Category Archives: Vocabulary

707. [2/2] Let’s Play Another Text Adventure Game – “Zombolocaust” by Peter Carlson

Continuing the text adventure game about the zombie apocalypse from episode 706, with text on the screen so you can read with me while you listen. Video version available. Play the game with me – follow the links below. [Part 2 of 2] Listen to part 1 first!

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AUDIO VERSION

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VIDEO VERSION

Works best on full-screen mode. Don’t forget to like & subscribe folks! 👍

Links

Play “Zombolocaust” by Peter Carlson textadventures.co.uk/games/view/5kjlubyvzuitox6z52xipq/zombolocaust

Text Adventures website www.textadventures.co.uk

Part 1 of this episode wp.me/p4IuUx-oBr

Part 1 on YouTube

706. [1/2] Let’s Play Another Text Adventure Game – “Zombolocaust” by Peter Carlson

Playing a text adventure game about the zombie apocalypse, with text on the screen so you can read with me while you listen. Video version available. Play the game with me – follow the links below.

AUDIO VERSION

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VIDEO VERSION

Works best on full-screen mode. Don’t forget to like & subscribe 👍

Links

Play “Zombolocaust” by Peter Carlson textadventures.co.uk/games/view/5kjlubyvzuitox6z52xipq/zombolocaust

Text Adventures website www.textadventures.co.uk

Part 2 will be available here wp.me/p4IuUx-oBv

Notes (used at the start of the episode)

Let’s Play Another Text Adventure Game – Zombie Survival

Let’s just have some fun in this episode, and also work on your English a bit.

I’m going to play another text adventure game.

Read the text and make decisions to progress through the game.

This is good for your English because you can practise your listening and reading, and there’s bound to be some vocabulary that you can pick up too.

This works best if you can read the text that I’m reading too, either by visiting the text adventures website or by watching the video version of this.

I’ll give you some learning tips in a second.

As well as the audio version of this, there is a video version on YouTube and the episode page on teacherluke.co.uk

I’m sharing my screen, so you can see the text that I’m reading.

I’ll try to be clear and to explain things as we go, so this should also work as an audio episode.

textadventures.co.uk – “Zombolocaust” by Peter Carlson

Previous episodes like this in the episode archive at teacherluke.co.uk (search for episodes 338, 339, 425, 426, 612, 613, 614)

Peter Carlson emailed me once and said he was OK for me to do more of his games on the podcast. Nice one Peter 👍

COVID-19 is real (but this game isn’t)

We’re going to try to survive a zombie apocalypse

but there’s a real pandemic happening outside (have you noticed?)

So – wash your hands! Wear your mask! Be careful, good luck! 

We will get through this.

The COVID-19 pandemic is serious, but we still have to have fun.

Luckily, it’s not as bad as a zombie apocalypse.

Link for this game textadventures.co.uk/games/view/5kjlubyvzuitox6z52xipq/zombolocaust 

How to use this episode (your options)

  1. Just listen and try to understand (audio only)
  2. Watch the video and read the text with me (YouTube)
  3. Listen to the audio and follow the story on textadventures.co.uk
  4. Listen to the audio and do the text adventure later

Learning Tips

  • Check words and phrases in dictionaries like collinsdictionary.com 
  • Just try to follow the story and work things out from context.
  • Shadowing – repeat after me, with and without the text.
  • But mainly – just enjoy following the story with me.

This might be long, I don’t know! I’ve never played the story before. (It’s two episodes. 1 hour each)

I might split it into parts.

I’m signed in to textadventures.co.uk and I can save my progress, so I can pause and continue later, perhaps in other parts. 

705. Kate Billington Returns (and she brought cake)

Listen to another natural conversation with Kate Billington about some listener comments, Chinese New Year, English festivals & food in February, sports day traditions, more cake recipes, various bits of vocabulary and more.

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Introduction Transcript

Hello there, welcome back to my podcast for learners of English. I hope you’re doing well today.

You might have noticed that there’s been a bit of a delay since I published the last episode. It’s been about two weeks, although I have published a couple of premium episodes in that period. So the premium listeners have had something to listen to. 

But there’s been a bit of a delay with the free episodes. 

You might also notice that no transcript is available for this episode, including no text video on YouTube (although automatic subtitles might still be available). 

The reason for this is that I’ve been working with some new software that allows me to edit both the audio and transcription at the same time, which is much more efficient than editing the audio first, then working on the transcript afterwards. This is the software that I’ve been using to make the recent text videos and transcripts.

In theory, this new software is brilliant and should revolutionise the way I work on my episodes – allowing me to produce the transcripts, text videos, and audio all at the same time. This is brilliant in theory, but in practice things are a bit different, and the reason why this episode has been delayed is because for two weeks the software has not been helping me. I won’t bore you with the technical details, but I will say that I’ve been pulling my hair out in frustration, banging my head on the table (sometimes literally) and generally raising a fist to the sky while attempting to persuade this software to do what it’s supposed to do. 

Eventually, I just gave up on it, because it was taking far too long and it was stressing me out too much.

So – apologies for the lack of text video and transcript this time. I’ll try again with the next episode. I always want to provide you with full and accurate transcriptions – I think they’re a great addition to the podcast, but let’s just say that transcripts and text videos are a work in progress. They might not be available every time for every episode, but I am working on a cost-effective and time-efficient way to produce them for you. It’s a work in progress. 

Again, if you’re watching on youTube, try turning on the automatic subtitles – they are usually quite accurate, although they struggle a bit when I’m with a guest, like I am in this episode.

Also, there are lots of vocabulary notes and also transcriptions for the intro and ending parts of this episode on my website, so have a look at that. Just check the archive for episode 705.

Alternatively, you can just forget about transcripts and reading and just focus on your listening skills. It’s a good idea to practise listening to the spoken word without relying on the written word too much, even when it’s a challenge.

OK? Alright. 

So now that I’ve said that, let’s kick off this episode properly and here’s the jingle.


JINGLE

You’re listening to Luke’s English Podcast. For more information, visit teacherluke.co.uk


Hello listeners, how are you doing today? In this episode Kate Billington is back on the podcast. You might remember her from episode 689 which was called something like comedy, speaking Chinese and baking cakes, aka “The Icing on the Cake” with Kate Billington. 

Just to give you a reminder: I know Kate because we work together, teaching English at the British Council. She is also a stand-up comedian like me. She’s from England. She is fluent in French and Chinese. She is a professionally-qualified baker, who loves making cakes and pastries, which is great for those of us who like eating cakes and pastries because she often brings some when she visits, and this time was no exception – she brought cake with her again, which was very generous. Thanks Kate for the cake.

There’s no specific topic for this episode. Instead, the plan was to just be natural and see where the conversation went, and it did go in various directions. Like last time, we spoke pretty quickly with little jokes and things, so please be ready for an advanced level episode today. 

The first 15 minutes in particular might be a bit confusing as we move from topic to topic, but I will help you with that in a moment. 

After the first 15 minutes we do settle down and focus on certain specific things, including some comments from listeners, some details about Chinese New Year – or Lunar New Year as it is also known, which leads us to talk about some English traditions, especially ones that happen around this time of year, and also some funny activities that you might see at a school sports day in England, and more quirky features of English life. There are also plenty of other bits and pieces as we move through the episode. I’ll let you discover it all as you listen.

Now, I really want to help you follow this conversation, especially the first 15 minutes, so here are some phrases you’ll hear and some questions to help you prepare yourself. 

Think about these questions and phrases and then as you listen you can see how they relate to the things we say. This can make a big difference to your ability to pick up English from this conversation, so forgive me for not jumping straight into our chat right away. I’ll be as concise as possible so this will just take a couple of minutes.  

Questions & Some Vocabulary for the first 15 minutes(ish) of this conversation

I will give full answers to these questions at the end of the conversation.

Tinnitus

  • What is tinnitus?
  • Why do I think I might have tinnitus?
  • Sometimes I wonder if I have tinnitus and if it was making me shout while I was talking to Kate before we started recording, but do I have tinnitus, or was I shouting for another reason?

