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.
Long thread about languages (1/24): One of the most frequent ambitions I've seen for people during the lockdown is to learn a foreign language. I'm something of an exception, an Anglophone person who's managed to do this as an adult, and I have some thoughts on the matter.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny By Nile Rodgers
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?
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This episode features a chinwag (that’s a conversation by the way) with Sebastian Marx – a friend of mine who is originally from New York (he’s an American) but who has been living in France for the last 15 years. Long term listeners might remember him from his past appearances on this podcast. You’ll see links to those episodes on the page for this episode.
Sebastian is a stand up comedian who performs both in English and French, and he was the one who first started doing stand up in English in Paris. So all of us comedians who perform on stage here in English, including Amber, Paul, Sarah Donnelly and others – we all have Sebastian to thank for originally giving us that opportunity as he is the one who got the whole scene started in the first place with the New York Comedy Night which he set up years ago.
I invited Seb onto the podcast just for a bit of a chat, but also to test his knowledge of British English slang. I’m always interested to see how much my American friends know about my version of English.
In terms of the general chinwag – we talk for the first 25 minutes or so about a few topics, including:
What he thinks of the Trump presidency
His learning of French
Speaking French or English to French people, like waiters in cafes
Then, after about 25 minutes of jibber-jabber, we decide to focus on language and you’ll hear me testing Seb’s knowledge of British English slang – informal spoken English phrases that most Brits know but which Americans are probably unfamiliar with.
This is slang so you should know that things get a bit rude later in the episode with some references to sexual acts – you know, sexual stuff, and also a few other fairly lewd and crude things like bodily functions and so on.
Some of you are probably delighted to hear that and have no problem with it at all but I feel I should give you a heads up about rude content, just in case you’re a teacher listening to this in class or something (I can imagine getting a message from a teacher who’s heard it, or perhaps even having a conversation, like this: Luke, I used an episode of your podcast in my young learners’ class the other day and oh, you started talking about… arseholes and chests, it was quite awkward — Oh dear I’m terribly sorry Mrs Crawly, I should have provided a warning of some kind. I trust that this will not affect my daughter’s entry into the Royal Academy in September. Perhaps you should come for tea and we can discuss it at length. I have one or two things to say to you about your conduct and how this is affecting your reputation among the staff at Downton. Oh, I’m terribly sorry to put you out Lady Crawley… etc… Sorry, I accidentally slipped into an episode of Downton Abbey there. Papa and Mama would be awfully disappointed, and we’ve just received a telegram that the first world war has started and we’re all terribly worried about how this might affect life at Downton and blah blah blah).
I dunno, maybe you’re a teacher or you’re listening to this with children, or maybe you just don’t like rude things of that nature. Basically – there’s some rude stuff in the second half of this episode. Alright? No big deal.
*it’s ok Luke – we fucking love rude stuff, don’t worry*
Alright, steady on…
OK, I promised myself I wouldn’t ramble too much at the start of this one so let’s crack on now, and here is the jingle….
The Slang you can hear in the episode
(listen to hear the full descriptions, examples and American English equivalents)
✔️= Sebastian knew it or guessed it correctly ❌= Sebastian didn’t know it or guessed it wrong
❌“Pants” (adjective) “That film was pants” = not great, rubbish ✔️“Knackered” (adjective”) “I’m absolutely knackered today” = exhausted, really tired / American English equivalent: “beat” ❌”Gobsmacked” (adjective) “I was absolutely gobsmacked” = shocked, surprised Also: “shut your gob” = shut up, stop talking (gob = mouth) ✔️“a slash” (noun) “Hold on, I’m going for a slash” = I’m going to go and urinate ❌“On the lash” (prepositional phrase) “I’m going out on the lash tonight” = to go out drinking alcohol ✔️“To pull” (verb) “Hopefully I’m going to pull” = to score, get lucky, to get laid, to have sex with someone “On the pull” = trying to ‘get lucky’ with someone “To go out on the pull” “To chat someone up” = to talk to someone to make them like you (sexually) to try to pull someone by talking ❌“To get off with someone” (phrasal verb) “I got off with her” = to kiss passionately on the lips (USA: to make out with someone) “To get on with someone” = to have a good relationship with someone, to “hit it off with someone” ✔️“A plonker” (noun) “You are such a plonker” (not a swear word) = an idiot ❌”A tosser” (noun) “Stop being such a tosser” (synonym of “wanker” but less rude) an idiot, a person you don’t like “a wanker” is a mean nasty unpleasant man that you’re angry with “To wank” = to masturbate “Asshole” (US English) “Arsehole” (UK English) ✔️“A fag” (noun) “I’m just having a fag” = a cigarette (in US English it’s a very rude term of abuse meaning a homosexual) ❌“A wind up” (noun) “He’s a wind up merchant” “Is this a wind up?” = a joke, a piss-take, teasing, making fun of someone, playing a trick on someone, a con, a prank, lying to someone as a joke “To wind someone up” = to annoy someone ❌“whingeing / to whinge” (verb) “Stop whingeing! You’re always whingeing.” = to complain, to moan, to whine, in an annoying way ✔️“Smart” (adjective) “You’re looking smart today. What’s the big occasion?” = to be well dressed, to be wearing formal clothing, to look clean and tidy (opposite = casual) (USA: smart = intelligent) ❌“Lush” (adjective) “Oh that’s lush” “Those trainers are lush” “Oh she is lush isn’t she?” = good, attractive (for a person), cool, great, awesome ❌“Grotty” (adjective) “I smoked a cigarette earlier and I’m feeling dead grotty now.” = unpleasant, dirty, feeling a bit unwell or under the weather ❌“Ta” (exclamation) “Could you pass me the sugar? Ta.” = thanks ✔️”A chinwag” (noun) “We’ve had a good chinwag” = conversation ❌“It’s all gone pear shaped” (idiom) “We did a Zoom call but everything went pear shaped because of technical problems” = to go wrong
Schlep (verb – US slang, from Yiddish) to carry something with difficulty, to carry something heavy – “I’ve been schlepping this bag around all day” Schlep (noun – US slang, from Yiddish) a long and arduous journey – “I work on the other side of town and getting there is a real schlep!”
Righty-ho, that was Sebastian Marx (thanks Sebastian) and 18 bits of British English slang.
How many did he get right? He predicted 50% I think. Well, out of 18 he identified 7. And my criteria for getting it right was whether he knew the word or phrase already or if he worked it out correctly, first guess, from my example. 7 out of 18. What’s that as a percentage? Some of the mathematicians are already on that, but I need a calculator to work that one out, unless you want to listen to me working that out in my head. Trust me, you don’t want to listen to that. I don’t think I can do it. Anyway, the result is… 38.88888888889 Let’s round that up to 39% which is a clear fail I think everyone can agree.
What does this mean? I’m not sure, except that it proves something about American and British culture and language. Sebastian made the point during the episode and I think I’ve said it before previously, like in that slang game I did with Jennifer from English Across the Pond last year.
Brits are way more familiar with American English than Americans (and of course I mean people from the USA) are with British English because we are exposed to a lot more American culture through TV and film than Americans are exposed to British culture.
America produces tons of TV and film of course and exports a massive amount too, but it doesn’t import as much TV and film as it exports. Basically, most Americans don’t get exposed to that much British English, certainly not the kind of local informal slang stuff that we touched on in this episode. Big surprise eh! Not really! We know this about the USA – big place, quite loud on the world’s stage, exports a lot of stuff, but to a large extent doesn’t look beyond its own borders all that much, relatively speaking. We all knew that though didn’t we!
Anyway, never mind all that geo-political stuff. I just enjoyed chatting with Sebastian in this episode and sharing some of my version of English with him. That is more interesting and fun for me.
What about you? How much of the slang in this episode did you know? I’ve definitely talked about some of those things before, but I bet there were one or two new things in there too. But how much of it did you know and how much did you learn from me in previous episodes? And if you didn’t get it from me, where have you learned British slang? Let us know in the comment section!
