This conversation with competition runner-up Tasha Liu is a way to get to know Chinese culture in a more personal way including the story of how Tasha’s father gave up drinking alcohol, and other interesting details about real life in the world’s most populated country.
How are you doing? Thanks for choosing to listen to my podcast today. I hope you enjoy it.
In this episode you’re going to hear me in conversation with Tasha Liu from China, the listener of this podcast who came 2nd in the WISBOLEP competition.
Let me explain quickly what the WISBOLEP competition is, for that one person who doesn’t know.
If that’s you, and you don’t know what WISBOLEP is → Hello! I’m now going to explain it to you in one single sentence. You’re welcome.
Here it is. The competition, summarised in one single sentence.
WISBOLEP stands for Why I Should Be On Luke’s English Podcast and is a competition I ran at the end of last year in which the prize was to be interviewed by me in an episode, the winner of the competition being the one who received the most votes from listeners after I played all of the 2-minute recordings sent in by the competitors in episode 692 of this podcast.
There you go.
Walaa Mouma from Syria was the overall winner. You may have heard her episode. It was published last month. If you haven’t heard it, I highly recommend that you do so! It’s episode 703 and Walaa explained in some detail how she improved her English to a good level, despite the hardships that she faced in her life. It was an inspiring episode, to say the least. We focused on Walaa’s approach to learning English – both her attitude and specific things she has done and continues to do to improve her skills. So the focus was definitely on learning English.
The conversation in this episode though, focuses mostly on cross cultural understanding.
Walaa is quite a hard act to follow, but we’re not comparing here. It’s not a competition you know! Wait, it is a competition, isn’t it? It totally is competition, isn’t it. It was a competition anyway. But for me, the competition part is done, and now it’s just a case of listening to LEPsters who were chosen by the people who voted in this competition.
And the spirit of this competition was always about this: Finding some interesting guests to talk to on the podcast and letting some LEPsters speak a bit and share their experiences. Let’s see what insights we can learn from other learners of English around the world. And let’s celebrate the citizens of LEPland! Everyone has a story to tell. We can all learn things from each other. All we have to do is just listen.
So, now that I have said that, here’s a brief overview of the content of this chat.
There’s a bit of “getting to know you”, as this is the first time I’ve ever spoken to Tasha, so we talk a bit about her studies, where she lives and so on.
Then we move onto the things she hinted at during her competition recording – and overall these things are ways to get to know China and Chinese culture a little bit more, in a personal way. So this is a cross-cultural exchange here and a chance to get beyond the stereotypes and cliches and find out some real things about life in the most populated country in the world.
There’s the story of how her father managed to stop drinking, which might tell us some things about family life in China.
Then we talk about some of the commonly-held beliefs about China (particularly beliefs held in the west) such as the way Chinese people eat (do they, as the saying goes, “eat anything with 4 legs except the table, and everything that flies except planes”? (and helicopters I suppose), or are they more discerning in their eating habits than that? Another assumption that people might have is that China is quite undeveloped in certain ways compared to the west, or how it could be ahead of the west in various ways too, like the way technology is used – payment systems for example, and the idea of the cashless society.
And there’s more detail about what it’s really like living in China today.
Just a heads up: There were some technical difficulties during the recording, due to a slightly poor internet connection between the two of us. This meant that sometimes we couldn’t hear each other properly or the connection just failed. I think I’ve saved it in the edit, but there may be a few moments where the bad connection affects our conversation. It shouldn’t be too bad, but I thought I’d mention it anyway.
OK, now I’ve done my introduction, let’s get started properly, and here we go!
So that was Tasha Liu from China. It was really interesting to talk to her and I got that amazing feeling that you get when you actually talk to someone who lives in a completely different part of the world and in a different culture but you just connect as human beings.
That’s always special – talking to people from other places and getting a glimpse of how they live their lives and the fact that although we’re different in many ways, we’re also really similar in the fact that we’re still having human experiences ultimately.
It’s easy to forget but I feel like as humans we have many more things in common than differences. We’re all humans living on earth (as far as I know – you might be an alien on another planet as far as I know) but we’re all having a human experience ultimately, and so there are many more things that unite us than divide us, aren’t there?
I’m sounding a bit pretentious there, possibly, but hopefully you know what I mean.
Here are some reflections – just things that I thought about after having that conversation.
These are reflections about cross cultural understanding.
When we think about other cultures or experience them, there is a tendency to not fully understand those other cultures, and as a result we jump to conclusions about them, probably based on the fact that we’ve never had proper experiences of those cultures, never met or talked to those people properly and never observed things from their point of view. This is normal I suppose because we can’t always be everywhere and see everything.
We end up with limited views of other cultures, which might also be informed by other people’s attitudes, like “these people are just unsophisticated” or “it’s such a backward society” and this could be in any direction. It could be, in a broad sense – the west looking at the east, or the east looking at the west, and not just east and west, any culture thinking about another culture – we often don’t see the whole picture. We are all humans, but there are all sorts of complicated reasons why we behave or live slightly differently.
We are all the same, but our contexts are different.
That’s it really. I could ramble on more, but I think I’ve said enough.
I wonder what your thoughts are, now that you’ve listened to this conversation. What reflections do you have?
I found it really interesting to talk to Tasha, and I just want to thank her again for telling us her stories, and for being willing to share her comments about her country. Also, congratulations to her! 2nd place is certainly nothing to be sniffed at.
Right then. More competition runners up will appear on the podcast in due course.
Next up in the WISBOLEP series will be William from France. That will probably arrive in a couple of episodes’ time. I had a really nice conversation with him, which I think was just as insightful as the other WISBOLEP conversations we’ve had so far. If you’ve enjoyed this conversation with Tasha and the one with Walaa, then I think you’ll like hearing William’s story as well.
That’s coming up on the podcast soon.
I’m working on new content all the time, including new Premium episodes which will arrive in the LEP app before too long.
Walaa Mouma from Syria has an amazing and inspiring story for all learners of English around the world, and some specific tips on how to improve your English long-term. Listen to this episode to hear all about it. Transcript and text video available.
Guest host Oli Thompson interviews Luke using a classic format from BBC Radio. Luke is going to be marooned on a desert island but he is allowed to bring 8 pieces of music, one book and a luxury item. For episode 700 this is a chance to get to know Luke and his musical choices a little better. (Transcript and text video versions available)
In this episode the plan is to wish you a happy new year, welcome back all my regular listeners (and maybe some irregular listeners too) and also say a big hello to any new listeners who might have just discovered this podcast and are wondering what it’s all about. I normally do episodes like this at the start of the year because at this time, during the new year period, it’s normal to turn over a new leaf, make a fresh start, perhaps make some new year’s resolutions and generally try to pick up some good habits for the year to come – and that often includes working on your English and trying to find good listening resources to help you do that.
So, in this episode I’d like to welcome you to LEP or welcome you back to LEP, just summarise what this podcast is all about, restate my objectives for doing this and generally make sure we are all on-track for a good year of podcasting and learning English in 2021.
I’ve decided to answer some Frequently Asked Questions. These are the questions people typically ask me when they find out that I have a podcast for learning English and they want to know more.
So during the episode, you’ll learn or be reminded of what the main ideas are for this podcast, what teaching principles this is based on, what my methods are, what you can expect from my episodes in general, how you can use them to improve your English and also some info about me too, because it’s a good idea to get to know the person you’re listening to, isn’t it? I have always found, as a teacher, that it really helps when I put my personality into my English lessons. It just seems to make things more enjoyable and effective for the learners. Not because I have an award-winning personality or anything, but just that I think learning a language is a deeply personal process and so it makes sense to have a more personal approach to teaching it as well as learning it. It helps if you know who I am. It gives you context, it brings the language to life and it’s just more fun too, isn’t it. If you like, as you listen to this, you can imagine we’re in a cafe or something (even though I’m doing all the talking – but you can pause me at any time and put your thoughts into words if you want. I can’t hear or respond to you, but it’s better than nothing isn’t it? That’s the least you can say about my podcast , haha, “Well, it’s better than listening to nothing”)
By the way, other podcasts are available of course. As you probably know, there are quite a lot of podcasts for learners of English including ones by the BBC and other ones by other people, and they’re great, but obviously I hope you listen to my podcast, don’t I?
So, what’s this podcast? How can it help your English? Who are you listening to? Those are the sorts of questions we’ll be covering, but also plenty of other random bits and pieces.
Happy New Year!
