Category Archives: Reading

724. The Mountain (Short Story) + Video

Reading an emotional short story, with vocabulary explanations and differences between British and American English.

Audio Version

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Video Version

via Commaful

Read the story on Commaful here commaful.com/play/aknier/the-mountain/

Introduction Transcript

Hello listeners, welcome back to my podcast. I hope you’re doing well and that you’re ready to learn some more English with me in this new episode.

This one is called The Mountain and I’m going to read you a short story and then use it to teach you some English.

There is a video version of this available on YouTube with the text on the screen, so you can read and listen at the same time and you can see my face while I’m recording this, if that’s what you’d like to see. You can find that video on the page for this episode on my website or on my YouTube channel – Luke’s English Podcast on YouTube, don’t forget to like and subscribe of course.

Stories are great for learning English, and I’m always searching for various stories that I could read out on the podcast. I’ve found a few stories and texts, both online and in books that I have on my bookshelves, so you can expect more story episodes like this coming in the future as I read things in different styles, from different texts, including some well-known published work and some independently published stuff and fan fiction that is available online. 

Stories make ideal material for language learning. They are compelling and often the text of the story is also available which makes it extra useful for language learning because it works as a transcript for what you are listening to.

Today I googled “Free short stories online” and I ended up on a website called commaful.com 

This website is described as the largest library of multimedia stories online. Commaful.com 

On Commaful you can read and share stories written by users of the site, fan fiction, poetry and comics, and they have a picturebook format, which means that their stories are presented in a slightly different way, which makes them a bit more pleasant to read online or on mobile devices – more pleasant than just reading text on a screen, which is never a pleasant way to read literature. So rather than just presenting their texts on screen, they put each line of the story on top of an image of some kind (like a picture of a lake or a landscape or something) and you can swipe from one image to the next, reading each line of the story as you go, which is quite nice.

When reading these stories out loud the format encourages you to pause as you read each line, which is quite a good habit. Pausing is a good presentation skill.

It can be a good discipline to practise because pausing can add some space for the audience to think and can change the atmosphere slightly, adding extra weight to each line that you say. So pausing and taking your time can be good presentation skills to practise.

First I’m just going to read the story to you. You can just follow along and try to understand what’s going on.

Then I’ll read it again and I will stop to explain some bits of English that come up, and there are various nice bits of English in here – phrasal verbs, expressions and other nice bits of vocabulary mainly.

The story is written in American English, which is mostly the same as British English really, but I will point out any differences and will give you the UK English equivalents, so this can be a chance to learn some British and American English equivalents.

I’ll do a vocabulary and language summary at the end too.

As I said, there will be some pauses between the lines of the story, because of the way the story is presented to me on the website. I don’t normally pause like this when doing this podcast, but it could be useful because it might help you absorb what I’m saying and you can use those pauses to repeat after me if you like. This will be easier if you can read the lines with me, and again you can do that by watching the youtube video, or visiting the story on commaful.com

Or you can try repeating without seeing the lines if you want an extra challenge.

And of course you can simply enjoy listening to the story without worrying about repeating or anything like that. 

The story is about 10 minutes long, just to let you know what to expect.

The rest of this episode is me explaining and describing the language in the story.

By the way, this story was posted on commaful.com by a user called Aknier and I am assuming that Aknier is the author of this, so credit goes to him or her for writing it.

Follow the link in the description to access the story and you can leave comments there if you like.

I hope you enjoy it!

But now let’s begin the story…

Ending Transcript

OK so that is where the video ends, but I’m adding a bit more here to the audio version in order to do a quick language summary of the bits of vocabulary that came up in that. 

How was that for you? Did you enjoy the story? As I said, there weren’t many narrative elements. It was more an emotional story, but quite an interesting one.

Again, I do recommend that you try reading the story out loud, either by repeating after me or not.

Now let me recap some of the vocabulary items and British and American English differences that you heard there, just to sum up and help you remember what you’ve just heard. I’ll be as brief as I can while jogging your memory here.

You can find this vocabulary list on the page for this episode on my website of course.

