Category Archives: Social English

552. Discussing Comedy & Culture (with Amber & Paul)

Amber, Paul and I listen to a comedy video which is often sent to me by listeners to this podcast. The video is about the experience of trying to understand people when they speak English. Let’s see what the pod-pals think of this comedy from another country. The conversation then turns to comedy, culture, language and some more Alan Partridge. I read out some listener comments at the end of the episode. Notes, transcripts and links available.

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Transcripts & Notes

Introduction

Welcome back to another episode featuring the PODPALS Amber & Paul.

In this episode we discuss comedy in different countries, including what makes comedy funny, what can make comedy culturally inappropriate, whether Brits have a different view of comedy to other cultures, and whether understanding comedy is just about understanding the language or if there’s more to it than that.

This is clearly the topic which I’m a bit obsessed with: How comedy or humour can reveal our cultural differences in the most striking ways. Perhaps comedy is the key to truly understanding our cultural values somehow.

I often talk about how learners of English often don’t find British comedy funny, and that this is a pity for me. One of the worst things I can hear is someone dismissing British humour or comedy as simply “not funny”. I don’t really mind if people say our food or weather is bad, but don’t touch the comedy, I think. But honestly, when I see comedy from other countries – like TV comedy in France where I live, I have to admit that I often don’t find it funny and I do find myself saying things like “oh, this is French comedy…” meaning – French comedy simply isn’t funny or only works on one level. Is that true or am I being hypocritical? I don’t really know.

Anyway, these questions are at the heart of the discussion in this episode, which also involves the three of us listening to and discussing a video – a video that I have been sent many times by listeners. Listeners have sent this video to me more than any other. I wonder if you know what that video could be.

Unfortunately Paul had to leave halfway through this episode because he had a live radio interview scheduled. He’s a busy man who is in demand all over the place. But after he leaves, Amber & I continue the discussion which goes on to discuss my recent episodes about British comedy and we revisit the subject of Alan Partridge.

So without any further ado, let’s get back to my coworking space and jump into the conversation once more.


The video that people have sent me more than any other

I get sent things like videos and memes and stuff. Sometimes it’s the same thing, like the “Eleven” video and also “What British People Say vs What They Mean”.

But this one more than any other.

I’m not going to tell you what it is yet. We’re just going to listen to it and I want you to tell me what you think is going on, and what you think of it.

Outtro Transcript

So there you are folks. Quite a lot packed into that episode. Lots of questions and points about comedy in different cultures and that video from Russia too. About that video, on balance I’d say that I personally didn’t find it funny when I first saw it. I found it a little odd. It’s like a big family entertainment show with a lot of attention being paid to what I expect are (or at least look like) celebrities in Russia in the audience. The comedians are just sitting on the stage, which is fine I think because you don’t always need lots of stage movement and stuff as long as the material is good.

I got the joke, which is that this is how it feels when you listen to people speaking English, but I found it really quite weird the interpretation of the British guy, but also fascinating.

He basically does this … [Luke copies the impression]

…and is stuttery, hesitant and incoherent.

It’s interesting to sort of look at British people through the eyes of Russians.

I guess this means that Brits must seem hesitant when they speak and I expect this also comes from hearing Brits with accents like perhaps the cockney or northern accents, but the result sounds nothing like any of those accents really. It’s a sort of garbled, lost in translation version of a British person with certain traits highlighted and emphasised perhaps because they don’t quite match the Russian way, or something.

I found the impression of the English guy more weird than funny. It felt like, “Is that what they think we sound like?”

The Indian guy is sort of a funny impression in that he’s got the tone and rhythm right but it’s a pretty broad impression and in fact more of a caricature than a full impression. Also there’s just the issue that copying an Indian accent if you’re not Indian is somehow considered a bit inappropriate in the UK.

I talked about this with Sugar Sammy in a recent episode.

534. Sugar Sammy Interview (Part 2) Language & Comedy

I still don’t know where the comedian in the Russian video is from but he could be Indian maybe.

But I get the joke. This is how it sounds for you when you hear these people.

I didn’t find it funny at first but actually I’m finding it more and more funny as I watch it again and again.

It’s also funny to me that I often talk about the challenge of showing UK comedy to learners of English and how they don’t get it, and then someone sends me a comedy video from another country and I have the same reaction, more or less!

I expect there are people in the audience who know more about this (video) than us so leave comments telling me more about this Russian TV Comedy Club video.

Also, I’m heartened to read some of your comments relating to the recent episodes about comedy.

Right now: I’ve just uploaded the 2nd Alan Partridge episode. There haven’t been many comments yet. Slightly disturbing silence. Have I confused everyone?

Edit:
**TIMESHIFT**
It’s now a week later.
I’ve received more messages than I did last week when I recorded this part of this episode.
Thanks for sending your comments. I’ll go through those messages in a moment.
But first, here are the messages I had received at the time I recorded this outtro last week, which was just after I’d released the Edinburgh Fringe Jokes episode and the first two Alan episodes.
*TIMESHIFT back to the present*

Here’s a selection of comments

Salwa • Alan Partridge Part 1
Oh that was really funny and enjoyable. Thank you very much for introducing Alan Partridge to us. I did not find the comedy difficult to understand at all. In fact, some of the jokes made me laugh out loud.

Mariangel García • Best Jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe
Hi Luke, I hope you’re doing alright
I’d like to tell you that you should continue making these podcasts about comedy, they’re quite enjoyable and help us improve our English, as you just said, understanding jokes in our second language can be the hardest thing.
By the way, please don’t forget my proposal of making an episode about British pop music. I’m definitely looking forward to listening to it.
Lots of hugs from Venezuela.

Anastasia Pogorevich • Best Jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe
Thank you, Luke! I’m really keen on your excellent Joke explanations. I think English humour is fabulous and would like to know more about that stuff. You make all things absolutely clear and I like your positive attitude to your work and to life! Cheers!

Tania •Best Jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe
That’s a pleasure! Thank you, Luke! I’ve got nearly all of the jokes but some after you read them several times. So It’s fun, of course. I know what learners usually say about English humor:)) I myself thought about it that way from the start, but you know, the humor is not just lying on the surface and turns out to be intellectual. Gives work to your brain. And finally you get it! Cool! This is the first audio i’ve listened on your site, downloaded the app and enjoy! English is becoming closer to me!

Vladimir Yermolenko • Best Jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe
Hi Luke! I really enjoyed this new episode on Edinburgh Festival Fringe, thank you so much. The jokes got all clear when you explained some of them. My favorite one was “watch and a log” :)
I also recall some funny jokes in my country, but I don’t know what the style of joke that is. I’ve just translated one from my language.
Dr.Watson asks Sherlock “Can you hear this sinister howl, Mr.Holmes?”
Holmes says “Yes, that’s probably the hound of the Baskervilles”

Then, on another day:
“But what is this sinister silence around us?”
“It’s the fish of Baskervilles, Doctor”

Anya Chu •Best Jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe
Hi Luke,
A little ninja from Taiwan here! I’ve been listening to your podcast for just over 1 year and have been enjoying it sooo much. Really appreciate your work on all the great content!
I’ve just finished the new episode of jokes from Edinburgh Fringe, and I loved it! I was on a bus when I listened to this episode and I kept getting giggles, which I tried very hard to disguise as coughs. British humor is just always on point.
Anyway, thank you again for all the effort on such excellent episodes. Please keep up the great work! :)

Svetlana Mukhamejanova • LEP Premium 06 Part 3
Hi Luke! Re P06[3] please don’t stop making fun, I love your sense of humor)

***TIMESHIFT!***
It’s now the future again. I’m recording this a week after recording the rest of this outtro and there are now more comments on the Alan Partridge episodes, which I’d like to share with you.

Alan (Part 1)

Hiro • 6 days ago
Hello Luke,
I really enjoyed the Knowing Me, Knowing You (aha)show with the child genius. It was so funny I listened to it 3 times! Without your precise explanations, though, I wouldn’t have been able to get all the jokes. Thank you!

Viktoria Luchina • 7 days ago
I adore listening to your episodes about British Comedy! And the way you explain to us some bits of language is perfect. I’ve listened to “Alan Partridge Interviews Child Prodigy Simon Fisher” at least 5 times and I liked it more than the first clip. It’s really interesting that in this case we laugh with Alan and at him. I’m looking forward to next episodes like this one! World needs to explore British Comedy in depth with you!

Alan (Part 2)

Hiro • 6 days ago
Hello Luke!
This second episode is a little more challenging for me than the previous one because the jokes are more subtle. However, the more I listened to your explanatiosn, the clearer the humorous points became to me! Yes, Alan Partridge is an absolute walking disaster! He makes me cringe so much I cannot listen to each one of his episodes in one go.
Again, without your excellent guide, I wouldn’t be able to understand all the nuances and layers of this comedy. Thank you very much, Luke!

