How are you doing? How is everything in your particular part of LEPland today as you listen to this? What’s going on? Where are you? How are you? Who are you? How’s your English? OK I hope.
This podcast is here to help by giving you a source (not sauce) of authentic English to listen to on a regular basis. There are various ways you can use the podcast to improve your English but let’s just keep it simple and say – all you need to do is listen, try to follow what is being said and hopefully enjoy the process, even if it’s a bit difficult to understand every single thing. Sometimes you will find notes and transcripts on the page for each episode on my website. Checking them can also be a good idea.
I have another guest today. Marie Connolly is back on the podcast in this episode. She came over to the flat a few weeks ago to record this conversation.
I know Marie from doing stand up comedy both in London and Paris. Like a lot of my friends she does stand-up, and she has also worked as an English teacher but these days the main thing she does is write – she is mainly a writer now – an author – writing books both for adults and for children.
You might remember Marie from episode 683 in October last year, when she told us some funny stories about moments when French men have flirted with her, and the book that she wrote which contains all those stories. Episode number 683 – that’s the last time Marie was on the show.
But she is back again to tell us about a new series of books she has written, this time for children. So, if you know any kids aged 8 or above, and you want to encourage them to read something fun in English, these books could be a good choice. They are written for people with English as a first language, so they’re not for beginners, but they are fun and if your kids can read English, they might like these stories.
She’s going to tell us about those stories and the process of writing and self-publishing them but this conversation also contains lots of other stuff too – including different types of extreme sports, the classic old topic of doing comedy to audiences from different countries, an anecdote about the time Jerry Seinfeld came to one of our comedy shows, some comments from listeners in response to Marie’s last apperance, and more stuff for your listening pleasure.
Right then. So let’s now enjoy the company of Marie Connolly once again. I will speak to you a bit more on the other side of this conversation, and here we go…
Thanks again to Marie Connolly there. You can find her books on Amazon – her writing alias is Muddy Frank, and you could search for Dude’s Gotta Snowboard.
There are also links on the page for this episode on my website.
So thanks again to Marie.
So how’s everything going with you?
I will say that things are pretty busy here, with a lot of work going on and also some fairly complicated general life stuff – basically, we are in the process of moving to a new flat, and if you’ve moved flat or moved house, you’ll know how complex and disruptive that can be.
Of course, all our possessions will have to be packed in boxes, moved to a completely new place and then unpacked, and that’s after all the decoration and work we’re having done on the new place and all that stuff. I will be leaving my pod room, taking everything down. All the books are coming off the shelves, all my equipment will be boxed up, all the guitars are coming down, everything is moving.
What is cool is that I am going to have my own dedicated office/recording space/pod-room.
It’s going to be incredibly small – more of a cupboard than an office, but it will be my HQ for LEP, and it’s not going to be part of our new flat. It’s in a completely different location, but it’s 5 minutes on foot from our new place. Anyway, we have a LOT of stuff to get done and our lives will be kind of turned upside down over the next couple of months, plus we want to do a trip to the UK for a holiday and various other things, so I don’t know how this is going to affect the podcast. I suppose there’s a chance I won’t be able to record, which would be a pity, although I’m sure you’d understand. I would have to publish some premium content though.
Luckily I have a few episodes recorded and edited and ready to be published, and they will continue to arrive over the next few weeks, but meanwhile, things in LEP HQ are a little bit chaotic at the moment. I won’t go into it in further detail at this moment, but as I said I will try to publish a rambling episode with news and comments about what’s going on and maybe I’ll respond to some listener comments and stuff like that soon, ok. In any case, podcasts will be arriving as normal at least for the next 4 or 5 weeks, so everything should be ship shape in podcastland, even if things are a bit crazy behind the scenes. We will see if I can continue to create and publish content during the madness of the next few months.
I said I wouldn’t ramble here. I’ll save it all for a full on rambling episode next time.
In any case, I hope you are well out there in podcastland.
At the end of the episode I thought I would sing a couple of songs which I’ve been playing recently.
Hello listeners, here is an episode about English Tests like TOEFL and the Duolingo English Test which I hope will still be an interesting episode even for those who have no plans to take one of these tests. I’m joined by online English teacher Josh MacPherson. I guess you have heard of TOEFL, and the Duolingo English Test is a test made by Duolingo, that company which helps you learn languages on your phone, and which seems to be managed by a green cartoon owl, who is some kind of master of learning English. They make a test now, and it’s getting really big.
Some time is spent describing the tests but we don’t just spend an hour describing TOEFL. Most of the time we are doing samples from the test, commenting on my performance in a TOEFL speaking task, discussing testing methods in general and giving comments on ways to perform well, particularly in the speaking parts of a test like TOEFL and IELTS.
Also, tests should be reliable and having genuinely good English skills should (of course) cause you to get decent results, so a lot of the tips relating to getting a better score are also generally good tips for improving your level of English, so even if you’re not planning to take one of these tests, the tips and advice here should be applicable to your English anyway.
There is a video version of this episode on YouTube and you can see Josh’s screen and can observe our conversation as if you are taking part in a Zoom call with us. You can find the video on the page for this episode or on my YouTube channel.
Again, the audio is not tip top this time round and that was caused by things like microphone echo, which I have managed to fix, but in any case I think you can still hear everything clearly.
That’s it, I hope you enjoy it and you will find all the links you need on the page for this episode on my website.
Let’s get started
I am joined today by Josh MacPherson from TSTPrep.com and the TST Prep YouTube channel.
Josh is an English teacher who specialises in helping learners of English prepare for English tests, particularly TOEFL and also the fairly new DuoLingo English Test.
I thought I’d interview Josh to find out more about these tests and to get some tips from him about how to get the best result that you can.
Also, we’re going to do some test questions during this interview, so we can see how well I perform in these tests too.
Thanks again to Josh for his contribution to this episode.
Don’t forget, links are available on the page for this episode for all the things Josh mentioned there including test practice, sample answers, tips and videos.
Thank you as ever for listening all the way up to this point.
There’s not much more for me to add here. I haven’t played the guitar on the podcast lately, but I will be coming back to that soon, but for now I will just wish you a fond farewell and until next time, good bye bye bye bye bye
This is a weird period of history in which we are living? I hope you’re getting on ok. Here in France the government has just put some new lockdown restrictions in place and we’re all trying to work out what they really mean. I don’t want to go on about covid on this podcast too much, except to say “hang in there everyone” and keep calm and carry on. Check out my episode from earlier this year which is all about language for talking about lockdown and dealing with lockdown, including the word lockdown, if you’re wondering what that is.
Here’s an episode in which I’m on my own, doing a bit of housekeeping – general podcast admin. I’m mainly going to talk about the WISBOLEP competition (as you can see from the title of the episode), but also I’m going to ramble about a few other things too including teaching you a bit of English – just some simple advice about making polite requests, also an inspiring message from a listener and maybe a song on the guitar at the end, we will see.
