempt to maintain a positive and beneficial cycle in your approach to English, try to find your own personal motivation for learning the language, say to yourself “I’m going to do this and I’m going to do it my way” and then just put the time in.
Also, don’t underestimate the importance of just spending plenty of time listening and don’t apply too much pressure to yourself. Let it happen naturally and in its own time. I hope my podcast helps to make this easier.
Again, check the page for this episode on my website where you’ll find links to things that Bahar mentioned, including the BBC Sounds of English pronunciation course, British Council Elementary Podcasts and so on.
That’s for this episode. Thank you for listening. Leave your comments and feedback in the comment section and have a fantastic day, night, morning, afternoon or evening and I will speak to you soon.
But now it’s time to say, good bye bye bye bye bye.
This is the second part of my recent conversation with Fred Eyangoh about learning new vocabulary. This one includes a word quiz with homophones and commonly confused words from the Collins Dictionary website.
Hello listeners, how are you doing today? I trust that all is well in podcastland.
This is the second part of a double episode about learning vocabulary with one of my friends Fred Eyangoh.
In the last episode you heard about how Fred has been using a spelling game to discover new words, and this led to a discussion about what to do when you come across new bits of vocabulary, including how using online dictionaries can be a really good way to expand your knowledge of words, and also about how just staying curious about new words is very beneficial, and how learning one word leads you to another word and before you know it your vocabulary has expanded exponentially. It certainly works for Fred, whose vocabulary is really strong.
And at the end of the last episode, Fred and I were on the Collins Dictionary website and we were about to do one of the word quizzes that you can find there. The one we chose was about easily confused words. Words that sound the same but are in fact different.
So that’s what happening in this episode. Listen to Fred and me doing a quiz about some homophones – words which have different spelling, different meanings and yet the same pronunciation. So there’s vocabulary, pronunciation and spelling to learn here as we go through various words, but also there are the usual tangents, little jokes and things like that. I hope you learn some things from it and that you have fun while listening.
I will recap the various bits of vocabulary you’ll hear on the other side of this conversation, and it’s a list of at least 30 vocabulary items. I’ll go through that list at the end of the episode to make sure you’ve got it. You’ll see the word list on the page for this episode on my website.
But now, I will let you rejoin my chat with Fred about learning vocabulary, using online dictionaries and a word quiz about homophones.
OK so that was Fred and me doing a word quiz about easily confused words on the Collins Dictionary website.
I certainly hope you found that useful, and perhaps you could consider checking out those word quizzes as well on the Collins Dictionary website – again, they don’t sponsor this podcast, but maybe they should. I’ve even got the perfect line for the advert, “Are you confused about which word to use? Just think, ‘What would Colin say?’ and go to collinsdictionary.com”
It’s not actually Colin’s dictionary by the way, a dictionary owned by a man named Colin. “Hello, I’m Colin. This is my dictionary. It’s got lots of words in it.” No, I think that Collins is a surname (double L), like Phil Collins. In fact, the name comes from William Collins, an industrialist from Glasgow who set up a printing press in the 1820s, and in the early 1840s he started printing illustrated dictionaries, and the rest, as they say, is history. The publishing company is now known as HarperCollins, and in fact they are based in Hammersmith in the W6 postcode of London, which is where I was living when I first started my podcast. That’s why there’s a W6 on my logo by the way. It’s because that’s my London postcode.
So, wow! That’s interesting isn’t it!? In any case, you can find more of those word quizzes and things at www.collinsdictionary.com
Right, so just like the previous episode about the New York Times spelling bee, there are a few words that I feel I should re-cap at the end here.
Let me just quickly go through some of those words again, just to make sure you got them.
A coal miner
A minor (person)
Evocative – “The minor key is so much more evocative”
Seller / Buyer
Cellar (a room below the house for storage)
Basement (an underground floor which could be furnished – more common in US English)
The stakes are high
That terrible joke:
A man walks into a butcher’s shop and inquires of the butcher: “Are you a gambling man?” The butcher says yes, so the man says: “I bet you £50 that you can’t reach up and touch that meat hanging on the hooks up there.” The butcher says “I’m not betting on that”, “But I thought you were a gambling man” the man retorts. “Yes I am” says the butcher “but the steaks are too high!”.
Shellfish (molluscs and crustaceans that we eat)
Seafood (food that includes fish, octopus, squid, crab, lobster, shellfish etc)
Moolah (a slang word meaning cash)
Thyme / Time
You also heard us talking briefly about Wandavision at the end there. Wandavision is a new-ish TV series by Marvel Studios. We also mentioned The Madalorian, which is a Star Wars TV series. I really must talk about all this new pop culture at some point on the podcast. There’s new Star Wars TV stuff, Marvel TV stuff (like Falcon & The Winter Soldier which I’ve also been watching) and even Zack Snyder’s Justice League, but it’s all going to have to wait I’m afraid. There are so many things to talk about and do on this podcast but there are only so many hours in the day. Also, I have quite a big backlog of episodes in the pipeline at the moment, so I’ll have to publish all of those before I can think about new stuff.
Fred often plays spelling games on his phone during his lunch break, and he has discovered lots of new words as a result. In this episode I talk to Fred about his process of discovering and understanding new words and I talk about learning vocabulary with online dictionaries.
I hope you are doing well out there in all the various parts of LEPland. Are you ready for a new episode? Yes, you are? That’s why you’re listening to this? Yes, that makes sense. It would be pretty weird if you had pressed play on this episode and thought “Wait wait! I’m not ready! I must immediately reasses my life choices. What am I doing?” I’m assuming you’re ready for this episode, and that you are fully on-board and prepared mentally, physically and spiritually for another dose of English.
This episode is called How Fred Learns Vocabulary with the New York Times Spelling Bee.
Fred Eyangoh is my guest for this one and he is a returning guest, as some longer-term listeners might remember. Fred has been on the podcast a few times before. Basically, I know Fred from doing stand-up comedy at English language comedy shows in Paris. He’s a stand up comedian, like me. Fred is also a bit of a movie geek and he loves to talk about films of various kinds. His last appearance on this podcast was when we talked about Avengers Endgame a couple of years ago.
But this episode is not about films. We decided instead to talk about how Fred expands his vocabulary in English using the New York Times Spelling Bee.
Do you know what a spelling bee is? It’s not an insect that is good at spelling words and making honey. No. A spelling bee is basically a spelling competition. Often spelling bees are done in the USA in schools.
But the New York Times Spelling Bee is basically just a spelling game that they publish in their daily newspaper, and it’s for adults or students, not children. It’s the sort of thing you can do on your lunch break or while commuting to work or college or something and it involves trying to spell as many words as possible from a limited number of letters.