Marat • 7 days ago
Hello, Luke! My name is Marat, I am from Russia. I really enjoy listening to your podcast in general and these Alan Partridge episodes in particular! In the first part you have mentioned The Office series as being full of cringey situations. I haven’t seen the British one, but have seen the American one (with Steve Carell). And that was really all about cringey moments). Have you seen the American one? Which one is more cringey in your opinion? (‘cringey’ is a new word to me, so I use it everywhere now :) ).

Alan (Part 3)

Zdenek Lukas • a day ago
Hi Luke, I just want to let you know that I have been thoroughly enjoying the episodes about Alan Partridge (currently in the middle of the 3rd one). I love this character and I actually played the clip from the first episode (the one with the child prodigy) to teach types of questions and the pronoun “whom”. I am a big fan of these episodes and I think you clearly managed to do justice to this character. Thank you for your podcast!

peppe124 • 2 days ago
After you spent several hours on 3 episodes, I think we all should spend a couple of minutes writing a comment. We own [owe] that to you.
You are THE teacher every school of English should have! The method you used on this series was just brilliant.
Giving the introduction and background (with cultural references as well), letting us listen and guess and then going back over the clips was really helpful to test and improves my listening skill!
I also liked the content itself,that is the comedy, although I must say I liked the first 2 more; but that’s because there were more, kind of, jokes.
Thank you very much Luke for all this. Keep up the great job!

Tatiana • 2 days ago
Hi Luke, it’s the first time I’ve come out of the woodwork, really. Just to say a few words about the Alan Partridge episodes. I have enjoyed all of them. They give a little insight into real English, the genuine one, that is what British people really laugh at! That’s amazing. Thank you for that! They are right, the people who say, ‘If you understand comedy, you understand the language’.
Your explanations before listening are so detailed that I find almost no difficulties to understand most of Alan’s words. And it is valuable! I tried to find those clips on YouTube (they’re all embedded on the page), and they are even better with video, I would say, (because) you can watch the facial expressions and body gestures.
But then I watched some more – those that were not scrutinised on the podcast. It was a nightmare – I could understand hardly half of it, and most jokes just flew over my head. I felt so disappointed, I see now that proficiency level is as far from me as the Moon.
Thank you for doing your job for us: your podcast is, at this point, one of the major ways of improving my English. I listen and re-listen, take notes, revise them from time to time and so on.
Please keep going with your comedy episodes, they are great!

Damian • 3 days ago
[The] Episodes about Alan Partridge (generally, all episodes about British comedians) are brilliant! Many thanks!

Nikolay Polanski • 5 days ago
All three episodes are very nice, even though it is sometimes hard to get, why it is funny, to be desperate, stupid, mean and lonely. )))
I mean – you said before “try to watch it as a drama, and you’ll appreciate the comedy” – it seems like drama to me )
It is funny, but also sad.
But the episodes are top notch, thanks for the great work you’ve done

Ilya • 4 days ago
I love it! I want more episodes about British comedy! One of my favourite topics.

Francesca Benzi • 3 days ago
Just a few comments, but all of them are a big thumbs up!
I’d never heard of Alan Partrige before listening to your podcast, so thank you: I had a very good time with each of the three episodes.
Brits behavior can often be weird, from an Italian point of view, and listening to your podcast builds up my knowledge of how different we are.

Yaron • 3 days ago
Coming out of the shadows for a moment to say that I like the Alan Partridge episodes. In a way, it reminds me of the brilliant episode about Ali G that you did few years ago (which I recommend to anyone who hasn’t listened to it yet)
Thank you Luke.

I find your comments very reassuring and I’m very glad to read them. I’ll do more episodes about comedy in the future. In the meantime, check the episode archive for other British Comedy episodes.

In fact, here are the links (11 episodes)

Previous episodes about British Comedy

156. British Comedy: Ali G

172. British Comedy: Peter Cook & Dudley Moore

195. British Comedy: Monty Python’s Flying Circus

202. British Comedy: Monty Python & The Holy Grail

313. British Comedy: Tim Vine

316. British Comedy: Tim Vine (Part 2)

427. British Comedy: Limmy’s Show

428. British Comedy: Limmy’s Show (Part 2)

462. British Comedy: Bill Bailey

469. British Comedy: John Bishop

507. Learning English with UK Comedy TV Shows

I also have episodes about telling jokes and explaining humour in social situations. Get into the archive and find out for yourself.

In the meantime, you should sign up for LEP Premium. Get the episodes on the LEP App, sign up at teacherluke.co.uk/premium for hot English action, helping you deal with vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation and have a bit of fun in the process. :)

Thanks for listening!

551. Catching Up with Amber & Paul #8 – Stereotypes

Chatting to the pod-pals Amber & Paul again and this time the conversation turns to the subject of national stereotypes, and why Paul has bleached his hair blond. Notes & transcripts below.

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Intro Transcript

OK Amber & Paul are back on the podcast today and I promise to keep this intro as short as possible.

It’s been a while since the last episode with Amber and Paul so it’s great to have them back. It’s been a little difficult to get the three of us in a room together, because we’ve all been busy, especially Paul who has been doing his stand up and working on a TV show and other projects.

So, anyway, here is “Catching Up with Amber & Paul” #8. The idea behind these catching up episodes is that we just see what my friends Amber & Paul have been doing recently and then see where the conversation takes us.

You can expect the usual mix of us talking quite fast, going off on various tangents and making fun of each other. That’s what usually happens in these episodes, and everyone seems to enjoy that, which is great! It’s the tangential trio, the PODPALs – reunited again for much pod-related fun.

Just to help you a bit, here’s a rundown of what we’re talking about in this episode.

  • In my coworking space, not on the terrace or in the sky pod this time. The co-working space is quite trendy and “hipsterish”, and empty.
  • Paul looks very different. His appearance has changed – what’s going on?
  • Paul’s new TV show about stereotypes, called “Stereotrip” (first revealed on this podcast last year)
  • Some talk of stereotypes, focusing on Italian people, Swiss people, German people, Swedish people and English people. What are the stereotypes of those places and are they true, based on the research that Paul and his team did for the TV show?
  • How is Amber’s show with Sarah Donnelly going? The show is called “Becoming Maman” and is about learning how to become a mother in France.
  • The importance of marketing for things like comedy shows, Vlogs, YouTube videos, podcast episodes and the way that certain episode titles or comedy show titles (names) get more success than other ones, like how “clickbait titles” are often more successful. What makes something go viral?

I just want to say again – when the three of us get together we do get a bit excited and we all have things to say, as a result we end up speaking really quickly, talking over the top of each other and cutting each other off. So, be warned – you are about to hear some quite fast speech. See if you can keep up, I hope you can! Listening several times will actually help a lot, so try doing that.

Just one more thing. You might hear some beeping in the background of this episode. There was an electrician working in the next room at the time.

Right, that’s it for this introduction. Let’s now listen to some superfast English from the PODPALS and here we go!

Ending Transcript

So, we’re going to pause right there and carry on in the next episode.

How’s this going for you? It’s nice to have Amber & Paul back on the podcast again isn’t it.

As usual, I wonder how much of this you understand because we do speak very quickly when we’re together.

I realise it might be difficult to follow, but hopefully that’s not such a big issue because it’s just pretty enjoyable listening to the three of us just rambling on like this. Certainly the impression I get is that people out there in podcastland enjoy listening to us.

You can let me know in the comment section.

Also, share your thoughts on the topics in this episode.

What do you think about stereotypes? What are the stereotypes people have of your country? Do they have any truth in them? Why do people have those stereotypes and where do they come from?

Also, what do you think about the titles of episodes? When you listen to this podcast, do the titles make any difference to your listening choices?

Let us know in the comment section and part 2 will be coming your way soon.

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!

541. What British People Say vs What They Mean

Examining British communication style and debunking a few myths about how British people communicate. This episode is based on a famous infographic called “What British People Say vs What They Really Mean” or “The Anglo-EU Translation Guide”. It contains lots of thoughts about how direct and indirect cultures communicate with each other, and some samples of business English, with a few improvised scenarios too! Transcript available.

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Transcript (below)

In this episode I’m talking about an infographic which is often shared online called “What British People Say vs What They Mean”. In the infographic there are three columns. One with sentences typically spoken by English people. The next column has what, apparently, British people really mean, and then the third column shows us the perceived meanings of those sentences by foreigners. It is supposed to highlight the indirectness of British English speakers and the how people from direct cultures often misunderstand us.

 

I’m going to go through the graphic line by line, discussing the language, talking about the indirect communication style of British people and discussing to what extent this infographic is true and how much is a stereotype.

This relates to several conversations I’ve had in episodes in the past, namely the ones about cultural differences with Amber & Paul, British humour with Amber and the one about language & culture with Alex van Walsum.

This chart often pops up online. You might have seen it. It’s shared on Facebook or Twitter, and people send it to me by email. People send this to me all the time, often accompanied with the question “Is this true?” It’s probably the infographic that I’ve seen more than any other. A while ago I shared it on my Facebook page and it got a big response with thousands of people seeing it and loads of comments.

