Tag Archives: communication

Why does the UK have so many accents? (Recorded February 2017)

This episode was originally recorded in February 2017 and is being uploaded in August 2017. In this episode I’m going to answer several questions from listeners about accents, including how regional accents occur in the UK and why there are so many accents there. Video available.

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Video – I’m not sick, I’m English, and it was winter. ;)

uk accents

There is a very wide variety of accents in the UK (not to mention the accents you find in other English-speaking countries like Ireland, Canada, the USA, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and more. English is a hugely diverse language and in my experience foreign learners of English don’t usually know a lot about the different accents – particularly all the regional varieties in the UK, and they often just find it difficult to understand them, and as a result learners of English can’t enjoy the great variety of sounds in English and the sheer diversity of character and personality you get from the different varieties of English, and therefore it’s worth talking about on the podcast.

This is such a big subject that to do it justice would require me to write a whole book about it. Instead I just do episodes about accents fairly regularly in an effort to cover as much of the topic as possible. For example, I recently did some episodes about British accents that you hear in the Lord of the Rings films, which gave me a chance to talk about the different associations we have with different accents in the UK and how those associations were used to provide some colour and character to the movie versions of Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings stories. I also did episodes about the accents you might hear in Glasgow and I spoke to Korean Billy about regional dialects and accents too.

Since uploading those episodes I’ve noticed a few comments from listeners wondering why there are so many accents in the UK, so I’ve prepared this episode which I hope will help you understand that a bit more.

The plan, in this episode (or episodes) is to talk about these things:

  • Why there are so many accents in the UK
  • How our accents develop as part of a natural psychological process
  • What this means for learners of English and teachers of English

Also, we’ll listen to someone speaking in a Liverpool accent and I’ll help you understand it

So, this episode is about the way people speak, but it’s also about history, psychology, how to learn English, what my friends sound like, and how to understand a football player from Liverpool.

How are all those things connected? Listen on and you’ll find out!

Why do we have so many accents in the UK? (Communication Accommodation Theory)

One of the things I said in those episodes about LOTR was that there is a really wide variety of accents in the UK, and that your accent reveals lots of things about you such as where in the country you’re from and what social background you come from.

Remember, when I say “Accent” this means simply the way that you pronounce the words you’re using.

If you remember, one of the things I mentioned in one of those episodes was a quote from George Bernard Shaw, which said “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him”, George Bernard Shaw.

This gives the impression that we all hate each other of course, and I don’t agree. The point which is made by this quote is that we all have prejudices about each other’s accent and this is an expression of the class system probably. That middle class people probably look down on people with strong regional accents and resent people who speak with very posh accents and so on…

Here’s a comment from Nick in response to those episodes.

Nick 2 hours ago – [These bits in brackets are Luke’s comments]
What a complicated life there in the UK… Everybody resents each other because of their accents… [we don’t resent each other really, but we do judge each other a bit – we also love each others accents too] Wow I never thought that accents in the UK had such an important role in people’s lives. [Yes, they’re very important indicators of our identity – but they’re also a source of great fun, joy, amusement and celebration] Luke, thanks for this episode. You opened up the UK in a new way for me. Even though I knew about different accents in the UK (and from your podcast too) I somehow didn’t realize the deep meaning of accents in English life.
But I don’t really understand how it happened that you have so many accents in quite a small area. I can understand that different levels of society may have different words in their vocabulary, but why they should have SUCH different accents especially when they live in one city or region… maybe it was people’s desire to make something with the language, or at least with pronunciation in order to be somehow unique from others. Like different groups of people or subcultures dress in different clothes or different nations have their own folk costumes.

This is a really good question and there are so many interesting aspects to the answer. I’m now going to try and deal with that question.

Why do we have so many accents in the UK?

It could be explained by “Communication Accommodation Theory” or CAT for short.

Collins dictionary: “Accommodation” 3. countable noun
Accommodation is a kind of agreement between different people which enables them to exist together without trouble. (not a written agreement, but a social or psychological tendency to come closer to each other and form communities based on shared behaviour)

Communication Accommodation Theory suggests that the way we communicate is an expression of our desire or natural tendency to become part of a social group.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communication_accommodation_theory (Wikipedia)

E.g. When I was living in Japan I picked up a lot of the body language because I wanted to fit in, basically. I didn’t even realise I was doing it.

That’s non-verbal communication, but we’re talking about verbal communication.

Also, it’s not just limited to individuals. Imagine whole communities of people, over many many generations being affected by this process.

scottthornbury.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/a-is-for-accommodation/ (Thornbury)

This could explain:

  • Why there are so many different accents associated with different regions in the UK
    For example, why people in Liverpool speak differently to people in Manchester, or why the ‘cockney’ dialect came about (more on this kind of thing in a bit)
  • Why we naturally change the way we speak depending on the people around us
  • Why speaking to a diverse range of people is very good for your accent
  • Why native English speakers sometimes change the way they speak when talking to foreigners – e.g. when travelling or meeting a foreign person.

The tendency is to unconsciously adapt.

I’m going to try and deal with all these things, but not quite in that order!

Why native speakers sometimes adapt their language when talking to foreigners
According to Scott Thornbury (a well-known teacher and author of teaching materials and a bit of a legend in the world of English teaching) there are two versions – ‘caretaker talk’ and ‘foreigner talk’.

“This is especially obvious in the way we talk to children and non-native speakers, [using] forms of talk called ‘caretaker talk’ and ‘foreigner talk’, respectively. Both varieties are characterized by considerable simplification, although there are significant differences. Caretaker talk is often pitched higher and is slower than talk used with adults, but, while simpler, is nearly always grammatically well-formed. Foreigner talk, on the other hand, tolerates greater use of non-grammatical, pidgin-like forms, as in ‘me wait you here’, or ‘you like drink much, no?’”
I’ve seen this happening to some English teachers. They adapt their speech to the students, speaking this weird form of English that’s easy for foreigners to understand but might not be helping them learn.

It’s really difficult to judge it correctly as a teacher. How much do you grade your language, and how do you do it? It’s important to speak correctly – meaning in the sort of full English that you normally would use and in the same way that most native speakers talk to each other, while making sure it’s comprehensible. If you’re too ‘natural’ your students won’t understand you. But if you simplify your English too much, you end up doing this ‘foreigner talk’ which is just not a good model of the language.

