🎧 Learn English with a short story. 🗣 Listen & repeat after me if you’d like to practise your pronunciation. 💬 Learn some vocabulary in the second half of the video. 📄 I found this story in answer to a post on Quora.com asking about true scary stories. I thought I could use it to help you learn English. Can you understand the story, and predict the twist at the end?
About 7 years ago I got an invitation to attend a dinner party at my cousin’s house. I have a pretty large family and I had never actually seen this particular cousin before. I had only ever spoken to him on the phone. I was surprised that his family unexpectedly invited me over, but I was curious to finally meet them.
The invitation had an address that I didn’t know and the GPS was unfamiliar with it too. It was in one of those areas where Google Maps doesn’t work properly because of poor phone reception,
so I had to use an old fashioned paper map. I marked the location on the map, tried to get a sense of where I was headed, and set off in my car.
As I was driving I started to notice how far I’d travelled into the countryside, away from civilization. I saw trees, farms and fields passing by. Just trees, farms, and fields, and more trees, more farms and more fields.
“Where the hell am I going?” I thought to myself. I’d never ventured out so far in that direction before.
I drove for quite a long time, trying to locate the address I had marked on the map.
The thing is, in this area, a lot of the roads don’t have names, or the names aren’t clearly marked by road signs. I just had to try to match the layout of the streets, to the layout I could see on the map.
I finally found a place at a location that looked like the one I had noted on my map. I was pretty sure this was the right spot, so I parked and got out of the car.
Approaching the house I noticed how dull and dreary it looked. It was completely covered in leaves, branches and overgrown trees.
“This can’t be it.” I said to myself.
But as soon as I walked onto the rocky driveway my aunt and uncle came out to greet me. They seemed excited and welcoming.
“Hello! Hello! Come in! Come in!” they said, beckoning me inside.
Walking into the house, I asked where my cousin was. Answering immediately one of them said, “Oh, he just went to run a few errands. He should be back later.”
I waited in their kitchen and we spent a couple of hours talking about my mother and my family. My aunt made a delicious homemade pot roast that I finished off in minutes.
After dinner we played an enduring game of Uno. It was surprisingly fun and competitive. My aunt in particular seemed delighted to be playing.
When we finished the game of Uno it was almost dark and there was still no sign of my cousin. My aunt and uncle assured me that he’d be back any time soon. Despite what they said, I decided that I had to leave.
It was almost dark outside and I knew it would be a nightmare to find my way out of this dreadful place after sunset, with no streetlights or road signs. As my GPS just wasn’t working, I asked my aunt and uncle the most efficient way to get to the highway.
They gave me a puzzled look.
“But, we thought you were staying the night?” they said.
I told them I couldn’t because I had work the next day and couldn’t afford to miss another day. “It’s much better if you leave tomorrow morning. Trust us. You’ll get lost” they said.
I shrugged it off and told them not to worry,
“Don’t worry. I’ve got a pretty good sense of direction. I could find my way out of the Sahara desert.” I told them.
Looking aggravated, they strongly advised me to stay the night for my own sake. Their body language was weird too as they became more serious and insistent. My uncle stood shaking his head, and my aunt began to move about the place, picking up a set of keys to unlock what I assume was a spare bedroom.
At this point I was getting annoyed and irritable. I sighed, “Fine I’ll stay the night then, but I have to get up very early for work.” I said. Both of them seemed strangely ecstatic that I was staying the night.
As soon as they went out of the room to get bed sheets and pillows,
I ran out of the door, got in my car and hastily pulled away. I know it was rude, but I suddenly felt the urge to get out of there, quickly.
It seemed to take me ages, but I finally found my way back to the main highway and drove back through the night, wondering why my cousin had never turned up.
I got home several hours later than I expected. It was after midnight and I didn’t want to wake my parents up. Climbing over my fence and entering the back door, I noticed that the kitchen lights were on.
As soon as I took my first step through the door, I saw my mom sitting there looking impatient.
How does it feel to have a visual impairment? How do blind people navigate the world? How do other people treat you, if you are blind? And, how do we talk about blindness and other forms of disability in English? This episode is inspired by a listener called Hafid, who contacted me recently. I talk about the subject of blindness and disability in general, read an article written by a partially sighted person, and explain a list of words and phrases we should use when describing different forms of disability. Also includes various medical vocabulary such as the different parts of the eye and other related topics.
Fabio has written a book about language learning, based on his own personal experiences of learning English. Each chapter ends with the same sentence: “This is how to learn a language”. But each chapter disagrees with the next. There are many ways to learn a language, and none of them is the only right way to do it. In this episode, we talk all about this and Fabio shares some of his stories. Fabio is the host of “Stolariod Stories” a self-development podcast which includes lots of lessons about learning English, and learning about life in general.
Here is a list of curious mysteries, jokes and observations about the English language and life in general. I talk about each interesting point, give some funny comments and explain bits of English vocabulary in the process. Expect to learn a few things, and have a bit of a laugh in the process.
4. Who knew what time it was, when the first clock was made?
*Well, try this now*
Ambiguities of the English Language! Enjoy.!!!
1. I wonder why the word “Funeral” starts with FUN?
Saderall would be better, because you’re all sad.
2. Why isn’t a Fireman called a Water-man?
3. How come Lipstick doesn’t do what it says?
Lipstick – it’s a stick for your lips
It’s not stuff that “sticks to your lips”.
Also, it isn’t a stick made of lips. That would be weird.
4. If money doesn’t grow on trees, how come Banks have Branches?
5. If a Vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a Humanitarian eat?
6. How do you get off a non-stop Flight?
7. Why are goods sent by *ship* called CARGO, and those sent by *truck* SHIPMENT?
ChatGPT has the answer (smartypants)
Goods that are shipped by boat are called cargo because the word “cargo” comes from the Spanish word “cargar,” which means “to load.” This makes sense because when goods are shipped by boat, they are loaded onto the vessel.
In contrast, goods that are shipped by truck are called a shipment because they are being shipped from one place to another. The word “shipment” comes from the Old French word “envoiement,” which means “the act of sending.” So, a shipment is a collection of goods that are being sent from one place to another, regardless of the mode of transportation.
