Category Archives: Technology

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

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

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Intro Transcript

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

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

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

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

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


Cara’s Website

www.leo-listening.com

Films and TV shows mentioned

Red Dwarf
BBC TV Comedy

The Orville
Seth MacFarlane
Based on Star Trek

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


Learning English with Films & TV – Summary of Advice Given

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

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

517. Professor Stephen Hawking (An Obituary)

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

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

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BBC Obituary

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

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

Hawking’s popularity in China

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

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

Hawking talks about depression

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

Stephen Hawking Has a Beautiful Message for Anyone Suffering From Depression

A scene from The Theory of Everything

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

Monty Python – The Galaxy Song

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

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

Vocabulary which came up in this episode

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

483. A Rambling Chat with Moz

The second part of my conversation with my friend Moz, this time covering subjects such as podcasting vs YouTube, bathing naked in a Japanese spa, sharing personal information online (like a story of bathing naked in a Japanese spa), the role of artificial intelligence & social media, murdering mosquitoes and meeting a crack addict on the streets of London. Vocabulary list and quiz available below.

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Introduction Transcript

Hi everyone, Here’s the second part of my conversation with my friend Moz that was recorded a few weeks ago.

After talking about murder in the last episode, Moz and I kept talking for about another 45 minutes, just rambling on and going off on a few tangents and you can listen to that conversation in this episode as part of your ongoing mission to improve your English by listening to real conversations that actually happened, between actual people who actually said some actual things and actually recorded them and uploaded them for you to actually listen to.

Things that we actually talked about (in the form of questions)

  • What goes into making and publishing a podcast?
  • Who is my audience and where are they (that’s you)?
  • What’s it like to meet members of my audience?
  • What’s the difference between doing audio podcasts and making videos for YouTube?
  • Should native speakers adapt their speech when talking to non-native speakers of English?
  • Does the word ‘cack’ in English relate to similar words in other languages?
  • What does ‘cack’ mean? (it means poo, by the way)
  • How much of our personal information should we be sharing online?
  • How much of my personal information should I be sharing in episodes of this podcast?
  • Should you post pictures of your children on social media?
  • What are the effects of social media and artificial intelligence on our lives? How might this change in the future?
  • How could you fight against a robot invasion using an umbrella and software updates?
  • How much do we hate mosquitoes and what happens when you kill them?
    and
  • How can you identify different drug addicts that you might meet on the streets of London, just based on how they smell?

I think they all sound like perfectly good questions for discussion, don’t you? I can even imagine some of them cropping up in the speaking section of a Cambridge English exam. Some of them. Maybe not the one about cack, or the one about drug addicts, but who knows?

Listen on to find out how we talk about all of those points.

If you’re a vocabulary hunter, check the page for this episode on my website because there you’ll find a list of words and phrases that come up in this conversation.

That list is available in order to help you to use this episode to expand your vocabulary and to develop a more natural form of English.

There is a bit of rude language and some slightly graphic content in this conversation. Just to let you know…

But now it’s time for you to hear the rest of my chat with Moz.

And here we go.


Vocabulary List

  • These days I’m a lot more devoted to it than I used to be
  • When the inspiration struck me
  • I try to be a bit more organised and rigorous about it
  • There are some teachers on YouTube who are getting phenomenal views
  • There are also various young, hip, fresh-faced YouTubers
  • I’m sticking with podcasting because it works for me
  • Technology has moved on so fast that we can do these things ourselves
  • A digital SLR with a boom mic attached to it (or a shotgun mic)
  • Those are the ingredients for making a hit youtube channel
  • Libsyn is my hosting site and I’m about to sign up with iTunes
  • I had to replace all of the embedded players on my website
  • A ‘hell of a lot of stuff’ that had to be done
  • Libsyn have various different filters that they apply to the data
  • The internet is basically this huge network with all these different sub-stations
  • My podcast is big in Wisconsin. It is the home of Ed Gein, the murderer
  • A lot of internet servers are based in that part of America
  • There’s some sort of internet sub-station or routing station in Virginia
  • If people are using VPNs or proxy servers that counts as coming from the USA
  • I’m trying to use an element of scepticism when I’m reading my stats
  • Lots of people are getting my podcast from bit-torrenting sites
  • I tell you what, a good way of working out how many listeners you get…
  • Every now and then someone comes out of the woodwork
  • I used to have the word ‘whittle (down)’ in my tour
  • You get a piece of wood but you slowly etch away pieces of wood to make it into something else
  • People whittle a stick down to a spike or something
  • You whittle the evidence down until you get the bare bones of the case
  • It’s helped me work out the kind of phrases that only English people use
  • Some aspects of our pronunciation or idioms are a barrier to the global community
  • Communication is a two-way street
  • I’ve just come away from dog-sitting with my brother [your brother is a dog??]
  • They were brummie (from Birmingham)
  • Their brummie was so strong that I couldn’t understand my own language
  • It was only when she came nearer that I could grasp what she was talking about
  • Do you curb your language, or do you hone the way that you speak on this podcast?
  • If they’re not careful they swing too far in the other direction and it becomes unnatural
  • It’s a balancing act between trying to be understandable and trying to be natural
  • “Oui, oui” = “yes, yes” in French
  • Wee wee = unrine (pee pee in French)
  • Poo poo = excrement
  • “Caca” = “poo” in French
  • Cack (another English word for poo)
  • Input = just the language you hear when listening
  • Intake = the language you are really focusing on when listening
  • The more personal they (podcasts) are, the more I get engaged
  • Stiff upper lip and all that, hopefully the lip will be the only thing that’s stiff
  • The pianist stops playing
  • I felt like everyone broke off their conversations
  • Naked guys lounging around, chatting
  • The first guy who walks past me is a midget
  • It did occur to me to check him out and see if it was in proportion
  • I don’t necessarily want to open up the doors of my house
  • We don’t really want to post lots of pictures of the baby on Facebook
  • She has remained true to her word

How much of the vocabulary can you remember from the list?

Take the quiz below to find out. Not all the vocabulary is in the quiz, just a selection.

That’s all folks!

Don’t forget – Moz’s podcast, called “Murder Mile True Crime Podcast” is available now on iTunes and at www.murdermiletours.com.

Moz’s links:

www.murdermiletours.com

www.murdermiletours.com/podcast

478. Holiday Diary (Part 5) An Encounter with The Church of Scientology

More thoughts and comments inspired by things that happened during my recent holiday. In this one I’m discussing stories about the Church of Scientology and the claims that it is a cult. Listen to find out what happened in this part of my trip. Check the episode page for the vocabulary.