The chart is anonymously written. It may have first appeared in an article on the Economist’s website. Apparently some people say it originated in a Dutch company that had dealings with the UK, which is interesting because the Dutch are known for being very direct in their communication, so through their eyes the Brits might seem excessively indirect. The infographic is sometimes entitled “What British People Say vs What They Mean” or the “Anglo-EU translation guide”.

Basically the chart presents a list of utterances, which it presents as typical things the British say in business situations, and then two other columns which represent what British people really mean when they say those things, and then how other people actually understand them to mean something quite different.

I think it’s based on communication and cultural differences between the UK and European neighbours. The underlying cultural difference is that in the UK we have an indirect communication culture, particularly with regard to saying negative things, and tend to signal their disapproval, disappointment, disagreement or offence in other ways – either by minimising the negative part, or using euphemism, which may be hard to understand to the untrained ear.

In my experience as an English person living in France, I find that it is definitely true that we have slightly different communication styles as a result of our cultural differences. But they’re just slightly different really.

One example of a difference between France and the UK is that generally in the UK our first interaction with people – especially people in service positions, e.g. if you’re going to the post office to collect a package which you’ve been told is there even though last time you went they claimed it definitely wasn’t there. So you have to go back and kind of complain and make them look again. In the UK my normal way of doing it would be to approach the situation in a nice way, using friendliness as a social lubricant to help things go more smoothly. Like “Sorry to bother you again! I went to the other post office and they told me the package is definitely here. Could you have another look for me? Thanks!” You kind of talk to that person like you understand how you’re personally putting them out, but between the two of you there is a friendly understanding. You’re nice to the person, even though technically they’re wrong and you’re sort of making a complaint. That’s how it goes much of the time – not every time of course. Often when Brits are unhappy with a service they will complain about it very directly. But many times you’ll see or hear Brits being pretty friendly when dealing with people in impersonal situations.

Now, that might actually be perceived not as a nice, informal gesture – but as fake, and two faced because in fact you’re actually not happy with the situation and you don’t know them personally, so why are you being all chummy?

In Paris, your first interaction would typically be a bit more formal and also a bit less friendly. If you’re all nice and friendly and you smile, you might be perceived as weak. That’s not to say that French people don’t smile – of course they do, but in that kind of service situation where you are making a complaint you’re likely to be serious and with a straight face. You can be completely straight about it and bring your unhappiness to the table. It’s normal to dig your heels in and argue a little bit before things then turn into a more amicable arrangement. It usually ends well, but there’s a bit of conflict at the start, for example saying “no” or “it’s not possible” at the beginning, before deciding later to ‘make an exception’.

I refer you to the episode with Alex Van Walsum who sums this up really well.

teacherluke.libsyn.com/391-discussing-language-culture-comedy-with-alexander-van-walsum

Episode 391 – play the bit

If you’re nice and you compromise from the start they’ll walk all over you without even realising it. So there’s conflict at the beginning until the thing finally gets resolved, and later on a relationship of trust might develop from the problem being fixed, but it comes after. I’m not saying in the UK we’re never direct or angry in that situation, or that in France people are never nice at first, I’m just saying in my experience it pays to be more formal and tough at the beginning or you’ll be taken for granted. Whereas in the UK my approach would be a bit different.

Sometimes this difference gets the better of me. I might go to a restaurant and say “Do you have a table for two at 8?” and the guy says “It’s complicated” or “No, it’s not possible” and I smile and say “OK, that’s a pity, thanks for your help!” and then leave. But what I often don’t realise is that “No, it’s not possible” is just the starting point. What you should do then is wait and just not take no for an answer. Wait and say “Is there anything you can do?” and dig your heels in a bit. Often, after a bit of digging, you might get a result. But you have to push through a little barrier first in many cases.

The point is that the words we use and the messages we convey are often quite different, and messages are often subject to various cultural codes which allow the people involved to truly understand what is being said vs what is the intended meaning, or illocutionary force of something.

Or more simply, in indirect cultures we don’t always say exactly what we mean, and it depends on the other person to decode the intended meaning of our messages. This is more common in some cultures than others, and this kind of indirectness does have a social function. If you’re from a direct culture, you’re less likely to be able to decode the messages and that’s where the misunderstandings happen.

That brings us to this chart of what British people say vs what they mean.

This chart essentially targets this cultural and linguistic point quite specifically, and while there is truth in it, I think the chart is not completely accurate.

Nevertheless, let’s go through what Brits say vs what they mean and see what we can learn.

One of the most important problems with this chart is the lack of context and the fact that these are spoken phrases written down, so none of the intonation is included. Intonation and context are vital in the way these messages are delivered and understood.

Without the context and intonation, this chart makes Brits look incredibly devious and two-faced. It also makes other people seem pretty dumb and naive.

On balance, what do I think of this?

It’s exaggerated. Brits are not as stuffy, awkward or unable to say what we mean as this seems to suggest. It’s slightly old fashioned too.

Also it’s not really fair on foreigners who aren’t that stupid.

I think it originally came from the Netherlands (who we do most of our business with in the EU) and they’re known for being a very plain talking, direct culture. So, this is perhaps from the dutch point of view, which exaggerates things further.

There is a point being made too, which is that the English say the opposite of what they mean, which is not true. Direct cultures tend to view indirect ones as being two-faced, hypocritical and even duplicitous. We do speak indirectly, perhaps downplaying negative things and attempting to use tact and diplomacy but it doesn’t stretch to being deceitful. For the English it’s a way to keep things nice and to sugarcoat our formal relationships. It’s a respectful distance which has been in the culture for a long time. We might be a bit indirect by dutch standards, but we know what we’re talking about. We understand what each other means, because we know the codes. So it’s a functional communication system, and just another way to share ideas while getting on at the same time.

Another point is that you could argue that it’s specifically English, rather than British because there is a slight cultural difference between the English and the Scottish, Irish, Welsh and even Cornish people, who might be more direct. Anyway, I know plenty of English people who are perfectly capable of being direct and saying exactly what they mean.

Also, there may be a class issue here. I think this relates to certain kinds of middle class or upper class English people, who tend to communicate like this, especially in a formal situation. There are certainly plenty of English people who are very direct in their communication style.
The situation is also important. Most of these phrases are used at work where diplomacy is important. In social situations these same people might be extremely direct, for example with friends who you make fun of and speak to without any kind of filter.

The sentences are out of context, so it’s not obvious how the phrase is intonated or what other phrases are used around it. Written down like that it has no nuance and can make the Brits look like pretty awful. So, this graph is designed to make people laugh and illustrate a tendency for Brits to be a bit indirect, but it is by no means a flawless guide to British communication style.
It’s a bit black and white. In fact there are plenty of UK individuals who are more direct than this, and EU individuals who are indirect. It’s a bit “them and us”, a bit ‘black and white’ and therefore a bit unfair.

It’s not just Brits. There are plenty of other cultures or individuals who also communicate like this. Canadians, for example, are well-known for having a polite and indirect communication style.

While there is definitely an underlying point being demonstrated by the chart, taking it on face value makes British people seem insincere and sneaky – which is a common criticism of us by European people with direct communication styles. Whereas us Brits see our communication style as diplomatic and avoiding conflict and essentially all about being nice, other people think we are not being honest, straight or sincere. We just don’t want to be too negative or nasty, but we come across as being unsure of ourselves, weak or untrustworthy. Equally, from the other side, Brits think the French can be wilfully difficult, stubborn and problematic because of how direct they are with negative comments. We also find the Germans – who tend to state things exactly as they are, to be cold and humourless with their ultra-pragmatic approach which doesn’t involve much small talk or ‘window dressing’. It’s tricky isn’t it!

In English we like to sugarcoat things. Not every culture does that. Some do it more than us.
Of course it doesn’t always go like that and most of the time communication happens without problems and it’s all fine. For example I have had many many exchanges with people from many different cultures including those from direct cultures and they’ve been absolutely lovely, but then again I am quite culturally aware and able to minimise this sort of thing by recognising the importance of saying exactly what you mean. I imagine that when people from other countries do business with Brits who are not used to cross cultural communication that sometimes there is friction and it’s often related to these cultural differences.

Also, it could be related to writing style in emails where this kind of thing becomes so much more obvious. I can imagine foreign people receiving English emails and wondering what exactly the person means – like the example of my wife and the castle.

For example, apparently when the German company BMW took over the British car manufacturer Rover, it took ages for BMW to fully understand the extent of the problems at Rover because all the British staff minimised the problems or spoke in slightly vague euphemisms. The Germans were not able to decode the embedded negatives within the Brits’ responses.

E.g. “We’ve had a few slight issues on the production line. Staff have expressed some preference for a longer break during the afternoon shift.” How big are those problems on the production line exactly? It would probably be worth investigating them further rather than assuming they are just “a few slight issues”.