Also, feel free to add other bits of British slang that you think is especially, quintessentially British in the comment section.
All the slang I tested Seb on is listed on the page for this episode on the website, so check it out. That’s where you can see specific spellings of words and phrases, and you can check some example sentences and definitions that I’ve given for you.
Talking of British English expressions – I must finish that series I started last autumn – 88 English expressions that will confuse everyone. Remember that? I still have about 25 expressions left to cover I think! I must get round to doing that.
My podcast is a bit like a big, slow moving ship. Sometimes I miss something or forget something and kind of sail past it, but for some reason it’s very hard to stop the ship or turn it round and go back. So, if I don’t do a specific episode I was planning to do at one point, general momentum keeps pushing me forwards and it’s difficult to turn the ship around and go back. I’m not sure why this is.
Stuff to mention at the end
Lovely comments from listeners on the last episode (in different locations like YouTube, website, twitter, email) My wife said that the comments were cute and lovely.
Something evil this way comes… Episode 666 is next.
666 → often described as the number of the beast. The mark of the devil.
Lots of people have been asking if I’m planning anything special for that.
A vocabulary episode with lots of phrases for describing the experience of living in self-isolation. It also includes a bit of a ramble about the situation in the UK, my personal experiences of living in Paris during the lockdown and a song at the end. Vocabulary list & notes available.
Hi everyone, here’s a new episode to keep you company and to help you learn some English that you can use to describe the experience of living in self-isolation. We’ll be looking especially at vocabulary to describe the feelings and emotions that you might be going through during this experience.
Something like 2.5 billion people in the world are in self-isolation at the moment, including me, my wife and our daughter and no doubt many of you too. Not the band.
Some of you out there won’t be in isolation, confined at home or on lockdown, for whatever reason. It depends on the approach that your country is taking to this pandemic.
Maybe you are making personal choices to stay at home even if your government hasn’t imposed it. In the UK for example, the government has only recently imposed it, a week or two late in some people’s opinions. I’m trying not to talk about politics here though, just how it feels to be stuck inside, and as I said – this is mainly a vocabulary episode so I will be talking about expressions like “on lockdown”, “in isolation”, “confinement” and also loads of other things.
In France we are on lockdown and we’re only about a week and a half into it. I’m not sure how long it will go on for. Some people say a couple of weeks, some say it will continue into May, others suggest longer.
If you aren’t sure, being “on lockdown” means being ordered by the government to stay at home for an extended period of time, without a lot of human contact in an attempt to prevent the spread of this virus.
Plenty of countries in the world are on lockdown.
So you might be starved of human contact at this time, or perhaps the opposite. You might be having a bit too much human contact if you are locked up with members of your family, boyfriends, girlfriends, children, flatmates and so on and you’re trying your hardest not to become homicidal under the circumstances.
There are various possibilities in terms of what you might be going through at the moment.
You’re just lonely because you’re not used to spending so much time on your own.
You’re frustrated because you can’t stand not being able to do what you want to do (i.e. go out and live normally).
You can’t stand being confined with other people, who you are trying your best to get on with. You might be craving a bit of solitude at this time, just to get away from your family or something.
You are worrying about work.
You are worrying about family and friends who might get the virus, especially those who are in the “at-risk” category (e.g. those with underlying or existing health issues, or elderly people).
You’re strangely enjoying this time.
You are really enjoying having more time to yourself.
You’re managing to do things.
It feels a bit like a stay-at-home holiday, or a “staycation”.
You don’t mind self-isolation. In fact it’s kind of normal for you.
I’m slightly concerned about talking about this, because I am very aware that for some of you out there this is a really hard time and I don’t want to be frivolous about it.
I know that a lot of you are not having a sort of “staycation” (a holiday at home / a vacation in which you stay at home). I mean, this is not a holiday for many of you, but a very difficult and worrying time.
But having said that, I am now going to talk about this a bit.
Here’s the general plan.
In this episode
Teach you some vocabulary to describe isolation, lockdown and the things that might be going through your mind as you experience this – particularly feelings and emotions.
Comment on some recent news about this situation, focusing on the UK mainly again
A couple of corrections from the previous episodes in which I talked about this (651 and 652)
Ramble a little bit about what I’ve been doing these past couple of weeks
I’m not talking about symptoms and health issues. I’ve already done that in episodes 651 and 652.
Basics – Some trending words & phrases
First some basics to describe this situation – words which are trending
Self-isolation To be in self-isolation – “I can’t stand being in self-isolation. It’s doing my head in.” To self isolate – “Boris Jonson has tested positive for COVID-19 and is now self-isolating at home” (more on this later) To isolate yourself (from) – “Those people who are displaying symptoms have been told to stay at home and isolate themselves from other family members.”
Lockdown To be on lockdown – “We are on lockdown. We’ve been on lockdown for a few weeks in Paris.” To be locked down – “Paris is almost completely locked down. You’re only allowed to go out for certain things. You might be stopped by the police and you could face a large fine if you don’t have a written justification for being outside.” The lockdown – “The lockdown is going to last indefinitely”
Confinement To be in confinement – “We’ve been in confinement for nearly 2 weeks now” To be confined at home – “Billions of people around the world are currently confined at home, listening to Luke’s English Podcast and washing their hands.”
Quarantine To be quarantined (keeping a possibly infected person or animal separate from others) “Lots of people have been quarantined at the airport.” To be in quarantine – “They’re currently in quarantine until further notice” To quarantine someone – “If you arrive at immigration, you will be immediately quarantined in an effort to contain the spread of the virus in the country”
Containment To contain the virus – “Visitors to the city have been quarantined in an effort to contain the spread of the virus” The containment of the virus – “We’re confident that the lockdown will result in the containment of the virus.”
Vocabulary to describe this experience – Feelings & Emotions
Words and phrases you might need to talk about what you’re going through (mainly for those of you who are just stuck at home, not the symptoms of the disease)
Bad mood / Relationships Bored / boredom
I’m just so bored of being stuck indoors
I’m so sick of this boredom To be at a loose end – “I’m just knocking around the house at a loose end” = bored and with nothing to do Frustrating
It’s frustrating not being able to do what you want to do To be/get frustrated
I’m starting to get frustrated. I need to go outside and get exercise. Depression – “It’s normal to suffer from a bit of depression in conditions like this.” To get depressed – “Try not to get depressed” To feel down – “I must admit I’ve been feeling a bit down today.” It’s getting to me – “It’s getting to me, being locked up. It’s started to get to me.”
It’s starting to get to me To be locked up (with) someone – “I’m not sure I can face being locked up with my family for another 6 weeks!” To irritate someone / To annoy someone / To get on someone’s nerves To be irritating / to be annoying
“Could you use headphones while you’re gaming? It’s just really starting to irritate me.”
“The neighbours have their TV on really loud. It’s so annoying!”
“The sound of them talking is really starting to get on my nerves now” To be at each other’s throats – “They were at each other’s throats after just 3 days!” Familiarity breeds contempt To have enough of someone/something – “I’ve had enough of this. I’m going out.” To be fed up with someone/something – “I’m just so fed up with being stuck indoors all day” To miss people – “I’m missing my friends” To be / To feel cut off (from) someone – “It’s quite hard feeling cut off from my normal circle of friends”
Mental issues / Struggling to deal with the situation I’m struggling to cope = I am finding it difficult to deal with this situation, i.e. I am mentally struggling. I’m feeling upset, emotional, depressed, unable to do anything.
