Category Archives: Technology

867. Multimodal Communication (with Nik Peachey)

This episode is all about the different modes of communication that we use beyond the 4 linguistic skills of reading, writing, listening speaking. My guest is Nik Peachey who has helped to write a new paper published by OUP called Multimodality in ELT: communication skills for today’s generation. Listen to Nik and me chatting about the importance of multimodal literacy in our social interactions and in the ways we consume and produce media online.

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Read the OUP paper “Multimodality: Communication Skills for Today’s Generation” here (OUP registration required)


Introduction Notes / Transcript

Hello!

This episode is a conversation all about multimodality in communication. My guest is Nik Peachey, who will introduce himself to you in a few minutes when the conversation part of this episode begins.

Let me give you a bit of background information about how this episode came about, and what the main topic of conversation is.

I was contacted by OUP (they publish academic materials for English teachers and learners – course books but also teacher training materials for English teachers).

They have published a paper about multimodality in ELT and they wanted to see if I was interested in doing an interview with one of the people involved in the writing of this paper. The paper is called Multimodality in ELT: Communication Skills for Today’s Generation.

I thought “Hmm, multimodality, that’s a nice word – sounds interesting”. I was also aware of Nik Peachey already – he’s a fairly well-known figure in the world of English language teaching and publishing, especially in the UK. He’s a name you see at things like teaching conferences or in teacher training.

So I replied to OUP and said I was interested, they sent me a copy of the paper they have published and we arranged this interview, which actually took place a couple of months ago. It turned out to be a very interesting and wide-ranging conversation about so many things.

Let’s consider the title of that paper again “Multimodality in ELT: Communication Skills for Today’s Generation”.

Basically, this is all about how as teachers we always need to be aware of the ways in which learners of English need to use English to communicate in the world today. This involves looking at communication and considering how that happens, and also considering how changes in technology are having an effect.

How do we communicate? Is it just through language? How is our communication affected by advancements in technology?

What OUP are saying, with this paper, is that more and more our communication is multimodal, which means that we communicate in a variety of different ways or modes.

This is not just in terms of the 4 skills – speaking, listening, reading and writing. That is, traditionally, how communication has been defined.

Those are all linguistic or verbal modes (language based), but there are more communication modes than that, including non-verbal ones which are still hugely important. This includes body language, but there is a lot more than that, especially when you consider how much of our communication is mediated through technology these days.

To try and break this down, let’s think about this in two areas: social interactions (the way we speak and listen to each other face to face), and the way we consume media (content such as video, audio, texts).

There is also how these two things (social interactions and media) combine because more and more we use media to communicate – write texts and emails, do video calls, and combine text, images, video and audio to create social media posts.

So, let’s consider these two areas then: social interactions, and media, and let’s think about how they are multimodal – how they involve many various forms of communication.

In terms of social interactions there’s verbal communication (the words we’re using etc) but also body language, facial expressions, gestures, appearance, physical proximity. Also cultural factors come into play such as pop culture references that we use, or different social codes of behaviour in different cultures.

To communicate successfully we need to have an awareness of those social factors.

*Give an example of how I have to consider these things as an English teacher talking to my class – body language, facial expressions, gestures, appearance, physical proximity, cultural references, social codes of behaviour*

The second area is the way multimodality relates to the way we consume media – for example if you watch some video content online, understanding the various ways in which that media is constructed. How certain visuals are important, the use of certain tropes, the use of different fonts, different colours, different editing techniques, music and so on. Understanding these things allows us to decode the media we see, and this is crucial in understanding the intentions behind content we are exposed to, which in turn helps us to detect things like misinformation or just the purpose of the video.

For example, if you show a certain online video to someone who has very little multimodal awareness (like your grandmother or something) it’s not uncommon for this person just to be completely confused by what they’re seeing, or to experience some kind of culture shock. Imagine playing a video of Davie504 on YouTube to my grandmother. By the way Davie504 is an extremely successful YouTuber who makes very distinctive and funny videos about playing the bass guitar. If my gran watched one of his videos, I genuinely think she would not know what was going on. That’s because she isn’t familiar with all the different codes being used.

So it’s important to be have a level of multimodal literacy, so you can properly understand the media you are consuming, but also so that you can also communicate successfully through media yourself, by doing things like creating social media posts which combine sound, video, text and designs.

Nik Peachey is going to give various examples of these things during the conversation, which should help to clarify this all for you.