8. Why do we put cups in the “Dishwasher” and the dishes in the “Cupboard“?
The word “cupboard” originated in the Middle English word “cubbert,” which came from the Old French word “couvert,” meaning “covered.” A cupboard is a type of cabinet or closet with shelves or drawers for storing household items.
The name “cupboard” likely comes from the fact that these types of storage units were originally used to store cups and other dishware. Over time, the meaning of the word “cupboard” has expanded to include any type of cabinet or closet used for storage. (yes, ChatGPTagain)
9. Why do doctors “practise” medicine?
I don’t want a doctor who practises medicine, I want one who has learned how to do it!
10. Why is it called “Rush Hour” when traffic moves at its slowest at that time?
11. How come noses run and feet smell?
Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
12. Why do they call it a TV ‘set’ when there is only one?
The know-it-all ChatGPT has the answer *yawn*
The word “set” in this context refers to a complete television system, not just the physical television itself. A television set includes the television, as well as any additional components or accessories that are required to receive and display television signals.
In the past, television sets often included components such as a VCR, DVD player, or cable box, and these additional components were often referred to as “attachments.” Even though most modern televisions are self-contained and do not require additional components, the term “television set” is still used to refer to the entire system.
13. What are you vacating when you go on a “vacation“?
We can never find the answers
If you have the *Spirit* of understanding everything in a positive manner – You’ll enjoy every moment in LIFE, whether it’s *PRESSURE or PLEASURE*
So just enjoy the PUN and FUN of the English language.
Enjoy and have fun.😘👍
Hana Fakhoury Hajeer, PhD.
A Note about the words “STUFF” and “THINGS”
Also, just at the end here I thought I could explain a couple of points about the words “stuff” and “thing(s)”.
So, here is a note about that.
Of course you are aware of these words. People use them all the time. They certainly came up in this episode.
For example, at the beginning of the episode I said “Let’s talk about some stuff. Here’s some more stuff to help you learn English” and I think the episode is in fact going to be called
“Things that make you go ‘Hmmm’.”
So what about these words? I often notice that my learners of English don’t use them very much, but I think they are very useful.
Of course you shouldn’t overdo it and use them all the time, when a more specific word is appropriate, but still, they are useful and very common.
The main thing here, the main point, is that the word thing is a countable noun, and the word stuff is uncountable.
That’s the only difference really.
In English, countable and uncountable nouns have different rules regarding their usage. Here’s a general overview.
1. Countable nouns refer to items that can be counted as individual units.
2. They can be used in both singular and plural forms.
3. Singular countable nouns are typically preceded by an article (a/an) or a specific determiner (e.g., this, that, my).
4. Plural countable nouns usually take an “s” at the end, but irregular plural forms exist as well.
5. Countable nouns can be quantified using numbers or words like “many,” “few,” “some,” etc.
6. They can be used with “a few,” “several,” or “many” to indicate a specific quantity.
– “I have two cats.”
– “She bought some books.”
– “He needs a new car.”
– “There are many students in the classroom.”
1. Uncountable nouns refer to substances, concepts, or ideas that cannot be counted as separate units.
2. They are typically singular and do not have a plural form.
3. Uncountable nouns do not usually take an indefinite article (a/an) but can take a definite article (the) when specified.
4. They cannot be quantified directly with numbers, but words like “some,” “a little,” “a lot of,” etc., can be used.
5. To express a specific quantity, you can use measurement words like “a cup of,” “a bottle of,” “a piece of,” etc.
– “I need to buy some milk.”
– “She has a lot of experience.”
– “Could you pass me the salt, please?”
– “He drank a glass of water.”
It’s important to note that some nouns can be both countable and uncountable, depending on the context. For example, “water” can be uncountable (as in “I need water”) or countable (as in “There are three waters on the table”).
Just as a quick test, which word would you use to complete these sentences?
Thing / things or stuff?
There is just one _______ I need to tell you before you go.
Can you pass me one of those _______ on that box over there?
Can I have some more of that _______? It was really good.
Ugh, what’s all that sticky _______ on the table?
I need to go into town to buy one or two _______ for dinner, would you like to come?
Your bag is so heavy. How many _______ do you have in here?
There’s too much _______ in the back of the car. I can’t see out of the window.
How much _______ did you bring with you? You don’t need all of those _______.
Sit down, we have some important _______/_______ to tell you.
There is just one thing I need to tell you before you go.
Can you pass me one of those things on that box over there?
Can I have some more of that stuff? It was really good.
Ugh, what’s all that sticky stuff on the table?
I need to go into town to buy one or two things for dinner, would you like to come?
Your bag is so heavy. How many things do you have in here?
There’s too much stuff in the back of the car. I can’t see out of the window.
How much stuff did you bring with you? You don’t need all of those things.
Sit down, we have some important things/stuff to tell you.
❌There are some amazing stuff in this shop. ✅There are some amazing things / There is some amazing stuff
❌Can you pass me that stuff on the table? (talking about one object) ✅Can you pass me that thing on the table?
❌We need to get some more stuffs from the shop. ✅We need to get some more stuff… ✅We need to get some more things…
How would the same car accident be described in over 15 completely different styles of English? What are the differences in vocabulary, grammar and organisational structure? How should I change my voice to read each description? Let’s see how English changes in different situations. Styles presented include: formal and informal English, news reports, an action movie screenplay, an Eminem rap, a romantic novel, a Shakespeare play, a politician making a speech, a stand-up comedian, Liam Neeson in the film Taken, and Luke in an episode of Luke’s English Podcast. PDF transcript available.
Reading an article by Gavin Lamb (PhD) about the conclusions of academic studies into language learning, and adding my own reflections and comments. What does research tell us about the best way to learn a language? What are the most important things to consider? What are the best methods? The article boils it all down to three main points.
A conversation with Hadar Shemesh, a non-native speaker who has improved her English to a very high level, and who now shares her knowledge and experience with the world through her podcast and YouTube channel. Hadar describes her own experiences of learning English and mastering pronunciation. This episode is all about the voyage of discovery that is learning a language.
Finally, here is the third part of this series about English slang words and expressions that most British people know, but which will probably confuse almost everyone else! I started this series in 2019. It’s only taken me nearly 4 years to get round to finishing it. Learn loads of slang and culture, plus a bit of British history too.