I guess this is part of being a good teacher; knowing how to strike the balance between being comprehensible and yet also realistic and natural.

I always try to keep these things in mind when I speak. It’s probably why my voice becomes more and more like standard RP, which I think is just generally accepted to be clearest version of the language, and that’s how I was brought up to speak by my parents. That’s not to say other versions of the language aren’t correct of course, and as I’ve said many times before I love the different accents.

Do I accommodate when I talk to native speakers with different accents?

Yes I do – a bit – I mean, only to accents that are a part of me. I have a few slightly different accents in me and my speech slides in slightly different directions depending on who I am with. They’re not radical changes because I’m still being myself, but my speech does change a little bit. When I’m back in Birmingham my speech becomes a bit more Brummie. When I’m in London it does the same. Only a little bit of course. This is totally normal.

It’s also why it’s important to speak to other people on this podcast because it’s in the interaction with others that language really becomes most alive and natural. When I’m talking to you on my own I speak in my neutral voice, but when I’m in conversation with others you might hear my voice changing slightly. You might not notice to be honest because it’s a pretty mild change. Perhaps it doesn’t happen that much because I am still aware that I’m being listened to by my audience.

For example, when I spoke to Rob Ager from Liverpool about movies last year, my accent didn’t change that much. But maybe if I’d spent the weekend in Liverpool, just hanging out and talking, my accent might have changed a little bit.

When I lived in Japan I spent a lot of time working with people from Australia and apparently I picked up some of accent – particularly the rising intonation pattern. So, the conclusion – I do accommodate a bit, but usually to an accent that I have personal history with, and only if I’m exposed to it for fairly long periods of time and when I’m feeling self-conscious it happens less.
Certainly when I’m back in Birmingham my accent changes a bit, because that’s where I spent a lot time when I was younger.

Cat’s question: What are Paul and Amber’s accents?
Amber & I are pretty similar. It’s just RP. Paul speaks RP too but with a bit more local influence. He’s from Kent so he speaks with some traces of a Kentish accent – e.g. glottal stops. “Native speaker” “Excited” Maybe some “th” sounds sound a bit like “d” or “v” sounds.

Some people seem to think that his voice is influenced by French. It’s isn’t.

That kind of influence would only happen if French was Paul’s first language, and he’d learned English as a second language in adulthood. That’s not the case – in fact to an extent he learned both languages while growing up. He’s certainly native level in English, and he probably is native level in French too. He certainly sounds it. So, because he’s got, basically, two native level languages, they exist independently in his head and therefore don’t influence each other much in terms of accent. Every now and then it influences his vocabulary but he instantly recognises it and self-corrects. You might have heard him do it on the podcast sometimes.

Paul speaks very clearly, which is evident in the way people always tell him that they can understand what he’s saying. His English accent is influenced more by where he grew up in the south-east of England and by the wide variety of people he’s spoken to in his life. He spent many years travelling with Apple, studying and living in different parts of the UK. RP again is probably the default setting for someone like Paul, when trying to speak clearly, but those glottal stops and some dropped consonant sounds reveal that his most formative time for English was in Canterbury, and he is also not the sort of person to listen to a lot of BBC Radio 4.
Paul is also a natural mimic. He’s able to hold different accents in his head at the same time and switch between them. He’s something of a chameleon in that way. Put him in with a bunch of Scottish people for a long time and he’d probably emerge with traces of that accent I expect. Anyway, when he’s with Amber and me his accent is pretty much like ours but with traces of his Kentish background, which is why he says “Native speaker” like that.

So, that’s a bit about ‘accommodation theory’ in relation to my friends and me.
What about Nick’s original question about the diversity of accents in the UK. I’m going to talk more specifically about that in a moment.

But first let’s check out a funny example of a professional footballer from Liverpool who moved to France to play for Olympique de Marseille football club.

Now this is an example of an English person accommodating to French people around him, and we see that this is certainly not happening to Paul Taylor

Joey Barton’s weird French accent

Who is Joey Barton? What was the situation?

Joey Barton speaking with this weird French voice

He was heavily criticised for this – a lot of people mocked him and called him stupid.
He’s definitely not stupid. Maybe he wasn’t aware of the different ways he could have changed his voice – e.g. speaking with RP probably just wasn’t something that would occur to him. This lad is a scouser through and through. He’s not going to start speaking RP – he’s going to accommodate to the French instead.

The reason he’s doing it, as explained by accommodation theory is to make it easier for the French journalists to understand him. His scouse accent is difficult for the French to understand. He was just trying to be intelligible and he ended up accommodating to their speech.

Also he did it to win social approval. I imagine being the only English guy there, in front of all those French journalists, with the pressure of playing for this big club and not speaking French, he wanted to win their approval. This probably happens in Football quite a lot because of the emphasis on teamwork. I expect during training and while bantering with other players and staff, Barton had to very quickly adapt his speech to be part of the team. I imagine speaking Scouse English more clearly wouldn’t help the French.

(Joey Barton talks about the French accent incident)

It’s not just speech – it’s also non-verbal communication. Barton does a couple of typically French things, including the kind of ‘sigh’ or blowing of air through the lips which is really common.

According to research we are naturally wired to copy the speech and behavioural patterns of the people we’re talking to. It’s a natural, neurological process that humans engage in when they want to communicate, be understood and be accepted by others.

Significance for Learning English
For learning English this suggests some of the most important ways to improve your English pronunciation and your English in general are to a) actually communicate with people in real conversations about real things b) have the desire to understand others and really be understood by others c) have the desire to share things (info) with the people you’re communicating with d) have the desire to be socially accepted by the people you’re talking to.

So, spend time talking naturally with English speakers because you want to! Or at least, practise communicating in English not just because you think it’s important for your career or for your English, but because you are genuinely interested in sharing ideas, finding out about people and the world, and broadening the scope of your identity. The more motivated you are by these things, the more you’re opening yourself up to the natural neurological conditions for language learning.

Got it? Talking to different people with good English and who come from diverse origins about things you are interested in, really helps your English and your accent in particular!
Being engaged in genuine communication because you care about sharing ideas is going to help your brain in a natural process of language learning.