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This episode includes information and claims about Scientology which I saw and heard in various interviews and documentaries. It should be noted that the Church of Scientology disagrees with those claims. They state that critics of the church are seeking to make money or gain attention from their claims and their associations. I am presenting the information in this episode because I believe it makes an interesting episode of my podcast and is therefore an opportunity for my listeners to improve their English.


Vocabulary

Here is a list of vocabulary that you can learn from this episode. (definitions are in brackets)

  • a modern kind of dogma (a belief system that is imposed on people, e.g. through rules or writings which tell you what to do, or not to do)
  • a self-help system (a set of practices that can help people deal with their problems)
  • theology (a set of religious beliefs)
  • to ascend the hierarchy of the church (to rise up through the different levels)
  • the principles that underpin the religion (support, are the foundations of)
  • these guys were checking us out (looking at us, observing us)
  • minding their own business (not paying attention to other people or things, just focusing on their own things)
  • it’s not subject to scrutiny because Scientology is officially recognised as a religion (careful observation)
  • hostile behaviour (showing strong disagreement, sometimes aggressively)
  • to be shunned by your family, or shunned by the church (rejected, ostracised, ignored)
  • he was suffering from mental illness at the time – he was having a bipolar episode (a period of mental illness symptomatic of bipolar disorder, e.g. a period of mania or psychosis)
  • conventional psychology, psychiatry or psychotherapeutic practices (psychology = the scientific study of the mind and its processes / psychiatry = medicine and medical care for mental illness / psychotherapy or psychotherapeutic practices = the use of psychological practices and not drugs in the treatment of mental illness)
  • psychosomatic illness (physical illness caused by the mind, not by the body)
  • a placebo (a ‘fake drug’, a substance with no effect which is used as part of the testing process for medicines)
  • the placebo effect (the fact that a person’s health might show improvement after taking a placebo because they believe it to be a genuine drug, a kind of psychosomatic effect)
  • Freud’s ideas about the ego, super-ego and the id (super-ego = the part of your mind which understands right and wrong and imposes society’s rules on yourself / the id = the primitive instincts which exist in your unconscious mind / the ego = the conscious mind, aware of itself, in balance or conflict between the motivations of the super-ego and id / all concepts developed by Sigmund Freud)
  • It’s a doctrine written by one man (a set of religious beliefs)
  • L Ron Hubbard – the founder (the person who set up or founded something)
  • they rejected it as pseudoscience (fake science)
  • Some people have called him a visionary (someone with an original and inspiring vision of something new), other people have called him an outright fraud (an open or obvious liar and deceiver)
  • spirits that were sent to earth by a celestial being (a person, creature or life-form from outer-space)
  • was he making it all up (creating it) on purpose and developing a sort of cult of personality (a small and strange group devoted to one individual) around himself as a narcissistic power trip? (narcissistic = self obsessed and in love with himself / power trip = an obsessive or extreme use or abuse of power)
  • someone with bipolar disorder (a mental illness, previously called ‘manic depression) suffering a manic episode 
  • the guy was crawling the walls (going crazy). He was delusional (not in touch with reality), hallucinating (seeing things that aren’t there), in the grips of (being severely affected by) a full-on (intense) bipolar manic episode
  • a device for displaying and/or recording the electrodermal activity (electrical activity on the skin) (EDA) of a human being
  • the Church of Scientology now publishes disclaimers in its books and publications declaring that the E-meter “by itself does nothing” and that it is used specifically for spiritual purposes (a statement that they are not responsible for something)
  • a small arm, like on a watch, that moves or twitches sometimes because of stimulus from the metal tubes (moves quickly or suddenly)
  • described by some critics as a typical example of a “Bait and switch fraud” (a type of deception in which someone thinks they’re buying one thing but it is replaced for something else)
  • a term used usually to describe fraud in a retail context (relating to shops)
  • The court ruling was upheld ( ruling = a decision by a court or judge  / upheld = was not changed or overturned, was maintained)
  • an appeal in a court (a request for another court decision or judgement)
  • The fraud conviction (when someone is found guilty of a crime in court) criminal was upheld in the appeal court

Documentaries

Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath

“Going Clear: The Prison of Belief”

“Louis Theroux: My Scientology Movie”

Paul Haggis, Oscar winning Canadian film maker who used to be in the church but left. Also, the story of ‘Xenu’ (from Going Clear)

Longer videos – full conversations about scientology

Louis Theroux – full conversation on Joe Rogan’s podcast

Leah Rimini – full conversation on Joe Rogan’s podcast

Find out what happened two years ago when I first visited the Scientology Centre in Los Angeles

292. California Road Trip (Part 5)

476. Holiday Diary (Part 3) Astronomy, Astrology & Flat Earth Conspiracy Theory

In this episode I talk about visiting the fantastic Griffith Observatory and then ‘go off on one’ about Astronomy vs Astrology and ludicrous flat earth conspiracy theories. Includes various bits of vocabulary throughout the episode.

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Episode notes and transcriptions

Just before we start I just realised that I forgot to mention some of your responses to the episode with my Dad about cricket which was uploaded in August.

Cricket episode (#473) comments

In general, the responses seem to be along these lines: I love listening to you talk to your Dad, it’s always nice to hear his voice and his descriptions of things, but this was the most difficult episode of the podcast ever! You broke my mind! You destroyed my brain!

Hi Luke, I do really love episodes with your Dad, but this particular one, completely destroyed me. ;) Nevertheless, it was a pleasure to listen to your Dad, as always, and I liked the cricket related phrases, so I’ll cut you some slack for making my brain hurt a bit. Cheers!

 Holiday Diary part 3

Here we go with part 3 of this series which is based around some of the things I saw while I was away on holiday last month.

You should listen to parts 1 and 2 before hearing this, because that will put this episode in the right context. In a nutshell the context is that my wife is preggers, she’s got a bun in the oven. By the way, I just wanted to say that I chose to reveal this personal news because it would be impossible to keep it secret, right? For example if my uploading becomes a bit erratic when the baby arrives, you’ll understand why. Perhaps you can manage your expectations a bit if you remember that I’ve “got a lot on my plate“. Having a child will be wonderful but probably quite disruptive, but I certainly don’t plan on halting this project as a result. We went on hols to the USA for a “babymoon” (our chance to enjoy a fairly big holiday together while it’s just the two of us), we saw some really interesting things and it gave me inspiration to talk about some topics on the podcast.

What’s this episode all about?

In this one the plan is to talk about astronomy, astrology and flat earth conspiracy theories. I hope there will be enough time! Let’s see. If I run out of time, some of those things will no doubt turn up in the next episode.