This is like Groundhog Day = A film in which Bill Murray repeats the same day again and again
How am I going to get through this? – to get through something means to progress from start to finish. To be able to move from the start of the experience to the end of the experience without stopping or failing. To get through a tunnel. To get through an experience. To be overwhelmed by fears / doubts / worries – “Try not to let yourself get overwhelmed by fears / doubts / worries” (e.g. about the knock-on effects on the economy, or even more paranoid thoughts about what’s really going on) To get carried away / To let your mind get carried away – “You’re getting carried away. I don’t think things are that bad.” Try not to think too much – “Look, don’t think too much. Try not to think too much. Just take it one day at a time.” To feel paranoid – “I started feeling a bit paranoid the other day when I was outside.” To feel anxious – “It’s easy to feel anxious in this situation” Nervous vs stressed vs annoyed vs angry Try not to worry Don’t panic! Don’t freak out Panic buying – “You see footage on the news of people panic buying toilet roll and pasta. Apparently these are the two most essential things for us. Eating pasta and then wiping our arses when we poo it out.” [?]
Going mad To climb the walls – “My teenage kids are climbing the walls, almost literally” To lose it – “Any more time spent in this room and I’m just going to lose it.” He’s lost it – “Uh oh, Luke’s lost it.” To lose your mind – “I feel like I’m slowly losing my mind.”
Locked in To go stir crazy – “I’m going a bit stir crazy to be honest” = feeling upset, angry, emotional, mad, mentally unwell because you are locked in somewhere, like if you were in prison. (in the 19th century “stir” was a nickname for prison, or specifically Newgate Prison in London, but now it refers to any situation in which you are cooped up)
I’m getting cabin fever To be cooped up = to be locked inside, like you’re a chicken in a chicken coop. “I can’t stand being cooped up all day”. Feeling claustrophobic Feeling trapped To be stuck indoors Stuck (past of stick) To be stuck somewhere – “I’m stuck at home” “They’re stuck in Morocco” “He got stuck in his car for hours” “I was stuck to the TV watching the news for 9 hours.” To be stuck indoors – “I’m stuck indoors and it sucks.”
My hands are chapped – “Have you got any moisturiser? My hands are so chapped from constantly washing them.”
On the front line – to be on the front line means to be doing the hardest and most important work. It was originally used to talk about soldiers in a war, specifically those people who are on the front line of the conflict, facing the enemy and fighting with them directly. This is the first meaning, but these days it is used to refer to the people who are doing the hardest and most important work in any situation.
In the past, working in a language school I have heard people talking about the teachers being the ones who are on the front line, meaning they are the ones who face the clients in the form of students in class, so if the students are unhappy for whatever reason, it’s the teachers who have to deal with that directly, rather than the marketing people, the management, the agents etc.
At the moment this phrase is being used a lot for those people who are working in hospitals, so health workers, doctors, nurses, paramedics and so on. In fact these are the real heroes of the moment.
Any of the negative things I’m mentioning in this episode, including all the boredom, the friction with those you live with, the fears about work, the frustrations and isolation – none of it compares to the struggles, risks and sheer exhaustion of those working on the front line of this situation.
Every evening here in Paris at 8pm people open their windows or go out onto their balconies in order to applaud together as a public display of gratitude for all the health workers who are working on the front line. It’s started happening across the UK as well, and I’m sure it’s the same in many other countries.
And I’d like to echo that. Thank you, if you are a health worker or if you’re involved directly in the fight against this fucking virus. Thank you. (applause)
Oh and by the way, we will beat this. It’s not the end of the world.
This could be a chance for you to do things Every cloud has a silver lining
Spending a lot more time together Quality time To spend quality time with someone Toreconnect with your family Reconnecting with family To catch up on things
Finally catch up on things you’ve been meaning to do for a while
My friend Vanessa on FB shared this
“Day 9 of lockdown My inner Emily Dickinson is loving this (Emily Dickinson was an American poet who was very withdrawn, introverted and reclusive) I’ve never felt less pressure to go out or accomplish anything. I’m loving the mandated family time. My around-the-world loved ones actually have time to write back to me, quickly! The air quality is the best it’s been in 40 years. There have been no traffic jams, nor annoying honking out my window. The sun shines against a beautiful blue sky. I’m thankful the tragedy of losing someone to covid has not yet become a reality for me. What are you lockdown silver linings? Tell me ⬇️”
Not having to wear a bra to go to work. Lol.
Taking care of your mental health www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus-and-your-wellbeing/
Try to stay optimistic Focus on the positives
If you’re with other people, just accept that there will be friction. Work on being generous if you can. Keep to a routine Keep active Get as much sunshine and fresh air as possible Keep your mind stimulated Focus on a hobby Meditate Do yoga Play music Read and write Write a diary. Pour out your thoughts into the diary. It can be very rewarding. Cross things off your to-do list To binge watch TV series
To binge listen to podcasts / audiobooks To binge on something To spend time doing something To daydream To let your mind wander
The next episode of Gill’s Book Club:
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Coming in a couple of months I expect
2. Some of the recent news in the UK at the time of recording this
Since I spoke to my Dad in episode 652 and we talked about how the UK government had been pursuing a plan of herd immunity, which basically means → don’t make people stay at home, don’t close restaurants, pubs, gyms and other places (don’t put the country on lockdown) just let everyone get the virus, let every become immune and so what if some people die, at least the economy will be ok.
*I’d like to add a point here after having listened to the recent episode of the Adam Buxton Podcast with Dr Xand Van Tulleken in which they talk about lots of things relating to the situation (I highly recommend it) and I just wanted to add that actually it’s really hard to calculate the human cost of either the coronavirus or the effects of the containment measures. Which will kill more people or cause more suffering? The virus itself or the knock-on effects of all these containment measures and the impact they will have on the economy and also on people’s lives? It’s hard to balance the two things…
Anyway, let’s carry on*
Since then, the government has changed its position and has put the country on lockdown but it was only imposed at the start of this week. Probably a bit late.
I’ll have to talk to my Dad again about this to go into more detail about what’s going on in the UK, although I don’t want to overload you all with coronavirus content.
Also there’s the fact that Prince Charles has tested positive for the coronavirus and today so has Boris Johnson, and you might want to know what I think about those things.
Prince Charles has tested positive for the coronavirus. This doesn’t mean he likes it, it means he’s got it. What do I think? Well, I wish him well of course, like anyone who’s got this. He is in the at-risk category being 71, but apparently his symptoms are fairly mild. I expect he’s got excellent medical care so he’ll probably be alright.
I reckon most people when hearing the news just thought “But what about the Queen, is the Queen OK?” because if the Queen got it that would be very bad news. She’s got good medical care too of course, but still, she’s 93. We know that when The Queen dies it will be so significant that the country will definitely change. It’ll signify the end of an era, there will be national mourning on an unprecedented scale, not necessarily because everyone loves her, but just because she is such a significant figure and one of the only symbols of national unity that we have left. I say national unity, I suppose I mean continuity in the sense that she has been a constant thing for decades, while so many other things have changed and I think the whole of the UK gets some sense of security from that sense of continuity. It’s a complex situation and of course there are various opinions on the monarchy, including many who think that it’s an outdated institution and represents inequality and privilege in society, but still, it’ll be a hugely significant moment when she does die, and the country will grind to a halt (again) for days, with public holidays and various other things happening. So, if she died during this coronavirus lockdown that would be devastating.
And if she got it, died and everyone thought that Charles had given it to her, they’d chop his head off! Obviously they wouldn’t, I’m joking, but let’s just say that the knives would be out (an expression) and it would be extremely bad for his popularity which is already quite shaky. Anyway, this isn’t about the monarchy!
Boris Johnson has tested positive for it too. Apparently he has mild symptoms and is staying at home, working from home. Ironically so does the health secretary Matt Hancock. To be honest, it’s no surprise because until about a week ago the government’s position on this whole thing was to just let everyone get infected, let the population develop herd immunity it’s no big deal really, and if loads of elderly people die and the NHS collapses under the pressure then never mind we’ll just keep calm and carry on.