Other work helps too – like studying the phonemic chart, analysing the physical ways we pronounce different sounds, how speech is connected and all that stuff, and doing plenty and plenty of mechanical, physical practice – it’s important too, but certainly this theory suggests that our brains are wired to adapt our speech patterns in the right conditions as part of a social process.

But also, it may be vital for you to learn how to accommodate yourself to the English of the people you’re talking to. This from Scott Thornbury:

So, what are the implications for language teaching? In the interests both of intelligibility and establishing ‘comity’, Joey Barton’s adaptive accent strategy may be the way to go. For learners of English, whose interlocutors may not themselves be native speakers, this may mean learning to adapt to other non-native speaker accents. As Jenkins (2007: 238) argues, ‘in international communication, the ability to accommodate to interlocutors with other first languages than one’s own… is a far more important skill than the ability to imitate the English of a native speaker.’

So, when you’re chatting to other non native speakers in English, how should you make yourself more intelligible in order to establish good relations? Do you suddenly start sounding like Luke Thompson, or do you accommodate to their way of speaking, following the rule of accommodation theory?

What do you think? Feel free to either agree with accommodation theory here, or disagree with it, but do give a good reason why.

But why are there so many accents in the UK?

It’s a really complex question which probably needs to be answered by someone with a PhD on the subject, but here’s my answer!

It’s probably a big mix of geography, culture, politics, history and human nature.
Tribalism.

Perhaps it’s because we’re a small nation with quite a high population.

Geography. We’re an island (group of islands actually) so that creates a clear land border – meaning that we’re a bit more ‘penned in’ than some other cultures.

The class system. RP was the standardised version, but ordinary folk spoke in their own way and weren’t expected to speak RP because they knew their place. They could never break away from that. We never had a revolution proclaiming everyone as equal, so working people didn’t take on the standard form of English.

Irregular relationship between the written word (spelling) and the spoken version mean that the spoken version is perhaps more open to interpretation than others. Our written language is not phonetic, therefore the pronunciation is not tied down. There’s no solid rule book on how to pronounce English – there’s the phonetic chart, but that is based on RP and that’s where the class system comes into it. RP is associated with a certain class of people and then identity politics come into play.

Perhaps the multicultural ‘mongrel’ nature of the Brits has something to do with it. We’re a mongrel nation. Maybe the diversity of accents is the result of this patchwork or melting pot of different people and languages. E.g. celtic, nordic, germanic, norman French, gallic French, latin, Irish celtic, Scots celtic, commonwealth nations like Jamaica, India & Pakistan – especially Jamaica which has had a massive influence the way young people in London speak, and now media, like American and Australian English that we hear on a daily basis.

Our islands have been visited, invaded, populated and influenced by migrating people and their voices for many many years. This goes deep into the past and continues to this day, even though the official version of history will suggest that we have one unbroken family line (The Royal Family that we all learn about in school). There’s a lot more diversity than this narrative would suggest. This could result in a wide variety of influences, creating diversity which is not obvious just by looking at people. It’s also interesting to me that the narrative of the ‘unbroken line of history’ which we get from the monarchy, is also aligned with a certain way of speaking – this old-fashioned RP which is the standard form. Underneath that standard form, or next to it, there is a lot more variety and diversity.

There was a long period before the emergence of the single unifying monarchy in which the country was essentially split up into different, independent areas, ruled by competing monarchs. Tribalism was seriously important. Think: Game of Thrones. Community, loyalty, rejection of others – these were vitally important principles. It was the breeding ground for different local versions of a language. It must be the same in many other countries.

This relates to aspects of the accommodation theory. Convergence is when people pull together in a community and naturally speak in the same way to express this shared identity. At the same time there is divergence – pulling away from other communities which could be rivals or whatever. If you’re part of one community you’ll speak like them and you won’t speak like the others. Either you’re in one or the other. This could account for why people in Liverpool and Manchester speak differently even though the two cities are pretty close. Just look at the football fans to see how much of a rivalry there is between the two cities.

I expect a number of other factors have come together to cause the UK to have this wide diversity. But perhaps we’re just a lot more aware of the diversity because the place is really connected – it’s a pretty small island and we’re all squeezed in together with a clear natural border of the sea, and the industrial revolution happened there bringing the train – mass transport which suddenly brought everyone much closer together, making us a lot more aware of our different versions of English. I imagine if you examined other countries you would find similar differences in Accent. The USA for example has definite differences, and it’s quite a young country in comparison. So, I expect many countries have similar diversity in accent and dialect, perhaps we’re just a lot more aware of it in the UK.

We also have the class system which has added another dividing line – another factor which pushes communities together (convergence) or pushes them apart (divergence). Perhaps working class communities held onto their accents as a way of expressing their sense of local identity as a contrast to the less region specific upper classes, who seemed to be less fixed geographically. E.g. The Royal Family has it’s own geography, which moves between international borders and not just across domestic community borders. I mean, Prince Phillip for example was born in Greece. The QUeen’s ancestors were German. Despite the fact that they are the figureheads for the UK, they are not really fixed to local areas within the country.

This also would apply to the nobility – the proper upper classes, who probably owned land that perhaps their families hadn’t lived on for centuries. I expect one area of England for example was ruled by one family for a period, then another family became the rulers – either by conquest, trade, marriage etc. The ruling class probably were quite mobile. The people who lived and worked on the land, were of that land for generations. So, working class people have stronger regional accents than upper class people. It’s absolutely nothing to do with so-called “lazy pronunciation”, it’s more to do with identity – strengthening local communities by having their own version of the language. Power, identity and economics.

No governing body to standardise English. Just powerful people through their influence have guided the narrative that RP is the standard form – this also happens to be the English that the educated, wealthy class use.

So, that’s my fairly long and rambling answer Nick.

We’re not finished with accents though. I’ve just talked about how C.A.T. might explain why we have so many accents in the UK, and also what the theory can tell us about things like my accent, the accents of my friends and also how you can work on your accent too. I still plan to spend some more time focusing on specific accents and playing around.