I’m publishing this episode hot on the heels of the last episode, which was my conversation with Christian from Canguro English (LEP686). Have you heard that? I only published it a few days ago and conventional podcasting wisdom says that you shouldn’t publish another episode so quickly after the last one, because the last one will sort of get ignored, lost, forgotten or sidelined as people won’t notice it and it won’t get as many listens as it should.
I think it’s a good episode, so if you haven’t heard it – be sure to listen to episode 686 with Christian. There’s also a video version of it on YouTube. It’s had a great response with people saying generally positive things, which is nice. Some people are requesting more video content. My position on this is that most of my content will always be audio, because that’s what I do – I make audio content, but every now and then I’ll do video versions of episodes and stick them on YouTube as well. OK. So subscribe to LEP on YouTube to make sure you get notified when I publish a video episode. I’ll probably tell you on the podcast too.
Also the episode before last has had some really interesting comments on the website. That was the episode about bilingual children in which we heard Alex in Moscow and his daughter Alice. Very interesting to read the comments from LEPsters or LEPlanders who are also bringing up their kids to speak English. Go to the episode archive and find 685 and read the comments. It’s all interesting stuff. I will do more of those bilingual kids episodes at some point. It’s a bit hard to mentally keep track of everything. There are a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous – a lot strands in this old dude’s head, man.
The deadline for sending in your entries was 15 October, so that’s long gone. One person is now freaking out.
The results aren’t ready yet or anything. You still have to vote for your favourites and all that – “how can we vote?” Steady on, the voting’s not ready yet either. All in good time.
All the recordings are sitting there in my inbox and I haven’t had a proper chance to work on the next stage of the competition yet. Things take time around here, you know how it is.
First of all I should say that it was great to get all the entries. I’ve managed to listen to almost all of them. I should say that it’s amazing to hear the voices of some of my listeners (some of them – obviously only a tiny portion of you sent in recordings because the vast majority of you are ninjas as we know, and that’s fine). It’s inspiring to hear little snippets of people’s stories of learning English, with the help of this podcast in many cases. That’s also quite flattering – that’s not the point of it all of course – just to flatter me or something. The point was to encourage you to step out of your comfort zone a little bit and record something and send it in, to celebrate my audience a bit and also to just find a new guest with an interesting story to tell in an episode of the podcast. I want to say well done for everyone who plucked up the courage to record a sincere entry into the competition. Some of them are particularly inventive and… well, you will see.
It’s going to be very difficult to choose a winner, because there are quite a lot of really interesting people and I’m sure you are going to want to hear more from many of them.
But the thing is, I have a bit of a problem. We have a bit of a problem with this competition. It’s a logistical issue. Logistical refers to the organisation of something complicated.
It’s not a major problem. It’s not like a Tom Cruise jump out of a plane to save-the-world Mission Impossible to problem or anything – no explosions. It’s quite a good problem really, but still, I’ve been scratching my head and wondering what to do about it.
What’s the problem Luke?
The problem is… I’ve had 100 entries – each one 2 minutes in length – that’s about 200 minutes in total, and that’s about 3 and a half hours if I play all the entries back to back without any pause or comment from me between them and without any introduction from me, and I will have to do some kind of introduction at the start, and it will also be necessary for me to say the names of each person again plus maybe one or two other things to help you remember them.
So, 200 minutes or 3.5 hours, plus an introduction in which I explain the voting rules etc, and little comments from me – that’s at least 4 hours of audio.
It’s too much, isn’t it? It’s too much audio for me to expect everyone to listen to. And I need everyone to listen to it all because I want to do some kind of fair voting process for this. Hmmm.
I like doing long episodes, but this goes beyond that, especially since I would like every single two-minute entry to be heard and you’ll need to remember which one or ones are your favourites in order to vote for them on my website.
Imagine a presidential election with 100 candidates, all presenting themselves to you one after the other. You’d never remember who they were, even if they were all extraordinary.
So this is the issue. Too many entries. It’s become a bit of a logistical nightmare.
It’s my fault. I take full responsibility of course. I set the 2-minute time limit for each recording because I thought you’d need that long to say something meaningful.
What did I expect though? For some reason I thought not many people would enter, but I don’t know why I thought that. I should have known that I’d get at least 100 entries!
Anyway, what’s the problem? You might think.
Let’s go through the options I have ahead of me now and we’ll see.
Why am I telling you this?
Transparency – I want everyone to know what’s going on, so that I don’t get loads of messages from people asking my why I’m doing it this way, and not that way and why didn’t you do this, and I thought you would do that, and I’m disappointed with this and why didn’t you play my recording, and I thought you’d play them all, and I was disappointed by the last Star Wars film and English is too complicated because the spelling and pronunciation are weird and there are too many accents and why can I understand you Luke but I don’t understand other native speakers and can you explain the Russian Joke and why why why and all that kind of stuff.
To avoid confusion and questions, I want you to know the situation like I do.
Also I’m curious to see what you think and I would like you to tell me your thoughts because it can help me make the right decision. (although to be honest I think I’ve already made up my mind)
I’d like to have some input from you but ultimately, I do maintain supreme executive power, so I will still do what I personally think is best, but nevertheless, I am interested in your ideas and I want you to know my decision making process.
Some of you will think this is all unnecessary and that I’m overthinking it, but I disagree. I think it’s necessary and I’m applying the appropriate amount of thinking and talking time to this. So there.
The main things we need to do are:
I want you, the audience, to be able to hear all the entries that have been sent to me (because I think people sent them to me with the understanding that they would be published for public scrutiny) and I want you to be able to vote for your favourites, rather than it just being a solo decision from me.
I would like to give an introduction before playing all the entries, because there are things I need to say about the voting process and stuff like that. Also I would like to make one or two little comments after some or all of the entries, as well as repeating the names of the contestants. All those things will increase the time this will all take, of course – so we’re looking at 4hours plus in total.
Then, based on the voting by you the audience, I will interview the winner. There might be a couple of runners up too, we will see.
I want to do this in a way which is fair, and which gives everyone an equal chance (because I am committed to maintaining some democratic standards in this world!)
Here are the different options which I’m considering. None of them are perfect, because of the whole “too many entries” issue. (by the way, saying “too many” does sound negative, but like I said before, this is quite a good problem in a sense. It’s a bit like having too much chocolate in your cupboard or something, or too much cake. Oh we’ve got too much cake! When and how will we eat it all? We can’t throw it away can we?) You see? Yes, you see. The cake metaphor is good.
So, the options I’m considering. And I’ll say right now that I think I’m going to choose option 4. Anyway, here we go.
I play all the entries (in alphabetical order, or chronological order) in one single epically long episode – probably about 4 hours long or more.
Problem: This is obviously far too long and just not a practical length for one single episode of the podcast. The chances are, people will not listen to the whole thing and most of the entries will not be heard and so the voting will be unfair.
