Category Archives: Transcripts

614. Another Murder Mystery Detective Story (Part 3)

Here’s the conclusion of this online murder mystery text adventure game. Vocabulary is reviewed at the end. Video available for premium subscribers.

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Episode notes and transcriptions

Hello listeners and welcome to episode 614. In this episode I’m going to continue reading through this online text adventure that I started in episode 612. This should be the 3rd and final part of this murder mystery story.

You have to listen to parts 1 and 2 first before you listen to this. They are episodes 612 and 613. If you don’t listen to them first, none of this will make any sense, ok!

So I’m assuming you’ve heard those two parts.

Let’s just recap the story quickly.

We’re on the hunt for the killers of 3 prominent academics in London 1861. Intelligent and brilliant people keep turning up dead, completely naked and with their hearts torn out.

After lots of investigation by us (a brilliant Holmes-style detective) and our partner Mardler, we’ve worked out that the killings have been done by a weird religious cult that worships King Cobras and likes to eat the hearts of people as a way of absorbing their intelligence. So they’ve been preying on academics, scientists, surgeons, historians and so on.

We’ve managed to catch two of the principle murderers – a wealthy member of the upper-classes, a woman posing as a nurse in local hospital and now we are on the tracks of the main bad guy, an old man by the name of Lynch who we suspect is currently holding a French intellectual hostage with a plan to murder him and eat his heart in the next few hours. Earlier in the story we got shot and had to jump out of a window so we are nursing an injury and not at our full strength.

We’ve managed to track down Lynch to a house outside London and now we are about to enter the house and hopefully save the life of the French man and bring Lynch to justice. Let’s see what happens next and what kind of score I’m going to get at the end of this game!

I have a feeling that we’re getting close to the end of the story, based on how it’s going. I reckon this should be finished in the next 15-30 minutes, but we will see. If there is time in this episode I will go through a list of vocabulary items that I’ve picked up from the story.

By the way, there are videos for episodes 612, 613 and hopefully this one available for Premium subscribers. You can see me reading through the story, and there are also some bonus extras including a song in 613 part 2. Sign up to LEP premium at teacherluke.co.uk/premium

Right, let’s carry on then!

Word list

  • an acclaimed historian
  • the odour of varnish
  • a furrowed brow
  • a loner
  • Julian chuckles
  • I thought I had you for a minute
  • a raving lunatic
  • a bookmark
  • bags under your eyes
  • confident footsteps
  • a mutilated corpse
  • gutted like an animal
  • She has blisters on her left fingertips from the strings
  • Gray rummages through his desk drawer for a moment
  • Marilyn is taken aback
  • Marilyn hastily digs through her bag
  • her hand returns clutching two ticket stubs
  • This is a pretty good alibi, assuming we can hear from some witnesses that confirm her whereabouts
  • you don’t rule her out as a suspect entirely just yet
  • birch tree pollen
  • They got into a violent scuffle
  • scraping your palms on the hard road
  • You stumble back onto your feet and catch up with Mardler
  • sweat forming on your brow
  • sprint across the road
  • tripping on a discarded piece of garbage
  • Dilated pupils, bloody nose, hoarse voice
  • lurking at Hollowleaf Hospital, he’s trying to score some drugs
  • Dr Yates slumps down on the ground, defeated
  • Another dead end!
  • footprints on the floor
  • dried mud
  • following the faint footprints
  • a fist
  • a bruise on Julian’s face
  • The floorboards creak noisily as you walk over them
  • you tackle him to the ground
  • Most of the doctors and nurses have gone home for the night, but a few stragglers are left caring for the sick and wounded.
  • You wince in pain.
  • Your kneecap and head are throbbing.
  • a cane
  • Sorry I have to ambush you like this
  • gears turning
  • Crisp morning air fills your nostrils
  • You feel winded by the time you reach Palomer’s door
  • a shard of glass
  • Mardler ponders your theory.
  • He was brushing up on German translations when we saw him last
  • You limp into the shop
  • Quentin Lynch was cold and out of breath
  • Discerning detective

Previous detective episodes

338. A Murder Mystery Detective Story (Part 1 of 2)

339. A Murder Mystery Detective Story (Part 2)

425. Thompson, Taylor & Minogue: Victorian Detectives (Part 1) with Amber & Paul

426. Thompson, Taylor & Minogue: Victorian Detectives (Part 2) with Amber & Paul

612. Another Murder Mystery Detective Story (Part 1)

613. Another Murder Mystery Detective Story (Part 2)

612. Another Murder Mystery Detective Story (Part 1)

Listen to Luke investigating a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ detective story and read along if you like! Learn English in fun ways with stories on Luke’s English Podcast. Video available for premium subscribers.

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Episode notes and transcriptions

Hello folks and welcome to the podcast.

In this one I’m going to go through another online text adventure in order to try to solve a murder mystery set in Victorian London.

It’s been a while since I did one of these on the podcast.

Several times in the past I have read through online detective adventure stories written by Peter Carlson and available at textadventures.co.uk

There were episodes 338 & 339 (A Murder Mystery Detective Story) and episodes 425 and 426 (Victorian Detectives) in which I was joined by Amber in Paul. (links at the bottom)

These are based on stories and text adventures that you can find at textadventures.co.uk I usually use the ones done by Peter Carlson and in fact after recording the first one, Peter got in touch with me to tell me that he liked the way I did it and was welcome to use his other stories. So, kudos to Peter for being behind us on this one.

In the first episode I read through the story entitled Victorian Detective, and then second one was the sequel “Victorian Detective 2” and now we are on to the third instalment of the series, that’s right it’s “Victorian Detective 3”.

So the idea behind these text adventures is that you read through some text on a webpage and there are certain words highlighted which you can click on for extra information and every now and then you have to make a decision which can affect the way the story turns out. Each decision relies on your observational skills and your reading of the information provided. You have to be like a Sherlock Holmes style detective, or a text detective if you will, to work out the right choices based on the evidence you’ve read.

This sort of thing is great for learning English because you can do tons of reading with very specific goals each time. It’s online so you can check out new words when you come across them and the fact that you’re part of the story makes it extra engaging. You can also read along with me as I play the game, or play it on your own later. And if you do that, consider leaving a comment or review at textadvantures.co.uk thanking Peter Carlson for his work.

You can check out loads of these games at textadventures.co.uk and I’ll let you explore them in your own time.

Right, so what about Victorian Detective 3?

In this series we play the part of a brilliant detective who has skills similar to those of Sherlock Holmes. You have perfect memory, demonstrated by the fact that you can re-read any text so far. Your super fast decision making ability is represented by the unlimited time we have to make our choices in the game. And our vast knowledge is represented by the internet and we are encouraged to google any things we don’t know about.

As a detective we have a police partner that we work with called Mardler. He’s a bit like the Lestrade character in Sherlock Holmes in that he is a police officer who often gets things wrong and is a bit competitive with you. So Mardler is our partner.

So here’s how it’s going to go.

I’ll read through each section and read all the other peripheral info that you get by clicking on different words. I’ll explain things as we go if I think it’s all getting complicated. I’ll invite you to think about the right option each time and if you want you can read along with me by following the link on the website.

textadventures.co.uk/games/view/itwcu1_epk2b-azzulq6cw/victorian-detective-3

I have no idea how long this will take! It might be several episodes, we’ll see. I haven’t done the game before so I don’t know how long it will last. In this episode I think I’ll go for about an hour and then I’ll find a good place to pause the story. Some kind of cliffhanger would be good.

Your task is just to try and keep up with the story, perhaps think about each decision too. If I make a mistake at any point, jump into the comment section and explain your thoughts.

But mainly, just try to follow the story and I hope you find it interesting and enjoyable as a way to learn English through listening.

I’m slightly concerned that my reading of texts might distance you from the story slightly. I really want you to concentrate on imagining the surroundings of each scene. It helps if you really visualise each situation as you listen to it. Use any descriptive language you can find to help you paint a visual image of what you’re hearing in the story. This can make a big difference to your ability to keep up and to stay involved all the way through.

So for this story we’re in London in 1861. Victoria is on the throne. The American Civil War is breaking out in the USA. London is probably quite a dirty, smokey, foggy sort of place with some very upmarket areas and also some slums. People used horses and horse-drawn carriages to get around and do things. It’s the world of Sherlock Holmes basically.

Right, so without any further ado, let’s begin the story.

There’s a little bit of chess at the beginning and I admit that I’ve done this several times to get the right sequence of moves. QUEEN – PAWN – PAWN

Also, as we go through I’m picking up or losing points based on my decisions. I think it’s not possible to die in the game, but the outcome might be different and your score can be different each time.

textadventures.co.uk/games/view/itwcu1_epk2b-azzulq6cw/victorian-detective-3

Previous detective episodes

338. A Murder Mystery Detective Story (Part 1 of 2)

339. A Murder Mystery Detective Story (Part 2)

425. Thompson, Taylor & Minogue: Victorian Detectives (Part 1) with Amber & Paul

426. Thompson, Taylor & Minogue: Victorian Detectives (Part 2) with Amber & Paul

Word list coming in part 3…

591. London Native Speaker Interviews REVISITED (Part 1)

Revisiting a video I made for YouTube in 2009 and teaching you some descriptive and idiomatic vocabulary in the process. Transcripts and video available.

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Introduction

Hello, you’re listening to episode 591, which is called London Native Speaker Interviews Revisited Part 1.

The plan in this episode is to revisit some videos I recorded 10 years ago…

We’re going to listen to the audio from one of those videos and break it all down in order to help you understand everything word for word, teaching you some lovely, descriptive and idiomatic vocabulary in the process.

This episode is a bit of a flashback to 10 years ago when I first started doing the podcast.

What happened 10 years ago Luke, in 2009?
Ooh, all sorts of things happened, but one of them was that I went into central London armed with my video camera, an Oyster card and a question to ask some members of the public: What is London really like?

What is London like? = tell me about London, describe London

I interviewed people in the street and edited the footage into a series of 5 videos which I published on YouTube, and the videos actually did very well! Part 1 now has 1.6 million views. Part 2 has 1 million.

You might be thinking – are you rich because of those videos? Nope. Not at all. I didn’t monetise them until after they’d got most of their views, or I couldn’t monetise them because of some background music. Anyway, that’s another story for another time – how YouTubers make or don’t make money from their videos.

I also published the videos and their audio tracks as episodes of this podcast in 2009. Some of you will have heard them and seen those videos.

I thought that this time it would be interesting to revisit those videos on the podcast because there’s loads of English to learn from them. When I published them on the podcast in 2009 I just published them with no commentary from me. It was just the video/audio with transcripts on the website.

But this time I’m not just going to play them again. Instead I’m going to go through the audio from the first video and kind of break it down bit by bit, explaining bits of vocabulary and generally commenting on things as we go. This is going to be a bit like one of those director’s commentary tracks that you get on DVDs, but the focus is mainly going to be on highlighting certain items of vocabulary and bits of pronunciation/accent that come up in the videos.

*Luke mentions his Avengers Endgame Spoiler Review, which you can listen to in the LEP App (in the App-only episodes category).*

If you want to watch the original video that I’m talking about here, you’ll find it embedded on the page for this episode on my website (A script is also available), it’s also in the LEP App (with a script in the notes) which you can download free from the app store on your phone – just search for Luke’s English Podcast App and you can just find it on my YouTube channel, which is Luke’s English Podcast on YouTube. The video is called London Native Speaker Interviews Part 1, or maybe London Video Interviews Part 1 (website), London Interviews Part 1 in the app.

So, let’s now travel back in time to 2009 and revisit Native English Speaker Interviews Part 1.

The theme of the videos is London – what’s it really like to live there? What are the good and bad things about living there?

So there’s a lot of descriptive vocabulary for describing cities and life in cities.

Video script available here teacherluke.co.uk/2010/03/25/london-video-interviews-pt-1/

Definitions of some vocabulary and expressions

What’s London really like?
This question: “What is it like?” means “tell me about it” or “how is it?”. It does not mean: “What do you like about London?”
e.g. What is London like? – it’s busy
What do you like about it? – I like the theatres

It’s gone to the dogs = everything is much worse now than it was before

grimy = dirty

to recharge your batteries = to give yourself some energy, by doing something pleasant and stimulating

to shout someone down = to disagree with someone loudly in order to stop them talking

to take advantage of something = to use something good which is available to you

commuting = travelling from home to work every day

588. Punctuation Rules / Book Review (Part 2) Apostrophe, Full Stop, Comma

Part 2 of my episode about punctuation. This one covers punctuation rules for apostrophe, full stop and comma. Also you can hear the rest of my book review of Punctuation..?  by User Design. Transcript available below.

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Introduction

Hello there, you are listening to part 2 of this episode about punctuation. In the last one I talked generally about the importance of punctuation in various types of writing, described a book about pronunciation which has been sent to me for review by a publishing company and also I went through a list of punctuation symbols and described them so you know the names for a lot of the different punctuation marks available to you.

In this episode I’m going to actually teach you various punctuation rules relating to 3 big punctuation symbols.

So, I’m going to talk about how we use apostrophes and how to avoid certain common errors that actually make people’s blood boil, then I’ll give you some tips about full stops and commas. I’m also going to finish reviewing that book which I received in the post recently. It’s a punctuation guide and I’ll be giving my review of it.

Just before recording this I realised that there were some punctuation symbols which I didn’t mention in the last episode and I just want to say them now because you might not know the names we use in English for these symbols. These are ones we see on our computer keyboards and use quite a lot for various things like email addresses and stuff like that.

_ underscore

@ at mark 

& ampersand

# hash

* asterisk or star

Alright, now I’ve mentioned those, let’s carry on with this episode with my comments about apostrophes, full stops and commas and then the rest of my review of the book Punctuation..? by User Design.

Just a reminder – you can find a transcript on the page for this episode on my website so you can read along with me or skim the script later in order to check for any new words. There are also links for the book and some pictures too. Right, let’s carry on.


Some punctuation rules

I don’t have time to go through every single punctuation symbol and explain their rules so I’m just going to focus on a few thing. To get the rest you’ll need to get a copy of this book or one of the others on the market. Other books are available of course.

Also I should say that usually, these days I do this kind of language teaching in my premium episodes. This time I’ve chosen to include this in a free episode, but if you want more of this kind of thing – episodes where I focus specifically on teaching you language then check out my premium episodes and become a premium member at www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium

I’m going to deal with

  • The apostrophe (various uses)
  • Full stop vs dot vs point
  • Comma

I’ve chosen those because they’re really common and people, surprisingly, get them wrong quite a lot. Usually it’s learners of English who get full stops and commas wrong, and errors with apostrophes are common among native speakers. In fact errors with apostrophes make some people really angry. I’ll say more about that in a minute.

One thing to say here is that there is a certain amount of disagreement when it comes to punctuation rules. There isn’t a single agreed set of rules that everyone follows. Some things, yes, everyone agrees on, more or less. I think this includes certain basics like the rules of full stops and apostrophes. But for many other areas of punctuation there are always little points of disagreement, like for example some uses of the comma (The Oxford Comma debate comes to mind. I can’t go into that now though, because we’d be here all day! Just google it to get the full story, perhaps on a website like Grammarly).

www.grammarly.com/blog/what-is-the-oxford-comma-and-why-do-people-care-so-much-about-it/

So, be aware that there are some differences of opinion when it comes to style and the application of punctuation. The following information is correct as far as I’m concerned.

Apostrophe

This is not just a brilliant album by Frank Zappa, it’s also one of the most commonly used bits of punctuation, and this is a big one because people get it wrong all the time and it has a few different uses.

I’m paraphrasing from the Punctuation…? book here by the way.

Paraphrasing means taking information that you find in someone else’s work and then putting it into your own words, not copying it word for word, I mean changing the wording so that it’s not the same as before. In fact, paraphrasing really means reading someone’s words, understanding them and then writing the same concepts but using different wording.

Anyone writing essays at university should be well aware of the importance of paraphrasing so you don’t commit copyright infringement. This is a major issue these days because the internet allows people to copy & paste other people’s text so easily, but we shouldn’t do it. We shouldn’t pass off other people’s work as our own. I know that there are plenty of universities that are working on ways to seriously crack down on their students just ‘copy & pasting’ other people’s work into their own essays.

Having worked at a university here in Paris I have seen it done lots of times and I must say it really annoys me. It’s always blatantly obvious and, well, I just can’t stand it. For me the main examples were when I gave my university students presentation tasks to do and they literally just memorised a page from Wikipedia and then recited it to the class with absolutely no effort to even care about or think about what they were saying.

It just looks so terrible when people do that. It’s ok to take information from somewhere, just try to absorb it and then put it in your own words, and please, if you ever do a presentation at university or anywhere for that matter, just try to put some enthusiasm into your work, even if you’re worried about making errors in English. Sorry, I touched a nerve there in myself. Bad memories of some moments when I felt frustrated during my days of being an English teacher at university.

Anyway, for the record, I am paraphrasing the main points that are made by the Punctuation…? book here, with some other ideas of my own thrown in.

What’s the apostrophe?

Think about the title of my podcast – Luke’s English Podcast. There’s an apostrophe in it. L U K E apostrophe S. That one shows a possessive. It’s my podcast. Luke’s podcast.

What does it look like, Luke? (can you repeat that question? haha)

It’s like a little dot with a tail that hangs in the air just to the right of a letter. In the case of possessives, that’s just before the letter S at the end.