Maelstrom

  • My brain feels a bit like a maelstrom sometimes. 
  • What is a maelstrom?

Violent

  • We know the word violent, like a violent film or a violent attack but can the word “violent” refer to non-physical things in English, for example the way that you speak to someone?
  • I tell a little anecdote about a student who I once encountered when I worked at university in Paris. What did the student want? What did I do? How did he use the word “violent”? (he was speaking French by the way) 

Friendship and getting older (this all sounds so random, but these things are connected in the conversation)

  • Think about making friends. Is it harder to make friends as you get older? 
  • Why would this be the case?

Cake & Eating Cake

  • What kind of cake did Kate bring this time? 
  • What’s the recipe for that cake? The ingredients and the way to make it.

Grooming

  • What are some of the different meanings of the word “grooming”?
  • Why can the word “grooming” be a dodgy word? 
  • Why did I use it? 
  • Maybe Kate somehow implanted the word in my head, like the hypnotist Derren Brown.

Derren Brown (hypnotist)

How does Derren Brown implant words and images into people’s heads, as part of his magic shows?

That’s it for the questions.

As I said, I will clarify those things, and answer the questions at the other end of this conversation.

Right, so let’s now jump into this conversation with Kate Billington. 

OK, here we go! 


Links & Comments

Derren Brown (apparently) using subliminal suggestions in his TV show

Some Listener Comments from Episode 689

Tang Qiongyu

Kate’s Chinese is good enough for me to understand so I think she should believe in her competence for Chinese speaking.

However, there is a little mistake. 恭喜发财(gōng xǐ fā cái)means “may you be happy and prosperous” instead of “happy new year”. If Kate wants to say “Happy new year”, the right one is “新年快乐”(xīn nián kuài lè).

By the way, I am greedy for a jar of cookies when I listened this episode before bedtime hahaha. 😋😋😋

IcyFlame 

Hi Luke and Kate, I think Kate’s Chinese is already good enough (I could completely understand. By the way, the translation of librarian in Chinese does make sense and we also say it that way (The library person : ) ). If you really want a more specific way to call them, I would prefer Tú Shū Guân Lî Yuán (Which is the Chinese Pinyin of 图书管理员, But the label on first “a” and “i” should be horizontally symmetric.

Anyway, it is a really interesting episode talking about cake and Kate’s experience. The joke is the icing on the cake!

Reda Zaouiri

If this episode was a cake, it would be a “Puncake” :)

There you go luke !

Ps : Thanks to both of you for the episode, kate was indeed a great guest, and for us listeners, we’ve been able to train our listening skills thanks to Kate’s super fast, natural speaking pace and posh-ish accent ;)

Also, thanks luke for reiterating at your own pace what kate said when you were talking about the first lines and what the senior manager had once said to her : “Oh yeah there’s lot of pregnant people here, if you don’t get pregnant in your first year, we send someone from customer services to do it.”

Ps 2 : Hooray for becoming a Chef !

All the best !

Alexandr Suvorov (Friend of the podcast)

Wow. What a brilliant guest, she’s so clever and fun and also genuinely friendly without it being insincere. 

Kate, if you’re reading this, you’re very inspiring, thank you for being.


Ending

Thanks again to Kate for appearing in this episode. She is on Instagram – @cake_by_cake_paris And that’s where you can see lots of pictures of the cakes she has made, if you want to really savour them with your eyes at least.

Answer the questions from earlier (see notes in the intro) 👆👆

Some other vocabulary to clarify

To flatter someone / flattery

This is usually used in a negative way – as Kate said, saying nice things because you want something from someone.

“Oh Kate your cakes are so delicious and tasty. It would be wonderful if you could bring some more tomorrow” and Kate might say “Oh such flattery will get you nowhere” – meaning, your attempt to say such nice things will not persuade me to make more cake for you” (although knowing Kate, she would probably bring cake anyway”.

Or “Oh, you’re just trying to flatter me now.”)

But

Flattering (adjective) is a more positive word, which we use like this:

“Oh thank you. That’s very flattering.”

Or
“Those jeans are very flattering.” meaning – they give you a good figure.

Savour / savoury

To savour your food = to take time to really enjoy the flavour. I should have savoured the cake that Kate made for me.

Savoury food = food which is not sweet, like a savoury pancake (which could have cheese and ham on it) rather than a sweet pancake (which would have sugar, chocolate etc on it)

I think that will probably do for now!

LEP Premium – www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo

More episodes coming soon, including some conversations with WISBOLEP runners-up, and other things in the pipeline.

Thank you for listening!

Leave your comments in the comment section below 👇

701. Legal English with Louise Kulbicki

Discussing some of the most important terms and concepts in legal English, while also learning about key cases through some amusing stories, with legal English trainer Louise Kulbicki.

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679. Gill’s Book Club: A Gentleman In Moscow

Talking to my mum again about her latest book recommendation. A Gentleman In Moscow is about a Russian Count who is put under house arrest in 1922 in the beautiful Metropol Hotel in Moscow. 

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LEP Premium Promo

This episode is sponsored by LEP Premium. With Luke’s English Podcast I have two podcasts in fact. There’s the free episodes, which feature monologues, conversations with guests or specific topics. That’s where you get to listen to natural English on a regular basis, presented to you, for you. Then the premium episodes are all about language. Often I take samples from free episodes, then break them down for target language which I teach to you, help you remember and pronounce correctly. So the double whammy is to listen to LEP and also be a premium subscriber, to get the maximum benefit from my work. To get started with LEPP go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo for more info.

Introduction Transcript

Welcome to Gill’s Book Club, on Luke’s English Podcast.

This is the second Gill’s Book Club episode and this is where I talk to my mum, Gill Thompson, about books that she’s enjoyed.

My mum loves books, she’s a voracious reader, a member of a book club with her friends and she works in a second hand bookshop.

She gets through loads of books, and so this is naturally a topic that we can explore together on the podcast.

How does this work?

We pick a book a few months in advance, give people a chance to read it, then talk about it on the podcast, including some of the main plot points (no spoilers) characters, context and details.

Do you have to read the book too?

No. We’ll explain the main plot points without giving away any spoilers.
But you can read the book if you like, or get the audiobook version.

You could read the book first, then listen. Or listen first, then read the book, or just listen without reading the book at all, and enjoy hearing my mum talking about it, the characters, the story and so on. There might also be some nice vocabulary coming up which you can notice as we go along. As usual, check the episode page on my website to see some vocabulary notes and transcripts.

For other episodes I’ve done with advice on reading books to improve your English, check the episode archive.

I said earlier this year that the book we’d be talking about is A Gentleman In Moscow, by Amor Towles, and so that’s the main topic of conversation here.

A Gentleman in Moscow is a 2016 novel by Amor Towles. It is his second novel, following the release of the New York Times bestselling novel Rules of Civility. The novel concerns Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, a man ordered by a Bolshevik tribunal to spend the rest of his life in a luxury hotel in the heart of Moscow. Wikipedia

There’s a bit of smalltalk at the beginning, and then we get stuck into the book.

I’ll talk to you again on the other side of this conversation, but now, let’s listen to my mum talking about her latest book recommendation.

——

Vocabulary Notes & Questions

Can you comment on these things with reference to the characters and events in the book?
Manners
Integrity
Loyalty
Vocabulary
Class

Do these words apply to Count Alexander Rostov?
Witty
Likeable
Standoffish
Spoiled
Privileged
Glass half full / Glass half empty

Does he change during the book?

House arrest
Did this book make you think of the lockdown?
If you had to be on house arrest, but you can choose any building you like, which building would you choose?
Which building would you choose to be locked inside? (not your own home)

Book club
What did the women from the book club think of it?

Book recommendation
The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

Picture of Ivan the Terrible
booksyo.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/repin_ivan_terribleivan.jpg

Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on 16 November 1581 is a painting by Russian realist artist Ilya Repin made between 1883 and 1885.

Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on 16 November 1581 is a painting by Russian realist artist Ilya Repin made between 1883 and 1885.

Ending Transcript

So there you are. That was my lovely mum talking about a lovely book and it was all lovely lovely lovely.

Again, check out the page for this episode on my website for vocabulary notes, and the names of the different books and things that we mentioned, plus the chance to see that painting of Ivan the Terrible and more.

I’m still deep inside P24, having published 9 out of 12 parts. More coming for premium subscribers soon…

Later today I’m interviewing my dad.

I don’t like to talk on the podcast about stuff I’m going to do, because I’ve learned that often things don’t go as you expect and it’s unwise to make the listeners think that something is coming when it actually can’t happen because of a technical issue or a scheduling problem or something.

So, who knows, we might not be able to actually do the recording, but the plan is to talk to my dad later today, also about a book. But this isn’t a book that he’s read, written by someone else, it’s actually a book he’s written himself. Yep, he wrote a book during the lockdown. What’s with all these books!? About 5 people I know have written books during the lockdown, including my dad. So stay tuned to LEP in order to (hopefully) listen to a conversation with Rick Thompson about his new book.

Thanks again to my mum for her contribution to this episode.

I hope you all enjoyed listening to it and as ever I look forward to reading your comments and responses to this episode in the comment section on my website, but also on YouTube where you can find all my episodes, and you can keep in touch on social media, my favourite being Twitter and my handle is @EnglishPodcast

Take care everyone. I’ll speak to you again soon, but for now, good bye…

678. The Vintage Furniture Trade in London (with Howard Roach)

Talking to my old teaching colleague Howard Roach about his furniture business in South London.

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Introduction

Hello LEPsters in LEPland, how are you doing today?

I hope you’re all doing well out there in all corners of podcastland, wherever you are, whatever you find yourself doing at this particular moment. You’ve chosen to press play on this podcast episode and I thank you for that. Welcome to the podcast. My name is Luke and I’m an English teacher from London and this is my podcast for learners of English, like you I expect!

Here I am again at my desk in the podcastle, preparing a new free episode for you all.

I’ve taken a little break from the mammoth Premium series I’ve been doing this week about homophones and jokes. Premium lepsters will know that I’ve uploaded 8 parts of series 24 now, and there are still 3 or 4 parts to go! If you haven’t checked them out yet, do so. In the LEP App, in the categories section, you’ll find Premium and also Pronunciation Videos. That’s where you go to get the premium content on your phone. On a computer, go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium to get all the premium content there. And for more information and how to sign up go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo

But this is free episode 678 and in this one you’re going to listen to a conversation with a guest who hasn’t been on this podcast for over 10 years. Today I am talking to my friend Howard Roach who first appeared in episode 5, about Joaquin Phoenix, and then he made at least one more appearance in episode 11 (Men vs Women) and then that was it, for nearly 11 years!

I know Howard from our days teaching together at the London school of English. But he’s back again now to talk about something completely different that he’s been doing since he stopped teaching 7 years ago.

Howard now works in the vintage furniture trade in London. He gets hold of pieces of vintage furniture, then sells them on to customers, perhaps restoring the furniture in the process.

This is a business he set up 8 years ago when he decided to transition from being a teacher to being a furniture dealer.

Howard’s business is called Vintique London and this is what it says on their website. 

www.vintiquelondon.co.uk/

THE FURNITURE RE-LOVE REVOLUTION.

RETRO, VINTAGE AND MID CENTURY FURNITURE WAREHOUSE LONDON

Based in Peckham, South East London, Vintique London, is an eclectic treasure trove of retro, mid century, vintage and designer furniture and interior accessories.

What started out as a hobby collecting iconic vintage and retro pieces soon turned into a startup business in 2012. Since then we haven’t looked back. 

So I’m going to talk to Howard about the vintage furniture trade in London, what kind of stuff he sells, how he buys, sells and restores interesting and cool items of furniture and if he has any stories about particular purchases or sales that he’s made in the past.

As I mentioned before, Howard also used to be an English teacher, working with me at the London School of English with other guests from this podcast that you might have listened to in the past. So there are also a few tales of teaching from back in the old days in London.

Vocabulary

Let’s have a quick look at some vocab to begin with. Here’s some stuff that might come up and stuff that is relevant to the topic of buying and selling furniture.

  • Furniture (uncountable noun) 
  • a furniture / furnitures some furniture
  • Pieces of furniture
  • Items of furniture
  • Vintage = ​typical of a period in the past and of high quality “Vintage furniture”
  • Retro = using styles or fashions from the recent past “We specialise in selling retro and vintage pieces”
  • Mid-Century = from the middle of the last century – 50s, 60s “Most of our items are mid-century in style”
  • Turn of the century = the beginning of the last century, early 1900s “It is also possible to find pieces from the turn of the century”
  • Antiques / Antique = old and valuable, an old and valuable item – think darker more ornate pieces “and occasional antiques”
  • Darkwood furniture = furniture made from darker woods, like mahogany “and other types of darkwood furniture”
  • Second hand = Previously owned by someone else – “All items are used or second hand, but have been fully restored to their original quality”
  • Used = Same
  • Car-boot sale = an event where people load up their car with stuff from their home or loft and drive to a field, then open the boot and sell the contents to people. It can be a way to pick up antiques. “I first started going to car-boot sales and markets where you can find some real bargains”
  • Auction = an event when things are sold by bidding. An item is presented and the bidding begins at a certain amount, and people in the audience can raise their bids until the item is sold to the highest bidder. It’s like Ebay, but in real life. “I’ve bought a few things at auctions. You can learn a lot from the other dealers”
  • Restored = if an item is restored it means it might be fixed, or certain parts might have been replaced but it’s back to its original look and original quality. “A fully restored mid-century vintage chest of drawers”
  • Quid (30 quid) = “quid” means pounds “Just 75 quid for you mate”

Items of furniture

  • Chest of drawers = a large wide item with drawers
  • Bookcase = an item with space for storing books
  • Sideboard = a low, long piece which is supposed to go against a wall and contains some drawers and some cabinet space. You could put a TV on it.
  • Highboard = like a sideboard but it goes higher against the wall with perhaps a glass cabinet
  • Cabinet (just two doors)
  • Record cabinet = space for a record player and records
  • Dining chairs = chairs for sitting at a table
  • Armchairs = chairs for relaxing in the living room

So let’s get started. As I said earlier, before we get onto the whole topic of Howard’s furniture business, there is some chat about our time as teachers in London with about 15 minutes of stories and reminiscing about teaching and then we get onto the furniture (not literally). We don’t actually climb onto the furniture at any point in the episode.

When we get onto the furniture we are not also literally getting onto the furniture, conducting the interview balanced on chairs and tables.

But anyway, for the first time in over 10 years, let’s welcome back Howard Roach onto Luke’s English Podcast. 


Ending

Ooh a 10% discount for all LEPsters. The website address again:

www.Vintiquelondon.co.uk   

Don’t forget P24 for 8 parts of an episode series about homophones and jokes plus much more

www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo

677. A Post-Holiday Ramble / Holiday Vocab / Stories

I’ve come back from my holiday so it’s time to ramble on about some holiday stories, holiday vocabulary, podcast stats and other bits and pieces including an appearance by my daughter.

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674. 19 Amusing Insurance Claims / Car Crash Vocabulary

Listen to some funny extracts from genuine insurance claims and learn some vocabulary to describe car crashes and driving (badly).

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Introduction Transcript / Episode Notes

Hello LEPsters, how are you today? The weather here is grey, overcast. The conditions are perfect for recording and listening to an episode of Luke’s English Podcast, so here we go.

In this episode I’m going to read through some insurance claims, which contain some very funny descriptions of people attempting to explain how they got into accidents while driving. I think it should be pretty amusing and as usual there’s lots of English to learn from it.

So we’re talking about driving and having accidents, collisions or crashes in a car. Have you ever been in a car crash? What happened? Did you have to do any insurance paperwork afterwards? Did you have to describe what happened in your crash?