In case you’re wondering, the ‘bee’ part in ‘spelling bee’ is nothing to do with the insects that make honey. The word bee here is actually derived from the middle-English word ‘bene’ (spelled B E N E, and middle-English is not used any more of course) which basically meant when neighbours get together to do an activity that helps someone. A sort of group activity in which everyone gets together to help someone in the community. Somehow along the way this word became associated only with these competitions designed to help kids improve their spelling, and the word ended up being spelled “bee”. As far as I know, there are no other uses of the word “bee” like this. So, you can just learn the phrase “spelling bee” to mean a spelling competition.
So, this episode is all about ways to expand your vocabulary. Recently Fred has found that this little spelling game has introduced him to various new words, and this has been an inroad into English for him, so we decided to talk about it on the podcast.
The overall point here is that there are many ways to expand your vocabulary. You can come across words while reading books or articles, you can find them by listening to podcasts, you can find them by checking transcripts and by using subtitles, by playing computer games, by checking song lyrics, or by playing word games. There are probably other ways that you can think of. There are many ways to come across new words.
I should say that as well as doing these word games, Fred is also a big reader of books and a film nerd. He watches loads of films and TV series in English and investigates the English he hears (or sees if he has the subtitles on) and when he came to the flat to record this episode he had a copy of Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Caroll which he had been reading, and that book is full of word play, poetry and little jokes. So, there are many ways that Fred gets English into his life, but in this episode we’re focusing on how Fred uses this particular little spelling game.
This leads to some discussion about the steps I think you should take when discovering new words, and this relates to one of the recommendations made by Michael from Poland which was to use certain online monolingual English/English dictionaries because they help you to find not only definitions of new words, examples and correct pronunciation but also plenty of synonyms and as you explore the definitions of words you end up discovering other words and it all expands outwards like the branches of a tree.
So this is the overall point – find words in whichever way that you enjoy, but try to go a bit further and explore those words using good English/English dictionaries. Notice how one word leads to another, notice what kind of words they are (nouns, adjectives, verbs etc) and how they fit into a sentence (including which other words they usually go with or collocate with, like certain prepositions, and if they are followed by certain forms like -ing verbs or infinitive verbs), notice how the words are pronounced and if there are several acceptable ways to say them, make note of the spelling and watch out for discrepancies between the spelling and pronunciation, consider if the words are from a specific register (e.g. medical language, legal language, old-fashioned literary language or just general English), if they tend to be from American English or British English. All that information is available from a good dictionary. Also, perhaps consider recording your new words in a notebook or a flashcard app like anki, try to use new words yourself and then try to notice the words again and again as you keep listening and reading. That’s the overall point of this episode.
This is a conversation between two people and so you are going to hear the usual moments when we get sidetracked and there are various conversational tangents, little jokes and things as we make each other laugh. So, it might be a bit tricky to keep up with it all, so just bear that in mind and get ready.
As you will notice, quite a lot of specific items of vocabulary come up during this conversation and it might be a little difficult for you to keep track of them all, but I will be repeating them at the end of the episode, and they’re also written on the episode page on my website if you’d like to take a look.
Right, so I hope you can keep up with all of this. There will be a part 2 of this conversation, where we explore some word quizzes about commonly confused words in English, but now let’s listen to Fred talking about how he uses the New York Times Spelling Bee to expand his vocabulary, and here we go.
So, that was Fred Eyangoh talking about how the New York Times Spelling Bee has helped with his vocabulary, which in turn helps with things like pronunciation and improving your pronunciation helps with your speaking and also your listening skills, and improving your listening skills helps to improve your ability to understand people, and the more you understand people the more you’re able to notice more language that people are using and the cycle continues, and all the while your confidence is improving. This is the idea anyway. Certain habits or at least certain mindsets can help to put you in a positive cycle of language acquisition.
You also heard at the end there how we were about to start a word quiz on the Collins Dictionary website. In part 2 of this conversation we will continue where we stopped. So the next episode will be another one with Fred, exploring some commonly confused words, most of which are homophones – words which sound the same but are spelled differently. So check out that episode too when it arrives. There should be more learning opportunities for you there, and also some silly jokes and tangents too from Fred and me.
Let me now recap some specific things from the conversation you’ve just heard.
Look beyond just the definition. These are resources designed specifically to help you build your vocabulary.
Some of them have other resources too, like vocabulary quizzes based on things like idioms, synonyms and commonly confused words, and you’ll hear more about that in part 2 of this conversation as I just said.
Repeat the word stress and give an example of each.
Admittedly (adv) (use this when you are saying something that weakens the importance or force of what you have just said) “Daily practice is so important in language learning, although admittedly, I don’t follow my own advice when it comes to working on my French”
Horrendous (adj) (something unpleasant or shocking, horrific, appalling, awful, ghastly) “Getting sick in a foreign country can be an absolutely horrendous experience”
Severe (adj) (very intense or serious) “I had to stop working because I had a severe headache”
Umbrella terms (all these ones are nouns)
Arthropod (invertebrates that include arachnids, insects and crustaceans)
Insect (types of arthropod)
Flea (types of insect)
Arachnid (aka spiders – types of arthropod, but not insects)
Crustacean (also types of arthropod which are neither insects or spiders – includes crabs, lobsters, shrimp)
Heart bypass (noun) – According to the NHS A coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) is a surgical procedure used to treat coronary heart disease. It diverts blood around narrowed or clogged parts of the major arteries to improve blood flow and oxygen supply to the heart. We laughed about the fact that the guy in the example had two heart bypasses, but of course this is a serious procedure that a lot of people have to have.
To take something with a pinch of salt (UK) – this means to be sceptical about something, or to not completely believe everything that someone says. “Take online medical advice with a pinch of salt. Sometimes it’s not completely accurate.”
To take something with a grain of salt (US) Allele (noun) (a specific scientific term from genetic biology, pronounced “uh leal” – I remember this word coming up in my biology A level lessons when I was 17, but I haven’t heard it since, until this conversation. I failed that A level by the way.)
Pelf (noun) (money, especially if it has been illegally obtained – this word is hardly ever used today, so don’t worry about it. Collins is the only dictionary that lists it) Synonyms might be swag, booty – but those words aren’t really used either, unless it’s some pirate adventure story set in the 18th century)
Pilfer (verb) (a slang word meaning to steal – it’s still used but I would probably go for the words “nick” or “pinch” instead) “Someone’s nicked my wallet!” “I pilfered some biscuits from my flatmate’s cupboard.” “Someone’s pinched my mobile phone”.
Quid (noun) (slang word meaning pounds, it’s both the singular and plural form) “A pint of beer in a pub can cost over 7 quid these days. It’s daylight robbery!”