I expect the main questions for this will be:

  • What is the Griffith Observatory and what did we see there? )And how do you pronounce Griffith Observatory?)
  • What is the difference between astronomy and astrology?
  • Is astrology a load of old nonsense, or is it all right?
  • What is the flat earth theory all about?
  • Why do people think the earth is flat?
  • Is the earth flat or is it round (I’m pretty sure it’s round or globe shaped)?
  • What words can you pick up from all of this to help expand your vocabulary, improve your listening and develop your English in general?

We will see as we go through the episode.

Vocabulary for you to learn (check the notes and script)

On the subject of the English you’re going to hear, I will try and define some language as it comes up, but also you should check the page for this episode. In the episode archive search for episode 476 (oh that’s this page- you’re already here). On that page you’ll see some notes and some transcriptions, and there you can see the words and phrases, see how they are spelled, copy/paste expressions to your word lists or flashcard apps and so on, or just enjoy listening to the episode.

Griffith Observatory and a hike in the park

There was lots of geology and astronomy on this holiday. The geology because of the National Parks and all the rock formations with their stories of history, and astronomy because we visited the Griffith Observatory (this place dedicated to observing the sun and the night sky). Also, in a hotel one evening while zapping between the many TV channels I came across a long interview with famous astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, which was absolutely fascinating  and also quite mind blowing – as he usually is.

You can listen to that conversation with Neil Degrasse Tyson on the Nerdist podcast here

And then near the end of the holiday there was the total solar eclipse over some parts of the USA and every single person was talking about it. We didn’t see the full eclipse, but experienced some of it. So, lots of big things like the moon, the stars, the earth, our place in the universe and also the value of proper critical thinking and science in general.

We had a nice hike (not too demanding but not too easy) through Griffith Park up to the observatory. Hiking…

Walking up through the park we had views of Griffith Park and the Hollywood hills and the Hollywood sign. You get views over LA including the high-rise buildings in the downtown area.

It’s cool to be doing some hiking in what feels like the countryside and then to turn around and see the skyline of the city.

Hiking to Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory and Griffith Park are named after the man who donated the land (about 12 km squared) and paid for the observatory and theatre.

His name was Griffith J. Griffith. What a name!

Imagine calling your son Griffith Griffith!

Interesting bloke. Here’s the first paragraph of Wikipedia’s page about him:

“Griffith Jenkins Griffith (January 4, 1850 – July 6, 1919) was a Welsh industrialist and philanthropist. After amassing a significant fortune from a mining syndicate in the 1880s, Griffith donated 3,015 acres (12.20 km2) to the City of Los Angeles which became Griffith Park, and he bequeathed the money to build the park’s Greek Theatre and Griffith Observatory. Griffith’s legacy was marred by his notorious shooting of his wife in 1903, a crime for which he served two years in prison.”

Bequeath = to leave property to a beneficiary in a will

Bloomin’ heck, that escalated quickly!

(Find out some more about Griffith J Griffith – includes some reading from the Wikipedia page)

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Griffith_J._Griffith

Anyway, (despite that horrible crime) it’s cool that this guy clearly believed in the importance of having a space dedicated to teaching ordinary people about how the earth fits into our galaxy, how it interacts with the sun and the moon, and all that stuff.

Astronomy is fascinating, I think.

Astronomy vs Astrology (the difference)

Astronomy – the scientific study of stars, planets and natural objects in space

Astrology – the study of movements of stars and planets and the belief that these movements can affect the lives of humans on earth. So that includes the predictions written into horoscopes, the system of star signs and how they are said to dictate our personalities and the things that will happen to us.

I don’t believe in astrology.

How could the movement of stars and planets affect whether your boss will give you a pay rise or if you’ll have an awkward encounter with a possible lover?

Who knows, maybe our lives are totally subject to astrological forces out there and everything that happens has already been written in advance, but I don’t think there’s much reliable evidence for it.

But that’s not the point for people who believe in horoscopes. I think for them it’s not about looking for the most reliable theory to understand the universe. It more about finding the one that makes you feel right about yourself.

But I’m not buying it.

Rambling about ambiguous horoscopes…

Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 16.47.27
www.astrology.com/us/horoscope/daily-extended.aspx

Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 16.48.28
techasli.com/pisces-daily-horoscope-today-wednesday-30th-august-2017/

We’re not the centre of the universe. We’re part of something much larger than we can possibly imagine. (I sound like Obiwan Kenobi)

Sure, Saturn is a huge thing out there in space and it does have forces of gravity, probably radiation that come from it, but my iPhone probably produces more radiation than Saturn, because it’s so much closer to me than Saturn. I get it, Saturn is big, but it’s also very very far away. The mass of the table in front of me exerts more influence on me than the mass of Saturn at this distance.

And, if horoscopes can predict the future, why aren’t they front page news?

Maybe they don’t want to seem arrogant.

Yeah we can predict the future, we know what’s going to happen to the money markets, to the environment, to each individual person, but we don’t like to make a big deal out of it.

Horoscopes are never on the front page, they’re always printed in the middle of the newspaper, next to the crossword and the sudoku. “Yes, we know the future of your children, but let’s just print it down here in the corner next to these puzzles.”

Anyway, at the Griffith Observatory, it was nice to get a dose of space stuff – some astronomy. It’s great to see that this building is devoted to educating people about astronomy and that loads of people were there, families with their kids (even if they were annoying “Mommy look this is awesome!” etc) it’s good to see that these kids are being educated about science.

They have cool interactive models and presentations about the earth’s orbit around the sun, with live telescope footage of the sun itself (through loads of filters of course), the moon’s orbit around the earth, the way the moon and the sun together affect the tides in the oceans. It was really cool.

And the earth is round, by the way.

Flat Earth (Conspiracy) Theory – Some people still believe the earth is flat

These days Flat Earth theories seem to be quite popular again, especially on the internet.

I didn’t meet anyone or at least speak to anyone in the USA who believed in flat earth theory, but I’ve seen a lot of talk of it online.

There are quite a lot of youtubers and even famous musicians and celebrities who spread the idea that the earth is flat and that there’s a global (although I guess they wouldn’t use the word “global”) conspiracy to convince us all that it’s in fact round, or a ‘globe’.

Most of these people are Americans of course, because as far as I can tell the USA is the world’s #1 place for conspiracy theories.

I’m quite interested in conspiracy theories and I’m willing to hear the arguments. Some of them are fairly convincing (e.g I’m a bit sceptical about the official story of the JFK assassination but I don’t pretend to know what really happened) and other theories are completely ridiculous.

I think the flat earth theory is in the latter category.