If you have an accident while driving in the UK the insurance company sends you a claim form which you fill in, and often there’s a big space on the back that says “Give, in your own words, a description of how you think the accident occurred.”

So this is where people give their account of the accident.

And they always try to make it sound like it wasn’t their fault or they weren’t breaking any speed limits.

“I was driving down the road at 28mph…”

These are genuine claim form extracts from real people’s insurance claims.

I have to say that I got inspired to do this episode by Jasper Carrot, a comedian from the 70s, 80s and 90s in the UK.

Jasper Carrot (who used to live down the road from me, growing up) used to do a routine about funny insurance claims. He would basically read out the insurance claims on stage and bring them to life, make comments about them and stuff. He said all the claims were all true and I’d always been interested in finding some of those claim forms online, and after doing some searches I’ve managed to find loads of those real insurance claims so I’ve selected some and we’re going to go through them one by one. Some of these are the same ones that Jasper Carrot used to read out in his comedy shows.

The cool thing about this for learning English is not just that these are really funny and stupid descriptions, it’s that they include moments when the language becomes a bit ambiguous and can mean several things at the same time (like a joke) and also there are descriptions of movements and accidents that contain some nice bits of English.

And we’re going to go through all the vocab that comes up as we go along, including a vocab review at the end.

So if you don’t find these particularly funny, you can at least learn some English from it all.

And we’re talking about vocabulary for movements, accidents, collisions and driving, verb tenses for storytelling and all that kind of thing.

Just think about that for a second. How do you describe moments when accidents happen? They’re often quite difficult to describe.

Have you ever had an accident? Can you try to describe exactly what happened in English?

I was in a car accident once. Let me describe it to you.

I did end up with whiplash and I remember making an insurance claim for it, which I never applied for eventually, because I think I only missed about 2 shifts working at the pub and the whole thing didn’t seem worth it.

Anyway, what about these claims? Let’s go.

See if you can notice what is funny or strange about these claims, and also what is happening linguistically which makes it funny. It’s often due to slightly bad writing that these things end up sounding like something else.

Insurance Claims

Sources ackadia.com/humour/top-100-funny-motor-insurance-claims/

  1. “Going to work at 7am this morning I drove out of my drive straight into a bus. The bus was 5 minutes early.”
  2. “The accident happened because I had one eye on the lorry in front, one eye on the pedestrian and the other eye on the car behind.”
  3. “I didn’t think the speed limit applied after midnight”
  4. “The car in front hit the pedestrian but he got up so I hit him again”
  5. “I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law and headed over the embankment.”
  6. “I collided with a stationary truck coming the other way”
  7. “The pedestrian ran for the pavement, but I got him.”
  8. “In an attempt to kill a fly, I drove into a telephone pole.”
  9. “Coming home I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree I don’t have.”
  10. “I thought my window was down, but I found it was up when I put my head through it.”
  11. “The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.”
  12. “I had been driving for forty years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident.”
  13. “As I approached an intersection a sign suddenly appeared in a place where no stop sign had ever appeared before.”
  14. “To avoid hitting the bumper of the car in front I struck a pedestrian.”
  15. “I saw a slow moving, sad faced old gentleman as he bounced off the bonnet of my car.”
  16. “No one was to blame for the accident but it would never have happened if the other driver had been alert.”
  17. “I bumped into a lamp-post which was obscured by human beings.”
  18. “The accident was caused by me waving to the man I hit last week.”
  19. “A house hit my car.”
    (A house was being moved by a large truck. My friend had his car parked on the side of the road correctly. The house began to tilt off the truck and eventually fell off the truck, landing on my friend’s car. He eventually had the insurance paid, after lengthy explanation and the moving company confirming the story.) (Ben Keirnan)

Now let’s go through them one by one and break them down

Things to consider

  • What’s funny? (in some cases it’s obvious, but sometimes more subtle)
  • In the case of ambiguously or badly worded sentences:
    • What is the writer trying to say?
    • What does the writer seem to say?
    • How could it be rewritten?
  1. “Going to work at 7am this morning I drove out of my drive straight into a bus. The bus was 5 minutes early.”
    Fairly clear. It’s funny because he blames the bus for being early, as if he doesn’t look, just judges traffic by the bus schedule.

2. “The accident happened because I had one eye on the lorry in front, one eye on the pedestrian and the other eye on the car behind.”
How many eyes do you have?

3. “I didn’t think the speed limit applied after midnight”
Just dumb.

4. “The car in front hit the pedestrian but he got up so I hit him again”
Sounds like it was intentional. He hit him again because he got up.
“So I couldn’t avoid hitting him” “He got up and I couldn’t avoid him”

5. “I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law and headed over the embankment.”
Again, it sounds like it was intentional and that he did it because of his mother in law. I think it should be “I lost track of where I was going when I glanced at my mother in law and then went over the embankment”. Headed sounds like he chose to do it, maybe.

6. “I collided with a stationary truck coming the other way”
Technically the truck couldn’t have been coming the other way because it was stationary.
The whole “coming the other way” thing should be dropped.

7. “The pedestrian ran for the pavement, but I got him.”
Haha. This sounds like he’s glad or that he intended to do it. Bad choice of words.
He ran for the pavement but I still couldn’t avoid hitting him.

8. “In an attempt to kill a fly, I drove into a telephone pole.”
Sounds like the fly was on the telephone pole.
I was trying to kill a fly that was in my car and I hit a telephone pole.

9. “Coming home I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree I don’t have.”
I accidentally drove into the wrong drive and hit a tree I didn’t expect to be there.

10. “I thought my window was down, but I found it was up when I put my head through it.”
Self explanatory really.

11. “The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.”
Again, it sounds like he did it on purpose.
The guy was driving very erratically and I had already had to swerve a few times to avoid him before I eventually hit him.

12. “I had been driving for forty years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident.”
I was a very experienced driver who had never had an accident until one day I fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident.

13. “As I approached an intersection a sign suddenly appeared in a place where no stop sign had ever appeared before.”
Self explanatory? I didn’t expect to see a new stop sign in a spot where there had previously been none.

14. “To avoid hitting the bumper of the car in front I struck a pedestrian.”
I accidentally struck a pedestrian while I was attempting to avoid hitting another car.

15. “I saw a slow moving, sad faced old gentleman as he bounced off the bonnet of my car.”
No comment.

16. “No one was to blame for the accident but it would never have happened if the other driver had been alert.”
Contradiction in terms and sounds very petty and vindictive.

17. “I bumped into a lamp-post which was obscured by human beings.”
Sounds like The Day Today
Sounds like he might have hit some people.
It’s just weird to call them human beings, why not people?

18. “The accident was caused by me waving to the man I hit last week.”
Haha.

19. “A house hit my car.”
Actually true (as we heard before)

Vocabulary

  • The bumper – the front of the back or car – the part which might bump against another car when you’re parking (badly)
  • The bonnet (USA – the hood) – the part at the front which covers the engine
  • The boot (USA – the trunk) the part at the back where you put your luggage
  • To drive straight into something – “I drove straight into a bus”
  • A lorry = a big truck for transporting goods. “I drove out of my house and crashed into a lorry”
  • To have one eye on this and the other eye on that – “I had one eye on the lorry and the other eye on a pedestrian”
  • A pedestrian = someone walking on the pavement
  • To pull away / pull off = drive away from a stationary position
  • To pull over / pull up = stop at the side of the road in a car
  • To glance something = 1. look at something quickly “I glanced at my mother in law” 2. hit slightly – “The bullet glanced his helmet and didn’t harm him”
  • To head = go in that direction – head for, head to, head off, head over – “I glanced at my mother in law and headed over the embankment”
  • To collide with / a collision = crash – “I collided with a stationary lorry.” “There was a huge collision today on the M6 outside Manchester”
  • To crash into / a crash = collide – “I crashed into my own house.” “During the escape I collided with a police truck and had to murder them all before escaping on a motorbike while I threw grenades at an army van and stole an ambulance from a crime scene. That’s right, I was playing Grand Theft Auto 5.”
  • To drive into something = could mean crash, or could mean enter somewhere in your car. “I drove into the vicarage. I drove into the vicar.”
  • To swerve = turn suddenly, maybe to avoid something – “I had to swerve three times to avoid Tom Cruise, until I finally got him.”
  • To do it on purpose = to do something intentionally “I hit the pedestrian three times but not on purpose.”
  • To do it by accident = do something unintentionally “I drove into the bank, unlocked the safe, took all the money, shot 3 cops and drove off, but I did it by accident.”
  • To fall asleep at the wheel = to fall asleep while driving – “Be careful not to fall asleep at the wheel. Take regular breaks. Tiredness kills.”
  • To bump into something / someone = to meet someone by chance, to collide with something but in a small way = “I bumped into Tony the other day, he says hello.” “I bumped into a Rover in the car park. The owner was not happy. He had a Rover.”
  • Erratic / erratically = moving or behaving in an irregular or unpredictable way

Hotel California Chords

tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/eagles/hotel-california-chords-46190

Have you ever had a car crash? What happened?