Welcome back to the podcast! I hope you had a fairly good holiday period – as good as it can be during this mad mad time that we are all living in. When’s the world going to go back to normal? When’s that going to happen? We don’t know. Was it even normal in the first place? Probably not. In any case – I hope you’re well and that you’ve started 2021 in a reasonably positive frame of mind and that you’re ready to embark on some new audio adventures with me and my podcast.
If you are a brand new listener – then welcome. I really hope you simply enjoy listening to me talking to you, or talking with my guests in English in these episodes. I hope that this will help you to get regular English listening practise into your life, and that you enjoy it too.
Because enjoying your listening practise is so important. This will help you to listen regularly, listen for longer periods of time and listen long-term in your life as well.
We all know that it is very important and useful to listen to plenty of clear, natural English, spoken at a fairly normal speed, focusing on a variety of topics.
Reading is good. Studying grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation – that’s good. Doing plenty of speaking practice is really important. Watching videos in English is helpful. But do not underestimate the importance of just listening to English – for as long as possible each time. That’s what this podcast aims to help you do – at a very minimum. There is more to it than that of course. A lot more. But basically – I want you to do more listening in English.
The first and most basic aim of this podcast is just to help you to get more English in your life through listening to the spoken word – listening to English as it is spoken naturally, by me in this case, and my guests.
Let’s go through my list of frequently asked questions, which will form the backbone of this episode, which is probably quite long.
What is this podcast?
Is it for me?
It’s for everyone, but it might be difficult if → You’re lower than an intermediate level (intermediate might be hard – you’ll have to be extra motivated) or you are a really visual learner. (My wife doesn’t listen to podcasts – even in French. She can’t really do it. She feels she has to close her eyes or do nothing else, whereas I love just listening to audio and it works really well for me – better than watching videos because I can multi task)
How long have you been doing it?
Why did you start doing this podcast?
Who are you Luke? I mean, can you tell us a bit more about yourself, your background and your career so that we can feel totally confident that you know what you’re talking about and that you’re just some guy who can speak English?
Will it really help my English to listen to this?
How do you know? First-hand accounts from listeners.
Common sense. Of course. It’s about a billion times more effective than listening to nothing at all. Plus, what else are you going to do? Watch Netflix with subtitles (yes, do that too, but switch the subs off sometimes) REad books (yes definitely – both graded and non-graded ones if you’re ready) Speak English with people you know who speak English (yes) Take English classes (good idea as long as you take part properly and take responsibility for your learning too). You can do all of those things. But I don’t want to make this complicated. Listen to my podcast regularly and it will help with your English.
Academic studies I’ve done – while preparing my teaching qualifications I read a lot of books and other texts based on proper academic studies into how people learn languages.
Professional experience after having met many thousands of learners of English from many places, and working with them closely to help their English. Observing what works for them, what people respond to, the realities of learning a language.
All of that has shown me that regularly listening to something like my podcast can help your English a lot. I could go into that more (and I have in previous episodes) but that’s all I will say at this point.
Will it help me improve my grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation?
Yes, both directly (when I teach language) and indirectly (through exposure). I can also help you think about the way that you learn, which can make you a more skillful and effective learner.
What’s your method then, Professor Thompson?
5 Ls, 5 Ss, 5 Ps, being a smart-learner, the 5 Ms, DISCIPLINE, commitment. There are many ways to approach language learning. You have to choose one that works for you and that helps you to keep doing it even when it’s tough. Basic: Get as much English into your life as possible and make it meaningful. Hopefully I can help by giving you something you enjoy and want to listen to. More complex: Be a conscious learner too → notice structures and phrases, notice pronunciation (how I say things), try to record them, understand them in context, remember them, record them and repeat them. My premium content is designed specifically to help you do that. I cut out a lot of the annoying work and put it all on a plate for you. Just listen, follow the PDFs and do what I tell you to do – memory tests, repeat after me etc.
Can I really learn English on my own, only by listening to you Luke?
I always recommend my podcast as “part of a balanced diet” and that does include doing other things, especially plenty of speaking practise with real people, probably qualified teachers who can help give you bits of feedback and correct your errors, but also just speaking with people helps you develop the social side of using in English for communication.
I should also mention writing and reading of course, but since this is an audio podcast we focus mainly on the spoken version of English.
What level is it for?
Should I do anything else, other than just listening?
Share your thoughts in the comment section on my website – practise little bits of writing there and chat with other listeners.
Your episodes are quite long. Aren’t they too long, in fact?
How should I listen? (the technology you can use, what you can do while listening, where you listen, how often you listen)
Are there transcripts for these episodes?
What’s your accent Luke?
Do you only have native speakers on your podcast? Most of the time my guests have English as a first language, but sometimes I talk to people who have learned English in adulthood because these people are extremely inspiring as they have done what so many people want to do, and they have great insights into the process of learning English and it’s also really important for you to listen to non-native English speakers speaking English too because it’s vital to hear a variety of English being spoken in your life. English is a diverse language. There are many people around the world using it and speaking it in slightly different ways. It’s important for you to be able to understand all those different varieties. This is true for the different accents and dialects in native English speakers too – you should become accustomed to hearing English spoken with various regional accents. If you only ever listen to my standard RP which is probably very clear to your ears, you might not be able to understand others. Also I really want to encourage you to love the different regional accents and to see their value. Sometimes learners of English will say that they only want RP and they see other accents as somehow being “lower forms of English” with less value. I don’t agree with this of course. The idea that a regional accent makes you sound uneducated or even lazy or something – that idea deserves to stay in the 1950s where it belongs.
Having said that – let me put my cards on the table and be as clear as possible.
What accent should you develop in English?
The first thing is that you need to be clear. People need to understand you. Work on that.
It’s a good idea to pick a certain accent which you can use as a model. This is the accent/pronunciation you can aim for or try to copy. Why not choose RP? It’s a perfectly good choice as most people will be familiar with it. If you have a particular reason for wanting to copy a regional accent, then go for it. Perhaps you live in the north of England and you want to do things like your neighbours. Or maybe you just love a certain regional accent for personal reasons and you’ve decided that this is the one for you. That’s fine too. Go for it. Try to keep things natural. I could talk about this more but I won’t go on about it too much.
Basically – I love all the accents in English. I really do. But I would probably recommend RP as the one to go for, just because it’s still a standard form. I know someone is thinking “but only about 5% of English speakers use RP” yes – but I can’t think of another accent which is more common. Think of British accents in a pie chart. There isn’t one accent that really dominates that chart, I expect. Each segment in the chart is probably around the same size. So which one do you pick? Again, I think RP is fine and makes sense because it’s a standard. I don’t mean you should speak like a posh person, like The Queen or something, because that would be weird.
Listening for understanding others Listening in order to develop your pronunciation
How do I pronounce your name, actually?
How do I pronounce the name of the podcast?
What sort of episodes can we expect?
What are your favourite episodes?
You’re on episode 699 of LEP. Do you have anything special planned for episode 700? No, I don’t! I think it will just be another episode this time. I can’t think of anything specific I can do. Maybe I will do a YouTube livestream “Ask Me Anything” kind of thing. I’ll see. I know that if I do a YouTube live stream then you will all want to know about it in advance. This isn’t always possible. You’ll just have to subscribe to my YouTube channel.
What are LEPsters?
Where are your listeners?
In many places around the world! All over the world.
Why do you talk about ninjas sometimes? What are LEP Ninjas?
Can you explain the Russian Joke please? No.
What do you think of Brexit? It’s a bad idea. I think it was an opportunity for a bunch of nutters to take control of my country and push it in a different direction. I think it’s the wrong direction, but now we have to live with it and make it work. I am not a fan of Boris Johnson and his gang. I feel they’re doing a bad job. That’s probably enough politics isn’t it. Oops, nearly slipped on politics there. Watch out everyone, there’s some politics on the floor. Don’t step in it. “Can someone clean that up please?” (I have made that joke before)
Do you have a team of people helping you to do this? No, it’s just me.
Can we see you perform stand-up comedy on stage?
Are you married and do you have kids and stuff?
What’s your favourite football team?
Do you like music? Do you play music? Do you have any songs stuck in your head today?
Can you sing songs for us on the podcast sometimes? Yes, I do that occasionally, when I feel inspired to do it. I’m not the greatest singer or the greatest guitarist. I’m just learning. But I love it and I feel moved to do it. If I do sing in an episode, most of the time, I do it right at the end of the episode so that people who might not like it don’t feel obliged to listen to it. But the ones who like hearing my versions of other people’s songs (I usually sing cover versions of songs) those people can listen and hopefully enjoy hearing me. I always make an effort to sing clearly so you can hear all the words of the song. I also don’t use any reverb to cover up the imperfections in my voice or guitar playing. I just get the guitar on my lap, point the microphone somewhere between the guitar and my mouth and do my best.