Flat earth summary: www.livescience.com/24310-flat-earth-belief.html

I think it’s ridiculous believing the earth is flat because it means you have to also reject:
Pretty much all the basic understandings that we have of the way the world works, including the laws of physics, which are tested time and time again, scientifically (which means subject to the most reliable forms of objective testing and scrutiny possible). You have to reject the big bang theory, and even the basic law of gravity.

And you have to believe that all the governments, shipping and airline companies, scientists in different communities around the globe and in fact all those underpaid science teachers – you have to believe they are all part of a huge organised conspiracy to maintain the idea that the earth is round, when in fact it is flat.

What would be the purpose of doing that?

And anyway, it’s impossible! We’re just not competent enough to do that.

As a species we’re not even able to keep a sex tape secret, so what chance do we have of maintaining a lie that big?

I think we have to look at why people choose to believe in this kind of thing anyway.

I think it goes together with a general sense of distrust in authority, a feeling of individual empowerment that you get from believing something like that and the simple human ability to get stuck in a certain worldview and then block out anything that contradicts it, even if it’s rational evidence that has been proven over and over again.

I think once a person has invested themselves in a certain belief system for whatever reason, it’s very hard to get them out of it.

For example, you might hear a conspiracy theorist say “I believe the earth is flat and nobody can convince me that it’s not”.

That’s all you need to know really. They’re not interested in being convinced with evidence.

They’re more interested in pursuing their belief and maintaining it. Why? I don’t know. I think it’s an aspect of human nature that is very powerful and you can see it in lots of other situations too – like for example the way people end up getting involved in religious cults or the way people do very bad things because they believe they’re carrying out some kind of divine plan.

Flat earthers are not as bad as people like that, I suppose, but what would happen if the President came out as a flat earther? Then what? Would flat earth theories start to enter schools? Would more and more people start to believe it? If the flat earthers eventually outnumbered the scientific community, the round earth community, would flat earth become the dominant idea? Hundreds of years of history could be wiped out by a belief system like that. It’s actually possible, that’s the thing.

Let’s listen to a couple of YouTubers talking about it.

If you disagree and you think the earth is flat (which is very trendy at the moment by the way) write your ideas in the comment section. Why do you think the earth is flat? What’s your evidence? How do you deal with things like the laws of gravity or the fact that shadows are at different lengths on the ground in different places at the same time of day?

Thanks for listening! Leave your comments below with any thoughts from this episode.

Did you notice any good bits of vocabulary? You could copy&paste them into the comment section.

Cheers,

Luke

465. How I make episodes of the podcast (Part 2)

Talking about the technical side of making podcast episodes, including fascinating* insights about my recording equipment and an exciting** anecdote game. Includes upbeat music to absolutely guarantee*** that you will not be bored during the episode!

*insights may not actually be fascinating
**management holds no liability for any lack of excitement experienced
***not actually a legally binding guarantee

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Introduction

Here’s a new episode and I’m continuing to talk about how I make episodes of the podcast, and this whole thing is a response to a question sent to me by Carlos from Barcelona

In the last episode I was talking about the creative side of coming up with ideas and making them into podcast episodes. Not that I know what I’m doing really, but a few listeners have asked me about this over the years and I thought it might be interesting to answer those questions and just lift the lid on LEP and let you see how episodes are recorded.

In this one the plan is to talk about the technical side of doing the podcast.

Vocabulary

Watch out for vocabulary which will be explained in forthcoming episodes, including uses of get, technical language and other expressions.

Feedback

Send me a private message with more details.

Please be constructive with your feedback! Thanks :)

464. How I make episodes of the podcast (Part 1)

Talking about the creative side of making podcast episodes, including some thoughts on how to come up with ideas and how to speak in front of an audience.

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Introduction

Today I’m talking all about how I make episodes of this podcast including details about the technical side (all the gear I use and how I use it) and the creative side (how I come up with ideas and make them into episodes).

I’ve also decided to make sure there’s plenty of language content in this one too. Obviously it’s all English – these are all words, you know.

But what I mean is that later I’m going to highlight certain bits of vocabulary that will come up in my descriptions, including;

  • vocabulary for talking about technical stuff like recording audio
  • some uses of the word “get”, which is one of the most commonly occurring verbs in the English language
  • and also just some other fixed expressions and bits of language I think are worth pointing out to you.

As you listen to this, you can watch out for vocabulary and try to predict which bits you think I will be explaining later.

So, even if you’re not completely married to the subject matter of this episode, you can just try to get through the bits about how I make the podcast, try to spot some vocab and then hold on until the end when you’ll hear me going through that language for you which should help you to get your head around it all.

In fact, did you notice that I’ve already used ‘get’ several times. I said ‘try to get through the bits I say about recording equipment [how I make the podcast]’ and also ‘help you get your head around it all’.

To get through something = to finish it, or pass from one end to the other. “I’ve just got to get through this work.” or “I’ve got a lot of emails to get through” or “I know it’s hard when you have depression, but don’t give up, you’ll get through it.”

To get your head around something = to understand it. It’s often used in the negative form. “I just can’t get my head around all this recording equipment.” or “I can’t get my head around this tax return. It’s a nightmare.”

So, watch out for that kind of thing – other uses of ‘get’ and more expressions, I’ll be highlighting and explaining it later.

Let’s get back to the topic of this episode: How I make episodes of Luke’s English Podcast.

Message from Carlos in Barcelona

Just to explain why I’ve chosen to do this episode, here’s a message I got not long ago from a LEPster in Spain.

Hello Luke,

My name is Carlos and I’m a listener of your Podcast. I’m from Barcelona.

First of all, I’d like to congratulate you, your podcast is excellent. It helps me to improve my English and it’s also fun. Hence, I think it’s a way of learning English without realizing that I’m actually studying it.

In addition, I’d like to suggest a topic to be talked in one of your programmes. It would be great if you told us how you record a podcast, like how you prepare it and record it and what software and hardware you use.

Well, it would be fun to know what the podcast is like. Sometimes, I wonder about the insides of it.

I hope you like my suggestion.

Yours sincerely,
J.Carlos Mena

I do get quite a lot of messages like that, from people asking me either about the technical side of the podcast making process – like what kind of gear I use, or the creative side – like, where I get the inspiration for episodes, how I come up with ideas.

I’ve been meaning to do this episode for a while now and so finally I’m glad to have actually got round to doing it at last.

OK, so let’s talk about what goes into the making of episodes of this podcast – the whole process from me starting from scratch to you listening to the podcast and, if I’m doing it correctly, you learning some English and maybe even getting the giggles on a bus somewhere while people give you weird looks, if I have managed to amuse you at all.

Listen to the episode for all the details… the expressions with ‘get’ will be explained later.

Music created at www.jukedeck.com/

457. Conclusions about Language Learning from the David Crystal Interview (Part 2)

A follow-up to episode 455 consolidating the insights of Professor David Crystal including various pearls of wisdom about language learning.

