How does it feel to have a visual impairment? How do blind people navigate the world? How do other people treat you, if you are blind? And, how do we talk about blindness and other forms of disability in English? This episode is inspired by a listener called Hafid, who contacted me recently. I talk about the subject of blindness and disability in general, read an article written by a partially sighted person, and explain a list of words and phrases we should use when describing different forms of disability. Also includes various medical vocabulary such as the different parts of the eye and other related topics.
“The Glib Brothers” reunite on the podcast to discuss more music, films, books, scary AI and UFO sightings. James is my older brother and he’s probably been on this podcast more than any other guest. Listen for another deep and humorous conversation with lots of cultural reference points.
Some of the things we talked about in this episode 👇
- Blow Up (1966 mystery thriller film set in London, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni)
- The Bee Gees (Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb – The Gibb Brothers)
- Diary of a CEO (Stephen Bartlett’s podcast)
- Record Play Pause by Stephen Morris (a book about Joy Division / New Order)
- ChatGPT & AI (you know)
- 1984 by George Orwell (a famous book about living under a totalitarian regime)
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (another famous book about living under a different kind of totalitarian regime)
- This Is Spinal Tap (a cult classic comedy film about a fictional rock band)
- Alan Partridge (a comedy character played by actor/comedian Steve Coogan)
- Three Amigos (comedy film directed by John Landis, written by Lorne Michaels, Steve Martin and Randy Newman, starring Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short – a Thompson family favourite)
- Green Street (an unintentionally hilarious drama film about football hooligans in the UK, starring Elijah Wood)
James’ Music – Glytek Audio
TECH TALK! A conversation with Joe Dale (modern foreign language teaching consultant, EdTech guru) about the use of ChatGPT in English teaching and learning. Lots of recommendations, tips and tricks for saving time and combining ChatGPT with other software including Google Chrome extensions.
Online Communities that Joe mentioned
Google Chrome Extentions
- Magical – a tool which helps you to write text without having to write it out each time. Useful if you tend to write the same thing a lot, over and over.
- Canned Replies – similar to Magical
- Voice Control for ChatGPT – Speech to text, text to speech. This basically adds a microphone input option for ChatGPT and also converts ChatGPT’s responses into spoken word.
- Use Immersive Reader on Websites – this can read out a text for you in spoken word
- YouTube Summary with ChatGPT & Claude – summarises YouTube videos (but I question its ability to do this well enough – it doesn’t always realise which things are part of an introduction, which things are side points, and which things are the main points)
- EdPuzzle – quickly turn YouTube videos into comprehension exercises (convenient for teachers)
Other useful software
- ClozeIt – a Google Docs extension which creates gap-fills from texts
- Wheel of Names – wheelofnames.com – a spinning wheel which randomly chooses items from a list
- Microsoft Lens (part of Microsoft Tools) – allows you to scan text from a photo, and then export the text to other software
- Reading Coach (in Immersive Reader in Microsoft Tools in Microsoft Office 365) – reads (out loud) to text you have scanned, listens to you speaking and then gives you feedback on your pronunciation/speaking and you can compare your speaking with the model speech
- AudioPen.ai – allows you to record quick voice notes, which it then transcribes and neatly summarises for you
My previous episodes about ChatGPT
In this final part of the series I’m going to evaluate ChatGPT’s ability to work as a dictionary with definitions, example sentences, synonyms, phonetic transcriptions, etc. I test its ability to convert texts into British English or other varieties, see if it can help with sentence stress and word stress, and check its ability to create grammar and vocabulary quizzes and other useful exercises.
This is the 3rd and final part of this little series of episodes I’ve done about using ChatGPT to learn English.
I’m experimenting with lots of different prompts to see if it can do things like:
- Create study plans for you
- Simulate natural conversations
- Correct your errors
- Provide role play practice for specific situations like job interviews
- Help you with Cambridge exam tasks and practice
In this part I’m going to try to answer these questions:
- Can you use ChatGPT like a dictionary?
- Can it give us correct definitions, information about parts of speech, pronunciation, example sentences, synonyms, antonyms, collocations?
- Can it provide information about the etymology of words and phrase?
- Can it transcribe things into phonemic script?
- Does it accurately transcribe things into British English pronunciation?
- Can it convert between different dialects of English, e.g. will it convert American English into British English, or into specific dialects of British English?
- Is it able to help us to practise reading texts or presentation scripts with the right sentence stress, word stress, pausing and intonation?
- Can it help us practise grammar by creating quizzes or tests? Are those tests reliable?
- Can it help you to remember vocabulary with tests?
- Can it help you remember words and spelling with mnemonic memory devices?
- Can it create text adventure games?
- Can it adapt its English to different levels?
- What are my overall thoughts and conclusions about ChatGPT?
You can get a PDF of the script for this episode which includes all the prompts I am using to get ChatGPT to do specific things.
Check the episode description and you will find a link to my website page where you can get the PDF scripts for parts 1,2 and 3 of this series.
If you are watching on YouTube I recommend using full screen mode so you can read the on-screen text more easily.
OK, so without further ado, let’s play around with ChatGPT a bit more and see how it can help you learn English.
Ask it to define words
What does “rambling” mean?
It gave pretty good definitions I have to say.
Arguably it’s not as good as a proper dictionary.
Just type the words into a dictionary and you’ll get way more info, including parts of speech, pronunciation, example sentences, related phrasal verbs etc.
But having said that you can ask ChatGPT for more specific details about words, including:
- Can you give me some example sentences with the verb “ramble” in different tenses?
- What are common collocations with the word ramble?
- What are some synonyms of the word “ramble”? (I had to specify for ways of talking)
- Can you transcribe the word “ramble” in phonemic script?
What is the origin of the expression “break a leg?”
Create mnemonics to help you remember vocabulary
Can you create some mnemonics to help me remember these words and phrases?
ramble, waffle, meander, go off on a tangent, get sidetracked
It did it, and I must say this is pretty impressive.
You still need to use your imagination a bit, but these mnemonics are certainly a good starting point.
Ask it to transcribe things into phonemic script
But only in standard American?
Is it good at transcribing things in British English?
Can you transcribe this sentence into phonemic script?
I’d like a hot dog with lots of tomato sauce.
Different versions of the language
Can you convert this story into (insert dialect here)?
This is a paragraph I came up with which contains loads of words that are different between US and UK English.
Let’s see if it can convert this UK version into US English.
First I’ll read it out. See if you can identify the words which will probably be different between US and UK English.
|I just popped out of my flat to get some post from the postman when I realised I had locked myself out. |
I was stuck outside with only a pair of slippers on and it was the middle of autumn. To make matters worse I really needed the toilet.
My car was there but of course I’d left the car keys in the house as well, although I couldn’t see where they were because my curtains were closed.
Then I noticed that some bloody yob had put a big scratch across the bonnet of my car. That made me really angry I can tell you. “You’ll be hearing from my solicitor” I said to myself.
Just when I thought my day couldn’t get any worse the TV aerial on the roof of my house fell off and crashed into the windscreen of my car, smashing it to pieces.
I thought “I’ll need to make a trip to the chemist for some medicine to help me recover from this!” I walked along the main road and on the way I stopped to get some chips from the fish & chip shop at the main crossroads near my house.
When I had finished, I put the paper bag in the rubbish bin and walked under the flyover to the chemist’s.
I got my medicine and headed home.
Of course, I was still locked out so in the end I had to jump over the fence into my back garden and climbed into a window which I had left open.
Luckily I lived on the ground floor so I didn’t actually need to climb up the wall or anything, but unfortunately I broke a mug which was on the window sill. I used my hoover to clean up the broken pieces.
Suddenly I heard a siren and someone knocked at the door.
“Oh no, it’s the old bill!” I thought. “They think I’m burgling my own house!”
I went to answer the door, but I didn’t realise that I’d ripped my trousers climbing in the window. I opened the door and stood there with my trousers hanging open. They could see my pants and everything! How embarrassing!
Make a funny dialogue between two friends in a pub in London speaking British English. Include a joke at the end of the dialogue.
Generate the same response but the two friends are from Belfast, in Northern Ireland.
Sentence stress, pausing and intonation
Ask it to help you read out a text with the right pausing, stress and intonation.
Can you help me to read out this paragraph, showing where the pauses, stress and intonation should be?
Chat GPT or chat-based generative pre-trained transformer models, is a type of artificial intelligence that allows users to interact with a virtual assistant using natural language. This technology is based on the principles of GPT-3, the third generation of the popular generative pre-trained transformer model.
One of the key features of chat GPT is its ability to generate responses in real-time, based on the user’s input.
That is from an article about ChatGPT which I found on medium.com 👇
It’s good at showing where the pauses should be,
but it’s bad at showing word stress or sentence stress.
☝️bad bad bad bad bad! ☝️
Grammar or vocab quizzes or tests
Let’s ask it to create a grammar review test for upper-intermediate level.
