Tag Archives: french

511. My Experiences of (not) Learning French [Part 1]

Sharing my experiences of learning French (or not learning it). My French and Me – How I learned some French as a child and how I’m failing to learn it properly as an adult. Includes conclusions about language learning, immersion and the importance of motivation, habit and simply applying yourself. Notes & transcriptions available. *Includes some swearing and general frustration!

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Introduction

Some rambling about attempting to record while holding the baby, and new content in the LEP app…

In this episode I’m going to talk about my experiences of learning French (or not learning it as the case may be), I’m going to read from an old diary I kept for a while when I was taking some French lessons a few years ago and I’m going to reflect on the things I have done, or more specifically have not done and how these things have affected my progress, or lack of progress, in French.

I hope that you find this interesting and applicable to your experiences of learning English. Perhaps we can use my experiences to consider various things about how we learn languages as adults in classroom environments, using self-guided learning and by being immersed in the culture and language of another country.

I’d like to start the episode by speaking some French. I know you will now be judging me, even if you can’t understand me, but what the hell, here goes – and I’m doing this just as a sort of act of solidarity with those of you who have struggled to express yourself in English. Perhaps you’ll get some comfort in hearing me struggling in another language…

And by the way, if you don’t speak French – keep listening because I will switch back to English in a moment I promise. Perhaps you can just try to work out what I’m saying? Here we go…

*Luke speaks French quite badly*

So that was some of my French. There you go, if you find it tricky sometimes speaking English – I know how you feel, I really do.

Aims for the episode (some are dealt with in part 2)

In this episode I just want to talk about my experiences of learning French, tell you a few stories and use them as a way to consider things like:

  • What it’s like to learn a language in a classroom environment vs learning on your own
  • How to learn a language in a classroom and indeed whether you should study in a group class at all
  • What it’s like to teach language in a classroom environment
  • Just other little things that occurred to me about learning languages during my experiences with French

Backstory: My French and Me – How I learned some French as a child and how I’m failing to learn it properly as an adult

My first words in French on holiday.

I was sent on a mission to the boulangerie to get the bread and stuff for breakfast.

My parents taught me the phrase: “Bonjour, quatre croissants et deux baguettes s’il vous plait!”

The interaction went something like this:

“Bonjour! blah blah blah blah blah?”

“Quatre croissants et deux baguettes s’il vous plait!”

blah blah blah blah blah! Blah blah blah blah blah! *shouting to someone in the back of the boulangerie* BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAAAH BLAAAH!

*Gives money*

Blah blah blah blah!!

*Gives croissants*

“Merci!” *leaves quickly with delicious bread and croissants*

Anything outside this interaction was impossible. E.g. if someone asked a question or did anything else, I’d just look sweetly at the person and perhaps repeat the line.

In a way, not much has changed – I’m still doing it today!

French lessons at school – not really learning anything, feeling awkward, the other kids were hopeless and so was I. I wasn’t in a great class. They streamed you. I should have tried harder because then I would have been in a better class and then I would have learned even more – I’d have been with better kids. All I remember of my French classes at school was mucking about in the language lab recording rude messages over the top of the French tapes, our teacher bringing in a dusty old tape player and listening to dialogues in the street. “Tricolore”

One day the teacher rolled in an old TV and video, and played us a video of young people (13 or 14 years old) of our age socialising. I was horrified. They all dressed like adults and acted like adults. They all kissed each other and brought each other gifts. I feel like they drank wine with lunch but this is just my imagination. It seemed like they were just socialising like a bunch of adults, and it all happened on a Wednesday. It seemed so far from my life where I was incapable of communicating with other kids of my age unless it was via a game of football, piss taking or very awkward giggling and embarrassment, especially if there were girls around. The French kids in this video all seemed so confident, sophisticated and grown up and they felt a billion miles away from us.

It didn’t help also that the sex education videos we watched were French I think (translated into English) again I might have misremembered this I’m not sure, and they showed a French family naked on the beach and that was tremendously awkward. I imagined these French kids just hanging around naked with their family and friends and being so confident and the whole time speaking in this French that made them sound so grown up and scary.