In fact Boris was bragging only recently during a press-conference about how he had met loads of coronavirus sufferers in hospitals and how he’d shaken their hands and he was shaking everyone’s hands. I expect he is eating his words now. What’s perhaps more serious and shocking is how irresponsible he’s been. Sure, he’s got it now which a) doesn’t help him or the country, or his pregnant girlfriend but also b) he’s possibly spread the virus to loads of other people, potentially thousands (due to the way the virus spreads exponentially) → so congratulations Boris, you have directly helped to make the situation much much worse than it could have been.
Here he is, talking about it in that press conference.
I said that flu was a form of coronavirus. Apparently that’s not true. Coronavirus and flu are totally different, and while flu is a killer, Coronavirus is potentially a much bigger killer, because of the way it spreads.
And for those people out there saying “Flu kills more people per year than Coronavirus, what’s all the fuss about?” here’s a clip of stand up comedian Nico Yearwood talking about it on stage before the lockdown when the comedy clubs were still open.
I accidentally said that we should be washing our hands for 20 minutes. Obviously that was just a slip and I meant to say 20 seconds. (We corrected that in the RT report)
I also said that masks don’t stop you from getting the virus. I realise now that I had almost no actual evidence to back that up. It turns out there are several types of mask and some are more effective at protecting you from this than others.
Disposable face masks vs N95 respirator masks
CNET.com Disposable face masks block large particles from entering your mouth (which I suppose means that small droplets containing the virus might still be able to get in, and anyway you can probably still get infected through the eyes and ears too, potentially – but maybe these disposable masks can help prevent you spreading it around),
So that’s the disposable face masks. Then the more tight-fitting N95 respirator masks are far more effective at shielding you from airborne illnesses. Those are the ones with the filters fitted in the front.
Both of these masks could potentially help protect you from getting a viral infection, but US government officials have emphasized that the American public should not purchase face masks to prevent themselves from getting infected. Instead, only people who are displaying symptoms of coronavirus should wear masks to prevent the spread of the disease to others.
Apparently the N95 masks are much harder to find than the standard disposable ones.
ADDITIONAL (added after recording – this doesn’t appear in the episode)
I have just been sent this video on Twitter. The message is clear. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Masks help to prevent the spread of the virus. They might not be perfect, but they’re better than nothing. In the Czech Republic they seem to have been very successful in containing the spread of the virus.
4. Personal experiences of lockdown / self-isolation with a 2-year-old child
Some details about what we’re doing and some of the challenges we’re facing
France has been on full lockdown for nearly 2 weeks now. Almost everything is closed except certain shops selling “essential items” –> note that the wine shops and cheese shops are very much open in our area :)
My daughter isn’t going to creche so we have to look after her all the time. That’s great but also exhausting. I’m not complaining, we knew what we were doing when we created her, so, you know, it’s our fault. Anyway, the thing is, it takes a lot of time and all that, and my wife and I have work to do but it’s not bad, we divide the day and I look after her in the morning and in the afternoon it’s the other way around.
I still teach classes for the British Council but now they are happening on Zoom – the videoconferencing platform. Actually, Zoom are doing pretty well out of this, aren’t they? I had just a few hours to learn how to use the platform but it’s pretty good. It’s not as good as teaching in real life, but it’s not bad. → Talk a bit about teaching on Zoom.
One thing I thought the other day is that this crisis is going to force us to change and will be a driver of change in various ways. Certainly we’re all becoming a lot more familiar with videoconferencing and I think a lot of employers and employees will realise that working from home is really doable and will become more and more normal.
Let me now talk about going outside and staying indoors. Most of our time is spent indoors of course, but we do go outside from time to time.
Feeling a bit guilty and also a bit nervous (don’t want to catch the virus, but don’t want to spread it), but going outside is vital for our mental and physical health.
Strict instructions from the government, which we are trying to comply with.
People are getting pretty angry about this on social media.
Only going outside for a bit of exercise, staying max 1km from our home.
Only ever just one of us, or one of us with our daughter.
We just walk around the block, choosing quiet streets, crossing the road to avoid people etc.
It’s like a ghost town
It’s quite eerie
It’s also quite peaceful and wonderful
Paris is a very beautiful city and usually it’s very busy and stressful. Not at the moment. Well, not busy anyway.
The weather has been fantastic, which makes this much easier to deal with.
But it’s also a dirty place, like most inner-city areas.
Rubbish and also general uncleanliness.
I wonder what condition the place will be in after weeks of this. Are the streets usually this dirty or is it just more obvious now?
Rubbish on the floor, dog poo not cleaned up.
I’m teaching my daughter to count and we often count things we see in the street. She now counts the dog poo. There’s nothing I can do about it. At least she knows she should avoid it. (I’m still not sure if there is a taboo about talking about this in Paris, which would be odd. Surely the taboo would be to let your dog do it and then not clean it up.)
Actually, I think Paris is always like that!
Anyway, let’s not dwell on it too long.
Some shops are open – those ones for essential food, supermarkets, boulangeries (bakeries), cheese shops. Yep, I live in Paris!
Queues are more orderly. There are lines on the ground. People know that they have to stay at least 1m away from each other. There’s more politeness actually.
Not touching anything.
Getting our daughter to run while holding my hand.
Jumping onto manhole covers.
Looking into the windows of guitar shops.
Spotting things in the street and counting them.
The main challenge for us is: keeping our daughter busy, keeping up her education (even though she’s just two and 3 months), limiting screen time, maintaining our mental health – I mean just trying to stay in a good mood, getting enough physical exercise for all of us but especially the little one, managing to get work done and also keeping in touch with friends and family. I feel like we’re only partly successful in all areas.
Yoga for kids
Reading, reading, reading
Using a pre-school app on the ipad
Worrying about screen time
Playing games for numbers, colours
Listening to music
Limiting screen time
Speaking a lot more English
Washing hands and singing happy birthday to celebrities
Overall → things are really not that bad for us at all. We are incredibly lucky.
For some others this might be an impossible time.
Some people have been laid off
Some people who are self-employed are unable to do their work
Some people will be unable to feed their kids because schools are closed (and they rely on those schools to provide a decent meal once a day)
A lot of people will have lost money
Some people will be worried about loved ones who are in vulnerable positions
And of course some people will be sick with the coronavirus and feeling terrible, wondering if they should go to hospital etc.
The final part in this little series following Alan Partridge through a day in his life, and breaking it down for language. Alan is not for everyone, but I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and learned some English from it.
Hello and welcome back. This is the 6th and final part of this particular episode run about Alan Partridge. I might come back to continue with part 7 and onwards at a later date.
But here is part 6 and in this one we’re going to conclude the storyline that we started in part 4 of this.
So we’re listening to some clips from this award-winning TV comedy from 1997 I think. It’s over 20 years old now but Alan Partridge is still a popular character and he is still on TV these days with new shows coming this year or early next year apparently.
But I’ve chosen this episode from 1997 because it follows on from the stuff we listened to in previous episodes.
Again, if you haven’t heard the other parts in this series, I suggest you go back and listen to them first. This won’t make a lot of sense to you if you haven’t heard those parts, and I mean parts 1-5. Check them out.
So we’re going to continue and conclude the story from this episode, which is episode 2 from series 1. It’s actually called “Alan Attraction”.
Here’s a recap of what’s happened in Alan Attraction so far.
It’s happens to be Valentine’s Day and Alan has been sending chocolate oranges to women he knows aged 50 and under. The thing is, all the chocolate oranges are shop soiled – probably ones that have been on display in shops and then taken off display and sent back to Rawlinsons for some reason, and so Rawlinsons don’t know what to do with all these damaged Chocolate Oranges, so they’ve somehow done a deal with Alan whereby he plugs Chocolate Oranges from Rawlinsons (Just say “Chocolate Oranges are available from Rawlinsons”) and then they give him 50 of the shopsoiled chocolate oranges.
More importantly for Alan, he is struggling financially. He hasn’t been given a second series by the BBC so now he is being forced to make financial changes. He has sacked all the staff in his company Pear Tree Productions and has to trade down his Rover 800 for a smaller model.