I play all the entries, but in a series of episodes (that all get uploaded on the same day). It would probably be 5 or 6 episodes → Introduction, WISBOLEP 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5. 20 entries in each episode. Each episode is about 45 minutes long.
Problem: It’s more or less the same as option 1. Will people listen to all the entries? The people in parts 4 and 5 might not get as much attention as the ones in the first part.
Also, I have to say that I have to be a bit careful about what I publish to my podcast feed.
Dropping 5 episodes of only competition entries into my podcast feed is not the greatest idea – and I say that as a podcaster and podcasters must be fairly careful about what they publish. I have to be honest, I think that the majority of my audience aren’t that invested in the competition and the entries.
I have a survey on my website asking people to vote for their favourite types of episode (find it in the CONTANT section) and this kind of episode – competition entries from listeners – is actually the least popular type of episode that I do. I like doing them, but I have to make sure I do it right. I think the reason this type of episode got low votes in my survey is because the last time I did this (YEP competition) I published all the entries from round 1 (8 episodes in total, all in a row) and it probably wasn’t what a lot of people wanted in their podcast feed. I shouldn’t really do that again.
I choose what I think are the best entries and create a shortlist of something like 20 entries, and play them in one episode, and let people vote on just those 20.
Problem: 80 people’s entries just get rejected and never get played or published in any way, which is a pity and I think that would disappoint about 80 people who took the time to record something thinking that it would appear on LEP. I don’t think I ever said that all the entries were guaranteed to be played on the podcast, but I may have given that impression.
This would essentially solve the main problem of there being too many entries, but I don’t really want to just just chuck 80 recordings in the bin. Those people recorded them expecting them to be heard by more than just me.
I create two rounds of voting.
The first round is done on the website only, meaning that all the entries are posted on my website but not played in an episode of the podcast.
That way, the people who really want to listen to all the entries and vote for them, can do it by going to the website and listening there. I would probably post all the audio as an unlisted YouTube video because I can create time stamps for each entry, making it easier for you to find them and hear them.
So, the episodes would all be available for listening on the website (so they are made publically available) and people can vote for their favourites there. The winners of the first round could be decided by a combination of votes from listeners and my own choices.
Round 2 would be something like the most popular 20 entries from round 1 and all of them would be played in an episode of the podcast.
This would make it much easier for the whole audience to vote.
The winner of round 2 would be interviewed on the podcast.
It might be possible for some runners up to be featured too.
So, which option do you prefer?
To be honest, I’m leaning towards option 4. I think I’m going to choose option 4 but I’d also like to run it by you to see what you all think.
The chances are, you’ll all have different opinions and different advice, which is fine.
I get the final say and you’ll just have to trust me on that.
Let me just recap
Option 1 – one mammoth 4 hour episode with all the entries. No.
Option 2 – one mammoth 5-part WISBOLEP series. I don’t fancy it.
Option 3 – I choose the top 20 entries and publish them, and just bin the rest, never to be heard by the public.
Option 4 – Put all the entries on the website and those people who want to listen to every single one, can do it, and they can vote too.The most popular 20 (let’s say) will then be published in a single WISBOLEP episode for the second round of voting. The selection process will be based on a combination of the listener voting and my own judgement (which will probably be more or less the same I expect).
Again, some of you might say I’m overthinking this whole thing. But I’m just trying to do it properly and fairly.
I think I’m going to choose option 4, but as I said, let me know your thoughts.
You might have an idea for an option 5 for example, so feel free to share that.
But do bear in mind that I also have to limit the time and cost that is involved on my side for this.
For example, if your idea for Option 5 could be for me to do a YouTube live stream in which I play all the entries one by one, with some comments from me… well, that could be fun, but it would also mean me live streaming on YouTube for a lot more than 4 hours probably, and it’s rare that I ever get 4 free consecutive hours in my life these days! So, that would just not be practical from my side. [Do it at night!] No, sorry. I need my beauty sleep.
My name is Luke not Luck / look / Mr Luke / luke (lower case L) or Luke’s
I’ve been doing this for 11.5 years, nearly 700 episodes (a lot more in fact) and I’m still talking about how to spell my name (I remember saying this in episode 1 of the podcast).
People often spell my name Luck → but maybe it’s autocorrect!
Proofread your emails and comments before you send them! (advice for us all)
So this whole “Luck English Postcard” thing might just be a conspiracy by computers and phones that are “just trying to make the world a better place” by helping us with our spelling (and yes, “postcard” is often what people type when they mean podcast – maybe that’s because they think the word is postcard – it is the sort of word people learn in lower-level English classes, or it’s because your computer doesn’t have very good English and it’s “helpfully” autocorrecting podcast to postcard. I don’t know.)
Having said that, I remember many many times when I was actually called Luck, look, ruku or rook or whatever by learners from around the world that I have met, but again that’s probably because it’s hard to pronounce Luke, or people don’t realise that Luke is a name and they think my name is Luck.
For example, if I was learning Chinese or Russian or any other language with words that look different to English I am sure I would make similar errors and worse probably. I do it in French.
Basically, what I’m saying is I forgive you. But please do remember to proofread your emails and comments. ;)
Making Polite Requests
Another language point here with reference to people getting in touch with me: making requests.
People often request certain things from me. Like for example they’re very keen to hear me talk about a certain topic.
Luke, make an episode about Peaky Blinders.
Luke, do more videos.
Luke, publish an episode about Ricky Gervais.
Honestly, when I read that, probably in the queue at the supermarket or something, my first reaction is “no”. “No-one tells me what to do! … well, except maybe my daughter, and my wife, and my boss at work, and the government, and.. well ok fine, some people tell me what to do, but you get the point.”
Even though I would quite like to do an episode about Peaky Blinders, or Ricky Gervais and I like doing videos when I can.
My first, stressed out, overloaded mind, trying to not catch COVID reaction is “no – don’t tell me what to do!”
I think this is just because of the way the request has been presented to me.
In most cases, when people request things from me, I am sure they are being very well-meaning and there is no malice behind it at all, quite the opposite. They’re showing their enthusiasm and it’s motivated by positive feelings. They like the podcast and would love to hear something about Peaky Blinders or whatever it is.
What I’m saying is, think about how you word your requests.
Think of the difference between a request and an order (or an imperative).
Requests are polite (they should be), orders are not really polite. Orders are what the police do, for example. “Get in the back of the van!”
I could get into the fine details and all the linguistic specifics, but this is not LEP Premium, so let’s just keep it simple.
Order / imperative
Make an episode about Ricky Gervais.
Even your boss at work doesn’t use imperatives.
“Write this report and send it to me by 5pm Friday, and also come in to work on Sunday, we need you.” –> if you work in a horrible place with a boss who doesn’t care about your feelings even a little bit.
Usually bosses will at least sugarcoat their requests a little bit, to help the medicine go down.