Create a 10-question grammar test to help me practise English at an upper-intermediate level.
10 questions isn’t really enough to cover all areas of grammar but you would expect it to cover at least 10 different grammar points. Did it?
What happens if I ask it to make a 20-question grammar test for B2 level? Does it use a wide variety of forms? Does it require the test taker do demonstrate control over the language or is it just multiple choice?
The results are not as rigorous, complete, reliable or detailed as similar tests in published materials such as the diagnostic test at the back of English Grammar in Use by Murphy.
It’s also not focused on language that you have been studying in your course.
It always uses multiple choice.
Basically – it doesn’t produce a very reliable test.
Vocabulary review tests, to help you remember words and phrases
Create a vocabulary test to help me remember and use these words and phrases.
ramble, waffle, meander, go off on a tangent, crack on, Get away with, get by, get on with, get off on, get through to, get around to
The test it created was multiple choice and only contained definitions.
Definitions are good but not the best way to help you remember vocabulary. You need example sentences and it’s best if you have to use the words in a meaningful and contextualised way. At least give us example sentences with the words and phrases removed and ask us to put the correct words in the correct place, perhaps in the correct form.
But it’s better than nothing, and I think this could be useful if you have a list of words or phrases that you’re trying to remember.
Text adventure games to practise grammar
I’ve always wanted to create one of these but have never got round to it. One of the reasons is because it’s quite a time consuming task and requires a lot of patience to make sure I’m using plenty of good grammar questions and combining that with an interesting story with engaging choices. Maybe ChatGPT can cut out a lot of the work.
Create a 5 minute text adventure game to help me practise English grammar
Nice idea but it did a bad job. It ended up creating a game with virtually no grammar questions and then it played the game itself.
I’m sure there are other language practice exercises or activities which ChatGPT could do.
If you can think of some other things, put them in the comment section.
Ask it to adapt its English level to yours
You can write things like “please adapt your English to B1 level” or something similar.
Actually I just tested this with this prompt:
Give me some advice on how to set up a podcast studio. Please use A2 level English.
Can you adapt this passage from Hamlet by Shakespeare into elementary level (A2) English?
So you can ask it to use simple English at your level.
You can also prompt it in your first language of course, but you have to request that it responds in English.
Overview / Comments / Conclusions
It’s definitely way better than any chatbots I’ve ever seen before.
There’s no denying how impressive it is in many ways. I only scratched the surface here. It can do lots of other things including creating legal contracts, writing song lyrics, writing short stories, movie plots, essay plans, essays etc.
But I think we still need to be a bit sceptical or critical about it at this stage. It’s impressive at first, but working closely with it shows us its limitations.
Don’t assume that it is answering your questions correctly or reliably. It seems to miss things, and contradict itself sometime and also it lacks the overall vision and emotional intelligence that a good teacher can have.
There are also questions about things like how it could encourage cheating, and also other criticisms (I’ll explore some more in a few minutes).
They’ve done wonders with the marketing – allowing us all to use it freely, which has caused us all to talk about it and as a result it’s gone viral with everyone talking about it. This is helping them to make money now (by selling it as a service which people can incorporate into their websites etc, and charging people for the PRO version of it) and also it’s allowed them to get a lot more data (as millions of people have been using it) which is allowing them to develop it further. In fact it is improving and changing all the time, becoming more and more accurate and sophisticated.
For learning English, there are definitely ways it can help, including taking out some of the time-consuming things like creating little memory tests, creating sample texts and dialogues which you can use, having some limited conversation practise.
One of its main strengths is error correction. It can quickly correct errors in your writing and even explain the reasons, although the explaining is a bit limited.
It can correct your English, but don’t rely on it too much. Try to use this as a tool to help you improve your English, not just something that you rely on at the expense of making progress on your own. Learn from it, but don’t let it do all the work.
You need to have a pretty good level of English to prompt ChatGPT properly. Sometimes you need to find “clever” ways to get it to do exactly what you want and I think this requires a lot of control over your language.
As I mentioned before you often need to find different ways to ask your question or to give your prompt before you get what you’re looking for.
Remember you can tell it *exactly* what to do. So keep getting specific.
It’s still a bit early for us to completely rely on it as a personal language teacher or a conversation partner, but it can be a convenient tool for certain basic tasks that can be time consuming.
Chat GPT has no emotional intelligence. It isn’t great at working out what you really want it to do, which is something I have to do as a teacher all the time. I’m always interpreting my students intentions and what they want to say, and then helping them find the right words or sentences to do that, and then helping them produce that again and again, adapting and reacting all the time and also managing the students feelings and emotional responses. It’s a special kind of dance that you have to do with the student and this is extremely complicated and requires a lot of sensitivity and also plenty of teaching experience to allow you to pinpoint exactly what is needed of you as a teacher.
ChatGPT has a long way to go before it can do that.
For the time being it is no replacement for the interaction you can have with a real human and this is still one of the best ways to practise and develop proper communication skills in English. It is definitely better to practise interacting in English with a real human, preferably one who is able to help you with your English learning because they have skills and experience in this area.
Also, don’t underestimate the importance of those emotional aspects of communication with people. ChatGPT is no replacement for that, at the moment.
Maybe one day it will be so good that talking to it will be indistinguishable from talking to a real person, which is quite an unnerving prospect somehow.
But anyway, it’s important to continue practising your English by interacting with real people in social scenarios.
Talking to people can be a bit intimidating if you are shy or introverted, but it is essential to practise doing it because interpersonal skills are vital in communication.
ChatGPT doesn’t speak or listen yet, so no listening or speaking practice is possible, but no doubt that’ll come eventually.
What does ChatGPT say about its limitations as a language learning tool?
What are some possible problems with using ChatGPT for learning English?
I wonder if it will be free forever. They’ve made it free now to get our attention but eventually we’ll probably have to pay to use it fully. In fact, already the free version is quite limited. It’s slow and stops performing after about 1 hour of interaction.
I wonder if later this year ChatGPT will still be as accessible as it is now. I expect they let us all use it for a while in order to get our attention and now they’re monetising the product and limiting free access to it.
I wonder how ChatGPT will develop. It will certainly get better and better.
Perhaps one day (soon) it will flawlessly do all the things we want it to do.
There are also some frightening aspects to this when we imagine the impact this might have on the world.
Despite what I said about it being no replacement for human interaction, it is remarkably advanced and sophisticated and that is only the current version of the software.
I expect this current iteration of ChatGPT is just the tip of the iceberg and eventually it will be almost impossible to differentiate between the chatbot and a real human.
And when this is combined with life-like speech generation and real life visuals (deepfakes) as well – a video version talking and responding naturally with a lifelike face and voice, in fact so lifelike that we won’t be able to work out if we’re dealing with a human or not, that will be quite frightening because suddenly then we’re living in the film Bladerunner, ExMachina or A.I. with all the ethical and social ramifications explored by those films.
By the way, those films seem to explore questions of whether it is ethical for us to create highly intellilgent AI capable of human-like emotions, and whether it is ethical for us to treat them like slaves or as sub-human. They are like us, even better than us in many ways, but they don’t have the same rights as us.
Other films have explored the threat to humankind of artificial intelligence. This includes things like The Terminator series and The Matrix which show a world in which AI becomes self-aware and decides to fight against humans or to enslave us.
A more immediate and realistic problem with something like ChatGPT is how it can affect the job market and whether it will make lots of people redundant.
What will we do when so much of our work can be done by AI that doesn’t need to eat, sleep, or take breaks? What will happen to us? Will people still be employable? What happens when the human population continues to rise, but the number of jobs we can do in order to earn money, decreases?
I have no idea.
And will AI eventually make it completely unnecessary to even learn another language? Will we simply have simultaneous automatic translations? Will AI augment our reality completely? Will we somehow be connected in the most intimate and integral way with technology, which will mean we won’t need to learn languages any more?
I’m not sure to be honest. What people usually say in response to that question is that we will always want to learn languages because there can be no replacement for the experience of communicating with people naturally using language and no technology can replace or replicate this experience sufficiently.
Let’s ask ChatGPT some more questions about itself, relating to things like people’s fears about it and if it will cause more cheating
What are people’s fears about how ChatGPT will change the world for the worse?
How might AI become a threat to humans?
Will ChatGPT help people to cheat?
Yes, probably. I can’t see how this won’t be a problem. I mean, this will almost certainly be a problem. Surely, students will just take the easy route and get ChatGPT to write essays for them, or other assignments. That’s obviously bad, because these students will not actually learn the skills and knowledge they’re supposed to learn during their studies and also it could compromise the effectiveness of education in general.
I don’t know how this problem is going to be solved. I don’t know how OpenAI have responded to this.
Let’s see what ChatGPT says about people using it to cheat in their homework.
Will ChatGPT help people to cheat in homework and academic essay tasks?