In the last episode we heard him go to Pear Tree Productions and sack them all in the most cowardly and pathetic way, except for Jill – the middle aged divorcee that works for him, and who he fancies. He lied to Jill about sacking everyone and then took Jill on a romantic Valentine’s Day trip to a local Owl sanctuary and then he asked her out to dinner at the travel tavern where they have an extremely romantic all-you-can-eat buffet for 6 pounds. It’s all you can eat from an 8-inch plate and Alan is cheating by smuggling in a 12 inch plate from his room.
So in this episode we’re going to hear
What happens on Alan’s date with Jill
Will they get on?
What’s going to go wrong? (because this is Alan – something always goes wrong)
Is Alan going to get involved with Jill?
What kind of lover do you think Alan is?
And is Alan still going to sack Jill like he promised Lynn he would?
I realised just before recording this that I haven’t described the appearance of the characters in the show.
Alan has a kind of middle-aged, middle English kind of look. He wears sensible shoes, brown slacks, a cardigan and shirt or possibly a blue or green blazer with brass buttons. His hair is a sort of side parting but it goes quite wide at the sides. Somehow it is exactly the sort of hair cut that TV presenters had in the mid-nineties.
Lynn looks like a typical middle-aged conservative English churchgoing woman. She is very modestly dressed in a long skirt (grey or brown) a plain blouse, cardigan, overcoat which is light brown or grey maybe. Her look is extremely sensible and plain. Her hair is, again, generic middle aged woman territory but there is absolutely no glamour to Lynn. She is a Baptist, which is quite a strict form of English protestant Christian. She’s very conservative, extremely meek, modest and also completely devoted to Alan. We don’t know why she is so devoted to him but she is. Alan of course takes her devotion for granted. Everyone should be that devoted to him, probably. He is generally quite mean to Lynn although he is also affectionate in some ways. For example, he plays her a song on his radio show as a dedication but feels the need to then say it’s nothing to do with Valentine’s Day.
Then there’s Jill in this episode who I think is also 50 (like Lynn) but she’s far more glamourous and sexy (read: slutty) than Lynn. Really, Jill is very trashy – low cut top (revealing her cleavage), short skirt, hair pushed up, lots of make up. She has tanned (probably fake tanned) skin, smokes fags, wears high heels and makes loads of dirty and flirtatious comments.
Those are the main characters in this episode I think.
Right, so let’s carry on and we’re going to now listen to Alan and Jill having their romantic dinner at the Travel Tavern (a horrible place for a valentines date).
Here are some things to look out for
17:22 Alan and Jill have dinner at the travel tavern Jill has changed into a red dress, Alan is wearing his green blazer. Alan and Jill have just finished dinner. Alan buys Jill a rose. He holds onto his larger (12 inch) plate and Jill orders a chocolate moose, then Alan gets up onto the stage, grabs the mic and does something.
What does Alan do on the stage? What happens?
Jill says “I didn’t know you could sing” – What is Alan’s response about being in the choir when he was a boy?
Lynn arrives. What does she have to tell Alan?
Why was Alan’s phone switched off?
Why is Lynn wearing a “snazzy cardigan”?
What does Lynn suggest to Jill?
What’s Alan’s response?
What does Lynn give to Jill?
What does Jill suggest at the end?
What happends in the video? Basically!
22:00 Alan’s Room
Alan emerges from the bathroom in a bath robe. Jill is in the bed in a nightie.
What does Alan suggest to Jill about the bathroom?
What does Alan think about living in a travel tavern?
Alan puts some change on the bedside table. What does Jill say? What’s Alan’s awkward response?
Alan wants to turn off the light, Jill suggests that they just dim it and Alan slowly dims it to complete darkness. “Bit more, bit more, bit more”
The next bit is perfect because it’s just audio.
Alan in bed with Jill 23:10
What do you think of Alan’s pillow talk?
What does he actually say while they’re having it off?
What do you imagine they’re doing?
What does Alan say about condoms?
Why does Alan want to keep talking?
“People forget that traders need access to Dixons!
They do say it will help people in wheelchairs”
What does Jill do that upsets Alan?
Who knocks at the door?
Alan is back in the studio for his morning radio show as Jill is driving home in the taxi. Alan does a feature on his show called “Alan’s Love Bud” which is probably about romantic stories. In this one he tells another story but it’s obviously him and Jill.
Welcome back to this episode about comedy legend Alan Partridge, a character played by Steve Coogan. This is part 5 in a series I started back in 2018. You should listen to the other parts before you listen to this.
What we’re going to do is continue to listen to some clips from an episode of I’m Alan Partridge – you should check out all the AP content out there including the DVDs you can find online.
We’re going to listen to some clips. I’ll give you some things to watch out for. We’ll see how much you can understand. I’ll break it all down and point out funny moments and bits of language.
I hope to be able to cover all of this in this part, so we’ll have to keep things a bit brisk in order to stop the episode going on too long, but there might have to be another episode after this one, depending on how much we get done.
Let’s quickly sum up what happened in the last episode.
I reminded you who Alan Partridge is and what the context is for this episode. We listened to Alan presenting his radio show and plugging chocolate oranges. We heard Alan talking to the staff at the travel tavern and generally being awkward and weird. Then we listened to Alan talking to Lynn about having to fire all the staff at his production company in order to avoid going bankrupt and because he’s not prepared to drive a Mini Metro even if they’ve rebadged it and it’s now the Rover Metro.
So in this episode we’re going to follow Alan as he meets all the members of his production company in order to fire them, even Jill the woman that he fancies and often flirts with.
Alan arrives with Lynn at the offices of Pear Tree Productions
09:15 Alan and the staff at Pear Tree Productions
Watch out for
How Alan flirts with Jill
How Alan lies by telling the staff the news about the second series
How Alan tries to stop people spending too much money
How Alan sacks his members of staff
How Alan manages to escape from everyone
When Jill asks Alan where everyone has gone, what does he say?
Alan and Jill
Watch out for
How Alan establishes if Jill likes him, sex wise, and his reaction
How they flirt really horribly
How Alan asks Jill out on a date
Alan & Jill at the Owl Sanctuary
Watch out for
Alan’s comment about astroturf
What Alan used to think when he saw Jill in the office
How Alan talks about a line of birds of prey they are looking at. He compares it to death row, and then look out for how his rambling comparison goes all weird.
Listening to some more classic British comedy and dissecting it for language. This time we’re listening to some more clips of Alan Partridge, a comedy character played by Steve Coogan. This is part 4 of a series I started in 2018.
Hello there, dear listener, and welcome back to this podcast for learners of English as a foreign or second language or third, or fourth. In these episodes I try to help you learn English while having a laugh at the same time. We cover a lot of British culture in these episodes including lots of stuff about comedy and there’s lots of English to be learned in the process.
Here’s another episode about Alan Partridge, a comedy character played by Steve Coogan. This is part 4 of a series I started in autumn 2018.
You should listen to parts 1-3 (episodes 548-550) before hearing this. Seriously, if you haven’t heard the other parts yet – stop right now and go back to hear them. This will not make much sense to you unless you’ve heard parts 1-3 so go back and listen to them instead, before you listen to this. Alright? OK, so only the people who have already heard parts 1-3 (episodes 548-550) are still with me now then… It should be just those who’ve… what about you there?… yes, you I don’t remember you listening to the other parts. Probably best to hear those first, like I said, so… probably stop and go back… in the archive. (episodes 548-550) Ok you’re still listening. No that’s fine, just ignore, yep, just ignore what I said, yeah, because this doesn’t apply to you does it… just carry on then… don’t blame me though if this doesn’t make sense… not my fault, I did say… just one thing though, when you don’t get it, don’t even think about saying “this is British humour”… no this is not “British humour” ok, “this is poor listening skills and bloody mindedness”. OK, fine. Unbelievable.