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Notes & Transcriptions

Hamid
If English keeps taking on words from other languages, will it stop being English?
This is the story of English.
English is a vacuum cleaner of a language.
Something like 300-600 languages have influenced English with words. If you look at English today. Where are the germanic words? They’re only about 20%. The other 80% is from French, Spanish, latin and others.
There is no single dominating influence on English today.
How many Urdu words have gone into English? Maybe 100. But English has over 1,000,000 words. No new cluster of words coming in is going to come in all at once (tidal wave) they come in drip drip drip.
New words are assimilated to reflect a need – e.g. for new types of food.
This is no threat to English.
In fact it’s evidence of the power of English, that it absorbs so many other influences from other languages and cultures. It’s like the blob!

Jilmani
What’s the future of English?
Unpredictable! Absolutely an unanswerable question. You should never try to predict the future of a language. It’s all about events which just happen, e.g. the Norman invasion, Trump or Brexit.
Will Brexit reduce the influence of English in EU?
Not much. But it will change its character because it won’t be used by so many native speakers, so there will be more developments “Euro English” (I think it has emerged a bit).
But English will continue to change and diversify.

Jairo wants help managing the workload of studies.
Learning about language is a huge burden.
Learning about a language you have to learn about the history, society and events of the time to understand why people were using language in those particular ways.
What was it like to be an old norse speaker?
But most philologists don’t have a psycholinguistic background to their studies.
Philology can be a bit dry.
David prefers the socially aware approach to the history of language which doesn’t just ask “what happened and when” but “why?” – let’s explore the nature of the people who made it happen. This should ease the process.

Cat
English syntax – can you explain it?
Come on you’re asking for a book here!
English has a simple morphology compared with German (or French).
How many possible word endings are there for a verb in English?
The difference between English and German is morphological but also syntactic.
English and German are quite close. They only diverged 2000 years ago.
Word order is a bit different.
Everyone understood David when he went to Germany and spoke German with the wrong word order.
There aren’t that many differences, although the few differences are noticeable.
Cat, why are you worried about local areas of syntactic difference between English and German. Why has this become an issue?
It usually comes down to identity. German English (used by people who have learned it really well) still is distinctively German English.
The point is, don’t be too concerned about micro differences in syntax between your language and English. As long as we understand you that’s the main thing, although obviously style is important so I imagine you want to write in the style of a native speaker (but which one though!) You might have to accept that it’s important to find your own voice in English, which might be influenced a bit by who you are (it is your own voice after all) – which is someone who lives in Germany. That’s not to say your English can be totally different and like German with English words – that would probably be unintelligible and a bit ridiculous. But micro differences aren’t such a big deal.
Don’t sweat the small stuff, it’s just small stuff.

Wesley
Do people who speak different languages think differently?
It’s difficult to translate words sometimes because there are some words which don’t directly translate because there isn’t an equivalent word. 10-15% of the words might be untranslateable. But in Chinese it’s a lot more.
But when you do psycholinguistic experiments we discover that people can see the different concepts, but having those specific words makes it easier to talk about those things. You can see the colours but you might not have the language for describing it.
Different languages might not have the same word for something but it doesn’t mean they think about them any differently.
E.g. in English we don’t have a word for a certain thing in Japanese – natsukashii for example. But we find other ways of describing it. Ah, it takes me back or “good old” or “it feels nostalgic” or “it’s good to be back”.
So it doesn’t seem to be the case that languages affect or reflect different perception of the world.
*But I reckon there might be something to it Wesley. E.g. sense of humour, patterns of understatement, all contribute towards expressing a sardonic outlook on life (UK) rather than a direct attitude in the mediterranean for example.
The fallacy is that it’s words that translate, but it’s not it’s sentences. A group of words together are what hold meaning. So even if there’s no single word equivalent, you put some words together and make a sentence and that’s how the language transcribes.
“Snow that you use to build an igloo with” – he can still express that thing with a sentence and you can see that kind of snow.

Learn the vocabulary of a new language and you’ll see the cultural things that it reflects. It shows that to learn the language properly you should learn about the culture too – the mindset, the reference points and so on. You can see all those things too, but having certain words and expressions makes it easier to talk about them.
The result is that in languages it’s easier to talk about commonly occurring cultural phenomena because the language has the tools to do it, but people are all still basically the same, we might just take a bit longer to talk about a concept that in your language is very normal.

Mayumi
Why do Brits use indirect language?
It’s just a cultural difference. It’s the British temperament. The reason for that is hard to say. Maybe it’s because the UK is an island and the psychogeographic factors might affect that kind of language use.
Pragmatics – the study of why people are using specific bits of language.
Language norms reflect the cultural context – that’s the identity argument.
But why does the UK use this polite language? We don’t really know! You have to ask why British people want to be polite. (obviously it’s because we’re such nice people)
You just have to accept the cultural differences. Learn about them and accept them. “That’s who we are.” should be a good enough answer.
As ever, you must accept cultural differences. They’re not weird, they’re just different. It’s a good bit of advice for anyone coming into contact with another culture. You can speculate about why people behave the way they do, but ultimately you’ve just got to accept it and move on, like the way you often have to accept in English that “this is just what people say in this language” and that’s it.

Synchronic not diachronic method.

Wikipedia:
Synchrony and diachrony are two different and complementary viewpoints in linguistic analysis. A synchronic approach (from Greek συν- “together” and χρόνος “time”) considers a language at a moment in time without taking its history into account. Synchronic linguistics aims at describing a language at a specific point of time, usually the present. By contrast, a diachronic approach (from δια- “through” and χρόνος “time”) considers the development and evolution of a language through history. Historical linguistics is typically a diachronic study.

DC says we should use a synchronic approach to understanding these things – why is this particular person choosing to say it in this way, right now?
Some more modern dictionaries now contain essays about usage and pragmatics, which help us to identify how culture affects language. It’s worth reading the extra comments and information pages you find in many dictionaries.
Also, consider reading cultural guides as well as purely linguistic ones.