That’s it for this episode then. Part 2 should arrive soon, and it will be called something like Learning Vocabulary with Collins Dictionary Word Quizzes (with Fred Eyangoh) Commonly Confused Words.
So, sit tight until that one arrives!
I hope all is well in LEPland. Don’t be a ninja – write something in the comment section, and by the way, writing one comment like “I’m writing a comment, so I’m not a ninja any more” this doesn’t completely revoke your ninja status, because you have to stay out of the shadows you know!
Speak to you soon, but for now – bye bye bye bye bye
Hello everybody and welcome back to Luke’s English Podcast. How are you today? I hope you’re doing well as you listen to this, wherever you are in the world at this particular moment in time.
This is the 5th in the WISBOLEP competition series – Why I Should Be On Luke’s English Podcast, talking to winners and runner ups from the listener competition I did at the end of last year.
So far I have spoken to Walaa from Syria, Tasha from China, William from France and Robin from Germany. Now it’s the turn of Michael from Poland, also known as Michael the Shaman (this is the nickname that he often uses, for reasons which will become clear later in this episode). Michael actually came sixth, and Bahar from Iran was fifth, but at the time of recording this I haven’t spoken to Bahar yet. Her interview is coming soon though.
So, let me tell you a little bit about Michael the Shaman, from Poland.
Michael, who for the record is not an English teacher, has a lot to offer both in terms of language-learning tips that have worked for him and some very interesting stories and insights into some pretty deep and fascinating things, and I think this should be a great episode. So, listen closely.
Here’s a quick overview of the things we cover.
First we talk about language learning and those specific tips from Michael. These are resources and approaches that he has used to work on his English, especially his vocabulary and pronunciation, with some success I would say. I won’t go into them now, but pay attention so you can hear him describe these things, how he uses them and how they have helped him make some significant improvements to his English. I will summarise them again at the end and give a few extra comments.
Secondly, Michael tells us some of his hitch-hiking stories. Michael has spent lots of time travelling around in neighbouring countries near Poland and doing it by hitch-hiking, which basically means getting picked up by drivers who are going in the direction he wants to go, and hitching a ride with them as a way of travelling around. Now, this sounds adventurous and possibly a bit risky, because it does involve travelling in the cars of strangers, and Michael has some genuinely frightening and incredible stories of doing this. Again, listen closely to hear the specifics of the edgy situations that Michael has found himself in.
Then, thirdly we have the topic of shamanism, or being a shaman. Michael is probably better placed to describe this than me, but being a shaman basically refers to the use of certain rituals and practices to enter different states of consciousness, which can lead to new discoveries, new perspectives, new ways of thinking and different ways of seeing the world, or the universe in fact, and our place within it. This is something that Michael has explored and for him it has been very beneficial to his life in various ways. So let’s listen to what Michael has to say about shamanism and the use of psychedelics.
At this point I feel I need to say something about the use of psychedelic substances, which is part of what Michael describes as being a shaman, and we’re talking about using substances that occur in nature, like certain magic mushrooms and ayahuasca as well as the synthetic chemical LSD or acid as it is also known.
So I would like to just say one or two things about this topic as a sort of disclaimer or preface to our conversation.
First of all, the substances I just mentioned are controlled substances in most countries, which means that they are illegal to some extent. So, we are certainly not suggesting that people go out and start using them.
By the way, I’m referring to these things here as controlled substances, but in many cases they are also called drugs, and they’re not just prohibited by law, but also in the general culture. For a lot of people drugs are a serious taboo and people often have quite strong and negative feelings towards this subject. I am aware of this, and I hope that you are comfortable listening to us talking about it on this podcast. I think it’s alright, but I am aware that for some people drugs are just not ok, and that’s fine.
I feel it’s necessary to say that in talking about psychedelic drugs here we are not condoning their use in any kind of flippant way, and “condoning” means promoting or supporting something. We take this seriously and as you will hear Michael is very articulate and quite serious about the subject. He’s very well-read and knowledgeable, and we are just talking about his personal experiences and knowledge, which I do think are interesting as well as being new as a subject on this podcast. I’ve never really talked about this kind of thing in depth before on the podcast.
Also I think it’s worth making a distinction between different types of drug or substance.
There are many different types of drug, and they are extremely different to each other.
People often just say “drugs” without making any distinction between them. They just lump them all together as if they are all the same, basically. But I think it is worth making a distinction. Despite that fact that controlled substances are often grouped together as drugs, they are not really the same as they have very different effects and different levels of risk and we are certainly not talking about things like cocaine, crack cocaine or heroin, which are obviously very dangerous substances and very serious substances. We are not talking about those things here.
So, I thought it would be worth making that distinction and I’m trying to be responsible about this topic, but I’m also attempting to manage your expectations here because I don’t want you to get the wrong impression or to be shocked or to have a knee-jerk reaction while listening to us mention psychoactive substances in the latter part of this conversation. For many of you, these words are not really necessary, you’re fine with it, but there it is. I felt I should make those points. We’re not promoting any kind of illegal behaviour, we are not talking about those damaging and addictive things that ultimately will destroy a person’s life, instead we are taking what I hope is a more reasonable and rational approach here and discussing the more intellectual and spiritual aspects of shamanism and how certain psychoactive substances are part of that.
Right, now before we get to the talk of psychedelics in the second half of our conversation, you can first hear Michael’s specific language learning tips, which I think are really useful, and then his crazy hitch-hiking stories, which are pretty mind-blowing and entertaining.
Right, no need for me to add anything else here. I really hope you enjoy this conversation. I’ll be recapping and summarising some details later but let’s now meet Michael the Shaman from Poland, another runner up in the WISBOLEP competition.
Are you ready? Listening carefully? OK, here we go.
Bruce Parry’s short film about Ayahuasca
So that was Michael from Poland, and wow, that was awesome stuff, wasn’t it? It got very deep there, and cosmic, didn’t it? I hope you liked it. As usual, I’m very interested to read your responses to the things that Michael said.
I’m going to sum up some of the things Michael said at the start of the conversation about learning English, because after all that mind-expanding talk of psychedelic trips and also the hitch-hiking stories, it seems like we talked about his language learning methods ages ago, and I think he made some really great recommendations that you could find really useful for your English.
Now, considering Michael’s English again. I think it’s fair to say that it’s good, right?
I do want to repeat a couple of points.
Don’t compare yourself to others too much
Don’t compare yourself to other people too much. This can lead you to judge yourself a bit harshly, which is totally normal. Whenever we listen to other language learners, the tendency is to either judge their language level, or judge our own level in comparison to theirs, but this isn’t a very healthy thing to do in terms of language learning, and what I’d encourage you to do is only judge yourself by your own success, and rather than comparing yourself to others, try to notice how your English is better than it was before.