“If you could wrap up this report and ping it to me by end of play on Friday, that would be great, and I’m afraid you’re going to have to come in on Sunday – there’s nothing we can do about it – I’ll see if I can get you a day off later in the year maybe.”
Let’s consider how to turn an imperative into a simple and polite request.
Luke, make a new video with Amber and Paul.
You could add a “please” to that, because we all know that adding please makes it more polite, right?
Luke, please make a new video with Amber and Paul.
That’s better, but adding please to an order isn’t enough. It is still an order, and it just sounds like you are a rich person giving commands to a member of staff or something.
Also, adding thanks at the end makes it sound a bit dismissive and a little bit rude even.
Luke, please reunite the Beatles on the podcast. Thanks.
Saying thanks for something before it’s been done, I think, sounds a bit pushy. It’s like assuming it’s going to be done.
We sometimes write “Thanks in advance” at the end of an email with a request, but it can still come across as a bit pushy. [Thinks: I need to do an online course about writing emails…]
The issue is with the structure. Any imperative structure still sounds quite rude even if you add lots of stuff at the start or end, because it is still an imperative. It’s still an order.
Luke, please consider making an episode about James Bond. [good, you’ve added “please consider” – a nice bit of hedging but you’re still ordering me to do it.]
Luke, if you have time, please consider making an episode about James Bond. [“If you have time” is a thoughtful thing to add, but again this is still an order.]
Both those things are better, but this is still not what I’m looking for.
What are you looking for Luke?
You need to make your request into a question. To cut a long story short I just recommend that you add “Could you” at the start and “please” at the end. That’s it. That’s probably enough, probably. Don’t forget the question mark.
Luke, could you make an episode about Ricky Gervais please?
This is much better. It just comes across as much more polite and nice and I don’t feel like I’m being ordered to do something. I’m more willing to have an instantly positive response to that.
Even better would be a bit more hedging (adding things before or after the main statement), just to show more respect.
You don’t have to go too far.
Luke, your podcast is a work of genius unrivalled in all forms of art, culture and human endeavor, and I am certain that in your infinite wisdom have you have considered all possible topics for an episode of your esteemed podcast. Having said that, and I pose this most humble of requests to you with the deepest level of respect, sir, would it be at all possible if you could consider spending even a tiny speck of your most valuable time on the consideration of an episode devoted to the subject of Richard Gervais. I am certain that you would bring new insights and depth to this topic, and that all other commentary on it would pale in comparison to the profound work that you would undoubtedly produce.
That’s obviously too much.
But you could do this:
Hi Luke, thanks for your episodes. I particularly enjoy the ones about comedy, especially the one you did about Karl Pilkington. Could you do an episode about Ricky Gervais at some point, please? I’d really like to hear your thoughts on his stand up and TV shows. Don’t know if you’ve already considered that, but it would be really interesting to hear your thoughts.
Or, more simply – Luke, could you do an episode about Ricky Gervais please?
I know online culture is to just put things in the simplest and quickest way possible, but let’s not abandon the pragmatics of politeness in the process.
This is not just me by the way – I’m not just ultrasensitive or anything – this is a cultural thing and I think it’s true across the English speaking world.
Some of you might think that my comments here are waaaay too much and that it’s completely mad, unnecessary and over-sensitive to phrase your requests like this, but if you want my professional opinion I’d say → this is the right way to do it.
And that’s it.
Just to recap. If you are requesting something from me, just add “Could you…” at the start and “please?” at the end. Nice one.
Inspiring message from Daniel ER on Facebook
Dear luke, [actually it should be Luke with a captal L :) ]
I´m not sure whether you will have time to read this comment but here it goes anyway.
Three years ago, I got a ticket to Australia. With no English at all, I was determined to have an amazing adventure, live in another country, and obviously, learn English.
To be honest, it was really hard at the beginning. I had to play music in the street to earn some cash and I felt bad when I couldn´t say what I thought to the kind people of Australia.
Six months went by like nothing so I grabbed my backpack and accordion and took a road trip towards the north of Australia (Queensland).
I could [was able to] get a job in a resort as maintenance and although I [‘ve] gotta say that Australian English “is a thing”, all of them helped with my English, they were really patient with me.
Most of the time I was sad: People speak too fast, where is that accent from? What do you mean by “smoko” mate? It was then when I found your podcast. I had lots of time to listen to Spotify while I was fixing something at the resort so I took advantage of that. This really helped me a lot, I couldn´t be more grateful. I won´t forget episode 297 called “be positive” as I listened to it just on time, just when I was feeling that this fight wasn´t worth it.
Now, being fully aware that my English is not the best one, it is at least functional and that´s the point of all this, isn´t it? We must keep improving but at the end of the day you should be nicer to yourself, I mean that we have to recognize the achievements done so far.
I am back in my country (Chile) and I could [was able to] get an amazing job in which I speak English all day long, and you don´t know how awesome that is to me.
I honestly believe that maybe you are not fully aware of what do you actually do… you help people to achieve their dreams so be proud of all your efforts because we – your listeners- will be eternally grateful.
If someone out there is reading this comment and you are feeling frustrated and sad, just keep going! You can do this, it is not impossible and you have everything you need to learn this beautiful language. The key, in my opinion, you must be willing to go through the tough and uncomfortable moments that are on this path. You will remember them since they are the ones that teach us most. (quite sure I wrote that badly hahaha)
Thanks a lot for everything and I´ll certainly be listening to the podcast.
My dad has written a book and it’s all about the wildlife you can find in an urban English park. He’s on the podcast to tell us all about it, and there are some collective nouns for animals too, plus some bonus stand up comedy at the end.
Hello listeners, this is a reminder about LEP Premium, which is my other podcast service. With episodes of LEP Premium I focus specifically on language, helping you understand, remember and pronounce target vocab and grammar. I’m currently still deep into premium series 24 which is about homophones, but also you can access an archive of over 80 episodes now both audio and video, all about teaching you the kind of English that I speak, and there are plenty of stupid improvisations and jokes and things too. Get started by going to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo
Welcome back to Luke’s English Podcast – this award-winning podcast for learners of English. Yes, the podcast has won a few awards over the years, but not lately. The last few years have been quiet, on the award front. If you see any competitions for best podcast for learners of English, or something, let me know!
Speaking of competitions, I’ve been thinking of launching another listener competition, and I’m wondering what you think. The competition would involve you recording yourself speaking and sending it into the podcast, then people would vote for their favourite and that person would then get interviewed in a full episode of the podcast. This idea was sent to me some time ago by a listener called Vadim. What do you think? I haven’t fully decided to do it yet, so let me know what you think of this new competition idea from Vadim.
But anyway, what about this episode then?
Park Life – A Year in the Wildlife of an Urban Park
As promised, this episode features my dad, which should be good news for all the Rick Thompson fans out there. As you might know we sometimes call my dad Rickipedia because he knows so much stuff about so many things, although it might be unreliable from time to time.