Vocabulary List

  • I hardly cried (I didn’t cry a lot)
  • To work hard / to hardly work
  • To fuss / to make a fuss (Fuss = anxious or excited behaviour which serves no useful purpose. “What’s all the fuss about?” “Everyone’s talking about this Meghan & Harry interview. What’s all the fuss about?” “Why don’t you complain?” “Well, I don’t want to make a fuss”)
  • To make a scene = do something which attracts a lot of attention, like angrily shouting at staff in an airport terminal or hotel lobby
  • Siblings (brothers and sisters)
  • To bet that something will/would happen (to be sure it will/would happen) “I bet that England get knocked out of the World Cup on penalties” or “I bet it rains this afternoon”.
  • To shrug your shoulders
  • To grit your teeth = (literally) clench your jaw so your teeth are held tightly together (idiom) to decide to do something even though you don’t want to “I had to tell my dad that I’d crashed his car, so I just gritted my teeth and told him”)
  • A cast / a plaster cast 
  • To be able to afford something  “We couldn’t afford it” “We can’t afford it” (use ‘be able to’ after modal verbs when you can’t use ‘can’ – “We won’t be able to afford it”)
  • A cripple (offensive word)
  • To get picked on
  • To get teased
  • To make fun of someone
  • To get bullied
  • To get catcalled
  • To flash a smile
  • A blinding smile
  • To take that as a yes
  • To get upset
  • To get fired
  • To skip lunch
  • A scholarship
  • To be stunned
  • To soften your voice
  • To talk back
  • To sneak into the kitchen
  • To sneak money back into your wallet
  • Fight – fought – fought
  • Buy – bought – bought
  • To cheat on someone
  • To freak someone out
  • To make it up to someone
  • To raise your voice
  • To shout
  • To scream
  • To cave (in)
  • Emotional outbursts
  • To melt
  • To punch someone in the jaw
  • To stare blankly
  • Stand up for yourself
  • A mess
  • Serene
  • Tranquil
  • Deadly / the deadliest

American English / British English

  • Fifth grade – Fifth year
  • Pants – trousers
  • Mad – angry
  • To figure something out – to work something out
  • To yell – to shout
  • A jerk  – an idiot
  • To take out the trash – to take the rubbish out
  • Chores – housework
  • To punch someone in the jaw – to punch someone in the face

723. Bahar from Iran 🇮🇷 (WISBOLEP Runner-Up)

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.

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Introduction Transcript

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.


Ending Transcript

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.

Useful Links

The Sounds of English (BBC Pronunciation Course) www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/oromo/features/the-sounds-of-english

On YouTube www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLD6B222E02447DC07

British Council Podcasts and Listening Resources at Different Levels learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/skills/listening

Pearson graded readers www.pearson.com/english/catalogue/readers.html

717. Gill’s Book Club: “One Two Three Four – The Beatles In Time” by Craig Brown

Talking to my mum about a book which you could read as part of your English learning routine. The book tells the story of The Beatles and their impact on society. We review the book and then discuss many aspects of The Beatles story, especially the four Beatles themselves.

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Introduction Notes & Transcriptions

Hello listeners, and welcome to the podcast. 

This is a new episode of Gill’s Book club and I’m talking again to my mum, Gill Thompson about a specific book which you might want to read as part of your English learning routine. 

Hello Mum, how are you? 

Introduction

The book this time is all about The Beatles, which is a band from England that you *might* have heard of.

You could read this book, and if you did I’m sure you would learn plenty of things both in terms of language and general knowledge, but there’s no pressure to do so. If you like, you can just listen to this conversation with my mum and hopefully this will be interesting and useful enough on its own. 

But if you are looking for a good book to read in English, then this one could be a good choice, and hopefully this conversation will help you to understand the whole thing a bit more, which in turn should help you pick up more English from it. So, my advice is: listen to this conversation with my mum and if you’re inspired, get a copy of the book and read it, or if you prefer, just listen to us without feeling any pressure to read the book at all. Hopefully this will still be enjoyable and interesting even if you haven’t read the book and have no plans to do so.  

Over 700 episodes and 12 years ago, in the 3rd episode of this podcast, I interviewed my mum about her memories of seeing The Beatles performing live on stage in the 1960s, which she did, twice. 