Antonio
Will AI replace the need for language learning?
Babel fish (Hitchhiker’s Guide)
In 100 years it’ll probably be perfect.
(I’ve seen auto subs have improved recently).
Imagine a situation where the babelfish is operating perfectly. It would solve lots of problems, but identity hasn’t been addressed. I still want to “be French” and the AI might not include those differences. People will still hold onto their languages in order to express their identity. It won’t affect language diversity.
But it might mean that AI might make the need for a global language redundant. Maybe AI will replace English. Why bother learning an international language?
But there are various answers to that – tech might let you down so people might not choose to constantly rely on it – some conditions in which there is no electricity.
Will AI manage to be perfect like a human, with the ability to translate with a view to expressing the culture?
Human translators choose between different competing nuances. I could say it this way, or this other way. We make those decisions based on complex social and psychological factors. A computer might not have that cultural sensitivity, maybe only in the long term.
The number of people learning languages might be reduced, but it’s also ignoring another factor in learning another language – the want to become aware of the culture, history and literature of the other language. There’s a personal satisfaction in learning another language and enjoy the pleasant things about it. People learn languages because they want to not because they need to. It’s a pleasure.
There are many reasons to want to continue to learn, it’s not just about intelligibility.
For the forseeable future he can’t see that it would be economically viable to create that technological solution for language when the traditional methods are the best way to foster relationships.

Jack – I don’t know where you come from.
First of all, David doesn’t mind being addressed in the Ali G dialect.
“Me” instead of “I”.
“Me wants to know…”
“I is well impressed…”
Subject verb agreement. “I is…”
“Booyakasha”
“It is a well big honour”
It’s quite a skill to be able to switch between registers. Sometimes we break the rules as a stylistic choice, like with the expression “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
It’s important to be able to switch between different styles and registers but you also have to know when it is appropriate to do it.
I’m not bothered by it in the comment section of my site, but you should be aware that some other people might find it weird or inappropriate, like for example if you write that in forums on other websites, in the comment section of Amber’s new podcast about Paris history, or in some business meeting. It’s going to seem really weird. So, you need to seriously think about the appropriacy of the things you’re doing and that means the style of English you’re using, or the decision to post dodgy pictures of cakes on my website.
Should the listeners learn the rules of grammar, or should they just focus on meaning, and let the rules look after themselves?
Both but in a structured sort of way.
In communicative teaching the structured side was a bit lost.
Just listening and working things out by being dropped in at the deep end is a bit of a big step – it takes a while.
It’s also important to do some structure work, but also to expose the learners to things that illustrate the language point being used in a functional way.
So it’s not just about form, but also about function and trying to balance the two.
So, as we’ve said before – do both. Some structured language work, combined with exposure in which you are really focused on following the meaning of what’s being communicated. Then probably some more reflection on the way it was done. Moving between grammar and pure meaning all the time. Juggling.

Back to the conversation with friends recently.

People get upset by failing standards in English.

Again, David doesn’t mind – as long as the language is intelligible then it’s a sign of changing identities – a sigh of the times.

Are we better at communicating than we used to be?

It is possible to measure, but not possible to give a simple answer. It depends on the situation.
Book: “The Gift of the Gab” How eloquence works.

Eloquence standards do vary from generation to generation, circumstances, individual to individual. E.g. Obama and Trump – differences in eloquence. Is Trump incoherent? Is Obama a better communicator? Some people say Trump is incoherent and inarticulate. But it’s not necessarily true considering Trump’s ability to communicate with his core voters.
People cite various things as examples of falling eloquence standards, e.g. using “like” but often these aren’t really examples of falling standards, it’s just a question of style.

How do we use “like”?
As long as it doesn’t get in the way, it’s just a question of style.
Again, people see language changes and they equate it with decline. It’s not.
Usually, people are giving examples of things that are just a different type of eloquence (again, change not death).

Trump’s English has a style with its own values. He avoids the rhetorical style of Obama with balanced, complex sentences. Trump uses everyday conversational strategies. “Look, believe me folks..” Every day conversational strategies. He doesn’t use carefully crafted sentences, he changes direction even mid sentence. These are all features of informal American speech.
Semantically it can be extremely difficult to understand what he really means. But adopting that style allows him to appeal to certain people.

These days he might have become a bit more formal, but during the campaign he was noticeably less formal and more colloquial than Clinton and the other candidates. As a result he clearly stood out from the crowd, during a climate of dissatisfaction with the traditional political class. People were fed up with the type of boring politician speaking in that boring old way. They thought they were out of touch with ordinary people, and part of a crooked system. Trump got in by presenting himself as an alternative to this established political system and the way he used English was a big part of that.

Thanks for listening! I hope that helps!

455. David Crystal Interview (Part 2) Questions from Listeners

Talking to the world’s top writer and lecturer on the English language, Professor David Crystal. In this episode, David answers questions from listeners.

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Episode Introduction

Here’s part two of my interview with the famous linguist Professor David Crystal.

In this one I asked him some questions from my listeners. I didn’t get a chance to ask all the questions I received, so if your question isn’t included then I do apologise. I left out some questions because I think he had already answered them in one way or another, or because we just didn’t have time.

But the questions I did ask him covered quite a wide range of different topics, including the way foreign words get absorbed into English, predictions for the future of English, how to deal with the workload of studying linguistics at university, the nature of English syntax, how languages affect the way we think and see the world, why British people use indirect and polite language, the influence of AI on language learning, the effects of Brexit on English in the world, whether it is appropriate to speak like Ali G, some study tips and some comments on the English of Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

Don’t forget to check out www.davidcrystal.com where you can see a reading list of David’s books, read his blog, see videos of him in action and even contact him by email.

I would just like to thank David for his time again, and I hope all of you out there in podcast land enjoy listening to our conversation.


QUESTIONS FROM LISTENERS

Influence of foreign languages on English

Hamid Naveed (Pakistan)
I’m an English language teacher. My question for David Crystal is: www.oald8.com (The Oxford Learners’ Dictionary) has a lot of new words from Urdu such as ‘ badam’ ‘ chai’ ‘ aloo’ ‘ bagh’ ‘ dharna’ and many more. If English keeps on taking words from Urdu or any other language, then what will be the future of English? I mean English will no longer be English. What is your take on this ? Thanks.

The Future

Jilmani
My question for David Crystal is what is the future of the English language? Will it be the same or will it be a little bit different since we know that english has changed over the decades?
How do you think English will develop over the next few years?
How will non-native speakers be part of this?

Tips for students of Linguistics

Jairo Trujillo García (from Tenerife)
I am studying an English and Spanish linguistics ( and philology ) degree , and even though I like it , it can be really hard at times ;
What recommendations would you give me to make the burden of vast information more manageable in the time allotted ?