Will there be more cheating as a result of ChatGPT?
So it encourages people to cheat and it doesn’t know how people will use its services, but let’s be honest – it’s definitely going to result in more cheating.
It will be very interesting to see how ChatGPT and other software (because it’s not just OpenAI – there are loads of other competing companies also developing similar systems all over the world) It’ll be very interesting to see how this changes the world and of course we all hope that it changes things for the better and that it ultimately improves the human experience, making our lives better, allowing us to thrive.
That’s it – thanks for listening!
Leave your comments in the comment section.
I’m probably going to do another episode about ChatGPT just because it is fun to mess around with it and really see what it can do, including asking it to plan a podcast episode for me, write an introduction to an episode, have funny conversations, write jokes and short stories and lots of other things.
In this series I am evaluating ChatGPT as a language-learning tool. In this part I’m experimenting with role-play conversations, job interview practice, creating texts and dialogues and seeing if it can help you prepare for Cambridge exams like IELTS or CAE.
This is part 2 of a 3-part episode in which I am playing around with ChatGPT in order to see how it can help you learn English.
ChatGPT is a sophisticated AI chatbot. You can ask it questions and give it commands and it responds instantly. This is the most advanced AI chatbot I have ever used and it is quite impressive how it can do so many different tasks. We’re all finding out how we can use it and how it can be useful as a time-saving tool for many things, including learning and teaching English.
Of course ChatGPT is not without its critics. Some of those criticisms include the fact that ChatGPT will probably encourage cheating and will make it harder for institutions like schools to detect cheating. Noam Chomsky the well-known linguist and intellectual has described it as high-tech plagiarism, because it essentially regurgitates other people’s work and doesn’t provide citations or sources for the information it provides, and also people are suggesting that ChatGPT or AI in general could ultimately lead to a lot of people losing their jobs.
Does that include me, and other English teachers like me? Can ChatGPT replace English teachers, content creators or even the need to practise English with humans at all?
I’m not entirely sure, and we’re all working these things out at the moment, since this is perhaps the first time this kind of technology has been so accessible and now everyone’s using it, learning about it and thinking about it.
There are very interesting debates about this going on, but in this episode I’m focusing mainly on things you can do with ChatGPT, seeing how it works, and evaluating it’s effectiveness as a language learning tool.
This is part 2. In part 1 of this I asked it to create a study plan as if I was an upper-intermediate learner of English, which it instantly wrote for me. The advice was presented very clearly and a lot of it was pretty decent advice at first glance, but was it appropriate advice for the learner profile I wrote? Was the information a bit generic? What experience or research was its advice based on? We don’t really know.
Then I checked its ability to correct English errors and to explain those corrections, which it seemed to do quite well, although it lacked the ability of a human teacher to see the bigger picture and to use emotional intelligence, and then I started testing its ability to have a natural conversation, which it struggled with – mainly because as an AI language model it doesn’t have any feelings or opinions of its own and apparently these things are absolutely vital elements for a good conversation.
But is it possible to persuade ChatGPT to forget that it’s an AI chatbot and to pretend to be someone else, like a celebrity that you’d like to chat to, or your English teacher who can correct your errors while you chat?
This is what we’re looking at in part 2 here.
Also, coming up are these questions:
- How well does it handle role plays in order to let you prepare to use English in specific situations?
- Can you simulate job interview situations with it?
- Can it create useful texts or dialogues for studying with?
- Can it help you with exam preparation by providing sample written texts in response to FCE or CAE writing tasks?
- Can it give you good advice for doing Cambridge exams?
- Can it create reliable, useful exam practice tasks to help you prepare for IELTS?
Well, let’s find out now as we continue to play around with ChatGPT. By the way, there is a PDF script for all the things I am saying in this episode, including all the prompts I am using. You can get it on the page for this episode on my website – link in the description. If you are watching on YouTube you will see the text on the screen and I recommend that you watch this in full screen mode so you can see the text more easily.
OK, so let’s continue and here we go…
Conversation role plays for specific situations
If you need practice of using English in certain specific situations, you can ask it to help you.
I am a hotel receptionist. Can you help me deal with customer complaints?
It just gave me advice, like an article about how to deal with customer complaints.
You can ask it to create sample dialogues for you, for different situations.
Can you make a dialogue between a hotel receptionist and a customer making a complaint about their room?
It creates a pretty good model dialogue. The language you can see is professional, and polite and a good example of the kind of English you would need in that situation.
ChatGPT is good at this kind of thing. But, as a teacher in class, I might want to make sure this dialogue contained certain target language which I want to present and practise.
Again, there isn’t a brain there looking at the bigger picture, guiding you, interpreting your needs and reactions, anticipating and planning as it prepares learning materials and activities for you.
Conversation can be hard to maintain.
You need to give it very specific instructions if you want to converse with it. Otherwise it will just generate a dialogue.
Let’s do a roleplay. You pretend to be a hotel customer with a complaint, and I will be the receptionist. Can you also correct my English errors during the roleplay?
It just created the dialogue, writing lines for both people.
Let’s see what happens if I re-write the prompt more specifically.
Let’s do a roleplay. You pretend to be a hotel customer with a complaint, and I will be the receptionist. I will start by writing “Hello, can I help you”. Then give your response and wait for me to reply before writing the next line.
Can you also correct my English errors during the roleplay?
It’s very difficult to persuade it to do this.
Job interview role plays
Can you interview me for a job as a TEFL teacher at a new language school in Paris?
This worked quite well. It generated questions one after the other. It also responded when I asked for clarification.
Let’s see it it can help you prepare for an interview for a specific position.
Can we do a job interview role play? I’ll input a job advertisement and can you then interview me for the position?
You can input all the details from a job advertisement.
Just paste all the text from an online job advert, like “Marketing manager job advert” or “TEFL teacher France job advert” or “Podcast host job advert”
Inputting a large amount of text can confuse ChatGPT and it tends to just summarise the text. But then you can say “Ask me interview questions based on the job description I gave you”.
It should ask you some pretty good questions, relevant to that job, which will allow you to simulate the interview on your own, or at least prepare some answers. You could type your answers into ChatGPT and ask it for feedback.
But beware of just practising English through typing. Don’t forget that in the real world you have to speak spontaneously and you have to use social skills while doing it including things like body language.
Sample dialogues or texts
Ask it to produce sample texts or sample dialogues which you can then study with.
To be fair, this isn’t really necessary as there are so many texts and resources already available for you, including ones which are specifically created to help you learn English, but yes they are in published books and materials that you might not have immediate access to. Also, it’s simple to just go to ChatGPT and ask it to create any text or dialogue you want, following your specific instructions.
Can you write a 300 word text containing useful phrases for talking about using the toilet?
No speaking: Remember, Chat GPT won’t “say” any of these sentences because it is only in text form.
Can you create a 200 word story to present the use of narrative verb tenses in English?
What I want from this is a range of verb tenses. Past simple, past continuous, past perfect, with good clear examples of how those forms are used and how they are different to each other.
Did it do that?
Was it a good story?
Can it help with Cambridge Exam test preparation?
Let’s see if it can do a Cambridge First Certificate writing task.
Sample answers can help us to practice our writing by providing a model which we can learn from.
Let’s input a task directly into ChatGPT.
CAE Writing Part 1
You have received this email from your English-speaking friend David.
Subject: touring holiday
Some college friends of mine are visiting your area soon for a week’s touring holiday. They would like to travel around and learn about your local area and its history.
Can you tell me about some of the places they could visit? What’s the best way to travel around – car, bike or coach?
Write your email.
Write 140 – 190 words in an appropriate style.
It’s great to hear from you!
I’d be happy to give some recommendations for your college friends’ touring holiday in our area.
There are plenty of places to visit and explore around here. If your friends are interested in history, I would suggest they start with a visit to the local museum, which houses exhibits on the area’s past, including its early settlements and industrial heritage.
Another must-visit is the old castle, which is one of the most famous landmarks in the region. Your friends can take a guided tour of the castle to learn about its history and its role in the area’s development.
As for the best way to travel around, I would recommend a car. There are several car rental agencies available in the area, and it’s an efficient and flexible way to travel and explore. However, if they are more comfortable with public transport, there are several coach tours available that take visitors around to the most popular sites.
I hope your friends enjoy their time here and get to experience everything that the area has to offer.
Let me know if there’s anything else I can help with.
Can you give me some advice on how to do a Cambridge FCE writing task, like the one I gave you?
The answer was pretty good but it got some things wrong.
- It said that I should use a formal tone, but this isn’t always the case.
- The email to David shouldn’t be formal. In fact this advice contradicts what it did in the writing task. It used some informal language there.
- It didn’t refer to any assessment criteria.
- I’m not sure ChatGPT is consistent or reliable enough to replace proper English language teaching.