Now, we’re going to talk about the band again, this time focusing on a book which is all about the Beatles phenomenon and their place in history. The plan is to review the book as a text for learners of English, and then have a deeper discussion about The Beatles. 

You probably know that I’m a big fan of The Beatles and grew up with their music, as my parents were (and still are) fans too. For years I’ve been thinking about doing more episodes about The Beatles story, and mentally preparing myself for it, but I have never actually got round to recording anything, mainly because the topic is just too big and there’s too much to say! But finally I have actually recorded some episodes that might scratch the surface of this topic a bit, and hopefully will give you something insightful and interesting to listen to, whether you are a fan of this band or whether you know almost nothing about them at all. 

So this is going to be the first in a series of episodes in which I talk about Beatle-related things. There’s this one with my mum and then a few episodes with another guest who is an English teacher and something of an expert on The Beatles, and John Lennon in particular.

So, Beatle episodes are coming. I suppose, for some of you, episodes about The Beatles are like busses. You wait ages for one and then loads of them arrive at the same time. 

And by the way, I am certainly not forgetting the main focus of this podcast, which is all about helping you learn English. I think The Beatles can help you learn English, reading is very important in learning English, and so why not do some reading about The Beatles? 

Plus, later in this Beatles series there will be some language-focused episodes, using The Beatles as a context – focusing on some specific descriptive vocabulary and also some analysis of the Beatles’ song lyrics.

Maybe you’re not a fan of The Beatles. This is fine. I’m not going to try to convince you that you should like their music. That’s a matter of taste. But I do think that their story is something else entirely. I think it is hard to deny the fact that the story of these 4 individuals, the things that happened to them and the impact they had on the world – this is all simply fascinating. It’s an epic story. So, even if you don’t like the music, I hope you stay just for the story.

Now, let’s start this episode of Gill’s Book Club, talking about a recently published book about The Beatles.

LengthIs it a long book?

It’s long (642 pages) but the chapters are short, so it’s possible to read it in little chunks.

It’s available in audiobook and Kindle versions.

Appropriacy for Learners of English

The language is modern and plain in style. It’s quite literary of course, because it is a book and not a screenplay or something, but generally speaking it is clearly written and should be readable for learners with an Upper Intermediate level or above, although there will be some difficult words of course, but that’s good. I would say that overall the style is modern, neutral and definitely the kind of English that I would recommend as a good model of English for my listeners.

The short chapters make the whole thing quite easy to digest. It’s in bitesize chunks.

You can dip into it and you don’t necessarily have to read it in order. It’s almost like a collection of essays.

Audiobook version

The audiobook version on Audible is good – different voices and voice actors doing different accents, including pretty good impressions of the main people involved.

Why is it called “One Two Three Four”?

This is the first thing you hear on the first song on side 1 of The Beatles’ first album “Please Please Me”, released in early 1963 – You can hear Paul McCartney counting the band in at the start of the song by saying “1, 2 , 3 , 4”. Also, there were four Beatles, so…


Ending

So there you have it, after more than 700 episodes I finally returned to the topic of The Beatles with my mum and I think it’s fair to say that we went into quite a lot more depth than we did in episode 3 back in 2009, although episode 3 does include stuff we didn’t mention here, specifically my mum’s account of actually seeing The Beatles perform live, twice. So check out episode 3 if you haven’t done so.

Also you could check out that episode in which I asked my uncle Nic to tell us about the time he met Paul McCartney. He told the story in episode 414, and not only has he met Paul, he’s also played football with the members of Pink Floyd and hung out with The Who backstage at one of their concerts, and more. So check that one out too. Links for those episodes are on the page for this one on my website of course.

I really hope you enjoyed listening to this episode. I must admit that although I feel compelled to talk about this subject at length, part of me is concerned that this is all too much for my audience but I suppose those people who aren’t into this can just skip this stuff. It’s completely up to you. But do let me know what you think.