I’m just kidding, everyone’s welcome! Here is another episode about British comedy legend Alan Partridge and this is part 4.
When I did parts 1-3 in autumn 2018, I wasn’t sure what people would think, but overall the response was really positive, with lots of people saying they’d like to hear more.
Here’s a comment I just got from a LTL called Aritz, which sums it up quite well I think.
Hey Luke! I wanted to write to you about the Alan Partridge episodes. Thank you so much for taking your time to record them! Although I already knew Steve Coogan, you managed to make me understand the character (Alan) and the comedian in more depth. The episodes were educational, funny and somehow brought us a bit of British culture (something that as a London resident I always appreciate). Seriously good (great!!) stuff! Thanks again!
Well then, let’s enter the world of Alan again then.
What we’re going to do here is listen to some clips of Alan Partridge and break it all down for language learning.
Hmmm, which clips should I choose. There’s so much. We’re spoiled for choice.
I’ve decided to deal with clips from “I’m Alan Partridge” Series 1, episode 2 which follows on from the episode when he has that meeting with Tony Hayers and it goes all wrong and he squishes some cheese into his face.
I’ve chosen this episode because you already know the context of the story and it makes sense to carry on from where we were after hearing that scene. Also, this episode is just brilliant from start to finish (in my opinion of course, other opinions are available)
One thing I would like to say here is that I really want to recommend that you actually buy some Alan Partridge content. It’s really worth it. You should get a DVD or buy a series on iTunes or wherever you can.
I’d strongly recommend getting the DVDs for I’m Alan Partridge series 1 and 2. Also you could check out Mid Morning Matters series 1 and 2 if they’re available. If you’re in the UK you should find most of the AP content on the BBC iPlayer, including the recent series This Time with Alan Partridge (I recommend episode 4).
As well as those, you could get the Alan Partridge books. The first one is called “I, Partridge – We Need to Talk about Alan” and the second one is called “Nomad”. They are both absolutely brilliant and it’s not an exaggeration to say they are literally the best books I’ve ever read. Ok, that is an exaggeration, but it’s really not an exaggeration to say that the audiobook versions really are the best audiobooks I’ve ever heard.
The cool thing about the audiobooks is that they are read out by Alan himself (actually the actor Steve Coogan of course) and this is just amazing. You get hours of Alan reading you both his books and it’s absolutely top drawer comedy writing, and top-drawer voice acting too. Steve Coogan is a genius.
So, you could sign up with Audible and get the two Alan Partridge books.
And it just so happens that my Audible offer is still available!
You download the app on your phone, sign up with Audible and create an account to get the audiobooks, then download them onto your phone.
The offer is: One month of free Audible membership + any audiobook of your choice completely free.
If you like, you can cancel your membership before the end of the month and keep the free book.
And also there’s the Alan Partridge film, called Alpha Papa, in which Alan gets involved in an armed hostage situation at a radio station and ends up being the hostage negotiator.
So – plenty of Alan content for you to purchase, some of it free.
OK, I just wanted to promote the various bits of Alan Partridge stuff that you can get before we begin.
Right then, so where were we last time?
Alan Partridge is this TV and radio presenter from Norwich in East Anglia in England who basically only cares about getting on television and enjoying the status of being a national broadcaster. He’s convinced he’s A-Grade talent, when in fact he’s at best a D-grade broadcaster or worse. He’s pretty much an awful person, although there are obviously worse people out there. Really, Alan is just lost, deluded, cowardly and deceitful rather than being out and out cruel or evil, although he treats his personal assistant Lynn pretty badly. But there’s something compelling about Alan, even though we certainly don’t want to be him, we might recognise ourselves in him. Is he uniquely British? In a way, yes. We tend to enjoy watching comedy characters who are quite awful, who think they’re better than they are, who are unaware of themselves.
We’re usually quite self-conscious people who try our best to avoid being like Alan, so maybe there’s something quite cathartic about watching someone who is so unaware of himself and so unafflicted by modesty and self-consciousness.
Anyway, I shouldn’t try to explain all of that. I did enough in parts 1-3.
Let’s just get down to business.
So, Alan is a parody (he’s not a real person of course, just a character – that should be clear) a parody of a certain type of TV presenter. He used to be a sports reporter, then he got his own chat show, but accidentally killed a man on live TV. Now he has been thrown out by his wife, their marriage has broken up, probably because of him. In fact it’s all covered in the I, Partridge audiobook. Alan is now living in a roadside motel, or “Travel Tavern”. Somehow he avoided criminal proceedings from what happened on his chat show. Then he failed to get a second series of his show and ended up having a meltdown and punching his boss in the face with a piece of cheese while shouting “Smell my cheese you mother!”
So basically, he doesn’t have a second series and his career is on the rocks.
He’s still presenting a radio show on BBC Radio Norwich, but he’s got the pre-breakfast slot, which is something like 4.30-6.30AM. It’s the graveyard shift, basically. He’s drifting into obscurity.
In this episode, Alan attempts to deal with the fact that he doesn’t have a second series. He’s got to face up to certain financial realities, meaning that he can’t move into his new 5 bedroom house, he has to get a much cheaper car and he’s going to have to lay off (or sack, or fire) almost everyone who he employs at his media production company. He employs about 5 people there, including a middle-aged woman called Jill who he fancies.
Mostly in the episode we follow Alan as he deals with these things, badly in most cases. So he has to sack his production staff, get a smaller car and try to maintain his dignity while living in a shitty travel tavern.
It’s valentine’s day in this episode, so there’s a kind of romantic theme – I say romantic, it’s not romantic at all really, but Alan ends up chatting up Jill from his production company and takes her out on a date. Lynn, his personal assistant seems a bit jealous. The whole thing goes wrong of course.
We’re going to do pretty much the whole episode here.
I’m Alan Partridge S1 E2
There is a laughter track on this, which is a pity, but honestly after a while you start to ignore it.
Alan’s radio show
Opening scenes on BBC Radio Norwich
What to watch out for:
Alan’s dedication to his PA Lynn
Why there’s no telephone Cluedo today
What Alan says about the sound effect (the normal morning cockrel and then the sound of a kiss)
How does Alan define Valentine’s Day?
How Alan gets the tone of a light pre-breakfast radio show completely wrong by talking about syphilis
How Alan ruins Dave Clifton’s joke about valentines cards “It’s valentines day! I came down this morning and I couldn’t open my door. I couldn’t open my door because I’d lost my key” ~terrible joke
How Alan manages to plug chocolate oranges from Rawlinsons
That’s not the sound of someone kissing me, or kissing a cock… cockrel I mean. It’s simply a way of saying “it’s valentines day”, a day upon which mr Al Capone ruined a romantic night out for many diners by massacring them. Died of syphillis he did, so there is some justice.
Alan in the reception
What’s the problem he has with Ben, who he says good morning to?
How does he subtly insult Susan on reception?
What’s the situation with Alan and the chocolate oranges?
What’s Alan’s fat back?
Can Sophie exchange her dark chocolate orange for a milk chocolate one?
Someone says “Excuse me, are you Alan Partridge?” – why?
What’s Alan’s complaint about the soap? (he acts out a washing routine in the shower)
Who sent Sophie a Valentine’s card?
Alan and Lynn talk about finances
What’s the good news?
And the bad news?
What about his Rover 800? Is he willing to drive a Mini Metro to save money?
What does he have to do re: Pear Tree Productions?
Every version of every language has slang and also cultural reference points that are unique to that language. English is no exception of course and because it is such a diverse language in terms of the number of different dialects it has, it is quite possible for there to be slang in certain dialects that other speakers of the same language don’t understand. For example, Americans might not understand certain things said in British English. Of course it’s also difficult for learners of English to deal with slang. It’s not normally the language you encounter in the coursebooks and so on, and yet slang is very commonly used.