Now, I would like to ask all of you a few questions

  • How many different accents can you identify in your country?
  • Are accents in your country related to geography?
  • Is there a standard accent? Is that accent associated with a particular region?
  • What attitudes to people have about accents where you come from?
  • In English, which accent do you prefer? If you don’t know a region, can you think of an individual person whose accent you like? Feel free to say Amber Minogue of course.
  • If you’ve been shipwrecked and you get washed up on a remote island populated by a local tribe of native people who seem to use English as their main language and yet look like they might be hostile, or hungry, or both, what’s the best way to get into their good books? Speak like me, or speak like them? Or get back in the sea and swim?

299. The Bank Robbery (Part 2)

Welcome back to this special double episode in which we are planning a bank robbery as part of a communication game. I strongly recommend that you listen to the previous episode because it will help to make this one much easier to understand. In part 1 I explained the rules of this communication game, which involves a team coming up with a plan to rob a bank. I gave you all the key information which the team has to share, I clarified some useful language that you’ll hear and then we listened to the first part of the bank robbery meeting, with our team of Amber, Paul and Sebastian. In this episode you’re going to hear the rest of the meeting, and then we’ll find out exactly what happens to them, and the full solution to the whole puzzle.

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To read all the key information for this bank robbery, go back to episode 298. You can read all the important details there.

Below you can read about the different outcomes of each possible plan, including which plans will get you the most money, and which plans will result in you being caught or killed.

The purpose of these bank robbery episodes is to highlight certain key language for problem solving in meetings, and to enjoy simulating a big bank heist, like in the movies!

Outcomes
When the group have finished planning, and presenting their plans, use this information to find out what will happen as a result of the plan.

Which day?
Monday – The gold will not have been delivered yet! You will get no gold and no diamonds on Monday. Just the cash (£20,000)
Tuesday – If you rob the bank after 11.10AM then you’ll be able to get the gold and cash but not the diamonds.
Wednesday – The diamonds will not be delivered until the evening so robbing the bank on Wednesday means you’ll only get gold and cash, and no diamonds.
Thursday – This is the best day to steal the gold, cash and diamonds.
Friday – This is a bad day because the extra security guards will delay your exit and you’ll be caught in a fire-fight. You’ll either be arrested or killed if you rob the bank on Friday. If you have The Shooter, you won’t be killed (because he’ll kill the cops), but you will be arrested.
Saturday & Sunday – The bank is closed so you can’t go in the front door.

If you choose to enter by tunnel you must rent the shop on Monday and start digging with The Tunnel Expert on Tuesday. Then you can take the gold from the vault on Sunday 8th and escape before anyone notices anything. However, you will only be able to keep the gold. The cash and diamonds won’t be there any more. So, just £100,000,000 – half the money.

What time?
In the morning – Robbing the bank in the morning will delay the cops by an extra five minutes (because of traffic and donuts) so you’ll be able to leave before they arrive. However, you will find it too hard to escape by car because of bad traffic and eventually you’ll be caught.

In the afternoon – The police will arrive in 15 minutes, and your robbery will take 15 minutes so you will meet the police as you leave the bank. If you have guns you’ll be able to provide covering fire to help you escape. If you have The Shooter he will shoot some police and allow you to escape. If you have The Driver you will be able to escape. However, in the afternoon witnesses will see the car chase and will report your number plate to the police. You will be caught eventually.

In the dark (between 6PM and 8PM) – This is the best time to do the robbery. It will take the police 15 minutes to respond. Your robbery will last 15 minutes and you’ll meet the police as you leave the bank. If you have guns you’ll be able to provide covering fire to help you escape. If you have The Shooter he will kill some police officers and help you escape. If you have the inside man he will delay the alarm and the cops by an extra 5 minutes and you don’t need to have a gun fight at all. If you have The Driver he will help you escape the police and get to the safehouse, and it’ll be too dark for witnesses to see your number plate.

 Who to take:
The Shooter – If you have chosen to enter the bank by the front door he can help you to escape the bank if the cops arrive as you are leaving. However he will probably kill police officers and possibly some hostages too, and you want to avoid unnecessary killings. If you are caught eventually, your prison sentence will be far more severe.

The Inside Man – You need him to find the correct entry point in the vault for the tunnel. Without the Inside Man your tunnel will not find the vault and you won’t get any of the money. Also, if you enter by the front door he will delay the alarm and the police by an extra 5 minutes. This means you don’t need to have a gun fight and no killing will be necessary.

The Driver – If you choose to enter the bank by the front door you will definitely need the driver to escape from the cops by car. If you raid the bank by front door without The Driver you will be caught or shot. If you have The Shooter and The Driver – you’ll definitely be shot. It’ll be a bloodbath.

The Safe Cracker – He is unnecessary as you can either dig into the vault or persuade a member of staff to let you in. You don’t need The Safe Cracker and you will fail if you pick him (because the other people are more useful)

Jimmy The Informant – Don’t trust Jimmy The Informant. He’s made a deal with the police to keep him out of prison. He will tell you nothing useful about the police. In fact, he will just tell the police everything about your plans. The police will already be there, undercover, and you’ll be either arrested or killed.

The Tunnel Expert – You need his skills and expertise if you plan to enter the bank by tunnel. If you tunnel into the bank without him it will take 7 days and that is too late.

How to enter the bank
By the front door – You will need to employ The Driver and either The Inside Man or The Shooter to help you deal with the police when you leave. If you enter by the front door without The Driver and one of the other guys then you will fail.

By tunnel – You’ll need to rent the shop on Monday so you can start digging on Tuesday. You must bribe the shop owner so he doesn’t tell the police your real name (so, deduct £5m). You need The Inside Man to tell you how to find the vault. You need The Tunnel Expert to dig the tunnel in 5 days. If you start digging on Tuesday then you can enter the vault on Sunday and take the gold without anyone noticing. However, if you do this you’ll only take the gold and no diamonds or cash. Total amount: £95m in gold.

Masks or no masks?
With masks – The staff will immediately realise it is a robbery. Then they will raise the alarm. You’ll have 15 minutes before the police arrive. That is enough time, especially if you use The Inside Man to delay the alarm.

Without masks – Your face will be captured by the CCTV cameras and you will eventually be caught by the police, even years later.

You don’t need masks if you choose to enter by tunnel.