One of the other things I remember from French class was the fact that the other kids misbehaved so much. First of all it was almost impossible for the teacher to get them to actually speak French and I witnessed a number of awkward meltdowns by teachers who just couldn’t hack it. Once, one of the girls at the back of the class (seemed like a trouble maker type girl, and it felt like she was a good 2 years older than me and she probably was in terms of her hormone levels). She pretended to faint in class and there was a big drama with lots of the other girls making a big fuss and the whole class stopped for ages while the teacher attempted to deal with it and obviously didn’t really know what to do and I’m certain the whole thing was fake just so this girl could get out of class, and I even felt that the teacher was playing for time as well because she couldn’t wait for the lesson to end, and the whole time I just sat there and probably talked about Super Mario Brothers with the kid next to me or something, in English.

So, I don’t remember learning much more than “Je m’appelle Luke. J’habite a Solihull. J’ai treize ans. Je joue le football and le babyfoot” etc. Hilarious moments in class were when certain words sounded like something rude in English, notably the words “banque” (sounds like “bonk”) and “piscine” (sounds like “pissing”).

But I came out with a B at GCSE level so I must have been ok. I remember in my spoken interview I felt that I did pretty well. I seem to remember holding down a conversation that wasn’t too bad. I actually feel quite proud of myself.

Then I grew up and decades passed before I had to speak it again.

Now I actually live in France and I feel that I carry so much baggage that holds me back, or maybe that’s just another excuse.

Got together with a French girl. Our relationship is in English.

Moved to France.

Just before I moved, I took conversation classes with colleagues in London.

That helped quite a lot.

What were those classes like?

Who were you with?

What did we do?

Then moved to France

I expected to be able to speak French as a result of just living here. I thought – it’ll happen as a consequence because I will simply have to learn, or being here will mean I’ll just pick it up like magic.

The thing is, I think my life is fixed in a certain way and it doesn’t involve much need for speaking French. As well as that, hand-on-heart – I think my heart isn’t in it. Frankly, I didn’t move here to learn French, I moved here for love – which is probably the most French thing about my life!

But really, I don’t need that much French, or I can get by without it.

There are moments when it would definitely help, and moments when my lack of French reflects really badly on me. But basically I can get by without it and the vast majority of how I live my life is in English.

However – you should know that I am very ashamed of this for lots of reasons, but also because I feel like a hypocrite. I spend most of my time preaching about second language acquisition and I don’t do it myself. I don’t practise what I preach.

Some of you might be thinking “How is it possible that you haven’t learned the language?”

Well, I say “I haven’t learned the language”. I can speak a bit, but my level is nowhere near what it should or could be after 5 years here. I’m genuinely not proud of it and sometimes I feel genuinely bad about it, like when I’m with friends or family who have known me for years now and have seen no development really. I sit there at the dinner table with everyone speaking in French around me and it’s like I’m watching a tennis match, but after a while I have no idea where the ball is any more. I can follow the conversation for an hour maybe, but then my head starts spinning and I just can’t keep up or even stay conscious. It’s terribly exhausting, but nobody seems to really realise. Perhaps they think I’m being modest. Most French people will say “Oh my English is terrible” but then they’re just being modest or something and in fact their English is pretty good on balance. I say “My French is terrible” and they think I’m being modest too, like them, – they think they know what that means, but when I start attempting to say something, they realise and are shocked like “holy shit your French really is terrible!” and I feel like saying – “Yes, I told you!”

Also, Parisians can be very judgemental, I have to be honest. They’re extremely judgemental of each other’s English, and I’m certain they’re judgemental of my French. They can be just very direct and seem to spend a lot of time being brutally frank about things, including their assessments of other people. I just feel like rather a sad case in some people’s eyes. It’s rubbish, I have to tell you. I also believe that some people have no clue who I am. They think I’m this timid guy or something, with no personality – I’m certain. I’m sort of invisible or just one-dimensional. I’m sure of it. So much of who I am is connected to my understatement, sarcasm, irony, humour and general ironic detachment from everything – and all those things are communicated in my subtle use of language in English. In French I am just a completely one-dimensional person, and that one dimension is a kind of 14-year-old who hasn’t developed a personality yet. I’m basically my 14-year-old self, surrounded by all these very confident and well-dressed French kids in that video except that we’re all adults.

Imposter syndrome – yep. Then we speak English and it’s better, but I feel a bit bad about speaking English so I don’t really let go in that situation either.

I’m making it sound worse than it is – I have lots of French friends now that know me well and I am myself with them, but sometimes I get stuck at a party or at a dinner and it is exactly as I’ve described it.