People often say that my dad should start his own podcast, as his episodes are so popular. He still hasn’t created a podcast of his own, but I am glad to say that he has written a book.
The book is called “Park Life – A year in the Wildlife of an Urban Park”
In this episode I’m going to talk to my dad about the book he’s written including a broader discussion of urban parks in the UK – green public spaces which perform an increasingly important role in UK life.
We start by talking about the book, what it’s about, how he was inspired to write it and what style it’s written in. Then we move on to describe some of the wildlife you can find in a local English urban park. Then we discuss some history of urban parks and the health benefits of spending time in green spaces.
Also there are some collective nouns for different animals, including things like “a murder of crows” and “an unkindness of ravens”. Keep listening to hear some more.
I hope you enjoy the conversation. I’ll chat with you a bit afterwards, but now, here is Rick Thompson talking about his new book.
Thanks again to Dad for being on the podcast today. Once again, check Amazon or BookDepository for Rick Thompson Park Life to pick up a copy of my dad’s book for yourself.
In fact the book has already picked up a 5 star rating on Amazon from someone called Princesslizzykins
I have no idea who she is, but this is her review.
5.0 out of 5 stars
A wonderful read.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 5 September 2020
What a beautifully and thoughtfully written book.
A super balance of content between wildlife and local history, with some lovely poetic references thrown in, this book shows how anyone can escape the haste of urban life and take a moment to look at and love the world around them.
I live in Warwick, so have the added benefit of knowing the localities mentioned, but would recommend this to absolutely anyone that has an urban park near them and enjoys a damn good read.
Thumbs up for Dad. Nice one.
We’re not done here yet, I have some more things to do in this episode.
First of all, you heard me mention the stand up comedy gig that I had on Sunday and I did the gig and it went fine. I recorded it so I’ll play a few minutes of that at the end of the episode.
But first, let me go through some more collective nouns for animals. This is a really interesting and curious aspect of English – the way we use different words to collectivise different animals.
You heard us mention some there, and I’ve included them in this list too. So here is a list of common collective nouns for animals.
As promised earlier, here are a few minutes from my stand up set on Sunday evening. There was one LEPster in the audience by the way, who had come because he’d seen the gig advertised on my facebook page www.facebook.com/lukecomedian So, shout out to that LEPster!
Anyway, this was my first gig since Christmas, but it was great to be back on stage again and I should be doing more gigs this year, lockdown permitting.
So this is me on stage at the New York Comedy Night in Paris last Sunday. Thanks for listening and speak to you again soon. Bye…
Professor David Crystal returns to talk about his latest books, and more. The first book is all about the art of conversation in English, and the second one is a spy thriller inspired by real events. David Crystal is one of the world’s leading linguists and an expert on the English language. He is also a national treasure and it’s a treat to be able to talk to him in this episode. Video version also available on the Luke’s English Podcast YouTube channel.
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.
Talking to Sherwood Fleming, author of “Dance of Opinions” about intercultural communication, including common problems and the solutions to help us learn to communicate more effectively across cultures.
Hello you and you and you, welcome back to the podcast. I’m recording this on a very windy Tuesday morning. A storm passed by over the last few days, wreaking havoc across the UK and also here in France we’ve had some pretty strong winds and it’s still very blustery out there.
But here I am in the cosy confines of the Podcastle at LEP headquarters. A pre-lunch recording of this introduction today. I hope you are comfortable. Let’s get started.
Recently I was contacted by a listener called Inna with a suggestion for the podcast.
The message went like this:
I’m Inna, one of your regular listeners, as well as a Premium subscriber.
I would like to thank you for your podcast, which is always helpful and always interesting.
She is teaching me how to communicate better in English as a foreign language.
Her lessons changed my vision of what communication is and helped me to understand how to communicate better not only with my foreign colleges but how to communicate better “tout court”. [full stop, period]
Some of my colleagues had the chance to work with her, and it was kind of “a revelation” for all of them every single time.
I strongly believe that this topic would be very useful to all your listeners.
So I got in touch with Sherwood and arranged a call for an interview and that is what you’re going to hear on the podcast today.
Here’s some intel on Sherwood, from her website.
Sherwood’s expertise is in improving the written and spoken communications of those who use English as a second language and work within intercultural business contexts. She has designed and led seminars for more than 25 years in both Canada and France, helping thousands of participants to communicate more effectively.
Sherwood is the creator of the five-step CLEAR method, which has established a new standard for expressing opinions interculturally. It forms the heart of her recent book, Dance of Opinions: Mastering written and spoken communication for intercultural business using English as a second language, an easy to learn and apply method for intermediate and advanced ESL business people, designed to improve how they express their opinions. Her motto? “We build our futures together, in the words we exchange today.”
OK so this conversation is all about intercultural communication. What are the issues and obstacles that we face when communicating with people from different cultures? How do our different approaches to communication influence the relationships that we build with people? What are the solutions to some of the problems that can arise when communicating across cultures?
Sherwood talks about finding strategies to help you learn to dance to the same tune as the people you’re talking to, and this involves things like the pragmatics of looking beyond the words which are being used and towards the real intentions of communicative acts.
There are some examples of people in business contexts and also how I sometimes struggle with intercultural communication in my everyday life in France.
Our aim for this episode is to help you, the listeners, attain clarity about these issues that you may not even be fully aware of, and once you can see more clearly what these issues are then you’ll be ready to apply the proven solutions, which Sherwood shares during this episode and in her other work, including her book “Dance of Opinion” available on Amazon.
So let’s now listen to Sherwood Fleming and you can consider these questions
What are the typical problems people experience when communicating across cultures?
Can you find some examples?
What are some of the reasons behind those problems?
What are some solutions that we can apply to those problematic situations?
I’ll chat to you again briefly at the end, but now, let’s get started
Thanks again to Sherwood Fleming for being on the podcast today. That was a very interesting conversation about the way we all communicate with each other in different ways.
It sort of boils down to this I think.
Keep it simple!
Make it explicit what you want and what you’re offering. Dumb down your English in intercultural contexts.
Focus on the main message (the speech act) rather than the form of the message. Some cultures don’t emphasise things that other cultures expect, but the main thing is to focus on specifically what the other person wants, rather than how they are saying or writing it.
Thanks for all your recent comments and emails and stuff it’s great to hear from you, including some choice comments from the last few episodes.
Luke, I have just binged all three episodes with Quintessentially British things and I must say theyre brilliant! You are so blessed to have such an interesting and intellectual family of yours, all the three episodes are completely different and amazing to listen. it’s like I’ve looked at the Britain I’ve never known before. Hats off to you and your beautiful kin!
By the way everyone, it’s mum not mom in British English.
There have been numerous requests for episodes of Gill’s Book Club as it might be called, or Gill’s Culture Club or something. So we’re looking at doing episodes of that sometimes.
There’s also a Rick Thompson report on the way soon.