Remember, any time you have any thoughts about what you are hearing on this podcast, if you have responses or comments in your head as you listen, you can express them in English and I will read those comments, and so will many other LEPsters. The best place to leave your comments is on the page for the relevant episode on my website. Go to EPISODES in the menu and find the relevant episode page, scroll to the bottom and that’s where you will find the comment section. I am curious to see what you think. Any Beatle fans, get in touch. Non Beatle fans, I want to know what you’re thinking. Remember, sometimes doing this podcast is a bit like talking into the void and not quite knowing what people are thinking while I’m doing it.

I won’t talk much more at the end here, except that of course there are millions of things I wish I could have mentioned or talked about in this conversation.

We didn’t talk enough about Ringo!

There are also loads of other people and events that I wanted to mention.

I hope I didn’t talk too much.

Just in case this wasn’t quite enough rambling about The Beatles on this podcast, remember there are four (count them) four more episodes on The Beatles to come, but hopefully those episodes will be different enough to justify this series. 

Anyway, 4 more Beatle related episodes are coming up.

One is a discussion about John Lennon.

Another two are language focused and we’ll be talking about adjectives for describing personality traits.

And the last one is about Beatles song lyrics and little phrases and idioms that you can learn from them.

So it’s not just rambling about The Beatles, although that will be part of it too.

Thanks again to mum for her great contribution to this episode, and yes I am lucky to have a mum who is this cool. I appreciate that and I’m really glad to get her voice on the podcast along with my other guests.

And thank you as ever for listening all the way to the end, you are the best.

Take care, look after yourselves and each other and I will speak to you again soon. I think the next episode will be Michael from Poland.  But until then it’s time to say good bye bye bye bye bye.

707. [2/2] Let’s Play Another Text Adventure Game – “Zombolocaust” by Peter Carlson

Continuing the text adventure game about the zombie apocalypse from episode 706, with text on the screen so you can read with me while you listen. Video version available. Play the game with me – follow the links below. [Part 2 of 2] Listen to part 1 first!

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AUDIO VERSION

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VIDEO VERSION

Works best on full-screen mode. Don’t forget to like & subscribe folks! 👍

Links

Play “Zombolocaust” by Peter Carlson textadventures.co.uk/games/view/5kjlubyvzuitox6z52xipq/zombolocaust

Text Adventures website www.textadventures.co.uk

Part 1 of this episode wp.me/p4IuUx-oBr

Part 1 on YouTube

706. [1/2] Let’s Play Another Text Adventure Game – “Zombolocaust” by Peter Carlson

Playing a text adventure game about the zombie apocalypse, with text on the screen so you can read with me while you listen. Video version available. Play the game with me – follow the links below.

AUDIO VERSION

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VIDEO VERSION

Works best on full-screen mode. Don’t forget to like & subscribe 👍

Links

Play “Zombolocaust” by Peter Carlson textadventures.co.uk/games/view/5kjlubyvzuitox6z52xipq/zombolocaust

Text Adventures website www.textadventures.co.uk

Part 2 will be available here wp.me/p4IuUx-oBv

Notes (used at the start of the episode)

Let’s Play Another Text Adventure Game – Zombie Survival

Let’s just have some fun in this episode, and also work on your English a bit.

I’m going to play another text adventure game.

Read the text and make decisions to progress through the game.

This is good for your English because you can practise your listening and reading, and there’s bound to be some vocabulary that you can pick up too.

This works best if you can read the text that I’m reading too, either by visiting the text adventures website or by watching the video version of this.

I’ll give you some learning tips in a second.

As well as the audio version of this, there is a video version on YouTube and the episode page on teacherluke.co.uk

I’m sharing my screen, so you can see the text that I’m reading.

I’ll try to be clear and to explain things as we go, so this should also work as an audio episode.

textadventures.co.uk – “Zombolocaust” by Peter Carlson

Previous episodes like this in the episode archive at teacherluke.co.uk (search for episodes 338, 339, 425, 426, 612, 613, 614)

Peter Carlson emailed me once and said he was OK for me to do more of his games on the podcast. Nice one Peter 👍

COVID-19 is real (but this game isn’t)

We’re going to try to survive a zombie apocalypse

but there’s a real pandemic happening outside (have you noticed?)

So – wash your hands! Wear your mask! Be careful, good luck! 

We will get through this.

The COVID-19 pandemic is serious, but we still have to have fun.

Luckily, it’s not as bad as a zombie apocalypse.