Ask it to create IELTS practice tests
I asked it:
Can you create an IELTS reading section 3 practice test?
It created a test which looked good at first glance, but it was not a proper section 3 reading test.
The test format was different and did not follow the true, false, not given format of IELTS part 3.
So this means it is not providing sufficient practice for IELTS reading section 3.
Each part of IELTS is specifically designed to test different reading skills and each reading test is very carefully created to test those skills.
Chat GPT didn’t do this to the same standard as you would find in proper IELTS test preparation materials.
Part 2 ending
That is where we are going to stop part 2.
I hope you’re enjoying these episodes and finding them useful.
Don’t forget to leave your comments in the comment section if you have something to say.
We are going to continue in part 3 of this episode, which will be available soon. In fact it might be available for you now – check the episode description for links.
In part 3 I will be attempting to get answers to these questions:
- Can you use ChatGPT like a dictionary?
- Can it give us the same information about words that we can find in a good dictionary?
- Can it give us correct definitions, information about parts of speech, pronunciation, example sentences, synonyms, antonyms, collocations?
- Can it provide information about the etymology of words and phrases?
- Can it transcribe things into phonemic script?
- Does it accurately transcribe things into British English pronunciation or is it just standard American?
- Can it convert between different dialects of English, e.g. will it convert American English into British English, or into specific dialects of British English?
- Is it able to help us to use the right sentence stress, word stress, pausing and intonation when reading things out loud?
- Can it help us practise grammar by creating quizzes or tests? Are those tests reliable?
- Can it help you to remember vocabulary with tests and quizzes?
- Can it help you remember words and spelling with mnemonic memory devices?
- Can it create text adventure games?
- Can it adapt its English to different levels?
- What are my overall thoughts and conclusions about ChatGPT?
All of that, coming up in part 3!
End of part 2
Andy Johnson returns to talk about more “M” words – this time it’s The Metaverse and The Mandalorian. The Metaverse is an immersive and interactive 3D online environment. How can it be used for learning and teaching English? Andy’s new job is with a company that offers English learning in the metaverse, so let’s chat about it. Also, we finally talk about The Mandalorian on LEP after waiting nearly a year! This is probably the last episode of LEP in 2021 – so Merry Christmas everyone and I hope you have a Happy New Year!
Audio version (with a meta-themed introduction and a ramble about December)
Video Versions (just the conversation with Andy, in two parts)
Find out more about learning English in the metaverse using Fluent Worlds Academy here https://academy.fluentworlds.com/
Hello listeners, how are you? How’s December going for you so far? (I’m recording this in December of course, which is why I just said that – it’s the middle of December) How’s December for you?
It can be a weird month December – it’s pretty much the middle of winter and if you celebrate Christmas then December becomes a bit stressful because the Christmas holiday is coming and you have to make sure you’ve got presents for everyone, and you have to sort out your travel plans and work out how much time you are willing or able to spend with your different family members and it all gets a bit stressful, and of course everyone else is going through the same thing so generally people seem a bit stressed out at this time. If you’re late with your Christmas shopping then that becomes a mad rush and the shops are full of desperate people like in that film with Arnold Shwarzenegger…
plus work commitments seem a bit heavy because everyone’s trying to get things done before the Christmas break and so things get a bit much.
It’s certainly true here for me, because as you know (because I’ve been banging on about it since the summer) we are moving house and having work done on the new place and that’s making things so much more complicated.
Actually, I think this might be the last episode of the year, but I am not sure. I have a couple of other ones in the pipeline but time is running out very quickly, so this might be the final episode of Luke’s English Podcast for 2021.
Merry Christmas everyone – if you celebrate Christmas of course and if you don’t celebrate Christmas I will just say seasons greetings. If you don’t get more podcasts after this until January some time, then you can imagine that I’ve had to pack up all my podcast gear, switched off the internet and moved all our stuff to a new flat, which will probably be full of boxes, and maybe no internet connection, meanwhile I’ll be at my parents place in England (COVID permitting) just doing the usual Christmas things, and the podcast will return in January, probably, but we will see. I might be able to upload more before the new year, but there’s no guaranteeing that. So I will say Seasons Greetings and Happy New Year to you now.
Anyway, let me talk about this episode then. It’s an interview episode and this time Andy Johnson is back on the podcast after a long absence. If you don’t know him because you haven’t heard his episodes, or if you have heard those episodes and your memory is not working to its full capacity – Andy is a friend and former colleague of mine. I won’t say more because we talk about all of that at the start of the conversation. All will become clear as you listen.
The title of this one is something like this: Learning & Teaching English in the Metaverse / The Mandalorian (with Andy Johnson)
So there are two topics here. The Metaverse and The Mandalorian. This is one single audio episode with this introduction but the video version is in two parts – one which is just our chat about the metaverse, and another one which is just our chat about The Mandalorian.
In this audio version, let’s start with The Metaverse.
Again, Andy is going to explain this himself, but to be clear The Metaverse (or maybe a metaverse – because there is more than one) is essentially a 3D open world online. A metaphysical space which exists on the internet where people can go and interact and do all sorts of things. It’s a bit like a primitive version of The Matrix from the film The Matrix, but the graphics aren’t as good, yet, and it’s not quite as scary and evil, yet.
As these sorts of open online worlds become more and more sophisticated and as we learn how to use them, we will probably all find ourselves operating within them more and more, for various things – especially for creating virtual workspaces for people working from home or working from different locations but part of a team. Currently we use things like Zoom calls with breakout rooms and screensharing, Microsoft Teams and other platforms. But eventually these shared online spaces will probably become more immersive, opening up so many possibilities for team work which perhaps are more natural and intuitive because they simulate the real world more directly, but with so much more control – we’re talking about 3D environments in which you can move anywhere, manipulate the environment and so on.
These metaverses can seem a little bit scary when you consider the frightening visions of this kind of thing we’ve had from films like The Matrix, but on the other hand they should allow us to work, collaborate and also play together in more productive and enjoyable ways than the current methods we have. Of course, many people are already using them especially for gaming.
There’s a lot to discuss regarding these sorts of new online spaces, and I say “new” but they’re not really that new – remember Second Life – the immersive 3D online world? And of course there are all the online multiplayer games that people play – including things like GTA online.
The metaverse has been around for years in various forms. So, there’s a lot to discuss here in terms of what the metaverse is, how it could be used and the philosophical ramifications of it all but what Andy and I are going to focus on in this conversation is how the metaverse could be used as an environment in which to learn and teach English, and what the advantages of that could be.
So that’s the main focus of our chat really. Then after that, we have a chat about the Star Wars TV series The Mandalorian. This is quite long overdue on this podcast as I wanted to talk about it in an episode or two at the start of 2021 when The Mandalorian season 2 was first streamed on Disney+ and it was all fresh in people’s minds. Quite a few listeners got in touch to ask me to share my thoughts on it on the podcast – so, finally here we go. There’s about 25 minutes of chat about The Mandalorian, including spoilers for the end of season 2.
Now, I know that not everyone is a Star Wars fan, which is totally fine of course, so it might not be for all of you, but it’s at the end of this conversation so hopefully the Star Wars fans will be happy to hear us discuss it (quite briefly I must say) and the non-Star Wars fans can feel free just to take it or leave it. In any case, keep listening if you want to hear me talking about The Mandalorian, finally.
We’re nearly ready to start but I think I should also add something about the lexicology of the word “Meta”, since we are talking about The Metaverse here.
I would say that metaverse is something of a portmanteau word because it’s a bit like a new word which has been made by sticking together two other words: meta and universe.
The verse part is from universe of course, and also have multiverse is a trending word at the moment because of the new Spiderman film and the upcoming Doctor Strange film “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness” Multiverse means a system of many interconnected universes or parallel worlds and I think now in phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe we have many different alternate realities all converging, which should be entertaining and quite confusing as well, potentially. But multiverse is not the word we’re dealing with here – that’s another episode for another time.
So let me just refocus on metaverse. So we know what the -verse part of that means – universe.
But what about meta?
This word (or prefix) is currently being used more than ever.
You probably saw the recent news that Facebook changed its name to Meta. Actually the social network will still be called Facebook as far as I know. The company behind it though, will be called Meta.
So what is the word meta? Is it even a word, or just a prefix? Let’s see.
The word or prefix “meta” comes from Ancient Greek and essentially means “beyond” or “about”.
There are many uses of the word. In some cases the it’s an adjective – “That’s very meta” and some cases it’s a prefix to a noun, like in metaphysical or metaverse.
Essentially, meta refers to going beyond something or going outside something, and becoming self aware.
In the case of the metaverse, which is a metaphysical online universe, this means going beyond the normal physical limitations of the real world, and entering a world which is somehow outside that reality – a world, like The Matrix, which is free from the limitations of the real world. So that’s an example of when meta means “beyond”.
Sometimes meta means “about”, and for me this is like going outside of something and then looking back at the thing you have transcended and commenting on it, talking about it and so on.