Overall, I think there is truth in this chart, which is why it’s such an enduring success online, but it’s not totally true. The truth is that Brits put a positive shine on things as a social lubricant (sugarcoating) and it works within indirect cultures, whereas direct cultures say things as they are which can make them seem unfriendly or cold hearted yet ultimately more sincere. Neither approach is better than the other, they’re just alternatives.

Really, it’s about context. With indirect cultures, the indirect style probably feels more natural, with direct cultures it’s the other way around. The problems arise when the two cultures get together and then misunderstand each other. For the chart, more perspective and context is required to really understand what’s going on, and to avoid knee-jerk reactions. I say knee-jerk reactions – these are sort of quick, instant responses that happen without thoughtful consideration (like when a doctor taps your knee and it jerks forward without you thinking about it). Those things might be to conclude that Germans have no sense of humour, French people are willfully difficult and don’t want to work, English people are hypocrites who don’t say what they mean.

Simple binary comparisons of language without context like this can foster unbalanced opinions which can lead to or reinforce resentment and things like that. The final point is that despite our communication style, we’re still just as fair-minded, honest, trustworthy, narrow minded, dishonest and untrustworthy as anybody else! Don’t jump to conclusions and never let cultural differences cause you to make fast judgements about people without seeing the whole picture!

“The British are too polite to be honest, whereas the Germans are too honest to be polite.”
Source: www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-13545386

537. How Olly Richards Learns a Language (Part 2) Intermediate Plateau / The Magic of Story / Pronunciation & Personality / Classroom vs Self-Guided Learning

The rest of my conversation with polyglot Olly Richards, talking about how to overcome the intermediate plateau, the magic of story, pronunciation and identity issues, and self-guided learning.

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Intro Transcript

Welcome back to this double episode in which I’m talking to language learner and polyglot Olly Richards all about how to learn languages as an adult.

Olly speaks 8 languages and spends a lot of time working on language courses, and giving advice on his podcast and blog, which are called “I will teach you a language”.

2 years after our last conversation it was interesting to catch up with Olly and see if his approach to language learning has developed.

In this episode I talk to Olly about how to overcome the intermediate plateau, we go into details about the magic of story and how important it is in language learning, we discuss the connection between pronunciation and personality and wonder if the main problem people have with pronunciation is actually an identity issue. There are also comments on learning in the classroom vs self-guided learning.

There’s loads of great advice in here. For premium subscribers I’m doing a video which will sum up the main points and clarify them a bit. That will be available shortly in the app and online for premium members.

But now let’s continue listening to Olly as we have the rest of our conversation about language.

—–

That’s it – I don’t need to say much more!

www.Iwillteachyoualanguage.com

Premium subscribers you’ll get a video summary from me soon.

Sign up for premium at teacherluke.co.uk/premium if you know what’s good for you!

Speak to you soon.

Bye.

534. Sugar Sammy Interview (Part 2) Language & Comedy

Part 2 of my chat with Canadian stand-up comedian Sugar Sammy, talking about his 4 languages, TV shows from our childhood, copying Indian accents, language-related controversy in Quebec, Sammy’s crowd-work skills, stories of difficult gigs in the UK, and our thoughts on recent Star Wars films. At the end of the episode you can hear my spoiler-free review of “Solo: A Star Wars Story”. Transcriptions and notes available.

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Sugarsammy.com – for news of Sammy’s live shows 

Introduction Transcript

Hello, welcome back to the podcast. Here is part 2 of my conversation with Canadian multilingual stand up comedy sensation Sugar Sammy.

In our conversation we’re talking mainly about language and comedy, and here’s an overview of the main points that come up in this episode:

  • First of all we talk about the 4 languages that Sammy speaks
    There’s a tangent about American TV shows that we both used to watch when we were children, and which actually helped Sammy to learn English when he was young.
  • Two of those American TV shows we mention include Knight Rider (the one in which David Hasselhoff drives around in a super cool black talking car) and The Dukes of Hazzard (the one about two brothers who live on a farm in Georgia who drive around Georgia in an orange Dodge Charger, being chased by stupid local police officers, doing lots of jumps and stunts in the car).
  • We talk about accents and copying accents: Specifically the question of whether I should do an impression of an Indian accent on stage, or if that would be inappropriate or unacceptable for some reason.
  • We discuss a language controversy that Sammy was involved in in Quebec, Canada – which included him receiving lots of criticism and even a death threat, essentially for performing a popular show in languages other than French – in Quebec (they are very protective of the French language there) It was quite scandal at the time.
  • We talk about what Sammy does on stage, especially his crowd-work, which is that skill of improvising moments of comedy by talking directly to members of the audience. This is something that Sammy is known for because he does it very well.
  • Sammy talks about some tough comedy gigs he has had in the UK over the years and tells us a story of how he once got heckled by an aggressive audience in Northern Ireland. Heckling is when audience members shout things at you while you’re performing. For a comedian it can be pretty difficult when you’re being heckled, but good comics are able to react and respond with funny “heckle put downs”, funny responses that turn an aggressive comment into a funny moment.
  • Then there’s a bit about Star Wars at the end – because like me, Sammy is a big fan.
    We talk briefly about Sammy’s favourite episode of Star Wars, what he thought of The Last Jedi and whether he is interested in seeing the new Han Solo film. When I recorded this interview I hadn’t seen Solo, but since recording it I have, so I will talk about the Han Solo movie briefly at the end of this episode, giving my non-spoiler review.

Don’t forget that Sammy will be touring parts of Asia soon – this year probably. He has gigs coming up in Malaysia and Singapore and will be organising dates in China and Japan. He also intends to visit Russia and South America to do shows at some point. So Sammy might be performing near you soon and you must go and see him. To get news of Sammy’s shows so you don’t miss him – visit sugarsammy.com and join his mailing list.

Now without any further ado, let’s continue listening to my conversation with the super cool multilingual comedian from Canada – Sugar Sammy.


Sugarsammy.com


Knight Rider

The Dukes of Hazzard

Peter Sellers in The Party (an English actor performing as an Indian character – it would be offensive but Seller’s impression is spot on according to Sammy)


Solo: A Star Wars Story (No-Spoiler Review)

Notes & Transcriptions

For those of you who are Star Wars fans – I’m now going to talk about the latest film, which in English is called “SOLO” – released last month.

This is a “star wars story” – not part of the Skywalker narrative.
It’s an origins story.
I was sceptical about the film.
Production for the film seemed troubled, which is usually not a good sign – but it’s not necessarily a guarantee of a bad film.
The original directors were fired by Kathleen Kennedy (head of Lucasfilm) because they took the film in a comedic direction and there was too much improvisation.
Ron Howard was brought in (a more conventional, reliable Hollywood guy) to fix it and bring it back in line.

Also there were doubts about the ability of Alden Ehrenreich to pull off the performance of a character who we loved so much, largely because of Harrison Ford’s star power.

I kept my expectations pretty low. I just thought – I’d like to see what happens, I just want to enter the world of Star Wars again and see what it’s like. I was ready to be disappointed though.

The film has underperformed at the box office. I’m not sure of the exact figures, but it’s taken less than it should have and might be considered as a financial failure, possibly even losing money for the studio in the short to medium term. It’s bound to make money eventually, long term, but the general feel is that it didn’t do as well as the studio hoped. Perhaps we’ve all had enough of Star Wars now. Star Wars fatigue, or maybe the fanbase has gone a bit weird. Star Wars has always been seen as an indestructible franchise. But the Last Jedi divided audiences, with quite a lot of fans absolutely hating it. Maybe Solo has suffered from the so-called Star Wars backlash.

But Solo isn’t really like The Last Jedi. It doesn’t have the same subtext of progressive politics, or themes that seem to subvert the core ideas of Star Wars. It’s pretty conventional and straightforward stuff.