Link for this game textadventures.co.uk/games/view/5kjlubyvzuitox6z52xipq/zombolocaust 

How to use this episode (your options)

  1. Just listen and try to understand (audio only)
  2. Watch the video and read the text with me (YouTube)
  3. Listen to the audio and follow the story on textadventures.co.uk
  4. Listen to the audio and do the text adventure later

Learning Tips

  • Check words and phrases in dictionaries like collinsdictionary.com 
  • Just try to follow the story and work things out from context.
  • Shadowing – repeat after me, with and without the text.
  • But mainly – just enjoy following the story with me.

This might be long, I don’t know! I’ve never played the story before. (It’s two episodes. 1 hour each)

I might split it into parts.

I’m signed in to textadventures.co.uk and I can save my progress, so I can pause and continue later, perhaps in other parts. 

680. Park Life – A Year in The Wildlife Of An Urban Park (by Rick Thompson) / Animal Collective Nouns

My dad has written a book and it’s all about the wildlife you can find in an urban English park. He’s on the podcast to tell us all about it, and there are some collective nouns for animals too, plus some bonus stand up comedy at the end.

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LEP Premium Promo www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo 

Hello  listeners, this is a reminder about LEP Premium, which is my other podcast service. With episodes of LEP Premium I focus specifically on language, helping you understand, remember and pronounce target vocab and grammar. I’m currently still deep into premium series 24 which is about homophones, but also you can access an archive of over 80 episodes now both audio and video, all about teaching you the kind of English that I speak, and there are plenty of stupid improvisations and jokes and things too. Get started by going to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo 

Introduction Transcript

Welcome back to Luke’s English Podcast – this award-winning podcast for learners of English. Yes, the podcast has won a few awards over the years, but not lately. The last few years have been quiet, on the award front. If you see any competitions for best podcast for learners of English, or something, let me know!

Speaking of competitions, I’ve been thinking of launching another listener competition, and I’m wondering what you think. The competition would involve you recording yourself speaking and sending it into the podcast, then people would vote for their favourite and that person would then get interviewed in a full episode of the podcast. This idea was sent to me some time ago by a listener called Vadim. What do you think? I haven’t fully decided to do it yet, so let me know what you think of this new competition idea from Vadim.

But anyway, what about this episode then?

Park Life – A Year in the Wildlife of an Urban Park

As promised, this episode features my dad, which should be good news for all the Rick Thompson fans out there. As you might know we sometimes call my dad Rickipedia because he knows so much stuff about so many things, although it might be unreliable from time to time.

People often say that my dad should start his own podcast, as his episodes are so popular. He still hasn’t created a podcast of his own, but I am glad to say that he has written a book. 

The book is called “Park Life – A year in the Wildlife of an Urban Park”

The book is available for you to read. You can find it on Amazon.com and also Bookdepository.com (free shipping).

In this episode I’m going to talk to my dad about the book he’s written including a broader discussion of urban parks in the UK – green public spaces which perform an increasingly important role in UK life.

We start by talking about the book, what it’s about, how he was inspired to write it and what style it’s written in. Then we move on to describe some of the wildlife you can find in a local English urban park. Then we discuss some history of urban parks and the health benefits of spending time in green spaces. 

Also there are some collective nouns for different animals, including things like “a murder of crows” and “an unkindness of ravens”. Keep listening to hear some more.

I hope you enjoy the conversation. I’ll chat with you a bit afterwards, but now, here is Rick Thompson talking about his new book.

—–

Ending Transcript

Thanks again to Dad for being on the podcast today. Once again, check Amazon or BookDepository for Rick Thompson Park Life to pick up a copy of my dad’s book for yourself.

In fact the book has already picked up a 5 star rating on Amazon from someone called Princesslizzykins

I have no idea who she is, but this is her review.

5.0 out of 5 stars

 A wonderful read.

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 5 September 2020

What a beautifully and thoughtfully written book.

A super balance of content between wildlife and local history, with some lovely poetic references thrown in, this book shows how anyone can escape the haste of urban life and take a moment to look at and love the world around them.

I live in Warwick, so have the added benefit of knowing the localities mentioned, but would recommend this to absolutely anyone that has an urban park near them and enjoys a damn good read.