Just compare yourself to yourself at earlier points in your language learning journey. Notice improvements you’ve made, and celebrate them. This is more likely to put you in a better mental space than comparing yourself with others.
Just think how far you’ve come as a learner of English and take note of your progress. That’s probably healthier than falling into any kind of negative thinking which can happen if we compare ourselves unfavourably to other language learners.
So, try not to judge others too harshly, and don’t compare yourself to others too much.
And hopefully listening to other language learners can give you some inspiration and some practical ideas which you can use to work on your English in ways you hadn’t considered before. Even little things like changing certain habits can make a big difference to your learning of English.
And with that in mind, let me quickly just go over the tips Michael had for learning English, which worked for him. Have you tried these things or used these resources?
Michael’s Language Learning Resources
There were two things really:
Use English/English dictionaries to expand your vocabulary with correct definitions, examples, phonemic transcriptions and synonyms. My 5 favourites are www.collinsdictionary.comwww.cambridge.dictionary.orgwww.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/www.macmillandictionary.com and Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English www.ldoceonline.com/ I have been planning to do a full episode on using online dictionaries to improve your English (in fact I’ll be touching on this a bit in a couple of upcoming episodes), but I will just say that these dictionaries are fantastic resources not just for getting definitions, but getting synonyms, examples, phonemic transcriptions and more – all of which are really important ways of really getting to know new words. Bookmark the dictionaries, use them all (because they have slightly different examples and details which you can cross reference) and get into the habit of checking words in them and exploring the information they can give you. Never before have we had access to so many wonderful language learning resources, completely free of charge, and at our fingertips at all hours of the day. It’s like living in a massive library. So, use those online dictionaries to explore new words.
The second resource Michael mentioned was the website www.dialectsarchive.com – a website full of voice recordings used by actors and voice coaches trying to learn different accents, and especially the text Comma Gets a Cure, which is designed to reveal a huge variety of pronunciation features in English. You can hear the text being read in different accents, you can shadow the text, repeat it, record yourself repeating it and more. I plan to do some premium episodes using this text and other similar texts too. There is a lot to explore and use there, including some podcast episodes by the creators. www.dialectsarchive.com
OK, so just two tips there, but they are solid ones.
And returning to the hitch-hiking stories. I just want to sum up the main one, just to be sure you got it. I think it was probably clear, but I want to retell that story just because I think it was such an exciting story, and maybe you didn’t catch the specifics.
Michael’s Hitch-hiking Story – recap
So Michael and his friend Kuba were hitchhiking from Poland to Amsterdam and they got picked up by a couple of very dodgy guys in a van. They didn’t realise it when they first got in the van but these guys were drinking alcohol and smoking some kind of crystal – perhaps crystal meth, like in the TV series Breaking Bad. Meth is a pretty nasty drug.
Michael is an intuitive person and he picked up on a very bad vibe from these guys and became convinced they were planning to do something very nasty with Kuba and him. Like I said, it sounds like something from a horror film. Listening to their comments, watching their demeanour and generally reading between the lines, Michael became convinced these guys were organ traffickers, who are people that kidnap healthy people in order to steal their internal organs and sell them on the black market. Certainly these guys seemed to be very dodgy and probably involved in organised crime.
Michael decided he would subtly let the guys know that he and Kuba were actually not that healthy and therefore their organs were not worth taking, which would convince them to just let them go.
It’s crazy I know, but I kind of know what Michael is talking about when he said he just knew something wasn’t right and that they were in danger. I feel like I’ve been in similar situations before, where you realise that the people you are with are dangerous and up to something, and so you just have to get out. It’s a weird feeling. I can’t remember any specific stories from my own life, but I’ve met guys in pubs before who just seemed dangerous and untrustworthy, even though there were no specific things that would give me that impression. It’s more of a vibe that certain people give off.
Anyway, Michael said that he heard the guys making jokes about stealing their organs, which appeared to be jokes, but there was a sinister undercurrent which suggested that perhaps they were not really joking. Michael’s friend Kuba was not quite as observant maybe and he didn’t seem to realise something was wrong, but anyway Michael sent him text messages to convince him that something wasn’t right. They managed to persuade the drivers to stop the van at a petrol station because Michael needed to be sick or had diarrhea and then they escaped at a petrol station.
They then decided to continue their hitchhiking trip to The Netherlands, but decided they would not accept lifts from any more Polish people, nobody drinking or using drugs and no vans. This is because they didn’t want to risk running into any similar people or perhaps their friends who they suspected were also on the road, but somehow the next car that picked them up, by coincidence maybe, contained the friends of the dodgy guys they had just escaped from. So, it was a case of “out of the frying pan, into the fire”.
Michael said that these other guys seemed more intelligent and perhaps were the bosses of the other two they had met previously, and the only way Michael and Kuba got away without being taken, was because the guys ended up liking them, as they played along with their jokes and generally tried not to antagonise them at all. So, phew! What a lucky escape!
And Michael said that hitchhiking was not that dangerous!
Actually I do believe that on balance his experiences of hitch hiking have been much more positive than negative, but what a scary story! And I do believe it is true. I find it very believable. There are dodgy people in the world.
And finally, a few more words on the topic of psychedelics like magic mushrooms.
A final note on Magic Mushrooms
All the things Michael mentioned about Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric) are definitely worth researching. In his words (from a recent email exchange we had) “I think I talked about maybe 1% of things you can do with this mushroom. I’d like to stress once again that I don’t recommend everybody uses this mushroom. I’m all about education and knowledge. The mushroom can have medical, therapeutic and spiritual effects, but only if one does it correctly. It is not easy to work with this mushroom.
An excellent resource for Amanita muscaria is Amanita Dreamer on YouTube and her website www.AmanitaDreamer.net. Also, a recently published book: ‘Fly Agaric: A compendium of History, Pharmacology, Mythology & Exploration’ by Kevin Feeney is also great.
These resources are essential as there are many dangerous myths regarding Amanita muscaria. Remember, it’s important to make sure that you are fully knowledgeable about this mushroom. You can’t just pick the caps and eat them.
I think the same goes for all kinds of psychedelic substance that Michael talked about. Please remember that we’re not condoning the use of these things in any kind of casual way. You must be very careful, very well-read and personally very prepared before going any further.
Right then, what did you think of this episode?
Any thoughts on Michael’s language learning resources, his hitchhiking tales or his comments on the use of psychedelics? If you have things to say, just express your thoughts in English, ideally in the comment section on my website.
That’s all from me. Have a good morning, afternoon, evening or night. Be excellent to each other, good luck with your English and do take care.
Speak to you again on the podcast soon, but for now it’s just time to say good bye bye bye bye bye.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
Hello and welcome to Luke’s English Podcast. This episode is number 669 and it’s called How To Learn English.