It’s for possessives, but also other things. Here’s a list of situations when we use apostrophes.

Possessives

We use apostrophes with singular and plural nouns to show that one thing possesses another thing.

Here are some examples of possessives with singular nouns, in this case Dave is the singular noun.

“That is Dave and that is his car, just over there. Yes, that car belongs to Dave. That is Dave’s car. This is not Dave’s car. This is my car. My car is small, but Dave’s car is really big, unnecessarily big, some might say. I don’t know why he’s been driving such a massive car around the city. Now, as you can see, Dave’s car has crashed into my car. My car is now completely smashed up and will have to be thrown away at the junk yard. Dave’s car on the other hand, is relatively undamaged. So, Dave’s car is fine, but mine is completely smashed up. These are my hands. And this is Dave’s throat. Yes. I am strangling Dave. In my mind.”

Sorry, I got a bit carried away there! Don’t worry folks. It’s just an example. I don’t have a car and none of that ever happened, and anyway Dave’s dead now so it’s fine.

Just kidding.

Anyway, you saw lots of examples of the possessive apostrophe being used there.

You know this already, right? You should do.

We use an apostrophe to show possession when we’re dealing with singular nouns, like Dave. Dave is a singular noun (he’s also a single man, girls, if you’re interested in men called Dave who have large cars but can’t drive them).

It also works for things too, not just people. For example, the word car. “That car’s windscreen is completely smashed, whereas this car’s windscreen is somehow undamaged.”

That’s singular nouns. What about plural nouns, Luke?

What if both cars had their windscreens smashed in the accident?

As you know, plural nouns in English have S at the end. One car, two cars.

So what if you’re talking about the windscreens of two cars?

So, to add possessive S to a plural word which already has an S at the end (like CARS), what do you do? Do you add ‘apostrophe + S’ like with singular nouns? So C A R S ‘ S?

Nope, you can just add the apostrophe to the end, without the final S.

So it’s C A R S ‘

These cars’ windscreens are both smashed.

To be honest, if we’re not talking about a person I’d probably find another way of putting it. I’d probably say

The windscreens on these two cars are smashed.

What about plural names? For example if you have more than one bloke called Dave. Two Daves.

Actually, it’s rare that you have possessive forms of plural names.

It’s just weird to say something like “Daves’ cars crashed into each other” meaning “Dave and Dave’s cars crashed into each other”.

The point is – for plural nouns, whatever they are – people or things, with possessives you can just add an apostrophe.

This is also true for names that end in S, like James, my brother’s name.

You can write James’ Room. That’s J A M E S ‘ R O O M.

I remember that one because when I was a child, my brother and I had separate rooms and we had little signs on our doors. Mine said “Luke’s Room” with an apostrophe after my name and then an S. James’ sign said “James’ Room” with an apostrophe and then no S. I sometimes wondered why they were different. It’s just because James’ name ends in an S.

Fascinating stuff this, isn’t it?

For names ending in S like this you can also just write James’s Room. J A M E S ‘S R O O M.

How do you say that? James’ / James’s —-> /jeimziz/

So actually, for names it can be S’ or S’S.

So that’s possessives for singular nouns, plural nouns with S and names ending in S.

But what about irregular nouns? I mean, nouns where the plural form isn’t made with an S, like “children”.

One child
Two children

Well, we just do the same thing as we do with a singular noun.

So, “The children’s toys are in the bedroom”.

Other examples are things like “Women’s rights”, “The people’s champion” or “The Men’s changing room”.

A common error with apostrophes (Using apostrophes for plurals – don’t do it folks!)

This is a mistake that makes some native speakers get really annoyed.

Sometimes in the UK you will see people use apostrophes just for normal plurals.

For example you might walk through a market and see a sign saying “Orange’s” or “Burger’s” or even “Fish & Chip’s”. Needless to say, there definitely shouldn’t be an apostrophe in those words. They’re just plurals of countable nouns. They’re not possessives and they’re not contractions of verbs.

Those kinds of errors are likely to make people’s blood boil!

If they know you’re a non-native speaker of English, that will make it a bit better, but still – don’t make the sort of mistakes that native speakers make, even if native-level English is what you’re looking for.

We’ll look at a couple of other common errors in a minute.

Apostrophes in contractions to indicate missing letters

Apostrophes are also used to let us know that some letters have been removed to make contracted forms.

Luke’s terrible improvised “joke” (?)
Just let us know when the letters have been moved from the lettuce.
(The words “let us” “letters” and “lettuce” sound really similar, that’s it. Terrible. Not even a joke.)

Apostrophes in contracted forms

Don’t → Do not
Doesn’t → Does not
I’ll → I will
Isn’t → Is not
Let’s → Let us
There’s → There is
You’re → You are

The book says that contracted forms are used for writing out speech, which is a good way of putting it. I’d add that these days we just use contracted forms in any kind of informal and neutral writing, but not in formal writing.

This use of apostrophes isn’t very complicated, is it? But it does cause one particular problem, which is it’s vs its

That’s the difference between the contracted form of it is and the possessive form of the pronoun it.

More common errors: It’s vs its

This is another thing that native speakers get wrong quite a lot.

Think of these two examples. Which ones should contain an apostrophe and which shouldn’t?

Obviously if you’re reading the script for this episode then you’ll be able to see the apostrophe with your eyes because it’s right there. But for those of you who are listening, in which sentence would you add an apostrophe after “it”?

  • It’s a lovely day today!
  • My phone has a crack on its screen.

I feel like I should join those sentences together to make one slightly sad sentence.

It’s a lovely day today, but my phone has a crack on its screen. :(

So, with an apostrophe “it’s” means “it is” or “it has” (like in present perfect).

Without an apostrophe it’s a possessive pronoun, just like my, your, our, their, his, her. My phone, your phone, our phones, their phones, his phone, her phone. None of them have apostrophes either.

We saw a lion and its paw was injured. (possessive pronoun)
Oh no, it’s (it has) injured its (possessive pronoun) paw!

Full stop (also called the ‘period’ in US English)

This one is really simple but it needs to be said because I’m surprised at how often I see missing full stops in students’ writing and also people using commas instead of full stops, incorrectly.

So I’m just going to say – put a full stop at the end of your sentence and a capital letter at the beginning of the sentence!

You don’t need a full stop if you have an exclamation mark or question mark.

How do you know when it’s a full stop and not a comma?
Well, if you’re using a new subject in a new clause without a conjunction (a joining word) to connect them, you need a full stop.

For example

I love cheese, but I can’t eat too much of it.
I love cheese. I can’t eat too much of it.

A basic example there, but there it is.

“Full stop” is a phrase that we use in spoken English to mean “And that’s the end of it! I am not discussing it any more” For example, “I don’t want to see any more smoking in front of the building, full stop!”

In US English they say “Period”.

“God damn it John. You’re a god damn maverick! I want your badge and your gun. You’re off this case. Period!”

“Full stop” is the phrase we use for the dot at the end of the sentence.

We also have other little dots in things like numbers and web addresses. What do we call them?

Dot

Use this in email addresses and websites. Teacherluke.co.uk

Also use it just to describe the shape – a small round mark is a dot, like on a pattered dress.

For example you might have a blue dress with white dots on it.

Also we use the word “dot” for the top part of the letter i or j and also to describe exclamation marks or question marks. It’s just the word we use for a tiny round mark.

Point

This is for numbers, meaning “decimal point”.

For example 3.14159 (Pie) Three point one four…
BBC headline: Women have 1.9 children on average, a record low – BBC News
One point nine children…

Comma

This is the most common punctuation mark in English. Basically, it’s used to make your writing clearer and to indicate some sort of pause in the rhythm of the sentence. We use them to separate items in a list.

For example, “Give me your clothes, your boots, your cigarettes, your Pokemon cards and your motorcycle”.

It’s also used when there is a change in the subject in your sentence. That’s something the Pronunciation…? book said and I think it’s really good.

For example

“I wanted to watch the new Avengers film, but Dave crashed into my car, so I couldn’t.”

There are more little uses of the comma, like the way they’re used in non-defining relative clauses or conditional sentences but to be honest I can’t go into all of those things now!

You’ll have to get a punctuation guide to get all the details.

Alright. This stuff can be hard to keep in your head, even when you already know it! That’s why you need a reference book to keep going back to. Explaining punctuation is not that easy, especially in an audio podcast, so why not use a book like this to save you the effort of working it all out for yourself, or doing loads of google searches and attempting to find consistent answers from different sources.

One thing I will say again is that there is some disagreement about the rules of punctuation and to an extent some of the application of punctuation symbols in your writing is a question of personal style and personal choice but some things are definitely right or wrong so the more you know the more control you’ll have and ultimately the better it will be for your English.

Book Review – Punctuation…? by User Design (continuing my review)

Punctuation..? by User Design (front and back covers)

There are a few books that explain punctuation that already exist on the market, but not that many that only deal with punctuation on its own.

Most of the time you’ll find punctuation guides inside other reference books like dictionaries (for example The Oxford English Dictionary) or grammar guides (like The Oxford A to Z of Grammar and Punctuation). As far as I can tell, the main book people buy when searching for a punctuation guide is The Penguin Guide to Punctuation. So, those things are the mainstream, well-known guides.

This book, “Punctuation…?” should be considered as an alternative.

So, let’s think about this book again. Remember how I described it to you earlier? Let’s go a bit deeper and I’ll give you my thoughts – both the negatives and positives.

I definitely like this book but I think it’s not 100% perfect. Let’s start with the negatives first. This is where I do some nit picking. Nit picking means making small criticisms or critical observations about something. Small criticisms that aren’t really all that important.
Well, perhaps some of these criticisms are important. We’ll see.

Negatives

The design aesthetic of this book is minimal, but it’s a bit too minimal in places, maybe. It doesn’t always give full reasons for some punctuation points and it feels like some things are lacking. For example, the page about colons. I had other questions which weren’t answered, like “Shouldn’t we put a capital letter after a colon? When do we use a capital letter after a colon and when do we not?” Those are questions which might be answered by more thorough and detailed punctuation guides or just by googling it. I sometimes feel there’s more to add, and I expect that in later editions of the book, if they publish them, there will be more details added, or at least I think there probably should be, without spoiling the minimal style of the whole book anyway.

So, yes, the book feels a little bit insubstantial, as if it needs more. For example, it could do with some pages of commentary, generally, about punctuation in general. The book covers each punctuation point succinctly and then it just ends. I would like some comments perhaps from the authors just explaining their process or perhaps giving some opinions about punctuation and style or something like that.

At first I thought that this feeling of “there’s something missing” was because of the minimal design with plenty of white space on the page and the cartoons which look quite sketchy, even if they are good fun. I thought it was just the effect of the design.

But in all honesty, it’s not just the way it looks, it’s also the content. Don’t get me wrong, the pages which are there are great and will definitely teach you good information about punctuation but it’s not really a full book. It’s more like a pamphlet, which is how it is described on Amazon.

The recommended retail price on the back of the book is £10, which is higher than other, more substantial books on punctuation which are available. I think that might be a bit of a sticking point for some customers. You’d expect the price to be a bit lower for the amount of content you’re getting.

Also, some of the examples are a bit weird, which can make them slightly confusing (“The snakes’ hisses”?)

Also, sometimes it’s not completely obvious to me what the connection is between the illustration and the punctuation point being explained. This makes it feel a bit like the pictures aren’t all that helpful beyond just creating a fun atmosphere – but is that what people want when using a punctuation reference guide? By all means, use humour and fun. Of course I believe in that strongly. I think it’s really important to help people to enjoy learning stuff like this but I also think that the fun stuff should be performing a function too and in this case some of the pictures don’t seem to make things clearer, some of them just seem a bit odd.

They’re idiosyncratic which is cool, but not always that helpful, and they might just make the guide somehow less serious, which I think is something people look for in a guide like this. Am I repeating myself? Probably.

This book is after my own heart. dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/after-your-own-heart

In summary, it might lack the seriousness and full commentary that some people expect from this kind of book at this kind of price, even though I like it.

Positives

One of the good things about this book is that it’s just a nice product to own. The paper it’s printed on is nice and thick and feels pleasant to touch. It has a pleasant-looking minimal design. The illustrations are quite fun and give the book more personality than your average dictionary or style guide. Also it would be more appropriate for young people I guess, or people who just want a bit more fun. It’s quite a good coffee table book, which makes it sound frivolous, but it is the sort of book you can enjoy flicking through, picking up some tidbits about punctuation that you might have always wondered about.

The explanations are short enough for you to digest quite easily. For example, there’s pretty much one rule or point per page. Punctuation rules can get pretty complicated but this book does a good job of reducing superfluous information. It gets straight to the point and as a result is very useful.

I said before that the book could do with some more commentary, like perhaps an introduction or conclusion, but on the other hand this book’s minimal approach makes it very accessible.

You will definitely learn things about punctuation by reading this book. Sometimes, very detailed language reference books become impenetrable because there’s so much information to sift through. Not with this book. They keep it short and simple.

Because it’s quite fun and a bit different while also being useful, I think it would be a good gift. You might not choose it in the bookshop if you want a no-nonsense language reference book, but you’d probably be happy to receive it as a present. I actually really like the book and I’m glad I have a copy. I learned a thing or two from reading it and it’s good to see some originality in this kind of reference work.

But it depends on the person I think. Some people might like this book because they will think it is a case of “Less is more”. I mean, some people will like the minimal style, will find the illustrations fun and will appreciate a more light-hearted feel but there are bound to be others who would just like more information, presented more seriously, please.

On the whole, I like the book. It’s original and quirky while also being useful and clear. It might not be the serious reference book that some people are looking for, but the information inside can definitely help you understand and improve your use of punctuation and ultimately that’s the main thing.

What did my wife think?

This morning I was having breakfast with my wife and the book was lying on the table. I pushed the book towards my wife and said, “what do you think of this book? Just give me your first impressions.” She said “I really like the pictures. I love this sort of thing. It looks really useful.” We agreed that it was actually a really cool book.

So if you’re looking for an alternative book about punctuation which has a more fun approach, get this book – either for you or as a gift. I think it’s particularly good as a gift for someone with a bit of a sense of humour, who is curious about punctuation and who also wants to be able to write more clearly.

The book seems to be available from all good bookshops including the main online retailers, certainly the ones which are well-known in the UK.

LINKS

User Design Website https://www.userdesignillustrationandtypesetting.com

Their books www.userdesignillustrationandtypesetting.com/books

The page for Punctuation…? Includes all the relevant information, including how to get the book www.userdesignillustrationandtypesetting.com/books/punctuation/index.html

Ending

I’d like to say thanks to User Design for sending me the book, and thanks to everyone out there for listening to this!

Owning a book on punctuation is a great idea. If you actually use it, you will see a definite improvement in your awareness of punctuation, which feeds into an overall sense of how you need to be clear when communicating, particularly in your writing.

So, I do recommend getting a punctuation reference book. Either this one, for the reasons I’ve given, or another one if this book isn’t your cup of tea.

586. The Importance of Listening

Recently I was reading a book about listening and learning English. This episode is a summary of what I read, including details of how listening fits in with learning English, some considerations of the importance of listening and also some tips for how to improve your English with audio.

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Episode Transcript

This episode is all about the importance of listening in the learning of English. It’s full of various thoughts and reflections about this topic and my aim to a large extent is to give you ideas and inspiration to help you keep learning through listening and to keep doing it more effectively, also to consider some things we know about learning through listening, to encourage you to reflect and form some metacognitive strategies towards your listening and also to give you some practical tips to help you learn English through listening and to improve your listening skills. I suppose ultimately I’d like to develop your process of understanding the place of listening in your learning so that you can take more and more responsibility for that learning. So that’s what this episode is all about. It’s quite appropriate I suppose considering this is an audio podcast for learners of English and you’re listening to this as a way to improve your English through listening, it’s worth taking time to think about the academic points on this subject.

Before we start I just want to say to any premium subscribers that I’ve got a series of episodes probably coming out next week all about grammar, focusing on tenses. We’ll be looking mainly at present perfect, but also comparing it to other tenses. So it’ll be a sort of tense review, focusing mainly on present perfect. There’s also going to be a series about the language which came up in my conversation with James that you heard on the podcast earlier in the year. So, grammar stuff coming next week and vocabulary later. If you want to get access to that stuff and all the other premium content go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium

Recently I was thumbing through some books at work. One of the books was a copy of Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom by Tricia Hedge, which is something of a bible for English teachers. A lot of teachers use this book during their DELTA and CELTA courses as it is absolutely filled with insights about language teaching and learning, all based on academic studies done over the years. It is a great book and covers most aspects of the work of an English teacher, including how people learn English and how, accordingly, English teachers should adapt their teaching methods.

I remember reading the book intensely while taking my DELTA. You heard me talking about the DELTA course with Zdenek earlier this year.

So I remember reading the book very thoroughly when I was doing my DELTA. Can you believe it, that was 13 years ago! It stuns me to imagine that it was so long ago. Anyway, during that time, when I was taking the DELTA and I had nothing else going on in my life – I used to work, come home from work, make myself tea and then retire to my bedroom where I would listen to ambient music and desperately try to focus on my work without getting distracted by absolutely everything in the universe! Because, somehow, when you’re working – everything becomes a major distraction. Anyway, one of the books I used to pour over was this one. I had loads of post-it notes marking various important pages.