I’ve had messages thanking me for the recent episode about IELTS with Keith O’Hare and have asked for more so I might do something in the near future.
Hi Luke, I am Uswah from Indonesia. I’ve been thinking about giving comment in each episode particularly everytime Amber and Paul are on the Podcast. However I always feel not sure untill today I heard the fact that there are fewer comments and responses from your listeners.
So here I’m now, I want you to know that I am a faithful listener, I get every joke you make (including Russian jokes and Lion king, LOL), I laugh out loud when three of you are laughing. I am an English teacher basically, but I spend most of my time for sewing, hahaha so I’m a tailor (not Taylor, LOL) at the same time. So I’ve been always listening your podcast when I’m sewing. It’s just sooo fun. So I feel my sewing project is much more fun since that’s the time I listen to your podcast.
So, let me recap: last May, Luke published an episode titled “SLEEP with Amber and Paul”. Now, eight months later, Amber is heavily pregnant. These guys are bringing the concept of modern family to a whole new level…
Part 2 of my episode about punctuation. This one covers punctuation rules for apostrophe, full stop and comma. Also you can hear the rest of my book review of Punctuation..? by User Design. Transcript available below.
Hello there, you are listening to part 2 of this episode about punctuation. In the last one I talked generally about the importance of punctuation in various types of writing, described a book about pronunciation which has been sent to me for review by a publishing company and also I went through a list of punctuation symbols and described them so you know the names for a lot of the different punctuation marks available to you.
In this episode I’m going to actually teach you various punctuation rules relating to 3 big punctuation symbols.
So, I’m going to talk about how we use apostrophes and how to avoid certain common errors that actually make people’s blood boil, then I’ll give you some tips about full stops and commas. I’m also going to finish reviewing that book which I received in the post recently. It’s a punctuation guide and I’ll be giving my review of it.
Just before recording this I realised that there were some punctuation symbols which I didn’t mention in the last episode and I just want to say them now because you might not know the names we use in English for these symbols. These are ones we see on our computer keyboards and use quite a lot for various things like email addresses and stuff like that.
@ at mark
* asterisk or star
Alright, now I’ve mentioned those, let’s carry on with this episode with my comments about apostrophes, full stops and commas and then the rest of my review of the book Punctuation..? by User Design.
Just a reminder – you can find a transcript on the page for this episode on my website so you can read along with me or skim the script later in order to check for any new words. There are also links for the book and some pictures too. Right, let’s carry on.
Some punctuation rules
I don’t have time to go through every single punctuation symbol and explain their rules so I’m just going to focus on a few thing. To get the rest you’ll need to get a copy of this book or one of the others on the market. Other books are available of course.
Also I should say that usually, these days I do this kind of language teaching in my premium episodes. This time I’ve chosen to include this in a free episode, but if you want more of this kind of thing – episodes where I focus specifically on teaching you language then check out my premium episodes and become a premium member at www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium
I’m going to deal with
The apostrophe (various uses)
Full stop vs dot vs point
I’ve chosen those because they’re really common and people, surprisingly, get them wrong quite a lot. Usually it’s learners of English who get full stops and commas wrong, and errors with apostrophes are common among native speakers. In fact errors with apostrophes make some people really angry. I’ll say more about that in a minute.
One thing to say here is that there is a certain amount of disagreement when it comes to punctuation rules. There isn’t a single agreed set of rules that everyone follows. Some things, yes, everyone agrees on, more or less. I think this includes certain basics like the rules of full stops and apostrophes. But for many other areas of punctuation there are always little points of disagreement, like for example some uses of the comma (The Oxford Comma debate comes to mind. I can’t go into that now though, because we’d be here all day! Just google it to get the full story, perhaps on a website like Grammarly).
So, be aware that there are some differences of opinion when it comes to style and the application of punctuation. The following information is correct as far as I’m concerned.
This is not just a brilliant album by Frank Zappa, it’s also one of the most commonly used bits of punctuation, and this is a big one because people get it wrong all the time and it has a few different uses.
I’m paraphrasing from the Punctuation…? book here by the way.
Paraphrasing means taking information that you find in someone else’s work and then putting it into your own words, not copying it word for word, I mean changing the wording so that it’s not the same as before. In fact, paraphrasing really means reading someone’s words, understanding them and then writing the same concepts but using different wording.
Anyone writing essays at university should be well aware of the importance of paraphrasing so you don’t commit copyright infringement. This is a major issue these days because the internet allows people to copy & paste other people’s text so easily, but we shouldn’t do it. We shouldn’t pass off other people’s work as our own. I know that there are plenty of universities that are working on ways to seriously crack down on their students just ‘copy & pasting’ other people’s work into their own essays.
Having worked at a university here in Paris I have seen it done lots of times and I must say it really annoys me. It’s always blatantly obvious and, well, I just can’t stand it. For me the main examples were when I gave my university students presentation tasks to do and they literally just memorised a page from Wikipedia and then recited it to the class with absolutely no effort to even care about or think about what they were saying.
It just looks so terrible when people do that. It’s ok to take information from somewhere, just try to absorb it and then put it in your own words, and please, if you ever do a presentation at university or anywhere for that matter, just try to put some enthusiasm into your work, even if you’re worried about making errors in English. Sorry, I touched a nerve there in myself. Bad memories of some moments when I felt frustrated during my days of being an English teacher at university.
Anyway, for the record, I am paraphrasing the main points that are made by the Punctuation…? book here, with some other ideas of my own thrown in.
What’s the apostrophe?
Think about the title of my podcast – Luke’s English Podcast. There’s an apostrophe in it. L U K E apostrophe S. That one shows a possessive. It’s my podcast. Luke’s podcast.
What does it look like, Luke? (can you repeat that question? haha)
It’s like a little dot with a tail that hangs in the air just to the right of a letter. In the case of possessives, that’s just before the letter S at the end.
It’s for possessives, but also other things. Here’s a list of situations when we use apostrophes.
We use apostrophes with singular and plural nouns to show that one thing possesses another thing.
Here are some examples of possessives with singular nouns, in this case Dave is the singular noun.
“That is Dave and that is his car, just over there. Yes, that car belongs to Dave. That is Dave’s car. This is not Dave’s car. This is my car. My car is small, but Dave’s car is really big, unnecessarily big, some might say. I don’t know why he’s been driving such a massive car around the city. Now, as you can see, Dave’s car has crashed into my car. My car is now completely smashed up and will have to be thrown away at the junk yard. Dave’s car on the other hand, is relatively undamaged. So, Dave’s car is fine, but mine is completely smashed up. These are my hands. And this is Dave’s throat. Yes. I am strangling Dave. In my mind.”
Sorry, I got a bit carried away there! Don’t worry folks. It’s just an example. I don’t have a car and none of that ever happened, and anyway Dave’s dead now so it’s fine.
Anyway, you saw lots of examples of the possessive apostrophe being used there.
