Category Archives: Science

546. Death by Meteor

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

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Transcript

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

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

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

Oxford dictionary en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/meteor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General threat – I did a bit of googling.

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

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

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

So, asteroids and the asteroid threat to earth!

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

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

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

Neil DeGrasse Tyson – Death by Meteor

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

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

Listen to DeGrasse Tyson’s predictions with some questions beforehand

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

Script

Death by Meteor – Neil DeGrasse Tyson

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

This one was headed towards Earth. Apophis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Repeat what he said.

Highlight some of the language

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

07:35

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

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

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

What can we do? Call Bruce Willis?

How NASA would deal with the problem

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

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

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

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

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

543. Britain’s First Insect Restaurant Opens

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

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Transcript

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

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

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

Britain’s first insect restaurant opens

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

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

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

Some vocab “straight off the bat”

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

So an insect restaurant has opened in Wales, UK.

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

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

Read the first 3 paragraphs, and the last paragraph.

Some vocab from the article

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

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

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

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

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

More www.indianchild.com/waiter_jokes.htm

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

Thoughts & Questions

What do you think?

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

How to cook a locust

What’s his recipe? (answer below)

Recipe

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

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

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

Zingy, earthy…

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

Video – The Economist “Why Eating Insects Makes Sense”

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

Economist Video + Transcipt

Transcript + Some Vocabulary Items (explained below)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Eating Insects Makes Sense – Summary

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

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

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

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

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

Vocabulary Items from the Economist video

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

Listen to the video again and notice the vocabulary.

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

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

542. Talking Rubbish & Just Having Fun with The Thompsons

Talking to my dad, mum and brother about all manner of topics, including:
Space, climbing mountains, British comedy, fishing, earworms, tattoos, David Beckham, jokes, citizenship tests, baby monkeys, ghosts and celebrity impressions. Intro and outtro transcripts available.

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Intro Transcript

Hello folks, how are you doing? It’s been a while!

It’s August. Things are quiet. We’re between holidays. Going away for another couple of days next week and then things get back into full swing again in September.

We spent some time in the south of France not far from where my wife and I got married, and while we were down there we met up with my parents and my brother.

One evening last week, after consuming a delicious dinner (with some wine) we decided to record an episode of the podcast so that you can join us at the dinner table with some slightly silly banter and discussion with the Thompson family.

Topics include
Baldness, Space, climbing mountains, British comedy, fishing, earworms, tattoos, David Beckham, losing your marbles, jokes, games, citizenship tests, baby monkeys, ghosts and celebrity impressions.

Language
The episode is ripe with descriptive language, linking words and specific grammatical constructions for a range of purposes, including building an argument, describing something and just having fun and joking around. So listen carefully to follow the conversation, pick up some nice language and just enjoy being part of the fun. Also, you can experience the pleasant voices and accents of my family.

Topics (in order)

  • Going bald
  • Space (The Universe / The KLF)
  • Do you remember when…? (Welsh mountain story)
  • British Comedy Recommendation (Whitehouse & Mortimer: Gone Fishing)
  • Earworm (Baby monkey, riding on a pig)
  • Tattoos (David Beckham)
  • Idiom / Phrase (To lose your marbles) www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/lose-your-marbles.html
  • Guess who?
  • Tell us a joke!
  • Good book (45 by Bill Drummond)
  • Kindle? (Steve Coogan autobiography)
  • Citizenship Test lifeintheuktestweb.co.uk/test-2/
  • April Fool’s Day
  • Welsh cakes
  • Baby monkey
  • Have you ever seen a ghost?
  • Nick Frost’s book (ghost story)
  • Impressions (Michael Caine, John Peel, The Queen)

Outro Transcript

I hope you enjoyed being with us at the table there for our after dinner session of talking rubbish, all presented for your listening pleasure and as an opportunity for you to learn some real English as it is spoken by my family.

This would make a great premium episode. There’s a lot of good language to be revealed and explained here. Each episode is a source of great natural language, but you might not notice or at least might not have time to look up every single new word or be able to identify all the parts of specific expressions and their real meanings. With LEP Premium I do all of that for you. I’ll highlight vocabulary and expressions, particularly the structures which are harder to notice but essential to know. Things like phrasal verbs, idioms, preposition collocations and gerunds and infinitives. THere’s also grammar and pronunciation. Each episode has a pdf and a quiz at the end so you can test yourself and check your learning.

At the moment there are about 5 full episodes in various parts, a couple of videos and part 6 coming up very soon. You can think of these as study packs for LEP, where I hold your hand and make sure you can pick up this essential natural language so you can boost your English to a higher level.

To register go to teacherluke.co.uk/premium. There you can sign up. It costs about the same as buying me a beer or coffee once a month. Not that much. You get access to the entire premium catalogue and all future content too. Get stuck in there. teacherluke.co.uk/premium

Premium is available in the LEP app if you sign in with your premium login details. It’s also available online at teacherluke.co.uk/premium. There’s a comment section and a way to download pdfs in normal size, so check out teacherluke.co.uk for more information.

That’s it! I hope you’re having a great August. More episodes of LEP are coming soon as I have a few days, but then things might go quiet until September when everything will go back to normal.

Bye!

536. How Olly Richards Learns a Language (Part 1) Compelling Material / Input-based Learning

Talking to polyglot Olly Richards about the benefits of listening, reading and using stories to learn English. Full of insights and strategies for effective language learning. Transcripts and notes available.

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Introduction Transcript

This episode is packed full of language learning experience and wisdom, straight from the horse’s mouth.

Today I’m talking to Olly Richards, who has been on this podcast before, twice. Long term listeners will remember him. Some of you may also listen to his podcast, which is called I Will Teach You a Language. This is his third appearance on LEP, and I’m very happy to share this two-part episode with you here, today. I must say that I think this episode is full of really valuable insights about language learning and should be essential listening for anyone who is serious about learning a language to fluency.

The basics that you need to know about Olly.
He’s from England.
He speaks 8 languages. English is the only one he learned while growing up as a child. The rest of his languages were learned in adulthood.
I would say that he’s obsessed with language learning. He’s on a mission, basically, to learn languages but also to explore exactly how we learn languages, to find out the best methods, the most effective techniques, to discover the holy grail of language learning.

Olly spends so much time and effort learning languages, practising, reading academic studies, speaking to people about language in various languages, blogging about it, doing his podcast about it, producing books and courses all dedicated to the pursuit of language learning. He’s made language learning his career in fact.

Check out his website www.iwillteachyoualanguage.com to find out about all his projects, to read his blog articles and listen to his podcast.

As you’d expect, Olly really knows a thing or two about language learning. He’s got all the qualifications and has done all the academic work, but what I’m interested in is his own subjective experience of being a language learner himself, equipped with all the metacognitive strategies and accepted wisdom about the subject. This is where I think we can really get to the bottom of this topic. This is how we can get to the real truth about learning a language.

The first time Olly was on this podcast, we got to know the basics about how he applies himself to his language learning, but that was about 2 and a half years ago.

That episode was very revealing and still has so much to offer. I highly recommend you go into the archive and listen to that too. It’s episode 332, over 200 episodes ago! His second appearance on LEP was in episode 357.

So, in this conversation today we’re catching up with Olly after about 2 years of him working away on his language learning and teaching projects. So, what new insights does he have to share with us? Has his approach to learning languages changed? What does he now think is the most valuable way to spend your time in order to improve your acquisition of another language?

I think the results are really revealing.

I talked to Olly for nearly two hours – it was very easy and we could have gone on for longer. After having had this conversation I personally feel validated and reassured – why? Because Olly’s conclusions confirm what I’ve also discovered about language learning, and his conclusions confirm many of the principles behind my approach to doing Luke’s English Podcast. It’s a nice reminder that, in fact – yes, there is method to the madness.

Spending time talking to Olly and listening to him talk about learning languages is extremely motivating and I feel like this conversation, which will be presented to you in two parts, I feel like it’s a real shot in the arm for me personally, for the podcast generally, and for you too I hope. This should be a very healthy listening experience for all of you, in terms of your English.

Really – if you’re serious about learning English you will really pay attention. Absorb all of this, think about your own language learning experiences, apply Olly’s approaches to your situation, and see how you can continue to improve your learning of English to an advanced level.

There’s no need to say any more now in the introduction, let’s just hear what Olly Richards has to say about learning a language.


Ending Transcript

That’s where this part ends, but you’ll be able to continue listening in part 2. Well, I think this is a good one – absolutely chock a block with insights and advice for learning a language.

If you’re a premium subscriber you’ll soon be able to see a video of me reflecting on some of the things Olly said in this episode, summarising the main points and turning them into some bits of advice for those of you out there who are learning English with this podcast.

But for this audio episode, that’s it for part 1.

You’ll be able to hear the rest in part 2 as we discuss how to break the intermediate plateau and the connection between pronunciation and personality issues.

To get the full LEP experience and to get the full benefit of LEP on your English you should become a premium subscriber. For just the price of a coffee or beer per month you can access an ever growing library of lessons from me to you – covering language in more detail – usually explaining, clarifying and demonstrating real English – either because it has come up in specific episodes, or because it’s just stuff you should know and be able to do. I’ve been teaching for about 17 years and you can get the benefit of my particular set of skills by becoming a premium member – the perfect balance between getting loads of input and getting some advice, help, clarification and practice from me. All content in the app and online, .pdfs, full episodes, bonus episodes, videos, phrasal verbs, story lessons and more. teacherluke.co.uk/premium to get started. The app is the best way to get the premium content I expect.

OK that’s it for this episode. I’ll speak to you again in part 2. Thanks for listening.

Bye.

525. Ninja August / Podcast Corrections / Useful Japanese Cat (Listener Comments & Questions)

Responding to more comments and questions from listeners, including some rambling about public holidays in France, why May is like ‘ninja August’, some corrections to what I said about bats and Stephen Hawking on the podcast and the story of an amazing useful cat from Japan.