Ultimately, this is all about the importance of multimodal literacy in both our everyday communication and also in the way we consume content.

I guess for you, as learners of English, you can just consider how language exists as one part of an overall context which also includes things like culture, non-verbal communication, media literacy and more.

I hope you enjoy the conversation!

One note about the sound – I predict that some of you will comment that you found it hard to hear Nik. He’s not using a podcasting or broadcasting microphone, which might make it a little bit hard to hear him at first. You can hear some sounds of the room around him – a bit of echo and reverb. You might have to adjust your ear at the beginning, but you will get used to it. For me, this conversation got more and more interesting as Nik and I got to know each other better and got really into the whole subject of communication in its various modes. I hope you enjoy it too and that it makes you think about how learning English can be about more than just learning words and grammar.

I’ll speak to you again a little bit at the end of the conversation.

1 Million Subscribers on YouTube 🎉

Here are my reactions to getting 1 million subscribers on YouTube, and probably 1 million+ on audio platforms too! Listen to me rambling on my own and with my daughter (6 years old now) while the subscriber number gradually goes up, and eventually reaches this big milestone.

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852. How does it feel to be blind? (Article & Vocabulary)

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.

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Get the PDF 👇

Click here to read the article by Christina Hartmann on Slate.com

846. Topic Tombola with James

“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.

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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

A TOMBOLA :)

845. Using ChatGPT as a Language Teaching Tool 🤖 with JOE DALE, EdTech Guru, ChatGPT Enthusiast

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.

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Links, etc

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

823. ChatGPT & Learning English PART 3

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.

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Episode Transcript

Hello listeners,

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?

Etymology

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 👇

All you need to know about ChatGPT & Why its a threat to Google | by Deladem Kumordzie | Medium

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

Also, this:

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?

Other issues

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. 

🙏

822. ChatGPT & Learning English PART 2

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.

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Episode Transcript

Hello listeners,

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.

From: 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?

Thanks,

David

Write your email.

Write 140 – 190 words in an appropriate style. 

Dear David,

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.

Best regards,

[Your Name]

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

821. ChatGPT & Learning English PART 1

An episode exploring the various ways that ChatGPT might be able to help you learn English. Can it create study plans? Can it correct your errors and explain the corrections? Can you use it to simulate natural conversations? This is the first of a three-part series in which I test ChatGPT’s usefulness as an AI language learning tool.

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DOWNLOAD THE TRANSCRIPT FOR 821. ChatGPT & Learning English PART 1

Episode Transcript

Hello everyone,

Welcome back to my podcast for learners of English around the world.

I hope you are doing well today and that you are ready for this epic episode, which is called ChatGPT and Learning English

Yes, it’s time for me to talk about ChatGPT, just like everyone else this year! Everyone’s been talking about it. Now it’s my turn. It’s taken me a while to get round to doing this, but here it is.

There are absolutely loads of ways ChatGPT can be used. We are all discovering just how useful this is.

There have also been lots of discussions going on about how it might change the world, for better or worse. 

People have been raising ethical questions about things like whether it is a form of plagiarism, whether it will encourage and enable cheating and other issues. 

I’m going to focus here on learning English, mainly.

ChatGPT is basically an extremely sophisticated AI (Artificial Intelligence) chat bot developed and run by a company called OpenAI. 

It’s free for anyone to use. Just create an account at OpenAI and then go to https://chat.openai.com/chat and you can start. 

You just type in your prompt or question and away you go.

How do people use ChatGPT?

I asked it that question. Let’s see what it said. 


Most people use ChatGPT to ask questions and seek answers on a wide range of topics. 

As an AI language model, ChatGPT can provide information, explanations, and guidance on a variety of subjects, such as science, technology, history, culture, and more. 

People may also use ChatGPT for language learning, writing assistance, and brainstorming ideas. Additionally, ChatGPT can be used for entertainment purposes, such as generating jokes, riddles, or trivia questions. 

Overall, people use ChatGPT as a helpful tool for obtaining information, learning new things, and solving problems.

I’m recording this episode in March 2023 and I’m talking about ChatGPT3, which as the name suggests is the third iteration of this software, released by OpenAI in November 2022. This is the version that has got everyone talking.

What is OpenAI? 

This is the company that has created ChatGPT. 

According to Wikipedia, OpenAI is:

“… an American artificial intelligence research laboratory consisting of the non-profit OpenAI Incorporated and its for-profit subsidiary corporation OpenAI Limited Partnership. OpenAI conducts AI research with the declared intention of promoting and developing a friendly AI.”