I have lots of excuses.

Like I’ve said before “My French isn’t very good, but my excuses are improving all the time.” I’m fluent in excuses.

I don’t want to make excuses for what I consider to be a lack of French, but I can give reasons why my French hasn’t improved as much as I want.

I’m wary of doing this, because frankly I think it will make me look bad, especially considering how I often give advice on language learning. But perhaps there will be some of you out there who take some comfort in hearing me talk about my hangups, failures and general rubbishness in language learning. As a learner (or non-learner) of French, let me tell you – I’d love to hear other people’s stories of how they struggle. It would bring me a lot of comfort to know that there are other people out there like me who feel generally awful about their language learning. We so often hear from successful language learners, who deliver their advice like a sales pitch for how to learn a language and although I know there’s a lot of great advice in there, sometimes it feels a bit sickening to hear about other people’s great successes in language learning. I personally want to hear about people who are crap at learning languages, or at least crap at applying themselves. That would make me feel better.

So in that spirit let me talk about doing all the wrong things in learning French.

The first wrong thing is to make loads of excuses, which is what I’m going to do now.

By the way, there’s a difference between an excuse and a reason. A reason is why something happened or didn’t happen. An excuse is also a reason but it also is a way of passing the blame onto something else, or a way to avoid taking responsibility.

Here are my excuses, which ultimately are my ways of avoiding my personal responsibility for learning French, but perhaps they’re also legitimate reasons…

I think, ultimately, it comes down to motivation. Clearly I’m not that motivated to learn the language. Even though I live here, I have to go out of my way to learn the language, and the fact that I don’t makes me feel bad because I’m basically not adapting to my host culture properly.

But, I feel I should at least list some of the reasons why my French hasn’t improved as much as it should – just to get them out-of-the-way. But I realise they are all excuses.

As a teacher I feel added pressure to be an excellent language learner, and I hardly ever meet my own high standards. A lot of my friends who learned French didn’t have that expectation. They were just young and living in Paris and it happened as a consequence of their whole journey of discovery here.

I live in an English-speaking bubble – I work in English, I speak English at home, I listen to English podcasts (there are so many that I can’t give up), I watch YouTube in English, I do stand-up in English, I do LEP in English, in fact I find that I am often studying English when I prepare for lessons or do other language work in preparation for teaching or content creating
My world is predominantly in English but this doesn’t mean I have no interactions with French people. I regularly interact with local people but it often happens in English!

People’s level of English is often better than my French, so they automatically switch to English. This includes waiters, people in the street, and also people at parties etc.

Sometimes people speak good English to me, but they say their English is no good. A lot of French people are hung up about their English and are convinced they’re no good, but they’re capable of having a conversation quite confidently, but they talk about their lack of English and there’s a lot of competition here. People are very competitive about it but also quite modest, or perhaps self-critical. Then I say that my French is no good and I think they assume I mean the same thing – that it’s just not excellent. They assume that, but the fact is I really mean it! My French is no good! Then it’s embarrassing when they really hear it.

Once at a party a guy I was talking to said to me “You need to start speaking French, ok? So, don’t talk to me until you’ve learned French. He just walked away from me and left me standing on my own at this party. I felt terrible – both because of my shitty French, but also because the guy was a dick head.”

I really shouldn’t feel like this – but I often feel really ashamed and embarrassed about my level of French. This means I end up in a vicious cycle of having an embarrassing experience or a failure, and then feeling bad, and that affects my confidence, which leads to more failures – because you have to be confident to communicate well.

I actually think I’m quite a wordy person. I tend to ramble a bit and sometimes I don’t get straight to the point. In French I can’t do this, so I find it hard to really be myself. I still haven’t found myself in French yet. I feel like every time I open my mouth, I just make things more complicated and I bring more problems, because people misunderstand and misinterpret.

That’s just shyness and social awkwardness though, and I must not let that get the better of me.

People want to practise their English and they want to be nice, so we switch to English.

My wife often helps me when I need help. She’s nice like that, but it means that I don’t face the sort of ‘survival challenges’ that are necessary for developing in the second language.
I’m not making time for moments of French in my daily routine. I already feel like I have too many things to do and so I don’t fit French into my life. It’s the same with sport. I don’t do any because I think “when the hell am I going to do it?” God knows what will happen when my daughter arrives on the scene. In terms of language learning – people tell me I’ll learn because I’ll have to do more things in French for her. But also I just wonder if there’ll be any time for anything.