That’s quite a bold title but this really is a lot of what I have to say about learning English. If you really want to learn this language, this is my advice.
I’ve been teaching for about 20 years, podcasting for over 11 years now and I keep finding out more about learning a language through teaching it, getting feedback from listeners and also through my experiences of trying to learn French.
This episode is a distillation of many of my thoughts and advice on how to learn English. It’s not going to cover absolutely every aspect of it, because language learning is a huge subject that encompasses so many different things and you could talk about it all day, but I have decided to talk about learning English, breaking it down into the 4 skills, and giving you as much advice as I can in this single podcast episode. I hope you enjoy it and find it useful.
For those of you who are not so familiar with me and my work. My name is Luke Thompson, I think I am the 4th most famous Luke Thompson in the world. I’m an English teacher, a podcaster, a comedian, a husband and a dad. I am from England but these days I live in France. My podcast is free and is downloaded all over the world. I also have a premium subscription in which I focus specifically on improving your vocab, grammar and pronunciation. To find out more about that go to teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
I expect you want to learn English, right? That’s the main reason you’re listening to this I expect. You want to learn English.
Well, good news! It’s definitely possible. You can learn English and you will if you put in the time and the effort. It’s important to remember that.
What do I mean by “learn English”, though? I mean that you can learn to speak English fluently, clearly and with confidence, expressing yourself with shades of meaning, adapting your English for the situation both in speaking and in writing, knowing and being able to use a wide variety of vocabulary and accurate grammar and ultimately being yourself in the language and developing beneficial relationships with others based on effective communication. Yes, you can. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
That’s it, just a positive and encouraging message at the start. It’s important to always remember that making progress in your learning is a realistic prospect and will happen when you put in the time and effort, and more good news: the more you enjoy it, the easier it is.
I hope this podcast helps you to enjoy getting English into your life on a regular basis, which is a key part of learning the language effectively.
But what else should you be doing in order to improve your English overall?
In this episode I’d like to talk in some detail about learning English and how you can do it.
This episode is a sort of “come to Jesus moment”, which I feel I should do regularly, just to remind everyone listening that there is a method or approach at work here and that it’s not just you listening to people talking.
A “come to Jesus moment” in the world of business is when someone does a passionate speech or event in which fundamental priorities and/or beliefs are reassessed, or reaffirmed. It’s like when Jesus gathers his disciples around him in order to reaffirm their belief in what he’s preaching or to say some deep stuff which strengthens their faith.
This is a come to Jesus moment for me.
Not that I’m comparing myself to Jesus. No, not at all. Not even a little bit, and anyway that’s not for me to say, that’s for other people to point out isn’t it, not me. Anyway…
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is a method to the madness.
In my podcast episodes, I’m always teaching you, using my particular set of professional skills, but rather than presenting it all as a lesson I usually try to present it more like a radio show or a comedy show even.
So, amidst the episodes about music, comedy, interviews and so on, I thought it would be worth restating the core values of LEP, which I seem to do about once every 6 months or so.
I’m going to give loads of advice here, and this is all based on what I’ve learned from:
Teaching for about 20 years
Meeting thousands of learners of English, some of them successful, some of them not, working directly with them as their teacher and listening to them talk about their studying habits and experiences
The academic studies I’ve done, especially the DELTA which involved extensive reading and writing on various aspects of how people learn and teach English
Doing my podcast and getting testimonies over the years from many listeners who told me about how they’ve used it to improve their English
There’s also my own personal experience of working on my French
Anyway, the plan is to talk about learning English with a focus on the 4 skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing.
I have talked about these points quite a few times before on this podcast, and have given tons of specific advice about working on your English, including in episodes like 174 (and others)
So I will probably repeat myself a bit. But I still get asked to talk about “how to learn English” very regularly and I think it’s important for me to talk about learning English on this podcast on a regular basis. Obviously, that is what this podcast is about, first and foremost, even though a lot of the time in my episodes you’ll hear me and my guests talking about all sorts of other things.
Learning English is the main aim of this podcast
Essentially the thinking is that you should listen to natural conversation on a variety of topics and it’s simply listening to things in English (not just listening to things about English) that’s going to help you learn this language, especially if you enjoy the content.
I’ll probably talk about this again in a bit, but let’s say that ultimately the plan with the free episodes is to help you listen to English regularly, for longer periods of time, long term. The more, the better. If the content is enjoyable, that should just make it easier for you to achieve that. In fact, if you’re really into what you’re listening to, you don’t really even notice the time passing.
Then there’s the premium content, which is an effort to push your learning beyond the gains you get from all the exposure and input you get from just listening. The premium content is designed to let you get the benefit of my experience and teaching skills in order to cut out a lot of work that you would otherwise have to do yourself, so I can essentially take you by the hand and lead you through some intensive practice to work on your English more directly.
So that’s my content, but let’s talk now about learning English as a whole then.
Learning English is a holistic thing. It encompasses many aspects and skills that are connected as a whole.
There are receptive skills like listening and reading, productive skills like speaking and writing, language systems like grammar, spelling, vocabulary and phonology, social and psychological factors that come into play when we use language when interacting with others, then there are other factors that come into play like identity issues, body language, culture, literature, pragmatics and all sorts of other things. It’s hard to know where to start when talking about it.
You need to learn it to the point where you don’t even think about it any more.
The more you talk and think about it, the more it starts to sound like the force from Star Wars.
Stretch out with your feelings.
Do or do not, there is no try.
Do not think, feel.
Let go, let the English flow through you.
I am your father (oh wait)
It’s about learning how to do something which goes right to the core of who you are in fact.
It’s a holistic thing. It incorporates many aspects as part of a whole process and so it’s quite tricky to know where to start.
Let’s put it like this. Language goes in, and language comes out. (I told you it sounds like The Force)
Language is within you and language is without you. It flows through you. It binds the galaxy together.
There are receptive skills (this is how language goes in)
And there are productive skills (this is how language goes out)
There’s the written language
And there’s the spoken language
This is our system.
Think of it like a table with two categories on the horizontal axis and two on the vertical axis, so it’s like a grid with 4 squares in it.
On the horizontal access we have receptive and productive skills.
On the vertical we have written and spoken English.
Within the table we have 4 skills – the 4 squares.
So in the box marked “written” and “receptive” we have reading.
Below that in the “spoken” and “receptive” categoriy we have listening.
On the right in the “written” and “productive” side we have writing.
And then in the “spoken” and “productive” side we have speaking.
Those are your four skills. Reading, writing, listening and speaking.
The 4 skills are connected in various ways.
Reading and writing deal with the written word of course.