Anyway, the other day I was at work and I noticed the very same book on the shelf, so I picked it up and started thumbing through it. 13 years later my situation has changed a bit. These days I’m doing this podcast and the majority of the people I am essentially teaching English to are not in the same room as me, they’re not even in the same country and in fact the only way I can communicate with them is through the medium of audio. I can also write things and post pics and videos on the website, but most of my audience don’t check the website – only about 10% actually go to the page.

Anyway, the point is – it’s now all about listening, which is amazing.

One of my aims in the beginning was to get people listening more, and it’s working. I have always thought listening to English must be an essential way to learn the language. It’s got to be a vital part of the learning process, surely. It’s like music – there’s music theory, music technique and all that, but for most musicians the best way to learn how to play well is to listen to plenty of music, and to practise every day. Listening probably comes first, right? Then it’s a question of practice x 5 and trying to replicate what you’re hearing. But first you have to get to know what music can sound like and to hear the way it is produced. When I first learned to play the drums I became obsessed with listening to my favourite drummers, who were: Mitch Mitchell, Stuart Copeland and Ringo Starr. Playing the drums at the beginning gave me a sense of how the music was produced, so I could listen to those songs and hear what the drummers were doing. I knew how they were doing it – which parts of the kit they were hitting, how those sounds were made. It was all a question of practising until I could do it too. In most cases I couldn’t replicate what they were doing (except in the case of Ringo!) but in practising like that I developed my own style, my own ease, my own technique and ultimately I was able to do things on the drums, play the kinds of beats I wanted to play, fit in with a band in the way I wanted. Obviously, listening was vital. It sounds ridiculous, obvious, right? To learn music, you must listen to it a lot – pay attention to how it all works. It’s the same thing with learning a language.

Obviously there are differences – the thing about music is that you understand it from birth without having to learn it first, right? It’s just something you feel. But anyway, I think the point still stands – that listening is a vital part of the learning process, just like it is with music.

So, back to the book. Now I’m interested in listening and I’m interested in what Tricia Hedge has to say on the subject of listening. So when I had the book in my hands, I flicked straight to the sections about listening and I made a note of what I found there.

In this episode I’m going to explain some of the things I’ve read and reflect on them.

Academics often write that listening is overlooked in ELT

Think about the average English lesson. Most of the time is spent on other language skills and language systems.

Listening is one of the 4 Skills

It is one of the 4 skills and it is a very important part of Cambridge Exams such as FCE, CAE and IELTS. Those exams give equal weight to the 4 skills, so listening is 25% of the whole exam. Is 25% of your study time in class devoted to listening?

We don’t do much listening in class

The majority of classroom work is devoted to other things, probably speaking and writing skills, grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. I totally understand why. I wouldn’t spend all my time doing listening in my English classes. It wouldn’t make sense to get a bunch of learners of English together and just make them do only listening. Class time should be spent on other things, like communication skills, speaking and remedial work by the teacher.

We often listen to scripted listenings in class

Listening is in a lot of course books but the focus still seems to be on scripted dialogues which are designed specifically to present certain language, such as vocab or grammar. There just isn’t time to do extended listening, using unscripted dialogues that don’t follow a pre-planned agenda, but this is the sort of thing people need to practise listening to. Normal speech, which is a bit random, contains things like sentences that don’t end, false starts, moments when people talk over each other, moments of humour or spontaneous reactions and tangents in the conversation. So, real listening is overlooked.

Listening is vitally important in everyday life

The majority of interactions you will have will involve you speaking to a person, and it’s so important to be reactive to what they’re saying, and this relies on your ability to quickly follow what’s being said. It’s like fluency in a way – being able to follow fluid speech without thinking about it too much. That’s very important, of course.

Listening is linked to pronunciation and speaking

Raising your listening skills means raising your awareness of the connection between the written word and the spoken word – meaning that a good listener is able to recognise English as an oral language and this means being able to decode connected speech, elision of sounds, weak forms, how meaning is expressed through intonation and sentence stress. Getting good at listening means getting to know English as a spoken language. This in turn should help you make your English more natural, rather than just a version of the written language which comes out of your mouth, and that is a big problem. When I listen to learners of English (and I have met many thousands of them over the years) it’s amazing how often their mistakes are a consequence of them essentially speaking English as it looks when it’s written down. So many learners of English got to know English as a written language, to the point that the spoken version is so foreign to them that it’s almost like another language.

How much communication time do we spend on listening?

How much time do we spend on listening, when we communicate, compared to the other 3 skills? Research has been done into communication in English, focusing on the average time spent on the different skills of writing, reading, speaking and listening. How much time, on average, do we spend writing, reading, speaking and listening when we are communicating? The research shows that 9 per cent of communication time is devoted to writing, 16 per cent to reading, 30 per cent to speaking and 45 per cent to listening. (Rivers & Temperley 1978, Oxford 1993, Celce-Murcia 1995). There’s no doubt then that listening is really important and is perhaps the first thing you must master when you’re learning the language, followed by speaking. That’s if we decide that time spent during communication is the most important factor. Of course it depends on your situation. Maybe you work in an office and you have to write a lot of emails in English but you never speak it. I guess for you, writing would be the most important thing. But anyway, the numbers speak for themselves. We seem to spend most of our time listening. But we don’t spend most of our learning time on listening. The result is that when we are learning, we focus on learning words, learning structures and so on, but when we actually interact with the spoken version of the language, it all seems totally weird because the way we deliver those words and structures with our mouths often bears no relation to the English we have become familiar with during our studies.

Listening will be more and more important

Listening will only get more important. It’s almost definitely true that society in general is moving away from print media towards sound, so listening has become and continues to become more and more important as we move forward. Much more of our information comes through audio than ever before. With the internet a lot of the news we’re exposed to on social media is small video clips, we send each other audio messages, talk via Skype, FaceTime or WhatsApp, there are frequent audio and video conferences at work, we have a plethora of podcasts available to us and much more than ever we are tapping into entertainment on a global level with platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime where there are loads of English language TV programmes in the original language version, perhaps with subtitles in your language. The internet has allowed us to use listening as the primary source of information transfer today. So, listening is more and more important all the time.

How do people learn English through listening?

But what do we know about how people can learn English from listening? How does this affect the way I can produce LEP and how my listeners can consume LEP?

Input vs intake

Comprehensible input

This is part of the theory of language acquisition which is very popular. The principle is that if learners listen to English which is understandable but slightly higher than their level, and they focus on understanding the message within a meaningful context, that they can then pick up the language as a by-product of the process. This is good news for LEPsters. It means that you can pick up the language from my episodes by listening carefully to the main message being communicated. By interacting with English like this, you’re just naturally exposed to language and learn the functions of phrases and grammar through context. The argument is that you learn a language when you can understand it, and the process of getting to fluent speech comes first through a lot of exposure to the language, at the right level. It’s important that you understand most of what you hear, and that allows you to learn the new things you are hearing.

Intake

This is the principle that people only learn from the bits which are genuinely important to them. Learners won’t learn everything they hear. They’ll be selective, based on their own personal motivations. For whatever reason, each person will value certain parts of the listening content more than others. This is the stuff they’ll really learn. This means, there are certain things that will make the listeners prick up their ears, and a lot of that is based on the preconceptions of the listeners, their values and so on. For example, learners might believe that they can only learn from an authority figure like a teacher, and therefore their words will carry more value and will become part of the intake. On the other hand, words spoken by someone they don’t respect will just go in one ear and out the other side. It’s not just respect of course. It could be other things. E.g. if a listener is an engineer, they’re naturally going to be more motivated towards the language of engineering. What this means for my podcast is that I have to constantly think of ways to keep you engaged in order to turn most of the listening input into intake. It also means trying to cover a wide range of topics, which I try to do. But I also think it’s something to do with being personable, real and relatable while talking. I try to always address my listeners and think about what it’s like for you and hopefully this keeps you focused, which is good for your English.

The point is that the language should be understandable yet not without challenge, and the content should be presented as valuable but with the understanding that you can’t please everyone all the time – that each individual brings their own personal motivation to the listening experience, which means that different parts are valuable to different people. Each person will focus their attention on slightly different parts based on their feelings and attitudes.

What can I do on LEP?

What I can try to do is make each individual feel personally involved, in any way I can. I believe this is done best when I address the listener directly and sometimes avoid speaking from a script. It’s more human and engaging to talk ‘off the cuff’. Also I should keep the topics varied and also have a variety of people on the podcast.

Why listening is more difficult than reading

The language is transient – I mean, the words are only audible for a moment before they disappear. You can’t normally go back and listen again, unlike when reading when you can simply read the sentence again or scan the text to find something again. Listening comes and goes into the ether very quickly. You need to learn to think in a slightly different way and get used to interacting with the listening text by remembering what is being said, predicting what’s going to come next, and so on.

The written word has a standardised spelling system which everyone more or less follows. Also there are gaps between words on the page, and punctuation to show when one sentence begins and ends etc. With listening you don’t get any of these things. It’s not standardised like writing. You’re dealing with a lot of diversity in terms of accent and different ways the language can sound (and English is an extremely diverse language in which there are many, equally valid, versions of the spoken word).

What can you do?

It’s important to bridge the gap between the spoken version of the language and the written version. One way to do this is to do plenty of listening and reading, so that you’re familiar with the conventions of both versions of the language, but also there are other things you can do.

  • Listen and read at the same time
  • Dictation or listen + repeat dictations (use audio with a script)
    This allows you to turn an interconnected stream of sounds into sentences, words, syllables, phonemes.
    I’ve talked about this on the podcast before and I will no doubt talk about it again because I think it’s a great technique and in fact I’ve been working on some content which is designed specifically for this technique. Basically, listen to some audio, repeat what you hear bit by bit, then compare it to the script. You can then do things like use a pen to mark emphasis, intonation, connected speech, pauses on the script, then record yourself reading out the script, then try and replicate the main ideas without reading (it doesn’t matter if you say it differently – it’s not a memory test, you just have to communicate the main ideas in your own voice – and you might find that you remember some of the lines that you repeated before. You can also try writing down what you’re hearing and comparing that to the script as well. All of it can help you turn fluent speech into individual words, phrases and sentences, helping you work on pronunciation and speaking skills too.
  • Engage with the subject, not just the language. We know that we tend to understand what we hear more when we are engaged in the subject. This means that you should think about the topic being talked about and perhaps predict some of the things we’re going to hear. Basically, before you listen to something, just take a moment to make sure you are intellectually and perhaps emotionally engaged in that subject. Find some way to relate it to yourself personally. Use your imagination to picture the whole subject, issues relating to it and the things which might be said. We know that this helps you to listen more accurately, rather than just going straight into the listening, cold.
  • Learn the phonetic chart and practise it. Get an app, like Sounds or Sounds Right by the British Council. Do all the exercises, learn the phonetic alphabet. These are the basic building blocks of English and can really help you to break down, recognise and replicate sounds, words and so on.
  • When you’re repeating, pay attention to the emphasis. Which word in a sentence is being emphasised? Why? When you repeat, try to say the whole sentence like a word with the emphasis on the same part that you heard it. This can help you not only learn good sentence stress (which arguably is the most important factor in pronunciation) but also can help you identify the key information when you are listening.
  • Listen to a variety of things. Different genres of audio tend to follow their own “macro-script”, meaning that they follow the same kinds of conventions. For example, listening to the news you’ll notice certain things they always say, certain things that they only do on the news. Sports reports have their own characteristics, political speeches have their own style, a radio drama sounds unmistakably like a radio drama, an academic lecture sounds like an academic lecture, etc. You’ve got to get used to recognising certain conventions of different types of audio recording. So listen to a variety of audio.
  • But also, listen to the same thing again and again. Listen to your favourite English podcast every day for a month. You should wait about a month before you make a judgement. Listening to just one episode isn’t going to make a huge difference. Listening to many episodes, regularly, over a longer period – this is what makes the difference. It is a compound effect and to an extent it’s not even noticeable, but keep it up! This is one of the main issues today. People want instant, measurable results, but the reality is that language learning occurs over time and is sometimes not noticable. It sort of happens under the surface. But you have to be in it to win it. If you don’t use it you lose it. So keep listening every day for at least a month, then you’ll see that suddenly you can understand more and more and a whole new world of English can open up for you.
  • Listen to things you enjoy and are really motivated to hear. This helps turn input into intake.
  • Listen several times.
  • Don’t assume that movies and TV series are the best things to listen to. They tend to focus on visuals first. There’s music and other sound effects which actually get in the way. Sometimes dialogue is so naturalistic that it’s kind of impossible to follow. Often I can’t actually hear what’s being said in movies. Audio podcasts are probably better because they’re made for you, and you can just focus on the English exclusively. But, of course, if you like watching films in English don’t let me stop you. If you’re a big fan of the MCU for example – go ahead and watch Avengers: Endgame in English, twice!
  • Watch out for subtitles. Watching Netflix with English subtitles is something that everyone assumes is a great idea, and it is good. You can read what you’re hearing, notice the way the written language is expressed in speaking, you can pick up new words and phrases and so on. But for working on listening skills alone, it’s important to try some other ideas. For example, try to spend time listening without subtitles, then rewind and listen to that section again with subtitles and see what you’ve understood. Use subtitles or scripts after you’ve listened, in order to identify which bits you got and which bits you didn’t. But don’t get too used to always having subtitles when you listen, because this means you don’t develop proper listening skills. Also, don’t feel you always have to have the subtitles on or off. Switch between having them on, having them off, watching scenes several times with and without subtitles. Good learners of English actively use TV and films and think outside of the box a bit. It’s not just a case of switching Netflix to English and then just relaxing on your sofa.

Another thing is this – if you listen to podcasts a lot, then you’re immediately pushing yourself ahead of your peers who don’t do this. Think of the advantage you’re getting over other people who just don’t do any listening.

Motivation, reducing anxiety and building confidence. Listening a lot can really help you with these things, because you become friends with the spoken word. Imagine if you’re a regular and long term LEPster and you have to do a listening test. While other people are probably panicking because listening is a nightmare for them, for you it’s like you’re entering your comfort zone. Make listening your friend. Get to know the spoken version of the language and get a leg up on the competition.

So finally, the points are…

  • Listen a lot! Yey! This is probably good news because if you’re a regular listener to this podcast you just need to keep going! Keep it up!
  • Listen to various things. I’ll try and keep it varied here, but consider checking out some other things. Check out BBC podcasts on different subjects and shop around a bit.
  • Use some techniques, like listening and repeating audio that has a script and learning the phonemic script.
  • But ultimately, just relax and enjoy the process! Take time to reflect personally on what you’re listening to and enjoy yourselves!

I am sure that many of you have some interesting things to add here – either stories of how you’ve improved your English through listening, or specific things that you do relating to learning through listening. So please, add your comments under this episode. Your input is extremely valuable because as well as all these academic studies that underpin many of the things in this episode, it’s the testimony and personal experience of people who have learned English to a decent level that is what counts. So, please, tell us your stories, give us your thoughts regarding learning through listening.

And thank you for listening to this!

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Let me know your thoughts and experiences of learning English through listening. Leave a comment below.

583. British Comedy: The Dirty Fork / Restaurant Sketch (Monty Python)

Analysing the English in a sketch by Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and considering British communication style relating to apologising, making complaints and minimising language.

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Introduction

Luke rambles about folding seats on public transport, the spring equinox, saying goodbye to winter and the recent posh or not posh episodes.

Here’s another British comedy episode.

We’re going to listen to a comedy sketch by Monty Python.

This time we’re looking at British manners, politeness, communication style and just some madcap comedy too.

Similar episodes in the past have been things like my episode about British communication style (What Brits Say vs What They Mean), What is this British comedy? How to learn English with comedy TV series, and the episodes I’ve done about Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

We’re going to listen to a clip from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and also consider the cultural values behind the sketch, and how that relates to things like making complaints, saying sorry and making requests.

So, cultural stuff and also linguistic stuff too.

Buy the DVD Box Set for Monty Python

Check out the Monty Python YouTube channel where a lot of their content is available free

Intro to the sketch

There’s quite a well-known series of postcards called the How to be British Collection. You might have seen them. They contain little cartoons illustrating life in England from the point of view of learners of English. There are some classic sketches in that collection.

The “How to be British collection” #8 – Being Polite (c) IGP Cards – Buy the books on Amazon here.

One of them is called “Lesson 16 – How to complain”.

It shows a couple in a restaurant, in England we imagine. They don’t look happy with the food. The man says “This meat is as tough as old boots” and the woman says “It tastes off. And these vegetables are cold.” (some nice vocab in there already)

In the next frame the man says “this wine is awful – I asked for dry and they’ve given us sweet.” and she says “and look, there’s a worm in my side salad…”

Ah, a typical English restaurant.

Then the waiter comes over and says “How is your meal? Is everything all right?”

Now, what would you say in that situation? How would you respond? Would you complain? How would you do it?

Well, in the sketch, after the waiter says “Is everything all right?” the man says “Oh yes. It’s all lovely!” and the woman says “Excellent, thank you!”

8

www.lgpcards.com/index.html

Hmm…

The point here is that British or English people avoid saying the bad thing, making the complaint, because they’re too polite and don’t like to cause a problem, so they say it’s all fine.

Is this a stereotype of English communication style? Partly. As we’ve seen before.