Note to self: Don’t be negative!!!

More excuses:
Paris is a very busy place and I feel people are impatient and even judgemental. This adds pressure to me. I feel like such a dumbass when I speak French and some people don’t always react in the way I need them to – there’s not that much sympathy and I feel they’re just thinking – oh god you’re mangling my language, let’s just speak English. Again: These are 100% excuses and I know it.
I am very good at speaking English to non-natives and they usually understand me really well, and so it’s just much easier to talk in English! Their English has to be pretty bad for French to be the choice of language!
I am a lazy student. I don’t really do any studying – I have done some but I found it to be impenetrable and frustrating. I used to do conjugation exercises in a big book but I found it hideously dull and boring. For example, I found the example sentences and gap fills frustrating because the sentences were so stupid and idiotic. I feel like a terrible person right now.
Sometimes the fact that English is the global language and most people can speak it and want to learn it – this frankly works against me and I will only learn French if I really go out of my way to learn it, even though I am living in the country itself.

I could go on but I won’t…

What my situation proves is this:

Unless you apply yourself to the task, you won’t learn a language, even if you live in a country where that language is spoken. This contradicts the old adage that immersion alone is the path to fluency in another language. Applying yourself to the language really means being prepared to spend time with that language – consuming it and producing it – either by studying it or by engaging in communication with it. If you don’t apply yourself properly, it won’t happen.

There are three important factors, which you have to have in place to learn a language. Simply living in the country where they speak that language is not enough unless you have these three factors involved.

Motivation – the desire to learn it which drives your behaviour, your curiosity, your patience and your will to continue practising and overcoming obstacles. Motivation is vital. It could be short-term motivation – like, you work as a waiter in French and you just have to understand people or you will have a miserable time – on a daily basis. So, the motivation to just get some control over the panic in every moment of the day. Or it could be a more long-term sort of motivation, which is usually the idea that you’re learning the language because you want to have it as part of your identity. You’re just drawn to it because you simply want to be a person who can speak that language.

Habits – regular practice and contact with the language. The longer and more frequent the better. Also, a certain organised approach to keeping a record of what you’ve learned, and measuring your goals and your progress.

Resources – these are the things that can help you – text books, reading books, listening materials, also people who you can talk to.

It does depend on the person too, I think. I believe some people just soak up the language – but this is down to motivation a lot of the time. The ones who soak up the language and just learn it through contact and immersion seem to be the ones who just enjoy exploring this world of the second language and who embrace their new life in a second language. I haven’t embraced my “french side”.

Perhaps I need a structured system – a regular study plan that I can apply. E.g. working through coursebooks or simply reading and listening to dialogues and doing exercises.

But ultimately motivation is the main one. If you’re motivated – you’ll actually do things to improve your level. I just don’t do enough things. I don’t apply myself. My excuse: I’m just too caught up in my world of English.

These three things (motivation, habits, resources) may be the most important factors for learning a language. Motivation is probably the big one. If you really want to learn a language, you will.

If you’re not that bothered about learning it, you won’t learn it – even if you live surrounded by that language.

So I suppose that I feel bad because my lack of French seems to suggest that I don’t care about it. That makes me feel bad because I don’t want people to think that I don’t care, or that I’m not invested in the country where I live, or that I’m not integrating with the culture. I feel bad that ultimately I’m not learning French because I just don’t care about it. I’m a bit conflicted about this. I think I do care of course, but perhaps not enough to actually do anything about it. Habit is involved here too though, because I think it’s a question of changing certain things in my lifestyle – like, basically, including some French practice into my lifestyle on a daily basis – but it’s hard to break the habits of a lifetime.

I think it is a vicious cycle.

If I don’t learn the language, I can’t appreciate the culture properly and I get alienated, and if I can’t appreciate the culture properly, I can’t really learn the language because I’m alienated from it. Add a sense of shame and the fact that I really should be a better learner because I’ve been a language teacher for a long time – the result is a bit of a mess in my head, and it all blocks my ability to learn French.