Guns or no guns?
Guns – You can use them to persuade a staff member to open the vault, so you don’t need The Safe Cracker. Using guns will make the punishment more serious, but who cares!

No guns – This will reduce your prison sentence if you get caught. You will need The Safe Cracker to get into the vault because you won’t be able to persuade someone to do it for you in time. You won’t be able to fight the police and escape. You will need guns for this robbery. You should definitely take some guns. Without guns you will fail the robbery.

How will you enter the vault?
If you have chosen guns then you can persuade someone to let you into the vault. If you are tunnelling, then you need The Inside Man to help you find the location of the vault.

What will you steal?
This depends when and how you plan to enter the bank. The best option is to steal all the gold, cash and diamonds but you can only do this on Thursday after 6PM by entering through the front door (see Thursday above). If you tunnel in and arrive on Sunday you can only steal the gold.

The BEST plan
Rob the bank on Thursday between 6-8pm when it is dark. Wear masks and carry guns. The Inside Man will delay the alarm, delaying the cops by 5 key minutes. You can use a gun to persuade someone to open the vault. You can get the gold, cash and diamonds into the van in 15 minutes and drive away without being spotted at all. The police will arrive 5 minutes late because of the delayed alarm. The police will have no idea who robbed the bank, you will not have to kill anyone and you can get maximum money this way.
People: The Driver and The Inside Man

Another good plan: Rent the shop on Monday. Bribe the shop owner and give a fake name for the rental records. Start digging on Tuesday. The Inside Man will tell you where to dig the tunnel. The Tunnel Expert will help you to dig it properly. Finish digging on Sunday. Move the gold out of the vault before Monday morning. Take the gold to the shop through the tunnel. Drive the van to the safehouse. No one will ever know who did it. …however, there is a weak link here – the shop owner. He has to pretend that he had no idea about the plan, and he has to be very discreet about the money. If the police threaten him, he might give in under pressure and describe your appearances.
People: The Inside man and The Tunnel Expert.

The Plan Chosen by Amber, Paul and Sebastian
Go in with masks but no guns, on Thursday evening at 6.30. The alarm goes off. The police are on their way. Use the safe cracker to open the vault in 2 minutes. Fill your bags with gold, cash and diamonds, in 10 minutes. You’re out and in the car about 3 minutes before the police arrive. You manage to escape with all the money! It’s a bit risky because it’s a bit tight because you’re leaving just 3 minutes of escape time, but with the getaway driver you can do it because there isn’t too much traffic on the streets, due to the big international football game between England and France, which is on the TV.
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298. The Bank Robbery (Part 1)

Hello listeners, welcome to Luke’s English Podcast. In this episode we’re going to plan a bank robbery. Not a real one – if any police are listening to this I should say it’s just a simulation, I’m not actually going to rob a bank, so relax… eat another donut. This is the bank robbery episode and I hope that it involve the usual magic ingredients of a good episode of LEP – authentic spoken English, native speakers communicating naturally, presentation of some specific language in context, the voices of some of my friends, a sense of fun and imagination. That’s the idea anyway. I hope that you will stay engaged throughout the episode. I suggest that you imagine what you would say and do if you were there in the room with us. As ever, you can leave your comments on the page for this episode at teacherluke.co.uk

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Introduction
Basically, in this episode you’re going to hear a group of my friends do a communication game in which they have to plan a bank robbery. We’ll listen to the whole meeting, hear their plan come together and then find out what happens in their version of the robbery. We’ll also consider some of the language used in the planning process. If it makes it more exciting, let me tell you that the stakes are very high in this episode – the team could get away with about £200 million in gold, cash and diamonds, or die trying.

What’s going to happen? How will the team organise the perfect bank heist? What language will emerge during the process? Will the team survive and escape with the money, or will they get caught red handed by the police in a dramatic shootout situation.? Listen, and you’ll find out… because this, is the bank robbery episode…

What is “The Bank Robbery”?
Sometimes in my classes at school, I give my students big communication tasks. These are like team building exercises which test the communicative competence of the group.

This episode is based on one of the games that I created, called “The Bank Robbery”.
The game is all about sharing information and working together as a group to come up with the right plan. It’s all about successful communication. If the team members share the information well, they’re more likely to plan a successful robbery. If they don’t communicate properly, they’ll probably miss some vital details, and they’ll get arrested or even worse, killed by the police.

Of course no one actually gets killed, it’s just a simulation. But if it helps to bring more drama to this episode – then yes you can imagine that there is real money involved, and real cops and real guns and bullets and all that kind of stuff.
The bank robbery game gives students the chance to practise speaking in a scenario that’s like a typical business meeting but with a fun twist. They can also get some feedback on their communication skills.
I find it fascinating to see how students deal with this game, especially from a language point of view, but also from a behavioural point of view, and I’ve always wondered how a group of native speakers would handle it.
And that’s what you’re going to get in this episode.

Here’s what’s going to happen
You’ll hear me explain the scenario of the game, I’ll go through some specific language that you might hear them use, then you’ll listen to them plan the robbery, and then they’ll present their plan. After that, based on their plan I will tell them exactly what happens in their robbery – we’ll see if they manage to get away with any money, or if the whole thing goes horribly wrong and they end up in jail or worse – in a body bag!
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s meet the team…

The Team
Who is this team that I have assembled?
We have none other than: Paul Taylor (Daniel Radcliffe, or Tom Hardy), Amber Minogue (played by Audrey Tatou, or Anne Hathaway perhaps) , and Sebastian Marx (Woody Allen, or maybe Ryan Gosling).
Thank you for coming to this meeting. I have brought you together today because you have a very specific set of skills… skills that allow you to communicate effectively in English… skills that could be utilised in order to plan something as a group, like a buffet dinner bank robbery for example…. skills that I take a keen interest in, as a teacher of English as a foreign language… and skills that my listeners (the lepsters) enjoy observing through their ears via the medium of Luke’s English Podcast, which has won a number of awards for being the best blog for learners of English even though it’s not a blog it’s a podcast. OK?
Basically, what I’m getting at is that I’ve brought you all together this afternoon in order to record you doing a communication exercise because I think it will be really interesting for my listeners to hear. OK? I might be wrong, it could be dull as hell, and that kind of depends on you, but let’s see…
You are going to do an exercise in which you have to work together as a team in order to achieve a shared objective. Your success in the task depends on your management of information and effective communication between each other.
The stakes are particularly high in this simulation because you are going to organise a bank robbery. If you succeed you could escape with millions of pounds in gold, cash and diamonds. Sounds nice doesn’t it?
If you fail you could spend the rest of your life in jail, or be killed or badly wounded by police. It all depends on how well you and your team plan the robbery.