What would I say?

I would say that the food was no good, especially the part about the worm. Obviously those extreme details are added for comic effect, like a worm in the salad. But if my food was just not up to scratch, would I complain? I probably wouldn’t complain if it was something minor, but a big thing would be an issue, but what’s definitely true is that I don’t like getting into a situation of conflict or confrontation and so I would probably be very reasonable about my complaint. My wife is more direct about these things. She’s French. We often notice a big difference in the way we deal with things like this. She’s much more direct about making a complaint and getting what she feels she is entitled to. For some reason it’s more difficult for me. I don’t like getting into those confrontations. Is this just me, or is this British people in general? I think it’s a bit of both. I’m perhaps not the confrontational kind, but also Brits are like that too, more than other nations, as far as I can tell.

Of course there are plenty of British people who complain vociferously if there’s a problem, a lot of Brits (certainly English people) will avoid an awkward situation if they feel that nothing can be done about it.

Why do people want to avoid confrontation? What’s the worst that could happen?

Let’s find out in this sketch.

The Dirty Fork Sketch

Listen to the sketch – just try to understand what’s going on. It’ll help if you watch the video because there are a couple of visual elements, but if you don’t watch it – just try to work out the details. Essentially, you’ll hear a couple in a French restaurant. They have a problem, and then they are visited at the table by various members of the restaurant staff including the waiter, the head waiter, the manager and finally the chef from the kitchen.

Let’s listen to it and see if you can work out what’s going on. Then I’ll break it down for you so you understand it just like a native speaker.

Bonus: Watch out for the punchline at the end.

Summary
A man and woman are in a fancy restaurant. The French waiter is very keen to make their stay satisfying. The man asks for another fork because his is a little bit dirty. The reaction of the waiter is extreme. he apologises profusely. He fetches the head waiter who comes to apologise. He makes over the top apologies. The restaurant manager comes out and his apology is serious and dramatic. Finally the chef comes out. He’s a huge angry man with a meat cleaver. He’s furious with the customers because they made a complaint which has caused so much sorrow to the staff of the restaurant. He shouts revenge as he tries to kill them.

The punchline?
“Lucky I didn’t tell them about the dirty knife!”

The main point is
I think this sketch is making fun of people who keep quiet about little complaints or use language to minimise problems, because they’re scared about making a fuss. This seems to be what they imagine could happen if they point out a problem. This is the worst nightmare of every British person who awkwardly makes a complaint. They’re terrified of making a fuss or causing a scene.

Minimising language

It’s not “I’ve got a dirty fork”, it’s “I’ve got a bit of a dirty fork”.

It’s ridiculous really – either you’ve got a fork or not. You can’t have a bit of a fork. Your fork can be a bit dirty, but it’s a bit silly to say “I’ve got a bit of a dirty fork”. However, this kind of minimising language is very common when people want to make something sound less serious than it is.

E.g. 1 “We’ve got a bit of a dirty table. Could you give it a bit of a wipe for us please?”

E.g. 2 Imagine someone announcing to someone that there’s been an accident, but they’re trying to minimise the seriousness of it because for some reason they’re embarrassed about it or they want to reduce the shock.

“Can I have a bit of a chat with you. Just a bit of a chat. It’s no big deal, it’ll just take a second.

It’s just that we might have had a little bit of a problem downstairs. There’s just sort of been a little bit of an explosion in the kitchen. Just tiny little bang really – more of a pop really, just a tiny little pop – you’d hardly notice it really. I heard it though and thought “Did I imagine that? Did someone just pop a balloon, or fart or something?” and then I picked myself off the ground and had a look downstairs and, yeah, the restaurant is a bit err, it’s a bit scratched and there’s a slight hole in the wall, and in the ceiling and a few puffs of smoke. At first I thought – “oh is that the chef having a cigarette out the back? I thought he’d given up!” But no it wasn’t him – I guess he won’t be smoking again in a hurry! Can you speak to him? Well, he’s a bit tied up at the moment, no he can’t come to the phone he’s… just resting. I think he fainted or just fell over after the thing, the thing that happened in the kitchen, and his head might have fallen off slightly and he might have lost a couple of other limbs in the confusion but anyway, no need to worry too much, it’s basically under control more or less, I just thought you might , want to pop down to the kitchen to have a look and maybe call an ambulance. Yeah, I would but I’ve lost my legs and I’m feeling a bit sleepy so I’m going to have a bit of a lie down, but I thought you might like to know… OK?

So, it’s always “A slight problem” or “A bit of a problem”.

Go through the paragraph again and highlight the minimising language.

Back to the comedy sketch…

This sketch is making fun of our culture I think – the way we are afraid of causing a fuss. Also it makes fun of the over-the-top way that fancy restaurants might apologise for small problems. They’re so keen to welcome and satisfy their customers. The sketch also gets completely carried away, especially when John Cleese’s “Mungo” comes out.

To an extent it’s a little bit pointless analysing Monty Python’s comedy because they make fun of absolutely everything, but I feel that they’re definitely poking fun at stuffy, polite culture.

Why do people minimise negative things? They want it to sound less serious. They don’t want to make someone feel they’re complaining. They want to show that it’s no problem – but why would it be a problem?

If you had a dirty fork you’d just say – “Excuse me, can I have another fork please? This one’s a bit dirty” the waiter is not going to be mortified. He’ll just get you another fork. This sketch represent’s the customer’s worst fear – that there will be a problem or a fuss.

“We don’t want to cause a fuss! Don’t make a scene!”


Now let’s go through the sketch again and understand it in detail.

RESTAURANT SKETCH: COMPLETE SCRIPT

Lady It’s nice here, isn’t it?
Man Oh, (It’s a) very good restaurant, three stars you know.
Lady Really?
Man Mmm…
Waiter Good evening, sir! Good evening, madam! And may I say what a pleasure it is to see you here again, sir!
Man Oh thank you. Well there you are dear. Have a look there, anything you like. The boeuf en croute is fantastic.
Waiter Oh if I may suggest, sir … the pheasant à la reine, the sauce is one of the chef’s most famous creations.
Man Em… that sounds good. Anyway just have a look… take your time. Oh, er by the way – I’ve got a bit of a dirty fork, could you … er.. get me another one?
Waiter I beg your pardon.
Man Oh it’s nothing … er, I’ve got a fork, (it’s) a little bit dirty. Could you get me another one? Thank you.
Waiter Oh … sir, I do apologize.
Man Oh, no need to apologize, it doesn’t worry me.
Waiter Oh no, no, no, I do apologize. I will fetch the head waiter immediatement. (immediately – in French)
Man Oh, there’s no need to do that!
Waiter Oh, no no… I’m sure the head waiter, he will want to apologize to you himself. I will fetch him at once.
Lady Well, you certainly get good service here.
Man They really look after you… yes.
Head Waiter Excuse me monsieur and madame. (examines the fork) It’s filthy, Gaston … find out who washed this up, and give them their cards immediately.
Man Oh, no, no.
Head Waiter Better still, we can’t afford to take any chances, sack the entire washing-up staff.
Man No, look I don’t want to make any trouble.
Head Waiter Oh, no please, no trouble. It’s quite right that you should point these kind of things out. Gaston, tell the manager what has happened immediately! (The Waiter runs off)
Man Oh, no I don’t want to cause any fuss.
Head Waiter Please, it’s no fuss. I quite simply wish to ensure that nothing interferes with your complete enjoyment of the meal.
Man Oh I’m sure it won’t, it was only a dirty fork.
Head Waiter I know. And I’m sorry, bitterly sorry, but I know that… no apology I can make can alter the fact that in our restaurant you have been given a dirty, filthy, smelly piece of cutlery
Man It wasn’t smelly.
Head Waiter It was smelly, and obscene and disgusting and I hate it, I hate it ,.. nasty, grubby, dirty, mangy, scrubby little fork. Oh … oh . . . oh . . . (runs off in a passion as the manager comes to the table)
Manager Good evening, sir, good evening, madam. I am the manager. I’ve only just heard . .. may I sit down?
Man Yes, of course.
Manager I want to apologize, humbly, deeply, and sincerely about the fork.
Man Oh please, it’s only a tiny bit… I couldn’t see it.
Manager Ah you’re good kind fine people, for saying that, but I can see it.., to me it’s like a mountain, a vast bowl of pus.
Man It’s not as bad as that.
Manager It gets me here. I can’t give you any excuses for it – there are no excuses. I’ve been meaning to spend more time in the restaurant recently, but I haven’t been too well… (emotionally) things aren’t going very well back there. The poor cook’s son has been put away again, and poor old Mrs Dalrymple who does the washing up can hardly move her poor fingers, and then there’s Gilberto’s war wound – but they’re good people, and they’re kind people, and together we were beginning to get over this dark patchthere was light at the end of the tunnel . .. now this . .. now this…
Man Can I get you some water?
Manager (in tears) It’s the end of the road!!
The cook comes in; he is very big and has a meat cleaver.
Cook (shouting) You bastards! You vicious, heartless bastards! Look what you’ve done to him! He’s worked his fingers to the bone to make this place what it is, and you come in with your petty feeble quibbling and you grind him into the dirt, this fine, honourable man, whose boots you are not worthy to kiss. Oh… it makes me mad… mad! (slams cleaver into the table)
The head waiter comes in and tries to restrain him.
Head Waiter Easy, Mungo, easy… Mungo… (clutches his head in agony) the war wound!… the wound… the wound
Manager This is the end! The end! Aaargh!! (stabs himself with the fork)
Cook They’ve destroyed him! He’s dead!! They killed him!!! (goes completely mad)
Head Waiter (trying to restrain him) No Mungo… never kill a customer. (in pain) Oh . .. the wound! The wound! (he and the cook fight furiously and fall over the table)
CAPTION: ‘AND NOW THE PUNCH-LINE
Man Lucky we didn’t say anything about the dirty knife.
Boos of disgust from off-screen.

580. Ramble / Listener Comments / Robots / Vampires / Two Taps in the Bathroom

A rambling episode with responses to listener comments, LEPster meetups, English Robot 3000 & 5000, vampires leaving comments on my website and the continuing mystery of two taps in the bathroom.

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Episode Transcript & Notes

Hello welcome to episode 580 of my podcast. My name is Luke, this is my podcast for learners of English and in this episode I’m going to have a bit of a ramble, respond to a few listener comments, give a bit of general news, and all that kind of thing!

It’s a been a little while since the last proper rambling episode. That was 558 I believe. Here we are now with episode 580. I’m just sitting here in my flat on a Friday afternoon, hoping to get an episode out before the weekend. Looking forward to the weekend? Yeah? Got any plans? Maybe you’re listening to this after the weekend, in which case – how was it? Any good memories? Can’t remember? Can’t even remember the weekend, eh? I suppose that means it was a good one then.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the recent episodes. The conversations with guests – focusing on fellow English teachers from podcastland – Zdenek Lukas, Jennifer from English Across the Pond and then Ben Worthington from IELTS Podcast. Also there was my long chat with James which has proven very popular. Lots of people love that episode, even though James himself seemed convinced nobody would see the value in it, and then of course the episodes dissecting comedy – the Bill Burr plane story and Paul Chowdhry’s hilarious routine. Plenty of people have asked for more of that sort of thing, and there will be more. I’ve always done that on the podcast – listened to extracts of people speaking (often comedy) and then broken them down word by word for you. Check the archive for all the British Comedy episodes.

How are you?

I expect you are in one of a number of situations as you listen to this.

Maybe…

  • Walking down the street, in which case – please watch your step as you go. Don’t get distracted and accidentally fall into a hole.
  • On a bus – in which case, why not give a smile to the other passengers, just to lighten the mood on the bus there. In fact you could get up and announce to everyone – “Hello everyone on the bus I hope you have a really great day today!” and see what kind of reaction you get.
  • On a train – in which case, why not take a little walk down the train to see if they have one of those train cafes where you can get a coffee and maybe a chocolate muffin or something, because when you’re travelling on a train the chocolate doesn’t count. Also, walking down the train is quite fun. You can kind of wobble along, grabbing the tops of the seats to steady you and maybe flirt for a moment somehow with some of the other passengers, right? That’s one of the cool things about being on a train. Sometimes there are other passengers who might give you a little look, like “well, you’re on this train, I’m on this train, clearly God intended us to be together and I suppose there isn’t much more for us to do just make sweet sweet love to each other, when we’ve reached our destinations and agreed upon a suitable place and time of course… but all of that is out of the window when you’re single, on a train, heading for the coffee car and perhaps making eye contact with another sexy passenger… And then absolutely nothing happens, you just carry on your journey. Do you do that? Fall in love with another passenger, without actually having any social contact with them whatsoever. Anyway, if you’re on a train, and you make a connection with another traveller, who let’s say is also listening to something – try asking if they’re listening to LEP. It would certainly give you both the perfect starting point to build the rest of your lives upon! Ha ha, imagine that. Actually, I’m pretty sure that at least one couple out there is together now because of this podcast. Let’s make sure it continues to happen! Let’s make the world a better place people!
  • Driving in your car – in which case, please drive carefully while listening to this podcast. When you’re not listening to this, do what you want.
  • On a plane somewhere – in which case, just remember that you are much more likely to be killed or even just injured on the ground than in the air, because, well, that’s usually where the plane crashes isn’t it. So, anyway, while you’re in the air, you’re safe. :)
  • On one of those electric scooter things – in which case, are you sure you look cool?
  • Doing the housework – in which case, you missed a bit, just there. (annoying)
  • Eating something – in which case, please properly chew your food before swallowing. Some experts say you need to chew about 40 times per mouthful. Yep. Also, please eat with your mouth closed.
  • Using the lavatory or generally freshening yourself up in the bathroom – please wash your hands
  • At work, listening to this when you should be doing something else – in which case, please keep a straight face at all times. If you ever burst out laughing for any reason, try to cover it up by pretending to have a random coughing fit.
  • Just standing in the street wondering what to do – in which case, take your time, there’s no rush, unless there is a rush, but if there isn’t a rush then take your time, don’t hurry. No need to hurry. Just listen to this song for some inspiration (Take it easy by Prince Buster)
  • In bed, ready to fall into a deep deep slumber – feel free to just close your eyes and let yourself drift away into a lovely, restful sleep.

Podcast Stats

Antonio
In the past you used to communicate some statistics about your podcast, like the countries list, and I would like to know the list of the countries in the Premium area. Not the number of people paying it because this is business stuff.
Podcast stats
Top countries for LEP
Top countries for LEPP
Bottom countries too please!


Episode 600 / 10th Birthday of LEP

I have no idea how to celebrate or mark these occasions.
I kind of did a celebration for episode 500, so there’s no need to do anything special really.
I might just carry on podcasting like normal.
But let me know if you think there’s something I should do for episode 600.
The thing is, I’m a bit wary of asking for things from my audience, because these days that quickly becomes extremely difficult to manage, with too many recordings to handle, keep track of, make sure are at the correct volume level and all it takes is for a certain number of people, even a tiny portion of the overall audience, to send me something and it’s far too long. Managing listener messages is all a bit too much for me these days. I don’t have the time in my schedule any more.

I’ll think about it, but it might just be a normal podcast with no major fanfare, but if you have any grand ideas to mark this occasion, which doesn’t involve massive amounts of work or preparation, let me know.

I can’t really believe it’s been 10 years since I started doing this and now the podcast is on Spotify I’m getting new people listening to episode 1 all the time.

Also I’ve been putting the episodes up on YouTube recently – no video, just the audio, but the thing is that you get automatically generated subtitles.

Recently I did a premium episode all about how to improve your English to the level of a native speaker, which is a question I get asked all the time.

Obviously, one of the most important things is to practise, practise, practise.

How?


LEPster MeetUps

One way is to take part in conversation clubs. LEPsters around the world are meeting up fairly regularly to do this. They’re called LEP MeetUps or LEPsters conversation clubs.

LEPsters Clubs
Read out all the info on this page teacherluke.co.uk/contact-2/lepster-meetups/
And some comments for new meetups.

Go to CONTACT and then LEP MEETUPS for all the details and to contact people who have left messages.

LEPsters Club in Chile
Message: Hi, Luke! I’m writing to you to report on my LEPsters meetup I had on Saturday 19th in a cafe in Antofagasta, Chile. I have a Facebook page ( www.facebook.com/lepstersantof ), so if you could set it on your website it’d be amazing! But maybe I need some more meetings to reach that honour, haha! I’d like to send you a picture, but there’s no way in this form, and I wouldn’t like to put it on the forum. But if you see the Facebook page you’ll see the pic (I’m the guy doing the ‘peace’ sign). Anyway, the meetup was amazing! There were 6 people (maybe it’s not enough, but for a 1st one I think it’s fine), motivated and eager to share and speak the language. They mentioned to me that there are no spaces to gather and speak English, so they were really happy to have me there creating this opportunity for them to communicate and meet people with the same goal. I started with some ice-breaker questions to get to know each other, then I continued with topic-based questions to engage their interest and speak about fun things. I’m thinking about games for the next meetups, so that we create a bond as a group and maybe make new friends. Well, that’s my long report (but I wasn’t ‘rambling’ haha!) about the meeting I held. Really looking forward to your opinion, even if it’s brief (I know you’re always busy).