Are you on YouTube?
Yes, I have a YouTube channel as you may know.
I post my audio episodes there, usually with a single static image. I don’t think YouTube is necessarily the best way to listen to my content, but I guess if you are sitting at your computer, perhaps doing something else (like gaming or working or something) then it’s convenient to have one of my episodes running in the background. But also, YouTube’s automatically generated subtitles are usually pretty accurate. When I’m talking on my own, the accuracy is about 95% but when I’m with guests that accuracy can drop to about 85-90% I think. That’s not 100 perfect, but it’s pretty good.
I’m always working on ways to deliver 100% correct transcripts to you because I know how useful and important they are. To an extent I’m just waiting for the technology to catch up. I think it won’t be long before automatic transcriptions are basically perfect but we’ll see.
I’ve been working with some new software which is quite mind-blowing. I don’t want to make any promises about it because I’m just experimenting with it at the moment, but basically it allows me to generate transcripts for episodes in a really convenient way, then edit those transcripts quite easily while also editing the audio. This is too complicated to get into now.
Have you forgotten anything?
Yes, I am certain that I have forgotten to mention something really important, and someone is going to think “Hey you forgot to mention this specific thing! Or You didn’t mention this specific person!” Sorry about that.
You ramble quite a lot Luke, you sometimes talk too much and repeat yourself a bit.
Yes, I do. Sue me. To paraphrase Shakespeare: There is a method in my madness.
From Shakespeare’s Hamlet, 1602. The actual line from the play is ‘Though this be madness yet there is method in it’.
The main message I want to give you here is this:
Listen to my episodes regularly and enjoy doing it.
Download my app to get easy access to all the episodes on your phone. (more than in Spotify and anywhere else)
Become a premium listener if you want to go further in your learning with me.
Don’t be a ninja – come out of the shadows and write a comment from time to time.
Hi listeners, welcome to the podcast. It’s mid December and Christmas is coming very soon. I hope I find you well and in good spirits. You might be wondering about the competition results after having voted for your favourite candidates. Thank you if you did vote, that’s fantastic. I’ll be revealing the results on the podcast soon when I’ve worked out the specifics of how to proceed with the competition. Once I have worked out the details of the next step I will let you know all the results.
This episode is sponsored by LEP Premium. Go to teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo to get the details. Regular lessons with language teaching, memory tests for target language and pronunciation drills to work on your speaking, with plenty of stupid examples, nonsense fun and impressions too. Series 27 is currently being produced and you can expect to get episodes 3-8 in the next few weeks. teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo for all the details.
697. Pronunciation, Pragmatics & Procrastination with Emma
Welcome to episode 695 which is called “Pronunciation, Pragmatics and Procrastination with Emma” which is quite a mouthful isn’t it?
Can you say it? Pronunciation, Pragmatics and Procrastination.
What does this mean exactly? I’m going to tell you in this introduction.
What you’re going to hear is another conversation with a new guest on the podcast. I’ve had lots of guests on the podcast in the last few months. Here’s another one.
This time it’s Emma from the YouTube channel Pronunciation with Emma.
So, what can I say now to set up this conversation for you, and help you to enjoy it and learn from it as much as possible?
Emma is an English teacher with lots of qualifications – in language teaching and linguistics, as you will hear.
The pronunciation part is that in her YouTube videos she focuses on helping learners of English improve their knowledge and use of natural English pronunciation – you know, all the different features that make up natural English speech, including things like the specific vowel sounds & consonant sounds, sentence stress, word stress, intonation, elision, connected speech, and so on.
Emma is particularly interested in pronunciation as it is one of the things that she focused on during her university studies.
So we talk about pronunciation as you might expect, with some bits about different accents and the question of what kind of pronunciation learners of English should aim for, and what kind of accent teachers should present to learners of English.
Another thing Emma focused on at university was the linguistic area of pragmatics. When we think about language, we usually analyse it in terms of grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation, but pragmatics is also a very important thing to consider.
David Crystal says it’s actually the most important factor to consider when looking at how language works.
According to David Crystal, pragmatics is the study of the choices you make when you use language, the reasons for those choices and effects that those choices convey. That’s a bit abstract at this point, but we do get into some examples during the conversation, examples like how to phrase requests in English, and how different types of requests can give a different impression on the people you are talking to. Or more simply, how certain requests can make you seem more or less rude.
For example, what’s the difference between these things? And let’s imagine you’re on an aeroplane and the flight attendant wants you to put your bag under your chair. What’s the difference between making that request in these different ways?
“Put your bag under your chair” and “Please put your bag under your chair” and “Can you put your bag under your chair?” and “Could you put your bag under your chair, please?” and “Could you just pop your bag under your chair for me please, thanks.”
That could also apply to the way people use English when requesting things from me, in comments or emails, for example, as I discussed in a recent episode, if you remember, and if you don’t remember too.
So that’s the bit about pragmatics.
But this episode is called “Pronunciation, Pragmatics and Procrastination with Emma”. I’ve mentioned the pronunciation and the pragmatics, so what about the procrastination part?
Well, this relates to Emma’s other online English teaching channel – Procrastination with Emma, which is on Twitch.tv. Basically, Emma also does Twitch live-streams in which she plays computer games and helps people with their English while she’s doing it.
As you may know, procrastination means putting off doing other things which you have to do by wasting time doing something else. Like, for example if you have some important work to do, but you don’t want to do it for some reason, so you end up telling yourself you’ll do it later and then doing something else instead, essentially wasting your time. How do you procrastinate? Let’s say you’ve got English homework to do, but you end up spending your time playing computer games instead. Is playing computer games a waste of time? Maybe not. Maybe it can help you learn English. That’s the spirit behind Emma’s Twitch.tv gaming channel “Procrastination with Emma”.
So, stuff about accents & pronunciation, stuff about the pragmatics of how we make requests in English, and some stuff about improving your English through computer games.
Actually those things mostly come up in the second half of this conversation. The first half is spent mainly getting to know Emma, finding out the usual things like where she’s from, what her accent sounds like, how she approaches language learning (because she speaks Spanish and also enjoys learning other languages from scratch) and any tips she has about learning English.
I won’t say much more here, except that I really enjoyed talking to Emma and you should certainly check out her YouTube videos and her live streams on Twitch.
Keep listening all the way through and I will chat to you again at the end of the episode, but now, let’s get started!
So that was pronunciation, pragmatics and procrastination with Emma from Pronunciation with Emma on YouTube and procrastination with Emma on Twitch. That’s quite a mouthful isn’t it, again!
Right, well I hope you got a lot out of that conversation in various ways including just general knowledge, linguistic knowledge and not to mention specific vocabulary and phrases you might have noticed.
Thanks again to Emma for being a great guest on the show.
So Christmas time is approaching fast.
Normally at Christmas I take a break for a couple of weeks, but since I’m not going back to the UK this year I might continue podcasting. I certainly have a few episodes in the pipeline and they’ll drop over the coming weeks. I might take a break in the new year but we will see.
So, episodes in the pipeline include more conversations with guests on different topics and a returning guest who is a friend of the podcast who we haven’t heard from in a while.
Also P27 parts 3-8 are coming with the usual language practise and pronunciation work. Remember all my premium series have a lot of pronunciation drills so you can improve your speaking by simply repeating after me, paying attention to certain little language features as we go. www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
In terms of the competition. Thank you to those of you who voted. As I said before, voting is closed now and I am working on the next stage in which I will announce the winner or winners and then the next steps for things like interviews, which will probably happen in the new year.
So hold tight for the results of the competition, and thanks for voting.
That’s all I have to say at this point except that I hope you are well. Please stay safe, stay positive, be excellent to each other and I will speak to you again soon, but for now, goodbye…
A conversation with English-teaching stand-up comedian Elspeth Graty, which covers lots of different topics including Elspeth’s background in England, teaching English, cultural differences, “French-bashing”, old-fashioned telephones and The Tellytubbies. Enjoy!
This podcast is made possible thanks to donations from lovely listeners (click a yellow PayPal button on the website if you’re feeling generous) and also the premium subscription, which costs, per month, slightly less than a pack of 80 Yorkshire Gold Teabags from Sainsbury’s. So if you would like to make sure I never run out of tea, then consider signing up.