I’m also quite modest. I’m probably beating myself up a bit and I’m not utterly hopeless or anything. But my honest assessment is that I’m far from good enough especially after having lived here surrounded by French people for a few years. I think I’m A2/B1. I’m only capable of limited conversations about familiar things. I need help and patience from the person I’m talking to. I frequently come across moments where I just can’t carry on because I didn’t understand something or because I don’t have the words. I can follow a group conversation for about 20 minutes but then I get lost. Honest assessment – Pre-intermediate. Intermediate on a good day. Strengths – listening, reading, general communicative competence (all my other things are good – active listening, body language, I’m very aware of what makes a good communicator – I’m a reactive person and I’m not completely stupid). Weaknesses – speaking (fluency, accuracy, vocabulary range, pronunciation, grammatical accuracy) writing – no idea how to spell a lot of what I’m hearing, for example. Sometimes I can’t distinguish a phrase from a single word. I’m illiterate, basically! I feel like I have a similar level of intelligence as a really clever ape (like a particularly gifted chimp) or an average 4-year-old child.

Also, being a language teacher myself might actually exacerbate the problem. I’m so aware of what I should be doing, of how far I have to go, how much work I need to be doing, that I’m just defeated before I’ve even started. I’m essentially just down at the foot of the mountain, running around doing lots of things, constantly aware of the mountain looming above me and how much climbing I have to do.

Alright this isn’t supposed to be some sort of self-flagellation session or a confessional. Let me get on to those classroom experiences I was supposed to be talking about.

In Part 2:

  • Reading from the diary I wrote while taking French classes a few years ago.
  • Learning language in the classroom vs on your own.

Thanks for listening!

I might be able to respond to your comments in part 2 so go ahead and write your thoughts and questions.

 

 

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?

I was interviewed on “My Fluent Podcast” by Daniel Goodson

Hello website people and email subscribers! Here’s some extra content for you.

In this post I’m sharing a conversation I had recently on someone else’s podcast. I thought you might enjoy listening to it.

Would you like to know about how my learning of French is going? How about some more behind-the-scenes info about how I make LEP, and my plans for future projects? Listen to my conversation with Daniel Goodson on “My Fluent Podcast” here. Click the link below to check out Daniel’s podcast.

E28 – interview with Luke Thompson / Luke’s English podcast

If you enjoyed listening to my recent interview on Zdenek’s English Podcast recently, you might also enjoy this one.

I was recently interviewed by another LEPster with his own podcast. This one is called “My Fluent Podcast” and the concept of the series is that you can “learn with a learner”, in this case that learner is Daniel Goodson from Switzerland.

Daniel is a dedicated language learner, and in his short episodes he talks about his goals, habits and methods for learning languages. I’m sure you could pick up some tips from him and enjoy sharing his journey towards genuine fluency in English and other languages.

In our conversation Daniel asked me about these things:

  • My current level of French and how I feel about it
  • What I would do if I could go back in time and start learning French again
  • Some inside info about how I do Luke’s English Podcast

So if you want to hear about those things, just check out the link below. Enjoy!

E28 – interview with Luke Thompson / Luke’s English podcast

 

342. Paul’s “La Bise” Video Success / Audition Story (with Amber & Paul)

In this episode I’m joined by podcast pals Amber & Paul and we talk about Paul’s hit youtube video about French kissing habits, his newfound success as a stand-up (he’s the hottest kid in town), some online abuse he’s had and then an anecdote about an audition that we attended recently, which involved a surprising misunderstanding about accents. There’s also a brief language focus on using relative clauses with ‘which’ to extend your sentences when speaking. Enjoy!

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Image: c/o Robert Hoehn French Fried TV

Transcript for the intro and outro to this episode

Intro

Hello, welcome back to the podcast. This is episode 342. First of all I’d like to say thanks if you’ve recently left comments on my website, written positive reviews on iTunes or especially if you’ve sent a donation to the podcast. I appreciate all of those things very very much indeed and I hope that you feel like you’ve invested in this podcast, even in a small way. Every little helps. So thank you very much.

In this episode I’m joined again by podcast pals Amber and Paul

If you are a brand new listener and you don’t know them then here are the basics: Essentially, they’re both from the south-east of England, I know them from the stand-up comedy scene here in Paris and they both have super-powers, yes that’s right – super-powers.