What I liked

  • The performance by Alden Ehrenreich. He was charismatic, swashbuckling but also had a vulnerable side – the key things that Harrison Ford brought to the role originally. Han Solo has swagger and he’s really cool, but there’s something a bit vulnerable and loveable about him. He’s quite goofy and adorable, but also capable of being quite a ruthless fighter when necessary. It’s an interesting character and the actor did a good job of hitting those points. It’s not just a Harrison Ford impression. He seems to have got the spirit of Han Solo.
  • The dirty, gritty world.
  • Visual effects were incredible (although the whole film was very murky – intentional? Bad cinematography? I personally like that. I don’t need everything to be brightly lit like in the prequels. I like Clint Eastwood films that are full of shadow and darkness and you don’t see everything in bright contrast.)
  • The absence of Jedi and light sabres – it made a nice change. This was all about just having a good blaster at your side, knowing who to trust. It was like Rogue One in that sense. You got the idea that people could die – they weren’t immortal cartoon characters with superhuman abilities.
  • The train robbery scene was amazing, particularly the explosion at the end. I’m not sure why the empire needs to transport goods by train, considering they totally have spaceships, but it made for a good scene and made me think of old action movies and westerns that have action scenes on trains. The film was full of this kind of thing – standard movie tropes but in a Star Wars universe and I liked that. It was appealingly old school.
  • It was a slightly smaller story and that was appealing too. Sometimes you don’t want it to be about the huge Star Wars narrative about destiny and the force. Just a small, compact story about low-level gangsters is all you need.
  • Not too many geeky references to other films. There were some, but they were *fairly* subtle…
  • Nice chemistry between Solo and Chewbacca.
  • There are a couple of jokes which were not bad and pretty much in the spirit of the original films. They didn’t go overboard on the humour like in The Last Jedi, which a lot of the fans hated. I think the original directors probably had a lot more humour in it and after seeing the audience response to the humour in TLJ perhaps Kathleen Kennedy decided to replace them for a more serious director. There is a moment when Han Solo speaks Chewbacca’s language which was a bit over the top (if he speaks Wookie, why did he never do it in the other films – seems like a cheap trick, but it didn’t ruin the film for me.
  • Chewy has some badass moments.
  • Qu’ira’s character is interesting as a femme fatale. Emilia Clarke is very easy on the eye and I found her character to be interesting because I never knew where her loyalties were and there was always this sense that she was going to betray Han, and Han was sort of obsessed with her. It’s a bit like your first love – when, as a younger guy, you fall in love with a girl who might be slightly out of your league and you know she’s always going to break your heart.
  • Just really enjoyable. Woody Harrelson was a dependable screen presence as ever.

What I didn’t like

  • The cheesy musical score running through a lot of the scenes, as if we needed to be told how to feel and to make sure we didn’t get bored or anything
    Some cheesy clichés, which I can’t really remember now – but a lot of typical movie tropes and “yeah, right” moments.
  • There are probably some plot holes and things that didn’t make sense, but I can’t remember what they are. Well, there’s a moment when one character dies and I thought “why did that happen, it seemed completely unnecessary”
  • Some of the moments when they tried to link this film with the wider Star Wars universe – like linking it to some plot points in Rogue One – or just trying to include some of the large Star Wars themes – the birth of the rebellion. It seemed forced, and shoehorned – I mean, like they forced certain big themes into the film (no pun intended). It would have been better to make it a completely self-contained film without having to connect it to the broader world of Star Wars, the birth of the rebellion and all that.
  • Classic westerns like Sergio Leone’s dollar trilogy (spaghetti westerns) are just about those characters in an isolated story. It would have been good to do something like that. Let the audience use their imagination to fit it in with the larger universe.
  • Also, it feels a little bit like Star Wars is pushing an ideological position these days, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I suppose it always was – the rebellion, the empire. It was basically about the struggle of local groups of freedom fighters against a vastly more powerful military dictatorship. But that message was usually delivered a bit more subtly in the original films. These days it’s like Star Wars needs to push this message a bit harder for some reason.

I can’t go into it in more detail without spoiling the film.

Anyway, those were my thoughts about Solo: A Star Wars Story. If you’ve seen it, let me know what you thought.

And I just talked about it there because it’s something Sammy and I discussed.

Let me remind you – sugarsammy.com to get news of his upcoming shows – possibly in a city near you soon.

Thanks for listening.

Other news

The World Cup is going on. I really want to talk about that a lot, like I did in 2014 – but I have so many episodes to upload! And I’m working on LEP Premium – basically making some episodes to upload soon and then I’ll launch it properly.

I usually worry when I have too much content to upload. I tend to think – if I upload too much (like loads of World Cup episodes) then people won’t be able to listen to it all and then they might just stop listening completely… they’ll think “Oh I can’t keep up and I don’t really like The World Cup so I’ll just move on to something else” and…

So, expect some WC episodes coming soon during the tournament, but if that’s not your cup of tea (or World Cup of Tea) then I suppose you can just skip them and know that it’s not all going to be about football forever.

Speak to you soon. Bye!

Luke

533. Sugar Sammy Interview (Part 1) Multilingual Comedian

Sugar Sammy is a very popular and famous comedian from Canada. He’s often described as Montreal’s #1 stand up comedian. He speaks 4 languages, he has performed comedy in lots of countries. He might be coming to your country soon to make you laugh. Ladies and gentlemen – meet the wonderful Sugar Sammy!

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Join Sugar Sammy’s Mailing List – for news of his international shows

Introduction Transcript

Hi everyone. This is quite a special episode because of today’s guest. I’m talking to a really famous comedian, so it was quite a thrill for me and I really hope that it translates into a good listening experience for you too and that it grabs your attention and not just because it’s a chance to practise your listening in English.

You know that as well as being an English teacher and a podcaster, I’m a stand up comedian, which means that I go onstage in front of audiences and try to make them laugh – by telling jokes, telling stories and doing voices. Stand up comedy is huge as a form of entertainment, and arguably as an art form – particularly in the English speaking world. In Paris, where I live, there is a stand up comedy scene in English. It’s pretty small – there are not that many English speaking comedians and shows in English, and in some ways that’s actually really cool because I get to meet and hang around with some pretty famous people who come here to do comedy. For example there are the professional French comedians who also perform in English, and I’m talking about people like Gad Elmaleh (the biggest French speaking comedian in the world) who I have kind of met (I said hello to him and we performed on the same show) and other French comics like Yacine Belhousse and Noman Hosni (who have been on this podcast), but also comedians who come here from other places like the UK, the USA or Canada to perform their comedy in English or maybe in French – people like Eddie Izzard, Ian Moore and so on. Basically, because it’s a small scene I get to meet and hang out with some really great comedy stars.

That’s how I met today’s guest – Sugar Sammy who comes from Canada.

Sugar Sammy

Sugar Sammy is a genuine star of comedy. He’s probably the biggest name I’ve ever had on this podcast. I had David Crystal of course – the famous linguist. You know I’m interested in language and language teaching, so David Crystal was a big guest for that reason but I’m also obsessed with stand up comedy and Sammy is massively famous in the world of stand-up especially in Canada, and I’m lucky to be friendly enough with him to get him on this podcast.

Some information on Sammy
In terms of his background, he was born and grew up in Montreal, Canada – a bilingual city. The official language there is French but everyone can speak English too.
In total he speaks 4 languages – English, French, Punjabi and Hindi – and he does stand up comedy in all of them.

He is of Indian origin. I’m not sure of the details but I’m guessing that his parents or maybe even his grandparents moved to Canada from India at some point. Anyway, this is why he can speak Punjabi and Hindi – both Indian languages.

He has a list of accomplishments and awards as long as your arm. I don’t know how long your arm is, but I’m assuming it’s very long because so is this list.

(A list as long as your arm – it’s just a phrase meaning “a long list”)

A quick look at his Wikipedia page tells you about his achievements:

He’s done sold out one man shows, HBO comedy specials, his own TV shows, he’s opened for Dave Chappelle, he gets featured in newspapers and photographed by paparazzi.

One of his main accomplishments is that he was the first to perform a successful bilingual show in Quebec – a place which is notorious for how it protects French as the official language, so performing in English, Punjabi and Hindi there was actually a very controversial thing to do.
He once performed in front of over 115,000 people at the end of a 420 show tour at the Just For Laughs festival in 2016.

Sammy has performed all around the world in the United States, Canada, France, Belgium, England, Australia, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Thailand, the Philippines, China, India, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Egypt, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Lebanon, Singapore, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Northern Ireland, Dubai, Haiti[12] New Zealand and South Africa, where his one-man show sold 15,000 tickets.[13]

And that’s just in English. He also has a successful comedy career in French.

As a stand up comedian I would describe him as confident, charming, very sharp, good at imitating different accents, good at playing with cultural stereotypes, excellent at exploiting people’s cultural assumptions and very very quick when it comes to doing crowd work – improvising off the interactions he has with members of the audience.

His shows always include a lot of improvisation in which he talks to the people on the front row and always manages to turn the interactions into very funny moments of comedy.

If you want information on how to see Sammy on stage, go to his website sugarsammy.com

You can see him performing in French in Paris at the Alhambra theatre, and later this year he is going to tour internationally – and he has plans to visit parts of Asia – including Malaysia, Singapore, China and Japan and potentially even more places. So, seriously – watch out for Sugar Sammy doing shows in your country soon and I really recommend that you get out and see him.

Sugar Sammy is a world-class comedian and a really cool guy and I’m pleased to have him on the podcast.

In terms of his English and his accent – he is a Canadian native speaker of English, so he has a typical Canadian accent, which for many people is indistinguishable from a sort of standard American accent. I can usually hear the difference between Canadian and American accents I think, but it’s a very subtle difference. Basically, in many cases Canadian English is very close to American English.

Our conversation focuses on comedy, language and various issues relating to both of those things.

I’ve divided the conversation into two parts, which should make it easier for you to listen to. Our conversation moves pretty quickly. It might be difficult to follow – depending on your level of English. You can see as you listen to it. Part 2 will be available soon.