There are now well over 100 audio and video episodes in the premium archive and you can access them all, plus new ones that are coming. That’s what you get when you become a premium lepster. To get all the information, including how it works and exactly how wonderfully reasonable the prices are – go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
How are you today? Doing alright all things considered? I do hope you’re managing to keep calm and carry on during this weird and difficult period of history that we are all experiencing.
Shall we start the episode? OK.
Here’s the second in a series of interviews I’ve been doing lately featuring people I’ve been meaning to talk to on the podcast for quite a while (quite a while — is that a short time or a long time? Quick answer: It means a long time.)
I just wanted to record natural conversations with some new guests so you can hear their voices, their stories, their thoughts so you can notice bits of language and practise your English listening as usual.
The first of these recent interviews was with Marie Connolly from Australia, which was the last episode of course. I hope you all enjoyed it.
This conversation is with a friend of mine called Elspeth who is from England.
Elspeth is an English teacher and she also does stand-up comedy in the evenings, which is how we met each other. Yep, she’s another English-teaching comedian friend of mine.
Explaining this episode’s title
The title of this episode is “Chasing the Tangent Train with Elspeth”.
The title is just a metaphor – please don’t expect a conversation about train travel!
It’s just a metaphor to explain the fact that this conversation is full of tangents and I hope you can keep up with it. In fact, it’s mainly tangents.
What is “a tangent”? Long term listeners should know this, but plenty of people won’t know so let me explain.
In a conversation, a tangent is when the topic changes to something quite different and seemingly not related to the main point of that conversation.
It’s when you digress from the main point, go away from the main point or get sidetracked.
“To go off on a tangent”
There are lots of tangents in this conversation. So, for the title of the episode, I was trying to think of a way to describe the experience that you will have of just following the changes in direction in a conversation and seeing where it goes.
I ended up with “chasing the train”, which is not actually an expression you will find in the dictionary – I made it up.
Let’s imagine, then, that this conversation is a train and it’s going down the tracks and every now and then it switches to new tracks and continues for a while, then it switches to another new track and then does it again, and again and so on. Can you keep up with the train? I think you get the idea.
My overall aim for this interview was mainly to get to know Elspeth in more depth and to capture an authentic conversation to help you learn English. That is the destination for this train journey. But as I said, the topics move around a bit, which is totally normal in a conversation. Just ask David Crystal, he wrote a book all about it and he’s a professor and definitely knows what he’s talking about.
What I’m getting at is that this might be hard for you to follow – depending on your level of English.
So you’ll have to focus.
Nevertheless, I can help you keep up with this if I let you know what the main changes will be in advance.
So I’m now going to give you a quick overview of the main changes in topic in this chat.
The main points in this conversation are, thus: (these aren’t spoilers)
We talk about
Where Elspeth comes from originally, and how her family moved around parts of England
Being the daughter of a vicar (that’s her, not me obviously) A vicar is a priest in the Anglican church – the church of England. The cliche of the typical English vicar is that they wear black with a little white collar, they’re often softly-spoken grey haired men with glasses who ride bicycles around their parish and love drinking tea, eating cake and generally worshipping god.
Our accents, which are not strongly affected by the region where we grew up (we actually come from the same general area in England)
Having harvest festivals at church when we were children
Then there’s a big, random tangent → Remembering the old dial telephones we had in our houses when we were children. Remember them? You had to put your finger in and turn numbers around a dial, and it went went kkkkkkkkk. You don’t remember? That must be because you’re young, or you’re old and you’ve lost your memory.
Services you could get on the old analogue telephones, like the operator (a person who you could speak to and who would deal with your telephone-related enquiries) and the talking clock (a recorded voice that was constantly telling the time and you could call a number and listen to it)
Coventry Cathedral in Coventry, which was almost destroyed during World War 2 but was rebuilt and is now definitely worth a visit if you’re in the city
Elspeth’s life in France, her French, and whether or not she feels French or English after living here for quite a long time
Some of the cultural differences between England and France that frustrate us a bit, like the usual things – being punctual, walking down the street and in particular, queueing – standing in line to wait for things in public
Teaching English to young engineers, and the challenges that French students have when learning English
Some of Elspeth’s experiences of learning French
How Elspeth can behave slightly differently in English and in French, especially when doing stand-up comedy in the two languages
Elspeth’s thoughts on her own clothing choices and fashion sense, and how people react to it, especially the Nike Air Max trainers that she wears
Teaching English online using Zoom – and what that is like
Doing stand-up (going on stage and telling people jokes and stories to make them laugh) and Elspeth’s favourite and least favourite things about doing that Where her inspiration for comedy material comes from and “flow activities” or being in a “flow state”
If there is a connection between stand-up and English teaching
A little story about The Tellytubbies that Elspeth uses in her English lessons, which makes the students laugh (The Tellytubbies is a children’s TV show) The story involves The Tellytubbies, William Shakespeare, the county of Warwickshire in England and April Fool’s Day. Basically, the county council of Warwickshire played an April fool’s trick on the people of Warwickshire, and it involved The Tellytubbies and Shakespeare, and people didn’t like it.
Why English people get into rages – like road rage, or trolly rage in the supermarket
The concept of French-bashing (criticising or making fun of the French and French culture) and why Parisians seem to complain about each other’s behaviour quite a lot (Parisians are people living in Paris)
How people’s behaviour in public in Paris compares to behaviour in the UK and in Tokyo
Things we love about France – because there’s a lot to love about this country too
Finally, a bit at the end where we both conclude that Paul Taylor is basically a cake – a delicious British cake.
Actually, reading out that list – it doesn’t seem like there are that many tangents, but there are tangents ok? What I’ve just given you there is the main flow of the conversation.
Right. Now that you have an overview of the track layout, let’s get this train rolling.
Let’s just get started. Here is my conversation with Elspeth, and here we go.
Luke’s fuddy-duddy slippers (a Christmas present from a couple of years ago)
Right, so that was my conversation with Elspeth. I enjoyed it a lot, especially because we have quite a lot in common, not least because we are from the same neck of the woods (a local area where someone lives).
How did you get on? Did you manage to follow it ok? Well, you must have done, because you made it. You’ve caught up with the train. You can have a rest now. Well done for keeping up.
I expect you’re getting out your phone now. If that’s what you’re doing, open up Instagram on your phone and check out Elspeth’s page, which is @elslostinfrance which I now realise would have been the perfect name for this episode, right?
I could do a lot of rambling on now, about all sorts of things, like what’s been going on and the WISBOLEP competition (which is now closed by the way – no more entries please. The deadline has passed, unless maybe you’re in a part of the world where it is still the 15th October – in which case, you have until midnight).
I’ve received loads of entries and let me tell you – it is going to be difficult to choose just one winner. There are so many really interesting recordings and stories of how people learned English and all kids of other things. It will be hard to pick just one person. Also I’m now wondering how I’m going to manage the whole thing. I’ve had nearly 90 entries. I don’t know why I didn’t expect to get so many. Each entry is about two minutes long and so – 180 minutes, even without my comments (and I really want to make even very short comments).
Shall I play them all on the podcast? That’s a lot, isn’t it?
I think the best way to do it might be to make a YouTube video of all the audio (if that makes sense) and then I can add time stamps for each person, which will make it much easier for everyone to find each recording.
In any case, I will find a way to manage this. It could take a while though, so be patient.
I do want to re-state that it has been amazing listening to all the recording (I’ve had brief listens to most of the recordings sent). There are some awesome people in my audience. I just want to give a shout out to anyone who sent in a recording. Well done for plucking up the courage to do that. The competition is going to be a bit of a celebration of my audience from around the world.
Not much more to add here, except the usual mention of LEP Premium which you can find out more about by going to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo I’ve been getting some very positive feedback about it. There are now over 100 episodes of LEPP now in audio and video form. Check it out to see what you’ve been missing.
I’ll be back again soon with another episode, perhaps one in which I just ramble on about all the stuff that I’ve been meaning to say on the podcast for a while, a few listener emails, some songs perhaps and more…
Let me say thank you again to Elspeth for her contribution to this episode. Thank you Elspeth.
Everyone: Hang in there. Keep your chin up.
Hey, do you want some anti-covid funk music to cheer you up? (Yeah)
OK. This is something that I recorded this morning. I probably should have been doing some work but after dropping off my daughter at school I suddenly felt compelled to play some bass, and one thing led to another and I ended up recording a little 2-minute funk groove. The drums are from a youtuber called Dimitri Fantini (link on the episode page). I needed a 90bpm 16-beat funk groove and he delivered. Credit to Dimitri for the drum track. I’ve added bass using my Mexican-made Fender P-Bass, some rhythm guitar with my Fender Stratocaster (also made in Mexico) as well as some string sounds which are from my Yamaha P-45 electric piano.