English Syntax

Cat (Originally from Russia, moved to Germany)
I’m very confused about English syntax. I spent many years studying German grammar and syntax but it is of little use for learning English. German and English appear so similar (especially the words) and yet so different (for example, the sentence structure) at the same time. I just feel that something is completely different, but cannot point out the difference. Could you please tell us a little bit about the sentence structure and logic (the syntax) of English? (Perhaps you could compare it to the syntax of other languages)
As I don’t like doing grammar exercises at all (I’m sorry!), I was wondering, are there some more enjoyable and fun ways to learn English syntax? Maybe some shortcuts and mnemonics what you can offer us? Also what about the punctuation rules between the main and sub clauses? They can be a real pain in the neck for our transcribers. Thank you!
Cat

Language and Psychology

Wesley
I have several questions for Prof. David Crystal. The first is whether people who speak different languages think differently, I mean, if they understand and perceive the world in different ways. For example, I’ve heard that while in some places people perceive two colours and give each of them a name, somewhere else there might be others who perceive those same two colours as only one because they have only one name for them. Another example I have in mind is how we position adjectives in a sentence in English compared to in Romance languages. In English, adjectives usually come before the noun they describe. Romance languages, on the other hand, tend to place adjectives after the noun. So in English we first refer to the characteristics of something before we say what it is, and in Romance languages we start with a noun and then describe it. Does it affect, in any way, the way we think?
If we learn a second language, do we start to think more like the native speakers of that language?
Thank you very much!
Wesley

Language and culture

Mayumi (Japan)
Why do British people tend to use indirect language, hesitate to say “no” and also frequently say “sorry” in various situations? Is there any story from linguistic history?
In my Japanese culture, as far as I know we also find similar tendencies because we’ve lived in this tiny island and if people said whatever they wanted, behaved without caring about other people in this small area, or even argued with each other, they could possibly end up being expelled from this small society. This can be one of the reasons why we have these tendencies as well. This is something stuck in my mind for ages from the university class.
Did British people had similar experience when they established their culture or could it be an absolutely different story?
Cheers!

The Influence of Technology

Antonio (Spain)
My question for David Crystal: Apple, Google, Microsoft and other companies are working on translators in real time based on AI. So we can speak in Spanish with a French person and he will hear French while he speaks in French and we hear Spanish.
Skype has this option for 8 languages.
What do you think about about the AI related to language learning?
Will AI replace our need to learn other languages?

Advice for learners of English

Jack – Origin Unknown
(I don’t know why, but Jack always writes comments on my site in an Ali G dialect. I actually think it’s evidence of how good he is at English, because he can clearly write in normal style, but he chooses to adopt this specific form of English – if he can do that it shows great ability to shift between different registers and dialects – if he can break the rules I presume it means he knows that the rules are there in the first place – for some reason he chooses to write comments in this lingo – are you ready?)
I is not that learned but I also has got questions for Professor David Crystal.
Dear Sir,
Booyakasha, It is a well big honour to have you ere on da podcast, you is da only person me respects in the field of linguists after Norman Chomp The Sky and Stephen The Crasher (Naom Chomsky and Stephen Krashen).
What advice would you give to an English language learner to improve his / her language ability? Should the student focus on form (grammar, vocab etc) or should the student focus on meaning and let the subconscious do the rest?
Well that`s me questions there Big man. I has to say you is the shining crystal in the field of linguistics.
Big up yourself Prof Crystal
Respek, Westside.

 


Outtro

There was so much interesting content in what David Crystal said in this conversation and so much to take from it. These two episodes are really worth listening to several times so that you can really get a grip on what he said and really absorb it all.

If you sent in a question that I didn’t ask, then I’m sorry about that.
I should do follow-up episode in which I consolidate a lot of what DC said, and highlight various things that you can apply to your whole approach and attitude towards learning English.
Watch out for that.

Check out David’s work at www.davidcrystal.com
He’s got books about grammar, spelling, pronunciation, accents, Shakespeare – pretty much any aspect of English – he’s got it and he always writes in a clear and entertaining style.
I’m not selling his work or anything. It’s just genuinely good stuff that I’d like to share with you. This is why I’m so happy to have spoken to DC on the podcast – he’s ace and you should read his work.

Thanks for listening! I invite you to leave your comments below.

454. David Crystal Interview (Part 1) Professor of Linguistics

Talking about language with one of the world’s top linguists, Professor David Crystal.

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Introduction

Hello everyone, thank you for choosing to listen to this episode of my podcast. I am particularly pleased to be able to present this episode to you. It is, in fact, a privilege for me to say that today on the podcast I am talking to Professor David Crystal.

I’m now going to give a quick introduction just to make sure that you are all fully aware of the calibre of this guest and to emphasise to you just how lucky we are to have him on the podcast today.

According to The Guardian newspaper, David Crystal is the world’s foremost writer and lecturer on the English language.

He isn’t an English teacher, but he is an expert on linguistics. That’s the study of language and all the issues relating to it.

David Crystal

David Crystal has a worldwide reputation and has published something in the region of 120 books including numerous academic reference works and encyclopedias of language, and books for the general reader covering topics such as English grammar, spelling, punctuation, accents, connections to Shakespeare, the influence of technology and the development of language throughout history.

He is currently patron of the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) and the Association for Language Learning (ALL), president of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and the UK National Literacy Association, and honorary vice-president of both the Institute of Linguists and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.

He is honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales and in 1995 he was on the Queen’s honours list when he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (the OBE) for services to the English language. The OBE is the second highest honour which you can receive from The Queen – the highest being the knighthood or damehood.

So he’s Britain’s favourite language expert and he regularly makes appearances at literary festivals and teaching conferences, appears on British radio and television, writes articles for newspapers and magazines and researches all kinds of language-related topics.

But the main thing he does is to write books…

David’s Books

Some of his most popular books include:

  • The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language
  • The Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary
  • The Story of English in 100 Words
  • You Say Potato: The Story of English Accents (written with his son Ben)
  • Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist’s Guide to Britain (Written with his wife Hilary)
  • Txting: The Gr8 Db8
  • Pronouncing Shakespeare: The Globe Experiment – a fascinating project investigating how English was pronounced by the original actors in the Globe Theatre when Shakespeare was alive
  • Spell It Out: The Curious, Enthralling and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling
  • Just A Phrase I’m Going Through: My Life in Language (which is both his autobiography and a highly accessible introduction to the field of linguistics)
  • And from this year “Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar”

Many of those titles can be purchased as ebooks from David Crystal’s website – www.davidcrystal.com or from any good bookseller. There are also audiobook versions which are read out by the man himself.

David Crystal’s writing is clear, entertaining, informative and simply a pleasure to experience. The same can be said about his public speaking. I’m always impressed by his ability to take a complex academic subject like linguistics and turn it into the sort of thing that anyone can understand and enjoy.

I met David once at a teaching conference where he presented Andy Johnson and me with an award for a presentation we did. I had a chat with him afterwards and was delighted to discover how down-to-earth and friendly he is and I’ve always wanted to interview him for this podcast, but it’s only recently that I actually plucked up the courage to ask him. Thankfully he agreed.