I think we’re lucky to be able to listen to Sammy on this podcast. I feel very grateful to have been able to sit down and talk to him for over an hour. As you are all learners of English I hope that this provides you with the interesting, engaging and authentic English listening practice that you’re looking for. I won’t say any more in the introduction here. It’s time to just start listening to my chat with Sugar Sammy.


Ending Transcript

I’m stopping the conversation there. The rest will come in part 2.

Sammy is excited about new people… and win them over.

That could be you!

sugarsammy.com

So, I wonder how this is for you. How is this for you so far?

I said already that for me it was a thrill to record this conversation – partly because Sammy is a top comedian and it feels like a privilege to be able to interview him, but also because it’s just loads of fun to talk to him and hang out with him.

But how’s it going for you? Are you alright? I certainly hope you’re enjoying this as much as you actually should be enjoying it. Because, just in case you didn’t realise, you really should be enjoying this quite a lot.

I expect you are enjoying it like I am, but it’s probably a bit hard to follow in places. It’s probably been quite difficult to follow everything, – but of course it depends on your level of English, you listening skills.

But if it is hard to follow sometimes, then I’m not surprised! First of all, you’re probably listening to this because you’re learning English, in which case, if it’s hard to follow everything in a native-level conversation like this then that makes total sense and is completely normal. You’re not a native speaker so it’s bound to be more difficult. What I’d say to you is – keep listening, keep practising. You can understand conversations like this 100%. It takes time and practice, and motivation and positivity, but you can definitely do it.

Also, let’s not forget that in episodes of this podcast I often play you natural conversations between friends that are not graded. Nobody’s trying to simplify their English or anything. It’s also spontaneous and fast like a normal conversation. So, I am not surprised if it’s difficult sometimes. That’s normal. This is not a listening exercise in a coursebook published by Oxford University Press. The recordings you get in those publications are usually scripted, and graded to make them easier to understand – even at advanced levels. For example, Headway Upper Intermediate and Headway Advanced.

They’re easier, aren’t they? Don’t get me wrong, they’re good publications, but they go for a different approach. They grade their listening materials. My conversations aren’t graded. In fact I specifically ask my guests to speak naturally – because I want them to be natural and I want them to still be funny and relaxed because for me what we might lose in terms of intelligibility we gain in authenticity and in humour, basically.

Right. So listening to this conversation with Sugar Sammy is the real thing, so it’s normal if it’s pretty tough, but for me this is a good strong way to work on your English. It’s a bit like high-altitude training – when people train high in the mountains where there’s less oxygen. It’s hard, it’s strenuous, it’s challenging, but when you go back down to lower altitude levels where there’s more oxygen, you’re suddenly much more effective and the training really pays off.

Anyway, speaking for myself, this was a really fun episode to do and if I were you I would listen to it several times to squeeze maximum enjoyment out of it – because I promise you that if you listen again you’ll understand and therefore enjoy it even more, and then you can also get stuck into part 2 which may already be available for you.

Come on people. Seriously, you’re getting more than your money’s worth here are you not?

Check out the page on the website for some more details, including a transcription of my intro and ending to this episode, a video of Sammy improvising on stage talking to an Iraqi guy in the audience who has moved to Texas, also you can see video of Bill Hicks and his routine about being asked “What are you reading for?” and a video of the extraordinary Russian singer Vitas doing his song 7th Element.

Thanks for listening. Get my app from the app store to get all my episodes on your phone plus loads of bonus content and access to premium episodes when they are available.

Speak to you again in part two.

Bye!

Sugar Sammy & The Happy Iraqi in Texas

Bill Hicks – “What are you reading for?”

Vitas – 7th Element

Rosanne Barr Controversy

Court Jesters

www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/what-was-life-like-for-a-court-jester/

523. Tips for Learning English with Films & TV Shows (with Cara Leopold)

Talking to a fellow English teacher about advice for using TV shows and films to learn English, both with and without subtitles.

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Intro Transcript

Today on the podcast I’m talking to Cara Leopold who is an English teacher from the UK, living in France – like me.

Cara is an online teacher, who has her own podcast and other resources for learners of English on her website leo-listening.com.

One of the main things she focuses on is learning English through listening – especially using TV and films as a resource.

She’s got some tips to share on that subject – many of which come from her personal experiences of learning French, and so I’d like to talk to her about that,

But first I’d like to just get to know Cara a bit because we’ve never actually spoken before. So listeners, instead of hearing me talking to someone I already know (which is the way it normally goes on this podcast) you can now hear me having a conversation with someone I haven’t met before – so you can hear how that might happen in English.


Cara’s Website

www.leo-listening.com

Films and TV shows mentioned

Red Dwarf
BBC TV Comedy

The Orville
Seth MacFarlane
Based on Star Trek

Thor: Ragnarok
Directed by Taika Waititi, who also directed Flight of the Conchords.


Learning English with Films & TV – Summary of Advice Given

Here’s a summary of the main points made about using TV and films for learning English, with and without subtitles.

  • There are no hard and fast rules about using subtitles.
  • Using subtitles can help you understand what you’re hearing, especially when you realise that spoken English and written English can be very different. Subtitles can help bridge the gap between how words and sentences sound, and how they are written.
  • But be aware that only watching with subtitles might not help you develop real listening skills, because you’re basically just reading while you watch. Experiment with switching the subtitles on and off.
  • You can watch a film several times, especially if you enjoy it or already know it. Some films improve with multiple viewings. So, try watching certain films several times, perhaps first with subtitles in your language, then in English and then with no subtitles at all.
  • You can alternate between watching episodes of your TV show with and without subtitles.
  • Using TV and films for learning English is not just a simple or easy way to learn. In your first language you might just switch on a film or show and then kind of veg out while watching it – without really concentrating. This won’t work in English. Be prepared to focus and perhaps be more active while watching.
  • Watch certain scenes several times, with and without the subtitles.
  • Test yourself on what you heard and check with the subtitles.
  • Search for certain new bits of vocabulary when they come up.
  • Don’t worry too much about certain specific cultural details.
  • Try transcribing certain scenes – especially if you thought it contained really cool dialogue.
  • Then watch again with the subtitles to check your transcription.
  • Before you watch a film or TV show, check online reviews or summaries to help prepare yourself.
  • Be a little selective in your choice – pick stuff that you’d normally enjoy, and remember that films and TV shows can contain very “mumbly” dialogue, and even just “grunting” during long fight scenes. Try to pick films that are pretty simple and perhaps comedies that focus on the dialogue.
  • Don’t worry too much if you don’t understand 100%. Even in our first languages we don’t always understand what’s going on in films. So, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not able to understand it all.

522. Learning English at Summer School in the UK (A Rambling Chat with Raphael Miller)

Talking to my ex-colleague Raphael Miller about his new summer school for teenagers as well as many other topics, including British social and communication culture, growing up in Liverpool, studying at Oxford University, the famous Star Wars actor Raphael knows and remembering some of the old-fashioned ways we used to describe computers and the internet. Transcripts and links below. 👨‍🎓🌞🇬🇧

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Your English Summer – Links

Website www.yourenglishsummer.co.uk

Facebook www.facebook.com/yourenglishsummer/

Introduction Transcript

In this episode you can listen to a conversation I had with my friend Raphael Miller. Raph and I used to work together as teachers at the London School of English, along with Andy Johnson, Ben Butler and Carrick Cameron – all of whom have featured in episodes of this podcast.

Since those days, Raph has done lots of work at summer schools in the UK and has recently set up his own summer school project called Your English Summer. This is a school for teenagers from around the world who want to come to the UK to develop their English skills while having a really cool experience living away from home for a couple of weeks.

I thought I would ask Raph about his project, about the benefits of sending your teenagers to the UK for a summer school English experience and also about Raph’s own experiences of learning languages as a teenager and into adulthood.

I hadn’t spoken to Raph for a while – not since the last time he was on this podcast perhaps, and so it was really fun to catch up with him, find out about his project and also just ramble on about all kinds of other things, like his experiences at Oxford University, his childhood in Liverpool and a famous actor that he knows from university, who has had a big role in a Star Wars film. To find out all about that, just keep listening.

This might be a difficult conversation for you to follow, depending on your level. Reasons why it might be hard are:

  • The conversation was done over Skype, so the sound quality isn’t 100% perfect – but it’s good to get used to listening in less-than-perfect conditions, like when you have to do tele-conferences in English at work.
  • Raph has a slight Liverpool accent (but actually I think this isn’t really an issue because it’s really not that strong)
  • It’s all done at natural speed and there are quite a lot of idioms, jokey bits, specific phrases and fluent speech that might be hard to understand.

But the point here is that this is an authentic chat which ultimately is good practice for you.

If you are a parent of teenage kids and you’re thinking about sending them to a summer school in the UK to learn English, you should check out Raphael’s school, which is called Your English Summer – more details at yourEnglishsummer.co.uk

Now, let’s get stuck into the conversation.