I called the track Funk in the Kitchen, because it’s supposed to make you dance in your kitchen, or indeed in any other location.
Brace yourselves – music is coming… In 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, let the funk commence…
Hello folks and welcome to the podcast. I hope you are doing fine on this particular day. This episode features a conversation, recorded a couple of weeks ago now, with a comedian and writer from the UK about various things, as you’ll see. Your task is to follow along and see what you can pick up and what bits of language learning wisdom you can glean from this conversation.
I don’t really know James that well. I’ve only actually met him once in fact.
He’s a comedian and a writer, he speaks several languages and his twitter feed is good value. He tweets about politics, learning languages, the issues of the day, comedy and various other things. We share a mutual friend – that’s Dharmander Singh from Birmingham, who I used to be in a band with and who is now a stand up comedian in Berlin. The time I met James was in Berlin when I was there on holiday, and I did some stand up on the same show as him.
So why have I invited him on the podcast? Well, it’s mainly because of Twitter. As I said his Twitter feed is interesting. He takes a moderate and balanced view of things, and his interests are pretty wide-ranging, including the fact that he’s very international. He’s married to a Chinese girl, he’s lived abroad, he used to work as a tour guide in several countries, he used to be an English teacher like me, he speaks very good German and French, he’s working on his Chinese, he works as a translator and he’s generally an articulate and interesting guy and so I just thought that he could be worth talking on the podcast.
The language learning thing is obviously very appropriate and I’m always interested in finding out as much as possible about how someone has learned a second language to a very decent level in adulthood, and that is something that we talk about for at least 50% of this conversation. The first half of our chat is basically me getting to know James properly, talking about his work, his studies, his experiences of going to Oxford University, why he chose to move to Germany, being married to a Chinese girl. Then we get into the details of how he learned German mainly, but also French and now how he’s working on his Chinese.
No need to say much more except that I hope you manage to follow the conversation clearly all the way through. Let me know how it was for you and I will speak to you again on the other side of this conversation, probably with some background music going over the top.
Long thread about languages (1/24): One of the most frequent ambitions I've seen for people during the lockdown is to learn a foreign language. I'm something of an exception, an Anglophone person who's managed to do this as an adult, and I have some thoughts on the matter.
Did you pick up any useful nuggets from that conversation? I think there was some pretty good advice there especially the stuff about reading and noting down certain words, being a bit rigorous about your studying and believing that you can do it, really helps.
Hello and welcome to Luke’s English Podcast. This episode is number 669 and it’s called How To Learn English.
That’s quite a bold title but this really is a lot of what I have to say about learning English. If you really want to learn this language, this is my advice.
I’ve been teaching for about 20 years, podcasting for over 11 years now and I keep finding out more about learning a language through teaching it, getting feedback from listeners and also through my experiences of trying to learn French.
This episode is a distillation of many of my thoughts and advice on how to learn English. It’s not going to cover absolutely every aspect of it, because language learning is a huge subject that encompasses so many different things and you could talk about it all day, but I have decided to talk about learning English, breaking it down into the 4 skills, and giving you as much advice as I can in this single podcast episode. I hope you enjoy it and find it useful.
For those of you who are not so familiar with me and my work. My name is Luke Thompson, I think I am the 4th most famous Luke Thompson in the world. I’m an English teacher, a podcaster, a comedian, a husband and a dad. I am from England but these days I live in France. My podcast is free and is downloaded all over the world. I also have a premium subscription in which I focus specifically on improving your vocab, grammar and pronunciation. To find out more about that go to teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
I expect you want to learn English, right? That’s the main reason you’re listening to this I expect. You want to learn English.
Well, good news! It’s definitely possible. You can learn English and you will if you put in the time and the effort. It’s important to remember that.
What do I mean by “learn English”, though? I mean that you can learn to speak English fluently, clearly and with confidence, expressing yourself with shades of meaning, adapting your English for the situation both in speaking and in writing, knowing and being able to use a wide variety of vocabulary and accurate grammar and ultimately being yourself in the language and developing beneficial relationships with others based on effective communication. Yes, you can. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
That’s it, just a positive and encouraging message at the start. It’s important to always remember that making progress in your learning is a realistic prospect and will happen when you put in the time and effort, and more good news: the more you enjoy it, the easier it is.
I hope this podcast helps you to enjoy getting English into your life on a regular basis, which is a key part of learning the language effectively.
But what else should you be doing in order to improve your English overall?
In this episode I’d like to talk in some detail about learning English and how you can do it.
This episode is a sort of “come to Jesus moment”, which I feel I should do regularly, just to remind everyone listening that there is a method or approach at work here and that it’s not just you listening to people talking.
A “come to Jesus moment” in the world of business is when someone does a passionate speech or event in which fundamental priorities and/or beliefs are reassessed, or reaffirmed. It’s like when Jesus gathers his disciples around him in order to reaffirm their belief in what he’s preaching or to say some deep stuff which strengthens their faith.
This is a come to Jesus moment for me.
Not that I’m comparing myself to Jesus. No, not at all. Not even a little bit, and anyway that’s not for me to say, that’s for other people to point out isn’t it, not me. Anyway…
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is a method to the madness.
In my podcast episodes, I’m always teaching you, using my particular set of professional skills, but rather than presenting it all as a lesson I usually try to present it more like a radio show or a comedy show even.
So, amidst the episodes about music, comedy, interviews and so on, I thought it would be worth restating the core values of LEP, which I seem to do about once every 6 months or so.
I’m going to give loads of advice here, and this is all based on what I’ve learned from:
Teaching for about 20 years
Meeting thousands of learners of English, some of them successful, some of them not, working directly with them as their teacher and listening to them talk about their studying habits and experiences
The academic studies I’ve done, especially the DELTA which involved extensive reading and writing on various aspects of how people learn and teach English
Doing my podcast and getting testimonies over the years from many listeners who told me about how they’ve used it to improve their English
There’s also my own personal experience of working on my French
Anyway, the plan is to talk about learning English with a focus on the 4 skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing.
I have talked about these points quite a few times before on this podcast, and have given tons of specific advice about working on your English, including in episodes like 174 (and others)
So I will probably repeat myself a bit. But I still get asked to talk about “how to learn English” very regularly and I think it’s important for me to talk about learning English on this podcast on a regular basis. Obviously, that is what this podcast is about, first and foremost, even though a lot of the time in my episodes you’ll hear me and my guests talking about all sorts of other things.
Learning English is the main aim of this podcast
Essentially the thinking is that you should listen to natural conversation on a variety of topics and it’s simply listening to things in English (not just listening to things about English) that’s going to help you learn this language, especially if you enjoy the content.
I’ll probably talk about this again in a bit, but let’s say that ultimately the plan with the free episodes is to help you listen to English regularly, for longer periods of time, long term. The more, the better. If the content is enjoyable, that should just make it easier for you to achieve that. In fact, if you’re really into what you’re listening to, you don’t really even notice the time passing.
Then there’s the premium content, which is an effort to push your learning beyond the gains you get from all the exposure and input you get from just listening. The premium content is designed to let you get the benefit of my experience and teaching skills in order to cut out a lot of work that you would otherwise have to do yourself, so I can essentially take you by the hand and lead you through some intensive practice to work on your English more directly.
So that’s my content, but let’s talk now about learning English as a whole then.
Learning English is a holistic thing. It encompasses many aspects and skills that are connected as a whole.
There are receptive skills like listening and reading, productive skills like speaking and writing, language systems like grammar, spelling, vocabulary and phonology, social and psychological factors that come into play when we use language when interacting with others, then there are other factors that come into play like identity issues, body language, culture, literature, pragmatics and all sorts of other things. It’s hard to know where to start when talking about it.
You need to learn it to the point where you don’t even think about it any more.
The more you talk and think about it, the more it starts to sound like the force from Star Wars.
Stretch out with your feelings.
Do or do not, there is no try.
Do not think, feel.
Let go, let the English flow through you.
I am your father (oh wait)
It’s about learning how to do something which goes right to the core of who you are in fact.
It’s a holistic thing. It incorporates many aspects as part of a whole process and so it’s quite tricky to know where to start.
Let’s put it like this. Language goes in, and language comes out. (I told you it sounds like The Force)
Language is within you and language is without you. It flows through you. It binds the galaxy together.