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Transcript (not 100% complete – listen to the episode to hear everything, including improvised moments)

In this episode I’m going to continue going through a list of comments and questions from listeners, while using those comments and questions as a springboard to ramble about this and that. Some of the questions are related to language, others are related to topics I’ve covered on the podcast recently.

I’ve got one hour before I have to go and pick up my daughter from day care, so let’s see what I can do in an hour. Let’s go!

LEP Premium is coming soon, but it’s not ready yet. Please don’t register until I announce it.

LEP Premium is not ready yet – I’ve had a few questions about this. Some listeners have found a sign-up form for it, but there’s not content available yet – so don’t sign up until I have made a proper announcement.
I have not uploaded any premium content yet – I’m working on the first episodes at the moment, but it’s coming soon.
So, wait until I say “GO” before you sign up.

I’ve got loads of work to do and I’m hoping to produce quite a lot of content this month, but it’s proving to be quite hard to get work done so far this month.

Public Holidays in France – “May is like the ninja August”

It’s May and in France and there are loads of public holidays – 4 in total, which is wonderful but it also makes things a bit complicated. It’s hard to get things done.

Doing the bridge, or “Le Pont”.

When public holidays land on a Tuesday or a Thursday it can really break up the week, and you have to squeeze all your work into just a few days. The first 2 weeks of May contain 4 holidays and this year the’ve all landed mid-week.

In the UK all our public holidays are moved to the nearest Monday.

In France they just land on the same dates every year and stay there.

This can work in your favour or against you. It’s a gamble!

In France people are very protective of public holidays and workers’ rights. In the past people had to fight very hard to get public holidays and they hold that right very seriously and protect it. Holidays have become an important part of French life (although people work very hard here too, despite the myth that people are lazy).

But the culture is different to, let’s say Japan, where people are given fewer holidays than France.

For example, it’s pretty normal for many people here to take the entire month of August off.

It’s difficult to get anything done, business wise, unless you’re a tourism company or you run a hotel for tourists or something.

So, in August nothing happens (it feels like). Back in the UK people still work – the kids are on holiday and you might take 2 weeks off during the summer but you still work during August. Things slow down a bit, but in France it’s much more noticeable. Certainly Paris changes a lot.

May in France is like ninja August.


I’m going to carry on responding to some questions and comments from listeners, like I started in the last one and we’ll see where this takes us.

So let’s carry on.

British Podcast Awards

First of all, I’d like to remind you to please consider voting for Luke’s English Podcast in the British Podcast Awards. I need as many votes as I can get if I’m going to stand a chance of competing with some of the big names in UK podcasting. I’ve been a UK podcaster for ages and ages and it would be cool to get some recognition from the UK podcast community. It would also be ace to get a TEFL podcast into a winning position in order to represent the learning English community and the teaching community. So, please vote!
www.britishpodcastawards.com/vote or click the vote button on my website :)

www.britishpodcastawards.com/vote

Shout out to Jack

Thanks Jack for adding lists of vocab under episodes, including many of the episodes in the archive. Check the comment section for Jack’s lists.

Jack always pesters me for a gift, sometimes for no apparent reason, but I suppose this time he deserves something for adding these useful vocab lists to the pages.

So Jack, on my recent trip back to the UK I picked something up for you. I know you’re into cars, so let me hand you the keys to a 1975 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. This is the ultimate in classic British luxury motoring, at the time it was released this was absolutely the top of the range in terms of comfort, style and quality and remains to this day a symbol of British class and sophistication. It doesn’t get better than this. With its massive V8 engine delivering 190BHP , steel frame, vacuum assisted brakes, power steering, manual 3 speed gearbox and top speed of 106mph this is a precision machine from the golden age of British motoring. Admittedly this 43 year old vehicle is no longer top of the range and can’t compete with modern day equivalents such as the high performance luxury models produced by Bentley, but for a leisurely drive through the British countryside in the most quintessentially British manner this has to be the number 1 choice. They don’t make them like this any more. The engine delivers a powerful, stately and commanding sense of control and the ride is so utterly smooth and poised that you can enjoy afternoon tea and cake with guests in the back without spilling a drop on the leather upholstery. It oozes charm, it breathes refinery, it is the epitome of retro British eccentricity. The Rolls Royce Silver Shadow.
Here are the keys Jack… just the keys I’m afraid. I can’t actually pin down the car itself… It’s somewhere… it’s definitely somewhere…

Podcast Corrections

As Blind as a Bat

Message:

Hi Luke,

In episode 516 with Beatle Paul you explain the following idiom:
as blind as a bat = totally blind
I’m as blind as a bat without my glasses!
(Bats are often thought to be blind, but in fact their eyes are as good as ours – but they use their ears more at night than their eyes.)

That’s not quite true:
The following two phrases are from the English Wikipedia and explain the vision of bats
1. The eyes of most microbat species are small and poorly developed, leading to poor visual acuity, but no species is blind.
2. Megabat species often have eyesight as good as, if not better than, human vision. Their eyesight is adapted to both night and daylight vision, including some colour vision.[84]

So what you state is true only for the subspecies megabat, whereas microbats are nearly as blind as a bat, but not quite.

Greetings from good old Germany, Heiner

Ah, thanks for the clarification. In my defence we don’t have many megabats in the UK. The majority of our bats are microbats, so perhaps that explains how the phrase entered common parlance, because in our experience our bats usually have poor eyesight, although to say that they are blind is actually not true.
But the correction still stands.

I said bats actually have good eyesight. But that only applies to megabats, whereas microbats actually do have relatively poor eyesight (although they aren’t actually blind).

Apologies to the microbat or megabat community for getting that one wrong!

No, but seriously, it’s good to get corrections like this in order to prevent the spread of misinformation, which happens every day.

Stephen Hawking

ALSO a correction about Stephen Hawking from FB, probably more important than the bat one to be honest!

Hi, Luke, how are you? How’s your family?

I’m fine, thanks for asking. :)
I’m a med student in Brazil and as I was listening to the episode you did on Stephen Hawking, I couldn’t help but clarify some things you said about his disease. I hope you don’t mind, but since I know you are curious about almost anything, I’m sure you won’t.
You said that his kind of motor neurone disease affects the brain. It actually affects neurons outside the brain. These neurons are responsible for making our muscles produce movements (that’s why it is called a motor neurone disease). This disease is also known as ALS, which stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
You also said that his disease affected his central nervous system, but it actually affected his peripheral motor system. We have neurons throughout our bodies. Everything in the brain and in the spinal cord is our central nervous systems. Neurons outside these structures belong to the peripheral nervous system.
Do you remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? It was created to increase the awareness of ALS. And it worked! Donations coming from the challenge helped researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School to find out one gene that is involved in the disease. This finding can help in future therapy development.
I hope my explanation was useful and not too boring. Thank you so much for all your work in making this podcast.

Cheers,
Klenisson

Useful Japanese Cat

Dear Luke, how are you? This is Yuko, a Japanese expatriate living in New York,
and suffering from an incurable condition – “anglophilia” (Luke: an obsession or fondness for all things English).
In the episode “talking about pets”, your brother repeatedly mentioned the unusefulness of cats as opposed to dogs. (Luke: Yes, I was wondering if people would be bothered by the things that were said in that episode. James seemed to pick on small dog breeds and also vegan dog owners for some reason, and we also suggested that cats were essentially self-interested animals who somehow have managed to make us their slaves, suggesting that dogs perform far more useful roles in society in general… but…)

I just wanted to show you the exceptions.
There are some cats who worked as a station master in a Japanese train station.

en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tama_(cat)

Are they not amazing?
Yuko

 

Thanks for listening!!

LEPSTERS – ASSEMBLE!

517. Professor Stephen Hawking (An Obituary)

I woke up this morning to the news that Stephen Hawking had died and I thought – I really must talk about this. He was a British scientist who must be considered one of the most significant people of recent years – a brilliant mind who contributed so much to our understanding of the nature of reality itself while also struggling against some extreme personal difficulties and for those reasons he’s a great inspiration to many people around the world.

In this episode I’m just going to talk about him, his life, his achievements and how he will continue to be an inspiration to people for many years to come. Let’s learn some English along the way. Vocabulary list & links available below.

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BBC Obituary

www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-15555565

Adversity, challenge or difficulty can somehow focus you and force you to concentrate your energy in one direction. It must have been tough, but it’s almost like he thrived on the adversity.

Hawking’s popularity in China

Hawking was popular and inspirational all over the world, but according to a BBC News report he was particularly loved and respected in China.

www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-43395650

Hawking talks about depression

As well as contributing so much to our understanding of the universe, he also was an inspiration to people struggling against difficulty of various kinds – both physical and mental.

Stephen Hawking Has a Beautiful Message for Anyone Suffering From Depression

A scene from The Theory of Everything

Hawking interviewed by John Oliver (Hawking obviously had a sense of humour)

Monty Python – The Galaxy Song

This is a song written by Eric Idle, for Monty Python’s film “The Meaning of Life”.
Hawking agreed to record a version of this song for Monty Python’s recent live shows.
It’s all about how we should remember that in the context of everything, our problems are actually rather small and insignificant, and by extension we should realise that there are no frontiers in our minds and we should realise that many limitations that we feel inside ourselves are actually imposed on us by ourselves.