670. Language Learning with James Harris

Talking to writer and comedian James Harris about life as a writer, going to Oxford Uni, being an international Brit and learning German, French and Chinese as an adult.

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Transcript

Hello folks and welcome to the podcast. I hope you are doing fine on this particular day. This episode features a conversation, recorded a couple of weeks ago now, with a comedian and writer from the UK about various things, as you’ll see. Your task is to follow along and see what you can pick up and what bits of language learning wisdom you can glean from this conversation.

I don’t really know James that well. I’ve only actually met him once in fact.

He’s a comedian and a writer, he speaks several languages and his twitter feed is good value. He tweets about politics, learning languages, the issues of the day, comedy and various other things. We share a mutual friend – that’s Dharmander Singh from Birmingham, who I used to be in a band with and who is now a stand up comedian in Berlin. The time I met James was in Berlin when I was there on holiday, and I did some stand up on the same show as him.

So why have I invited him on the podcast? Well, it’s mainly because of Twitter. As I said his Twitter feed is interesting. He takes a moderate and balanced view of things, and his interests are pretty wide-ranging, including the fact that he’s very international. He’s married to a Chinese girl, he’s lived abroad, he used to work as a tour guide in several countries, he used to be an English teacher like me, he speaks very good German and French, he’s working on his Chinese, he works as a translator and he’s generally an articulate and interesting guy and so I just thought that he could be worth talking on the podcast.

The language learning thing is obviously very appropriate and I’m always interested in finding out as much as possible about how someone has learned a second language to a very decent level in adulthood, and that is something that we talk about for at least 50% of this conversation. The first half of our chat is basically me getting to know James properly, talking about his work, his studies, his experiences of going to Oxford University, why he chose to move to Germany, being married to a Chinese girl. Then we get into the details of how he learned German mainly, but also French and now how he’s working on his Chinese.

No need to say much more except that I hope you manage to follow the conversation clearly all the way through. Let me know how it was for you and I will speak to you again on the other side of this conversation, probably with some background music going over the top.



Thank you to James for being on the podcast today. Look him up online to read some of his stuff, follow him on social media and help him out by keeping him fuelled up on coffee.

Follow James on Twitter @JamesHarrisNow
Writing, Mini Screenplays shoeleatherexpress.org/
BUY A COFFEE FOR JAMES HARRIS t.co/8AAQ6P33wJ?amp=1

So, how are you listeners?

Did you pick up any useful nuggets from that conversation? I think there was some pretty good advice there especially the stuff about reading and noting down certain words, being a bit rigorous about your studying and believing that you can do it, really helps.

669. How to Learn English

Giving you as advice about learning English across the four skills of reading, listening, writing and speaking. Full transcript available.

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Hello and welcome to Luke’s English Podcast. This episode is number 669 and it’s called How To Learn English.

That’s quite a bold title but this really is a lot of what I have to say about learning English. If you really want to learn this language, this is my advice. 

I’ve been teaching for about 20 years, podcasting for over 11 years now and I keep finding out more about learning a language through teaching it, getting feedback from listeners and also through my experiences of trying to learn French. 

This episode is a distillation of many of my thoughts and advice on how to learn English. It’s not going to cover absolutely every aspect of it, because language learning is a huge subject that encompasses so many different things and you could talk about it all day, but I have decided to talk about learning English, breaking it down into the 4 skills, and giving you as much advice as I can in this single podcast episode. I hope you enjoy it and find it useful.

For those of you who are not so familiar with me and my work. My name is Luke Thompson, I think I am the 4th most famous Luke Thompson in the world. I’m an English teacher, a podcaster, a comedian, a husband and a dad. I am from England but these days I live in France. My podcast is free and is downloaded all over the world. I also have a premium subscription in which I focus specifically on improving your vocab, grammar and pronunciation. To find out more about that go to teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo

Click here for information about LEP Premium

Right, let’s get started.

Hello, welcome to my podcast. 

I expect you want to learn English, right? That’s the main reason you’re listening to this I expect. You want to learn English.

Well, good news! It’s definitely possible. You can learn English and you will if you put in the time and the effort. It’s important to remember that.

What do I mean by “learn English”, though? I mean that you can learn to speak English fluently, clearly and with confidence, expressing yourself with shades of meaning, adapting your English for the situation both in speaking and in writing, knowing and being able to use a wide variety of vocabulary and accurate grammar and ultimately being yourself in the language and developing beneficial relationships with others based on effective communication. Yes, you can. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

That’s it, just a positive and encouraging message at the start. It’s important to always remember that making progress in your learning is a realistic prospect and will happen when you put in the time and effort, and more good news: the more you enjoy it, the easier it is.

I hope this podcast helps you to enjoy getting English into your life on a regular basis, which is a key part of learning the language effectively. 

But what else should you be doing in order to improve your English overall?

In this episode I’d like to talk in some detail about learning English and how you can do it.

This episode is a sort of “come to Jesus moment”, which I feel I should do regularly, just to remind everyone listening that there is a method or approach at work here and that it’s not just you listening to people talking.

A “come to Jesus moment” in the world of business is when someone does a passionate speech or event in which fundamental priorities and/or beliefs are reassessed, or reaffirmed. It’s like when Jesus gathers his disciples around him in order to reaffirm their belief in what he’s preaching or to say some deep stuff which strengthens their faith.

This is a come to Jesus moment for me.

Not that I’m comparing myself to Jesus. No, not at all. Not even a little bit, and anyway that’s not for me to say, that’s for other people to point out isn’t it, not me. Anyway…

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is a method to the madness.

In my podcast episodes, I’m always teaching you, using my particular set of professional skills, but rather than presenting it all as a lesson I usually try to present it more like a radio show or a comedy show even.

So, amidst the episodes about music, comedy, interviews and so on, I thought it would be worth restating the core values of LEP, which I seem to do about once every 6 months or so.

I’m going to give loads of advice here, and this is all based on what I’ve learned from:

  • Teaching for about 20 years
  • Meeting thousands of learners of English, some of them successful, some of them not, working directly with them as their teacher and listening to them talk about their studying habits and experiences
  • The academic studies I’ve done, especially the DELTA which involved extensive reading and writing on various aspects of how people learn and teach English
  • Doing my podcast and getting testimonies over the years from many listeners who told me about how they’ve used it to improve their English
  • There’s also my own personal experience of working on my French

Anyway, the plan is to talk about learning English with a focus on the 4 skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing.

I have talked about these points quite a few times before on this podcast, and have given tons of specific advice about working on your English, including in episodes like 174 (and others)

So I will probably repeat myself a bit. But I still get asked to talk about “how to learn English” very regularly and I think it’s important for me to talk about learning English on this podcast on a regular basis. Obviously, that is what this podcast is about, first and foremost, even though a lot of the time in my episodes you’ll hear me and my guests talking about all sorts of other things. 

Learning English is the main aim of this podcast

Essentially the thinking is that you should listen to natural conversation on a variety of topics and it’s simply listening to things in English (not just listening to things about English) that’s going to help you learn this language, especially if you enjoy the content.