So, a dialect of English like British English might be difficult to understand for anyone who wasn’t born or grew up there.
That’s what this article was all about and the 88 bits of English (either words or expressions) listed, reflect this uniquely British version of English that might be confusing for everyone else in the world.
But I am here to try to lessen that confusion with my explanations and examples.
You can use this episode series to quickly learn a whole world of slang, which will help you understand and be understood by Brits more easily.
And even if you’re not planning to get chatting to some British people any time soon, you can consider this series just to be a chance to broaden your horizons as far as the English language is concerned and learn yet more of this precious vocabulary – because vocabulary probably is the most precious stuff of all. This is the difference, often, between intermediate English and advanced or proficient English – knowing how to adjust your style of English to meet various different situations. A knowledge of slang is essential, I think, in order to know all the possible light and shade in this language.
As ever with these articles, there are always a few little words or phrases that I dispute or at least don’t know. Last time it was “dench” which neither my brother nor I use, ever. (I made several edits to the episode after initially releasing it, with some comments that my brother sent to me via text). Let’s see if there are other similar words and phrases that I don’t use, perhaps because it’s a regional thing and not said in my area growing up.
As we go through the list I will let you know which ones I actually use and which ones I don’t. If you’re using me as a model for the type of English you want to speak, you can perhaps disregard any of the ones which I don’t use. But of course you should always be listening carefully to the English language as it is used and if you spot any of these expressions being used on TV, in music, films or just in normal life then that’s worth noting.
Also, I think that sometimes I use these expressions but in a knowing, ironic way. For example, if I called someone “the bee’s knees” I think I’d be doing it largely because I like the sound of the expression, but knowing it’s a bit old-fashioned. It can be fun sometimes just to use these different expressions for a laugh as a way to add colour or humour to your speaking.
So I will also let you know if I think I use these expressions with a bit of irony.
In part 1 I did 30 of these. Let’s see if I can do the next 30 and then the final 28 in part 3.
I’m going to have to be quick, so pay attention!
Text in italics has been pasted from the original article (link above).
to faff about/around
To “faff” is to waste time doing very little.
“Faff” comes from the 17th century word “faffle,” which means to flap about in the wind.
“We were just faffing about.”
Stop faffing around. Come on, let’s go!
How much time in your typical day do you spend just faffing around?
What do you actually do when you faff around?
A “fag end” is also the ratty bits towards the ends of a reel of fabric, which are the worst and the cheapest bits of the reel. Historically, “fags” were the cheaper cigarettes made of lower grade tobacco, however, the slang has spread to encompass all cigarettes.
“Could I scrounge a fag off you, please?”
In American English it’s a gay person (very offensive word) so watch out for that. – “Can I bum a fag off you mate?”
What’s the nickname you give to cigarettes in your language?
A fag butt, to stub out a cigarette, to ask for a light, a ciggie
“She’s really fit though, isn’t she?”
When I was a kid we all thought our maths teacher was really fit.
Used to describe someone physically attractive, usually referring to their physique.
“She’s got a fit body”
Obviously it also means to be in good physical condition, like an athlete.
Which actor or actress do you think is quite fit/fit/really fit?
To “flog” means to sell something — usually quickly and cheaply.
“I’m trying to flog my old sofa. Do you know anyone that might be interested?”
What is the last thing that you flogged?
Flog It (TV show)
5. “the Full Monty”
The entire thing, with all the extras included.
After “The Full Monty” film was released in 1997, there was some international confusion over the phrase in which it was taken as a euphemism for stripping. However, “the full Monty” actually refers to pursuing something to the absolute limits.
“The full Monty” historically refers to an old tailor called Sir Montague Burton. Going “the fully Monty” meant purchasing a full three-piece suit, a shirt, and all of the trimmings.
“Our Christmas dinner had everything from sprouts to Yorkshire puddings. If you’re going to have a roast, have the full Monty!”
I’m going to go for the full monty. A full English breakfast.
I very rarely use it.
Have you ever had a full English breakfast? Did you go for the full monty? How about a Sunday roast? Full monty?
6. “Full of beans”
Someone that’s energetic, lively, or enthusiastic might be described as “full of beans.”
This phrase could be a reference to coffee beans, although these claims have been disputed.
Beans generally give you energy (and gas) so the meaning is pretty clear for me.
“Goodness, you’re full of beans this morning!”
How do you feel right now? Do you feel full of bean? Or are you feeling knackered?
Where do you want to do it? Your gaff? My gaff?
“Gaff” is an informal word for “home.”
It sounds cockney to me.
“What are you up to this weekend? We’ve got a party at our gaff, if you fancy it?”
I’d use it ironically because it sounds really cockney. It’s the kind of thing you hear in Eastenders.
Have you ever seen Eastenders?
Withnail &a I?
To “gallivant” means to roam, or to set off on an expedition, with the sole intention of having some light-hearted fun. I imagine someone skipping through a forest or a hilly meadow.
You’re supposed to stay and be a princess, not go gallivanting after pirates!
I would only use this in a kind of sarcastic way, in order to complain about someone doing other things when they should be focusing on something more serious.
Off he goes, gallivanting around the South of France when he should be at home sorting out all the problems.
A “geezer” is a man that could be described as “suave” or “dapper,” and is often suited and booted. Men from east London are also commonly referred to as “geezers.”
A geezer is a slang word for a man, like a bloke.
“That guy’s got such swagger — he’s a proper geezer.”
I use this one quite a lot although it does sound quite cockney (other regional dialects use it too). You can also say “bloke”.
10. “Give me a tinkle on the blower”
“Give me a call” or “ring me.” The phrase is sometimes shortened to “give me a tinkle.”
“Tinkle” refers to a phone’s ring, while “blower” is slang or telephone and refers to the device that predated phones on Naval ships. Sailors would blow down a pipe to their recipient, where a whistle at the end of the pipe would sound to spark attention.
“Give me a tinkle on the blower.”
I never say it.
Astounded; bewildered; shocked.
“Gob” is slang for mouth, so if you’re gobsmacked, you’re shocked to the point of clasping your jaw in disbelief.
“I was gobsmacked!”
It’s a good word which everyone should know.
When was the last time you were gobsmacked? Have you ever felt gobsmacked while watching a film or TV show, like when a character dies unexpectedly?
Not to be confused with literally being disembowelled, someone that says they’re “gutted” is devastated or extremely upset.
“I was absolutely gutted.”
It’s one of the most common and recognisable bits of UK slang, along with knackered and chuffed.
How would you feel if you got invited onto Luke’s English Podcast? Would you feel gutted or chuffed?
13. “Half past”
While Americans are more likely to say “seven thirty” or “five fifty,” Brits will more often than not refer to times in “minutes past” the hour (or minutes to). Eg, “half past seven,” and “ten to six.”
It’s unclear why Brits appear to favour analogue time-telling while Americans go for the digital format. (we don’t do it so much any more)
“It’s twenty past eleven.”
On the right hand side of the clock, it’s past (including half past).
On the left hand side of the clock, it’s to.
1:10 “ten past one”
2:15 “a quarter past two”
3.20 “twenty past three”
4.25 “twenty five past four”
5.30 “half past five”
6.35 “twenty five to seven”
7.40 “twenty to eight”
8.45 “a quarter to nine”
9.50 “ten to ten”
10.55 “five to eleven”
Sometimes these are abbreviated to “half past” “quarter past” “ten to” etc.
What time do you get up?
What time did you start listening to this?
What time do you go to bed?
What time does your lunch end?
14. “Hank Marvin”
“Hank Marvin” is Cockney rhyming slang for “starving.”
“I’m Hank Marvin” means “I’m hungry” or “I’m ravenous.”
“When are we going to eat? I’m absolutely Hank Marvin.”
I do use this one, and my wife has learned to understand it.
How are you feeling right now? Full, stuffed, fine, a bit peckish, hungry, absolutely Hank Marvin?