Lyrics & ukulele chords: stewartgreenhill.com/ukulele/TheGalaxySong.html

Vocabulary which came up in this episode

  • motor neurone disease
  • he was left almost completely paralysed
  • a tracheotomy
  • a layman’s guide to cosmology
  • He was reportedly offered a knighthood in the 1990s but later revealed he had turned it down over issues with the government’s funding for science.
  • He was renowned for his extraordinary capacity to visualise scientific solutions without calculation or experiment.
  • Undeterred by his condition, he continued his work
  • his condition inevitably made him dependent on others
  • Police questioned several people about allegations that he had been subjected to verbal and physical abuse
  • He was known to be an erratic, almost reckless driver of his electric wheelchair
  • the first quadriplegic to experience weightlessness on board the so-called “vomit comet
  • “I believe that life on Earth is at an ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster”
  • aliens might just raid earth of its resources and then move on
  • Stephen Hawking: China’s love for the late physicist
  • the world mourns Prof Stephen Hawking, who has died aged 76
  • His 2006 visit to China was covered with breathless excitement
  • the adulation and respect he has always commanded in China is perhaps in another universe altogether
  • a role model ideal for the Chinese state to champion emerged.
  • the Chinese government preaches that scientific prowess is crucial to the country’s future power
  • he didn’t let it deter him from doing his best to live fully and passionately
  • If you are disabled, it is probably not your fault, but it is no good blaming the world or expecting it to take pity on you
  • My disabilities have not been a significant handicap in my field

510. Philosophy Quiz (with Amber & Paul)

In this episode you can listen to Amber, Paul and me as we take an online quiz and try to find out what school of philosophical thought we belong to. Are we empiricists, epicurianists, existentialists, hedonists, humanists, platonists, skeptics or stoicists? Listen on to find out more and to hear a full-on discussion of life, the universe and everything.

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Introduction Transcript

Click here for the philosophy quiz.

In this episode you can listen to Amber, Paul and me as we take an online quiz and try to find out what school of philosophical thought we belong to. Are we empiricists, epicurianists, existentialists, hedonists, humanists, platonists, skeptics or stoicists? Listen on to find out more and to hear a full-on discussion of life, the universe and everything.

If all those terms are completely new to you (empiricists, epicurianists, existentialists, hedonists, humanists, platonists, skeptics or stoicists), don’t worry. I don’t expect you to be an expert in philosophy or anything – but this can be a good way to practise listening to a slightly complex discussion in English.

I expect those terms aren’t completely new to you actually, because I’m assuming that you listened to the previous episode of this podcast, although it’s entirely likely that some of you have skipped that episode and jumped straight to this one because you were attracted by the prospect of listening to Amber & Paul on the podcast again.

You might have thought “meh, I’ll skip that one about philosophy and language and I’ll hurl myself towards this new Amber & Paul episode instead.”

Well, allow me to gently guide you back towards episode 509 at this moment because in that episode I explained what those types of philosophy involve, using various examples including how they relate to language learning. So I highly recommend that you listen to the previous episode if you want some explanations and general clarification of some of the concepts involved. It’ll help you to make sense of this episode a bit more, I promise.

And I think the combination of this episode and the last episode should be quite useful for understanding not just the general concepts we’re discussing but also for your English too. So, as you listen watch out for some of the ideas that I was talking about in the last episode.

Often, understanding something you’re listening to is a question of familiarity with the general subject. If you just listen to this conversation without hearing episode 509 (or without having general knowledge of philosophy – which admittedly some of you might have anyway), the topic area might be unfamiliar to you because it’s not every day that we talk about how we understand the meaning of life is it?

So listening to the previous episode could help you get more familiar with the topic and that will make this episode so much more accessible, the things you’ll hear will be a bit easier to understand and it should reinforce some of the language and terms that come up in the conversation and that should all lead to a more effective and satisfying listening and learning experience.

Are you convinced? Yes? You’ve already heard episode 509? Just get on with it? OK then…

So, in this episode you’ll hear Amber, Paul and me discussing the questions in a quiz that I found on Facebook, called “Which Philosophical School of Thought Do You Fall Into?” and generally talking about our approaches to life in general.

You can take the quiz with us if you like. You’ll find the link on the page of course. Click the link and follow the quiz with us. You can read the questions and different options that we’re discussing. You might need to pause the podcast in order to consider your answers on your own before hearing what we say and which options we choose.

www.intellectualtakeout.org/blog/what-philosophical-school-thought-do-you-fall

Or you can just listen along without looking at the quiz – it’s up to you of course. You have free will don’t you? Or do you? Maybe all of this is predetermined either genetically, socially or as part of some divine plan by an intelligent (or perhaps not so intelligent) creator.

Now, I would like to just share some concerns with you at this point. I have a few concerns, and here they are.

I recorded this a few months ago and I’ve been sitting on it ever since. Not literally. I mean I’ve just been holding on to the recording, and wondering what to do with it. The reason for that is that, the conversation didn’t turn out exactly as I had planned or hoped. What I planned and hoped was that taking this quiz with my mates Amber & Paul could be a fun and clear way to explore some philosophical concepts for you my audience of learners of English. But what actually happened, as you’ll hear, is that we got quite frustrated by the way the quiz was written. These quizzes are always a bit annoying aren’t they? You always notice the flaws in the questioning and you wonder how accurate they will be. This quiz is no exception. Frankly, the questions and options don’t make complete sense – they’re quite vague and conceptual and you’ll hear that we spend quite a lot of time just trying to work out what each question actually means. There’s a lot of us interpreting the quiz itself, rather than discussing the philosophy.

On balance I’ve decided it’s still worth listening to, but I just want you to know that I know that it might be quite a heavy conversation for you to contend with. Of course, abstract stuff is harder to follow than down-to-earth stuff. I’m just saying – if you get overwhelmed by this one, then don’t worry – I am aware of that. I don’t mean to underestimate you, but there it is. Anyway, I’m just saying – I know that this is pretty complicated stuff, but I think you should listen to it anyway because ultimately we do finish the quiz and we do find out what school of philosophy we all belong to. It will really help if you take the quiz with us, so do get your phone out and click the link on the page or just google “which school of philosophy do you fall into?” and if you’re walking along in the street while listening to this and you’re looking at your smartphone please be careful where you are walking because I don’t want you to be doing a different quiz later, called “which hole in the street did you fall into?”

Also…

We did this recording at my place and Amber’s young son Hugo was there in the background watching “Andy’s Wild Adventures” which is a CBeebies TV show (BBC for kids). I realise that you can hear the TV in the background a bit. I don’t think it’s too disturbing, but you can hear it a bit. I don’t expect you’ll mind, but remember that I don’t record this podcast in a studio, so sometimes there might be the noise of real life going on around us.

Of course we kept an eye on Hugo during the conversation and every now and then we had to pause the podcast just to check up on him and so Amber could respond to him when he sometimes said “Mummy!”, which you might hear sometimes.

So, I just wanted to explain some of the background noises you might hear while you’re listening to this.

OK then, so get the quiz ready on your phone or computer – the link is on the page for this episode, or just search for “What school of Philosophical Thought Do You Fall In?” – and get ready for some philosophical ramblings from 3 people who quite possibly don’t really know what they’re talking about!

Alright, no more faffing about. Let’s go…!


Ending

I told you it was a heavy one didn’t I?

Are you ok? Are you still alive?

If you found that conversation difficult to follow and yet you are still listening, I just want to say “Well done” for staying the distance and sticking with it. Some people didn’t, they didn’t get here, and frankly they are just weak, generally weaker and will probably die out in the next evolutionary stage, so there. I don’t mean to say that you should feel glad that some members of our species just won’t make it, but rather that you can feel good that you’ll survive. I’m talking nonsense here of course.

Please, leave us your comments. What’s up with you? What are you thinking? What’s going on in your brain-head? We would like to know, and when I say “we” I mean the collective consciousness and the entire human race on a metaphysical level, not just me and the other members of the comment section crew.

Basically, write something in the comment section and express yourself in English!

The podcast will be back, doing it to your eardrums soon. Thanks for listening and take it easy out there in pod-land.

6 quick things left to say:

  1. Get the LEP App – it’s free and there is cool stuff in it that you can’t get anywhere else. All the cool kids are using it.
  2. Sign up to the mailing list to get email notifications of new stuff on the website, like all the cool kids do.
  3. Give yourself another slap on the back for getting this far.
  4. Write something in the comment section, and that includes just the word “something” if you  like.
  5. Check out my sponsor italki for some one-to-one lessons and the chance to talk about whatever you want with your own teacher or conversation partner. www.teacherluke.co.uk/talk
  6. Consider sending me a donation by clicking a donate button on the website. It would be a sincere and practical way to thank me for my continuing efforts to help you with your English in many real ways.Small Donate Button

 

Take care and for now – bye!!!

509. What’s it all about? (Philosophy and Language Learning)

This episode is all about philosophy and how this applies to language learning. Listen to me describing 8 different ‘schools’ of philosophical thought. Are hedonists good language learners? How do rationalists and empiricists disagree about how we learn languages? Is language learning an innate ability or just something that can only happen as a result of things we do after we’re born?  And, how does philosophy answer life’s big questions such as, “What’s life all about?” “What are we doing here?” and “What shall we have for dinner?” Transcript Available.

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Transcript – 95% complete

Introduction

What’s it all about then eh? This is a question that people have been attempting to answer for bloody ages. Nobody seems to be able to agree or decide for certain what the purpose of our existence is, or even what the true nature of reality is, but over the years the things people have said and written in response to this question have influenced our lives in loads of ways, without us even realising it.

Considering the question of “What’s it all about?” is basically the foundation of philosophy and in this episode I’m going to talk about philosophy and define a few of the main types of philosophy that exist.

I’ll also attempt to apply those different types of philosophy to the understanding of language learning if I can. And if I can’t, I’ll just make a jam sandwich or something.

So, with this episode you can learn English relating to lots of things, including abstract ideas, ethics, science, debate, reason, logic, experience and academic thought in general, and also we can consider the process of language learning from a couple of different points of view.

A while ago I found a questionnaire online which was called “Which school of philosophy do you belong to?”

I thought, “that makes a change from the usual stupid quizzes, like ‘Which Star Wars character are you?’ ‘Which type of biscuit are you?’, ‘Which type of fluff are you? The fluff in the corner of the room, the fluff in the tumble dryer, the fluff in your belly button, the fluff that collects in your jacket pocket or the fluff which collects under the strings of a guitar that never gets played?’ (I was the fluff in your jacket pocket by the way).