There are receptive skills (this is how language goes in)
And there are productive skills (this is how language goes out)
There’s the written language
And there’s the spoken language
This is our system.
Think of it like a table with two categories on the horizontal axis and two on the vertical axis, so it’s like a grid with 4 squares in it.
On the horizontal access we have receptive and productive skills.
On the vertical we have written and spoken English.
Within the table we have 4 skills – the 4 squares.
So in the box marked “written” and “receptive” we have reading.
Below that in the “spoken” and “receptive” categoriy we have listening.
On the right in the “written” and “productive” side we have writing.
And then in the “spoken” and “productive” side we have speaking.
Those are your four skills. Reading, writing, listening and speaking.
The 4 skills are connected in various ways.
Reading and writing deal with the written word of course.
Reading helps you to write. It helps you to see how the language is built, how words are spelled and how sentences, paragraphs and texts are put together with grammar and textual conventions.
Listening and speaking deal with the spoken word.
Listening helps you to learn how English actually sounds, how words join together in sentences or longer utterances, it helps you get familiar with the speed, rhythm, flow and intonation of the language. It helps you get used to natural pronunciation which in turn helps you produce English in the same way.
Words exist in visual form, and in spoken form.
But reading and listening are connected too because they’re both receptive skills. They provide us with input which is the essential foundation of language learning.
And speaking and writing are connected because they’re productive skills.
These are the skills you need to use when using language for various purposes. This is where you are more active in the sense that you are constructing language and putting it down visually in the form of writing, or using your body to produce it orally.
Let’s talk about those receptive skills and input.
The reading thing there is something we’ll come back to in the section about reading.
This is the academic who is always mentioned in this context, when talking about how to learn English these days. Krashen was one in a long line of linguists who came up with theories about how language is learned and should be taught.
Arguably, we still don’t really know how people learn languages, but various academics over the years have put forward different hypotheses to explain it and these have been the backbone of our understanding of language learning that has informed the way we all learn and teach languages over the years.
Krashen though is the one that people often talk about today, including all the many YouTubers who regularly post videos about the best ways to learn, the only ways to learn, the secrets of learning and all that sort of thing. Krashen is usually brought up because his ideas fit in quite nicely to a model of language learning for today. I mean, it involves a lot of consumption of content in English – plenty of listening and reading and that sort of content is in plentiful supply online, like for example episodes of Luke’s English Podcast.
In his input hypothesis in which he makes the case for the importance of comprehensible input for language learning, he states that in fact the only way we can successfully increase our underlying linguistic competence. This is our system of linguistic knowledge or let’s say that “language instinct” that you have, which even subconsciously gives us a sense of when language is right or wrong. I suppose it could be active in that you know a certain grammar rule and can see when it’s been broken, or passive in that you just feel that something is right or wrong but can’t necessarily explain it.
I would say the passive knowledge is the vital one because ultimately you just want to be able to feel that language is right or wrong without thinking about it.
But that being said, your active knowledge can be really useful when doing things like avoiding common errors as a result of your first language, or consciously pushing yourself to create language which is normal.
Anyway, Krashen says the only way to increase your linguistic competence is through comprehensible input, meaning reading and listening to things that we mostly understand and that with the context of what you do understand, you are able to work out the bits that you don’t know. This is how we acquire new languages.
So basically, we learn a language when we understand it. So, naturally, according to Krashen, the receptive skills come first.
I think this makes a lot of sense to me. I think it’s bound to be true that we learn language by listening to it and reading it. But what about those moments when you have to speak or write, what about learning the grammar and all the rest of it?
Krashen would say that we learn the grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation of a language by listening to it or reading it, and that it’s a natural process and part of how we decode language through comprehensible input.
So, don’t worry about grammar rules and all the rest of it, just listen and do your best to keep up and work out what’s going on, and do it regularly.
Again, I am sure this is true but I also think it’s worth studying the language a bit too, breaking it down a bit, seeing how it works, actively trying to learn more vocabulary, checking up on the rules of grammar and doing some controlled practice. Working on your pronunciation by copying and training your mouth and brain to cooperate with each other, like the way we practise certain movements in sport or musical parts on an instrument.
I do believe that controlled practice and conscious learning like that must also be beneficial because I’ve seen it happen. Doing some active studying can be like a fast track of English learning. It can cut out a lot of time by helping you realise certain things about the language quickly, and I think if you then notice it again while listening and reading that only reinforces what you’ve learned.
Of course, you shouldn’t get blinded by grammar or pronunciation rules and so on, to the point that you can’t see the wood for the trees.
Try not to get hung up on grammar, because it can make you process language in an unnatural and contrived way. It can get stuck in your head and block you a bit. Instead, try to notice patterns and incorporate them into your use of English. Try to see grammar study as a way of confirming things you’ve already noticed, or a way of consulting with a reference book as you also just absorb English more naturally. If you only study English with the grammar, it’s going to be a weird abstract process for learning the language. It’s better to focus on consuming English in the form of messages which you are trying to understand, and then perhaps check your grammar later to straighten things out.
The premium subscription is where I help you with that sort of thing, hopefully combining with the free content to give you all the stuff you need to attack English from several angles.
How can you learn this language if you haven’t heard it and read it a lot?
Read and listen to things that are slightly above your level, so you can understand 60-80%. You need to be able to understand that much for your brain to work out the remaining 20-40% that you don’t know. Meaningful context is vital.
Basically, listen x5 and read x5.
It’s largely a question of finding the right stuff to listen to.
There’s this podcast of course. Others are available.
Watch TV and films with and without subtitles.
Hopefully you’ll find content that you actually want to listen to, not just for studying English. So if you do get addicted to a Netflix series and you can’t wait to find out what happens next, that’s good! That means you will get more comprehensible input and you will be much more focused and involved in it, which is great for your English. Or maybe you want to hear another stupid and funny conversation with my friends just because it makes you laugh and you feel some sort of connection to it. All of that is great because it will help you listen more, listen longer and listen long term.
This one is also a pleasure to talk about because it’s a pleasure to do and there are lots of great things to read.
Let’s hear from Krashen again as he is the master of the whole input model.
This is again from Wikipedia, which I think is fine usually for the basics like this.
Extensive reading, free reading, book flood, or reading for pleasure is a way of language learning, including foreign language learning, through large amounts of reading. As well as facilitating acquisition of vocabulary, it is believed to increase motivation through positive affective benefits. It is believed that extensive reading is an important factor in education. Proponents such as Stephen Krashen (1989) claim that reading alone will increase encounters with unknown words, bringing learning opportunities by inferencing. The learner’s encounters with unknown words in specific contexts will allow the learner to infer and thus learn those words’ meanings.
Of course that system is disputed because this is the academic arena we’re dealing with and people are always putting forward ideas, defending them, disputing them and so on. It’s how we move forwards and learn about this stuff.
So this is extensive reading which is different to the sort of intensive reading you do in English lessons, where you spend ages on just one page of text, break it down into tiny chunks, understanding every single morsel. With extensive reading it’s all about just getting as much English into your head as you can by reading as much as you can, and you focus on reading enjoyable things, especially stories and you don’t stop too much to analyse the language or even check words, you just keep trying to follow what you’re reading. The more involved in it you are, the better.
Again, this point about input is that it feeds your instinct for the language. You get a subconscious sense of what is right or wrong, which comes in very handy for when you’re doing those nasty sentence transformations and use of English tasks in a Cambridge exam like CAE. What you really want in those situations is to know exactly which preposition or auxiliary verb is missing, or to be able to manipulate sentences in a variety of forms. I reckon it helps to do a bit of language practice as well, with a few controlled exercises but the idea is that it should all go in naturally giving you this sense of language competence.
It’s important though to choose texts which are not too difficult for you. You need to be able to understand enough to be able to get a grip on the rest of the language.
So which books do you choose?
We’ve talked about the importance of choosing stuff that’s interesting to you, that reflects the type of English you might need.
Genre isn’t an issue. People assume you need to read or listen to the news but as we’ve already established they don’t really talk like normal people on the news, and they also write in a certain “newsy” style. Funnily enough it might be more useful to read the tabloid papers as they write in a more conversational style, but I think it’s worthwhile looking beyond the news.
Basically, read whatever you want.
Even comic books or graphic novels as they’re known for adults.
Graphic novels can be brilliant because they support your understanding with the images and often the English is in the form of speech so you learn really directly how to apply that stuff to real life. I love graphic novels in French. It’s my favourite way to work on the language.