Reading helps you to write. It helps you to see how the language is built, how words are spelled and how sentences, paragraphs and texts are put together with grammar and textual conventions.
Listening and speaking deal with the spoken word.
Listening helps you to learn how English actually sounds, how words join together in sentences or longer utterances, it helps you get familiar with the speed, rhythm, flow and intonation of the language. It helps you get used to natural pronunciation which in turn helps you produce English in the same way.
Words exist in visual form, and in spoken form.
But reading and listening are connected too because they’re both receptive skills. They provide us with input which is the essential foundation of language learning.
And speaking and writing are connected because they’re productive skills.
These are the skills you need to use when using language for various purposes. This is where you are more active in the sense that you are constructing language and putting it down visually in the form of writing, or using your body to produce it orally.
Let’s talk about those receptive skills and input.
The reading thing there is something we’ll come back to in the section about reading.
This is the academic who is always mentioned in this context, when talking about how to learn English these days. Krashen was one in a long line of linguists who came up with theories about how language is learned and should be taught.
Arguably, we still don’t really know how people learn languages, but various academics over the years have put forward different hypotheses to explain it and these have been the backbone of our understanding of language learning that has informed the way we all learn and teach languages over the years.
Krashen though is the one that people often talk about today, including all the many YouTubers who regularly post videos about the best ways to learn, the only ways to learn, the secrets of learning and all that sort of thing. Krashen is usually brought up because his ideas fit in quite nicely to a model of language learning for today. I mean, it involves a lot of consumption of content in English – plenty of listening and reading and that sort of content is in plentiful supply online, like for example episodes of Luke’s English Podcast.
In his input hypothesis in which he makes the case for the importance of comprehensible input for language learning, he states that in fact the only way we can successfully increase our underlying linguistic competence. This is our system of linguistic knowledge or let’s say that “language instinct” that you have, which even subconsciously gives us a sense of when language is right or wrong. I suppose it could be active in that you know a certain grammar rule and can see when it’s been broken, or passive in that you just feel that something is right or wrong but can’t necessarily explain it.
I would say the passive knowledge is the vital one because ultimately you just want to be able to feel that language is right or wrong without thinking about it.
But that being said, your active knowledge can be really useful when doing things like avoiding common errors as a result of your first language, or consciously pushing yourself to create language which is normal.
Anyway, Krashen says the only way to increase your linguistic competence is through comprehensible input, meaning reading and listening to things that we mostly understand and that with the context of what you do understand, you are able to work out the bits that you don’t know. This is how we acquire new languages.
So basically, we learn a language when we understand it. So, naturally, according to Krashen, the receptive skills come first.
I think this makes a lot of sense to me. I think it’s bound to be true that we learn language by listening to it and reading it. But what about those moments when you have to speak or write, what about learning the grammar and all the rest of it?
Krashen would say that we learn the grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation of a language by listening to it or reading it, and that it’s a natural process and part of how we decode language through comprehensible input.
So, don’t worry about grammar rules and all the rest of it, just listen and do your best to keep up and work out what’s going on, and do it regularly.
Again, I am sure this is true but I also think it’s worth studying the language a bit too, breaking it down a bit, seeing how it works, actively trying to learn more vocabulary, checking up on the rules of grammar and doing some controlled practice. Working on your pronunciation by copying and training your mouth and brain to cooperate with each other, like the way we practise certain movements in sport or musical parts on an instrument.
I do believe that controlled practice and conscious learning like that must also be beneficial because I’ve seen it happen. Doing some active studying can be like a fast track of English learning. It can cut out a lot of time by helping you realise certain things about the language quickly, and I think if you then notice it again while listening and reading that only reinforces what you’ve learned.
Of course, you shouldn’t get blinded by grammar or pronunciation rules and so on, to the point that you can’t see the wood for the trees.
Try not to get hung up on grammar, because it can make you process language in an unnatural and contrived way. It can get stuck in your head and block you a bit. Instead, try to notice patterns and incorporate them into your use of English. Try to see grammar study as a way of confirming things you’ve already noticed, or a way of consulting with a reference book as you also just absorb English more naturally. If you only study English with the grammar, it’s going to be a weird abstract process for learning the language. It’s better to focus on consuming English in the form of messages which you are trying to understand, and then perhaps check your grammar later to straighten things out.
The premium subscription is where I help you with that sort of thing, hopefully combining with the free content to give you all the stuff you need to attack English from several angles.
How can you learn this language if you haven’t heard it and read it a lot?
Read and listen to things that are slightly above your level, so you can understand 60-80%. You need to be able to understand that much for your brain to work out the remaining 20-40% that you don’t know. Meaningful context is vital.
Basically, listen x5 and read x5.
It’s largely a question of finding the right stuff to listen to.
There’s this podcast of course. Others are available.
Watch TV and films with and without subtitles.
Hopefully you’ll find content that you actually want to listen to, not just for studying English. So if you do get addicted to a Netflix series and you can’t wait to find out what happens next, that’s good! That means you will get more comprehensible input and you will be much more focused and involved in it, which is great for your English. Or maybe you want to hear another stupid and funny conversation with my friends just because it makes you laugh and you feel some sort of connection to it. All of that is great because it will help you listen more, listen longer and listen long term.
This one is also a pleasure to talk about because it’s a pleasure to do and there are lots of great things to read.
Let’s hear from Krashen again as he is the master of the whole input model.
This is again from Wikipedia, which I think is fine usually for the basics like this.
Extensive reading, free reading, book flood, or reading for pleasure is a way of language learning, including foreign language learning, through large amounts of reading. As well as facilitating acquisition of vocabulary, it is believed to increase motivation through positive affective benefits. It is believed that extensive reading is an important factor in education. Proponents such as Stephen Krashen (1989) claim that reading alone will increase encounters with unknown words, bringing learning opportunities by inferencing. The learner’s encounters with unknown words in specific contexts will allow the learner to infer and thus learn those words’ meanings.
Of course that system is disputed because this is the academic arena we’re dealing with and people are always putting forward ideas, defending them, disputing them and so on. It’s how we move forwards and learn about this stuff.
So this is extensive reading which is different to the sort of intensive reading you do in English lessons, where you spend ages on just one page of text, break it down into tiny chunks, understanding every single morsel. With extensive reading it’s all about just getting as much English into your head as you can by reading as much as you can, and you focus on reading enjoyable things, especially stories and you don’t stop too much to analyse the language or even check words, you just keep trying to follow what you’re reading. The more involved in it you are, the better.