This one was about philosophy – “Which school of philosophical thought do you belong to?”

And I thought “ooh, I haven’t done an episode about philosophy on the podcast. That might be an interesting, yet fun way to explore a fairly intellectual topic.

I thought it would be an interesting way for Paul, Amber and me to have an intelligent and highbrow discussion (instead of just talking about poo or Russian jokes or having accordions for legs – although they are, of course, perfectly valid topics of conversation).

I haven’t talked directly about philosophy on the podcast before. So I thought it could be an interesting subject for the podpals to discuss.

And we got together a couple of months ago actually, and recorded ourselves going through the quiz in order to find out what school of philosophy each of us belongs to, based on the ways we live our lives and think about the world.

However, the conversation that we recorded ended up being quite heavy. We got a bit bogged down in just trying to understand, interpret and discuss what each question really meant. Not only did we have to try and make sense of the different types of philosophy, we also just had to try and understand the fairly complex questions in the quiz.

It made me think “ooh, this might just be a bit difficult to listen to – a complicated conversation and a complicated topic – it could be a bit of a challenge for the LEPsters.”

I will play you the conversation and you can hear our discussion, and you can also do the quiz with us while you listen, if you like.

But that’s going to be in the next episode because I thought it would be a good idea for me to talk to you about philosophy first, and to define some terms, before you hear our conversation. That should make it a bit easier for you to follow what Paul, Amber and I are going on about, while also making it possible for you to perhaps learn some things about philosophy and also the language we use when talking about philosophy and while tackling the big questions, like “What’s it all about?” and “What shall we have for dinner?” (well, maybe not that one – although it is rather a big question as I’m sure you’ll agree).

Now, I know you might not be philosophers. I have all sorts of people listening to this, from many different backgrounds. Some of you might be academic types, others not. Some of you are the types of people who like complex and abstract discussions, others might be the types of people who would rather listen to us talk about more tangible things, like Amber’s son doing a poo under a table, or something like that.

In any case, I like to present a fairly wide range of topics on this podcast and I think that’s important for your English.

So, let’s talk about 8 different schools of philosophical thought, and then you can listen to Amber, Paul and me taking that quiz, and hopefully it will make a bit more sense to you!

And by the way, if you would rather hear that story of Amber’s son doing a poo under a table in a restaurant (which is a real story) just listen to episode 380 again. You can find it in the archive.

380. Catching Up with Amber and Paul #3

What is philosophy?

Philosophy is all about how we understand the world and how we make sense of everything around us.

It’s not just “why are we here?” or just “what’s it all about?” it helps us to create the assumptions behind how we understand pretty much everything.

Really, it’s about attempting to answer questions that relate to every aspect of our lives.

Wikipedia: It is the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, the mind, and language.[5][6] The term was probably coined by Pythagoras (c. 570–495 BCE). Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation.[7][8] Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it?[9][10][11] What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust (if one can get away with it)?[12] Do humans have free will?[13]

So, philosophy is the study of how we understand everything, and the answers to these questions form assumptions about so many things including :

  • Education (What should children do at school and why are schools important in the first place? How should we organise our universities?)
  • Health (How do we understand our bodies – how do we know what will make us strong or weak, healthy or sick?)
  • Politics (What is the best way to run the country?)
  • Science (What is the nature of reality? How do we measure that? Can science solve the problems we face? What is the scientific method and can it help us to discover the truth about the world?)
  • Debate and communication (What is the most effective way to argue your point in a discussion? What are the most effective ways to present information to people?)
  • Religion (Who or what is God and does he exist? How does this relate to the choices we make in life? Do we even have choices?)
  • Language (What is language? How does it work? What does it tell us about us as people? How do we learn it? Should it be controlled? What constitutes “good” and “bad” language?)
  • Ethics (How do we decide what is the right or wrong thing to do in any situation)

Ethics

An example of an ethical question is “if your neighbours are having a loud party late at night, is it ok for you to call the police to stop the party?”

Imagine – your neighbours are having a loud party and it’s keeping you awake. What should you do?

Here are some of the reasons for stopping it: it’s annoying for you personally, it’s annoying for everyone in the area, it’s somehow damaging behaviour for them – i.e. because they need sleep and shouldn’t drink, it’s breaking a rule imposed by the government. Or reasons for not stopping the party: everyone has the right to have a party sometimes, it would be rude to interrupt their celebration, the police might be unreasonably aggressive with them and someone might end up being arrested or even physically harmed, or

“if they don’t stop playing that music now I will go round there and murder everyone in the building, especially if they play THAT song again”.

These are the sorts of questions that philosophers might spend a lot of time thinking about, especially if their neighbours were having a noisy party next door. The philosopher might spend ages pondering the question of exactly what to do, even if most people would just bang on the wall and tell the neighbours to “shut up! For god’s sake shut up or I’ll call the police” assuming of course that god exists and that the police have got nothing better to do, other than sit around smoking cigarettes.)

Still on that example of the ethics of “having a loud party in a highly populated area”, one of the big responses might be “it’s unfair for these people to have this party, because it is simply unethical for a small group of people to be happy at the expense of the happiness of the majority of people living in the surrounding area.” which would be a very reasonable thing to say under the circumstances. I imagine most people would just think “Those bastards! Those bastards! Those bloody bastards!!!” (which is not an established philosophical position, I think)

The ethical principle I described there (not the “you bastards position” but the “happiness for the majority of people is the deciding factor” position, is: What benefits the majority of people is the right thing to do. English philosopher Jeremy Bentham might come to mind, when considering this idea, if you know who Jeremy Bentham is. If you don’t know who he is, and have never heard his name before, I’d be very surprised if he comes to your mind, to be honest. You might just be thinking “How can I get my neighbours to turn down the music?” and suddenly – JEREMY BENTHAM! – that would be weird.

Anyway, Bentham said “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number [of people] that is the measure of right and wrong”. This is the foundation of utilitarianism – a system which influenced lots of people and, for example, contributed to the construction of the welfare state – that’s the system in the UK that provides healthcare for everyone, but which is probably paid for mainly by the people with incomes – the people who earn money from their work, and the higher the income the more you pay – as tax. As long as most people are made happy, this is the right way to run a society. People who work should pay tax and a lot of that tax should go towards a healthcare system that is available for everyone, even those people who don’t work and even if it means that some people who earn more money are also paying more.

This is an example of how a philosophical idea – in this case “utilitarianism” has an impact on the political policy of a nation, and how that can affect everything else.

You can see here that philosophy is at the centre of all the big questions that we face in society – both personal and communal. E.g. Should guns be legal? Should I buy a gun? Should drugs be legalised? Am I a bad person if I take drugs? Should we download films from torrenting sites, or buy them from the established distributors? Is it wrong if I watch a pirated film on the internet without paying for it? Does it matter which film it is? What if the film is a big-budget blockbuster like Transformers? What if I wouldn’t have actually paid for it anyway? Should I feel guilty if I listen to episodes of Luke’s English Podcast and yet I never send him a donation for his hard work? (by the way the answers to all those questions, in order, are “It depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, YES)

All these questions are philosophical at their very heart – in most cases here we’re talking about ethics, which is just one branch of philosophy.

Different “Schools of Thought”

There are lots of philosophical schools of thought. Not all of them are completely different. Some are quite similar. They came out of different contexts: different people, different periods of time and different places.

Let me go through some of them. Which one do you agree with? It’s quite possible that you agree with more than just one of these things, because I think most of us probably take a bit from here, a bit from there, and have a complex and diverse way of making decisions and understanding the world. In fact I’m quite sure that the general culture in the world is now a combination of all these different schools of philosophical thought, as well as all sorts of other influences, such as traditional customs and beliefs. But there was a time when many the thinking processes that we consider now to be just part of normal common sense didn’t even exist. A lot of the general assumptions that we have about questions of ethics, politics and even language were not always there. Basically, I mean – people used to be really really stupid – like mind numbingly stupid, and slowly but surely, over decades, centuries and millenia, a complex dialogue about the big questions has been going on, involving people from different countries. Various conclusions have been made and a certain amount of progress has been achieved in general thinking… even though some people in the world still enjoy the music of Rick Astley.

The different schools of thought that have appeared over the years are like different realisations – like different rooms in this big palace of thinking that we now all have access too.

So if you feel like it’s hard to make a distinction between some of these schools of thought, that’s ok – some of them are quite similar and in fact over the years they have combined to an extent, so that today it can be hard to distinguish between them. They’re not mutually exclusive.

Also, there are other positions or ways of looking at the world that might emphasise politics, economics or psychology which aren’t included here. E.g. if you believe that the defining force in your life is your place in the class system or wealth system in society, or how your life is dictated by those in power or by the decisions of your bosses, or the police – you might turn out to be a Marxist, or something like that. Or if you think that your experiences as a child are the most influential factors in how your life has meaning, you might be a Freudian, or simply if you believe that our lives are entirely dictated by some sort of intelligent creator who has designed everything including all existence and everything that happens, has happened or will happen – then you might be a religious person like a Christian or a Muslim or something.

Or perhaps if you believe that your life is given meaning by how you interact with audio content uploaded onto an internet based RSS feed, which you then consume through headphones attached to your ears, you might be a LEPsterian.

But again, it’s most likely that your worldview is some sort of combination of all these different schools of thought and of course a lot of the time we don’t really know which school of thought we belong to, because it’s not football. You don’t need to pick a team or anything. And it’s much more complicated than football, and perhaps less fun than football. Certainly in the UK hardly anyone goes around saying “well, I’m an epicurean so I disagree with what you said” or “Hey, shall we get pizza this evening?” “Well, I’d quite like to have noodles so speaking as a platonist I think we should have a debate about it and then choose our dinner based on the outcome of that argument, perhaps you would like to start by outlining your predicates for why you believe pizza is the best option…” Nobody does that, right? But anyway, here we go – different schools of philosophy, in alphabetical order, not chronological. As you’re listening to this you can just think about these questions:

a) Do I understand what the hell this position is all about?
b) Do I agree with this? Is this a good way to look at the world and make decisions?