Thumbs up for Dad. Nice one.

We’re not done here yet, I have some more things to do in this episode.

First of all, you heard me mention the stand up comedy gig that I had on Sunday and I did the gig and it went fine. I recorded it so I’ll play a few minutes of that at the end of the episode.

But first, let me go through some more collective nouns for animals. This is a really interesting and curious aspect of English – the way we use different words to collectivise different animals.

You heard us mention some there, and I’ve included them in this list too. So here is a list of common collective nouns for animals.

More Collective Nouns for Animals

  • A school of whales
  • A murmuration of starlings
  • A flock of sheep
  • A nest of rabbits
  • A litter of puppies
  • A flock of pigeons
  • A parliament of owls
  • A troop of monkeys
  • A pride of lions
  • A swarm of insects / flies / bees
  • A colony of gulls
  • A charm of finches
  • A murder of crows
  • A shrewdness of apes
  • A pack of dogs
  • An army of frogs
  • An array of hedgehogs
  • A mischief of mice

That’s it for this episode then! Don’t forget to check out LEP Premium at www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo 

As promised earlier, here are a few minutes from my stand up set on Sunday evening. There was one LEPster in the audience by the way, who had come because he’d seen the gig advertised on my facebook page www.facebook.com/lukecomedian So, shout out to that LEPster!

Anyway, this was my first gig since Christmas, but it was great to be back on stage again and I should be doing more gigs this year, lockdown permitting.

So this is me on stage at the New York Comedy Night in Paris last Sunday. Thanks for listening and speak to you again soon. Bye…

679. Gill’s Book Club: A Gentleman In Moscow

Talking to my mum again about her latest book recommendation. A Gentleman In Moscow is about a Russian Count who is put under house arrest in 1922 in the beautiful Metropol Hotel in Moscow. 

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This episode is sponsored by LEP Premium. With Luke’s English Podcast I have two podcasts in fact. There’s the free episodes, which feature monologues, conversations with guests or specific topics. That’s where you get to listen to natural English on a regular basis, presented to you, for you. Then the premium episodes are all about language. Often I take samples from free episodes, then break them down for target language which I teach to you, help you remember and pronounce correctly. So the double whammy is to listen to LEP and also be a premium subscriber, to get the maximum benefit from my work. To get started with LEPP go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo for more info.

Introduction Transcript

Welcome to Gill’s Book Club, on Luke’s English Podcast.

This is the second Gill’s Book Club episode and this is where I talk to my mum, Gill Thompson, about books that she’s enjoyed.

My mum loves books, she’s a voracious reader, a member of a book club with her friends and she works in a second hand bookshop.

She gets through loads of books, and so this is naturally a topic that we can explore together on the podcast.

How does this work?

We pick a book a few months in advance, give people a chance to read it, then talk about it on the podcast, including some of the main plot points (no spoilers) characters, context and details.

Do you have to read the book too?

No. We’ll explain the main plot points without giving away any spoilers.
But you can read the book if you like, or get the audiobook version.

You could read the book first, then listen. Or listen first, then read the book, or just listen without reading the book at all, and enjoy hearing my mum talking about it, the characters, the story and so on. There might also be some nice vocabulary coming up which you can notice as we go along. As usual, check the episode page on my website to see some vocabulary notes and transcripts.

For other episodes I’ve done with advice on reading books to improve your English, check the episode archive.

I said earlier this year that the book we’d be talking about is A Gentleman In Moscow, by Amor Towles, and so that’s the main topic of conversation here.

A Gentleman in Moscow is a 2016 novel by Amor Towles. It is his second novel, following the release of the New York Times bestselling novel Rules of Civility. The novel concerns Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, a man ordered by a Bolshevik tribunal to spend the rest of his life in a luxury hotel in the heart of Moscow. Wikipedia

There’s a bit of smalltalk at the beginning, and then we get stuck into the book.

I’ll talk to you again on the other side of this conversation, but now, let’s listen to my mum talking about her latest book recommendation.