Amber is a voice-over artist, actress and tour guide. She has a little 2-year-old son called Hugo (who has featured on the podcast before, making dinosaur noises in episode 297), and Amber’s super power is that she has loveliest voice in the world. Her voice is so lovely it could melt the heart of even the toughest person – like anyone at all. Even Vladimir Putin or Batman would be reduced to a little puppy when listening to Amber’s voice, right listeners? If Amber’s voice was on Darth Vader’s iPod and he listened to her talking, he would immediately give up his devotion to the dark side and turn into an ewok or something. That’s Amber.

Paul used to work for Apple – the company, not the fruit. It would be weird if he worked for an Apple. Anyway, last year he took the brave decision to quit his job in order to focus on becoming a full-time stand-up comedian, performing both in English and in French. Paul has a weekly one-man show called #franglais which he performs every week and he also performs a two-man comedy show with me every Thursday, and that one’s called “Sorry, we’re English”. He has his own podcast, called “Becoming a Comedian”, which you can find at paultaylorcomedy.com. Paul’s super-power is his infectious laugh, which causes podcast listeners to randomly split their sides in different countries around the world, which is nice. I imagine if he had to do battle with Darth Vader, he’d just laugh in his face and Vader would turn into Jar-Jar Binks or something.

The conversation you’re going to hear in this episode was recorded the other day when we were sitting upstairs on my little terrace enjoying some sunshine. We recorded about 3 episodes-worth of stuff that day. Two in the sunshine and one indoors because after a few hours it went cloudy and then started raining, which is typical for April in this part of the world. You already heard the first part of that conversation in episode 341.

Click here to check out a list of other episodes featuring Amber & Paul

But in this conversation Amber and I talk to Paul about recent success in his stand-up career, there’s a surprise phone call from Robert Hoehn, we talk about some online abuse Paul’s received, and then Paul and I tell Amber about an audition we had for a TV show recently, which involved a bit of a misunderstanding about our British accents.

One thing I just want to let you know right now is that I’m aware that this conversation is quite quick and you might not get absolutely every single word that we say, but that’s fine because as we know, listening to native speakers at natural speed is a valuable thing for you to do even if it’s difficult to understand every little thing. Just try to fill in the blanks, tolerate the stuff you don’t understand, read between the lines and keep going. Listening several times will help, but the main thing is to relax and just enjoy spending 45 minutes in the sunshine with us.

Where were we?

Where were we in the conversation at the end of the last episode?

There was a bit of a cliffhanger of sorts. Paul was about to tell us what happened in January, and it’s something about his progress as a comedian. Let’s get an update on how it’s all going.

A bit of language analysis – Paul’s long sentence – using ‘which’

In just a moment I’m going to start playing our conversation to you and it’ll carry on from where it ended last time.

The first you’re going to hear is me saying to Paul, “Give us an update on what happened in January” and then you’ll hear Paul speaking pretty quickly, and producing perhaps the longest sentence in the history of humanity. Actually, long sentences with lots of additional clauses are pretty common in spoken English, especially in spontaneous talking. In writing I think it’s best to keep your sentences short and clear but in speaking we often find ways to extend our sentences to include new thoughts and to keep the rhythm going, particularly with words like ‘and’ or ‘but’ (simple ways) but also with relative pronouns, particularly ‘which’, which we add to nouns and even whole clauses in order to extend sentences (like I just did there – did you notice?) Check out the way Paul uses ‘which’ to extend his sentences and add ideas, adding fluency to his speech.

Here’s the first sentence you’ll hear from Paul in this episode:
“Yeah, I think the last time we spoke, I don’t know if we talked about it but I was gearing up for the start of my own show, which was like an hour, my first hour-long solo show, which was starting on January 9th and I was excited (and) nervous because I’d never been on-stage for an hour (and) it was going to be cool, whatever, and then during the month of December, Robert Hoehn, who has been on the podcast previously, he runs an English comedy night and he’s, I guess, seen me do comedy for the last three years and he suggested to me that I make a video out of one of my sketches which I’d been doing on stage, which was around the French, their kissing and saying hello and it’s called La Bise, in France.”

Wow. There are a few examples of ‘which’ in there and also a ‘who’, after he mentions Robert Hoehn, who has been on the podcast previously. Also, there’s the phrase “gearing up for” which means “getting ready for”. OK. Now I’ll let you listen to that sentence in full, spoken by Paul.

One question: How many times does he say “which” and what’s the most common word that comes after it?