Empiricism

The basic ideas of empiricism were probably first established by Persian and Arabic philosophers in the 11th and 12th centuries, and then developed into the more established positions by British and Irish philosophers from the 17th century into the 20th century.

Knowledge can only come from what you see and experience with your own eyes. “I’ll believe it when I see it” or “It’s only true if we can actually observe it.” Observation tells us what is true.

This is often contrasted with rationalism which basically says that you can use logic and reasoning to work something out without observing it – e.g. that there are rules of logic that are always true and that these define what will happen.

Empiricism basically says – I don’t trust any other information than the information I’ve seen and I can only know something after I’ve actually seen it, observed it, measured it. So, knowledge is something that comes after our experience.

Rationalism on the other hand says that there are certain universal laws of logic which will ultimately give you the truth about something. So, knowledge exists before us and it’s a matter of uncovering it.

Empiricism is all about ‘what comes after’ and rationalism is about ‘what comes before’.

The ‘what comes after’ means that the knowledge you have of something comes after you’ve observed it.

The ‘what comes before’ means that the principles of logic that exist before an event – universal laws of logic that everyone is born with the ability to use. These laws of logic are then applied to something in order to help us understand it.

So, for ‘flat earth’ an empiricist would say “Let’s look at the earth. Let’s measure it. If it looks round, we’ll know it’s round”. This is limited because sometimes our senses can be wrong. We might not be able to see things, and our senses might even distort what we’re seeing. E.g. for flat earth we can’t see the curvature of the earth from our current position, even if we’re in a plane, even though the curvature is there, because of our relatively close proximity to the earth. You’d need to travel to the edge of the atmosphere to see the curvature, and not many people can do that. So, a problem with being an empiricist is that you put too much faith in your senses, which can be misleading and can’t cover all aspects of knowledge – e.g. stuff that we can’t actually see – like gravity. I think there’s also an argument that the act of observing something has an effect on it. So, observation is not 100% perfect.

I think that the best approach would probably combine both systems, that to prove that the earth is round you’d observe the earth, measure it but also apply different mathematical laws or physical laws to it.

How does it relate to language?

We can align the rationalism side of things with the idea of ‘language nativism’. Rationalists say that we are all born with the ability to use logic and reason, that it is innate to us – perhaps part of our genes. Language nativists argue that we are born with an innate ability to learn languages. That language learning is in our genes. That all of us learn languages in the same way (regardless of the language) and that it is instinctual.

Language empiricists on the other hand believe that language is something that only happens after we are born – that it is something that we learn, rather than something that is kind of built into us genetically.

Epicureanism

This is an ancient school of thought created by a Epicurius from Athens in ancient Greece – around 300 years before the birth of Jesus Christ (307 BC).

This was when people were just trying to work out how to live properly – coming up with approaches to the best way to live your life. These days we are inundated by different methods and approaches to how to live your life. Think of all the lifestyle magazines and articles about dieting and making the right life choices and career moves. Once upon a time, people hadn’t really worked that out, and the philosophers in Ancient Greece really paved the way for this sort of thing. It seems they spent an awful lot of time sitting around trying to work out what human beings should really be doing with their lives beyond just surviving like all the other species on earth.

Epicurius believed that pleasure and pain are the only things that have intrinsic value to beings, and that the goal of life was to maximise pleasure and minimise pain for both yourself and others.

He taught that people thus needed four virtues: prudence (caution – being careful), justice, friendliness and fortitude (courage and the ability to withstand pain and difficulty). Epicurus emphasised that the pleasure from an action must be weighed against the negative side effects, a concept that could be called the ‘pleasure calculation’. For example, you could save up £1000, buy twenty kilograms of chocolate, and eat it all at the same time. In this case though, you need to weigh the pleasure of eating chocolate against the inevitable stomach ache and the weight you’ll gain from eating a third of your body weight in chocolate. Epicurus had a second part of the pleasure calculation that he said to consider: is it worth the momentary benefit of £1000 of chocolate or buying a new bike a bit later for £1100?

The greater pleasure, even if it causes a slight negative effect at the moment, is the greater good. Epicurus also taught that sensual pleasures weren’t all that there was to the world. Epicurus noted that appreciation of art and friendship also count as pleasure. Moreover, Epicurus taught that the enjoyment of life also required old Greek ideals of self-control, temperance, and serenity. Desires need to be curbed, and serenity will help us to endure the pain we may face.[2] Epicurus also preached altruism over self-interest. Said he that friendship “dances around the world, calling all people to a life of happiness.” He taught that the best life for the individual is one that is lived with other people for their benefit in addition to the individual’s own benefit. (RationalWiki)

No idea what he says about language to be honest!

Perhaps that when choosing to learn another language we should measure the benefits of learning that language against the pain we might experience as a result.

I’m pretty sure we can all agree that while learning English can be painful, frustrating, confusing and embarrassing, the benefit of learning this language clearly outweighs those negative things. So, on balance Epicurius would probably say – “Go ahead and learn English! And make friends with people while you’re doing it!”

Existentialism

www.philosophybasics.com/branch_existentialism.html

Language?

Hedonism

www.philosophybasics.com/movements_hedonism.html

Would a hedonist make a good language learner?

I imagine a hedonist might be a bit lazy, especially if learning a language from scratch doesn’t involve much bodily pleasure.

But perhaps hedonists might learn language if it meant gaining access to more forms of gratification. E.g. they might learn language in order to seduce people, get access to alcohol, drugs, or other forms of bodily pleasure! I expect a hedonist’s vocabulary would be rather limited to dirty words, useful phrases for drug deals and pillow talk.

Humanism

www.philosophybasics.com/movements_humanism.html

Language

I’m certain that humanists put a high value on language as a means of connecting with other people in the world. Humanists might have a democratic and prescriptive approach to language too.

Platonism

www.philosophybasics.com/movements_platonism.html

It’s pretty confusing, but to boil it down let’s say: Plato basically invented the first university – a place called The Academy which was positioned outside the city limits of Greece. This was where he delivered lectures to his students and engaged in debates. This was the foundation of certain academic principles and methods. Those academic “for and against” essays that you might have to write at university, or for an IELTS Writing part 2 – that all started with Plato and his academy.

He believed highly in the value of debate, argument and discourse as a way of reaching certain eternal “higher truths” – these are truths which are eternal. He thought that ‘ideas’ were more important than ‘matter’ (physical stuff) and that the persuit of knowledge or the process of learning is a question of uncovering universal truths that already exist in our immortal souls.

Language

From a language point of view, Plato believed that ultimate knowledge already exists inside us and it’s just a matter of uncovering it.

Noam Chomsky has applied this idea to his understanding of linguistics – how languages work, specifically in the idea that there is a Universal Grammar that we are all born with.

Basically, the idea is something like this – how do native English speakers know exactly how to use grammatical forms like present perfect tense correctly, without having formally studied it or been taught it?

E.g. my brother James knows when a sentence is right or wrong – e.g when present perfect is being used correctly or not, although he’s never been taught English grammar. How did he learn it? The idea is that James, like all of us, was born with an innate understanding of grammar.

From www.fluentu.com

1. Plato’s Problem
The writings of Plato stretch all the way back to the beginnings of Western philosophical thought, but Plato was already posing problems critical to modern linguistic discourse.
In the nature versus nurture debate, Plato tended to side with nature, believing that knowledge was innate.
This was his answer to what has become known as Plato’s Problem, or as Bertrand Russell summarizes it: “How comes it that human beings, whose contacts with the world are brief and personal and limited, are nevertheless able to know as much as they do know?” Being born with this knowledge from the get-go would naturally solve this little quandary and consequently he viewed language as innate.

Personally, I just can’t agree with this. What about people who are rubbish at grammar because they’ve had no exposure to it?

(Note: I’ve changed my mind! I think we must be born with the innate ability to learn grammar – but the whole subject is difficult to fully understand)

Scepticism

Philosophybasics.com

Skepticism (or Scepticism in the UK spelling)
At its simplest, Skepticism holds that one should refrain from making truth claims, and avoid the postulation of final truths. This is not necessarily quite the same as claiming that truth is impossible (which would itself be a truth claim), but is often also used to cover the position that there is no such thing as certainty in human knowledge (sometimes referred to as Academic Skepticism).

Language Learning & Scepticism

For language learning, you could say that a sceptic would avoid jumping to conclusions about the language being learned. E.g. when you think you’ve learned a rule about the language, avoid saying “this is always true”. E.g. The idea that quantifiers like “some / any” are always used in a certain way. You might learn from an intermediate book that “some” is used in affirmative sentences and “any” is used in questions or negative – but watch out, that so-called rule is often broken. So, a language learning sceptic might avoid thinking “this is always true” or “this is never correct”.

Stoicism

Dailystoic.com

Stoicism was founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century BC, but was famously practiced by the likes of Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. The philosophy asserts that virtue (such as wisdom) is happiness and judgment should be based on behavior, rather than words. That we don’t control and cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our responses.

Stoicism has just a few central teachings. It sets out to remind us of how unpredictable the world can be. How brief our moment of life is. How to be steadfast, and strong, and in control of yourself. And finally, that the source of our dissatisfaction lies in our impulsive dependency on our reflexive senses rather than logic.

Stoicism doesn’t concern itself with complicated theories about the world, but with helping us overcome destructive emotions and act on what can be acted upon. It’s built for action, not endless debate.

I found this article on Benny Lewis’s website “Fluent in 3 Months” and it’s doing exactly what I’m doing (or trying to do) in this episode – applying certain principles of philosophy to language learning.

This one is written by Jeremy Ginsburg, who describes himself as a writer, entrepreperformer and language learner and you’ll find it on

How to Apply Stoic Philosophy to Language Learning

So there you go folks. 8 different schools of philosophical thought.

Empiricism, Epicureanism, Existentialism, Hedonism, Humanism, Platonism, Scepticism, Stoicism.