Again, this point about input is that it feeds your instinct for the language. You get a subconscious sense of what is right or wrong, which comes in very handy for when you’re doing those nasty sentence transformations and use of English tasks in a Cambridge exam like CAE. What you really want in those situations is to know exactly which preposition or auxiliary verb is missing, or to be able to manipulate sentences in a variety of forms. I reckon it helps to do a bit of language practice as well, with a few controlled exercises but the idea is that it should all go in naturally giving you this sense of language competence.
It’s important though to choose texts which are not too difficult for you. You need to be able to understand enough to be able to get a grip on the rest of the language.
So which books do you choose?
We’ve talked about the importance of choosing stuff that’s interesting to you, that reflects the type of English you might need.
Genre isn’t an issue. People assume you need to read or listen to the news but as we’ve already established they don’t really talk like normal people on the news, and they also write in a certain “newsy” style. Funnily enough it might be more useful to read the tabloid papers as they write in a more conversational style, but I think it’s worthwhile looking beyond the news.
Basically, read whatever you want.
Even comic books or graphic novels as they’re known for adults.
Graphic novels can be brilliant because they support your understanding with the images and often the English is in the form of speech so you learn really directly how to apply that stuff to real life. I love graphic novels in French. It’s my favourite way to work on the language.
You could consider the current bestsellers. If other people like the books then why shouldn’t you? Look in the fiction and non-fiction categories.
Or try graded readers, which are an excellent and underused resource. I really recommend them if you’re not a strong reader. They’re previously published books, and often some of the great classics and modern classics in English, but they’re republished with English that is graded for certain levels. The number of words is reduced, it’s truncated and essentially it’s a way to increase the percentage you do understand, and decrease the amount you don’t understand, getting to that 80/20 spot where you can maximise your language learning.
There are lots of titles to choose from and various publishers. Check these ones out
But your English may well be good enough now to have a go at a book for native speakers. So go for it. You have loads of options. Just make sure you enjoy reading on a regular basis.
I would also add that it’s important to choose texts which are written in modern style and perhaps about an area that you are particularly interested in. Perhaps think of it like this – what is the kind of English you want printed on the back of your head (on the inside)? Odd question, but I mean, what is your target English. Perhaps it’s the involving and descriptive storytelling of fiction, or it’s the matter-of-fact world of non-fiction. I reckon non-fiction is probably better because it reflects the kind of English you are more likely to be writing, especially if it’s things like academic work or reports at work, because they’re all about presenting you with information, data, commenting on what’s going on, describing how to do things and that’s probably the sort of thing you’ll need to use English for, especially in writing.
This might be a bit dry but it will really show you loads of examples of emails with full explanations, so you can read and learn.
The Story of English in 100 Words
Anything by David Crystal is fantastic, but this non-fiction book will teach you the entire story of the English language through 100 words and there are some great words in there like
Loaf, Street, Riddle, Arse, Jail, Wicked, Matrix and Skunk, to name but a few.
So you’re bound to learn tons from that.
Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny By Nile Rodgers
The War of the Worlds by HG Wells
The writing is a bit old fashioned. I have to be honest, but it’s mostly modern in style and I think it’s worth it because the story is amazing and it’s not too long. It’s wonderfully descriptive and much better than any movie version could be. Definitely one of my favourite books of all time.
Productive skills / output
This is where we get to the more nebulous world of productive skills. It’s like an alien land where monsters roam, a bit like war of the worlds maybe.
OK I’m exaggerating here but I mean that productive skills are a bit harder to pin down because even more psychological and social factors come into play. You have the public aspect of it, the fact that you’re trying to manipulate the language and get your ideas across in the right way, being coherent and cohesive and in the right style with the right level of politeness with the correct conventional replies and requests and on and on it goes!
Again, I’m making it sound tricky, but I mean that you are involved so much more because you’re making the language and actually using it. This is exciting because you get to express yourself which is the most wonderful and gratifying thing you can do in another language, and when it slides out quite fluidly and you’re not too blocked by who knows what, then it’s all gravy. But sometimes it just doesn’t seem to work out that way and you get mixed up and it doesn’t come out right at all. There’s a sense of performance in productive skills, and a sense that you have to be aware of the right way to conduct yourself, and to be able to utter things in English instantly, following what the other person is saying, it’s all done in a sort of unconscious blur and thinking about grammar in that situation is a killer.
So it’s about getting a level of ease, a level of comfort, a platform from which you can bob and weave your way through the conversation, finding other ways to say things and switching correctly between tenses and situations. I think you get what I mean.
So how do you work on these things?
Ease – a voice, fluency
Control – grammar, vocab, pronunciation
Range – a wide range of language for a wide range of things
Coherence – does it all make sense? Can people follow you easily?
Cohesion – particularly in writing, how does the whole text make sense as a whole?
Social factors – knowing how to put things and how to manage relationships through language
Again, the idea is that this language is just built into you from all that exposure and input.
I would say that there’s a great deal of other stuff you can do to improve your productive skills beyond reading and listening a lot, of course.
In both writing and speaking the first thing to remember is you need to engage in it as much as possible. Real writing and real speaking.
Ultimately this means trying to use language to communicate a message in some way and that’s what you should be focusing on. Meaningful interactions, especially ones in which you have something to offer or something to gain, such as negotiations or even information gap situations in which you’re telling someone something they don’t know. Also social interactions involving being polite or building relations with people. Ultimately, doing it for real is the best workshop in which you can work, rolling with the punches and trying to keep track of what you’re learning.
This is why people learn English best when they’re forced to do it because of their surroundings. They learn by being a waiter in London for a year or working in an office with native speakers, or being plunged into a foreign university for a year, or moving to a new country and having to cope with all the challenges that brings and in a second language. I suppose this is immersion, but it;s more than that. I recommend actually conversing with people to just practise. It’s the 5 Ps.
It’s like going to the gym. Fluency is like physical fitness in your mind and also in your body because you’re using your mouth, your breathing and your head and hands to communicate too.
It applies to writing too. You can observe the way other people write their emails and kind of copy their style, you have to really think about what you’re saying and doubtless you will end up writing emails with requests, with information, with questions and with complaints and so on, so you will have to learn on the job. Being thrown in at the deep end, or if you just have to use English at work it could either be a big stress for you or a huge opportunity to just go for it.
Anyway, let’s talk about specific productive skills – writing and reading, and how to work on them.
Let’s say you’re not actually in a situation where you can talk to people or have correspondence with people, or have to write things which other people will ultimately have to read. Unless you find a tutor on italki for example then that person could be your practice point for speaking and writing, giving you feedback as you go. But let’s say for the purposes of this episode, it’s just you and the English language, facing each other off in a kind of wild west fashion.
How can you practise on your own?
Obviously you need to write. But what are you going to write and who is going to read it?