I’ll probably talk about this again in a bit, but let’s say that ultimately the plan with the free episodes is to help you listen to English regularly, for longer periods of time, long term. The more, the better. If the content is enjoyable, that should just make it easier for you to achieve that. In fact, if you’re really into what you’re listening to, you don’t really even notice the time passing.

Then there’s the premium content, which is an effort to push your learning beyond the gains you get from all the exposure and input you get from just listening. The premium content is designed to let you get the benefit of my experience and teaching skills in order to cut out a lot of work that you would otherwise have to do yourself, so I can essentially take you by the hand and lead you through some intensive practice to work on your English more directly.

Click here for information about LEP Premium

So that’s my content, but let’s talk now about learning English as a whole then.

Learning English is a holistic thing. It encompasses many aspects and skills that are connected as a whole. 

There are receptive skills like listening and reading, productive skills like speaking and writing, language systems like grammar, spelling, vocabulary and phonology, social and psychological factors that come into play when we use language when interacting with others, then there are other factors that come into play like identity issues, body language, culture, literature, pragmatics and all sorts of other things. It’s hard to know where to start when talking about it.

You need to learn it to the point where you don’t even think about it any more. 

The more you talk and think about it, the more it starts to sound like the force from Star Wars.

  • Stretch out with your feelings.
  • Do or do not, there is no try.
  • Do not think, feel.
  • Let go, let the English flow through you.
  • I am your father (oh wait)

It’s about learning how to do something which goes right to the core of who you are in fact.

It’s a holistic thing. It incorporates many aspects as part of a whole process and so it’s quite tricky to know where to start.

Let’s put it like this. Language goes in, and language comes out. (I told you it sounds like The Force)

Language is within you and language is without you. It flows through you. It binds the galaxy together.

There are receptive skills (this is how language goes in)

And there are productive skills (this is how language goes out)

There’s the written language

And there’s the spoken language

This is our system.

Think of it like a table with two categories on the horizontal axis and two on the vertical axis, so it’s like a grid with 4 squares in it.

On the horizontal access we have receptive and productive skills.

On the vertical we have written and spoken English.

Within the table we have 4 skills – the 4 squares. 

So in the box marked “written” and “receptive” we have reading.

Below that in the “spoken” and “receptive” categoriy we have listening.

On the right in the “written” and “productive” side we have writing.

And then in the “spoken” and “productive” side we have speaking.

Those are your four skills. Reading, writing, listening and speaking.

The 4 skills are connected in various ways.

Reading and writing deal with the written word of course. 

Reading helps you to write. It helps you to see how the language is built, how words are spelled and how sentences, paragraphs and texts are put together with grammar and textual conventions.

Listening and speaking deal with the spoken word. 

Listening helps you to learn how English actually sounds, how words join together in sentences or longer utterances, it helps you get familiar with the speed, rhythm, flow and intonation of the language. It helps you get used to natural pronunciation which in turn helps you produce English in the same way.

Words exist in visual form, and in spoken form. 

But reading and listening are connected too because they’re both receptive skills. They provide us with input which is the essential foundation of language learning.

And speaking and writing are connected because they’re productive skills.

These are the skills you need to use when using language for various purposes. This is where you are more active in the sense that you are constructing language and putting it down visually in the form of writing, or using your body to produce it orally.

Let’s talk about those receptive skills and input.

Receptive Skills / Input

Prof. Stephen Krashen 

This from Wikipedia

Stephen Krashen has a PhD. in Linguistics from the University of California, Los Angeles.[2] He has more than 486 publications, contributing to the fields of second-language acquisition, bilingual education, and reading.[3] He is known for introducing various hypotheses related to second-language acquisition, including the acquisition-learning hypothesis, the input hypothesis, the monitor hypothesis, the affective filter, and the natural order hypothesis.[4] Most recently, Krashen promotes the use of free voluntary reading during second-language acquisition, which he says “is the most powerful tool we have in language education, first and second.”

The reading thing there is something we’ll come back to in the section about reading.

This is the academic who is always mentioned in this context, when talking about how to learn English these days. Krashen was one in a long line of linguists who came up with theories about how language is learned and should be taught. 

Arguably, we still don’t really know how people learn languages, but various academics over the years have put forward different hypotheses to explain it and these have been the backbone of our understanding of language learning that has informed the way we all learn and teach languages over the years.

Krashen though is the one that people often talk about today, including all the many YouTubers who regularly post videos about the best ways to learn, the only ways to learn, the secrets of learning and all that sort of thing. Krashen is usually brought up because his ideas fit in quite nicely to a model of language learning for today. I mean, it involves a lot of consumption of content in English – plenty of listening and reading and that sort of content is in plentiful supply online, like for example episodes of Luke’s English Podcast.

In his input hypothesis in which he makes the case for the importance of comprehensible input for language learning, he states that in fact the only way we can successfully increase our underlying linguistic competence. This is our system of linguistic knowledge or let’s say that “language instinct” that you have, which even subconsciously gives us a sense of when language is right or wrong. I suppose it could be active in that you know a certain grammar rule and can see when it’s been broken, or passive in that you just feel that something is right or wrong but can’t necessarily explain it. 

I would say the passive knowledge is the vital one because ultimately you just want to be able to feel that language is right or wrong without thinking about it.

But that being said, your active knowledge can be really useful when doing things like avoiding common errors as a result of your first language, or consciously pushing yourself to create language which is normal.

Anyway, Krashen says the only way to increase your linguistic competence is through comprehensible input, meaning reading and listening to things that we mostly understand and that with the context of what you do understand, you are able to work out the bits that you don’t know. This is how we acquire new languages.

So basically, we learn a language when we understand it. So, naturally, according to Krashen, the receptive skills come first.

I think this makes a lot of sense to me. I think it’s bound to be true that we learn language by listening to it and reading it. But what about those moments when you have to speak or write, what about learning the grammar and all the rest of it?

Krashen would say that we learn the grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation of a language by listening to it or reading it, and that it’s a natural process and part of how we decode language through comprehensible input.

So, don’t worry about grammar rules and all the rest of it, just listen and do your best to keep up and work out what’s going on, and do it regularly.

Again, I am sure this is true but I also think it’s worth studying the language a bit too, breaking it down a bit, seeing how it works, actively trying to learn more vocabulary, checking up on the rules of grammar and doing some controlled practice. Working on your pronunciation by copying and training your mouth and brain to cooperate with each other, like the way we practise certain movements in sport or musical parts on an instrument. 

I do believe that controlled practice and conscious learning like that must also be beneficial because I’ve seen it happen. Doing some active studying can be like a fast track of English learning. It can cut out a lot of time by helping you realise certain things about the language quickly, and I think if you then notice it again while listening and reading that only reinforces what you’ve learned.

Of course, you shouldn’t get blinded by grammar or pronunciation rules and so on, to the point that you can’t see the wood for the trees.

Try not to get hung up on grammar, because it can make you process language in an unnatural and contrived way. It can get stuck in your head and block you a bit. Instead, try to notice patterns and incorporate them into your use of English. Try to see grammar study as a way of confirming things you’ve already noticed, or a way of consulting with a reference book as you also just absorb English more naturally. If you only study English with the grammar, it’s going to be a weird abstract process for learning the language. It’s better to focus on consuming English in the form of messages which you are trying to understand, and then perhaps check your grammar later to straighten things out.

The premium subscription is where I help you with that sort of thing, hopefully combining with the free content to give you all the stuff you need to attack English from several angles.

Click here for information about LEP Premium

Anyway, what Krashen is saying I suppose is:

Input is vital. This is like your food.

Receptive skills / input

Language has to go in before it comes out.

How can you learn this language if you haven’t heard it and read it a lot?

Read and listen to things that are slightly above your level, so you can understand 60-80%. You need to be able to understand that much for your brain to work out the remaining 20-40% that you don’t know. Meaningful context is vital.