There are many more types of philosophy than that of course, but that was just a series of 8, based on this online survey that Amber, Paul and I took recently.

If you’re feeling a bit confused

Don’t worry, I totally understand. Honestly, I’m a bit confused too. That’s normal. This stuff isn’t supposed to be easy, that’s why people have been thinking about it and going on about it for thousands of years.

Really, philosophy is all about wisdom and trying to understand things better, make the right decisions and choose the correct way of life.

I wonder what school of philosophy you associate with most?

Also, if you’d like to listen to Amber, Paul and me finding out which school of philosophy we belong to – just wait until the next episode to hear our discussion.

Thanks for listening!

Luke

491. Becoming a Dad (with Andy & Ben) Part 1

A conversation and vocabulary lesson about childbirth and becoming a father, with Andy Johnson and Ben Butler from The London School of English. Listen to Andy and Ben talking about their experiences of becoming parents, how their babies were born and more. Vocabulary is explained in the second half of the episode. Vocabulary list available.

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Introduction Transcript

This episode is all about becoming a Dad.

If you have heard the podcast recently you’ll know that my wife and I are expecting a child… (expecting a child to do what Luke…?) Well, expecting a child to be born… we’re having a baby, well she’s having a baby, as I said before, I will mainly be just standing there, hoping for the best.

“Expecting a child” is just the phrase we use for that – when you’re going to have a baby. We’re going to have a baby daughter in December. Thank you if you have sent me messages saying congratulations, that’s very nice of you.

I don’t plan to talk about children all the time on this podcast. Having a child is a big deal, but I don’t want to sound like a broken record by going on about it all the time, although it’s bound to come into the things I say because it will be major part of my life.

But I thought that it would be worth talking about it in some depth in at least one or two episodes because it is something that a lot of people experience (many of you will have had children, or will go on to have children and if not you then your friends or family – or at least it’s the sort of thing that people talk about a lot) and since this is happening to me I think talking about it could bring some authenticity to an episode, and that can really make it more interesting and therefore more engaging for you to listen to . Also there’s quite a lot of specific vocabulary that will come up that you can learn.

I did record a conversation with Amber nearly 4 years ago when she was pregnant with her son Hugo. She talked about what it was like for her to be pregnant and I did a follow-up episode with vocabulary of the subject too. You can find those two episodes in the episode archive – episodes 161 and 162. That was quite a long time ago, so let’s revisit the subject, and see if any of the same language comes up again.

161. She’s Having a Baby (with Amber Minogue)

162. Having Babies: Vocabulary / A Male Perspective

This time I thought I’d talk to Andy Johnson and Ben Butler about their experiences of becoming parents, to see if they can give me some general advice as I am just about to become a dad for the first time.

They’ve both had several children now, so they’re very experienced at the sort of thing I’m going to start going through in a matter of weeks.

So I’m going to do a lot of listening and learning in this episode, and you can join me too. Let’s see how much we can learn from this.

Watch out for some nice language relating to the whole subject of childbirth, parenting, and so on.

This episode is in two parts – that’s because I’ve decided to spend the second half of each episode explaining some of the vocabulary that comes up in the conversation.

What’s going to happen is that I’ll play you the first part of the conversation in a moment. Just try to follow it. I think it might be difficult for a lot of you. I think that there could be quite a lot of detail that you won’t catch. There are 3 of us, talking on skype, fairly quickly about quite a specific and detailed subject. So, remember, if you don’t understand it all – you should keep listening and hold on because I will be going through a lot of the language and clarifying it afterwards.

That should help you understand more and also turn this into more than just a conversation – it’ll become an English lesson and a chance to learn some natural English expressions. So, don’t worry if you don’t understand it all. I expect to catch a lot of that stuff in the second half.

There’s also a vocabulary list on the page for this episode and the next one.

Now, having children is wonderful and fantastic and all that – but it can also be quite scary – I mean, it’s fairly serious business, especially the moment of birth. I think we’re going to get into some fairly personal details in this conversation, and there will probably be a few descriptions of childbirth experiences which were quite emotional and even frightening at the time so please just bear that in mind if this is a sensitive topic for you for any reason.

Another thing I’m aware of is the fact that there are various cultural differences around childbirth and so the things you will hear about in this conversation might be different to how it is in your country. I’m quite curious to read your comments and to know if things are done at all differently where you are from.

Anyway, let’s now talk to Andy and Ben now and see what they can tell me about becoming a dad, and by the way – this conversation was recorded on Skype. I was at home in Paris and they were in a classroom at the London School of English, which is just next door to where I used to live in my flat in London. In fact, from some of the classrooms there it is possible to see my old flat through the windows. In fact, that’s the first thing that is mentioned in this conversation…

—————————- Part 1 ——————————–

Ok that’s the end of part 1 of the conversation!

What I’m going to do now is go through some of the language you just heard but may have missed. You can hear the rest of the conversation in part 2, which should be available soon.

Now, a lot of the language in this list for this episode is about childbirth and parenting – but not all of this language is about those things. There’s also plenty of vocabulary that you can use to talk about things in general, for example there are a few football analogies that Andy and Ben used as well.

Check out the page for this episode where you’ll see a the word list that I’m going through here. You can take those phrases, put them in your word lists, your flashcard apps, and so on.

Create your own word lists

By the way, it might be a good idea to create a word list of your own. It’s so easy with the internet today. When you find new words online, copy + paste them into a list (maybe on a spreadsheet, a word doc or a google doc or something). Add examples, definitions, pronunciation, even links to podcast episodes or whatever, and also any details that will help you remember the word. That’s so easy to do, right? Just copy + paste and bob’s your uncle. Use an online dictionary like Oxford Dictionary online to get examples and definitions. Then you can keep going back to your list, testing yourself and making sure that you remember these phrases and that you don’t just immediately forget them.

Just a tip there for how you can use word lists, notes or scripts on my website to help expand your active vocabulary with this podcast.

Vocabulary list

  • It’s exciting and slightly nerve-wracking
  • Football expressions (to describe the sequence in which Andy & Ben had kids – as if it was a football match)
    Ben, you went first with your baby and then Andy you came next.
    Andy: I equalised.
    It was 1 – 1.
    It was 1 – 0 (one – nil) and then Andy equalised.
    Then Ben took the lead again.
    Then more recently you drew level again.
    We’re both on a hat trick now but it’s more likely that the match has been abandoned now.
    It’s full time (no more kids!)
    Match abandonedinclement weather.
  • We’re going to call it quits at two.
  • The scans tell us that she’s healthy
  • How am I going to change a nappy?
  • Those kinds of things are easy in hindsight.
  • There was quite a lot of apprehension around the birth.
  • The midwife is talking about the birth in French.
  • Whether you want to have a caesarean section.
  • A natural birth – (in the UK this means a birth in the conventional sense, not a cesarean) but I use it to mean a birth involving no epidural (or pain reducing medication)
    So, here in France, when people say “a natural birth” they mean one with no pain killers.
    In the UK “a natural birth” just means “not a cesarean”.
  • So, will it be a c-section?
  • An epidural – a nerve blocker which goes into the spine
  • She had an epidural and she said it was a game changer
  • We conceived on Valentine’s Day
  • We had IVF so we know exactly when it happened
  • With the second one we were induced
  • My wife would certainly advocate having an epidural because it makes things so much easier
  • A chemical induced state
  • A numb state
  • My wife is pretty hardcore, she’s hard as nails
  • She’s got no qualms about that. She’s happy to just have the epidural.
  • We tried for 3 years and never fell pregnant again
  • In the end we went through IVF
  • They take the eggs out and inseminate them in a test tube and then they go back in
  • Talk about taking the fun out of it! (Talk about… = a way of emphasising something)
  • Our friends were plying us with champagne
  • Did your wives have morning sickness?
  • It’s the first trimester when they get sick
  • She was narcoleptic
  • Her body was generating new cells and it took it out of her
  • When is your due date?
  • You’re almost in the drop zone mate
  • By the time this has been published the sprog might have even arrived
  • Think about your social commitments and try and scale those back

— Part 2 Available Soon —

481. Holiday Diary (Final Part) “Endeavour to Persevere”

The final part of the holiday diary series. This one is about visiting the Navajo Nation, meeting some Navajo people, seeing more natural wonders at Monument Valley and The Grand Canyon,  a couple of film recommendations our experience of the solar eclipse and a few more anecdotes about the rest of our road trip.

[DOWNLOAD]

MEXICO EARTHQUAKE APPEAL

Please consider making a donation to help people in the affected areas

Organizations like UNICEF Mexico www.donaunicef.org.mx/ are looking for monetary donations.

There’s a big need for clothes, water, and food. Giving to places like the Red Cross Mexico www.cruzrojamexicana.org.mx/ , Oxfam Mexico www.oxfammexico.org , and Save the Children Mexico www.savethechildren.org/  is a way to get resources flowing.

Notes and Transcript for this Episode

Some rambling about how much it rains in Paris…

Then…

So here is the final episode in this series about the things I saw and did on my summer holiday this year. I’ve tried to make this more than just a description of a holiday. It’s also been a chance for me to talk about some topics that I hope are as interesting for you as they were for me when I found out about them.

In the last episode I talked to you about our road trip around the so-called Grand Staircase – a huge area of land where about 2 billion years’ worth of rock are exposed by tectonic activity and erosion, creating canyons and rock formations that are awe-inspiring but also revealing of the earth’s geological history.

In this episode I’d like to bring the series to a close by telling you a few more anecdotes and describing the rest of the trip.

Then, after this episode we’ll be back to normal podcasting with some upcoming episodes featuring conversations with guests.

So, after visiting Zion and Bryce Canyons in Utah in the last episode, we drove South East and across the state border into Arizona and also crossed into the area known as the Navajo Nation Reservation – an area of land that includes parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

I already knew a few things about native Americans, or American Indians, or just the Navajo tribe, but I sort of hadn’t realised we would be entering their territory and staying there for a few days.