Firstly – just write, write regularly, write meaningfully and write with a reader in mind, even if nobody reads it. This is important because it will help you get used to simply putting your ideas into words. It’s a creative process and also a mechanical process to an extent. Building sentences is a sort of art or a craft. You have to practise it in order to get some level of comfort with it. Let’s imagine there’s a muscle in your head (this is not scientific at all) which, if you never exercise it, will be quite weak and underdeveloped. But if you exercise that muscle regularly it will be strong, reactive and quick. I expect there is a part of the brain responsible for creating written language, and a sub-section for creating written English. Keep that part of your brain fresh by writing English as much as you can. That’s as scientific as I can get here.
So, here are some things you could write
What to write
Email an imaginary person (spooky?) or yourself (think outside the box here ok?)
Academic writing – text types
Emails – email types and conventions
Reports – same!
Formal and informal letters – same!
Applications – same same!
Basically – Whatever you have to write, you should try to find some samples of these texts and aim to copy them. Copy the style, the arrangement, the language they use and reproduce it yourself. Texts that you write will invariably be very practical so it’s about reporting information and asking questions. Look at the sample texts and copy them.
It helps if you have a specific workbook. I recommend Email English by Paul Emmerson. It’s a simple workbook that helps you work on almost all those things and I’m not even sponsored by Macmillan or anything, it’s genuinely a great book.
They also have downloadable email writing tasks on the Macmillan website or here
Ideally you’ll have a teacher to proofread your work, correct you and give you feedback.
If this isn’t possible, it’s still a good idea to write.
A diary (just describe things that happened, or make it more personal and really explore your thoughts and feelings. If the words don’t come, just use basic words. If you feel unable to express yourself perfectly, express yourself imperfectly but try to express yourself.
Writing is not just sentences, it’s paragraphs and pages. The thing you are writing will define how you write it. This means – conventions of certain texts, formality level of the language.
Specific exam tasks → IELTS, FCE, CAE, CPE, BEC higher and vantage
These will often push you to learn the conventions of different types of text, so it could be a good idea to take a Cambridge exam if you want to work on your writing.
You might write some notes on vocab and I would recommend here that you take a more extensive approach to doing this. Don’t just have one word per line. I want to see one word or phrase at the top of the page, and then loads of text underneath full of examples and your own examples with the language. You can then come back and cover up some of the words and try to remember. Alternatively you can use my PDFs with the notes and memory tests if you’re a premium subscriber. Little plug there for my other podcast.
But making more extensive vocabulary notes with plenty of examples means that not only are you recording vocabulary, you’re practising using it in writing too.
I mentioned italki before and you can find tutors, teachers and conversation partners there for regular practice and I do recommend doing that.
Otherwise, let’s look at some ways you can work on your speaking other than in actual spoken practice with others. Developing your speaking on your own.
This is quite a tricky thing to do because normally speaking is an instantly interactive form of communication. It also involves a lot of listening and then being able to produce English instantly and without hesitating too much.
It’s also quite physical as it involves using your mouth to produce words and sentences in the right way.
And of course there are all those cultural things to think about too.
But really speaking should just be your attempt to find your own voice in English, with fluency and with a specific tone. Of course it comes through a lot of practice, of having conversations in which you’re not really thinking about what you’re saying on a grammatical level but it’s pouring out of you due to necessity and not being able to really think a lot. Doing that regularly helps your brain map out the extent of the English you have and increase it, keeping it sort of fresh. That’s not scientific but more a metaphor of what I think speaking can do. It activates something in you that you have to maintain and keep active or those parts of the brain go dull.
So practice x5
But with who?
The fact is, it just helps to talk to other people and that’s the best and most basic advice I can give. Outside of that, you have to manipulate your surroundings and use your imagination to practise speaking on your own.
Talking on your own (and even in your head)
This might sound a bit odd, but it’s a surprisingly effective way to activate English that is in your head. You essentially talk to yourself, out loud, in English, describing what’s going on, what you’re doing, what you’re thinking about, say it all in English. Alternatively you can just do it in your own head and just think the sentences. This also keeps that system of language production in your head fresh.
Listen and repeat
You can use certain audio and play a bit, pause, repeat what you heard, rewind, repeat again and keep going until you’ve got it, and then check the transcript or subtitles to see if you’re correct, check any new words and carry on. Always find ways to vocalise the things you are learning and that means saying them out loud even to yourself.
You can also practise different speaking scenarios.
Preparing for a Cambridge exam you can find past papers with speaking part preparation and practise. Find out what’s required in the different parts, watch videos of people taking the speaking part on YouTube, practise answering common questions about yourself, practise speaking on a topic for a minute or two, practise discussing your opinion on the issues of the day. Those are all specific speaking skills that you can practise on your own. I particularly recommend listen and repeat, especially when you have to take quite a long utterance in English, hold it in your head and repeat it like it’s one word? It’s like going to the gym in English. It involves a lot of things: Understanding the clip, identifying the words and grammar, being able to remember it all, being able to produce it in a similar way. That’s a whole punch of different kinds of practice. And if you repeat the sentence straight away, and again, you might notice certain little errors you’re making and correct them. So repeat over and over again, a bit like practising boxing combinations in the ring before the big fight.
In reality, the 4 skills are often mashed up together and you find you are doing things like listening and speaking at the same time, while also taking notes, looking at visuals and so on. It all gets very messy when language is actually applied to real communication in the real world.
A little note about pronunciation and a sort of disclaimer.
I think there are probably plenty of other things I have not mentioned in this episode, such as not talking about specific memory techniques (done that) or specific features of pronunciation (done that) or exactly how to read a book to learn English (done) or plenty of other things probably. To be honest this is just a podcast episode that I wanted to make about the 4 skills and it expanded into an episode all about learning English as a holistic process.
Anyway, the note about pronunciation
It is worth learning the phonemic script
It is worth getting the sounds app on your phone
It is worth doing drills and practising different features
It’s worth getting a book called Ship or Sheep or other books of that nature.
It’s worth remembering that if you have an accent when you speak that is fine and it’s part of who you are, the main thing is that you speak clearly, not which regional accent you have. Clarity is the thing to achieve. Also, it’s extremely difficult to “lose” your accent in English. Hardly anyone does it. But you can still be fine with your accent. English is quite open like that. Everyone’s welcome.
But there you have it. That was quite a comprehensive look at how I think learning English is best when you combine two things: comprehensible input, and a clever studying routine.
I think it can work wonders for your English.
And that’s what I try to do with this podcast. Give you all the input in the free episodes and then do some more focused studying in the premium content. Hopefully, together those two channels can boost your English to the max.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Who is talking?
Where are they from?
What accent does Charlotte have? Don’t just say “British”. Can you be more specific?
“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.
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
Me singing it with an American accent (sounds wrong!)
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
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.
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!