Hello everyone and welcome back to LEP. This episode is called “88 English Expressions that will confuse everyone (Part 3) and in this episode we’re going to go through some expressions and idioms that, apparently, only British people know, and which confuse everyone else – and that means learners of English but also other native speakers from different countries, particularly the USA. These expressions seem to be unique to the UK for some reason.
Now, this is an episode that has been a long time coming! (Hello Francesco Gaeta!) This is actually part 3 of a series I started bloody ages ago, before COVID came along, and I always intended to finish it off, but never got round to it. So, over 3.5 years and about 200 episodes later it’s time to finish what I started.
Why did it take you so long to finish the series Luke?
I’ve said before that this podcast is a bit like a big ship that’s barreling across the ocean. If I leave something behind (like if someone or something falls overboard) it takes a long time to slow the ship down, turn it around and go back. But anyway, here we are returning to finish this series.
“88 English Expressions that will confuse everyone” – Essentially this is an episode about British slang.
This should be useful for you from a cultural point of view and to help you understand native British English speakers. It should also just be a bit of fun to be honest, so I hope you enjoy it and that you find it interesting to learn about some of our more obscure and weird expressions.
Should you actually use these expressions in your speaking?
This is always an important question when learning slang or idioms. Should you add them to your active vocabulary?
Obviously this is completely up to you, but it’s worth considering what kind of English you should a) be able to understand and b) actually use. This depends on the context in which you are using English. If you want to be able to understand British people when they speak then this is the stuff for you. If you just love English and find it interesting to explore the idiosyncratic aspects of the language, then go for it. But slang isn’t exactly global English (this is the kind of English that most non-native speakers would understand – like the language of international business for example) and so these expressions might just be a bit confusing and weird for other non-native speakers (depending on their level of English).
But again, it is completely up to you, and after all the tagline for this podcast is “Real British English” so here you go. This is the kind of stuff that you might notice in TV shows, song lyrics, books or just the things your English mates say, if you have any, and if you don’t have any, that’s ok, don’t feel bad.
Text in italics has been pasted from the original article (link above).
By the way, there is a video version of this episode on youtube and on the website page. I have been attempting to add more video versions of my episodes recently. I hope you have been enjoying that.
“It’s a real pea-souper out there tonight!”
A “pea-souper” is a thick fog (or smog), often with a yellow or black tinge, caused by air pollution.
I should say that this is an old-fashioned expression and people don’t really use it much any more, but it does pop up every now and again usually in films and TV series which are set in the past. I think Amber said it on the podcast once too.
The idiom was first used to describe the thick, choking smogs that settled over London, caused by lots of people burning fossil fuels in a close vicinity, as early as 1200. The smogs were compared to pea soup due to their colour and density.
Pea soup is very thick and can be a bit yellow in colour if you’re using dried peas in the recipe, so this is why a fog which is very thick (and even yellow in colour) used to be called a “pea souper”. The fog/smog was so thick that it looked like pea soup. Yuck.
“Be careful when you’re driving — it’s a pea-souper out there.”
I would never actually use this phrase unless I was imitating a London cab driver from the 1950s or 1940s. The expression was much more common in those days because very foggy weather was also much more common. We don’t often get fog like that in London these days really, because the air is much cleaner than it used to be.
This is one of the stereotypes of London – thick fog. It’s the sort of thing that comes up in American TV shows and films. In many American’s minds, London is still this foggy 18th century place full of penniless pickpockets, greedy bank managers and cockney prostitutes, and fog. “Foggy London town”, but it’s not really true any more, well the weather bit – the pickpockets, bank managers and prostitutes – that’s probably still true.
All the google News searching I’ve done for this expression has returned the same results – articles about the great smog of 1952.
So, this is as much a history lesson as it is an English lesson then. What was the great smog of 1952 and how did this “pea souper” expression end up in the language?
Details from Wikipedia
Pea soup fog (also known as a pea souper, black fog or killer fog and also London Particular in the case of pea-soupers in London) is a very thick and often yellowish, greenish or blackish fog caused by air pollution that contains sootparticulates and the poisonous gas sulphur dioxide. This very thick smog occurs in cities and is derived from the smoke given off by the burning of soft coal for home heating and in industrial processes. Smog of this intensity is often lethal to vulnerable people such as the elderly, the very young and those with respiratory problems. The result of these phenomena was commonly known as a London particular or London fog.
The Clean Air Act The worst recorded instance was the Great Smog of 1952, when 4,000 deaths were reported in the city over a couple of days, and a subsequent 8,000 related deaths, leading to the passage of the Clean Air Act 1956 (a law which controlled pollution in London and was vital in changing the air quality of the whole country), which banned the use of coal for domestic fires in some urban areas. The overall death toll from that incident is now believed to be around 12,000.
The phrase has cropped up in various bits of popular culture over the years.
Charles Dickens’ Bleak House – when Esther arrives in London, she asks of the person meeting her “whether there was a great fire anywhere? For the streets were so full of dense brown smoke that scarcely anything was to be seen. ‘O, dear no, miss,’ he said. ‘This is a London particular.’ I had never heard of such a thing. ‘A fog, miss,’ said the young gentleman.”
The Arthur Conan DoyleSherlock Holmes stories describe London fogs, but contrary to popular impression the phrase “pea-soup” is not used; A Study in Scarlet (1887) mentions that “a dun-coloured veil hung over the house-tops”; The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans (1912) describes “a dense yellow fog” that has settled down over London, and later notes “a greasy, heavy brown swirl still drifting past us and condensing in oily drops on the windowpane”; while in The Sign of Four (1890), Holmes soliloquises: “What else is there to live for? Stand at the window here. Was ever such a dreary, dismal, unprofitable world? See how the yellow fog swirls down the street and drifts across the dun-coloured houses”; and, later: “the day had been a dreary one, and a dense drizzly fog lay low upon the great city. Mud-coloured clouds hung over the muddy streets.”
The fog plays a role in Michael Crichton‘s 1975 novel The Great Train Robbery “On the evening of January 9th, a characteristic London ‘pea-soup’ fog, heavily mixed with soot, blanketed the town.