——

Vocabulary Notes & Questions

Can you comment on these things with reference to the characters and events in the book?
Manners
Integrity
Loyalty
Vocabulary
Class

Do these words apply to Count Alexander Rostov?
Witty
Likeable
Standoffish
Spoiled
Privileged
Glass half full / Glass half empty

Does he change during the book?

House arrest
Did this book make you think of the lockdown?
If you had to be on house arrest, but you can choose any building you like, which building would you choose?
Which building would you choose to be locked inside? (not your own home)

Book club
What did the women from the book club think of it?

Book recommendation
The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

Picture of Ivan the Terrible
booksyo.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/repin_ivan_terribleivan.jpg

Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on 16 November 1581 is a painting by Russian realist artist Ilya Repin made between 1883 and 1885.

Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on 16 November 1581 is a painting by Russian realist artist Ilya Repin made between 1883 and 1885.

Ending Transcript

So there you are. That was my lovely mum talking about a lovely book and it was all lovely lovely lovely.

Again, check out the page for this episode on my website for vocabulary notes, and the names of the different books and things that we mentioned, plus the chance to see that painting of Ivan the Terrible and more.

I’m still deep inside P24, having published 9 out of 12 parts. More coming for premium subscribers soon…

Later today I’m interviewing my dad.

I don’t like to talk on the podcast about stuff I’m going to do, because I’ve learned that often things don’t go as you expect and it’s unwise to make the listeners think that something is coming when it actually can’t happen because of a technical issue or a scheduling problem or something.

So, who knows, we might not be able to actually do the recording, but the plan is to talk to my dad later today, also about a book. But this isn’t a book that he’s read, written by someone else, it’s actually a book he’s written himself. Yep, he wrote a book during the lockdown. What’s with all these books!? About 5 people I know have written books during the lockdown, including my dad. So stay tuned to LEP in order to (hopefully) listen to a conversation with Rick Thompson about his new book.

Thanks again to my mum for her contribution to this episode.

I hope you all enjoyed listening to it and as ever I look forward to reading your comments and responses to this episode in the comment section on my website, but also on YouTube where you can find all my episodes, and you can keep in touch on social media, my favourite being Twitter and my handle is @EnglishPodcast

Take care everyone. I’ll speak to you again soon, but for now, good bye…

676. David Crystal: Let’s Talk – How English Conversation Works

Professor David Crystal returns to talk about his latest books, and more. The first book is all about the art of conversation in English, and the second one is a spy thriller inspired by real events. David Crystal is one of the world’s leading linguists and an expert on the English language. He is also a national treasure and it’s a treat to be able to talk to him in this episode. Video version also available on the Luke’s English Podcast YouTube channel.

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YouTube Video Version

Recommended books

Some of his most popular books include:

  • The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language
  • The Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary
  • The Story of English in 100 Words
  • You Say Potato: The Story of English Accents (written with his son Ben)
  • Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist’s Guide to Britain (Written with his wife Hilary)
  • Txting: The Gr8 Db8
  • Pronouncing Shakespeare: The Globe Experiment – a fascinating project investigating how English was pronounced by the original actors in the Globe Theatre when Shakespeare was alive
  • Spell It Out: The Curious, Enthralling and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling
  • Just A Phrase I’m Going Through: My Life in Language (which is both his autobiography and a highly accessible introduction to the field of linguistics)
  • Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar

Many of those titles can be purchased as ebooks from David Crystal’s website – www.davidcrystal.com or from any good bookseller. There are also audiobook versions which are read out by the man himself.

Previous LEP episodes with David Crystal

teacherluke.co.uk/2017/05/31/454-david-crystal-interview-part-1-professor-of-linguistics/

teacherluke.co.uk/2017/06/06/455-david-crystal-interview-part-2-questions-from-listeners/

teacherluke.co.uk/2017/06/09/456-conclusions-about-language-learning-from-the-david-crystal-interview-part-1/

670. Language Learning with James Harris

Talking to writer and comedian James Harris about life as a writer, going to Oxford Uni, being an international Brit and learning German, French and Chinese as an adult.

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Transcript

Hello folks and welcome to the podcast. I hope you are doing fine on this particular day. This episode features a conversation, recorded a couple of weeks ago now, with a comedian and writer from the UK about various things, as you’ll see. Your task is to follow along and see what you can pick up and what bits of language learning wisdom you can glean from this conversation.