Rodrigo (‘Roddie’ as I was nicknamed when I was in England by some students :D)

Eisa Ibrahim
Hi LEPsters, is there anybody here from Sudan???
Dear Luke I have been listening to Luke English podcast for
two years now, it is really brilliant, but unfortunately I have never met anybody
here who listens to the podcast!!
I am Eisa /i:sə/

Peter • 8 hours ago
Anyone from Krakow ? :) Maybe here are also people that want to improve language together ? :)

Murat Atalykov • a month ago
Hello LEPsters!
I’m from Almaty, Kazakhstan. If there is any Lepster in Almaty, please contact me via instagram @systemad

Olga B. • 3 months ago
Hello to all the lepsters of the world!
I wonder if there are any lepsters in Kazan who would like to meet up)
Just in case I created this community vk.com/lepmeetupkzn
So, if you are interested, I’d be glad to hear from you

Mario Ara Medina • 3 months ago
Hello, anyone from Costa Rica or an online group?

Virginie Bonneau • 4 months ago
hello Is there anyone interested in organizing a meetup in France, in the north?
or a skype group? I couldn’t manage to find one so far…

Ferdavs Majitov • 6 months ago
is there anyone who is listening to Luke in Uzbekistan
Feel free to contact me . My instagramm @fer4fan

Kim • 6 months ago
Hello Lepsters!
I’m Hee from Korea.
If there is any Lepster in Korea, please contact me via my Instagram @breathtakinglyremarkable
I just want to communicate with you Lepsters. It’s often lonely to listen to LEP and have no one to talk to about it. :(
I wish all of you nothing but the best!!!

Rustle • 8 months ago
Hello Lepsters! Are there any LEPsters in MALTA? ;-)

ypapax • 10 months ago
Hey, LEP ninjas from Tver, Russia, let’s join the facebook group for meetups in Tver www.facebook.com/gr

Roger Remy • a year ago
Are there any LEPsters in Switzerland???

Jan Holub • a year ago
Dreams come true! Hello lepsters! Is there anyone in Belarus willing to organise a meetup?

Julien • a year ago
Hello lepsters! Are there people interested in organizing a lepster meetup in France?
(this got 33 upvotes – French LEPsters why you no write comment?)


Alex Love’s Comedy Show in New Zealand

Attention LEPsters in New Zealand! I think I have some down there.

Alex Love’s “How to win a pub quiz” is coming to New Zealand.

All the details www.fringe.co.nz/show/31634


English Robot 3000

I recently got a few comments about English Robot 3000, asking where he is, so I thought I’d get him out of storage and have a bit of a chat, see how he is.

If you’re fairly new to the podcast, you might not know English Robot 3000. Long term listeners will probably remember him.

He has been in storage, switched off, gathering dust since at least 2014 I think. I can’t actually remember the last time I talked to him.

He’s a robot that speaks English. There are a few English Robots in the series. 3000, 4000 and 5000 too.


Vampires in the Comment Section?

2nd time I’ve had a message from a vampire on my website. Obvs spam.

Mark – last week
V**************@gmail.com***.***.***.112
Are you tired of being human, having talented brain turning to a vampire in a good posture in ten minutes, Do you want to have power and influence over others, To be charming and desirable, To have wealth, health, without delaying in a good human posture and becoming an immortal? If yes, these your chance. It’s a world of vampire where life get easier,We have made so many persons vampires and have turned them rich, You will assured long life and prosperity, You shall be made to be very sensitive to mental alertness, Stronger and also very fast, You will not be restricted to walking at night only even at the very middle of broad day light you will be made to walk, This is an opportunity to have the human vampire virus to perform in a good posture. If you are interested contact us on Vampirelords78787@gmail.com


Two taps in the bathroom

Any long-term listeners will know that I’ve always been slightly obsessed with a certain aspect of British life that foreign visitors often tell me about – the fact we have two taps in the bathroom.
Some of you will know what I mean.
In the UK it is common to find on sinks and bathtubs in the bathroom, two taps – one for hot and one for cold, rather than one single mixer tap.

This confounds a lot of foreign students who don’t know how to wash their hands. It’s basically lava from hell coming from one tap, and glacial ice water from the other. WTF Britain?

Well I recently got a pretty good answer to that.
Years ago I wrote a blog article for the London School of English. Just recently the article picked up a comment from a plumber in the UK.
A plumber is someone who works with pipes and water systems in your house.

So anyway, here’s my blog post and the answer
www.londonschool.com/blog/two-taps-in-the-bathroom/


That’s it! Thanks for listening :)

Luke

568. What is Luke’s English Podcast, and how can it help you with your English?

What are the aims & objectives for this podcast? How can you use it to improve your English? This episode is an introduction for new listeners and a reminder for long-term listeners: This is a podcast all about learning English through listening, while having some fun in the process. Transcript available.

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Episode Transcript

Happy New Year everyone! Welcome to 2019! This is it! We’ve arrived.

That’s actually the 10th time I’ve said Happy New Year on this podcast (not in this episode) The 10th time I’ve said it in a podcast episode, in January, because this is the 10th year of LEP. This is the 10th January of LEP and the 10th new year podcast episode. Imagine that! In fact, you don’t need to imagine it, because it’s actually true and real. So, just know that! A decade of me doing this. Actually, the official 10 year anniversary is coming up in April. 12th April to be exact. There’ll be more on that later in the year I expect.

Hello, I hope you are absolutely, totally, wholly and completely 100% fine, so that when someone asks you “how are you?” you can put your hand on your heart and say with total sincerity that you really are fine, like fine wine.

I’m doing alright thanks very much. Happy to be talking to you on the podcast in 2019. Here we are in the future.

I’d like to say a big Hello to any new listeners who might be listening to this for the very first time, right here, right now. I often get new listeners at this time of year. So, if you are a brand new listener, then “hello” and welcome to my podcast. If you’re a long-term listener then hello as well, nice to have you back, you’re looking great, would you like a biscuit, no, you’re on a diet? New year’s resolution. Good for you. Keep it up.

But hello to any new listeners I have. Welcome.

This is a podcast for people learning English, people who love English and anyone who is just interested by all the cool things that come to you when you choose to learn a language, in this case that’s the language we call English – British English to be exact. Thank you for choosing to listen to me in this episode and I hope you stick with us and join my audience of listeners all around the world.

Maybe you’re listening to this because you’ve made a new year’s resolution to improve your English and you thought “I’m going to improve my English in 2019 and start listening to a podcast” or something like that.

Well, I think you’ve come to the right place. Welcome, one and all.

What’s this episode all about?

This episode is a summary of what this podcast is all about – what is Luke’s English Podcast? And this is for the benefit of new listeners, and for the old listeners in case you’ve just forgotten or something, and also it’s a reminder of how you can use the podcast to improve your English.

I’m doing this in the general spirit of the new year period, which is often about re-evaluating what you’re doing, re-establishing your objectives and generally taking stock.

“Taking stock”, that’s a nice phrase. It means doing a general assessment of the present situation – having a look at what’s going on now, seeing what you’ve got and what you’re doing.

That’s “taking stock”.

You can say “I’m taking stock” or if you want to add something to the expression, you use ‘of’, so for example, “it’s normal at this time of year to take stock of things” or “take stock of your life”.

Taking stock is also something you do if you own a business – when you count all the stock you have in your shop or warehouse, for example. When I worked for a big music shop in Liverpool many years ago, we regularly had to take stock, or do a stock check. That basically involved counting all the CDs and DVDs we had in the store so we could be completely sure what we had, the value of what we had and so on, and that helped the store managers to manage the business effectively. In all honesty, doing the stock check at the shop completely sucked because you had to physically count every single item in the shop and do it while the shop was closed, which meant staying at work until it was very late and everyone was hungry and annoyed at having to count things all evening.

Hopefully taking stock of this podcast will be a bit more enjoyable than taking stock of many thousands of DVDs and CDs at 9.30 in the evening in a now defunct business which used to be located on Church Street in Liverpool.

We also take stock of our lives when we just evaluate or assess where we are, what we’re doing, what we’ve got and what we need. In this episode I’m welcoming new listeners and taking stock of this podcast, and just reminding everyone what it’s all about and what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and generally what you’re listening to.

My podcast episodes are quite diverse. I move around and talk about lots of different topics, but sometimes it’s worth just reminding ourselves that this is all about learning English, making sure we’re all enjoying it and knowing that there is method to the madness here.

I’m going to talk about

  • The aims of this podcast
  • Ways in which you can use this podcast to improve your English
  • How this podcast works and the different ways you can listen to it

The Aims of the Podcast

First of all, I think people should do more listening.

I want to help people to listen to more English, because I just know that it is a really important part of the language learning process.

I say “I just know” because, well, I do just know it, from my experience of being an English teacher for nearly 20 years.

I have realised that doing plenty of listening practice, with the right kind of audio resource, is a very healthy thing to do for learners of English. To be honest, it’s not just listening, everyone could do more practice in general, but people usually read, do grammar exercises, but listening seems to get a bit sidelined.

Just listening, regularly, is very healthy for your English.

That’s true and I think most people would agree with it.

However, the majority of learners I’ve met over the years during my career, just don’t do this.

Most people just don’t do enough listening while learning English.

I find it hard to understand how someone can think they can learn a language without actually hearing that language being spoken, a lot. How can you know the language if you haven’t actually heard it being used very much? I think the problem is really that people don’t know what to listen to, and find it hard to get listening into their everyday lives. Of course we now have all the films and TV series you can find online but I believe podcasts can really help people to get more English listening into their lives. I am a believer in podcasts, that’s why I have one.

It’s worth making a point here about the different types of listening you can do. Let’s say you’ve decided you need to do more listening, so what do you listen to? People often say “I’ll listen to the BBC News!” People often assume that listening to the news is the right thing to do. It can be great of course, and it’s better than not listening to anything, but I think there are probably better things to listen to than the news.

The thing is that the news is really hard to understand and the newsreaders don’t talk like normal human beings. They have a particular way of speaking and use particular words in a certain style. Nobody in the real world actually talks like that when they have normal conversations. Instead it’s better to listen to something more conversational and closer to the kind of English that you need – for socialising, for building relationships with people, for doing interesting presentations at work and things like that.

For example, let’s look at a quick dialogue. First the natural version, then the news version.

Hi Luke, how are you?

I’m fine thanks, you?

Pretty good thanks. Did you have a good Christmas break?

Yeah, it wasn’t bad thanks. I just spent a week at my parents’ place and ate far too much food and just generally relaxed with my family. It was nice.

Now the News version.

Hi Luke

Welcome to this conversation. Today’s top story – how I spent my Christmas holidays. This report, from me.

A traditional British Christmas has long been known to involve drinks, gifts, and a meal of roast turkey with vegetables and this year was certainly no exception. Local reports have indicated that the yuletide season was spent in the usual manner, with a gathering of family and friends who joined together at the family home where wine was drunk, turkey was consumed and, like many revellers during this festive season, falling asleep on the sofa was an unavoidable consequence typical of the season’s indulgences which certainly were a common sight this year in households all over the country…

So, the point there is – people might assume that the news is the right thing to listen to, but there are better options and podcasts are great, especially mine! (Other podcasts are available of course)

Anyway, I could go on and on about the benefits of listening. Instead I’ll just repeat that it’s very healthy for your English to listen to natural speech which is engaging and entertaining on a personal level, which is not too slow but also not too fast, which is clear, which you just enjoy hearing, and to do it regularly and hopefully for more than just a few minutes at a time.

So, my first basic aim is to help you to
Listen to more English
Listen longer
Listen more regularly

And to listen to the right kind of English speaking.

So, first and foremost, just listen. As a starting point or a foundation, just listen. That’s all you need to do. Just listen to my podcast, or indeed others because I didn’t invent this whole “speaking and recording your voice and putting it online” thing, of course.

I hope you enjoy it and actually want to listen to what I have to say because if you enjoy this, everything else becomes so much easier. Of course, my podcast won’t be for everyone, but I hope that you, yes you, actually choose to listen to this not just because you know you need to improve your English (because someone told you that you had to do it, like your Dad, or your boss, or if you work for your Dad, your boss, who is your Dad, your Dadboss) so don’t do it because you feel like you should but because listening to my episodes is somehow just enjoyable for you.

Another aim, and this is fairly obvious but it still needs to be said, is this. I aim to help you to improve your English (durr) to expand your vocabulary, to build your grammar, to increase your awareness of natural pronunciation in English which in turn should help you with your own pronunciation, or accent if you like.

Listening to my podcast can help you with those things, and it has helped lots of people. How do you know Luke? Because people write to me and tell me that it has helped, and I believe them! They tell me about their IELTS scores and also about how difficult it used to be to use English in the past, and how much better it is now after persevering with my podcast for some time (and no doubt doing other things which have helped – I can’t claim all the credit, no no, oh, oh you’re too kind, ok well if you insist, yes it’s all thanks to me).

So, I want to help you improve your English, and I am a teacher so that’s good isn’t it?

Yes, I am an English teacher, for adult humans and I have been for a long time now, but I don’t always teach English directly in normal episodes of this podcast.

I mean, these episodes aren’t really lessons in the traditional sense. In many cases I’m just talking to you about something that I just want to talk about or that I hope you will find interesting, because remember – the first aim is to help you just to listen to more English, regularly, for longer periods, long-term.

In some episodes I am definitely teaching you language points. There are episodes in the archive dealing with grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation and these days I do plenty of direct language teaching in my premium episodes, which are available for premium subscribers. In those premium episodes I explain language, demonstrate it, give you tests and pronunciation drills, using my particular set of skills. “That sounds wonderful”, you must be thinking. “How do I sign up?” Well, you can sign up for LEP premium at www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium. You’ll get access to all the existing premium episodes and any new ones when they are published, plus new phrasal verb episodes and more – all for the price of a coffee every month.

So, I do teach language more directly in the premium episodes, but the normal free episodes don’t always contain direct English language teaching. Instead, I mainly just talk to you – and this is my 18th year as a professional English teacher. I’ve got lots of experience of talking to learners of English, so in a way I just can’t stop teaching. Even when I’m just talking to you, I am still teaching you, even if it might not be 100% obvious. I explain things as I go, I try to talk clearly but also naturally. I try to use good microphones so you can hear what I’m saying.

I think I know what things my listeners will and won’t understand, and I keep this in mind at all times, while also just talking to you in what I hope is an engaging way, always trying to make sure you listen more, listen longer, listen regularly and listen long term, and if all goes according to plan, you enjoy it too.

How can I keep you listening?

  • I try to entertain you as we go – make you laugh sometimes (when you’re on a bus or walking down the street maybe), amuse you or just hold your interest somehow. Hopefully I manage to entertain you, I don’t really know. Only you can be the judge of that.
  • I make it personal – talk from the heart, talk about things I’m passionate about, put some soul into it, I hope. Hopefully this makes the podcast authentic and genuine, rather than just self-indulgent.
  • I tell stories about my life and about other things I know about.
  • I talk about language learning in order to give you ideas and keep you motivated.
  • I interview guests and just chat with friends and family. Many of my friends are stand-up comedians and it’s generally pretty fun and funny to talk to them, and members of my family are frequent guests on the podcast – my Dad for example often comes on to talk about politics (especially Brexit) and my brother and I like to talk about music and films. Sometimes I have other guests like people I don’t know as friends but who are interesting to feature on the podcast for whatever reason, like when I spoke to the linguist David Crystal.
  • I sometimes talk about silly things and just have fun talking nonsense for its own sake, but I also talk about serious topics when I’m in the mood.
  • I talk about culture – this means things like films, TV shows, comedy, music, also history and politics and stuff like that.
  • I explain comedy (often British) – stand up, TV shows, sketches, jokes etc – which is a complicated and yet very rewarding thing to do.

Talking about my podcast like this sounds a bit pretentious, I’m realising now. It sounds like I think it’s a really big deal, like a kind of charity that protects works of art or looks after the dreams of children or something. “Here are Luke’s English Podcast we are committed to honouring the legacy of William Shakespeare…“ or something. Obviously, it’s just a podcast, but I try to do my best to make it good.

All of it is designed to keep you listening, keep you interested in order to help you improve and maintain your English as we go along.

What have I learned about learning English, and how does this relate to the podcast?

Based on my experience, my academic reading and the many language learners I’ve met over the years, here are some important elements in learning a language and how this relates to my podcast.

It’s possible to talk about this forever, but I’m going to try and keep it simple by breaking it down into just 3 things: motivation, practice and time. There are other factors of course, but let’s just keep it simple at the moment.

Motivation
This is the main one. You have to want to learn the target language. If you don’t really want to learn the language, you probably won’t because learning a language means making personal choices about you and your identity and then devoting time to it, making compromises and perhaps letting some other things go while you prioritise your language learning.

You need to have internal personal reasons for learning the language. Nobody can learn a language for you and nobody can be motivated on your behalf. The motivation must come from you. So find your motivation for learning the language. Make your reasons for learning the language personal to you. Accept that you will have to sideline some other things and prioritise your learning of your target language. You might need to stop watching those crappy soap operas in your first language, for example, or just dump that boyfriend or girlfriend who really is no good for you and who doesn’t believe in you and your efforts to learn English and in fact is holding you back. Why are you with that person anyway? They’re no good for you. You’re worth so much more than that. If you’re in a loving and supportive relationship, or you’re single – you can ignore that bit.