The situation
You are a gang of specialist bank robbers – think Oceans 11, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, that kind of thing. You have identified a small bank in West London (not as glamourous as Las Vegas, but anyway…) a bank which you know is about to receive a delivery of £100m in gold bullion. The bank also has cash reserves of £20m in its vault. There may also be some diamonds in the bank which you could take as well. Why not, if there are diamonds too, take the diamonds.
So you could make upwards of £120 million – £40m each – not to be sniffed at.
Anyway, the bank is situated on a street corner. It has one main entrance (that’s a glass double door) and a smaller secutiry entrance on the side (that’s a solid, protected security door). It’s quite a small bank with a main room for doing business with customers, and a small back office on the ground floor, and a medium sized vault in the basement. The money (gold, cash, diamonds) is kept in the vault, which is protected by a solid locked door. Imagine a solid metal door with a huge lock on it.
You 3 are the core members of the team, but you can’t do this alone. You’ll need some assistance – especially from people with very special skills, specific to organised theft like this. Luckily you have a few connections in the criminal underworld. You can choose a maximum of 2 other specialists to help you.

Here’s a list of the other gang members you could employ. You’ll get more information about them during the game.
The Driver
The Shooter
The Inside Man
The Safe Cracker
The Tunnel Expert
Jimmy The Informant

You (the team) are going to plan to steal that money.

Have a meeting to decide these points
• VALUABLES – What exactly is available and what will you steal?
• DAY – The day on which you will do the robbery
• TIME – The time of the robbery
• GANG MEMBERS – Which two extra gang members you will employ for the job (you can employ two other people)
• ENTRANCE – How you will enter the bank
• MASKS – Will you wear masks or not?
• GUNS – Will you use guns or not?
• VAULT – How will you get into the vault?

Today is Saturday 1 October
You’re planning to rob the bank next week – that’s the week starting on Monday, because that’s when the gold and other money will be in the bank. You’ve left it a bit late to be honest.

But you’ve all spent quite a lot of time watching the bank, and collecting information to help you plan the perfect crime.
(I’ve written this information on small pieces of paper and I’ll deal it out to you all randomly, in a minute)
You will need to share the information in order to pool your knowledge. Please don’t let each other read the info you have. You’ll have to do it all by spoken communication.

When you are ready, present your plan to Luke (that’s me) and the listeners (Lepsters). Then I will tell you the final result of your bank robbery. We’ll find out what happens in the robbery, based on your plan.

There are a few different ways to complete the task and steal the money, but only one of those approaches will allow you to get away with the most money possible. Some options will get you arrested, some options will get you killed. Some options will allow you to escape with only some of the money. Only one option (I think) will allow you all to escape with the maximum amount of money, with no loss of life or jail time. (Which is at least £120,000,000 – 30m each)

I am the gamesmaster – I’m just going to sit back and let you get on with it. I might give you bits of guidance and advice at times. I’m like Obiwan Kenobi or something. “Paul… use the crow-bar Paul…” that kind of thing.

You can ask me questions if you want – I might help, or I might be a bit mysterious and say something like “That is a question which only the sands of time may reveal” or “Sorry, I can’t answer that”.

OK, is everything clear? Do you have any questions at this point?

Key Information
While the team are reading the information I’ve just handed out to them, I’d like to talk to you about a few things, to help you follow the meeting more easily.

So, the team is looking at various key information which is on small pieces of paper. The information relates to these things:
• Info about the money – What exactly is available, and when it’s available. There is only one particular period next week when the gold, cash and diamonds are in the bank at the same time.
• Info about the DAY & TIME – when the bank is open, when the money is in the bank, and other information about the best time and day to do the robbery, including things like traffic, extra security in the bank and hours of daylight.
• GANG MEMBERS – Info about the 5 other team members they could employ for the robbery. They can pick two. Certain gang members are crucial for the robbery. Other gang members will cause your robbery to go horribly wrong.
• ENTRANCE – Different ways to enter the bank and get into the vault. Basically, it’s either through the front door, through a side door when the gold is delivered, or through an underground tunnel directly into the vault.
• MASKS – Will you wear masks or not? With masks on, the team’s identities will be protected from CCTV, but everyone will instantly know it’s a robbery.
• GUNS – Will you use guns or not? Guns will allow the team to persuade the bank staff to do things, but could be dangerous.

I’m now going to read to you all the information they have in their hands. Then you’ll know everything they know, and it should help you to follow their meeting more easily.

Also, it might allow you to work out your own plan. BTW, all this information is on the page for this episode at teacherluke.co.uk

So now, listen to all the relevant information. I’ll try to make it clear for you. Listen carefully and try to make your own plan. Think about the best day and time.

THE INFORMATION WHICH THE TEAM HAS TO SHARE
Here is all the info which the team members have on small pieces of paper.
You can also download this information as a Word document, which you can then print and then cut up. Click the link below to download the Word doc. (Thanks to Zdenek Lukas for preparing the doc)
THE-BANK-ROBBERY-speaking-activity-by-Luke-Thompson.