Just before I hit the record button, Raph and I had been struggling to get connected on Skype. It wasn’t working properly on his computer, but to solve the problem he just turned it off and turned it back on again, which fixed it, of course – because that’s usually how you fix technical problems. What do you do when something doesn’t work? How do you fix it? Well, have you tried turning it on and turning it off again? There are other generic solutions to typical technical problems of course… can you think of any?

After that we talk a little bit about a recent episode of LEP that Raphael had been listening to – a recent one with Amber & Sarah called “Becoming Maman”… and the conversation just keeps on flowing from there, taking in some details about the social rules related to talking to new parents about their children (in fact, like me, Raph is also a new father – his son is just 6 months old now) British social etiquette in general, how we both know each other and how we first met, and then onto the details Raphael’s project, learning English at summer schools in the UK, Liverpool, Oxford University and various other things…

So, now that you’re ready, let’s dive into this chat with Raphael Miller … and here we go.


Raph also appears in…

160. The A to Z of Christmas

Liverpool Accent Episodes

469. British Comedy: John Bishop

470. Understanding the Liverpool Accent

Your English Summer – Links

Website www.yourenglishsummer.co.uk

Facebook www.facebook.com/yourenglishsummer/

Ending Transcript

That was a rambling chat with Raphael Miller.

Don’t forget to visit www.yourenglishsummer.co.uk

and www.facebook.com/yourenglishsummer/

…for more details about his summer school in Liverpool. Could be a great thing for your teenage kids to do – or if you know any other parents who are looking for a small, friendly and genuinely fun English summer school experience – tell them about Your English Summer.

A note about LEP Premium

I’ve been mentioning this for a couple of weeks now. I expect it to arrive in May. Things slowed down a bit this week because I got really ill with a very nasty throat infection – tonsillitis to be exact. Tonsils are glands at the back of the throat. Mine got infected and all swollen, which was intensely painful for about 5 days. My whole head felt like it was going to explode, I felt like someone was stabbing me in the head and neck with needles, while also periodically stepping on my legs and back in a pair of Dr Marten’s boots. Swallowing was like torture. Not nice at all. It was a lot like when I was sick in Japan. Thankfully this time it was just the tonsilitis and not something more serious. Anyway, the French healthcare system and my wife, looked after me and I’m feeling a lot better. Also, for a week to 10 days this month we’re going to the UK on holiday, which means taking some more time out from podcasting duties. There should be another episode coming out while I’m away but the launch of LEP Premium is unlikely to happen until May. I’m also still working with Libsyn to actually do things like make additions to the app and some other things before LEPP can happen.

Anyway, it should come along in May and when it does you should find that one of the first Premium episodes is a language review of this episode, also there are some language features from the episode about pets I wanted to look at, so that’ll probably come up too.

Remember that one of the aims of LEP Premium is to make sure you really learn the English you’ve heard on the podcast – not just hear it but really learn it properly – the English you might not have even noticed but with which you need a guiding hand – in this case my guiding hand, with all those years of teaching experience, podcast experience – so I can help you with your English and have some fun while doing it.

So, a language review for this episode with LEP Premium coming up.

Remember too that LEP Premium will work like this:

  • You’ll create a profile with Libsyn, my host
  • You pay a small amount per month (e.g. the price of a coffee for me) to access the Premium content
  • You can get the content in the LEP app or via a webpage – same account login.
  • It’s a chance for you to get content that focuses specifically on language teaching, while also making a contribution to LEP.
  • You’ll get those LEP Premium episodes, and also new Phrasal Verb episodes + more bonus stuff just for premium subscribers. You’ll be my VIP club and I’ll be happy to reward you with exclusive content.

Coming soon in LEPland.

Right, time to go now – have a great day, night, morning, afternoon, evening, milkshake smoothie or tropical fruit juice or whatever you’re having. Cheers!

Luke

521. Talking about Pets (with James)

Usually when I talk to my brother on the podcast we talk about fairly obscure topics, like cult films, musical subcultures or skateboarding, but this time we chose a universal topic; pets. Listen to this conversation to hear James and me remembering the pets we had as children and discussing some issues related to keeping animals as pets.

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Introduction

It’s national pet month in the UK from 1 April – 7 May so here is an episode all about living with animals, domesticated creatures, our furry companions, our four-legged friends – pets in their various shapes and sizes.

National Pet Month is actually a registered charity in the UK and its aims are to promote responsible pet ownership, and to make people aware of the mutual benefits of living with pets. You can find out more by going to www.nationalpetmonth.org.uk/

Just like everywhere else in the world, British people love pets – the most common ones being dogs, cats and fish.

Since it is national pet month I thought I would talk about pets with James, my pet chimp, I mean, brother.

We both had pets growing up together as children, so we thought we’d take a little trip down memory lane in this episode and remember some of those cute little animals that we loved so much when we were young.

Yes – pets! It’s a simple topic. It’s a universal topic – I think pets are popular the world over. And it’s a fun topic which we can use as a way of presenting you with some authentic listening practice in English.

When you think about it humans have a pretty diverse relationship with animals. Sometimes we farm them and breed them for various purposes, sometimes we ride around on them (for transport or sport), sometimes we eat them (quite often, for lunch maybe), sometimes they eat us (less often, admittedly) sometimes we just like to watch them eating each other (in BBC nature documentaries for example) and sometimes we like to offer them a friendly invitation into our home so they can live with us, like little hairy members of the family almost, just because we love them, we find them cute and they help to lower our blood pressure. Apparently they are good for us, they can keep us healthy. They’re like little furry doctors with no qualifications except a degree in being warm and cuddly.

That is something people say – having a pet can help you live longer. But surely it depends what kind of pet. If you have a silverback gorilla or a saltwater crocodile as a pet you’re probably not going to live to a very old age. In fact, you’d be lucky to survive beyond a couple of minutes with a crocodile in the house. “Oh that’s a lovely 23 foot long crocodile you’ve got. Oh how original. They’re basically dinosaurs aren’t they? Oh what’s his name – Bitey? Bitey the crocodile. There there Bitey, hello little bitey – CHOMP. Oh he’s bitten my arm off, how adorable… CHOMP CHOMP oh and now he’s grabbed me by the leg and is pulling me underwater where he’ll drown me and then eat me in one go. How lovely.”

It does depend on the pet you choose of course. Crocodiles don’t usually make great pets I expect. But I don’t know maybe they’re very loving and gentle. Let me know if you have a croc as a pet.

Anyway, the most common pets in the world are generally lovely and fluffy and not usually our natural predators of course. Here’s some data.

Pet data stevedalepetworld.com/world-pet-population-data-mixed-bag/ www.petfoodindustry.com/articles/5845-infographic-most-of-world-owns-pets-dogs-are-tops?utm_source=KnowledgeMarketing&utm_medium=Watt%20Products&utm_campaign=Pet%20Weekly%20Roundup%20All%20Others%20List&eid=237316200&bid=1430132

Around the world there may be different cultures of pet keeping, for example whether it is normal to neuter or spay your pets (that means giving them an operation on their reproductive systems so as to make them infertile – unable to breed – in some places that’s normal, in other places you might consider that to be a horrible thing to do!) or whether it is normal to keep your pets mostly indoors or outdoors. In some countries you wouldn’t dream of letting your dog or cat stay outside all night, whereas in other places it’s the other way around.

The cultures may be different, but one thing’s for sure – humans seem to have the desire to live with animals as companions and over time we have developed a symbiotic relationship with certain animals – notably dogs, who seem to express a sense of duty towards their owners and perform various functions for humans.

There are ethical issues relating to keeping pets too of course – it’s always hard to escape issues of morality and ethics even in a seemingly innocent topic like this. For example, is it somehow cruel to keep animals as pets and how do pets affect the natural world around them?

My conversation with James touches on some of these things, but the main reason we chose to talk about this topic was to let you hear a conversation in English about a subject that I’m sure you can all relate to and the main focus of our conversation is to remember the various pets we had when we were growing up as children.

So listen out for some little stories and memories and also descriptions of typical behaviour in the past. See if you can notice certain features of grammar and vocabulary in the way we express these ideas.

The specific vocabulary and grammar relating to that are things I can deal with specifically in another language-focused episode.

But this one is all about listening to some real British English conversation and so, without any further ado – let’s talk to James about pets.


Ending

So there you go, that was my chat with James about pets.

In the comment section please write about pets that you have or that you have had in your lives. Tell us about cute or funny things your pets do. Do you have an unusual pet? Have you got any good little pet stories? Put your thoughts into words and add them in the comment section.

Now, in terms of language – this conversation obviously contained some vocabulary that would be worth reviewing and clarifying.

Also, there was some grammar there. We were talking a lot about the past, so there were the usual past tenses, but also some very specific aspects of grammar that you might not have noticed  and I’m talking about the ways in which we don’t just tell stories in the past but the way we describe habits in the past. There are certain grammatical forms that we use for that, and it might not be immediately obvious to you how it is done.