David Crystal is a nothing short of a national treasure and I can’t believe I’m talking to him on my podcast.

Right – I think you get the idea now – he’s kind of a big deal for anyone interested in language and language teaching and so without further introduction, here is my conversation about language with Professor David Crystal.


Questions for David Crystal

Grammar

Your recent book from this year is called Making sense: the glamorous story of English grammar.

Is grammar really ‘glamourous’?

In my experience, a lot of learners of English feel a bit bored or intimidated by grammar, leading some teachers out there to say that you can learn English without grammar – learn English without thinking, etc.

Do you think it’s possible to learn English as a second language without studying grammar?
I know you’re not actually an English teacher, but do you have any tips for learners of English who want to improve their grammar?

You recently wrote a political history of grammar in the UK as a supplement to your book “Making Sense”.

What relationship does the average Brit have with grammar today, in your experience?
Has this attitude changed over the years? How has it changed?

Language Decline

I was recently having a conversation about language with a couple of friends on this podcast and we arrived at several questions that we couldn’t really answer. I thought you might be able to help.

People often complain about the so-called decline of the English language – citing things like poor grammar, punctuation, spelling, acronyms or text-speak as evidence that standards of English are slipping. Do you agree with that? Are standards of English declining? How do we even measure that?

People seem to be afraid that what they see as falling standards will result in “the death of the English language”. Has a language ever completely “died out” due to declining standards? What causes languages to die?

Are we better or worse at communicating than we used to be? (answered later)

‘Right’ and ‘Wrong’

Are you bothered by those so-called ‘errors’ in English that make some people angry?

Non-native speakers influence on English

My mate Paul says (as a bit of a joke) that because there are more non-native speakers of English in the world than native speakers, we’re actually the ones who are using the language incorrectly. E.g. because more Chinese people pronounce some English words in a certain way, it’s the native speakers who are pronouncing those words wrong.
Does he have a point or is he talking nonsense like he usually does?

French Pronunciation example

My French students often feel bad about their pronunciation because it’s so ‘French’. We understand everything that they say, but they’re really hung up on the fact that they sound so French – e.g. they can’t pronounce TH sounds in words like strengths, clothes, thirty three etc and it seems to be impossible to fix it.
Do they need to feel so bad about it?

How should my listeners feel about their relationship with English, and the version of English that they speak?


End of part 1

That’s the end of part 1. The conversation will continue in part 2 where you’ll hear me asking some questions sent in by listeners, and there were some really great questions including predictions about English in the future, the role of AI in language learning, the impact of Brexit on English in the world, and the way Donald Trump and Barack Obama use English.

I hope you’re enjoying listening to this, and that you’re able to follow some of the slightly complex points being made.

David gave so many really interesting answers and made some very important and useful points, and he continues to do that in part 2.

I think David speaks very clearly, with that slightly Welsh or Scouse twang in his voice. He lives in Hollyhead, in Northern Wales, not far from Liverpool, and he lived in Liverpool for a while as a child, which accounts for the slight accent that he has, if you noticed that.

As he said, his accent is a mix of different things, caused by the time he has spent living in different places and interacting with different people – RP speakers in the south east, locals in Wales and Liverpool and so on. It all contributes to the way he speaks. He also happens to be very articulate and I really admire the way he expresses his thoughts so clearly.

I hope you agree that we really are rather lucky to have David Crystal on the podcast and I think it’s worth listening to this episode several times so you can really absorb everything he’s saying because he really does know what he’s talking about and there’s a lot of knowlege there.

I think I should do a follow-up episode to this in which I just restate the main points that he made, just to consolidate it all, and I plan to do that. I could also talk about some of the questions which I didn’t have a chance to ask David.

I also hope you noticed that David Crystal helped to clear up some of the things I was discussing with Amber and Paul in episode 452. I should go over those things again if I do a follow-up episode, just to make it “crystal clear” – pun intended. I totally intended to make that joke and I think you should know it’s a brilliant joke which nobody has ever made before and this is sarcasm but it also isn’t.

Don’t forget to check out www.davidcrystal.com for all his work, his blog, videos of him speaking publicly and more information, including the opportunity to send him a message if you want to.

I strongly recommend getting some of his books, which should be available from any good bookseller. You could try “Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar” for example.

Also, don’t forget that you can get audiobook versions of his work.

For example, I listened to You Say Potato – the one about accents in the UK and I think the audiobook is better than the printed book because you can actually hear his son Ben doing all the accents. You could get that as part of a trial with Audible – and remember I have that deal with them – you can get a free audiobook if you go to www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke or click an audible logo on my site. They’ve got a lot of DC’s work there. Start a trial, download your audiobook, listen to it using the Audible app on your phone and you can cancel the membership and not pay anything, or continue your membership for about $15 dollars per month and get another free book next month and so on…

So, that’s the end of part 1. Part 2 should be available for you very soon and you can hear David answering questions from listeners, and that’s brilliant because the questions were very diverse and David Crystal answers them – what more do I need to say? I still can’t believe I spoke to him on the podcast. I need to contact other awesome people for interviews now I think.

Thank you very much for listening to this. Don’t forget to join the mailing list to keep up with every new episode and to get convenient access to the page for each one where you’ll find various bits of supporting information, transcriptions, links, videos and the comment section. Just visit teacherluke.co.uk and pop your email address in the subscription form and Bob’s your uncle.

I look forward to reading your comments in the comment section.

Reminders

LEPsters are still getting together and spending time socialising in English.
In Moscow there is a group that hangs out every Sunday. Their FB group is called “Conversational English for Free – Moscow LEP Club”. https://www.facebook.com/groups/734996946664425/

Also in St Petersburg there is a similar group which gets together on Sundays. You can find them on FB by searching for “SPB LEPsters Conversational Club” – I understand they have get togethers on Sundays. Kristina from Russia who won the LEP Anecdote Competition last year often takes part – friendly people, speaking English, playing games, hanging out. https://www.facebook.com/spbenglishLEPclub/

LEPsters in Tokyo have got together a number of times, and I attended one in April to do some stand up – you can hear all about that in my Trip to Japan episodes (part 2).

Also, recently a group got together in Prague in the Czech Republic – in fact you can hear their conversation because it was recorded and published on Zdenek’s English Podcast.

Again I’m flattered because they talked mainly about LEP – including, shock horror, their least favourite or “worst” episodes of the podcast.

Listen to both episodes below.

Also, if you’re in Spain I have heard rumour that there will be at least one meetup group getting together there, somewhere, sometime soon.

If you’re thinking of setting up something similar, let me know because I can publicise it on the podcast and get the word out.

Speak to you in the next episode!

Luke