Basically, listen x5 and read x5.

It’s largely a question of finding the right stuff to listen to.

There’s this podcast of course. Others are available.

Watch TV and films with and without subtitles.

Hopefully you’ll find content that you actually want to listen to, not just for studying English. So if you do get addicted to a Netflix series and you can’t wait to find out what happens next, that’s good! That means you will get more comprehensible input and you will be much more focused and involved in it, which is great for your English. Or maybe you want to hear another stupid and funny conversation with my friends just because it makes you laugh and you feel some sort of connection to it. All of that is great because it will help you listen more, listen longer and listen long term.

Reading

This one is also a pleasure to talk about because it’s a pleasure to do and there are lots of great things to read.

Let’s hear from Krashen again as he is the master of the whole input model.

This is again from Wikipedia, which I think is fine usually for the basics like this.

Extensive reading, free reading, book flood, or reading for pleasure is a way of language learning, including foreign language learning, through large amounts of reading. As well as facilitating acquisition of vocabulary, it is believed to increase motivation through positive affective benefits. It is believed that extensive reading is an important factor in education. Proponents such as Stephen Krashen (1989) claim that reading alone will increase encounters with unknown words, bringing learning opportunities by inferencing. The learner’s encounters with unknown words in specific contexts will allow the learner to infer and thus learn those words’ meanings. 

Of course that system is disputed because this is the academic arena we’re dealing with and people are always putting forward ideas, defending them, disputing them and so on. It’s how we move forwards and learn about this stuff.

So this is extensive reading which is different to the sort of intensive reading you do in English lessons, where you spend ages on just one page of text, break it down into tiny chunks, understanding every single morsel. With extensive reading it’s all about just getting as much English into your head as you can by reading as much as you can, and you focus on reading enjoyable things, especially stories and you don’t stop too much to analyse the language or even check words, you just keep trying to follow what you’re reading. The more involved in it you are, the better.

Again, this point about input is that it feeds your instinct for the language. You get a subconscious sense of what is right or wrong, which comes in very handy for when you’re doing those nasty sentence transformations and use of English tasks in a Cambridge exam like CAE. What you really want in those situations is to know exactly which preposition or auxiliary verb is missing, or to be able to manipulate sentences in a variety of forms. I reckon it helps to do a bit of language practice as well, with a few controlled exercises but the idea is that it should all go in naturally giving you this sense of language competence.

It’s important though to choose texts which are not too difficult for you. You need to be able to understand enough to be able to get a grip on the rest of the language.

So which books do you choose? 

We’ve talked about the importance of choosing stuff that’s interesting to you, that reflects the type of English you might need. 

Genre isn’t an issue. People assume you need to read or listen to the news but as we’ve already established they don’t really talk like normal people on the news, and they also write in a certain “newsy” style. Funnily enough it might be more useful to read the tabloid papers as they write in a more conversational style, but I think it’s worthwhile looking beyond the news.

Basically, read whatever you want.

Even comic books or graphic novels as they’re known for adults.

Graphic novels can be brilliant because they support your understanding with the images and often the English is in the form of speech so you learn really directly how to apply that stuff to real life. I love graphic novels in French. It’s my favourite way to work on the language.

You could consider the current bestsellers. If other people like the books then why shouldn’t you? Look in the fiction and non-fiction categories.

Just check Amazon bestsellers or Waterstones.com www.waterstones.com/books/bestsellers for their current lists.

Graded Readers

Or try graded readers, which are an excellent and underused resource. I really recommend them if you’re not a strong reader. They’re previously published books, and often some of the great classics and modern classics in English, but they’re republished with English that is graded for certain levels. The number of words is reduced, it’s truncated and essentially it’s a way to increase the percentage you do understand, and decrease the amount you don’t understand, getting to that 80/20 spot where you can maximise your language learning. 

There are lots of titles to choose from and various publishers. Check these ones out

But your English may well be good enough now to have a go at a book for native speakers. So go for it. You have loads of options. Just make sure you enjoy reading on a regular basis.

I would also add that it’s important to choose texts which are written in modern style and perhaps about an area that you are particularly interested in. Perhaps think of it like this – what is the kind of English you want printed on the back of your head (on the inside)? Odd question, but I mean, what is your target English. Perhaps it’s the involving and descriptive storytelling of fiction, or it’s the matter-of-fact world of non-fiction. I reckon non-fiction is probably better because it reflects the kind of English you are more likely to be writing, especially if it’s things like academic work or reports at work, because they’re all about presenting you with information, data, commenting on what’s going on, describing how to do things and that’s probably the sort of thing you’ll need to use English for, especially in writing. 

So, just read and enjoy it!

Here are some more book recommendations

Book of email correspondence

www.amazon.co.uk/Executive-Guide-mail-Correspondence-Including-ebook/dp/B07J1XGRZ6/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=email+correspondence&qid=1592316807&sr=8-1

This might be a bit dry but it will really show you loads of examples of emails with full explanations, so you can read and learn.

David Crystal 

The Story of English in 100 Words

Anything by David Crystal is fantastic, but this non-fiction book will teach you the entire story of the English language through 100 words and there are some great words in there like 

Loaf, Street, Riddle, Arse, Jail, Wicked, Matrix and Skunk, to name but a few. 

So you’re bound to learn tons from that.

Biography

Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny By Nile Rodgers

Fiction

The War of the Worlds by HG Wells

The writing is a bit old fashioned. I have to be honest, but it’s mostly modern in style and I think it’s worth it because the story is amazing and it’s not too long. It’s wonderfully descriptive and much better than any movie version could be. Definitely one of my favourite books of all time.

Productive skills / output

This is where we get to the more nebulous world of productive skills. It’s like an alien land where monsters roam, a bit like war of the worlds maybe.

OK I’m exaggerating here but I mean that productive skills are a bit harder to pin down because even more psychological and social factors come into play. You have the public aspect of it, the fact that you’re trying to manipulate the language and get your ideas across in the right way, being coherent and cohesive and in the right style with the right level of politeness with the correct conventional replies and requests and on and on it goes!

Again, I’m making it sound tricky, but I mean that you are involved so much more because you’re making the language and actually using it. This is exciting because you get to express yourself which is the most wonderful and gratifying thing you can do in another language, and when it slides out quite fluidly and you’re not too blocked by who knows what, then it’s all gravy. But sometimes it just doesn’t seem to work out that way and you get mixed up and it doesn’t come out right at all. There’s a sense of performance in productive skills, and a sense that you have to be aware of the right way to conduct yourself, and to be able to utter things in English instantly, following what the other person is saying, it’s all done in a sort of unconscious blur and thinking about grammar in that situation is a killer.

So it’s about getting a level of ease, a level of comfort, a platform from which you can bob and weave your way through the conversation, finding other ways to say things and switching correctly between tenses and situations. I think you get what I mean. 

So how do you work on these things?

  • Ease – a voice, fluency
  • Control – grammar, vocab, pronunciation
  • Range – a wide range of language for a wide range of things
  • Coherence – does it all make sense? Can people follow you easily?
  • Cohesion – particularly in writing, how does the whole text make sense as a whole?
  • Social factors – knowing how to put things and how to manage relationships through language

Again, the idea is that this language is just built into you from all that exposure and input.

I would say that there’s a great deal of other stuff you can do to improve your productive skills beyond reading and listening a lot, of course.

In both writing and speaking the first thing to remember is you need to engage in it as much as possible. Real writing and real speaking.

Ultimately this means trying to use language to communicate a message in some way and that’s what you should be focusing on. Meaningful interactions, especially ones in which you have something to offer or something to gain, such as negotiations or even information gap situations in which you’re telling someone something they don’t know. Also social interactions involving being polite or building relations with people. Ultimately, doing it for real is the best workshop in which you can work, rolling with the punches and trying to keep track of what you’re learning. 

This is why people learn English best when they’re forced to do it because of their surroundings. They learn by being a waiter in London for a year or working in an office with native speakers, or being plunged into a foreign university for a year, or moving to a new country and having to cope with all the challenges that brings and in a second language. I suppose this is immersion, but it;s more than that. I recommend actually conversing with people to just practise. It’s the 5 Ps.