I can help you learn these things – learn how to notice them, learn how to understand them and learn how to use them to listen and speak like native English speakers.

It would be useful if I published a follow-up episode to this in which I go through all that language. THat’s the sort of thing you can expect from LEP Premium when it arrives.

You’ve heard me talk about LEP Premium in recent episodes. I’m setting it up at the moment. If all goes according to plan then at some point soon I’ll make that service available to you and you’ll be able to sign up, support my work and gain access to some extra episodes in which I focus more carefully and specifically on the aspects of language that you need. Analysing and explaining the grammar and vocabulary in my conversation with James is an example of what you could expect from LEP Premium Episodes.

Also, not just language that’s come up in conversations and monologues, but also it could be a way for me to focus on  other aspects of language that I think you need to know.

As I said, I’m still in the process of setting this up at the moment. I’ll be setting it up with my host Libsyn, so that I can publish the premium content into the App (you’ll be able to sign in to get premium content there) and also online from a computer, so expect more information soon.

Thank you again for listening. Visit the website to see my transcriptions for the intro and outtro to this episode. Join the mailing list. Download the app to get all the bonus content there and to be ready to get LEP premium episodes. Send me a donation through the website if you want to support the show.

Have a great day and if you have a pet, give them a little treat like a snack, a stroke, a scratch or a nice walk in the park.

Speak to you again soon, but for now…

Bye bye bye.

Luke

Phrases and vocab from episode 521. (contributed by Jack)

I don’t know if you can tell but my voice sounds a bit funny
Domesticated creatures
Furry companions
And since it’s a national pet month I thought I’d talk about pets with my pet chimp James.
We thought we’d take a trip down memory lane…..
Pets are popular the world over
Humans have a pretty diverse relationships with animals. Sometimes we farm them and breed them for various purposes. Sometimes we ride around them for transport or for sport.

Sometimes they eat us – less often admittedly.
Warm and cuddly
Salt water crocodile
Silver back gorilla
Chomp
He’s bitten my arm off
You’ve got to throw in some data
Neuter or spay your pets
You wouldn’t dream of…..
We have developed a symbiotic relationship with animals.
Morality
My conversation with James touches on these things.
About a subject that I’m sure you can all relate to
So listen out for some…..
Do you think the audience are expecting this to be riveting and hilarious
I wouldn’t want to build it up too much
Are you a pet person?
A pair of gerbils
Distraction
They come from the Gulf
They tend to gnaw on things
I suspect dad probably named them
The idea of keeping them in a little cage is a bit messed up
Deep ethical implications
They’re not immortal

Luke: One of them had escaped
James: I didn’t remember that, no

Run out of food
Bullied by mice and cats

They thought we’d be traumatised
It was rigid, stiff as a board and it was half way through a loo roll tube.
…..at that moment something clicked.

They’d make bedding out of them
The cats were obsessed with catching the gerbils
I don’t remember there were any gerbil cat crossover

Luke : Just so I can…..
James : fill me in on bits of my life

….and she would curl up in the casserole dish.
Spare bedroom
You try and stroke her, tickle her or something and invariably she would strike out or hiss…..
They had a litter of cats
Kitten
Posy (bunch of flowers)
We took it to the doctors to get it checked out.
She never quite got over that really. He was always screwed up about that.

James : He was mental. Really manic looking face, wild looking eyes. White flash very fluffy. White flash running down its front. And just Bizarre weird animal

Luke : Bonkers

Hyperactive
Running up your trouser leg
Always go for the liveliest one when choosing a cat.

Went to the doctor not to just have it checked out but have it spayed.
Castrated
They spray pheromones and stuff
Vet
Climbing underneath the underside of the sofa.

Introduce a pet into a wild ecosystem where he’ll just ravage all the wild life.
….and somehow he dragged this rabbit through the cat flap as well.

Luke :Several times I would come back, we had a little room between the kitchen and the back garden which is where we’d put the cat’s food down and there was a cat flap….to let the cat into that little space. We wouldn’t let the cat into the house at night. He (posy) would have that utility room area and outside and he would bring in the animals into the utility room onto the door mat and then eat them there. Couple of times I went into the utility room and saw posy in a moment of wildness.

Lions taking down a wilder beast.
Door mat
Bitting the rabbit’s head off
Spleen
Fluffy tail
They’ll stick around and pretend to be cute for food.
Cat isn’t really self aware
…..but yet it is petted, softened and domesticated. They are kind of bipolar.
Run over a dog
They’re pretty nasty psychopaths
Crossbreed to make them smaller, cuter and more manageable
A waste of space
Poker faced
Squashy faced

Luke :They have those creased up faces. And they have those broad front legs, stocky little back legs. And they have the lower jaw sort of…..

James : protruding

Luke : prominent lower jaw…..

Lower centre of gravity
It’s harder for other dogs to flip them over.
Wrinkles and creases in their face are so that the blood can drain off.
That sounds a bit far fetched
Medieval times

Luke : like if people in the city were rioting.

James: bring out some bad tempered cats on leads and sort out the protestors.

Leopard
I think they’d be too skittish to be of any good.
Do you think you could disperse a riot by introducing a bunch of big cats into the streets?
All the big cats that are just loose in London.
Drug sniffing cats
Cat nip – It makes them all high
Drool
I think we are going on a bit of a tangent here.
Dalmatians
We may need to fact check that one
Sleeping on a window sill
We used to put out the cat at night.
Posy was getting up to things at night outside.
Howling and screeching sounds going on in the garden.

James : It’s like having a Mexican stand off. Staring at each other, wailing.

Luke : staring wailing and just arching their backs.

Full moon
…….have a big stand off around a flowerbed; the patio in our garden.

Posy was just lounging like some sort of mafia boss
So he was either the alpha male or the most beta-ish male.
………Lowest rung of the cats.
Debating the best way to overthrow the humans.
a stick insect
Intact you might as well just get a stick
Brown twiggy thing – Stick

James : Now he’s picked the most obscure, not obscure the sort of random words to explain…. They can understand all this but the one word they get hung up on is stick

Luke : I might have been teaching English for 15, 16 years!

James: Stick is something you throw to a dog if it’s fallen off a tree.

Sawdust
They’d be gnawing a piece of wood which would be like rattle and tap against the glass.

Suburban farce
Posy would sort of trot through the kitchen and would be on the floor by the door just casually and he’d spot one of the gerbils out of the corner of his eye and just go bonkers and just launch himself at the gerbilarium and scrabble in the corner.

Metal edged aquarium
Their fins start drooping and you start fretting – May be I haven’t fed them enough
Morsels of food.
It was really very lively.
I don’t know the workings of a gold fish.
We had a tiny little pond; basically an overflow from the gutters. Fairly clean water. It was rain water.

Luke :They’re probably happier there then in a bowl or in a box

James : oh yeah I would have thought so!

A ferret
They are like a mink.
Pole cat
They are pretty versatile, pretty tough little creatures.
They are lively……
They are very good at crawling through tunnels in the ground.

And also up north they have a sport of putting ferrets down your trousers.
Blokes tie strings down the bottom of their trousers and shovel load of ferrets down their trousers and they wriggle around.
Chuck em down their trousers
Mishaps
A dog can around a whole load of sheep and get it through a fend a gate.
Paper round
Some of the dogs are very yappy
Ring the creature in half (break the neck)
They can be mean.
Roulette
It would come tearing towards you.
Whippy stick
It’s a reflection on the owners of how the dog behaves.
Tug of war
It would come bounding up to you.
Bit far fetched
We’d have to walk past the house to get to the station.
I always thought it would leap over the fence.
They are cold blooded animals and they need to be kept warm and I can’t be bothered with that.
Wardrobe full of snakes. She bought a wardrobe and adapted it. Put a glass front on it; I think it might be on the side of it. And there’s two compartments.

Quite affectionate, they purr.

Boa constrictor
Babboon
Scratch his face
Vibe
But you can tell he’s panicking and scared
Where they decided to bring up a monkey or a chimp.
Bunch of hippies decided to rear it.
And it’s miming back
And as it gets bigger it gets more and more unruly.
They start giving it booze and they start giving it weed. And this f***** chimp is smoking spliffs around a table with them.
It’s a bit of a symbiotic relationship.
The ethics of having a pet.
All that is contributing to deforestation
And those cows fart all the time apparently.
And they cut down rain forests to put down cattle farms and stuff
If you’re vegan and you have a pet – You’re a f***** hypocrite.

James : let us know if you’re a vegan dog owner. Actually don’t bother.
How do you justify that?

Cultish following for these dogs.
If they are well looked after they can be very cool.
Dog straining on the lead.
I think that’s a suitable note to end this chat.

He’s gone into the cheesy radio host voice now in case you are wondering.
In the comments section please write about the pets that you’ve or that you’ve had in your life.

Now, you might have heard me talk about LEP Premium in recent episodes. I’m setting it up at the moment.

And if you’ve a pet give them a little treat like a snack or a stroke or a scratch or just a nice walk in the park.