  • Non-profit laboratory
  • For-profit subsidiary corporation
  • Research “…with the declared intention of promoting and developing friendly AI”

Declared intention → Interesting wording! 

That seems to suggest that there are also undeclared intentions, doesn’t it? 

Does this mean that they have other intentions that they’re not declaring, like maybe developing “unfriendly AI”, and what would that be like?  

Would it just be rude to you if you asked it a question? 

Like if you ask it, 

Can you recommend some good mystery stories to help me learn English?” 

and it just says… 

“No. What do you think I am, Google? Go and find out for yourself, and don’t ask such me stupid questions, human.”

That would be unfriendly AI. 

And that’s probably the best case future scenario for “unfriendly AI” isn’t it? Just a rude and unhelpful chatbot. 

Of course unfriendly AI could end up being a lot worse than just that. 

It could be… I don’t know… Terminators.

But don’t worry, because thankfully, this is not the case and they are developing “friendly AI”. 

So, everything is ok. I hope.

Am I a bit cynical or suspicious about this?

Forgive me if come across as slightly suspicious, cynical or even paranoid about this kind of thing, but I have to admit that when I read about companies like OpenAI that develop artificial intelligence products like ChatGPT or robotic developers like Boston Dynamics (you know the ones that make those vaguely terrifying robots)

and things like that, when I read about those things, it does make me feel like I’m living in a dystopian science fiction film or something. Just a little bit. 

It all has that kind of “dark sci-fi” atmosphere to it.

But no, this technology is not evil of course, yet, probably. 

I suppose it depends who is in charge of it and all sorts of other things, but having watched so many of those science fiction films, well, I can’t help feeling slightly alarmed or at least uncomfortable to some extent.

But of course those are just films and companies like Open AI are in no way similar to the fictional corporations in those films. Not similar at all. 

Look at their website – https://openai.com/ 

It is decidedly non-scary. It’s all nice with friendly people sitting around smiling and chatting and lots of green plants in the background and it’s all natural and sunny and safe.  

“Safe” is definitely a key word on their website. 

They really want us to know that they are making sure their projects are definitely safe and friendly and beneficial to humanity

No need to worry! We’re making it safe. 😊

https://chat.openai.com/chat

Anyway, this episode is supposed to be about how ChatGPT can help you learn English, and whether or not it will make me (and countless other people) completely redundant and unemployed. 

So, let’s get back to the point: 

ChatGPT and Learning English

Despite my ironic comments about science fiction films, I am fascinated by ChatGPT and the way it can be used as a tool. 

The potential is huge. Its use as a language learning assistant is only the tip of the iceberg really.

The more you play with it the more you realise what it can do, depending on the prompts that you give to it. You also realise its limitations and how it sometimes gets things completely wrong.

For example, the other day I was asking it random questions and I asked it this:

Who is the most famous guest ever to have appeared on Luke’s English Podcast?

So it does often get things completely wrong. 

That is something to bear in mind.

Useful ChatGPT Prompts

Chat GPT is basically a chat bot. It works like you’re having a conversation with it, in text form.

You write prompts into the chat box and then get responses as if it is a person writing back to you.

Usually these prompts are in the form of questions to request information or to ask ChatGPT to do things. 

What time is it?

So basically: 

I can’t tell you the time because I don’t know and anyway I’m above that kind of thing. Just consult some of your 20th century technology and don’t bother me with such petty simple requests.

Prompt: 

Can you give me some tips on how to make my podcast introductions shorter?

For some reason this screenshot was lost!

You can also enter imperative instructions, like this: 

Make a list of evil corporations in science fiction films

So, as I go through this episode I’ll be using various prompts. If you are looking at the notes/transcript on the page for this episode on my website or while watching the YouTube version, you will see all the prompts I’m using written in italics.

Tip: Writing prompts for ChatGPT

It’s quite important that you word your prompts carefully, and if you don’t get the response you’re looking for first time round, you should keep trying with more specific and detailed prompts in order to get the right response. 

I’ll show you some examples of this during the episode.

Specific Ways You Can Use ChatGPT to Learn English

Let’s look at some specific things you can do with ChatGPT to help with your English. I’ll show you specific prompts that you can write into ChatGPT and I will give my comments about each response it gives.

Overview

These are the things we are going to explore and assess during the episode.