  • The bank will receive the gold bullion at 11AM on Tuesday 4 October.
  • The gold will be removed from the vault on Monday 10 October at 8AM.
  • When gold is delivered at the bank, two security guards always take it through a back door and down the stairs into the vault. This takes 5 minutes.
  • The gold is easiest to steal when the security guards are taking it from the van to the vault.
  • The gold and cash are fitted with anti-theft devices such as paint and a tracking device.
  • These are removed when the money has been safely delivered into the vault.
  • The £20m in cash will be removed from the vault on Friday evening.
  • You have just discovered that the vault will also contain £80m of diamonds next week! They arrive on Wednesday evening but they will be removed on the evening of Friday 7 October.
  • It takes approximately 10 minutes to fill your bags with gold, cash and any other valuables.
  • The bank is open from 8AM to 8PM, Monday to Friday. The bank is closed on Saturday and Sunday.
  • When the bank is closed the doors are very securely sealed and protected. It is impossible to break in when the bank is closed.
  • The side door of the bank is reinforced and cannot be opened from the outside.
  • The bank is unstaffed at night. Nobody is in the bank after 8pm.
  • The sun goes down at 6PM. The sun comes up at 6AM.
  • A robbery in the morning will be more of a surprise, and the police tend to be slower in the morning as they are usually eating donuts and drinking coffee.
  • You are much more likely to be identified by witnesses during daylight hours.
  • A robbery in the dark is more likely to be a success because the roads are quieter. It will be easier to escape by car in the dark.
  • There is less traffic on the street at night.
  • No-one goes into the bank at the weekend. After leaving the bank on Friday evening, the next member of staff to come back is the security guard. He arrives on Monday morning at 7AM.
  • Friday is the busiest day in the bank. The bank employs two extra security guards armed with Remington shotguns on this day. They stay in the bank from 8AM to 8PM.
    You will find it very difficult to get away from the bank quickly in the morning because of bad traffic.
  • You can enter the bank by the front door but you will appear on the CCTV cameras in the front entrance.
  • When the bank alarm is set off, the police are automatically called. They will take approximately 15 minutes to arrive at the bank.
  • The police will take an extra 5 minutes to arrive at the bank in the morning, because of busy traffic and because they’ll be eating donuts and drinking coffee in a local diner.
  • It will take approximately 5 minutes to persuade a staff member to open the vault for you.
  • If you have guns you will quickly be able to persuade the staff to open the vault for you.
  • Robbery with guns is more serious than robbery without guns, and therefore carries a much stricter prison sentence. Also, the police are more likely to open fire on you if you are armed.
  • You can use masks to hide your identity. They will prevent you from being identified during the robbery, but if you enter the bank wearing masks, the staff and customers will immediately know it is a robbery and the alarm will be set off.
  • There is a disused shop opposite the bank. The shop has a basement with an earthen floor, and vacant space for soil in the yard. The shop is available for rental.
  • It will take 5 full days and 5 full nights to dig a tunnel from the shop to the bank vault.
  • It will take 24 hours to arrange rental of the shop opposite the bank. The rental office is closed on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • To rent the shop opposite the bank you need to provide your name, ID number and address. The shop owner might accept a fake name if you bribe him with at least £5m.
  • The Driver is an excellent getaway driver. He is a professional stunt driver and he can escape from anyone, traffic permitting.
  • The Shooter is an expert with a shotgun. His speciality is crowd control and hostage situations. He has just spent 10 years in prison after his last bank job went wrong. He absolutely hates the police, because they killed his brother.
  • The Safe-Cracker can open any lock in just 2 minutes.
    The Inside Man works in the bank as a clerk. He knows about everything that goes on inside the bank. He can delay the alarm by 5 minutes. Also, he can give you blueprints of the vault.
  • His knowledge of the vault is essential if you plan to tunnel in. You need him to tell you where to enter the vault by tunnel.
  • Jimmy the Informant has a close relationship with the police and for the right price he will tell you everything that the police know about your bank job. He wants £10m for this information. He is not particularly loyal to anyone – either you, or the cops.
  • The Tunnel Expert is brilliant at digging tunnels. Without him it will take you 7 days and 7 nights to dig the tunnel, and even then it might not reach the bank vault correctly.

Now you know all the information they have, so in fact, you know more than the team as a whole now.

Perhaps you have some ideas about a plan of your own. If you were paying attention and you’re clever, you could work out the best plan already.

In a moment, you’ll listen to them sharing the information and they’ll start building their plan.

USEFUL LANGUAGE
Before we listen to that I’d like to bring your attention to some language you’re going to hear.

Here are some things you will hear. Watch out for these things.

Essentially, you’ll hear them
– sharing information – giving info and asking for info
– evaluating that information and making conclusions,
– rejecting irrelevant information,
– making suggestions,
– interrupting each other,
– agreeing

Summarising and Rephrasing
This shows that you’re listening, that you’ve understood, clarifies and establishes the information which has been presented.
You summarise your point (intro), give details, then summarise it again (conclusion).
E.g. “I think tunnelling in is not such a good idea, because if we tunnel in we can only get half the money. So tunnelling is not an option.”
Summarise what the other person said. Rephrase to show you understand.

Giving information – Signpost the point you’re making
Can I just say one thing about time? It fits in.
Timing-wise, the 20m in cash will be removed …
So, speaking of Remingtons…
More things regarding time here…

Ask for information
What have you got?
What else have you got in terms of timing?
Is that all you’ve got for timing?
Do we know when the bank is open?
Who are the other people that could help us?
When’s the gold going to be delivered?

Making Conclusions
So, we can’t do it on Monday. (“So” is a word that signposts that you’re making a conclusion)
So, this means, we have to do it on Thursday.
Tunnelling isn’t really an option.
Thursday seems like a good spot right now.
It seems like it’s closed at the weekend.
Wednesday doesn’t seem to be a good day.

Clarifying, or when you don’t hear something
Sorry, 8AM to…?
Sorry, I missed what you just said.
Let me say that again.

Magic Words
Sorry – interrupt or repeat
Hold on – make someone wait
So – make a conclusion
Seems – for facts that look true but you’re not sure

Rejecting Information
We can disregard this because it doesn’t matter.

Make suggestions
I wonder if we should do this…
Let’s…
Shall we say no guns?
Let’s think about how we can get in the back door.
I would say after 6pm is best.

Conditionals – 0, 1st & 2nd
0 conditionals – the speakers think they’re absolute facts – definitely will happen.
“So if we do it on Monday the gold is gone.”
“If we want to get everything, we can’t tunnel in.”
“If we tunnel, we can get some stuff, but we’re aiming for all of it.”
“If we go in with masks, everyone knows right away.”
“If we have the safe cracker we don’t need to persuade anyone.”
1 conditionals – the speakers think they’re realistic – will probably happen.
“If you go in with masks, they’ll know.”
2 conditionals – the speakers think they’re unlikely – just hypothetical things.
“The inside man would save us more time…”

I hope you can keep up with all of that.