For example, a film might be described as meta when the the film becomes self-aware and starts commenting the medium of film itself. This is hard to explain.
Let’s say this – the TV series Friends was not very meta, I think. The characters lived in their world and lived their lives and there was never a sense that they knew they were living in a fictional made up place. But, if at any point the characters in the film started commenting on their world but from an outside view, then that would be meta. For example, if Chandler and Joey started commenting on how their apartment building wasn’t real or that they lived inside a TV show, or if Rachel said something like “I’m a waitress, so how can I afford to live in this nice big apartment in Manhattan??” maybe even looking at the camera while doing it, then that would be quite meta – if the show started to realise it was just a show, and in fact was commenting on that. Then the show would be outside of itself and commenting on itself – self aware.
So that’s meta the adjective, meaning self-referential, or self-aware – the “about” part of that old Greek meaning.
Another example of meta.
In learning English we talk about metacognitive strategies. These are ways of thinking about how you learn, and the way you think about learning. You go outside of your normal learning behaviour, observe it, consider it and think about it, perhaps creating new ways to think about and approach your learning habits. For example, many of the things that Bahar from Iran talked about in her episode of the WISBOLEP competition this year – these were metacognitive strategies. Her first approach to learning English didn’t work, so she actually stepped out of her position, reconsidered her whole approach, and created other ways of thinking and learning, and the results worked well. She applied some metacognitive strategies to her learning of English.
Meta can also be a noun, in gaming especially. People talk about a meta while gaming. I’m not completely sure about this because I’m not really a gamer, but as far as I can tell, a “meta” is the best strategy to use in order to win a game. I’ve even read that it’s an acronym – the “Most Effective Tactics Available”. That’s a bit specific and only for the L33T gamers out there.
There are also other uses of the word meta, but they’re very specific and relate to things like different mathematical and scientific systems. But I think that’s probably enough about the word or prefix meta at this stage.
Let’s now go back to the metaverse again, and consider how immersive 3D online worlds can help us learn and teach English. That’s the main aim for this conversation.
You’re probably fully primed for some metaverse and Mandalorian chat now, but of course there is about 10 minutes of general chat and catching up with Andy before we get into the topic properly. That’s just the way things are done on LEP. This is the way.
OK, so now that you’re prepared for the episode, let’s get started!
Learn English in the metaverse with Fluent Worlds Academy here https://academy.fluentworlds.com/
How many M words came up in this episode?
It’s like Andy and I only exist in a parallel universe where everything begins with an M.
Bonus points for any listeners who can find any other significant M words in this conversation.
(I found one: metacognitive strategies)
This might be the last episode of LEP in 2021. I’m now moving to the new apartment and the new office, and spending some time in the UK for Christmas. Speak to you in 2022 (unless I manage to squeeze out another episode during the Christmas break)!
Bye bye bye!
The final part of this series in which I am reading from the classic story The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, while explaining and clarifying the English which comes up. Full transcript available and YouTube video version too.
Please watch parts 1 and 2 before watching this. Links in the description.
Recap of the story so far
Without realising it, the people of earth have been attacked by an aggressive alien species from Mars, with the intention of colonising our planet while escaping their home planet which has become uninhabitable.
The Martians are vastly superior to us in terms of their intelligence and technology. They are also unfriendly. Very unfriendly. Humans are now reduced to mere animals or insects in the presence of these things.
Human society has quickly turned to chaos and destruction as the Martians begin their campaign to take our planet.
The aliens first landed in a cylinder which fell from space with a green flash. After the cylinder opened, revealing the visitors to be awkward and clumsy in our atmosphere, their technology proved to be devestatingly powerful. They are armed with a heat-ray which they have used to clear out all life surrounding the fallen cylinder.
The narrator of the story witnessed the Martians emerging from their cylinder and the ruthless destructive power of their heat ray, but still does not yet realise the full scale of the invasion. He decides to escape the area and travel in the direction of London.
During the night, he sees another cylinder landing, and then sees the first Martian tripods striding over the countryside. These are the vehicles the Martians use and they are colossal and formidable. Suddenly the clumsy Martians are mobile and far more physically powerful than in their normal, naked form.
Reading an extract from chapter 12 (action packed stuff)
Summary of Chapter 11 (next part of the story)
From the upstairs window of his study the narrator observes the destruction of his village and the fires all around the common, as well as the outlines of three creatures moving in the pit, which he can see from a distance.
He hardly recognizes his surroundings. The narrator begins to comprehend that the creatures from the cylinder operate the tripods, comparing them to a human-driven steam engine.
He invites a soldier outside the house to hide inside. The man recounts the futile military efforts against the Martians, who easily destroyed both companies and their weaponry before emerging as tripods from the pit and destroying the railway station and a train. The artilleryman managed to escape.
The two men look again from the window to see three tripods at the pit. As the sun comes up the narrator sees destruction “so indiscriminate and so universal” as to be unprecedented in human warfare.
HG Wells describes the horrific feeling of realising that these Martians are far more powerful than humans. Each cylinder contains at least three tripods, and each tripod is armed with a heat ray. Later we learn more about the martians and their technology as the narrator manages to observe them more, but they are still completely mysterious.
Meanwhile, people have become like refugees from a warzone and there is general chaos as people attempt to escape, get resources, look after themselves etc.
Shepperton Station has become a target for the Martians in their tripods and they have been destroying it, the railway lines and trains. This is especially poignant because they are targeting our infrastructure and our technology seems infinitely primitive to that of the Martians, and we are often compared to animals, insects, bugs or even microorganisms in comparison to our alien visitors.
HG Wells makes a point of observing how society reacts to a moment like this and how fragile it is, while also contrasting the familiar cosy surroundings of the English home counties, with the bizarre, grotesque and strange images of these very bad aliens from Mars.
The narrator and the soldier he met choose to leave the house. The soldier wants to go to London and the narrator wants to go back to his wife in Leatherhead.
They end up in Weybridge which a town just on the river Thames, with London to the east and the Thames Valley to the west.
This is a place where the Thames meets The Wey, another river. It’s a sort of port where you can get a ferry across to the other side. Crowds of people are gathered there, hoping to get on a ferry. The army have placed rows of large artillery guns behind some trees as they expect the tripods to come from a nearby town that is currently under attack. This all happens close to the edge of the water and is full of really precise and specific vocabulary to describe the action that takes place.
WHAT I SAW OF THE DESTRUCTION OF WEYBRIDGE AND SHEPPERTON. (extract)
We remained at Weybridge until midday, and at that hour we found ourselves at the place near Shepperton Lock where the Wey and Thames join. Part of the time we spent helping two old women to pack a little cart. The Wey has a treble mouth, and at this point boats are to be hired, and there was a ferry across the river. On the Shepperton side was an inn with a lawn, and beyond that the tower of Shepperton Church rose above the trees.
Here we found an excited and noisy crowd of fugitives. As yet the flight had not grown to a panic, but there were already far more people than all the boats going to and fro could enable to cross. People came panting along under heavy burdens; one husband and wife were even carrying a small outhouse door between them, with some of their household goods piled thereon. One man told us he meant to try to get away from Shepperton station.
There was a lot of shouting, and one man was even jesting. The idea people seemed to have here was that the Martians were simply formidable human beings, who might attack and sack the town, to be certainly destroyed in the end. Every now and then people would glance nervously across the Wey, at the meadows towards Chertsey, but everything over there was still.
Across the Thames, except just where the boats landed, everything was quiet, in vivid contrast with the Surrey side. The people who landed there from the boats went tramping off down the lane. The big ferryboat had just made a journey. Three or four soldiers stood on the lawn of the inn, staring and jesting at the fugitives, without offering to help. The inn was closed, as it was now within prohibited hours.
“What’s that?” cried a boatman, and “Shut up, you fool!” said a man near me to a yelping dog. Then the sound came again, this time from the direction of Chertsey, a muffled thud—the sound of a gun.
The fighting was beginning. Almost immediately unseen batteries across the river to our right, unseen because of the trees, took up the chorus, firing heavily one after the other. A woman screamed. Everyone stood arrested by the sudden stir of battle, near us and yet invisible to us. Nothing was to be seen save flat meadows, cows feeding unconcernedly for the most part, and silvery pollard willows motionless in the warm sunlight.
“The sojers’ll stop ’em,” said a woman beside me, doubtfully. A haziness rose over the treetops.
Then suddenly we saw a rush of smoke far away up the river, a puff of smoke that jerked up into the air and hung; and forthwith the ground heaved under foot and a heavy explosion shook the air, smashing two or three windows in the houses near, and leaving us astonished.
“Here they are!” shouted a man in a blue jersey. “Yonder! D’yer see them? Yonder!”