The second chapter of the book The Woman in Black (1983) by Susan Hill is titled “A London Particular” and mentions the thick, dense fog of London, which Arthur Kipps witnesses on his journey to work at his solicitors’ office.
Sections of London Below in Neil Gaiman‘s 1996 novel Neverwhere are still affected by “pea soupers”, remnants of the thick fog in London’s past that got trapped in London Below and remained.
This expression turned up in series 1 of The Crown (The Netflix drama about the Queen & The Royal Family) in episode 4. The events of the 1952 fog-deaths and their political ramifications take up the whole of the episode.
London fog is now a bit of a cliche and we don’t get that much foggy weather since the air is now a lot cleaner, or at least the pollution we have now doesn’t create smog like it used to. So, pea-soupers and “foggy London” are now a thing of the past
How’s the pollution in your city or country? Do you ever get pea-soupers there?
“Pinch punch first of the month”
This is a rhyme that people say on the first day of the month. It’s sort of a good luck tradition, or maybe just an excuse to punch someone on the arm. For some reason we never ever did this in my family and so “Pinch, punch, the first of the month” is almost as foreign to me as it is to you. It’s the sort of annoying thing that a kid in school would say to you while inflicting physical pain on you, by pinching and then punching you in the arm.
“Pinch punch, first of the month. No returns of any kind” is a school playground rhyme often exchanged between friends on the first day of a new calendar month, accompanied by a pinch and a punch to the recipient.
If the joker forgets to say “no returns of any kind,” the recipient can say “a slap and a kick for being so quick,” accompanied by a slap and a kick.
Why on earth would people do this kind of nonsense to each other, you might be asking? To protect everyone from witches, of course.
According to the Metro, the playground ritual originates from the medieval times (when nobody know anything about anything, most people were completely illiterate and education was something only the richest of the rich could afford and even the school were probably full of unscientific superstitious nonsense too) , when a “pinch” of salt was believed to make witches weak, and the “punch” resembled banishing the witches entirely. As a result, “pinch punch, first of the month” was a way of warding off witches and bad luck for the near future.
Nowadays, it’s mostly a way for kids to pull pranks on their friends.
It’s basically an excuse for punching your friends.
“Pinch punch, first of the month!”
“Ha! A slap and a kick for being so quick!”
Do you have any weird little superstitious traditions relating to the first day of the month?
This is one for the Americans really, and I expect that most long-term LEPsters will be well aware of this.
“Pissed” usually means “angry” in the US. However, in the UK, someone that’s “pissed” is most probably drunk.
“Oh leave him alone, he’s pissed!”
Here’s another expression that means drunk (add it to all those ‘nouns-as-adjective words that posh people might say like trollied, gazeboed, rat-arsed and the other expression which was mortal in Newcastle and probably the surrounding areas – see part 2 of this series).
This word is very common and used a lot. I would definitely use this as a slightly rude alternative to the word drunk.
I’m feeling a bit pissed.
If they started drinking at 6 the’ll all be pissed by now!
Remember, in the US pissed usually means annoyed. The English equivalent is pissed off.
I’m so pissed right now. (Angry – USA)
I’m feeling so pissed off today! (Angry – UK, although I think they sometimes say pissed off in the USA too)
He can’t drive, he’s pissed! (Drunk – UK)
When was the last time you got pissed? Have you ever been pissed?
What pisses you off about life in the place where you live?
*remember, the word “pissed” is quite rude.
“Pop your clogs”
To “pop your clogs” means to die.
This cheery phrase is widely believed to originate from Northern factory workers around the time of the industrial revolution. When they were working on the factory floor, employees had to wear hard clogs to protect their feet.
“Pop” has evolved from “cock,” and when someone “cocked” their clogs, the toes of their clogs pointed up in the air as they lay down dead.
“Did you hear what happened to John’s old man? He popped his clogs, didn’t he…”
Again, there’s an example of how the story of the meaning of the word is more weird than useful, but I suppose people used to die quite frequently in factories and so this phrase became quite common. I’m trying to think of a reasonable situation in which you could use this phrase today. Normally you wouldn’t use a phrase like this if you’re trying to be respectful about a death. Instead this phrase is for situations which are not so serious.
An example from a not-so-serious account of Queen Victoria’s life.
Queen Victoria’s wild royal sex diaries revealed New Zealand Herald-25 May 2019 Sadly, Victoria’s sexual walkabout with Albert ended in 1861 when he popped his clogs and she was heartbroken to have lost her great love.
Something that is nonsense, rubbish, or simply untrue might be described as “poppycock.”
This quintessentially British idiom derives from the Dutch “pap” and “kak,” which translate as “soft” and “dung.”
So it means “bullshit” basically.
“What a load of poppycock!”
Having done a bit of research into this, it seems that they do use it in the USA as well, and no-doubt in Canada too, and other English speaking places.
Here are some examples https://youglish.com/pronounce/poppycock/english?
Other words that mean nonsense
We could add “poppycock” to the list of words meaning nonsense which also includes:
For more info, check here https://www.glossophilia.org/?p=2569
Do you also have lots of words for “nonsense” in your language, or does English just have more nonsense than other languages?
Someone who’s “quids in” has invested in an opportunity which is probably going to benefit them massively.
“Quid” is British slang for “pounds,” eg, “five quid” means £5.
“If it all works out as planned, he’ll be quids in.”
Basically, if you are ‘quids in‘ it means you’ve made some money. It is the sort of thing I might say if I’ve gained some money, like at the end of a comedy show you might say “Ah, quids in!” when someone hands you some cash that has been collected at the door.
This is a good one, and important if you’re going to the pub in the UK.
You might buy a “round” of drinks for your friends at the pub, in the understanding that they will each buy you a drink as part of their “rounds” later on.
“Whose round is it? Is it Steve’s?”
“No way, I’ve already bought a round. It’s your round.”
Do you buy drinks in rounds in your country? I expect that you get a bill at the end, rather than having to keep going back to the bar to order more drinks, but let me know in the comment section.
A disorganised mess or chaotic environment might be described as a “shambles.”
“What’s happened here? This is a shambles!”