It’s like going to the gym. Fluency is like physical fitness in your mind and also in your body because you’re using your mouth, your breathing and your head and hands to communicate too.

It applies to writing too. You can observe the way other people write their emails and kind of copy their style, you have to really think about what you’re saying and doubtless you will end up writing emails with requests, with information, with questions and with complaints and so on, so you will have to learn on the job. Being thrown in at the deep end, or if you just have to use English at work it could either be a big stress for you or a huge opportunity to just go for it.

Anyway, let’s talk about specific productive skills – writing and reading, and how to work on them.

Let’s say you’re not actually in a situation where you can talk to people or have correspondence with people, or have to write things which other people will ultimately have to read. Unless you find a tutor on italki for example then that person could be your practice point for speaking and writing, giving you feedback as you go. But let’s say for the purposes of this episode, it’s just you and the English language, facing each other off in a kind of wild west fashion.

How can you practise on your own?

Writing

Obviously you need to write. But what are you going to write and who is going to read it?

Firstly – just write, write regularly, write meaningfully and write with a reader in mind, even if nobody reads it. This is important because it will help you get used to simply putting your ideas into words. It’s a creative process and also a mechanical process to an extent. Building sentences is a sort of art or a craft. You have to practise it in order to get some level of comfort with it. Let’s imagine there’s a muscle in your head (this is not scientific at all) which, if you never exercise it, will be quite weak and underdeveloped. But if you exercise that muscle regularly it will be strong, reactive and quick. I expect there is a part of the brain responsible for creating written language, and a sub-section for creating written English. Keep that part of your brain fresh by writing English as much as you can. That’s as scientific as I can get here.

So, here are some things you could write

What to write

  • Anything
  • A diary
  • Email an imaginary person (spooky?) or yourself (think outside the box here ok?)
  • Academic writing – text types
  • Emails – email types and conventions
  • Reports – same!
  • Formal and informal letters – same!
  • Applications – same same!

Basically – Whatever you have to write, you should try to find some samples of these texts and aim to copy them. Copy the style, the arrangement, the language they use and reproduce it yourself. Texts that you write will invariably be very practical so it’s about reporting information and asking questions. Look at the sample texts and copy them.

It helps if you have a specific workbook. I recommend Email English by Paul Emmerson. It’s a simple workbook that helps you work on almost all those things and I’m not even sponsored by Macmillan or anything, it’s genuinely a great book.

They also have downloadable email writing tasks on the Macmillan website or here

Email English by Paul Emmerson

Worksheets www.businessenglishonline.net/resources/email-english-worksheets/

Ideally you’ll have a teacher to proofread your work, correct you and give you feedback.

If this isn’t possible, it’s still a good idea to write. 

Other ideas

A diary (just describe things that happened, or make it more personal and really explore your thoughts and feelings. If the words don’t come, just use basic words. If you feel unable to express yourself perfectly, express yourself imperfectly but try to express yourself.

Writing is not just sentences, it’s paragraphs and pages. The thing you are writing will define how you write it. This means – conventions of certain texts, formality level of the language.

Specific exam tasks → IELTS, FCE, CAE, CPE, BEC higher and vantage

These will often push you to learn the conventions of different types of text, so it could be a good idea to take a Cambridge exam if you want to work on your writing.

Vocabulary Notes

You might write some notes on vocab and I would recommend here that you take a more extensive approach to doing this. Don’t just have one word per line. I want to see one word or phrase at the top of the page, and then loads of text underneath full of examples and your own examples with the language. You can then come back and cover up some of the words and try to remember. Alternatively you can use my PDFs with the notes and memory tests if you’re a premium subscriber. Little plug there for my other podcast.

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But making more extensive vocabulary notes with plenty of examples means that not only are you recording vocabulary, you’re practising using it in writing too.

Speaking

I mentioned italki before and you can find tutors, teachers and conversation partners there for regular practice and I do recommend doing that.

Otherwise, let’s look at some ways you can work on your speaking other than in actual spoken practice with others. Developing your speaking on your own.

This is quite a tricky thing to do because normally speaking is an instantly interactive form of communication. It also involves a lot of listening and then being able to produce English instantly and without hesitating too much.

It’s also quite physical as it involves using your mouth to produce words and sentences in the right way.

And of course there are all those cultural things to think about too.

But really speaking should just be your attempt to find your own voice in English, with fluency and with a specific tone. Of course it comes through a lot of practice, of having conversations in which you’re not really thinking about what you’re saying on a grammatical level but it’s pouring out of you due to necessity and not being able to really think a lot. Doing that regularly helps your brain map out the extent of the English you have and increase it, keeping it sort of fresh. That’s not scientific but more a metaphor of what I think speaking can do. It activates something in you that you have to maintain and keep active or those parts of the brain go dull.

So practice x5

But with who?

The fact is, it just helps to talk to other people and that’s the best and most basic advice I can give. Outside of that, you have to manipulate your surroundings and use your imagination to practise speaking on your own.

Talking on your own (and even in your head)

This might sound a bit odd, but it’s a surprisingly effective way to activate English that is in your head. You essentially talk to yourself, out loud, in English, describing what’s going on, what you’re doing, what you’re thinking about, say it all in English. Alternatively you can just do it in your own head and just think the sentences. This also keeps that system of language production in your head fresh. 

Listen and repeat

You can use certain audio and play a bit, pause, repeat what you heard, rewind, repeat again and keep going until you’ve got it, and then check the transcript or subtitles to see if you’re correct, check any new words and carry on. Always find ways to vocalise the things you are learning and that means saying them out loud even to yourself.

You can also practise different speaking scenarios.

Preparing for a Cambridge exam you can find past papers with speaking part preparation and practise. Find out what’s required in the different parts, watch videos of people taking the speaking part on YouTube, practise answering common questions about yourself, practise speaking on a topic for a minute or two, practise discussing your opinion on the issues of the day. Those are all specific speaking skills that you can practise on your own. I particularly recommend listen and repeat, especially when you have to take quite a long utterance in English, hold it in your head and repeat it like it’s one word? It’s like going to the gym in English. It involves a lot of things: Understanding the clip, identifying the words and grammar, being able to remember it all, being able to produce it in a similar way. That’s a whole punch of different kinds of practice. And if you repeat the sentence straight away, and again, you might notice certain little errors you’re making and correct them. So repeat over and over again, a bit like practising boxing combinations in the ring before the big fight.

In reality, the 4 skills are often mashed up together and you find you are doing things like listening and speaking at the same time, while also taking notes, looking at visuals and so on. It all gets very messy when language is actually applied to real communication in the real world.

A little note about pronunciation and a sort of disclaimer.

The disclaimer

I think there are probably plenty of other things I have not mentioned in this episode, such as not talking about specific memory techniques (done that) or specific features of pronunciation (done that) or exactly how to read a book to learn English (done) or plenty of other things probably. To be honest this is just a podcast episode that I wanted to make about the 4 skills and it expanded into an episode all about learning English as a holistic process.

Anyway, the note about pronunciation

  • It is worth learning the phonemic script
  • It is worth getting the sounds app on your phone
  • It is worth doing drills and practising different features
  • It’s worth getting a book called Ship or Sheep or other books of that nature.
  • It’s worth remembering that if you have an accent when you speak that is fine and it’s part of who you are, the main thing is that you speak clearly, not which regional accent you have. Clarity is the thing to achieve. Also, it’s extremely difficult to “lose” your accent in English. Hardly anyone does it. But you can still be fine with your accent. English is quite open like that. Everyone’s welcome.

But there you have it. That was quite a comprehensive look at how I think learning English is best when you combine two things: comprehensible input, and a clever studying routine.

I think it can work wonders for your English.

And that’s what I try to do with this podcast. Give you all the input in the free episodes and then do some more focused studying in the premium content. Hopefully, together those two channels can boost your English to the max.

Thanks for listening.

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