Also, try if you can, to have a positive relationship with the language. Sometimes learning a language can be frustrating because it’s difficult. Let’s be honest. If it was easy, we wouldn’t need to talk about it all the time and there wouldn’t be a huge industry in language teaching and learning. It is difficult, especially if you want to get really good and especially if you’re learning the language as an adult who is also juggling lots of other things in your life.

Learning a language can be a challenge – an enjoyable challenge, but a challenge nonetheless.

I know for many of you, learning English is just a great thing that you love doing and it’s sort of like your passion or maybe even your obsession and that is great. I have great respect for you because language learning is a great thing to do and is a really cool thing to be enthusiastic about.

But a lot of people do find it a challenge and find it hard to keep the motivation up.

The structure of the English language might be very different to your mother tongue. The pronunciation feels weird and unnatural. The spelling of words and the way they are said don’t match. In fact it’s all irritatingly confusing and illogical, and quite embarrassing when you get it wrong and you feel less intelligent than you are in your first language. In your first language you might be a truly awesome dude or dudette (or whatever the female equivalent of a dude is) but in English you might be reduced to more of a Mr Bean character. I don’t know, that’s how I feel in French a lot of the time, so maybe it’s the same for you in English, although having said that I’ve met quite a lot of listeners to this podcast and none of you were Mr Bean, not even a little bit. So, anyway… I’m saying that learning English can be difficult because it’s, well, it’s like we have a different word for everything isn’t it? It’s like a completely different language or something!

It can even feel like the language thinks in a different way to how your language thinks (if you know what I mean). You might not like feeling different or having to change a bit.

When you’re trying to learn a language you might feel out of your comfort zone. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Feeling a bit lost, puzzled, confused, frustrated – they’re all totally normal and natural reactions. You need to get over that feeling pretty quickly and weirdly learn to enjoy the feeling, and find ways to overcome it, and then just revel in those moments when you learn things and move forwards, opening up new avenues for yourself in the process.

Leave the negative thoughts behind, they’ll just hold you back. Stay positive at all times (just be blindly positive, constantly, like “hey, everything’s just great!!!”) and be stubborn. Don’t give up, and remember this – you are a natural biological machine designed to learn language. Your brain is totally designed to learn English and it can happen in a very natural way, you just have to kind of get yourself out of the way and let it happen.

Get yourself out of the way – I mean, don’t judge yourself too harshly, try not to worry about how cool you appear to other people, or whether you’re making mistakes or if you need to monitor your behaviour, just relax a bit and let the magic happen.

Keep an open mind, don’t let yourself get blocked, don’t worry about mistakes too much, feel good about your progress, and just learn from any errors that you make.

Sometimes it can feel like you’re not making progress and you’ll be disheartened and maybe even depressed at times – you might think, “that’s it I’m a lost cause”. That’s ok, that’s normal too. Keep going. You’re not a lost cause. Learning a language is a long term thing, and there might be periods when you feel you’re not learning that much, but you’ll be surprised. Often the learning process is not completely obvious to us. You might not realise it but your brain is dealing with the language work you’re doing. Sometimes there’s a period in which you feel you’re not making progress, but your brain is working hard and as long as you’re still interacting with the language, using it, listening to it, consuming and producing it, working to memorise words, your brain is working on doing it better and better all the time, and one day you’ll make a breakthrough and you’ll realise the difficult times were worth it because you were making progress without realising it.

So, choose to be positive. Choose to keep your chin up, enjoy the small bits of progress, celebrate larger moments of progress, remember that people all over the world, every day, have the same struggles as you. It’s all normal. Keep going, you’re on the right track, don’t stop. I should turn this into a motivational song, shouldn’t I?

Basically, motivation is really important.

Practice
This means that you need to actually do things! In a simple way this means you need to speak a lot, read a lot, listen a lot, write a lot and perhaps do some old fashioned language work with a grammar book, vocabulary book or pronunciation book (with CDs or something) or do some other clever little techniques using online resources or just a dictionary or audio with a transcript – more on that later.

Practice is like money in the bank. The more you put in, the more you get out (unless there’s a huge banking crisis caused by dodgy bankers gambling with our money – but in the language learning bank, this never happens so don’t worry. Your English is safe, even with Brexit and all that stuff.)

You’ve got to put the work in to get the benefit out again later. The best thing is that if you are motivated the practice doesn’t feel like work, it’s just something you enjoy doing. That’s where the motivation comes in – it is the fuel that lets you do all the practising. There are lots of different kinds of practice which I will talk about later in this episode, which admittedly could turn into another one of those massive episodes that I do. Seriously, I don’t always set out to make long episodes, they just happen. Clearly the universe or The Force or whatever wants me to make longer episodes because even when I set out to do a reasonably brief episode, they end up pretty long. This episode was supposed to be just a quick re-cap of my aims for doing this podcast, and now it’s become something of a marathon episode all about how to learn English.

Ah well, who’s complaining? Are you complaining? Nope. Good. I don’t know why you would complain anyway. Why would you not want more of this? I know why, because it doesn’t perfectly match the length of your commute to work. I think that’s the only reason, or perhaps because as a learner of English it’s a bit too hard to concentrate on listening to English for more than say 30 minutes at a time.

That’s probably the good reason for making shorter episodes and I know that’s true, but I’m sorry – don’t blame me, blame the general shape of the universe because it just seems that I can’t do this stuff in just 30 minute chunks. It just doesn’t come out like that, so I suppose some of you will just have to use that pause button. That’s why god invented pause buttons and podcast apps that remember where you pressed pause last time, right? Right.

So, anyway, I was talking about the importance of practice.

Just remember the 5 Ps – practice, practice, practice, practice, practice.

Nobody learned to play a musical instrument by reading musical theory, they did it by practising day after day. It’s the same with language learning. Practice day after day after day after day, which becomes week after week, month after month, year after year and decade after decade. This is just the first decade too. We’ve only just started!

It’s not just what you know, it’s what you can do. It’s not about knowing grammar rules, or knowing words, it’s about being able to do things in English.

So, open your mouth, speak (it does help if you open your mouth first before you speak, by the way) listen for enjoyment and interest, read for pleasure, write something that’s meaningful and will be pleasant for the person who might read it. It’s all about communicating ideas, and making English a part of who you are.

You own English by the way. It’s your language too. That’s the cool thing about this language. It’s open source. So start using it to express yourself right now.

Time
Here is some basic maths, I think. I have an equation for you.

(practice + time) x motivation = progress

I’m not a mathematician, and that’s just a mathematical metaphor rather than a real equation, but anyway, the point is – you need to invest time into learning this language.

Practice regularly, practice for longer than just a few minutes, practice long term – you’ll need to keep practising your English forever! It might never be perfect because guess what? Perfection doesn’t exist. Nobody is completely perfect at English or any language, to be honest. You might think that Stephen Fry (random example) is perfect at English, but I guarantee that he often struggles to find the right words, he often has difficulty when writing, he stammers sometimes when he speaks and makes mistakes here and there, he probably feels bad about something he said slightly badly once, he reads a massive amount and probably listens to a ton of radio, podcasts and audiobooks. His English is excellent, but it’s not perfect, because perfection in language is an absolute concept that in reality is sort of impossible to achieve. There is no end point called “perfect” in language, I think. It’s just a continuum. That’s a nice word, “continuum” because it has two Us right next to each other. I don’t know any other words in English (or any other language for that matter) that have two Us right next to each other like that. OK so I’ve just Googled it and it turns out that I do know another word with two Us and it’s “vacuum”, which is also a nice word.

Anyway a continuum is basically a long line, rather than a series of points. Imagine a line with an arrow on the end, it just keeps going.

So in this language learning journey that you’re on, there might be no destination and the sooner you realise that the better. It’s all about the journey.

Or maybe it’s better to make the comparison with learning a musical instrument. Nobody practices an instrument and then one day just stops playing and says, “that’s it, I’m done! I’ve finished! I have learned music. Now I can rest” because you have to maintain your skills, you have to commune with the music every day, you have to keep your hands or your body in shape to be able to reach all the notes you need to reach. You need to play music every day to just maintain your level! Language is the same I think.

So, spend time on it – regularly, for longer periods, long term.

And just regularly listening to this podcast – at the very least – will help as a kind of foundation.

How to use this podcast to help your English

So, as I’ve just said, regularly listening to my podcast can definitely help you and as a constant, basic thing in your life you should keep doing that – listen regularly, listen for longer periods and listen long term… to my podcast or any podcast that works for you. Other podcasts are available of course. Just pick the one that works for you. Yes, films and TV shows can also be good but that’s slightly different because with films and TV series you’re in front of a screen, locked to the show, perhaps reading subtitles, but certainly only doing that – only focusing on the show, which is great but that’s the only thing you can do while you’re doing it. With podcasts you can listen while you’re doing something else, which is a big advantage when it comes to saving time.

So, the basic thing is just listen.

But what else can you do? What other kinds of practice can you do? And how can this podcast fit into that?

*Luke talks a bit about learning English as a child and learning English by ‘survival’ (e.g. moving to a new country and having to learn English to work or get by every day)*

I’ve talked about this before in previous episodes, for example episode 174 (How to learn English with LEP) and also some other episodes, like the ones about Breaking the Intermediate Plateau and various others I’ve recorded over the years.

It all depends on what kind of learner you are and what works for you. I think there isn’t one universal method which always works for everyone.

You have to choose the kind of practice that works for you, fits into your lifestyle and matches your motivation. And that’s a good thing – a lot of people worry about whether they’re doing the right thing and whether they’re following the right method. Just do what works for you, because all roads lead to Rome. As long as you’re practising, staying positive, staying motivated, enjoying it mostly, and spending time on practising your language, that’s great. Find the thing that works for you and that’s great. Often the best methods are the ones that just make you feel good while you’re practising, although saying that it is important to push yourself out of your comfort zone and don’t be lazy. But at the same time it’s better to be doing something rather than nothing.

I mean, some people think “I’m not practising my language learning in the right way therefore I won’t do it at all” which is a big mistake. In language learning something is always better than nothing. So interact with English regularly, even if you feel like it’s not 100% the best method in the world, it’s better to do that than nothing at all. For example, if all you do is just listen to my podcast and don’t really do anything else, that’s ok. I would encourage you to do other types of practice too, but certainly only listening to my podcast is by no means a bad thing. If it’s a case of “only listen to a podcast in English without doing other work” or “don’t do anything at all” – only listening to the podcast is a far far far better option, obviously.

That seems obvious, but I know from experience (and personal experience as a learner of French) that we are all likely to think “Oh, just listening to this podcast episode is not going to solve all my language learning problems, so I’ll just do something else instead”. That’s human nature. But listening to the podcast episode or reading a few pages from that book or whatever it is that you’re doing with your English, is always better than just doing nothing!

So, just sitting back with your headphones on and listening to me, or listening to someone else on another podcast, that’s totally fab and brilliant and magical even if it is the basic minimum you can do.

But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this podcast works best as part of a balanced diet. I mean, you’ll make more progress if you combine listening with other, more active forms of practice.

You should also be doing plenty of speaking, ideally in conversation with real people in English, preferably with native speakers (but not necessarily) and you should be doing reading and writing practice as well. Reading is really important because, basically, you’ve got to see the language as well as hear it. Remember, language exists in many forms and you have to be familiar with it an all those forms – you need to be able to write it (spelling, grammar, structure, understanding the conventions of certain kinds of text – like how to organise an essay, a letter, a report, an email, an informal text etc) you need to be able to read it – in various forms – books, articles, etc. You need to be able to understand it when it is spoken (listening skills) in order to identify the main topic, but also to get the nuances like small details, attitude of the speaker and the ways in which words might be joined together and how different accents sound, and you need to be able to speak the language – which means being able to convey exactly what you mean fairly quickly, confidently and with some nuance too.

To get the fully rounded and complete English that you need, it’s important to work on those 4 skills. You also need to work on language systems like grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation because these are the building blocks of the language. But remember that those building blocks are always used to express an idea, to communicate a message and that is the main point of language – it’s there to communicate a message, so always prioritise the effective communication of your message. That’s the most important thing.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should ignore accuracy (meaning – correct grammar, correct word usage, correct spelling etc) no – accuracy is also important of course. What I mean is that it’s best to practise using language for communication, rather than just doing mechanical practice of grammar for example. So, my point here is that English is something you can do not just something you know. Focus on being able to do things in English, like for example being able to tell stories about yourself (you know those little stories about our lives that we all have, like the story of our career, or the main relationships in our lives etc). That’s just one example. In a wider sense, this all means that you need to let English into your life in a personal way and learn how to use English to express yourself as a person. It’s not just about knowing the right irregular verb, or knowing the rule for how past perfect is used.

Studying grammar definitely helps…

But here are some ideas about how this podcast can help you with your English, and specific things that you can do, using this podcast, beyond just listening to it regularly.

First of all, you should become a premium subscriber (as you know) because in those premium episodes I actually cut out a lot of the annoying work that you’d normally have to do and kind of hand all the language to you on a plate, with practice exercises and some pronunciation drills and everything, so that will certainly help you maximise your learning with my podcast.

But in terms of other things, here are some ideas.

More Ideas for How to Work on your English (with and without this podcast)

  • Be mindful and notice language – this just means paying attention to the language as you hear it – try to notice features of grammar, certain phrases, ways in which words join together in fluent speech. Noticing or being mindful – it just means paying attention really. You can mke mental notes as you listen, just going “oh, it’s interesting how he’s using ‘will’ to talk about the future here and “going to” there, or “ooh how did he structure that sentence about the past?” and stuff like that. You can skip back and listen to bits again. You can make actual notes on paper, on a computer or on a phone. You could push it even further and transcribe parts of an episode. Transcribing is a super-duper mindful listening exercise because you end up having to focus on every single minute detail when you’re transcribing and it forces you to really pay attention. There is a transcription project for this podcast which is run by listeners. You can join in – more info in a minute.
  • Check the pages for episodes where a lot of the language will be written – you might find words written there – words or phrases you didn’t know but you heard me using. You can then just notice them, or copy+paste them into your word lists or your flashcard apps or whatever sweet technological wizardry you like to use.
  • You’ll often find transcripts there too, which is nice.
  • Shadowing – this means repeating after me. You can talk along with me, if you can keep up, or pause the podcast and repeat what I’m saying.
  • Responding to what I’m saying – in your head, out loud, on paper or in the comment section on the website. Respond to any part of an episode with your own thoughts. It can make it more like a conversation. You could even just pause the podcast and talk for a little bit on your own. It doesn’t mean you’re mad or insane anything. It’s ok, you can tell the doctors that I told you to do it – I mean talk to yourself, not rob a bank or anything. I will not take responsibility for your criminal tendencies or your language learning – both are ultimately your responsibility.
  • A little bit of humour there, hahhaha ha ha ha yes it certainly helps the language learning process doesn’t it… (awkward)
  • Language exchanges – find someone who speaks English who wants to learn your language. Do 30 minutes in English, 30 mins in your language. It helps if you find someone who is actually serious about doing it and isn’t a total time waster. You might need to shop around and you might have a few disappointing experiences before you find the right person.
  • You can set up language exchanges with other users on italki and it’s free.
  • LEP meetups, or at least chat with friends – organise social events in English, like board game sessions or whatever. Check my website for Meetups, or organise one and tell me about it and I’ll advertise it on the podcast. Give me plenty of notice. You can also check websites like meetup.com to see if there are English language events happening in your area.
  • Italki lessons – get some private tuition with a teacher on italki
  • Peer groups – find groups of like-minded individuals to share the language learning journey. The comment section on my website might be a good way to start. Try leaving some friendly responses to other people’s comments. You might end up in a Skype group, chatting with friendly people in English.
  • Getting your errors corrected – I think there are services online that will correct your writing, but honestly I’m not sure where they are. If you know of any, let us know in the comment section. I haven’t actually googled it, maybe you could do that, with you know, the internet.
  • Self-correction – use your passive knowledge of grammar, spelling, vocabulary to correct your writing. I think I’ve got more to say on this in a minute.
  • Grammar books – go through the exercises and try to get them right (of course – it would be weird if you tried to get them wrong) read the grammar rules or should I say “guidelines” because they can be a neat shortcut to understanding how the language really works and also try to notice the language you’re studying and use the grammar book to confirm what you’re hearing in the real world. For example, you could study some language in your grammar book and make a point of trying to notice it being used in the English you’re reading or listening to.
  • Write a diary – write things in English every day. Even if it’s boring stuff like “I went to work and then got a headache because my boss stresses me out and then I had some cake”. It doesn’t matter what it is really, just find your voice in English and write something every day, even if nobody else reads it, it’s still good practice.
  • Write your ideas down without worrying too much about being correct, then read it again and correct it like a teacher, then write the thing again. You could write a response to a topic in the podcast for example, or if it’s your diary just write what you did using past tenses all the time and express your feelings and describe what you want to happen in the future and things like that.
  • Write imaginary letters or emails, or maybe write real emails to, like, real people! Find a pen friend. Again, there are websites that can help you find a pen friend. Like I said before – google it! I can’t do absolutely everything for you. If you can’t find a real pen friend, just use your imagination!
  • Read graded readers (books adapted to your level) they’re published by Penguin, Black Cat and other publishers. You might find some in your library or perhaps just buy some from Amazon or another bookseller that pays its taxes (ooh controversial). Graded readers are books which have been adapted to different levels of English. They are easier to read and this is a good thing because reading normal books in English can be crushing and difficult so what’s the point, and with graded books you get the satisfaction of finishing a book in English.
  • Record yourself and listen back to it
  • Use my TED talk technique
  • Transcribe portions of my episodes – and join the Orion Team
  • Write comments in the comment section and chat with other listeners. Feel free to discuss ideas and things, but always try to be friendly and respectful – which is a good exercise in life in general.
  • Listen to episodes several times if you can. You’ll notice so much more on repeat listens.
  • Loads of things to do, and there are more ideas out there – feel free to share them in the comment section.