Brexit is a shambles. My first lessons as a teacher were a bit of a shambles. The way England play football in the World Cup is often a bit of a shambles, although they’ve been getting better in recent years. Boris Johnson is a shambles, and so is his government. (oops, a bit of politics)
Someone short-tempered or irritated might be described as “shirty”, also to get shirty with someone.
The meaning of this slang has been debated at length. The word “shirt” is derived from the Norse for “short,” hence short-tempered. However, other people believe that “shirty” has connotations of being dishevelled (creased, unironed, in a bad mood).
“Don’t get shirty with me, mister.”
When was the last time someone got shirty with you?
Are you a bit short tempered sometimes? Do you get shirty with people? When? In the mornings? Who do you get shirty with?
I got shirty with a guy who jumped ahead of me in the queue, but I can’t argue in French so I couldn’t do anything about it. (What happened Luke?)
Something that is “skew-whiff” is askew – meaning wonky, not straight.
“Is it just me or is that painting a bit skew-whiff?”
Francois Hollande used to the President of France but it seems he was quite unpopular with French people. I often wondered why. Whenever I asked people about him they would say something about his appearance, or that he’s not presidential enough. I worked out that he was unpopular mainly because he couldn’t wear a tie properly. His tie was always a bit skew-whiff. Clearly, looking Presidential is one of the main qualifications for the job.
Look around the room (if you’re in a room) are any of the pictures or paintings a bit skew-whiff?
to skive off (school)
“Skiving” is the act of avoiding work or school, often by pretending to be ill. Playing truant.
“Skive” is derived from the French “esquiver,” meaning “to slink away” or “to wriggle out of something”.
“He skived off school so we could all go to Thorpe Park on a weekday.”
Did you use to skive off school?
I never skived off at school, but I did a lot at 6th form college. I spent more time in the park next to the college than I did in the college itself.
Lacking in energy; usually after a long period of exertion.
“Do we have to go to the dinner party tonight? I’m slumped.”
Hmm. I would use slumped but not to mean exhausted. I’d use it to describe someone’s body position.
to be Slumped (over) = to lean, lie or sit so that your body is completely lifeless, as if you have died or just passed out. To be slumped over a desk, to be slumped on the floor, in a corner etc.
I’m sure that in the recent detective story episodes (Episodes 612-614) the word “slumped” came up. You can imagine someone slumped over their desk because they’ve been studying English so hard that they’ve passed out, or they’ve just been listening to an especially long episode of LEP.
The students were all slumped over their desks. The teacher was slumped over his desk. There was even a guy slumped in the corner, holding a grammar book. What happened here? I wondered. Then I realised. It must have been an English grammar lesson.
Is it considered rude to be slumped over your desk in your country?
It always used to alarm me to see my Korean students slumped over the desks during break time, especially if they had their heads on the desks. I thought they had just all given up, but apparently they were just resting. (Or maybe they just couldn’t stand my lessons)
Someone that comes across as scheming or untrustworthy might be described as “smarmy.”
He’s such a smarmy bastard.
Although the adjective’s origins remain largely unknown, early documented uses seem to use the word as synonymous with “smear,” further suggesting that someone who is “smarmy” is also “slick” or “slippery.”
“Don’t trust him — he’s a smarmy git.”
Draco Malfoy is a smarmy little git. Jacob Rees Mogg is a really smarmy politician.
James Bond is not smarmy, he’s classy. But there are plenty of blokes who fancy themselves as classy like Bond, but they just come across as smarmy.
Do you know anyone you could describe as smarmy?
Imagine a slippery, maybe slimy, charming but disreputable person.
A British axiom (saying)( that boils down to the idea that: “If anything can go wrong, then it definitely will go wrong.”
“Sod’s law” is often used to explain bad luck or freakish acts of misfortune. This is more commonly known in the US as “Murphy’s law.”
“Of course my toast had to land on the floor butter-side-down. It’s Sod’s law.”
Here are some situations in which would count as sod’s law:
Dropping your toast. It always falls butter side down.
When you have to choose a queue at the bank or at border control. The queue you choose always ends up being longer than the queues you didn’t choose.
In the USA they would probably say “Murphy’s Law”, which could be a bit offensive as it’s an Irish name and so this might count as an ethnic slur – a rude expression which offends a certain ethnic group, in this case the Irish.
“Great, it’s been dry all summer and on our wedding day it decides to pour with rain.” “Sod’s law, isn’t it?”
“a Spanner in the works”
An event that disrupts the natural, pre-planned order of events could be described as a “spanner in the works.”
The phrase describes the mayhem caused when something is recklessly thrown into the intricate gears and workings of a machine.
“By getting pregnant, Mary threw a spanner in the works.”
UK: spanner US: wrench Spanish: an English key (?)
Before the pandemic threw a spanner in the works I was planning a world tour of stand up comedy shows.
“Spend a penny”
To “spend a penny” is a polite euphemism for going to the toilet.
The phrase goes back to Victorian public toilets, which required users to insert a single penny in order to operate the lock.
Although it sounds crude, the phrase is actually considered a polite way of announcing that you are going to visit the bathroom. Historically, only women would announce they were going to “spend a penny,” as only women’s public toilets required a penny to lock. Men’s urinals were free of charge.
“I’m going to spend a penny.”
“I’m just off to spend a penny”
Other euphemisms for urination:
to have/take/go for a slash / whazz
to answer the call of nature
This is nothing to do with the previous expression.
To “splash out” means spending significant amounts of money on a particular item or event.
If you’re “splashing out,” it’s implied that you’re spending money on a treat to mark a special occasion or celebration.
“Wow — you’ve really splashed out on this party!”
Note: to splash out on something
I’ve been working super hard recently, so I decided to treat myself and splash out on a new guitar.
Have you splashed out on anything recently, or are you saving up for something?
Similar to “nerd” or “geek” but less derogatory — someone that takes academic study very seriously might be described as a “swot.”
“Swot” can also be used as a verb.
“I haven’t seen Tom since he started revising for his exams. He’s turned into such a swot!”
“Yeah, he’s been swotting like mad for his Spanish exam.”
“Take the biscuit”
If someone has done something highly irritating or surprising in an exasperating fashion, you might say that they’ve “taken the biscuit.”