You know this already, right? You should do.
We use an apostrophe to show possession when we’re dealing with singular nouns, like Dave. Dave is a singular noun (he’s also a single man, girls, if you’re interested in men called Dave who have large cars but can’t drive them).
It also works for things too, not just people. For example, the word car. “That car’s windscreen is completely smashed, whereas this car’s windscreen is somehow undamaged.”
That’s singular nouns. What about plural nouns, Luke?
What if both cars had their windscreens smashed in the accident?
As you know, plural nouns in English have S at the end. One car, two cars.
So what if you’re talking about the windscreens of two cars?
So, to add possessive S to a plural word which already has an S at the end (like CARS), what do you do? Do you add ‘apostrophe + S’ like with singular nouns? So C A R S ‘ S?
Nope, you can just add the apostrophe to the end, without the final S.
So it’s C A R S ‘
These cars’ windscreens are both smashed.
To be honest, if we’re not talking about a person I’d probably find another way of putting it. I’d probably say
The windscreens on these two cars are smashed.
What about plural names? For example if you have more than one bloke called Dave. Two Daves.
Actually, it’s rare that you have possessive forms of plural names.
It’s just weird to say something like “Daves’ cars crashed into each other” meaning “Dave and Dave’s cars crashed into each other”.
The point is – for plural nouns, whatever they are – people or things, with possessives you can just add an apostrophe.
This is also true for names that end in S, like James, my brother’s name.
You can write James’ Room. That’s J A M E S ‘ R O O M.
I remember that one because when I was a child, my brother and I had separate rooms and we had little signs on our doors. Mine said “Luke’s Room” with an apostrophe after my name and then an S. James’ sign said “James’ Room” with an apostrophe and then no S. I sometimes wondered why they were different. It’s just because James’ name ends in an S.
Fascinating stuff this, isn’t it?
For names ending in S like this you can also just write James’s Room. J A M E S ‘S R O O M.
How do you say that? James’ / James’s —-> /jeimziz/
So actually, for names it can be S’ or S’S.
So that’s possessives for singular nouns, plural nouns with S and names ending in S.
But what about irregular nouns? I mean, nouns where the plural form isn’t made with an S, like “children”.
Well, we just do the same thing as we do with a singular noun.
So, “The children’s toys are in the bedroom”.
Other examples are things like “Women’s rights”, “The people’s champion” or “The Men’s changing room”.
A common error with apostrophes (Using apostrophes for plurals – don’t do it folks!)
This is a mistake that makes some native speakers get really annoyed.
Sometimes in the UK you will see people use apostrophes just for normal plurals.
For example you might walk through a market and see a sign saying “Orange’s” or “Burger’s” or even “Fish & Chip’s”. Needless to say, there definitely shouldn’t be an apostrophe in those words. They’re just plurals of countable nouns. They’re not possessives and they’re not contractions of verbs.
Those kinds of errors are likely to make people’s blood boil!
If they know you’re a non-native speaker of English, that will make it a bit better, but still – don’t make the sort of mistakes that native speakers make, even if native-level English is what you’re looking for.
We’ll look at a couple of other common errors in a minute.
Apostrophes in contractions to indicate missing letters
Apostrophes are also used to let us know that some letters have been removed to make contracted forms.
Luke’s terrible improvised “joke” (?) Just let us know when the letters have been moved from the lettuce.
(The words “let us” “letters” and “lettuce” sound really similar, that’s it. Terrible. Not even a joke.)
Apostrophes in contracted forms
Don’t → Do not
Doesn’t → Does not
I’ll → I will
Isn’t → Is not
Let’s → Let us
There’s → There is
You’re → You are
The book says that contracted forms are used for writing out speech, which is a good way of putting it. I’d add that these days we just use contracted forms in any kind of informal and neutral writing, but not in formal writing.
This use of apostrophes isn’t very complicated, is it? But it does cause one particular problem, which is it’s vs its
That’s the difference between the contracted form of it is and the possessive form of the pronoun it.
More common errors: It’s vs its
This is another thing that native speakers get wrong quite a lot.
Think of these two examples. Which ones should contain an apostrophe and which shouldn’t?
Obviously if you’re reading the script for this episode then you’ll be able to see the apostrophe with your eyes because it’s right there. But for those of you who are listening, in which sentence would you add an apostrophe after “it”?
It’s a lovely day today!
My phone has a crack on its screen.
I feel like I should join those sentences together to make one slightly sad sentence.
It’s a lovely day today, but my phone has a crack on its screen. :(
So, with an apostrophe “it’s” means “it is” or “it has” (like in present perfect).
Without an apostrophe it’s a possessive pronoun, just like my, your, our, their, his, her. My phone, your phone, our phones, their phones, his phone, her phone. None of them have apostrophes either.
We saw a lion and its paw was injured. (possessive pronoun) Oh no, it’s (it has) injured its (possessive pronoun) paw!
Full stop (also called the ‘period’ in US English)
This one is really simple but it needs to be said because I’m surprised at how often I see missing full stops in students’ writing and also people using commas instead of full stops, incorrectly.
So I’m just going to say – put a full stop at the end of your sentence and a capital letter at the beginning of the sentence!
You don’t need a full stop if you have an exclamation mark or question mark.
How do you know when it’s a full stop and not a comma?
Well, if you’re using a new subject in a new clause without a conjunction (a joining word) to connect them, you need a full stop.
I love cheese, but I can’t eat too much of it. I love cheese. I can’t eat too much of it.
A basic example there, but there it is.
“Full stop” is a phrase that we use in spoken English to mean “And that’s the end of it! I am not discussing it any more” For example, “I don’t want to see any more smoking in front of the building, full stop!”
In US English they say “Period”.
“God damn it John. You’re a god damn maverick! I want your badge and your gun. You’re off this case. Period!”
“Full stop” is the phrase we use for the dot at the end of the sentence.
We also have other little dots in things like numbers and web addresses. What do we call them?
Use this in email addresses and websites. Teacherluke.co.uk
Also use it just to describe the shape – a small round mark is a dot, like on a pattered dress.
For example you might have a blue dress with white dots on it.
Also we use the word “dot” for the top part of the letter i or j and also to describe exclamation marks or question marks. It’s just the word we use for a tiny round mark.
This is for numbers, meaning “decimal point”.
For example 3.14159 (Pie) Three point one four…
BBC headline: Women have 1.9 children on average, a record low – BBC News One point nine children…
This is the most common punctuation mark in English. Basically, it’s used to make your writing clearer and to indicate some sort of pause in the rhythm of the sentence. We use them to separate items in a list.
For example, “Give me your clothes, your boots, your cigarettes, your Pokemon cards and your motorcycle”.
It’s also used when there is a change in the subject in your sentence. That’s something the Pronunciation…? book said and I think it’s really good.
“I wanted to watch the new Avengers film, but Dave crashed into my car, so I couldn’t.”