In fact, I didn’t even really know that the Navajo Nation existed.

I knew a bit about the Navajo. I knew that many Indians were moved from the areas they used to inhabit onto reservations in the 19th century.

I knew that many Indian tribes like the Navajo had been forced, in the late 1800s, by the US army to move onto reservations, which in many cases were basically just prisons on inhospitable land, just because the United States government didn’t really know what else to do with them and which, by today’s standards, would be considered a violation of basic human rights.

I also knew that the Navajo’s population had been decimated by these changes and that this was the same story with many Indian tribes across the country.

But I didn’t realise that the Navajo had been given a whole area of land – much bigger than their original reservation, that they could govern themselves, with their own elected president and other official posts.

It’s worth saying a few things about the Navajo Nation because I learned some stuff I didn’t know before.

They’re a sovereign nation with their own elected President.

The land which includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah is about 27,000 square KM – and on that land you can find various sites of great cultural and spiritual significance to the Navajo. There are over 300,000 people living there.

So, for a few days we were living on Navajo land and met quite a lot of Navajo people who work in the hotels, restaurants and as tour guides to some of the natural monuments.

These days the Navajo are modern people of course, and they don’t live exactly like their ancestors did but the brief bits of contact I had with some of them was interesting. It was really cool for me to chat with some people, particularly a tour guide we met at Antelope Canyon and just realise that although our ancestors were worlds apart (mine would have been English families raised as Anglican Christians in towns in the North of England, theirs lived on this land and hunted for deer and fish, lived in earthen houses called Hogans, fought with the US army) – so although our great grandparents lived utterly different lives, we shared some surprising things in common.

A Short history of the Navajo

They used to live in the Arizona area – living on and the land in simple wood and earth structures, hunting for animals, performing their rituals, living by their beliefs in the importance of living in harmony with the supernatural powers of nature, but as settlers from Europe began moving west and populating more and more land, they clashed with the Navajo, making life difficult for the settlers and prospectors moving through, so they were forced by the American government and the US army to move 300 miles to the east into New Mexico, and they had to walk there, in winter. Everyone. Hundreds of them died on the way and generally the population was nearly wiped out by the general upheaval – the consequences of the move, and the way their whole way of life became severely limited and impossible, by the way they were treated and their reduction in population is now often referred to as a genocide.

It wasn’t until much later, that the remaining Navajo were not only allowed to go back to their land, and claim it again, but they were allowed to govern themselves.

Essentially, during that period of western expansion, native people were considered less than human and were treated that way. Many Indians were killed or simply left to die.

They were just not included in the grand narrative of western expansion that built the USA of the modern age, despite being the original American people. Usually the American Indians are just represented as savage bad guys in western movies, although this has changed in the last few decades when their stories have been told more respectfully.

Also I learned that the Navajo played a really important part in World War 2. When the US was at war with Japan after Pearl Harbour, one of the most important things for the US navy was being able to communicate secretly. They created loads of codes, but the Japanese codebreakers were so clever and sophisticated that pretty much any code the Americans came up with got broken, and this was costing the US army a lot of lives. In the end, they employed bilingual Navajo people to create a code based on the Navajo language, and it was incredibly effective. The Japanese couldn’t break the code because of the nature of the Navajo language. Many words in Navajo can have multiple meanings but it depends how they are pronounced, using different tones. Some words can mean 4 totally different things depending on the tone used when saying them. I suppose in that way it’s like Mandarin Chinese or other tonal languages.

The Navajo people employed by the government to translate messages into code, based on their language, are known as the Navajo Code Talkers and they have been recognised as heroes and given numerous awards by the US government.

It’s a fascinating story of how this American Indian tribe suddenly became vital to American interests and greatly helped the country win the war.

We met a few native people while we were there and I wondered what life is like for them and how they feel they fit into life in the US.

They seem like nice people (but who knows) with a sense of humour. I mean, they could be vindictive and bitter, but they don’t seem to be. In fact the people we met seemed to be quite level-headed and humourous. I think the fact that they govern themselves helps to give them a sense of pride and independence.

Being in this part of the world, seeing the different landscapes and people, this made me think of some films – these are often my reference points because I’ve watched a lot of films over the years.

The Outlaw Josey Wales – Chief Dan George (not a Navajo but an interesting scene)

One particular film I thought of is The Outlaw Josey Wales – directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. It’s about a civil war fugitive who is running from the Union army. At the start of the film he’s a peaceful farmer, but soldiers come and burn his house down, and kill his wife and child. He’s so consumed by revenge that he becomes an outlaw – a sort of avenging ghost (the typical Clint Eastwood western character) and on his way he sort of picks up these odd group of companions and it becomes something of an unconventional family. It was filmed in some of the locations that we visited, and there’s an Indian character in the movie played by an Indian actor called Chief Dan George. The actor isn’t Navajo and neither is his character – his character is a Cherokee – but the Cherokee experienced similar displacement to the Navajo, and they were ordered to walk hundreds of miles away from their land into reservations where and it basically destroyed their whole way of life – a way of life that had developed over many many years and was in harmony with the land, the wildlife and the natural environment in general.

There’s one scene in the film when this character played by Chief Dan George mentions the trail of tears and how him and other members of his tribe actually went to Washington to meet with the Secretary of the Interior to negotiate. They were all proud and wore suits and hats like Abraham Lincoln – because they were naive, but they were simply told to “endeavour to persevere” which basically means “just try to survive”. They were basically told “nope, we’re not going to help you, we’re still moving you into reservations, you’ll just have to try to survive”. The Indian chiefs went away thinking they had achieved something because the language sounded so respectful and important and because they’d been impressed by the posh surroundings in Washington. It wasn’t until later that they thought about those words “Endeavour to persevere” and realised that nothing had changed and they were being left in appalling conditions with nothing other than “try to survive” from Washington – on reservations built on land that wouldn’t yield anything for them. Once they’d thought about it, they declared war on the Union.

I like this scene because Dan George delivers the story with dry humour. It’s funny but also a bit tragic. It’s also a chance to hear English spoken by an American Indian.

Context: Chief Dan George’s character emerges from his home because he thinks someone is approaching. In fact it’s Clint Eastwood’s character just moving through the area. Dan George (Lone Watie) emerges from the house, trying to get an edge (an advantage) on the intruder but Clint’s character manages to sneak up on him. Then he talks about how the white man has been sneaking up on him and his tribe for years. Then he talks about the frock coat he’s wearing – the same coat he wore when he went to Washington, and a top hat like Abraham Lincoln used to wear. Then he tells the story of meeting the Secretary of the Interior and being told to endeavour to persevere.

“Indians vow to ‘Endeavor to Persevere'”

It’s a great performance by Chief Dan George and shows dignity, sadness and humour.

It’s hard not to see the irony when you see Americans today on Twitter complaining about immigrants coming and stealing their land and not assimilating to the culture.

Saw horseshoe bend – a huge natural bend in a river.

Lower Antelope Canyon (more pics at the bottom of the page)

IMG_6234
(Not looking directly at the sun, by the way)

Video (below) – an example of a Flash flood – the sort of thing that created Antelope Canyon with erosion (this is a scene from 127 Hours, not actually filmed at Antelope Canyon, but just an example of a flash flood)

The tour company is run by the Navajo.

Examples of their dry sense of humour.

We arrived for our 12.20 tour about 30 minutes early because we thought there would be crowds.

We noticed that quite a lot of the tourists were being quite rude with the staff – just being a bit impolite and demanding, which is a pity.

In fact I noticed that the couple in front of us, who weren’t very nice, were demanding to go on the 11.50 tour when theirs was at 12.20 because there wasn’t an air conditioned waiting room (everyone was waiting in the shade in a covered waiting area) but the girl behind the counter told them that there was no space on the 11.50 tour and they just had to wait.

Sure, there wasn’t an air conditioned room, but this particular bit of land is not supposed to have lots of buildings on it and after all this is the desert, what did you expect, etc etc.

It was our turn and we made an effort to be nice.
“Hello! We’ve got a canyon tour booked”
Which tour?
12.20
It’s already gone, sorry.
My wife: What??
The girl just had a straight face.
Then I realised she was joking.
No, I’m just joking, ha ha. You can join the 11.50 one if you want.

I have some time for that attitude. I’ve worked in bars, restaurants, shops, lots of customer service positions. You have to have a sense of humour because people can treat you so badly and they feel that they can be so rude to you.

Meeting Brian Yazzie our tour guide

We were joined by a group of about 10 tourists.

I think that people might be at their worst when in tourist groups. I don’t know why, but groups of tourists can act so rudely, pushing in front of each other, showing no respect to the guide, showing no deference to the incredibly significant monument which they are visiting and also doing stupid and dangerous things – like leaning over cliffs to take selfies or wandering off the path to take photos and stepping on a snake or being stung by a scorpion or something.

Brian dealt with all of this by using some seriously dry humour

Brian’s funny jokes

Can’t remember them? He told us 11 people had been bitten by snakes this week, that a woman fell off a ladder and you can still see the bloodstains if you look carefully, and he also said “travelling thousands of miles to walk through some cracks in the ground, kind of crazy right?”

He knew Penn & Teller and even Derren Brown.

Videos of Brian on YouTube

Some sleight of hand card magic inside Antelope Canyon

Brian tries some tricks on a few French tourists

The chimneys you see in the background of that video are the local power station which provides the whole area (and other states) with electricity. It’s part-owned by the Navajo.

As we were walking to the canyon he told us that his Grandmother used to say that you shouldn’t go down there, because it’s “the home of the winds”.

“So this is sacred ground?” I asked him.

“My grandma thought so”.

“Well, I’m sure everyone appreciates the beauty of it.” I said, but I couldn’t help feeling like we shouldn’t be walking there.

But Brian seemed ok with it.

Monument Valley

Monument Valley in the film Fort Apache

Monument Valley in the film Fort Apache

Hotel is run by the Navajo.