“Taking the biscuit” is the equivalent of taking the nonexistent medal for foolishness or incredulity.
“I could just about deal with the dog barking at 5:30a.m., but the lawnmower at 3 a.m. really takes the biscuit.”
“Take the Mickey”
To “take the Mickey” means to take liberties at the expense of others — and can be used in both a lighthearted and an irritated fashion.
“Take the Mickey” is an abbreviation of “taking the Mickey Bliss,” which is Cockney rhyming slang for “take the piss.”
“Hey! Don’t take the Mickey.”
“I’m just taking the Mickey.”
Something that is “tickety-boo” is satisfactory and in good order.
This classic British idiom may seem stereotypically twee, however, some sources believe that “tickety-boo” in fact derives from the Hindu phrase “ṭhīk hai, bābū,” meaning “it’s alright, sir.”
“I hope everything’s fine, grand, splendid and tickety boo in podcastland”
When someone makes a great speech while skirting around a subject or saying little of any value, you might say that they’re talking “waffle,” or that they’re “waffling.”
In the 17th century, to “waff” went to yelp, and quickly evolved to mean to talk foolishly or indecisively.
“I wish he’d stop waffling on.”
“What a load of waffle!”
Other words for this: rambling, prattling.
Someone silly or incompetent might be described as a wally.
Although its origins are largely debated, the term’s meaning has evolved over the last 50 years alone.
In the 1960s, someone that was unfashionable might be nicknamed a “wally,” according to dictionary.com.
“Don’t put down a leaking mug on top of the newspaper, you wally!”
If you’ve “wangled” something, you’ve accomplished or attained something through cunning means.
“I wangled some first-class seats by being nice to the cabin crew!”
To “whinge” means to moan, groan, and complain in an irritating or whiney fashion.
“Wind your neck in”
If you want to tell someone to not concern themselves with issues that don’t directly affect them, you might tell them to “wind their neck in.”
This classic phrase is another way of telling someone that their opinion is not appreciated in the given scenario.
“Wind your neck in and stop being so nosy!”
To be honest, I only ever heard this phrase being used by my friends from Northern Ireland and I hadn’t heard it before that.
Someone that makes comments just to spark controversy or argument might be labelled a “wind-up merchant.”
The “wind-up merchant” will often claim to be making their comments as a light-hearted jest when the recipients start becoming irritated.
If you’re “winding someone up,” you’re making them tense or irritated, a bit like the way you might wind up a toy.
to wind someone up = to make fun of them, to take the mickey out of them
a wind up merchant = someone who winds people up
“Stop being such a wind-up merchant and be serious for one second!”
“I was going to go out tonight but when I finished work I was absolutely zonked.”
Other words for zonked: knackered, worn-out, shattered.
Comedian Sebastian Marx returns to the podcast in order to talk about Yiddish words which have found their way into the English language, including common words like bagel, glitch and schmooze and plenty more.
Schmooze: To converse informally, make small talk or chat (שמועסן, shmuesn, ‘converse’, from Hebrew: שמועות, shəmūʿōth, ‘reports/gossip’; OED, MW). To persuade in insincere or oily fashion; to “lay it on thick”. Noun: schmoozer, abbr. schmooze.
Schnoz or Schnozz also Schnozzle: A nose, especially a large nose (perhaps from שנויץ, shnoyts, ‘snout’; cf. German: Schnauze; OED, MW)
In this final part of the series I’m going to evaluate ChatGPT’s ability to work as a dictionary with definitions, example sentences, synonyms, phonetic transcriptions, etc. I test its ability to convert texts into British English or other varieties, see if it can help with sentence stress and word stress, and check its ability to create grammar and vocabulary quizzes and other useful exercises.
This is the 3rd and final part of this little series of episodes I’ve done about using ChatGPT to learn English.
I’m experimenting with lots of different prompts to see if it can do things like:
Create study plans for you
Simulate natural conversations
Correct your errors
Provide role play practice for specific situations like job interviews
Help you with Cambridge exam tasks and practice
In this part I’m going to try to answer these questions:
Can you use ChatGPT like a dictionary?
Can it give us correct definitions, information about parts of speech, pronunciation, example sentences, synonyms, antonyms, collocations?
Can it provide information about the etymology of words and phrase?
Can it transcribe things into phonemic script?
Does it accurately transcribe things into British English pronunciation?
Can it convert between different dialects of English, e.g. will it convert American English into British English, or into specific dialects of British English?
Is it able to help us to practise reading texts or presentation scripts with the right sentence stress, word stress, pausing and intonation?
Can it help us practise grammar by creating quizzes or tests? Are those tests reliable?
Can it help you to remember vocabulary with tests?
Can it help you remember words and spelling with mnemonic memory devices?
Can it create text adventure games?
Can it adapt its English to different levels?
What are my overall thoughts and conclusions about ChatGPT?
You can get a PDF of the script for this episode which includes all the prompts I am using to get ChatGPT to do specific things.
Check the episode description and you will find a link to my website page where you can get the PDF scripts for parts 1,2 and 3 of this series.
If you are watching on YouTube I recommend using full screen mode so you can read the on-screen text more easily.
OK, so without further ado, let’s play around with ChatGPT a bit more and see how it can help you learn English.
Ask it to define words What does “rambling” mean?
It gave pretty good definitions I have to say.
Arguably it’s not as good as a proper dictionary.
Just type the words into a dictionary and you’ll get way more info, including parts of speech, pronunciation, example sentences, related phrasal verbs etc.
But having said that you can ask ChatGPT for more specific details about words, including:
Can you give me some example sentences with the verb “ramble” in different tenses?
What are common collocations with the word ramble?
What are some synonyms of the word “ramble”? (I had to specify for ways of talking)
Can you transcribe the word “ramble” in phonemic script?
What is the origin of the expression “break a leg?”
Create mnemonics to help you remember vocabulary
Can you create some mnemonics to help me remember these words and phrases?
ramble, waffle, meander, go off on a tangent, get sidetracked
It did it, and I must say this is pretty impressive.
You still need to use your imagination a bit, but these mnemonics are certainly a good starting point.
Ask it to transcribe things into phonemic script
But only in standard American?
Is it good at transcribing things in British English?