*Paul’s long sentence*

Answers:
He says ‘which’ four times and it’s most commonly followed by ‘was’ (3 times) and once it’s followed by ‘had been doing’.

This is often how we add information to stories. I mentioned this language point in the photo competition episode too. That’s episode 327. In Paul’s sentence, “which was” comes after a noun every time, but sometimes it comes after a clause. Question: What is the noun or clause that is followed by ‘which’ in these examples?

“He suggested that I make a video of one of my sketches which I’d been doing on stage which was around the French way of saying hello”.

Answer: Both times it’s ‘one of my sketches’

and “So, we sat on the terrace and just talked for about 2 hours, which was nice”.

Answer: it’s the whole clause ‘we sat on the terrace and just talked for about 2 hours’.

So, there was a little bit of language analysis. But that’s enough of that. I will now let you listen to the rest of the conversation properly, and enjoy another chat with podcast pals Amber & Paul, and by the way, just to let you know in advance – there is a little bit of swearing in this conversation.

*conversation starts*

Watch Paul’s Video about “La Bise”

A France24 TV news report about Paul

Outro – Transcript

We will be back, speaking more ‘crapola’ soon, because we’ll be playing the interactive lying game and that should be the next episode of this podcast.

What’s crapola? It’s just another way of saying ‘crap’ or ‘nonsense’. Crap is poo by the way. Crap is a swear word but it’s not as bad as ‘shit’. Crapola is not such a common word – it’s a variation on the word ‘crap’ and it means ‘nonsense’ or ‘stupid talking’.

Accents

Now, at the end there you heard us talking about accents. That was a slightly heated conversation and since this is my podcast I’d like to try and clarify what I was trying to say.

So, first of all we went for the audition and it was nice, but one of the producers said, “Can you speak with less of a British accent?” and we asked, “You mean you want us to use an American accent?” and she said “Not American, just less British. You know, like the way they speak in New York, because they don’t have an American accent in New York” and we were a bit stunned that doesn’t mean anything. So, first of all I think it’s not possible to have no accent. Everyone has an accent, but you might feel like your accent is the normal, standard position for the language and that every other version is an accent. Even accents which are considered to be the neutral forms are still an accent. So it doesn’t make sense to say that you don’t have an accent or that the people of a particular place don’t have an accent. If they pronounce words, using certain sounds, that’s an accent. Some accents are considered the standard forms, and in the UK and in the USA there are, broadly speaking, two standard accents. There’s Received Pronunciation in the UK, which is generally how I speak (although I have inflections from the midlands and the South East, reflecting the places where I grew up) and in the USA there’s an accent called Standard American, which is a kind of regionless accent. So maybe what the girl meant to say was, can you speak with a standard American accent, or a more trans-Atlantic accent? But then she realised that it could be taken as a bit rude, because it’s like she suggested that there was something wrong with our British accents or something. She didn’t mean any offence of course.

Another thing I often read online is the sentence, “There’s no such thing as a British accent”, which is a bit misleading. Generally people write that in response to comments on Youtube or Reddit or something when an American person has said something like “OMG I love the British accent”, or equally “OH my god the British accent sucks” or something. Then someone gets pissed off and writes a response, like “there’s no such thing as a British accent!” But that’s a bit stupid too. If an accent comes from a part of Britain, it’s a British accent. Obviously British accents exist, but the point is there is not just one British accent – there are many accents from different regions and it’s a bit short-sighted to just imagine there is only one “British accent” when in fact it’s so much more diverse than that, and I suppose that comment “There’s no such thing as a British accent” is the British person’s way of expressing annoyance or frustration over the lack of awareness of the diversity of British accents.

In the UK today we are very sensitive to accents, as Amber mentioned in the conversation. There are many many variations on the way people speak, and those variations indicate things like regional origin and social status. We shouldn’t judge people by their accents, but we do. We also are very affectionate about accents and generally very positive about regional accent variations. We love the diversity of accents in our country and generally it is considered inappropriate and snobbish to laugh at an accent or to suggest that there’s something wrong with speaking in a different way. Being snobbish about regional accents is now quite unfashionable in the UK. Regional accents are generally celebrated these days – and when you watch TV, including the BBC news, you’ll hear lots of different accents being spoken by presenters from around the country, because TV viewers appreciate the regional flavours of the different accents.