You could consider the current bestsellers. If other people like the books then why shouldn’t you? Look in the fiction and non-fiction categories.
Or try graded readers, which are an excellent and underused resource. I really recommend them if you’re not a strong reader. They’re previously published books, and often some of the great classics and modern classics in English, but they’re republished with English that is graded for certain levels. The number of words is reduced, it’s truncated and essentially it’s a way to increase the percentage you do understand, and decrease the amount you don’t understand, getting to that 80/20 spot where you can maximise your language learning.
There are lots of titles to choose from and various publishers. Check these ones out
But your English may well be good enough now to have a go at a book for native speakers. So go for it. You have loads of options. Just make sure you enjoy reading on a regular basis.
I would also add that it’s important to choose texts which are written in modern style and perhaps about an area that you are particularly interested in. Perhaps think of it like this – what is the kind of English you want printed on the back of your head (on the inside)? Odd question, but I mean, what is your target English. Perhaps it’s the involving and descriptive storytelling of fiction, or it’s the matter-of-fact world of non-fiction. I reckon non-fiction is probably better because it reflects the kind of English you are more likely to be writing, especially if it’s things like academic work or reports at work, because they’re all about presenting you with information, data, commenting on what’s going on, describing how to do things and that’s probably the sort of thing you’ll need to use English for, especially in writing.
This might be a bit dry but it will really show you loads of examples of emails with full explanations, so you can read and learn.
The Story of English in 100 Words
Anything by David Crystal is fantastic, but this non-fiction book will teach you the entire story of the English language through 100 words and there are some great words in there like
Loaf, Street, Riddle, Arse, Jail, Wicked, Matrix and Skunk, to name but a few.
So you’re bound to learn tons from that.
Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny By Nile Rodgers
The War of the Worlds by HG Wells
The writing is a bit old fashioned. I have to be honest, but it’s mostly modern in style and I think it’s worth it because the story is amazing and it’s not too long. It’s wonderfully descriptive and much better than any movie version could be. Definitely one of my favourite books of all time.
Productive skills / output
This is where we get to the more nebulous world of productive skills. It’s like an alien land where monsters roam, a bit like war of the worlds maybe.
OK I’m exaggerating here but I mean that productive skills are a bit harder to pin down because even more psychological and social factors come into play. You have the public aspect of it, the fact that you’re trying to manipulate the language and get your ideas across in the right way, being coherent and cohesive and in the right style with the right level of politeness with the correct conventional replies and requests and on and on it goes!
Again, I’m making it sound tricky, but I mean that you are involved so much more because you’re making the language and actually using it. This is exciting because you get to express yourself which is the most wonderful and gratifying thing you can do in another language, and when it slides out quite fluidly and you’re not too blocked by who knows what, then it’s all gravy. But sometimes it just doesn’t seem to work out that way and you get mixed up and it doesn’t come out right at all. There’s a sense of performance in productive skills, and a sense that you have to be aware of the right way to conduct yourself, and to be able to utter things in English instantly, following what the other person is saying, it’s all done in a sort of unconscious blur and thinking about grammar in that situation is a killer.
So it’s about getting a level of ease, a level of comfort, a platform from which you can bob and weave your way through the conversation, finding other ways to say things and switching correctly between tenses and situations. I think you get what I mean.
So how do you work on these things?
Ease – a voice, fluency
Control – grammar, vocab, pronunciation
Range – a wide range of language for a wide range of things
Coherence – does it all make sense? Can people follow you easily?
Cohesion – particularly in writing, how does the whole text make sense as a whole?
Social factors – knowing how to put things and how to manage relationships through language
Again, the idea is that this language is just built into you from all that exposure and input.
I would say that there’s a great deal of other stuff you can do to improve your productive skills beyond reading and listening a lot, of course.
In both writing and speaking the first thing to remember is you need to engage in it as much as possible. Real writing and real speaking.
Ultimately this means trying to use language to communicate a message in some way and that’s what you should be focusing on. Meaningful interactions, especially ones in which you have something to offer or something to gain, such as negotiations or even information gap situations in which you’re telling someone something they don’t know. Also social interactions involving being polite or building relations with people. Ultimately, doing it for real is the best workshop in which you can work, rolling with the punches and trying to keep track of what you’re learning.
This is why people learn English best when they’re forced to do it because of their surroundings. They learn by being a waiter in London for a year or working in an office with native speakers, or being plunged into a foreign university for a year, or moving to a new country and having to cope with all the challenges that brings and in a second language. I suppose this is immersion, but it;s more than that. I recommend actually conversing with people to just practise. It’s the 5 Ps.
It’s like going to the gym. Fluency is like physical fitness in your mind and also in your body because you’re using your mouth, your breathing and your head and hands to communicate too.
It applies to writing too. You can observe the way other people write their emails and kind of copy their style, you have to really think about what you’re saying and doubtless you will end up writing emails with requests, with information, with questions and with complaints and so on, so you will have to learn on the job. Being thrown in at the deep end, or if you just have to use English at work it could either be a big stress for you or a huge opportunity to just go for it.
Anyway, let’s talk about specific productive skills – writing and reading, and how to work on them.
Let’s say you’re not actually in a situation where you can talk to people or have correspondence with people, or have to write things which other people will ultimately have to read. Unless you find a tutor on italki for example then that person could be your practice point for speaking and writing, giving you feedback as you go. But let’s say for the purposes of this episode, it’s just you and the English language, facing each other off in a kind of wild west fashion.
How can you practise on your own?
Obviously you need to write. But what are you going to write and who is going to read it?
Firstly – just write, write regularly, write meaningfully and write with a reader in mind, even if nobody reads it. This is important because it will help you get used to simply putting your ideas into words. It’s a creative process and also a mechanical process to an extent. Building sentences is a sort of art or a craft. You have to practise it in order to get some level of comfort with it. Let’s imagine there’s a muscle in your head (this is not scientific at all) which, if you never exercise it, will be quite weak and underdeveloped. But if you exercise that muscle regularly it will be strong, reactive and quick. I expect there is a part of the brain responsible for creating written language, and a sub-section for creating written English. Keep that part of your brain fresh by writing English as much as you can. That’s as scientific as I can get here.
So, here are some things you could write
What to write
Email an imaginary person (spooky?) or yourself (think outside the box here ok?)
Academic writing – text types
Emails – email types and conventions
Reports – same!
Formal and informal letters – same!
Applications – same same!
Basically – Whatever you have to write, you should try to find some samples of these texts and aim to copy them. Copy the style, the arrangement, the language they use and reproduce it yourself. Texts that you write will invariably be very practical so it’s about reporting information and asking questions. Look at the sample texts and copy them.
It helps if you have a specific workbook. I recommend Email English by Paul Emmerson. It’s a simple workbook that helps you work on almost all those things and I’m not even sponsored by Macmillan or anything, it’s genuinely a great book.
They also have downloadable email writing tasks on the Macmillan website or here
Ideally you’ll have a teacher to proofread your work, correct you and give you feedback.
If this isn’t possible, it’s still a good idea to write.
A diary (just describe things that happened, or make it more personal and really explore your thoughts and feelings. If the words don’t come, just use basic words. If you feel unable to express yourself perfectly, express yourself imperfectly but try to express yourself.
Writing is not just sentences, it’s paragraphs and pages. The thing you are writing will define how you write it. This means – conventions of certain texts, formality level of the language.
Specific exam tasks → IELTS, FCE, CAE, CPE, BEC higher and vantage
These will often push you to learn the conventions of different types of text, so it could be a good idea to take a Cambridge exam if you want to work on your writing.
You might write some notes on vocab and I would recommend here that you take a more extensive approach to doing this. Don’t just have one word per line. I want to see one word or phrase at the top of the page, and then loads of text underneath full of examples and your own examples with the language. You can then come back and cover up some of the words and try to remember. Alternatively you can use my PDFs with the notes and memory tests if you’re a premium subscriber. Little plug there for my other podcast.
But making more extensive vocabulary notes with plenty of examples means that not only are you recording vocabulary, you’re practising using it in writing too.
I mentioned italki before and you can find tutors, teachers and conversation partners there for regular practice and I do recommend doing that.
Otherwise, let’s look at some ways you can work on your speaking other than in actual spoken practice with others. Developing your speaking on your own.
This is quite a tricky thing to do because normally speaking is an instantly interactive form of communication. It also involves a lot of listening and then being able to produce English instantly and without hesitating too much.
It’s also quite physical as it involves using your mouth to produce words and sentences in the right way.
And of course there are all those cultural things to think about too.