OK – how are you all doing? Feeling motivated? I should certainly hope so!

To recap – the main thing I want you to do is to listen – listen more, listen regularly, listen for longer periods and listen long term. Hopefully my podcast can help.

Also, through listening you can certainly improve your English significantly, but it’ll help if you do other things too, you get creative with it, you use your imagination and you let yourself go a bit. OK? OK!!

What does this mean to me personally?

For me this podcast is a labour of love – with more emphasis on the love than the labour. I mean, I work hard on this, but mainly it’s something I just love doing, which makes it not feel like work. The Chinese philosopher Confucius may have said “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” (People say Confucius said this)

This podcast project (which also includes my website, my premium service and other things like occasional videos) this is where I use my professional skills as a teacher to make my content, but also I get to use this as a platform for my creativity, for interviewing interesting people and for rambling on about topics that I personally find fascinating.

Also, it’s a great joy for me to be able to share my culture and my language with my listeners who come from all around the world, and who often contact me on social media, by email and in the comment section of my website, where there are regular commenters who have created something of a community of friendly LEPsters.

Most of my listeners are ninjas – not literally (although who knows) No, what I mean by ninjas is just people who stay hiding in the shadows, listening intently but never revealing themselves or getting in touch with me. Every now and then a ninja will emerge from the shows, send me a message or leave a comment on the website and then disappear forever.

In my experience, the vast majority of my audience are lovely, like-minded people who are united by their interest in learning English and hopefully the sorts of things that get talked about on this podcast.

My top ten countries, right now, at the time of recording this, are (in reverse order):

10. Ukraine
9. Italy
8. Germany
7. Poland
6. Korea
5. UK
4. Spain
3. Japan
2. China
1. Russia

The chances are, you are currently living in one of those places. If so, “HELLO”. If you are living in another country, then I would like to extend a very warm “HELLO” to you too. In fact, I think there might be more people listening outside of those top 10 countries, but you’re all spread out across different parts of the globe. The top 10 countries represent where my audience kind of bunch up together. According to my online stats, I have listeners in about 200 countries. So, if you are not in the top 10, then HELLO! And please tell some of your mates about the podcast in order to get your country into the top 10. Russia, Japan and China are the usual winners of this weird International Premiership of Countries I have going on here. Those countries also have pretty large populations, which might have something to do with it. India is #28 by the way. I don’t really understand the statistics to be honest, except that people in the world listen to me talking and that’s marvellous.

So, this podcast is my personal project and it is also now a source of income for me. My free episodes are sponsored by italki and Spoken all of whom offer services for improving your English in ways that go well with this podcast. For example with italki you can get regular speaking practice into your life. Those sponsors support the free episodes and they also offer you discounts and stuff like that. Then, my premium subscription service also helps me put food on the table and pay the rent, as well as cover the costs of running this whole project – and there are costs involved! Hosting all my audio and video content, hosting my website, the costs of recording equipment that helps me keep the sound quality as high as possible so you can hear every word I say without having to damage your hearing in the process!

Also, my work is supported by my audience who send donations to me as an expression of gratitude. Thanks guys.

All in all, the podcast now helps me to live my life, and do certain basic and vital things like support my family, buy food in the supermarket, buy nappies for my daughter, train tickets to see my family, and other essentials like proper tea bags from Marks & Spencer and biscuits and cake and stuff. Let me tell you, it is a wonderful thing that I can do something I love (podcasting) in order to help me do other things I love (like drinking tea and buying cinema tickets) and to provide things for people I love (my wife and daughter).

How does this podcast work and how can you listen to it?

Well, you’re listening to it now so I guess you’ve pretty much worked this one out, but still, it’s worth just telling you a few things about how this works.

Listen on a computer, or listen on your phone. There may be other ways to get it. The podcast is on Spotify as well…

Listen on your phone
Most people listen using a podcasting app on their phone, for example the Apple Podcasts app or maybe the equivalent podcast app on Android phones. Other podcasting apps are available, like PocketCasts, CastBox, iVoox etc, but of course truly the best way to enjoy listening to this podcast on your phone is to use my app – the Luke’s English Podcast App, which is available free from the app store. Why is it better Luke? Well, it does pretty much the same things that those other apps do (like you can download episodes into the app for offline listening, or you can change the playback speed, select your favourite episodes and stuff), but there’s quite a lot of bonus content in the LEP app – some episodes contain bonus audio clips (like bits I’ve edited out of the episode) and loads of other stuff – in fact there are loads of videos, about 150 short episodes about phrasal verbs – all in the LEP App and available free.

You can also access my premium episodes using the app. Just login with your premium details and bob’s your uncle – all the premium content is right there for you to enjoy in your own time.

So, in my opinion, the best way to listen on your phone is through my app, and I consider the LEP app to be the home of LEP on your phone.

So, most people listen to the podcast on their phone, probably while riding a bus or something like that. That’s the cool thing about audio podcasts. You can listen to them while you’re doing other things, which allows you to get more English into your life by multitasking.

It’s not like watching English videos on YouTube or Netflix, which require 100% of your attention. You can listen while doing the housework, walking down the street, sitting on the loo or many other things that we all have to do no matter where in the world we live.

On your computer
It’s also possible to listen to the podcast on your computer, probably on my website where you’ll find the entire archive of episodes (and I’ve done episodes on loads of different topics – have a look and you’ll see). The advantage of listening on your computer is that you can check out the notes, transcripts and other useful information which I present on the pages for these episodes. Also, you can leave your comments in the comment section, read other people’s comments and all that stuff.

All the premium content is also available via my website.

By the way, if you want more details about the premium content and how to register for it, just go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium which you really should do if you want your life to be even more awesome than it already is.

A good way to get easy access to the website pages for episodes is to join my mailing list, which is on the website, in the top right HAND corner of every page. Join the mailing list and you’ll get an email whenever I upload a new episode, or something else on the website, and sometimes I upload website-only content like perhaps a letter from me, a music mix, my appearances on other people’s podcasts or videos (sometimes I’m interviewed by other people – usually about something humour-related) and things like that. So join the mailing list. You’ll get an email in your inbox with a link when I upload something, click the link and it’ll take you straight to thAT page.

That’s probably enough now isn’t it?

OK, so that was my chance to take stock, re-state some of the aims of this podcast, and help us put our best foot forwards in 2019.

As ever I am always happy to read your comments and emails. If you have any thoughts about any of this, about my podcast, about your English, about tips for improving your English, or if I’ve missed something please write a comment or send an email through the website or the app.

I look forward to recording more episodes of this podcast for you in the coming months, and there will be conversations with my Dad, with Amber & Paul, more episodes about British Comedy, more stuff about accents, premium episodes with language teaching and plenty of other things coming.

Thank you for listening to my podcast and for being wonderful human beings.

Have a great day, morning, evening, night or whatever time of day it is out there in LEPland.

Speak to you again in the next episode.

Bye!

🎁 Listen to this episode in the LEP App for 10+ minutes of bonus audio 🎁

Search the app store for Luke’s English Podcast App.

557. I’m a Rambling Guy (Monologue – Autumn 2018)

A rambling monologue about my recent French test, a duck-related error, responses to the Alan Partridge episodes and the Russian comedy club video, moving out of the sky-pod, and life with my wife and daughter. A video version of this episode is available for Premium subscribers in the LEP app and online. www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium

Yes, this episode is long… but you don’t have to listen to it in one sitting. Listen to a bit, then stop and go to work/college, then listen to the rest later. This is much more convenient if you are using a podcast app, like the LEP app (available in the app store on your phone of course!) because it will remember where you stopped listening.

Audio Version

[DOWNLOAD]

Video Version (only available for Premium subscribers)

Unlock the video by becoming an LEP Premium subscriber here www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium

Notes, Transcripts & More – A Rambling Monologue (October 2018)

Hello!

I’m going to just talk in this episode without much preparation. It’s so tempting to prepare all of this in advance and I’ve been sitting here going – “OK let’s record this episode without preparation this time” and I keep adding more stuff to my notes here but it’s time to stop writing and start talking!

Like everyone I suppose, I have to plan my speeches quite carefully or they will go off on weird tangents and get a bit out of control. Imagine talking to an audience and making it all up as you go. You’ll end up talking too much or not getting to the point. It’s the same for my podcast. If I have an episode that needs some careful preparation, I will write a lot of stuff down in advance, but then sometimes it’s fun to speak without much preparation, like in these rambling episodes. It’s fun and it’s also more authentic because I’m just making up my sentences on the spot.

I’ve got some notes here. Some things are written down but I’ve decided to stop writing now and just start talking.

So my challenges in this episode are…

  • To talk without preparing most of it in advance
  • To just keep going even if I feel like I’ve made a mistake and I’d like to start again. Just keep going Luke!

I’m videoing this too. The video version will be available for Premium subscribers. If you’re a subscriber you’ll find the video in the app (either in the Videos category or Premium category) and online at www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium which is also where you can go if you want to sign up and become a premium subscriber to get bonus stuff like this as well as regular premium episodes that focus on teaching you grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation.

Rambling = talking in an unplanned and slightly unorganised way, probably for too long.

I have been accused of rambling in the past. “Luke, you’re rambling!” Yes, yes I am!

It’s sometimes a weakness of mine, that I struggle to be brief when I talk, but I like think that like Batman I can turn my weakness into my greatest strength.

Batman is actually afraid of bats (or he was when he was a kid), so he becomes a bat in order to conquer his fear. Bats were his weakness, so he became a bat, well, a man dressed as a bat. By doing that he becomes fear itself and then he uses this power to fight crime and all that stuff.

Similarly, my weakness is that I can talk and talk without really getting to the point – I ramble and so I can become RambleMan and I can use rambling to my advantage to become some sort of super hero, although I have no idea how I can fight crime with this skill, except perhaps to give would-be criminals something else to do – just distract them with talking so they don’t commit any crimes.

OK the analogy doesn’t work, but it was worth a try!

Here’s a run-down of the stuff I’m going to ramble about in this episode.

  • French test
  • My recent duck-related error
  • Responses to the Alan Partridge episodes
  • Responses to me talking with Amber and Paul about the Russian comedy club video
  • Moving out of the sky-pod
  • How’s your daughter?
  • How’s your wife?

But first, I have a shoutout to the Orion Team – everyone involved in that, and in particular a listener in the comment section called Syntropy.

Transcripts

Message from Jack
Dear teacher, I’m writing to you to let you know that my acquaintance from the transcription team “Syntropy” has single-handedly transcribed two long episodes of the podcast. I just thought that it would be nice of you to thank him in the next episode of the podcast.

Syntropy has single-handedly transcribed two long episodes of the podcast. That’s amazing.
Normally you just do a few minutes, and everyone works together to finish episodes. Doing a whole episode is long. Thank you Syntropy and thank you to all the members of the Orion Transcription Team. Listeners, you can check out their work and get involved too by visiting the website and clicking transcripts in the menu.

Thank you Syntropy.

In fact, here is a comment from Syntropy that I got the other day and which I thought was worth sharing.

Comment from Syntropy
Hi Luke, and Hello LEPsters :)
Luke, I just wanted to say thank you so much. I’m a long-term listener, although I haven’t been able to catch up with all episodes. Luke’s English Podcast has been my main resource for learning English, and thanks to you I’ve managed to score C1 level in a placement test.
I travelled to Manchester 🐝🐝 in order to study English for a couple of months. Before the trip, I had listened to your Alan Partridge episodes. When the teacher asked me about my method for learning English, you were the first person that crossed my mind. She got really surprised, since few learners of English really listen to podcasts. Then, I mentioned Alan Partridge, and we even had a small talk about comedy. If it wasn’t for LEP, I wouldn’t have such knowledge on British culture, for example (not to mention other things, like pronunciation and vocabulary). You definitely helped me to achieve a high level in this crazy language.
In the end, she told me that my level was actually higher than advanced. You have no idea of how happy I got after what she said. And I must say that it was pretty much all due to you, and your podcast.
I remembered that rambling chat with Moz in which you talked about a similar experience you had with a student who also listened to your podcast haha.
I can’t thank you enough, Luke 😊. Also, a special thanks to the brilliant Orion Team for transcribing the episodes.
Keep it up. There’s definitely method to the madness.
Cheers,
Syntropy

French test and citizenship

I had to take a French level test as part of my application for French citizenship. “But Luke, why are you becoming French?” One word: Brexit.

My Duck-related error

In episode 555 I talked to Raphael and we ended up talking about Disneyland and how there are weird illogical mistakes in Disney cartoons. It sounded like this (26:05). Can you spot the duck-related error I made?

Donald duck not daffy duck! (Episode 555) I hate to get my duck names wrong. Impressions? It’s funny when you spot these inconsistencies in cartoons. Obviously, that’s the joy of cartoons, and you’re not supposed to think about it too much, but I like to do that! Another listener pointed out another scene in which Donald and his 3 kids are sitting down for dinner and there’s a big roast bird on the table. Is it a chicken? Turkey? It could be a duck. They’re cannibals, basically.

Responses to the Alan Partridge episodes

I feel like I’ve made a breakthrough because I’ve had so many positive comments about these episodes. There was one person who wrote a comment saying that the comedy episodes weren’t for him because he just didn’t get the jokes and this made him feel stupid, but on the whole the response was very positive which is great for me because it makes up for those painful moments in the past when I’ve failed to help my students to enjoy comedy. I think the key is to pre-teach a lot of details before even listening to the clip and then to go through it all very carefully afterwards.

…and the Russian Comedy Club video from episode 552

I’ve had messages with various opinions. Most of the comments are from Russian listeners, as you would expect. Most people were happy to hear us talking about the sketch. Some people say they this is a pretty crappy sketch and an example of mainstream entertainment (we also have mainstream stuff in the UK too which is basically shit – although that makes me sound a bit snobbish) and that these guys used to be better but now they’ve kind of lost it. Other people say I still don’t really get the joke and that it’s about how non-native speakers understand each other but non-natives don’t understand them (but that’s not really true) Apparently there is underground comedy which is much more nuanced and good. In fact I know for certain that there is stand up in Russia, in the main cities, including stand up in English. I was going to interview some people involved in that at some point but it never happened.

Moving out of the sky-pod

It’s the end of an era

How are your wife and daughter?

They’re great thanks! There’s a premium episode with my wife coming soon (because she’s a premium person – yes, and so are my family and friends, ok ok)

What George Harrison said about becoming a dad (paraphrased).

You get tons of perspective. You can become a child again, but you also become your father too. So you live 3 generations at the same time.

Steve Martin – I’m a Rambling Guy (on Spotify)

550. British Comedy: Alan Partridge (Part 3)

Here’s the final part of this trilogy of British Comedy episodes about Alan Partridge. This time we’re analysing some of the quieter and darker moments in Alan’s life as he rambles about flasks, cars, seat belts, badges and having an air bag go off in your face, and avoids the problems in his life. Expect analysis of both the comedy and the language. Vocabulary lists and transcript available. 

[DOWNLOAD]

Transcript

So here we are with part 3 of this British Comedy episode, hot on the heels of part 2. This series is all about this famous British comedy character called Alan Partridge.

If you haven’t heard parts 1 and 2 yet I recommend that you go and listen to those first.

The plan again is to listen to some clips on YouTube and then analyse them for language. Hopefully you’ll get the jokes and will pick up some nice vocabulary on the way.

3 episodes is quite a lot to devote to one thing like this, but I really like Alan Partridge and introducing this comedy to you successfully (so that you enjoy it) is a sort of personal challenge for me and also there’s so much Partridge content that I feel just one episode or maybe just two would only really scratch the surface. To give this a proper chance we need to spend a bit of time on it.

Listener Emails

Hopefully you’re enjoying these episodes. Actually, I don’t really know what most of you think. I’ve had a few messages from people saying they are looking forward to part 3 of this – emails mostly.

For example, here’s part of a message from a listener called Hanna in Germany.

Dear Luke, I just wanted to get in touch to tell you how much i like your podcast. I’ve listened to the newest Partridge episode today and loved it. I think you’ve done a brilliant job in getting across what’s so funny and weirdly likeable about him. I’m really looking forward to a third episode about him. And in fact to all the upcoming episodes. In the meantime I scroll through your fantastic archive and pick out my favourite topics to enjoy in my everyday life.

Thank you Hannah.

But on the website I have had hardly any comments on these episodes, which is making me wonder what you’re all thinking. I have no idea really… So please let me know in the comment section. Are you like Hanna, who thinks I’ve managed to do a good job of getting across to you the ins and outs of Alan Partridge, or does it all seem hard to understand and totally unfunny? Let me know.

I did get an email from a teacher in Japan. I think he’s a native English speaker. I have to share it with you.