Can you transcribe this sentence into phonemic script? I’d like a hot dog with lots of tomato sauce.
Different versions of the language
Can you convert this story into (insert dialect here)?
This is a paragraph I came up with which contains loads of words that are different between US and UK English.
Let’s see if it can convert this UK version into US English.
First I’ll read it out. See if you can identify the words which will probably be different between US and UK English.
I just popped out of my flat to get some post from the postman when I realised I had locked myself out. I was stuck outside with only a pair of slippers on and it was the middle of autumn. To make matters worse I really needed the toilet. My car was there but of course I’d left the car keys in the house as well, although I couldn’t see where they were because my curtains were closed. Then I noticed that some bloody yob had put a big scratch across the bonnet of my car. That made me really angry I can tell you. “You’ll be hearing from my solicitor” I said to myself. Just when I thought my day couldn’t get any worse the TV aerial on the roof of my house fell off and crashed into the windscreen of my car, smashing it to pieces. I thought “I’ll need to make a trip to the chemist for some medicine to help me recover from this!” I walked along the main road and on the way I stopped to get some chips from the fish & chip shop at the main crossroads near my house. When I had finished, I put the paper bag in the rubbish bin and walked under the flyover to the chemist’s. I got my medicine and headed home. Of course, I was still locked out so in the end I had to jump over the fence into my back garden and climbed into a window which I had left open. Luckily I lived on the ground floor so I didn’t actually need to climb up the wall or anything, but unfortunately I broke a mug which was on the window sill. I used my hoover to clean up the broken pieces. Suddenly I heard a siren and someone knocked at the door. “Oh no, it’s the old bill!” I thought. “They think I’m burgling my own house!” I went to answer the door, but I didn’t realise that I’d ripped my trousers climbing in the window. I opened the door and stood there with my trousers hanging open. They could see my pants and everything! How embarrassing!
Make a funny dialogue between two friends in a pub in London speaking British English. Include a joke at the end of the dialogue.
Generate the same response but the two friends are from Belfast, in Northern Ireland.
Sentence stress, pausing and intonation
Ask it to help you read out a text with the right pausing, stress and intonation.
Can you help me to read out this paragraph, showing where the pauses, stress and intonation should be?
Chat GPT or chat-based generative pre-trained transformer models, is a type of artificial intelligence that allows users to interact with a virtual assistant using natural language. This technology is based on the principles of GPT-3, the third generation of the popular generative pre-trained transformer model.
One of the key features of chat GPT is its ability to generate responses in real-time, based on the user’s input.
That is from an article about ChatGPT which I found on medium.com 👇
but it’s bad at showing word stress or sentence stress.
☝️bad bad bad bad bad! ☝️
Grammar or vocab quizzes or tests
Let’s ask it to create a grammar review test for upper-intermediate level.
Create a 10-question grammar test to help me practise English at an upper-intermediate level.
10 questions isn’t really enough to cover all areas of grammar but you would expect it to cover at least 10 different grammar points. Did it?
What happens if I ask it to make a 20-question grammar test for B2 level? Does it use a wide variety of forms? Does it require the test taker do demonstrate control over the language or is it just multiple choice?
The results are not as rigorous, complete, reliable or detailed as similar tests in published materials such as the diagnostic test at the back of English Grammar in Use by Murphy.
It’s also not focused on language that you have been studying in your course.
It always uses multiple choice.
Basically – it doesn’t produce a very reliable test.
Vocabulary review tests, to help you remember words and phrases
Create a vocabulary test to help me remember and use these words and phrases.
ramble, waffle, meander, go off on a tangent, crack on, Get away with, get by, get on with, get off on, get through to, get around to
The test it created was multiple choice and only contained definitions.
Definitions are good but not the best way to help you remember vocabulary. You need example sentences and it’s best if you have to use the words in a meaningful and contextualised way. At least give us example sentences with the words and phrases removed and ask us to put the correct words in the correct place, perhaps in the correct form.
But it’s better than nothing, and I think this could be useful if you have a list of words or phrases that you’re trying to remember.
Text adventure games to practise grammar
I’ve always wanted to create one of these but have never got round to it. One of the reasons is because it’s quite a time consuming task and requires a lot of patience to make sure I’m using plenty of good grammar questions and combining that with an interesting story with engaging choices. Maybe ChatGPT can cut out a lot of the work.
Create a 5 minute text adventure game to help me practise English grammar
Nice idea but it did a bad job. It ended up creating a game with virtually no grammar questions and then it played the game itself.
I’m sure there are other language practice exercises or activities which ChatGPT could do.
If you can think of some other things, put them in the comment section.
Ask it to adapt its English level to yours
You can write things like “please adapt your English to B1 level” or something similar.
Actually I just tested this with this prompt:
Give me some advice on how to set up a podcast studio. Please use A2 level English.
Can you adapt this passage from Hamlet by Shakespeare into elementary level (A2) English?
So you can ask it to use simple English at your level.
You can also prompt it in your first language of course, but you have to request that it responds in English.
Overview / Comments / Conclusions
It’s definitely way better than any chatbots I’ve ever seen before.
There’s no denying how impressive it is in many ways. I only scratched the surface here. It can do lots of other things including creating legal contracts, writing song lyrics, writing short stories, movie plots, essay plans, essays etc.
But I think we still need to be a bit sceptical or critical about it at this stage. It’s impressive at first, but working closely with it shows us its limitations.
Don’t assume that it is answering your questions correctly or reliably. It seems to miss things, and contradict itself sometime and also it lacks the overall vision and emotional intelligence that a good teacher can have.
There are also questions about things like how it could encourage cheating, and also other criticisms (I’ll explore some more in a few minutes).
They’ve done wonders with the marketing – allowing us all to use it freely, which has caused us all to talk about it and as a result it’s gone viral with everyone talking about it. This is helping them to make money now (by selling it as a service which people can incorporate into their websites etc, and charging people for the PRO version of it) and also it’s allowed them to get a lot more data (as millions of people have been using it) which is allowing them to develop it further. In fact it is improving and changing all the time, becoming more and more accurate and sophisticated.
For learning English, there are definitely ways it can help, including taking out some of the time-consuming things like creating little memory tests, creating sample texts and dialogues which you can use, having some limited conversation practise.