  • Ask it to create a study plan for you
  • Ask it to correct your errors
  • Use it for conversation practice
  • Use it for practising English in different situations (e.g. job interview role plays)
  • Ask it to create texts or dialogues to study with
  • Ask it to help you with exam preparation (IELTS, FCE, CAE etc)
  • Ask it for definitions of words, and synonyms, antonyms, and collocations
  • Ask it about the etymology of words and phrases
  • Ask it to help you remember words with mnemonics
  • Ask it to transcribe things into phonemic script 
  • Ask it to convert things into different versions of English (i.e. between UK and US English, or other varieties)
  • Ask it to help you with sentence stress, pausing, intonation etc
  • Ask it to create grammar or vocabulary quizzes or tests
  • Ask it to create text adventure games to help you learn English
  • Ask it to adapt its English level (e.g. for low level reading)

Ask it to create a study plan for you

I am an upper-intermediate learner of English, currently stuck at the intermediate plateau. My main areas of weakness are listening, speaking and pronunciation. I want to speak with a British accent and I want to be completely fluent at a C1 level or higher. Can you create a step-by-step study plan for me?


Yes, I can help you create a study plan to improve your listening, speaking, and pronunciation skills and reach a C1 level of fluency in English.

Here is a step-by-step study plan for you:

Step 1: Improve your listening skills
Listen to English language podcasts, news broadcasts, and audiobooks for at least 30 minutes a day. Try to watch English language TV shows, movies and videos without subtitles to help you develop your listening skills. Focus on understanding the overall meaning of what is being said, rather than getting stuck on individual words.

Step 2: Improve your speaking skills
Start speaking English every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. You can practice with a language partner, tutor or a language exchange program.Focus on fluency rather than accuracy at first, don’t worry too much about making mistakes.Record yourself speaking and listen back to identify areas where you need to improve. Try to use vocabulary and grammar structures that you have learned in context, rather than simply memorizing them.

Step 3: Improve your pronunciation
Watch and listen to videos of native speakers and try to mimic their pronunciation. Practice individual sounds, such as vowel and consonant sounds, using resources like pronunciation apps, websites or audio resources. Work on intonation, rhythm and stress patterns in connected speech, which are important aspects of British accent. Take pronunciation classes or work with a speech therapist, if possible.

Step 4: Build your vocabulary
Learn new words every day and use them in sentences to help you remember them. Try to learn words in context by reading articles, books or watching videos in English. Use flashcards, vocabulary lists and apps to help you memorize new words.

Step 5: Work on grammar and writing
Study English grammar rules and practice them through exercises and quizzes. Write short paragraphs, essays, and emails in English to practice your writing skills. Get feedback on your writing from a tutor, teacher or language partner.

Step 6: Take formal English language exams
Take a C1 level English language exam such as the Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) to measure your progress and get certified.Remember to stay motivated, practice consistently and have fun with the process of learning.

Good luck!

That’s all good advice. But as a teacher, I know that when I give advice like this to my students, there are always other questions, doubts and obstacles that the students have.

I wonder how ChatGPT would respond to these kinds of comments.

  • But I don’t have time to do all those things
  • I can’t understand that podcast that you shared with me, and it was too long
  • I can’t understand TV series without subtitles
  • I don’t have anyone to practise my speaking with
  • You say “don’t worry about making mistakes” but how can I improve if that doesn’t matter?
  • I try to copy native speakers, but who should I copy? Who has the best accent?
  • I copy native speakers but I still can’t lose my accent
  • Can you recommend a good book or website to help me practise my grammar?
  • If I write things in English, who can correct them for me?

Actually, I tried inputting those comments into ChatGPT and it did come back with some pretty useful and relevant advice. I won’t share it all here because there isn’t time, but you could try it if you like.

Error correction 

It can correct your errors. Just ask it to. 

Write a sentence or enter a paragraph and it’ll correct it.

Let’s try that. Let’s ask it to correct the errors in this comment which someone wrote on my website a few weeks ago. 

Can you correct the errors in this website comment please?

Hey Luke. How’s it going? Hope u enjoy. I’m walk to this website. Very well, its so exactly for me. I’m listening and hear you podcast (british), tbh i really like british accent. It posh vibes! And i like it. Thankyou so much for learn (british) english with your podcast in comedian, story telling, etc 


Sure, here’s the corrected website comment:

“Hey Luke, how’s it going? I hope you’re doing well. I’ve recently discovered this website and it’s been a perfect fit for me. I’ve been listening to your podcast, and as a fan of the British accent, I really enjoy it. The posh vibes are great! Thank you so much for helping me improve my British English through your podcast which features comedy, storytelling, and more.”