Message: Hello Luke,
I teach English in Japan. My students often listen to your podcast. In a recent episode you had a TV show host interviewing a child genius. My students are split on whether this really happened, or whether this was staged. I think it is pretty clear that a real TV show host would not actually physically abuse a child on TV, but my students are not convinced. They think this (smacking children upside the head in public and making them cry) is an example of British humour. (notice I spelt that with a ‘u’). I noted that you said it was ‘a spoof, a parody” at the beginning of the segment, but they are not convinced. Please clarify and explain the meaning of ‘spoof’. Love your show.

This is the sort of thing I’m talking about. There’s always someone who gets the completely wrong end of the stick and misunderstands something quite essential about the comedy, like for example what is the target of the joke and what are the underlying meanings or assumptions.

I actually can’t believe there’s anyone out there who would think that Alan is a real person and that he actually slapped a child, and that’s where the comedy comes from. Slapping a child is an absolutely terrible thing to do and it’s certainly not funny. No, the sketch in part 1 where Alan appears to slap a child, is obviously not real.

It seems I might need to clarify something. I thought it was obvious, but you should remember that Alan is not a real person. He’s a character made up by comedians. The scene in part 1 when he interviews a child genius, the child is not a real child. He’s played by an actress called Doon Mackichan who is changing her voice to sound like a child. And anyway, Alan doesn’t actually slap anyone. It’s just a sound effect for the radio. Nobody got slapped in real life.

And in the sketch, we’re not really laughing at a child being slapped. That’s not the joke. Just slapping a child is clearly not funny. It’s awful. So we’re not laughing at a child being slapped, we’re laughing at the fact that Alan is a fatally flawed character who is so pathetic that he will slap a child in order to come out on top or to save face. It’s ridiculous.

I understand that in Japan social conventions are so different in some cases that it might be hard to notice where the comedy is in slapping a child, but it’s really about the character of Alan and how he reacts to being wrong in a situation.

Anyway, slapping a child isn’t really British humour, but featuring a character who would slap a child is more typical of British comedy. We often feature characters in our sitcoms who will do terrible things in order to get what they want and they often fail. We laugh at these people, not with them. They are the target of the humour. Alan is not a hero who we support, quite the opposite, we observe him doing all sorts of terrible and pathetic things. Another example… Basil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers springs to mind. He does lots of terrible things to make sure his hotel business doesn’t get closed down. We cringe at the things he does, but also are amused by what happens to this person who is essentially not very nice when he is put under tremendous pressure that he’s probably responsible for in the first place.

Anyway, for most of you I probably didn’t need to give that clarification but for the students at school (however old you are, I’m not sure) let me assure you – Alan Partridge is not real and none of it is real. He is a character played by an actor called Steve Coogan. Alan Partridge is a parody or a spoof.

Parody, Spoof & Satire

A parody is a humorous piece of writing, drama, or music which imitates the style of a well-known person or represents a familiar situation in an exaggerated way.

When someone parodies a particular work, thing, or person, they imitate it in an amusing or exaggerated way.

So a parody is an imitation of something, in order to make fun of it. Alan is a parody of TV presenters.

A Spoof is a show or piece of writing that appears to be serious but is actually a joke. It’s also like a “fake” show. The Day Today is a spoof of the news.

We often use spoof and parody in the same or similar ways.

A satire is a piece of comedy designed to criticise something by making fun of it. Satire is like spoof or parody but doesn’t always involve imitations and often has serious targets like politics.

Animal Farm by George Orwell is a satire of communism. It criticises and makes fun of communism with this fictional story about pigs running a farm.

So Alan Partridge is certainly a spoof or parody of television and radio presenters. Perhaps at it’s best it’s some kind of satire about television and culture in general. In fact he’s become more of a parody of a kind of small-minded English man.

Alan Clips

Let’s listen to some more clips. This is going to be good listening practice and there will be loads of vocab, but also let’s see this as a kind of little adventure where I take you into something new and you have to try and work out what’s going on.

I’ve chosen two more clips, and I’ve chosen these ones because they are slightly quieter moments for Alan, not the big moments with all the catchphrases, but moments when Alan is perhaps at a weak point, which reveal how restless he is and how flawed he is on a basic social level.

We get a bit deeper into his psyche in this episode.

So in these clips I’m asking you not to look out for jokes like in the Edinburgh episode. Alan doesn’t really do jokes although there are very funny lines. So, don’t look for jokes. Instead look for the way this character expresses himself, how he chooses his words, how he can’t really connect with people around him, how he’s isolated, how he’s actually not a very good person.

There’s a bit of tragedy to Alan. It’s just there, under the surface. You have to read between the lines.

8. Alan calls his son and then Curry’s to ask about getting a surround sound speaker system

This is a glimpse into Alan’s family life and his relationship with his son. You could say it is strained. Imagine having Partridge as your father. It would be awful.

It’s a Saturday afternoon and Alan decides to call his son Fernando, who is 22 years old – around the same age I was when I first watched this. Fernando is named after the Abba song of the same name.

Alan calls Fernando to see if he wants to go for a pint. He catches Fernando in bed with his girlfriend and ends up lecturing him about how he’s wasting his time when the weather is so good outside. The key line is “It’s a Saturday afternoon and you’re in bed with a girl, you’re wasting your life!” Alan couldn’t be more wrong of course.

Instead, Alan suggests that Fernando take her out to a local tourist spot, like a local fort or a Victorian folly. These are like the bog-standard local tourist attractions in the UK. You find things like this everywhere and they’re mostly boring. The fort is probably some local old remains of a castle. A Victorian folly is basically a fake medieval building made during the Victorian era to resemble something from the medieval times. In both cases they are very boring and no doubt populated by other such middle-English middle-Educated weekenders with their anoraks and cameras. For Alan this is a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Of course, staying in bed with a girl is a far better way to spend your time.

Alan can’t relate to Fernando and patronises him (talks down to him and lectures him), while also rambling on like a broadcaster.

His rambling goes too far and he ends up talking about how he used to make love to Fernando’s mother Carol in various places, even telling the story of how Fernando was conceived, making it sound like Fernando might have been a mistake, or that perhaps Alan wasn’t happy when Fernando was born.

We never hear Fernando’s voice. It’s just Alan’s half of the conversation, leaving us to work out the other side for ourselves, which is a good comedy technique.

We can see there are serious issues in their relationship. It sounds like Alan was probably a terrible father, making his son feel unloved and unvalued, and just lecturing him rather than relating to him on a normal level. Alan tries to be friends with Fernando, but he’s completely unaware of how much he mistreats Fernando.

Alan then calls Curry’s the electronics store to find out about buying some speakers and typically ends up either arguing with the sales assistant, lecturing him, or letting him into close personal details. Alan also talks about the speaker system in a weird, formal way, perhaps using the technical language you might read in the product manual, and even using some latin words. For some reason he feels this technical and formal register is appropriate when asking about buying some speakers from a hardware shop. You can imagine that there is a generation of people who are old-fashioned enough to do that too. At the end he even attempts to invite the guy from Curry’s to go for a pint with him, because he’s bored. The guy says no.

In the end Alan decides to walk up the motorway to visit the local garage to buy some windscreen washer fluid. It’s funny to see these utterly mundane moments in Alan’s life. He’s a bit lost and is living in isolation and obscurity. Nobody else in the Travel Tavern is there, so he just leaves, shouting slightly desperately in case anyone wants to join him.

What to watch out for

  • How Alan makes his son feel unloved
  • How Alan describes how Fernando was conceived and it sounds like he wasn’t happy when
  • Fernando was born
  • How Alan starts going on about flasks and Fernando just hangs up
  • How Alan talks to the sales assistant at Curry’s and expects him to know latin
  • How he fails to invite the guy for a pint of beer

Language

  • You both sound exhausted, have you been running?
  • We did it everywhere. Behind a large boulder on Helvellyn for my birthday.
  • Actually, that is where you were conceived.
  • We just didn’t take precautions (so Fernando wasn’t planned, maybe an accident)
  • No we were delighted! Well, at first I was mortified but then you were born and we grew to like you.
  • I left a tartan flask up there. One of those very fragile ones with a screw on cup/cap.
  • These days they’re much more resilient. They took the technology from NASA. Modern flasks today are directly linked to the Apollo space mission. Hello?
  • I’d like to make an enquiry about two supplementary auxiliary speakers to go with my MIDI hi-fi system apropos (with reference to) achieving surround sound.
  • What time do you knock off? Do you fancy going for a drink?
  • Breath of fresh air?

9. Extended Car Sequence (no laughter track)

It’s interesting how a laughter track totally changes the tone of what you’re listening to.

Friends with no laughter track makes Ross sound like a psycho.

In this case having no laughter track makes Alan better and it sounds a lot more authentic.

Alan & Lynn in the car

I’ve chosen this because I want to play a clip with no laughter and in which Steve Coogan and Felicity Montagu (Lynn) are clearly improvising a lot of the dialogue. There are no big laughs in there, but instead this is just Alan at a bored moment. It’s also perhaps one of my favourite Alan moments because of the improvisation. The characters are totally believable. It’s like we’re just observing them in a quiet moment during the day. As we listen to their naturalistic dialogue it’s possible to notice that Alan is slowly becoming a bit unhinged – I mean, the doors are starting to fall off. He’s bored. He’s isolated. He’s probably quite sad and perhaps desperate underneath it.

Alan is “at a loose end” and so he’s requested that Lynn come and meet him so he can ask her something that’s been bothering him. It’s a small thing really, but Alan makes Lynn travel quite a long and complicated journey to come out and see him.

They just sit in the car and Alan rambles about nothing in particular. The main thing bothering him is that his car is making a weird beeping noise and he doesn’t know why. But it seems he just needs Lynn to be there so he can lecture her, patronise her, belittle her etc as a way of escaping the dark feelings that are probably gnawing away at him. Lynn is very faithful to Alan, and has strong Baptist religious beliefs, but Alan is very mean to Lynn, making her take a taxi and to walk a long way just so Alan can have someone to talk to.

Alan doesn’t even believe Lynn when she gives her excuse for being late, which shows that she’s clearly had a long journey to get there. He’s very ungrateful towards her.

Lynn knows that Alan might be at a very vulnerable point here – he’s been thrown out by his wife, living in a travel tavern and he punched the BBC director general in the face with a piece of cheese, and it’s not having a good effect on his mental state. So she’s supportive.

Lynn is clearly concerned about Alan and offers to talk to him about his problems.

Instead of talking about his problems, Alan just goes on in great detail about the features of the car, clearly in denial about his situation and his depressed state.

By the way I think Lynn was the one who actually bought the car for Alan. Him criticising parts of it is also a way for him to criticise her. He’s subtly telling her that he’s not happy with the car she bought.

Obviously Alan is unhappy about more than the car, but he never talks about that. The only thing he can do is comment on minor details in the car. The more specific he gets about these trivial details, like the design of the badge on the steering wheel, the more he is essentially trying to escape the reality of his situation, which is that his life and career are a mess.

Alan’s weird broadcasting sensibility comes in as he starts reviewing the car, commenting on the way seat belts work and generally patronising Lynn.

The tension is palpable.

It’s hilarious comedy and is improvised.

But it’s 100% not obvious.

So I would say, don’t imagine this is comedy. Imagine you’re just listening in on someone’s conversation. Let’s imagine we’re spying on them, just overhearing two people chatting aimlessly.

Coogan’s ability to stay in character is incredible.
The absence of laughter track makes it 100x better.

I wonder what you will think but this is one of my favourite Alan moments. It’s so natural and the character’s avoidance of talking about his problems while focusing on meaningless details of the car, is very interesting from a character point of view, and shows there is real depth and pathos to the character.

What to look out for

  • How difficult it was for Lynn to come and meet him, and how Alan suspects this is a lie
  • The reason Alan asked Lynn to come out
  • Lynn’s suggestion about why the car is making a noise (the clock is wrong)
  • Alan’s reaction to Lynn’s suggestion that it’s because the clock is wrong
  • What Alan thinks of the car, particularly his disappointment about the badge on the steering wheel.
  • Listen to how Alan loves the sound of the electric sun roof
  • What Alan says about the seat belts

Language

  • I got caught in a taxi that broke down
  • Do you know what that noise is?
  • It wouldn’t be “engine faulty” would it?
  • It’s been irritating me all morning
  • Is it the handbrake?
  • Don’t touch the handbrake. We’ll roll back.
  • Just make sure it’s in neutral there.
  • If you ever learn to drive Lynn, when you stop the car, just give it a bit of a wiggle. Make sure it’s in neutral.
  • My mum always puts it in first (gear)
  • Some people do that to stop it rolling back when you park on a hill but it’s unorthodox. It’s a stop gap for a faulty handbrake, but I personally frown on it.
  • I’ve locked the doors there. That’s a design fault. Design flaw. Just pop your elbow on there, you’ve locked the doors. Sometimes you don’t want to.
  • I thought you’d like this.
  • It’s wood laminate.
  • Pop your seatbelt on.
  • These are inertia real seatbelts.
  • Suddenly a lorry rears in front of you. Impact! LOCK!
  • I’d rather have a few superficial bruises than a massively lacerated face. Ooh, awful.
  • I’d love to feel an airbag go off in my face.
  • What I like about this material is, just to get a little bit of extra purchase, it’s pricked vinyl.
  • Pricked vinyl will allow a certain amount of drainage of hand sweat.
  • The Rover badge on the old car was a lovely enamel beautiful crested thing on the steering wheel boss, whereas this one is just moulded into the vinyl.
  • All I do is sit here looking at this moulded badge where once there was an enamel one and I can’t pretend that doesn’t hurt.
  • The sun roof is a wonderful feat of engineering. Just listen to all these servo motors.
  • Precision engineering.
  • Whirring away.
  • And of course you’ve got the manual flap.
  • You go through a bad patch and you can smile at the end of it, probably.
  • I didn’t say I was going through a bad patch, I said I was at a loose end.
  • [Lynn suggests that Alan takes the car for a drive, but Alan beeps the horn while she’s talking, interrupting her. She tries to continue, talking about how there’s an arcade – games centre – up the road where there’s a fun camel race]
  • Do you want to know the quickest way to drain a battery?
  • [Alan tries to open the glove compartment and accidentally touches Lynn’s leg – plenty of apologising and it’s awkward. There’s no affection in the relationship, from Alan anyway]
  • Alan says the best way to drain a car battery is to leave the glove compartment open.
  • Lynn says you shouldn’t leave your sweeties in there on long journeys because it might pop open and you wouldn’t notice and the battery would get drained. [Alan has no idea what she’s talking about.]
  • You’ve lost me. Boiled sweets, you sound like a lunatic.
  • It isn’t the inticator is it?
  • Inticator? Indicator.
  • Actually, I am low on windscreen washer fluid.
  • They wouldn’t set off an alarm if you’re low on windscreen washer fluid. It’s far too alarmist.
  • Just a light would come on to say, you know, you’re a bit low. But not a big alarm like that, it’s just a panic measure, you know like someone going “Oh my god you’re low on windscreen washer fluid!” You don’t need to say that. Just say, you need a nudge. The car needs to effectively say, “excuse me, I don’t want to distract you from your driving, but you might like to know the windscreen washer fluid is getting low” and they do that with a little light, which has come on – you can see it there.
  • Well the clock’s not right is it. That’s a possible.
  • I’m sorry Lynn. I’m normally patient but the idea that an alarm would be triggered because the clock isn’t right is cloud cuckoo land. Alice in Wonderland.
  • Could you cool me down with the hand fan.
  • [Lynn holds the hand fan too close and Alan turns and hurts his lip on it]
  • Come on I’ll drop you at a cab rank.

Ending

There is a massive amount more of Partridge and almost all if it is excellent – great performance, great writing, great characters. Perhaps I’ll revisit Alan one day on the podcast.

I wonder how you feel about this. My aim has been just to introduce you to some stuff you didn’t know about before, and teach you some English in the process. If you’ve enjoyed it and want to check out more Alan stuff, great. If you didn’t really get it, well – so be it. At least I tried.

Some Alan recommendations.

TV series: I’m Alan Partridge Series 1 & 2
TV specials: Welcome to the places of my life, Scissored Isle.
Web-series: Mid-Morning Matters with Alan Partridge
Audiobooks: I, Partridge, Nomad
Film: Alpha Papa (not exactly the same as normal Partridge, but still good)

Do let me know everything you think in the comment section. It’s impossible for me to predict how episodes like this will be received by my audience – I really do scratch my head and wonder what the hell people in China, Russia, Japan or closer to home in France or any other place will think about some of the content I share with you. The only way I can know is if you write to me and tell me what you think. I’m certain some of you completely won’t get it, but some of you might get it and for me it’s worth doing these episodes even if only some of you get it.

At the least, if you didn’t get into the comedy, I think we can agree that there’s been a lot of language to be learned in these episodes. Check the page for this episode to see all the notes and transcripts. I should do a premium episode covering it all, just to make sure it really goes into your head properly! For example, what’s the phrase Alan uses to describe how he’s bored and has nothing to do?

He’s at a loose end, right?

That’s the sort of stuff I do in the Premium episodes. To sign up for the price of 1 coffee per month, go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium

BONUS CONTENT: Talking to Raph about Partridge (Part 1)

More videos

Alan Partridge’s Scissored Isle (one of the most recent TV specials)

Alan Partridge: Nomad (Audiobook)