Quickly, one after the other, one, two, three, four of the armoured Martians appeared, far away over the little trees, across the flat meadows that stretched towards Chertsey, and striding hurriedly towards the river. Little cowled figures they seemed at first, going with a rolling motion and as fast as flying birds.
Then, advancing obliquely towards us, came a fifth. Their armoured bodies glittered in the sun as they swept swiftly forward upon the guns, growing rapidly larger as they drew nearer. One on the extreme left, the remotest that is, flourished a huge case high in the air, and the ghostly, terrible Heat-Ray I had already seen on Friday night smote towards Chertsey, and struck the town.
At sight of these strange, swift, and terrible creatures the crowd near the water’s edge seemed to me to be for a moment horror-struck. There was no screaming or shouting, but a silence. Then a hoarse murmur and a movement of feet—a splashing from the water. A man, too frightened to drop the portmanteau he carried on his shoulder, swung round and sent me staggering with a blow from the corner of his burden. A woman thrust at me with her hand and rushed past me. I turned with the rush of the people, but I was not too terrified for thought. The terrible Heat-Ray was in my mind. To get under water! That was it!
“Get under water!” I shouted, unheeded.
I faced about again, and rushed towards the approaching Martian, rushed right down the gravelly beach and headlong into the water. Others did the same. A boatload of people putting back came leaping out as I rushed past. The stones under my feet were muddy and slippery, and the river was so low that I ran perhaps twenty feet scarcely waist-deep. Then, as the Martian towered overhead scarcely a couple of hundred yards away, I flung myself forward under the surface.
The splashes of the people in the boats leaping into the river sounded like thunderclaps in my ears. People were landing hastily on both sides of the river. But the Martian machine took no more notice, for the moment, of the people running this way and that, than a man would of the confusion of ants in a nest against which his foot has kicked.
When, half suffocated, I raised my head above water, the Martian’s hood pointed at the batteries that were still firing across the river, and as it advanced it swung loose what must have been the generator of the Heat-Ray.
In another moment it was on the bank, and in a stride wading halfway across. The knees of its foremost legs bent at the farther bank, and in another moment it had raised itself to its full height again, close to the village of Shepperton.
Forthwith the six guns which, unknown to anyone on the right bank, had been hidden behind the outskirts of that village, fired simultaneously. The sudden near concussion, the last close upon the first, made my heart jump. The monster was already raising the case generating the Heat-Ray as the first shell burst six yards above the hood.
I gave a cry of astonishment. I saw and thought nothing of the other four Martian monsters; my attention was riveted upon the nearer incident. Simultaneously two other shells burst in the air near the body as the hood twisted round in time to receive, but not in time to dodge, the fourth shell.
The shell burst clean in the face of the Thing. The hood bulged, flashed, was whirled off in a dozen tattered fragments of red flesh and glittering metal.
“Hit!” shouted I, with something between a scream and a cheer.
I heard answering shouts from the people in the water about me. I could have leaped out of the water with that momentary exultation.
The decapitated colossus reeled like a drunken giant; but it did not fall over. It recovered its balance by a miracle, and, no longer heeding its steps and with the camera that fired the Heat-Ray now rigidly upheld, it reeled swiftly upon Shepperton. The living intelligence, the Martian within the hood, was slain and splashed to the four winds of heaven, and the Thing was now but a mere intricate device of metal whirling to destruction. It drove along in a straight line, incapable of guidance. It struck the tower of Shepperton Church, smashing it down as the impact of a battering ram might have done, swerved aside, blundered on and collapsed with tremendous force into the river out of my sight.
A violent explosion shook the air, and a spout of water, steam, mud, and shattered metal shot far up into the sky. As the camera of the Heat-Ray hit the water, the latter had immediately flashed into steam. In another moment a huge muddy tidal wave, almost scaldingly hot, came sweeping round the bend upstream. I saw people struggling shorewards, and heard their screaming and shouting faintly above the seething and roar of the Martian’s collapse.
For a moment I heeded nothing of the heat, forgot the patent need of self-preservation. I splashed through the tumultuous water, pushing aside a man in black to do so, until I could see round the bend. Half a dozen deserted boats pitched aimlessly upon the confusion of the waves. The fallen Martian came into sight downstream, lying across the river, and for the most part submerged.
Thick clouds of steam were pouring off the wreckage, and through the tumultuously whirling wisps I could see, intermittently and vaguely, the gigantic limbs churning the water and flinging a splash and spray of mud and froth into the air. The tentacles swayed and struck like living arms, and, save for the helpless purposelessness of these movements, it was as if some wounded thing were struggling for its life amid the waves. Enormous quantities of a ruddy-brown fluid were spurting up in noisy jets out of the machine.
My attention was diverted from this death flurry by a furious yelling, like that of the thing called a siren in our manufacturing towns. A man, knee-deep near the towing path, shouted inaudibly to me and pointed. Looking back, I saw the other Martians advancing with gigantic strides down the riverbank from the direction of Chertsey. The Shepperton guns spoke this time unavailingly.
At that I ducked at once under water, and, holding my breath until movement was an agony, blundered painfully ahead under the surface as long as I could. The water was in a tumult about me, and rapidly growing hotter.
When for a moment I raised my head to take breath and throw the hair and water from my eyes, the steam was rising in a whirling white fog that at first hid the Martians altogether. The noise was deafening. Then I saw them dimly, colossal figures of grey, magnified by the mist. They had passed by me, and two were stooping over the frothing, tumultuous ruins of their comrade.
The third and fourth stood beside him in the water, one perhaps two hundred yards from me, the other towards Laleham. The generators of the Heat-Rays waved high, and the hissing beams smote down this way and that.
The air was full of sound, a deafening and confusing conflict of noises—the clangorous din of the Martians, the crash of falling houses, the thud of trees, fences, sheds flashing into flame, and the crackling and roaring of fire. Dense black smoke was leaping up to mingle with the steam from the river, and as the Heat-Ray went to and fro over Weybridge its impact was marked by flashes of incandescent white, that gave place at once to a smoky dance of lurid flames. The nearer houses still stood intact, awaiting their fate, shadowy, faint and pallid in the steam, with the fire behind them going to and fro.
For a moment perhaps I stood there, breast-high in the almost boiling water, dumbfounded at my position, hopeless of escape. Through the reek I could see the people who had been with me in the river scrambling out of the water through the reeds, like little frogs hurrying through grass from the advance of a man, or running to and fro in utter dismay on the towing path.
Then suddenly the white flashes of the Heat-Ray came leaping towards me. The houses caved in as they dissolved at its touch, and darted out flames; the trees changed to fire with a roar. The Ray flickered up and down the towing path, licking off the people who ran this way and that, and came down to the water’s edge not fifty yards from where I stood. It swept across the river to Shepperton, and the water in its track rose in a boiling weal crested with steam. I turned shoreward.
In another moment the huge wave, well-nigh at the boiling-point had rushed upon me. I screamed aloud, and scalded, half blinded, agonised, I staggered through the leaping, hissing water towards the shore. Had my foot stumbled, it would have been the end. I fell helplessly, in full sight of the Martians, upon the broad, bare gravelly spit that runs down to mark the angle of the Wey and Thames. I expected nothing but death.
I have a dim memory of the foot of a Martian coming down within a score of yards of my head, driving straight into the loose gravel, whirling it this way and that and lifting again; of a long suspense, and then of the four carrying the debris of their comrade between them, now clear and then presently faint through a veil of smoke, receding interminably, as it seemed to me, across a vast space of river and meadow. And then, very slowly, I realised that by a miracle I had escaped.
Summary (AKA – what the hell just happened?)
The two men reach a chaotic scene in Weybridge as people crowd the railway station and the ferry in an effort to leave.
Suddenly they hear gunfire and a large explosion, and four tripods come into view across the river.
The narrator hides in the river.
Six guns hidden in the woods fire on the nearest tripod.
One shell strikes the tripod and gruesomely kills the Martian inside.
Unguided but still moving, the tripod smashes into a church and falls into the river.
The other Martians come to the fallen tripod, shooting their Heat-Rays at the village and destroying the opposition.
The Heat-Ray from the fallen tripod heats the water in the river and scalds the narrator before he manages to escape.
Final comments and analysis
It’s possible to see various interpretations of this story, or subtexts to the story.
Here are some.
The complacency of humans
As the dominant species on earth for hundreds of thousands of years, we have become complacent about our position in the natural hierarchy, and this is a mistake. Humans could easily be removed from this dominant position by things we aren’t even aware of. In the story this means intelligent creatures from another planet. In reality this could be something like the coronavirus or just something else we don’t usually think about.
How would human society cope with a crisis like this?
This is a common theme in disaster movies, zombie films, science fiction etc. All it takes is for something to disrupt our carefully organised society and things can descend into chaos quite easily, and this often brings out the worst in people. Normal citizens can quickly become immoral and do bad things, when the structure of society collapses and we end up having to fight for our survival.