One of its main strengths is error correction. It can quickly correct errors in your writing and even explain the reasons, although the explaining is a bit limited.
It can correct your English, but don’t rely on it too much. Try to use this as a tool to help you improve your English, not just something that you rely on at the expense of making progress on your own. Learn from it, but don’t let it do all the work.
You need to have a pretty good level of English to prompt ChatGPT properly. Sometimes you need to find “clever” ways to get it to do exactly what you want and I think this requires a lot of control over your language.
As I mentioned before you often need to find different ways to ask your question or to give your prompt before you get what you’re looking for.
Remember you can tell it *exactly* what to do. So keep getting specific.
It’s still a bit early for us to completely rely on it as a personal language teacher or a conversation partner, but it can be a convenient tool for certain basic tasks that can be time consuming.
Chat GPT has no emotional intelligence. It isn’t great at working out what you really want it to do, which is something I have to do as a teacher all the time. I’m always interpreting my students intentions and what they want to say, and then helping them find the right words or sentences to do that, and then helping them produce that again and again, adapting and reacting all the time and also managing the students feelings and emotional responses. It’s a special kind of dance that you have to do with the student and this is extremely complicated and requires a lot of sensitivity and also plenty of teaching experience to allow you to pinpoint exactly what is needed of you as a teacher.
ChatGPT has a long way to go before it can do that.
For the time being it is no replacement for the interaction you can have with a real human and this is still one of the best ways to practise and develop proper communication skills in English. It is definitely better to practise interacting in English with a real human, preferably one who is able to help you with your English learning because they have skills and experience in this area.
Also, don’t underestimate the importance of those emotional aspects of communication with people. ChatGPT is no replacement for that, at the moment.
Maybe one day it will be so good that talking to it will be indistinguishable from talking to a real person, which is quite an unnerving prospect somehow.
But anyway, it’s important to continue practising your English by interacting with real people in social scenarios.
Talking to people can be a bit intimidating if you are shy or introverted, but it is essential to practise doing it because interpersonal skills are vital in communication.
ChatGPT doesn’t speak or listen yet, so no listening or speaking practice is possible, but no doubt that’ll come eventually.
What does ChatGPT say about its limitations as a language learning tool?
What are some possible problems with using ChatGPT for learning English?
I wonder if it will be free forever. They’ve made it free now to get our attention but eventually we’ll probably have to pay to use it fully. In fact, already the free version is quite limited. It’s slow and stops performing after about 1 hour of interaction.
I wonder if later this year ChatGPT will still be as accessible as it is now. I expect they let us all use it for a while in order to get our attention and now they’re monetising the product and limiting free access to it.
I wonder how ChatGPT will develop. It will certainly get better and better.
Perhaps one day (soon) it will flawlessly do all the things we want it to do.
There are also some frightening aspects to this when we imagine the impact this might have on the world.
Despite what I said about it being no replacement for human interaction, it is remarkably advanced and sophisticated and that is only the current version of the software.
I expect this current iteration of ChatGPT is just the tip of the iceberg and eventually it will be almost impossible to differentiate between the chatbot and a real human.
And when this is combined with life-like speech generation and real life visuals (deepfakes) as well – a video version talking and responding naturally with a lifelike face and voice, in fact so lifelike that we won’t be able to work out if we’re dealing with a human or not, that will be quite frightening because suddenly then we’re living in the film Bladerunner, ExMachina or A.I. with all the ethical and social ramifications explored by those films.
By the way, those films seem to explore questions of whether it is ethical for us to create highly intellilgent AI capable of human-like emotions, and whether it is ethical for us to treat them like slaves or as sub-human. They are like us, even better than us in many ways, but they don’t have the same rights as us.
Other films have explored the threat to humankind of artificial intelligence. This includes things like The Terminator series and The Matrix which show a world in which AI becomes self-aware and decides to fight against humans or to enslave us.
A more immediate and realistic problem with something like ChatGPT is how it can affect the job market and whether it will make lots of people redundant.
What will we do when so much of our work can be done by AI that doesn’t need to eat, sleep, or take breaks? What will happen to us? Will people still be employable? What happens when the human population continues to rise, but the number of jobs we can do in order to earn money, decreases?
I have no idea.
And will AI eventually make it completely unnecessary to even learn another language? Will we simply have simultaneous automatic translations? Will AI augment our reality completely? Will we somehow be connected in the most intimate and integral way with technology, which will mean we won’t need to learn languages any more?
I’m not sure to be honest. What people usually say in response to that question is that we will always want to learn languages because there can be no replacement for the experience of communicating with people naturally using language and no technology can replace or replicate this experience sufficiently.
Let’s ask ChatGPT some more questions about itself, relating to things like people’s fears about it and if it will cause more cheating
What are people’s fears about how ChatGPT will change the world for the worse?
How might AI become a threat to humans?
Will ChatGPT help people to cheat?
Yes, probably. I can’t see how this won’t be a problem. I mean, this will almost certainly be a problem. Surely, students will just take the easy route and get ChatGPT to write essays for them, or other assignments. That’s obviously bad, because these students will not actually learn the skills and knowledge they’re supposed to learn during their studies and also it could compromise the effectiveness of education in general.
I don’t know how this problem is going to be solved. I don’t know how OpenAI have responded to this.
Let’s see what ChatGPT says about people using it to cheat in their homework.
Will ChatGPT help people to cheat in homework and academic essay tasks?
Will there be more cheating as a result of ChatGPT?
So it encourages people to cheat and it doesn’t know how people will use its services, but let’s be honest – it’s definitely going to result in more cheating.
It will be very interesting to see how ChatGPT and other software (because it’s not just OpenAI – there are loads of other competing companies also developing similar systems all over the world) It’ll be very interesting to see how this changes the world and of course we all hope that it changes things for the better and that it ultimately improves the human experience, making our lives better, allowing us to thrive.
That’s it – thanks for listening!
Leave your comments in the comment section.
I’m probably going to do another episode about ChatGPT just because it is fun to mess around with it and really see what it can do, including asking it to plan a podcast episode for me, write an introduction to an episode, have funny conversations, write jokes and short stories and lots of other things.
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