There are more little uses of the comma, like the way they’re used in non-defining relative clauses or conditional sentences but to be honest I can’t go into all of those things now!
You’ll have to get a punctuation guide to get all the details.
Alright. This stuff can be hard to keep in your head, even when you already know it! That’s why you need a reference book to keep going back to. Explaining punctuation is not that easy, especially in an audio podcast, so why not use a book like this to save you the effort of working it all out for yourself, or doing loads of google searches and attempting to find consistent answers from different sources.
One thing I will say again is that there is some disagreement about the rules of punctuation and to an extent some of the application of punctuation symbols in your writing is a question of personal style and personal choice but some things are definitely right or wrong so the more you know the more control you’ll have and ultimately the better it will be for your English.
Book Review – Punctuation…? by User Design (continuing my review)
Punctuation..? by User Design (front and back covers)
There are a few books that explain punctuation that already exist on the market, but not that many that only deal with punctuation on its own.
Most of the time you’ll find punctuation guides inside other reference books like dictionaries (for example The Oxford English Dictionary) or grammar guides (like The Oxford A to Z of Grammar and Punctuation). As far as I can tell, the main book people buy when searching for a punctuation guide is The Penguin Guide to Punctuation. So, those things are the mainstream, well-known guides.
This book, “Punctuation…?” should be considered as an alternative.
So, let’s think about this book again. Remember how I described it to you earlier? Let’s go a bit deeper and I’ll give you my thoughts – both the negatives and positives.
I definitely like this book but I think it’s not 100% perfect. Let’s start with the negatives first. This is where I do some nit picking. Nit picking means making small criticisms or critical observations about something. Small criticisms that aren’t really all that important.
Well, perhaps some of these criticisms are important. We’ll see.
The design aesthetic of this book is minimal, but it’s a bit too minimal in places, maybe. It doesn’t always give full reasons for some punctuation points and it feels like some things are lacking. For example, the page about colons. I had other questions which weren’t answered, like “Shouldn’t we put a capital letter after a colon? When do we use a capital letter after a colon and when do we not?” Those are questions which might be answered by more thorough and detailed punctuation guides or just by googling it. I sometimes feel there’s more to add, and I expect that in later editions of the book, if they publish them, there will be more details added, or at least I think there probably should be, without spoiling the minimal style of the whole book anyway.
So, yes, the book feels a little bit insubstantial, as if it needs more. For example, it could do with some pages of commentary, generally, about punctuation in general. The book covers each punctuation point succinctly and then it just ends. I would like some comments perhaps from the authors just explaining their process or perhaps giving some opinions about punctuation and style or something like that.
At first I thought that this feeling of “there’s something missing” was because of the minimal design with plenty of white space on the page and the cartoons which look quite sketchy, even if they are good fun. I thought it was just the effect of the design.
But in all honesty, it’s not just the way it looks, it’s also the content. Don’t get me wrong, the pages which are there are great and will definitely teach you good information about punctuation but it’s not really a full book. It’s more like a pamphlet, which is how it is described on Amazon.
The recommended retail price on the back of the book is £10, which is higher than other, more substantial books on punctuation which are available. I think that might be a bit of a sticking point for some customers. You’d expect the price to be a bit lower for the amount of content you’re getting.
Also, some of the examples are a bit weird, which can make them slightly confusing (“The snakes’ hisses”?)
Also, sometimes it’s not completely obvious to me what the connection is between the illustration and the punctuation point being explained. This makes it feel a bit like the pictures aren’t all that helpful beyond just creating a fun atmosphere – but is that what people want when using a punctuation reference guide? By all means, use humour and fun. Of course I believe in that strongly. I think it’s really important to help people to enjoy learning stuff like this but I also think that the fun stuff should be performing a function too and in this case some of the pictures don’t seem to make things clearer, some of them just seem a bit odd.
They’re idiosyncratic which is cool, but not always that helpful, and they might just make the guide somehow less serious, which I think is something people look for in a guide like this. Am I repeating myself? Probably.
In summary, it might lack the seriousness and full commentary that some people expect from this kind of book at this kind of price, even though I like it.
One of the good things about this book is that it’s just a nice product to own. The paper it’s printed on is nice and thick and feels pleasant to touch. It has a pleasant-looking minimal design. The illustrations are quite fun and give the book more personality than your average dictionary or style guide. Also it would be more appropriate for young people I guess, or people who just want a bit more fun. It’s quite a good coffee table book, which makes it sound frivolous, but it is the sort of book you can enjoy flicking through, picking up some tidbits about punctuation that you might have always wondered about.
The explanations are short enough for you to digest quite easily. For example, there’s pretty much one rule or point per page. Punctuation rules can get pretty complicated but this book does a good job of reducing superfluous information. It gets straight to the point and as a result is very useful.
I said before that the book could do with some more commentary, like perhaps an introduction or conclusion, but on the other hand this book’s minimal approach makes it very accessible.
You will definitely learn things about punctuation by reading this book. Sometimes, very detailed language reference books become impenetrable because there’s so much information to sift through. Not with this book. They keep it short and simple.
Because it’s quite fun and a bit different while also being useful, I think it would be a good gift. You might not choose it in the bookshop if you want a no-nonsense language reference book, but you’d probably be happy to receive it as a present. I actually really like the book and I’m glad I have a copy. I learned a thing or two from reading it and it’s good to see some originality in this kind of reference work.
But it depends on the person I think. Some people might like this book because they will think it is a case of “Less is more”. I mean, some people will like the minimal style, will find the illustrations fun and will appreciate a more light-hearted feel but there are bound to be others who would just like more information, presented more seriously, please.
On the whole, I like the book. It’s original and quirky while also being useful and clear. It might not be the serious reference book that some people are looking for, but the information inside can definitely help you understand and improve your use of punctuation and ultimately that’s the main thing.
What did my wife think?
This morning I was having breakfast with my wife and the book was lying on the table. I pushed the book towards my wife and said, “what do you think of this book? Just give me your first impressions.” She said “I really like the pictures. I love this sort of thing. It looks really useful.” We agreed that it was actually a really cool book.
So if you’re looking for an alternative book about punctuation which has a more fun approach, get this book – either for you or as a gift. I think it’s particularly good as a gift for someone with a bit of a sense of humour, who is curious about punctuation and who also wants to be able to write more clearly.
The book seems to be available from all good bookshops including the main online retailers, certainly the ones which are well-known in the UK.
User Design Website https://www.userdesignillustrationandtypesetting.com
I’d like to say thanks to User Design for sending me the book, and thanks to everyone out there for listening to this!
Owning a book on punctuation is a great idea. If you actually use it, you will see a definite improvement in your awareness of punctuation, which feeds into an overall sense of how you need to be clear when communicating, particularly in your writing.
So, I do recommend getting a punctuation reference book. Either this one, for the reasons I’ve given, or another one if this book isn’t your cup of tea.