Treatment of Animals
The story makes us think about the way we treat animals, which are below us in the power hierarchy on earth. Perhaps we should be more compassionate and kind to animals. In fact this is one of the only conclusions the narrator reaches in this story, as he suddenly understands what it means to be ruled over by a superior species.
The bigger they come, the harder they fall.
Microorganisms and viruses might be the most powerful forces on earth.
More themes here including technology, fear, power, and Familiar versus Strange
A sample from coursehero.com
The benefits, possibilities, and potential threats of technology—represented in the Martian tripods—make technology a pervasive theme in the novel. Following the Industrial Revolution, technology changed society dramatically—from travel, to work, to communication. Virtually no part of life was untouched by new inventions. The benefits provided by these new machines meant people could accomplish tasks faster, easier, and often independently.
But as ever with modern science fiction stories, there is an element of fear regarding advancements in technology and how we may ultimately be surpassed by technological innovations.
This is where we’re going to stop.
I seriously hope you enjoyed this!
If you’re still listening or watching, then “hello”. Thanks for sticking with this. I guess it must mean you’ve been enjoying it.
I’m sure it’s been challenging at times, but to be honest I also feel this is difficult to follow when I read it. There’s a sense that things are just beyond your imagination, and that your mind has to do quite a lot of work to understand the fairly complex descriptions being given. This is not quite the same as watching a film where everything is shown. Or maybe it’s like watching a really well-directed film where you never quite see clearly what is happening, and this adds to the drama and excitement.
Anyway – thank you for sticking with this and listening all the way through.
Let me know what you think of this, and I highly recommend reading the rest of the story. There’s a lot more action and a few more close encounters with the Martians and their tripods, and of course the ending is very clever. I won’t spoil it. The book is better than the film though, I assure you!
In terms of English, I hope you have found it interesting to hear some samples of old fashioned English from the 19th century. I would say it is broadly modern English, but with a more formal style. It’s really enjoyable though. I love the descriptiveness and the general command over the language is a joy to behold.
Don’t forget you can get the full text for this episode printed right there on the page for this episode, and there’s the YouTube video version as well to enjoy where you can see text on the screen as you read it.
Listen to LEP wherever you get your podcasts. Don’t forget to like and subscribe.
Leave a positive review on iTunes and check out my free app.
And consider signing up to LEP Premium to get specific lessons on vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar. teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
Thanks for listening.
All the best,
Bye bye bye bye
Luke reads extracts from The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. This is a classic bit of science fiction writing from the Victorian era, with some thrilling passages and scary descriptions. It’s one of my favourite books of all time and I hope you enjoy it too and learn some English from it. Full transcript available and YouTube version too.
Full Episode Transcript (starts after the jingle)
It’s story time in this episode because I’m going to tell you a classic English science fiction story.
The story is called War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells the classic storyteller who also wrote The Invisible Man and The Time Machine, and you have probably heard of War Of The Worlds because it is definitely one of the most famous and most influential science fiction stories ever written.
Now, I know that science fiction is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I do hope you stick around and listen to this story because I think this is just particularly good writing and the story is very exciting, immersive and memorable so it should be a really enjoyable way to pick up some more English.
I won’t be reading the whole book of course but I will be reading some selected extracts and giving you a summary of the key details in the first part of the story.
The aims of this episode
To entertain you with a really engaging story in English.
Stories are a great way to get more English into your head and if they are exciting and immersive, then that’s even better.
To show you a slightly old-fashioned version of English, which is really rich in descriptive language and more formal in style than today’s English.
It’s good to be exposed to diverse versions of the language.
Old fashioned English is much more like modern formal English, so it’s a good lesson in style.
This can really strengthen your English in various ways.
To help you notice some nice bits of vocabulary along the way.
Having a broad range of vocabulary is essential in achieving truly advanced English. This story is very rich in descriptive language.
To inspire you perhaps to read the rest of the book.
Reading is such an important thing to do for your English, and maybe you’re looking for interesting books to read. You could consider this one. It’s not too long.
This is also available as a video episode on YouTube and if you watch you can see me recording the podcast with the text on the screen next to my face. So you can listen and read at the same time and see me telling the story.
You can read the entire text I am reading from on the page for this episode at teacherluke.co.uk.
Context of the story and the writing style
War of the Worlds has been adapted lots of times – in films (most famously the 2005 Stephen Spielberg film with Tom Cruise – which you might have seen) and another film version in the 1950s set in Los Angeles, an audiobook musical version read by Richard Burton and an infamous dramatised radio series by Orson Welles.
This is the original alien invasion story. This book was one of the very first stories to ever explore these themes and to describe these kinds of things in such a realistic way.
This is the one that has inspired so many others and in my opinion, none of the other versions of this story or copies of this story can compare to this original version from 1897.
The writing is very realistic and journalistic in style, written from the first person perspective of a guy just experiencing the events as they happened and describing everything in great detail.
A note about the language and the writing style
The language is pretty old fashioned (1897) but it’s really well written and it should be interesting for you and useful for your English to explore another version of this language. Exposure to different types of English makes your English stronger I think.
As we go through this I will point out particular words or phrases as we go and perhaps compare this to normal modern plain English.
Comparing the styles of languages actually gives you more perspective on normal modern English and how formal written English today still retains some aspects of old fashioned language.
There is quite a lot of language you might find in legal documents or other very formal situations.
Words like therein, hereby, forthwith and things like that are quite common, as well as certain structures, longer sentences and choices of words which mark this out in a particular style.
This is very descriptive literary language from over 100 years ago. It’s more complex than today’s English, more formal than today’s English and very specific in its descriptions.
This will probably be a challenge for you but I’m here to help and I will explain things as we go.
This is quite scary stuff
I have to add actually, that having re-read some of this story in preparation for this episode, I hadn’t realised just how terrifying this story is.
Personally I really enjoy the thrills you get from a story like this, but if you are feeling a bit force-sensitive today you might want to get a pillow or hide behind the sofa or something.
Useful Links & Sources
Here are a couple of links I have found useful in making this episode.
I have several paperback copies of this book, but I also found it on www.gutenberg.org – a website which shares stories and books which are now in the public domain.
Link to War of the Worlds html version
CourseHero Study Notes
Also there’s a website called coursehero.com which has useful summaries of the story and other useful information.
Summarising the opening chapters
These are the opening paragraphs of the book, which set the scene in which the events take place. Note the sombre tone and specific choice of language.
The story is told by an unnamed narrator.
He is a middle-class educated man who writes philosophical papers and is interested in science. That’s all we know. The story is written in the past tense, as if he is looking back on those events and has written a full account of what happened.
THE EVE OF THE WAR.
No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. [one sentence!]
With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same.
No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable.
It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most, terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise.
Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.
And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.
Summary of the story up until Chapter 4: The Cylinder Opens
That opening chapter describes how a species of intelligent creatures on Mars had been observing us for many years before the events of this story. The opening chapter goes on to explain that the Martians were planning to invade earth because their home planet was steadily getting cooler year after year due to the fact that it is further from the sun than the earth. They faced extinction on their own planet, and so they set their sights on their nearest neighbour – Earth – with its warmer atmosphere and closer position to the sun, and with their superior mathematical knowledge and technology they decided they would colonise earth in order to survive. They spent years observing us and planning the invasion.
Note: I am using present tenses from now on to describe this story. This is a normal way to retell the plot of a book, film, or play. It’s because the events of the story are permanent because they never change, they are written that way. So we can use present tenses to summarise the story of a book or film.
Ogilvy the Astronomer
The narrator has a friend called Ogilvy who is a respected astronomer. He has a telescope and uses it to observe the night sky, including the surface of Mars, our nearest neighbour.
So Ogilvy is our friend and he’s an astronomer.
6 years before the main events of the story Ogilvy invites the narrator to an observatory to study Mars after another astronomer reported a dramatic explosion of gas on the surface of the planet, which seems to be directed toward Earth. The narrator observes a similar explosion as he watches through the telescope.
Ogilvy doubts the existence of life on Mars and speculates the phenomenon may be related to meteorites or volcanoes. Many other people witness the phenomenon, which repeats itself at midnight over a total of 10 days.
Nobody at the time is concerned or worried about the explosions on Mars.
6 years later some people see a falling star – a meteorite which flies through the night sky with a bright green flash and lands nearby on Horsell Common – a large area of grass, meadows and trees. Again, nobody assumes there is anything weird going on. Ogilvy the astronomer is interested in the meteorite and finds it on the common.
As it has landed it has formed a large crater of sand. So the object is lying at the bottom of a kind of large sand pit in the middle of an open area of grassland surrounded by buildings and trees.
The meteorite that he finds is quite odd. It’s in a cylindrical shape – like a long can of coke, but he thinks its made of rock as it is covered in a kind of crusty layer. It’s also extremely hot and he can’t get near it, but he notices there are weird sounds coming from inside it. He assumes these are noises caused by the object cooling, but as he continues to observe it he realises that something funny is going on.