Let’s ask it to explain the corrections it has made. 

Can you give explanations for the corrections you made?


Certainly! Here are the explanations for the corrections I made:
“Hope u enjoy” –> “I hope you’re doing well.”

I changed this phrase because “hope u enjoy” is an informal and abbreviated way of asking how someone is doing, which might not be appropriate in all situations. Instead, I replaced it with a more standard greeting that asks how Luke is doing.

“I’m walk to this website” –> “I’ve recently discovered this website”

“I’m walk” is grammatically incorrect. I replaced it with “I’ve recently discovered” to convey the same idea in proper English grammar.

“Very well, its so exactly for me” –> “it’s been a perfect fit for me”

The original phrase is not grammatically correct and does not convey a clear message. I replaced it with “it’s been a perfect fit for me,” which expresses the idea that the website meets the writer’s needs and expectations.

“I’m listening and hear you podcast” –> “I’ve been listening to your podcast”

“I’m listening and hear you podcast” is not grammatically correct, and it’s not clear whether the writer is currently listening or has listened to the podcast in the past. I changed the phrase to “I’ve been listening to your podcast” to express that the writer is a regular listener.

“tbh i really like British accent” –> “As a fan of the British accent, I really enjoy it.”
“tbh i really like British accent” is an informal and abbreviated way of expressing admiration for the British accent. I changed the phrase to “As a fan of the British accent, I really enjoy it” to express the same idea in more formal language.

“It posh vibes!” –> “The posh vibes are great!”
“It posh vibes!” is an incomplete sentence and not grammatically correct. I changed the phrase to “The posh vibes are great!” to convey the same idea in a complete and grammatically correct sentence.

“Thankyou so much for learn (british) english with your podcast in comedian, story telling, etc” –> “Thank you so much for helping me improve my British English through your podcast which features comedy, storytelling, and more.”
The original phrase is not grammatically correct and does not convey a clear message. I changed it to “Thank you so much for helping me improve my British English through your podcast which features comedy, storytelling, and more” to express the idea that the writer is grateful for Luke’s assistance in improving their British English through his podcast.

This is actually very impressive for a chatbot, although it doesn’t provide the same level of detail in its explanations that I would as a teacher and of course a teacher can deal with questions, interpret what the learner wants/means, and adapt more organically while allowing the learner to practise their English communication skills in the process. But still, it’s impressive.

Use ChatGPT for conversation practice

  • Can you practise having a conversation with it? 
  • Is it capable of having a proper, meaningful conversation?
  • Can it provide the kind of conversation practice that you need for language learning? 
  • Can it pretend to be your English teacher or someone else?

Chatbots have always been very limited and quite annoying when it comes to having a normal conversation, because they just can’t do it, frankly. 

Let’s see if ChatGPT has made big improvements in that area. Is it easy to chat to, or does it quickly become weird and unnatural?

I’ve chosen some questions which I think would be totally normal conversation starters (with humans). 

Let’s see if we can start a conversation with it, using these questions.

Conversation starters

Let’s input these and see if we can have a conversation in real time. (no screenshots, just a realtime chat here in a new window https://chat.openai.com/ )

  • How are you?
  • Have you been busy recently?
  • What have you been up to?
  • I’ve been listening to a podcast about The Beatles. Are you a fan of The Beatles by any chance?
  • What’s your favourite Beatles album?
  • Who do you think is going to win the 6 Nations this year?
  • Did you see the Scotland vs France rugby game at the weekend?
  • Any idea what the weather will be like this weekend?
  • My brother’s birthday is coming up but I’ve got no idea what to get for him.

It’s better than previous chatbots but conversation is still limited.

Ask it to pretend to be someone else

Conversation becomes a bit easier and more natural.

Can you pretend to be Ringo Starr so I can have a chat with you?

How are you at the moment Ringo?

Ask it to correct your errors while having the conversation

Can you pretend to be my English teacher, and correct my errors while we chat?

It can continue the conversation and also correct your errors.

This works ok sometimes but, it doesn’t pick up on all your errors and after a few responses it seems to forget to correct you. 