“Innit” is an abbreviation of “isn’t it” most commonly used amongst teenagers and young people.
You can add it as a tag question on the end of a sentence, no matter what the auxiliary verb is.
He hasn’t done his homework, innit.
He ain’t done his homework innit.
You ain’t done your homework innit.
It can also be used as a response as a way to confirm something.
“It’s really cold today.”
I think also we use “Is it?” as a way to show surprise.
“My mum won the lottery”
“Is it?” or “Yo, is it fam!?”
Sounds terrible when I say it.
I use “innit” quite a lot, but ironically, meaning I know I’m not normally the type of person who uses it and I’m kind of imitating Ali G.
16. “Leg it”
Make a run for it; run away; scarper.
“That’s when all of the lights came on, and so we legged it.”
We used to say this all the time when we were kids.
I never say this and if I did it would be embarrassing. It’s the sort of thing I’d hear from schoolkids on the bus in London.
The same people who’d say things like “innit” and “blud” or “fam”.
Something that takes a lot of effort and probably isn’t going to be worth all of the effort, either, could be described as “long.” This could be due to the lengths that the person will have to go to in order to complete the task.
Something that is “long” is probably also annoying or aggravating.
“Cleaning the kitchen is long.”
18. “the Lurgy”
If someone’s “caught the lurgy,” they’re suffering from cold or flu-like symptoms.
“She’s come down with the dreaded lurgy.”
When was the last time you got the lurgy? Did you take time off work or college? How do you protect yourself from the lurgy? What’s a cure for the lurgy?
19. Making random words past-tense to mean drunk
Brits are known for favouring a drink or two, so much so that almost any noun can be used as a substitute for “drunk.”
In his stand-up show, British comedian Michael MacIntyre said: “You can actually use any word in the English language and substitute it to mean drunk. It works.”
Examples include “trollied,” “smashed,” and “gazeboed.”
I’ve never heard or used this phrase (except the “I’m on it” part).
This colloquialism might be said by someone that has the situation under control.
“I’m on it” is definitely a phrase.
“How’s the report going, Steve?”
“Don’t you worry, Alan, I’m on it (like a car bonnet).”
Alan thinks “That would have been alright if he hadn’t said ‘like a car bonnet at the end’….. He’s going to have to go.”
“Don’t worry Alan. I’m on it!”
26. “On the pull”
Someone that’s “on the pull” has gone out, usually on a night out, with the intention of attracting a sexual partner.
“Pull” can also be used as a verb. If you’ve “pulled,” you’ve kissed someone.
“You look nice. Are you going on the pull?”
“Get your coat, you’ve pulled.”
Also: on the lash
27. “Over-egg the pudding”
“Over-egging the pudding” means embellishing or over-doing something to the extent that it’s detrimental to the finished product. Going over the top.
Basically though, it means going too far, doing too much, pushing a situation to the max, but it is said in a pejorative and disdainful way, like “Don’t over-egg the pudding Luke”.
“We get it — you’ve injured yourself. Don’t over-egg the pudding.”
Do you think they over-egged the pudding at the end of Avengers Endgame? Too many superheroes?
Rubbish; terrible, really bad. Poor quality.
“This is pants.”
“That film was total pants.”
How was the film? Pants
What about the match? Pants
How was England’s performance? It was pants
What about the pub where they showed the game? Pants
The beer? Pants
How about your pants? They’re pants.
Actually no, my pants are great. They’re the only thing that isn’t pants, my pants.
That’s ironic isn’t it, that your pants are great but everything else is pants, but not meaning great.
I think it’s because pants in general are bad, but my pants just happen to be great so they’re
The exception that proves the rule.
Yes, but I’ve never understood that phrase. How can an exception prove a rule? Surely it should be the opposite?
29. Par (diss)
I never ever use this. I’m much more likely to say “diss” as in “disrespect”. So let’s replace “par” with “diss” instead.
A “diss” is a disrespectful comment.
“Diss” can also be used as a verb, eg, “You just got dissed.” “Are you dissing my English?”
It comes from the word disrespect or disrespected.
“I don’t mean this as a diss, but did you remember to wash this morning?”
I don’t think I would use it unironically.
Are you dissing me?
A situation which has quickly evolved into an accident waiting to happen might be described as “gone pear-shaped.”
The phrase is reportedly old slang from the Royal Air Force and was used to described awry expeditions and flights.
“Well, this has all gone a bit pear-shaped.”
Simon, where have you been?
Well, I went out to buy some milk but things got a bit pear shaped and I ended up going to Area 51.
An episode about British English slang and culture, featuring expressions that Brits know but everyone else finds confusing. Here are the first 30 expressions in a list of 88 that I found on independent.co.uk. Includes plenty of funny improvised examples to make you laugh out loud on the bus.
He’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic, isn’t he?
I’m a bit of a Beatles anorak.
Bagsie the front seat! Shotgun!
4. The bee’s knees
He’s the bee’s knees.
5. Bender (go on a)
I went on a 3-day bender last weekend. I feel rough as f*ck right now.
6. Blinder (to pull a)
You pulled an absolute blinder in that negotiation.
My brother has chipped in here with a comment, saying that he thinks the most common collocation with Blinder is “to play a blinder” and I admit that he’s right. Thinking about it, I’ve definitely heard “play a blinder” more than “pull a blinder”.
A quick internet search shows us the same thing.
Collins says it’s when a sports player or musician plays something really well but it’s also applied to when anyone does anything well. For example, you played a blinder in that meeting.
Or You played an absolute blinder getting us front row tickets for this show.
OK, so let’s say “play a blinder” more often than “pull a blinder”.
7. Bloody / Bleedin’
Bloody hell Harry! Bleedin‘ Heck!
8. Bob’s your uncle
Put the bag in the mug, add hot water, then some milk and Bob’s your uncle.
We’re staying in a bog-standard hotel up the road.
Put the money in theboot of the car.
11. Botch(ed) job
You did a real botch(ed) job on that chair. It is a real death-trap. You really made a botch of that, didn’t you?
Do you need a brolly?
13. Budge up
Come on, budge up a bit. I don’t have much room.
14. Builder’s tea
I like a nice cup of builder’s tea, me.
Give us a butcher’s at that! Have a butcher’s at this.
I’m really cack-handed today. I don’t know what’s the matter with me.
You’re such a cheeky little monkey!
18. Chinese whispers
It must have been Chinese whispers.
Let’s get together and have a good old chinwag.
I tell you what. It’s absolutely chockablock out there. Absolutely chocka.
You must be really chuffed!
You dropped an absolute clanger at the dinner party.
What a load of absolute codswallop.
24. Cost a bomb
Those new iPhones cost an absolute bomb.
I am absolutely cream-crackered. I think I’m going to go straight to bed.
26. Curtain twitcher
Our neighbour is a bit of a curtain twitcher.
I’m going to make some tea. Dench. (?)
I just want to add something about the word “Dench”.
I said that I didn’t know this and that I don’t use it.
My brother reckons the word is “fake”, by which I think he means that this one isn’t really used.
He’s never heard or used it either.
I don’t know why the Independent would add a fake word in their list, but let’s just say that you can probably avoid the word “Dench” and not worry about it at all.
If you’ve heard or seen the word being used, add a comment to the comment section.
I’ve just done a quick google check and there are entries for the word in Collins (but not an “official” definition – it was added by a user) and Urban Dictionary – both confirming that the word basically means “nice” or “Awesome” but there aren’t that many entries for it.
So I think we can conclude that it is a new phrase, probably only used by a few people, particularly younger generations.
Tim’s a jolly good bloke. A bit dim though.
That exam was an absolute doddle.
30. Dog’s dinner
You made an absolute dog’s dinner of that.
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For me, this is British humour and music at their finest, and it's part of a European absurdist art movement that started 100 years ago, and which runs through a lot of Britain's best TV and radio comedy. 2/12