But really speaking should just be your attempt to find your own voice in English, with fluency and with a specific tone. Of course it comes through a lot of practice, of having conversations in which you’re not really thinking about what you’re saying on a grammatical level but it’s pouring out of you due to necessity and not being able to really think a lot. Doing that regularly helps your brain map out the extent of the English you have and increase it, keeping it sort of fresh. That’s not scientific but more a metaphor of what I think speaking can do. It activates something in you that you have to maintain and keep active or those parts of the brain go dull.
So practice x5
But with who?
The fact is, it just helps to talk to other people and that’s the best and most basic advice I can give. Outside of that, you have to manipulate your surroundings and use your imagination to practise speaking on your own.
Talking on your own (and even in your head)
This might sound a bit odd, but it’s a surprisingly effective way to activate English that is in your head. You essentially talk to yourself, out loud, in English, describing what’s going on, what you’re doing, what you’re thinking about, say it all in English. Alternatively you can just do it in your own head and just think the sentences. This also keeps that system of language production in your head fresh.
Listen and repeat
You can use certain audio and play a bit, pause, repeat what you heard, rewind, repeat again and keep going until you’ve got it, and then check the transcript or subtitles to see if you’re correct, check any new words and carry on. Always find ways to vocalise the things you are learning and that means saying them out loud even to yourself.
You can also practise different speaking scenarios.
Preparing for a Cambridge exam you can find past papers with speaking part preparation and practise. Find out what’s required in the different parts, watch videos of people taking the speaking part on YouTube, practise answering common questions about yourself, practise speaking on a topic for a minute or two, practise discussing your opinion on the issues of the day. Those are all specific speaking skills that you can practise on your own. I particularly recommend listen and repeat, especially when you have to take quite a long utterance in English, hold it in your head and repeat it like it’s one word? It’s like going to the gym in English. It involves a lot of things: Understanding the clip, identifying the words and grammar, being able to remember it all, being able to produce it in a similar way. That’s a whole punch of different kinds of practice. And if you repeat the sentence straight away, and again, you might notice certain little errors you’re making and correct them. So repeat over and over again, a bit like practising boxing combinations in the ring before the big fight.
In reality, the 4 skills are often mashed up together and you find you are doing things like listening and speaking at the same time, while also taking notes, looking at visuals and so on. It all gets very messy when language is actually applied to real communication in the real world.
A little note about pronunciation and a sort of disclaimer.
I think there are probably plenty of other things I have not mentioned in this episode, such as not talking about specific memory techniques (done that) or specific features of pronunciation (done that) or exactly how to read a book to learn English (done) or plenty of other things probably. To be honest this is just a podcast episode that I wanted to make about the 4 skills and it expanded into an episode all about learning English as a holistic process.
Anyway, the note about pronunciation
It is worth learning the phonemic script
It is worth getting the sounds app on your phone
It is worth doing drills and practising different features
It’s worth getting a book called Ship or Sheep or other books of that nature.
It’s worth remembering that if you have an accent when you speak that is fine and it’s part of who you are, the main thing is that you speak clearly, not which regional accent you have. Clarity is the thing to achieve. Also, it’s extremely difficult to “lose” your accent in English. Hardly anyone does it. But you can still be fine with your accent. English is quite open like that. Everyone’s welcome.
But there you have it. That was quite a comprehensive look at how I think learning English is best when you combine two things: comprehensible input, and a clever studying routine.
I think it can work wonders for your English.
And that’s what I try to do with this podcast. Give you all the input in the free episodes and then do some more focused studying in the premium content. Hopefully, together those two channels can boost your English to the max.
Talking to Sherwood Fleming, author of “Dance of Opinions” about intercultural communication, including common problems and the solutions to help us learn to communicate more effectively across cultures.
Hello you and you and you, welcome back to the podcast. I’m recording this on a very windy Tuesday morning. A storm passed by over the last few days, wreaking havoc across the UK and also here in France we’ve had some pretty strong winds and it’s still very blustery out there.
But here I am in the cosy confines of the Podcastle at LEP headquarters. A pre-lunch recording of this introduction today. I hope you are comfortable. Let’s get started.
Recently I was contacted by a listener called Inna with a suggestion for the podcast.
The message went like this:
I’m Inna, one of your regular listeners, as well as a Premium subscriber.
I would like to thank you for your podcast, which is always helpful and always interesting.
She is teaching me how to communicate better in English as a foreign language.
Her lessons changed my vision of what communication is and helped me to understand how to communicate better not only with my foreign colleges but how to communicate better “tout court”. [full stop, period]
Some of my colleagues had the chance to work with her, and it was kind of “a revelation” for all of them every single time.
I strongly believe that this topic would be very useful to all your listeners.
So I got in touch with Sherwood and arranged a call for an interview and that is what you’re going to hear on the podcast today.
Here’s some intel on Sherwood, from her website.
Sherwood’s expertise is in improving the written and spoken communications of those who use English as a second language and work within intercultural business contexts. She has designed and led seminars for more than 25 years in both Canada and France, helping thousands of participants to communicate more effectively.
Sherwood is the creator of the five-step CLEAR method, which has established a new standard for expressing opinions interculturally. It forms the heart of her recent book, Dance of Opinions: Mastering written and spoken communication for intercultural business using English as a second language, an easy to learn and apply method for intermediate and advanced ESL business people, designed to improve how they express their opinions. Her motto? “We build our futures together, in the words we exchange today.”
OK so this conversation is all about intercultural communication. What are the issues and obstacles that we face when communicating with people from different cultures? How do our different approaches to communication influence the relationships that we build with people? What are the solutions to some of the problems that can arise when communicating across cultures?
Sherwood talks about finding strategies to help you learn to dance to the same tune as the people you’re talking to, and this involves things like the pragmatics of looking beyond the words which are being used and towards the real intentions of communicative acts.
There are some examples of people in business contexts and also how I sometimes struggle with intercultural communication in my everyday life in France.
Our aim for this episode is to help you, the listeners, attain clarity about these issues that you may not even be fully aware of, and once you can see more clearly what these issues are then you’ll be ready to apply the proven solutions, which Sherwood shares during this episode and in her other work, including her book “Dance of Opinion” available on Amazon.
So let’s now listen to Sherwood Fleming and you can consider these questions
What are the typical problems people experience when communicating across cultures?
Can you find some examples?
What are some of the reasons behind those problems?
What are some solutions that we can apply to those problematic situations?
I’ll chat to you again briefly at the end, but now, let’s get started
Thanks again to Sherwood Fleming for being on the podcast today. That was a very interesting conversation about the way we all communicate with each other in different ways.
It sort of boils down to this I think.
Keep it simple!
Make it explicit what you want and what you’re offering. Dumb down your English in intercultural contexts.
Focus on the main message (the speech act) rather than the form of the message. Some cultures don’t emphasise things that other cultures expect, but the main thing is to focus on specifically what the other person wants, rather than how they are saying or writing it.
Thanks for all your recent comments and emails and stuff it’s great to hear from you, including some choice comments from the last few episodes.
Luke, I have just binged all three episodes with Quintessentially British things and I must say theyre brilliant! You are so blessed to have such an interesting and intellectual family of yours, all the three episodes are completely different and amazing to listen. it’s like I’ve looked at the Britain I’ve never known before. Hats off to you and your beautiful kin!
By the way everyone, it’s mum not mom in British English.
There have been numerous requests for episodes of Gill’s Book Club as it might be called, or Gill’s Culture Club or something. So we’re looking at doing episodes of that sometimes.
There’s also a Rick Thompson report on the way soon.
I’ve had messages thanking me for the recent episode about IELTS with Keith O’Hare and have asked for more so I might do something in the near future.
Hi Luke, I am Uswah from Indonesia. I’ve been thinking about giving comment in each episode particularly everytime Amber and Paul are on the Podcast. However I always feel not sure untill today I heard the fact that there are fewer comments and responses from your listeners.
So here I’m now, I want you to know that I am a faithful listener, I get every joke you make (including Russian jokes and Lion king, LOL), I laugh out loud when three of you are laughing. I am an English teacher basically, but I spend most of my time for sewing, hahaha so I’m a tailor (not Taylor, LOL) at the same time. So I’ve been always listening your podcast when I’m sewing. It’s just sooo fun. So I feel my sewing project is much more fun since that’s the time I listen to your podcast.
So, let me recap: last May, Luke published an episode titled “SLEEP with Amber and Paul”. Now, eight months later, Amber is heavily pregnant. These guys are bringing the concept of modern family to a whole new level…