I don’t really know James that well. I’ve only actually met him once in fact.

He’s a comedian and a writer, he speaks several languages and his twitter feed is good value. He tweets about politics, learning languages, the issues of the day, comedy and various other things. We share a mutual friend – that’s Dharmander Singh from Birmingham, who I used to be in a band with and who is now a stand up comedian in Berlin. The time I met James was in Berlin when I was there on holiday, and I did some stand up on the same show as him.

So why have I invited him on the podcast? Well, it’s mainly because of Twitter. As I said his Twitter feed is interesting. He takes a moderate and balanced view of things, and his interests are pretty wide-ranging, including the fact that he’s very international. He’s married to a Chinese girl, he’s lived abroad, he used to work as a tour guide in several countries, he used to be an English teacher like me, he speaks very good German and French, he’s working on his Chinese, he works as a translator and he’s generally an articulate and interesting guy and so I just thought that he could be worth talking on the podcast.

The language learning thing is obviously very appropriate and I’m always interested in finding out as much as possible about how someone has learned a second language to a very decent level in adulthood, and that is something that we talk about for at least 50% of this conversation. The first half of our chat is basically me getting to know James properly, talking about his work, his studies, his experiences of going to Oxford University, why he chose to move to Germany, being married to a Chinese girl. Then we get into the details of how he learned German mainly, but also French and now how he’s working on his Chinese.

No need to say much more except that I hope you manage to follow the conversation clearly all the way through. Let me know how it was for you and I will speak to you again on the other side of this conversation, probably with some background music going over the top.



Thank you to James for being on the podcast today. Look him up online to read some of his stuff, follow him on social media and help him out by keeping him fuelled up on coffee.

Follow James on Twitter @JamesHarrisNow
Writing, Mini Screenplays shoeleatherexpress.org/
BUY A COFFEE FOR JAMES HARRIS t.co/8AAQ6P33wJ?amp=1

So, how are you listeners?

Did you pick up any useful nuggets from that conversation? I think there was some pretty good advice there especially the stuff about reading and noting down certain words, being a bit rigorous about your studying and believing that you can do it, really helps.

669. How to Learn English

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

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Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for information about LEP Premium

Right, let’s get started.

Hello, welcome to my podcast. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a come to Jesus moment for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning English is the main aim of this podcast

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

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

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

Click here for information about LEP Premium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s the written language

And there’s the spoken language

This is our system.

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

On the horizontal access we have receptive and productive skills.

On the vertical we have written and spoken English.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 4 skills are connected in various ways.

Reading and writing deal with the written word of course. 

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

Listening and speaking deal with the spoken word. 

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

Words exist in visual form, and in spoken form. 

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

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

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

Let’s talk about those receptive skills and input.

Receptive Skills / Input

Prof. Stephen Krashen 

This from Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for information about LEP Premium

Anyway, what Krashen is saying I suppose is:

Input is vital. This is like your food.

Receptive skills / input

Language has to go in before it comes out.

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

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

Basically, listen x5 and read x5.

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

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

Watch TV and films with and without subtitles.

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

Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So which books do you choose? 

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

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

Basically, read whatever you want.

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

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

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

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

Graded Readers

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

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

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

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

So, just read and enjoy it!

Here are some more book recommendations

Book of email correspondence

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

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

David Crystal 

The Story of English in 100 Words

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

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

So you’re bound to learn tons from that.

Biography

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

Fiction

The War of the Worlds by HG Wells

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

Productive skills / output

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

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

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

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

So how do you work on these things?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can you practise on your own?

Writing

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

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

So, here are some things you could write

What to write

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

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

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

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

Email English by Paul Emmerson

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

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

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

Other ideas

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

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

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

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

Vocabulary Notes

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

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

Speaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

So practice x5

But with who?

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

Talking on your own (and even in your head)

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

Listen and repeat

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

You can also practise different speaking scenarios.

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

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

A little note about pronunciation and a sort of disclaimer.

The disclaimer

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

Anyway, the note about pronunciation

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

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

I think it can work wonders for your English.

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

Thanks for listening.

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