Let’s now listen to the rest of the meeting. How do native speakers manage information in a meeting? Also, will they come up with the right plan?

Here we go…

MAP
bank map
TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, YOU’LL HAVE TO WAIT FOR “THE BANK ROBBERY PART 2”!

What do you think is the best plan?
Please leave your comments below. :)
[socialpoll id=”2296567″]
Gold-robberies
Image: therealasset.co.uk/gold-robberies/

182. Learning English with Yacine Belhousse

This episode is all about the relationship between language, successful communication, stand-up comedy and learning English! It features an interview with the one-and-only Yacine Belhousse, who is a professional stand-up comedian in his native language and now in English too. A year and a half ago, Yacine hardly spoke any English. Now he regularly performs in English and this year he is doing a 1 hour stand-up comedy show at the Edinburgh fringe festival. How does he do it? How does he deal with the challenges of learning English while also making people laugh in English too? Listen and find out!

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I’m really pleased to present every episode of Luke’s English Podcast, but this one makes me extra pleased. Why? I just think that we come to some particularly useful conclusions during this conversation, especially related to the attitude that you need to learn English effectively. I’m also pleased to present Yacine because he’s got a great attitude towards learning English and because I think he’s really funny.

Conclusions about Learning Language
In summary here are some of the key points about learning English & communication from our conversation:
– To communicate well, you must take responsibility for communicative exchanges.
– Remember when you’re talking to native speakers, you’re just talking to another human. They have no reason to judge you if you’re just trying to communicate to achieve something. In fact, native speakers have the same responsibility for successful communication as you. So don’t feel that you’re totally responsible for any communication breakdown.
– Be confident and don’t worry about making mistakes. If you do make mistakes, you can learn from them and that’s how you improve. If you’re concerned that you can’t be confident – don’t worry. Confidence is something which just happens when you try to do something. If you focus on achieving successful communication, and don’t get upset by failure – confidence will just come naturally. So, don’t worry about confidence. Just focus on trying to achieve things.
– Have an organised approach to learning – mentally store words and phrases you like in the “good things bucket”. Reject bits of communication that didn’t work in the “bad things bucket”. Perhaps revisit the “bad things bucket” to learn from the errors, but enjoy the contents of your “good things bucket” too!
– Repeat words and phrases that you’ve learned. Repeat them lots of times in order to remember them.
– Learn by doing things. Learn to speak by speaking, failing, succeeding and moving on. You have to be active. Use your English. If you don’t use it, you lose it. You’ve got to be in it to win it!
– Be positive!

Listen to the conversation to find out more.

Links
Would you like to play Yacine’s computer game? Click here to visit the game on his website.

Will you be in Edinburgh during the Fringe? You should check out Yacine’s show. Click here for information on Yacine’s Edinburgh show.

Transcript to #182. Learning English with Yacine Belhousse
The introduction to this episode is transcribed below. If you would like to write some more minutes of transcript, click here to visit the google document for this episode.

Introduction
Here is my introduction to this episode of the podcast.

“Normally I have native speakers on this podcast; British people, Americans, Australians and stuff like that. And yet, most of the people who listen to this are non-natives learning the language. I rarely have learners of English giving their voice, which is a pity because everyone has a story to tell and interesting things to share. …

So, in today’s episode I am speaking to a friend of mine called Yacine. He’s not a native speaker. In fact, until quite recently he didn’t speak English at all. By his own admission, his English is not perfect. Sometimes he can’t find the right words, he has some trouble choosing the correct verb forms or pronouncing words naturally. These are all the normal problems faced by people learning English. However, I believe Yacine is quite special and that’s why I’ve brought him onto the podcast, despite not being a native or near-native speaker of English.

But why Luke? Why are you featuring a learner of English in one of your interviews? Well, there are lots of reasons:
– I think Yacine has a really good attitude towards learning, and I want to explore that so we can pick up some good things about language learning.
– Yacine is a professional stand-up comedian in his native language but he is also now performing shows in English. In fact, this year he is doing a regular one hour show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which is perhaps the biggest comedy festival in the world, and he regularly performs comedy with the great & legendary Eddie Izzard, who is considered by many to be one of the greatest stand-ups of his generation. Eddie Izzard is not just an inspiration to stand up comedians, he is also an inspiration to language learners all over the world, and we’ll find out more about that later. Yacine is very influenced by Eddie Izzard, and he often supports Eddie when he does shows in France.

Learning a language is a challenging thing for anyone. You know when you speak you feel shy and embarrassed sometimes because you don’t want to be judged (just like me when I go to the boulangerie). These are normal fears. But, can you imagine going on-stage in front of lots of people, Scottish, English, perhaps a bit drunk because the show is on at 9.30PM, and delivering a full one hour stand-up performance in a language you’re trying to learn?
– It must be very challenging.
– You’d need a lot of self-confidence and self-belief.
– You need to focus very carefully on how to communicate your message.
– You need to be able to deal with any possible breakdown of communication.
– You need to stop worrying about errors, and if you make errors learn from them but don’t let them make you lose confidence.
I want to know how Yacine faces these challenges, but also, for me these are the challenges faced by any learner of English, but they are multiplied by the fact that Yacine is also doing this on-stage while having to make people laugh. It’s impressive and I want to know more.

So, this is what I want to investigate in this episode:
– How he’s learning English.
– Doing comedy in French vs English.
– French audiences vs UK audiences – are they different?
– Is humour universal?
– How is good communication an essential part of comedy? How do you make a successful joke? It’s about successfully communicating an idea.

Footnote: Yacine has only been learning for a few years. He hasn’t attended any courses or lessons. He’s self-taught. My professional opinion is that he’s doing really well. His English is better than it was a year ago, and his English is certainly much better than my French!

Yacine might make errors during the episode, and that’s fine. I’ll help him or even give him corrections (“yes please” – he says). This episode is not a judgement of his English, and it’s not his comedy performance either – that happens in Edinburgh. What this is, is an investigation into his English learning experiences and the relationship between language, communication, comedy and language learning!

Click here to transcribe more of this episode using a google document.

Thanks for listening, and have a good day/evening/night!

Luke

yacine PODPIC