The crusty layer is slowly falling off as the object cools, revealing a kind of metallic surface underneath, and even weirder than that, the end of the cylinder appears to be turning, as if it is unscrewing very slowly. Ogilvy suddenly assumes that the cylinder has people inside it and decides to get help, but nobody believes him.
Eventually he finds a journalist who is willing to check the cylinder. A crowd of people begins to gather as word spreads about “men from space stuck inside a cylinder on the common”. People don’t quite realise what’s going on but they are incredibly curious. Normal life continues, with people stopping by to have a look at the object in the sand pit, before continuing their normal routines.
The narrator goes down to Horsell Common to check out what’s going on. A larger crowd has gathered there. He manages to squeeze through the crowd which is getting more and more excited and agitated. A small group of scientists, including the narrator’s friend Ogilvy are in the pit attempting to work out what is happening.
The narrator observes what is going on and comments on how most people are not really educated about this kind of thing and they haven’t worked out what’s going on, but he assumes that the cylinder must be extra-terrestrial. He observes the end of the cylinder moving and as it turns it’s revealing a kind of shining metal thread.
The next chapter describes what happens when the end of the cylinder finally drops off, revealing what is inside.
Reading chapters 4 and 5 with comments and explanations
The narrator approaches the pit containing the cylinder.
Crowds of people are all around the pit, trying to see what’s happening. They’re pushing each other a bit, and things are quite tense. (You know, when a large crowd forms, people start pushing and shoving and it’s stressful)
Ogilvy and some other scientists are in the pit.
THE CYLINDER OPENS.
The crowd about the pit had increased, and stood out black against the lemon yellow of the sky—a couple of hundred people, perhaps. There were raised voices, and some sort of struggle appeared to be going on about the pit. Strange imaginings passed through my mind. As I drew nearer I heard Stent’s voice:
“Keep back! Keep back!”
A boy came running towards me.
“It’s a-movin’,” he said to me as he passed; “a-screwin’ and a-screwin’ out. I don’t like it. I’m a-goin’ ’ome, I am.”
I went on to the crowd. There were really, I should think, two or three hundred people elbowing and jostling one another, the one or two ladies there being by no means the least active.
“He’s fallen in the pit!” cried some one.
“Keep back!” said several.
The crowd swayed a little, and I elbowed my way through. Every one seemed greatly excited. I heard a peculiar humming sound from the pit.
“I say!” said Ogilvy; “help keep these idiots back. We don’t know what’s in the confounded thing, you know!”
I saw a young man, a shop assistant in Woking I believe he was, standing on the cylinder and trying to scramble out of the hole again. The crowd had pushed him in.
The end of the cylinder was being screwed out from within. Nearly two feet of shining screw projected. Somebody blundered against me, and I narrowly missed being pitched onto the top of the screw. I turned, and as I did so the screw must have come out, for the lid of the cylinder fell upon the gravel with a ringing concussion. I stuck my elbow into the person behind me, and turned my head towards the Thing again. For a moment that circular cavity seemed perfectly black. I had the sunset in my eyes.
I think everyone expected to see a man emerge—possibly something a little unlike us terrestrial men, but in all essentials a man. I know I did. But, looking, I presently saw something stirring within the shadow: greyish billowy movements, one above another, and then two luminous disks—like eyes. Then something resembling a little grey snake, about the thickness of a walking stick, coiled up out of the writhing middle, and wriggled in the air towards me—and then another.
A sudden chill came over me. There was a loud shriek from a woman behind. I half turned, keeping my eyes fixed upon the cylinder still, from which other tentacles were now projecting, and began pushing my way back from the edge of the pit. I saw astonishment giving place to horror on the faces of the people about me. I heard inarticulate exclamations on all sides. There was a general movement backwards. I saw the shopman struggling still on the edge of the pit. I found myself alone, and saw the people on the other side of the pit running off, Stent among them. I looked again at the cylinder, and ungovernable terror gripped me. I stood petrified and staring.
A big greyish rounded bulk, the size, perhaps, of a bear, was rising slowly and painfully out of the cylinder. As it bulged up and caught the light, it glistened like wet leather.
Two large dark-coloured eyes were regarding me steadfastly. The mass that framed them, the head of the thing, was rounded, and had, one might say, a face. There was a mouth under the eyes, the lipless brim of which quivered and panted, and dropped saliva. The whole creature heaved and pulsated convulsively. A lank tentacular appendage gripped the edge of the cylinder, another swayed in the air.
Those who have never seen a living Martian can scarcely imagine the strange horror of its appearance. The peculiar V-shaped mouth with its pointed upper lip, the absence of brow ridges, the absence of a chin beneath the wedgelike lower lip, the incessant quivering of this mouth, the Gorgon groups of tentacles, the tumultuous breathing of the lungs in a strange atmosphere, the evident heaviness and painfulness of movement due to the greater gravitational energy of the earth—above all, the extraordinary intensity of the immense eyes—were at once vital, intense, inhuman, crippled and monstrous. There was something fungoid in the oily brown skin, something in the clumsy deliberation of the tedious movements unspeakably nasty. Even at this first encounter, this first glimpse, I was overcome with disgust and dread.
[It’s a bit like if you spend any length of time staring at a nasty looking insect, or even just staring at a picture of one]
Suddenly the monster vanished. It had toppled over the brim of the cylinder and fallen into the pit, with a thud like the fall of a great mass of leather. I heard it give a peculiar thick cry, and forthwith another of these creatures appeared darkly in the deep shadow of the aperture.
I turned and, running madly, made for the first group of trees, perhaps a hundred yards away; but I ran slantingly and stumbling, for I could not avert my face from these things.
There, among some young pine trees and furze bushes, I stopped, panting, and waited further developments. The common round the sand-pits was dotted with people, standing like myself in a half-fascinated terror, staring at these creatures, or rather at the heaped gravel at the edge of the pit in which they lay. And then, with a renewed horror, I saw a round, black object bobbing up and down on the edge of the pit. It was the head of the shopman who had fallen in, but showing as a little black object against the hot western sun. Now he got his shoulder and knee up, and again he seemed to slip back until only his head was visible. Suddenly he vanished, and I could have fancied a faint shriek had reached me. I had a momentary impulse to go back and help him that my fears overruled.
Everything was then quite invisible, hidden by the deep pit and the heap of sand that the fall of the cylinder had made. Anyone coming along the road from Chobham or Woking would have been amazed at the sight—a dwindling multitude of perhaps a hundred people or more standing in a great irregular circle, in ditches, behind bushes, behind gates and hedges, saying little to one another in short, excited shouts, and staring, staring hard at a few heaps of sand. A barrow of ginger beer stood, a queer derelict, black against the burning sky, and in the sand-pits was a row of deserted vehicles with their horses feeding out of nosebags or pawing the ground.
Summary of Chapter 4
As the sun sets, the narrator returns to the pit, where a few hundred people have gathered.
A boy warns the narrator that the end of the cylinder has unscrewed itself, and the narrator forces his way to the front of the crowd to get a better view.
Ogilvy warns the people to stay away and reminds them of its unknown contents.
One man is pushed into the pit by the jostling of the crowd.
The end of the cylinder comes off and falls into the pit.
The narrator and the crowd are horrified by the grotesque octopus-like appearance of an alien who slowly and painstakingly emerges from the cylinder. They seem heavy and struggling to breathe in the atmosphere.
The narrator and the crowd run away from the pit, but many, including the narrator, stop to watch the aliens from the nearby tree line.
The sun sets, leaving enough light to just see the silhouette of the shopkeeper as he tries and fails to get out of the pit alive.
To be continued in part 2…
Professor David Crystal returns to talk about his latest books, and more. The first book is all about the art of conversation in English, and the second one is a spy thriller inspired by real events. David Crystal is one of the world’s leading linguists and an expert on the English language. He is also a national treasure and it’s a treat to be able to talk to him in this episode. Video version also available on the Luke’s English Podcast YouTube channel.
YouTube Video Version
Some of his most popular books include:
- The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language
- The Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary
- The Story of English in 100 Words
- You Say Potato: The Story of English Accents (written with his son Ben)
- Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist’s Guide to Britain (Written with his wife Hilary)
- Txting: The Gr8 Db8
- Pronouncing Shakespeare: The Globe Experiment – a fascinating project investigating how English was pronounced by the original actors in the Globe Theatre when Shakespeare was alive
- Spell It Out: The Curious, Enthralling and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling
- Just A Phrase I’m Going Through: My Life in Language (which is both his autobiography and a highly accessible introduction to the field of linguistics)
- Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar
Many of those titles can be purchased as ebooks from David Crystal’s website – www.davidcrystal.com or from any good bookseller. There are also audiobook versions which are read out by the man himself.