It’s a bit difficult to keep a conversation going with a chatbot that has no emotions or opinions.  You have to carry the conversation quite a lot and, well, it’s not the best conversationalist. It tends to switch into “information mode” where it just gives you Wikipedia-like responses.

E.g. If you try to talk about Premier League football, it will mainly explain what the premier league is, rather than sharing opinions on it. I said “Let’s talk about the premier league”. It asked me what my favourite team was. I said I didn’t really have one but I liked Liverpool. I asked what it’s favourite team was. It gave me the same old response “As an AI language model I don’t have personal preferences or emotions…” and then proceeded to kind of lecture me about Liverpool FC, giving me a kind of summary of the club, like what you might read at the top of Liverpool’s Wikipedia page. 

So, it’s not the best conversationalist. It’s not bad, but it seems that sharing personal opinions or sharing our emotional reactions to things, is pretty vital in human conversation and since it can’t do that, conversations with it fall a bit flat. 

But it is fun to play around with it.

I tried having a conversation with it in French (a language which I am learning, badly) and wanted to see if my experience was different from the point of view of a language learner.

I found that it really helped. It was a good experience in terms of learning French. 

Just trying to express myself in written French was a challenge, and this was good. I need these challenges in order to progress. 

I asked it to correct my mistakes. It did it, and it felt almost like having a conversation with a person. 

I didn’t feel judged or stressed (as I often do when talking to a person) and I learned some correct phrases. I felt free to repeat certain things over and over again in order to practise, without judgement.

Ending script for part 1

This is where we are going to stop. This is the end of part 1. We will continue in parts 2 and 3.

I hope you’re enjoying this so far and finding it useful as a way of considering how ChatGPT might be able to help you learn English, or how it might not. 

This video is actually in 3 parts. I recorded all of this last week and it ended up taking me 3 hours to go through all the ideas I mentioned earlier, all the various ways you can use ChatGPT for learning English. 

Parts 2 and 3 will be available very soon. If I have already published them by the time you watch this, you will find links for them in the show notes.

Also you can get the PDF of the script for this episode and for the other parts – with most of the things I am saying and all the ChatGPT prompts which I’m using. Check the show notes/ episode description.

Coming up in part 2 I will be playing around with ChatGPT more and doing these things:

  • Continuing to evaluate ChatGPT as a way of simulating natural conversations
  • Seeing if it can pretend to be your English teacher and correct your errors and explain them
  • Testing if it can pretend to be someone else, to make conversations more fun or interesting
  • Checking how well it handles role plays in order to let you prepare to use English in specific situations
  • Seeing if you can simulate job interview situations with it
  • Asking it to create useful texts or dialogues for studying with
  • Looking at exam preparation by asking it to provide sample written texts in response to FCE or CAE writing tasks
  • Seeing if it can give yu good advice for doing Cambridge exams
  • Seeing if it can create reliable, useful exam practice tasks to help you prepare for IELTS

All of that coming up in part 2, which will be available soon or maybe now.

Personally I am finding it fascinating to experiment with ChatGPT and seeing what it can do, and wondering how it might change the world for better or worse.

There’s no doubt that AI like this will increasingly become a normal part of lives as we move into the future. What will the effect of that be on society and the planet?

There are some fairly strong feelings about ChatGPT going around. I’m curious to know what you think about it, so leave your comments in the comment section.

I’ll continue to discuss all these things and test ChatGPT further in upcoming episodes.

Thank you for listening or watching. If you enjoy my content, then share it with your friends, like and subscribe, leave a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to this, and consider signing up for my premium episodes to get vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation episodes with stories.

OK, I will speak to you again in part 2 of this, but until then – goodbye bye bye!

End of part 1

754. Learning & Teaching English in The Metaverse / The Mandalorian (with Andy Johnson)

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)

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Find out more about learning English in the metaverse using Fluent Worlds Academy here https://academy.fluentworlds.com/

Introduction Transcript

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/


Ending

How many M words came up in this episode? 

  • Millenials
  • Marathons
  • Moving
  • Moby
  • Metaverse
  • Multiverse
  • Metaphysical
  • Mandalorian
  • Marvel
  • Matrix

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!

736. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells [Part 3] Learn English with Stories

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.

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Full Transcript

Please watch parts 1 and 2 before watching this. Links in the description.

Click here for part 1

Click here for part 2

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.

XII.
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
https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-War-of-the-Worlds/themes/

A sample from coursehero.com
Technology
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.

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Thanks for listening.

All the best,

Bye bye bye bye