It has views of the valley and the big rock formations.

It’s also a trading post and a place to eat.

It’s quite neatly built into a piece of high ground at the end of the canyon. It doesn’t stand out too much.

Each room has a view of the valley and there’s a big terrace with full views.

Incredible views. Describe the view.

Again, mad abstract shapes on a clear blue and rust coloured background.

Shadows stretching out across hundreds of metres of land. Amazing huge monoliths with faces in them and old names given by the Navajo.

Sunset.

Movie on the wall with view from our room. We sat, ate our packed dinner and watched the film.

It was called Fort Apache – directed by John Ford, starring John Wayne and Henry Fonda. It features scenes filmed in Monument Valley.

In fact, Monument Valley is famous for being in westerns.

It was amazing to watch the film and then literally turn your head and see the exact same environment just there in front of you.

Also, it was interesting to me that the Navajo chose to screen the film, because usually westerns present rather a bad image of Native Americans as the bad guys.

But this one was different. It was made just after WW2 and the general tone of it is about how foolish leadership and the so-called glory of war usually just leads good young men to die and how the American military misunderstood the complex culture of the native Americans and also underestimated their military strength.

The natives are presented as brave, civilised and great strategists.

All the native American parts (Apache indians) are played to great effect by local Navajo, and the end of the film sees them defeat a garrison of American soldiers.

So it’s pretty clear why the locals like the film. And it’s a really good one. John Ford was a masterful director.

That night, like most nights out in the desert we couldn’t sleep. Not because of jet-lag but I think because we’re quite blown away by all the stimulation. It’s quite hard to take it all in!

So, that night we both lay in our bed trying to sleep, but feeling wide awake, with this incredible and powerful landscape just outside the window.

In the morning we drove down into the valley to see the huge monoliths a bit closer. Again, there were lots of faces and forms seemed to be in the rocks as you look at them. You can imagine how the native Americans must have stared at these rocks and seen all sorts of visions in them.

They are truly inspiring places.

Out of the Navajo Nation and into the national parks again.

The Grand Canyon

We drive there just before sunset and get to see some incredible early sights of the canyon.

It is just the biggest thing I’ve ever seen.

Grand Canyon

(A small corner of) The Grand Canyon

From you to the horizon, a huge network of different canyons, jutting rocks, cracks diving deep into rivers down below.

Imagine seeing 300 canyons all at the same time, all part of one much larger one which bends around the corner. It’s like that.

Saw the sunset and driving home catch views of elk by the side of the road.

Insomnia

We couldn’t sleep (again).

I felt a million and one thoughts come to me while I was lying there wide awake.

Some thoughts were my fears and my worries. My whole life flashing before my eyes.

You know when you can’t sleep and your mind insists on playing back some memories…

But also thoughts of positivity and joy about the future.

It’s weird how sometimes when you can’t sleep your mind just takes off and you have to hold on for the ride. You know when you can’t sleep and your mind races around to different things, and you just can’t stop it? You really want to just sleep and switch off, but you can’t. Normally you have ordinary things to deal with that occupy, like remembering to iron your shirt in the morning and dealing with little work-related problems and things like that.

But being away from it all, your thoughts become untethered.

Basically, it’s called “taking stock” and this is what we often do on holiday isn’t it?

I reflected and tried to work things out somehow, while also just trying to get a good night’s sleep.

For example, I am trying to stop worrying about small things because they’re just small things…

I can get quite caught up on details and I can blow small concerns out of proportion. I can make mountains out of molehills, just like we all do, and that causes anxiety and so on. We all do it, right?

But we can’t afford to do that. We can’t put significance onto every little thing. It’s best to let some things slide and to focus on the big stuff. You’ve got to prioritise.

I was also thinking about the whole universe and remembering random episodes from my life, and thinking about starting a family and what it means, also thinking about this podcast and how I’m doing it.

Like, what is it that my audience really wants from me and from this podcast? How can I continue to provide the sort of content that will really benefit people while allowing me to pursue the things I want in life?

There were a lot of strands running through my head, man. But I think I worked a few things out.

From the Grand Canyon we drove down into the lower ground of the desert, back towards Las Vegas – where we would take our quick flight back to Los Angeles for the final part of the trip.

We spent a night an unremarkable in a town called Kingman, and the next day set off by car to Vegas.

This day was all about the eclipse.

The Solar Eclipse

I guess you all know what a solar eclipse is.

It’s when the moon passes in front of the sun and fully eclipses it – hiding it for a few moments before the sun reappears again.

Have you ever experienced one?

It’s seriously weird and amazing.

Firstly, seeing these celestial bodies crossing past each other is like a ballet of cosmic proportions.

This is another thing that makes you realise how small you really are in the grand scheme of things.

It’s also extraordinary that this happens.

Some ancient cultures thought they were extremely significant events.

It’s easy to see why. Everything goes dark like it’s night time. The birds stop singing. Animals behave strangely. The sun is like a black dot in the sky with a shining halo around it.

Then everything goes back to normal.

If you didn’t know it was coming, and you already worshipped the sun, you’d undoubtedly read massive significance into it.

It also looks amazing. You’re not supposed to look directly at it of course, because then you’re basically staring right at the sun which will blind you if you do it for long enough. The light will scorch your retinas.

You have to use special filtering glasses to see it, and on the news they were repeatedly telling everyone not to look at the sun because it could blind you.

Trump looked directly at it of course, as we know. I’m not sure why he did that.

Anyway, the eclipse was visible in certain spots along the breadth of the country. On the road to Vegas we didn’t get the full eclipse, just a partial one and we were in the middle of driving to the airport to catch a plane so we didn’t stop to check it out.

But in any case we wouldn’t have been able to see anything because there was cloud cover.

We did experience a murky half light at the time of the eclipse and everything went spooky.

On the journey there were large black clouds collecting in the distance and some lighter cloud cover over our heads. We started fairly early so the sun was quite low in the sky and with the clouds the light was quite dim.

But as the eclipse happened overhead everything went a murky, dark yellow colour, cars put their headlights on. There were freaky flash rainstorms with massive raindrops.

For about 10 minutes there was a strange end of the world type feeling as the darkening sky was lit up by flashes of lightning in the distance and we saw forked lightning striking rock formations up on our left at the top of a shallow canyon.

We came into Vegas and just went straight to the airport. No need to stop there again.

Arriving in LA had a much better car rental experience.

Within minutes we were in the garage choosing our car.

“Which one would you like? A Japanese one? An American? Hatchback or saloon?”

My wife said “The red one”.

That’s her criteria. Colour.

It turned out to be a Chevrolet Cruze and it was a great car. About the size of a Ford Focus and extremely smooth and responsive.

Maybe this is just how it felt after driving a Jeep for a week.

Compared to that this one felt like a sports car.

Topanga Canyon

Topanga is an awesome place.

Along the coastal highway and up into the hills overlooking the coast.

In those hills are leafy little canyons with communities of people who’ve set up their homes on the hillsides. Topanga was a really cool scene to be part of in the early 1970s and lots of musicians hung out in that area writing their songs. This included people like Neil Young and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

I’m particularly a fan of Neil Young and I’d read his autobiography, so I knew a lot of the stories of the music he wrote and recorded here, and I always thought it sounded amazing. A peaceful retreat among oak trees with sunlight shining through the canopy with wood cabins and cafes serving pie and coffee.

It’s still a lot like that.

We stayed in an AirBnB which was basically a single room wooden cabin with a shower. THe place was extremely well put together. Very tasteful and it felt new. Everything was made of oak with a fantastic and huge stove for cooking. I cooked some food there and drank local beer from bottles. We enjoyed hanging around on the deck outside and lying on the sun lounger looking up at the sky through the leaves and branches of the trees.

We only had a couple of days in this peaceful part of LA so we didn’t do a lot, where you can get lunch and watch people surfing.

Generally it was a pleasure to stay in Topanga and we did not want to leave our cabin and come back to reality.

At night there were coyotes outside the cabin. They make a really strange noise – a kind of whooping, howling and whistling that sounds both ridiculous and scary.

One evening we came back at night and as we drove down the driveway to the cabin there were coyotes hanging around outside the door of the cabin.

These are wild dogs, a bit smaller than wolves.

My wife freaked out a bit so I had to go out of the car, open the door of the cabin and then get her in quickly.

I must admit it was a bit offputting when I heard the coyotes go crazy when they could smell me standing just a few metres away and I heard them all running around in the darkness just beyond my vision making a hell of a racket. I kept telling myself that they were more scared than me, but I didn’t fully convince myself.

I rushed my wife into the house and locked the door! Thankfully we both didn’t get eaten alive by wild dogs because, well, that would have been a pity.

That was a bit scary but we had a good laugh about it!

All in all, this holiday was amazing.

Throughout our trip people were polite, friendly, helpful and often interesting and funny.

We saw some really cool stuff, had a chance to enjoy each other’s company as a couple before the arrival of our child.

The trip also took me by surprise a bit. I didn’t expect to be so moved by the things we saw, particularly out in the desert, at those canyons and in the Navajo Nation.

It was a bit emotional too, watching my wife’s belly get bigger, reflecting on things, not sleeping.

It all felt very real at the time and it was a welcome bit of clarity even if it all happened too quickly.

Now I’m back in Paris amongst all my stuff and all the things that keep me tethered on earth and it’s hard to somehow recreate on a podcast how it really felt to be face to face with the hand of nature creating its mysterious art over billions of years.

I’m not sure it’s possible to, in words, recreate the experience of discovering such beauty, wonder and mystery all through the eyes of people who haven’t slept.

In any case, I hope I’ve managed to communicate to you some of how it felt and that you’ve picked up some more English in the process.

You might have been to the same places as me? What were your thoughts?

Thank you for listening to my Holiday Diary series.

Luke

Neil Young – Tell Me Why (Lyrics)
tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/n/neil_young/tell_me_why_ver2_crd.htm

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