So, I suppose part of our surprise at the girl at the audition was just about her lack of awareness of accent variation, but also the slightly clumsy way she talked about the whole subject, suggesting that people in New York had no accent, or that our British way of speaking was just a regional variation of an accent that has its neutral base in Manhattan. But, I understand that identifying regional accents can be very hard when you’re not native to that language, so we didn’t take offence at the girl and it was fine, but we did find it amusing and interesting from a linguistic point of view. So, that’s that.

I must do more episodes about different regional accents on this podcast. There is just so much content to cover and it’s really important that you get a sense of the different accent variations. I have dealt with accents before a bit, but there’s so much more to do on that subject. We’ve only really scratched the surface.

Listen to Adam & Joe talking about British and American actors doing different accents, particularly Ray Winstone (UK – London) pretending to be an American in the film Fool’s Gold. 😂

And this one about Leonardo DiCaprio’s Irish accent and how Hollywood helps actors perform in different accents.

Oh, and remember Tracy Goodwin the American voice coach from Episode 20 of Luke’s English Podcast? Here are Adam & Joe talking about that…

Using Apps to listen to this podcast

This is turning into another longish episode. It happens so easily, but you heard Paul earlier talking about the ‘pause’ button. I wonder if you use that, because as I’ve said before – you don’t have to listen to these episodes in one go, you can pause and listen to the rest later. If you’re using podcasting software like an app on your phone, it will remember where you were when you paused, even if you close the app or switch off your phone or computer.

Here are some recommended apps: There’s the standard Apple Podcasts app, which is fine. I use PocketCasts which is available on iPhone and android. You can also get it on your computer. There’s Acast which is good. Also, try the Audioboom app. All of them let you listen via an internet connection (wifi or data) and the also let you download episodes onto your phone so you can listen when you’re not online. All those apps will save your position in an episode so you can listen, pause, listen again, pause, come back later and listen to more etc.

You can still just download the files from the website and put them on your mp3 player – just check if there’s a folder in your player for podcasts because if you use that folder the mp3 player will probably save your position, just like the smartphone apps do.

Thanks for listening – speak to you soon, bye!

 

183. Luke’s D-Day Diary (Part 1)


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Introduction
Friday 6 June this year was the 70th anniversary of the DDaylandings inNormandy. My Grandad Dennis was one of the soldiers who landed on the beach that day. Along with thousands of other men he risked his life to fight the Nazis in the 2nd World War. Many of his fellow soldiers did not survive. Last Friday I went to Caen in Northern France to take part in the D-Day commemorations and to see my comedy hero Eddie Izzard performing stand-up in 3 languages. I recorded a podcast during my trip, and some unexpected things happened! Listen to the episode to join me on my adventure.
6 June 1944 – D-Day
D-Day was a very important moment in World War 2. This was when the Allies fought back against the Nazis on the Western European front. It was a key victory for the Allies, but it was also very costly, particularly for the Americans, who lost thousands of men on June 6 alone. For more information about why D-Day was so important, click here to visit the website of the Imperial War Museum in London.

Ultimately, D-Day was a success, but it came with great destruction and loss of human life. The success was due in part to the very careful planning of the Allied forces before the day, but also to the extremely tough fighting in which the Nazis were engaged in the east with the Soviets.

Why was it called D-Day? Click here to find an answer to this question on the BBC Newsround website.

My D-Day Diary
In this episode you’ll join me on my journey to Caen, a town in Normandy that was a very important location during the Normandy campaign in WW2. Caen is where most of the commemorations were taking place (or so I thought). On Friday the town was visited by lots of people including heads of state such as The Queen, Barack Obama, Francoise Hollande, Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel. They were all very excited to learn that Luke from Luke’s English Podcast was also going to be in town ;)

I was podcasting regularly during the trip. First you hear me on the train, then walking through the streets of Caen on the way to my rented apartment room, then sitting on the steps of a church with my friend Sebastian Marx (from episode 130), then in a car with Yacine, on the street again, and finally in the train on the way home the next day. In the episode I talk about D-Day, my Grandfather’s involvement in D-Day 70 years ago, my experience of seeing Eddie Izzard’s comedy show, the dumbfounding excitement of having dinner with Eddie Izzard. All in all it was quite an emotional experience all round. I hope you enjoy the episode…

My Grandad, Dennis Hallam

Dennis is 94 this year. 70 years ago he was just 24 years old but he was an officer in the army, in charge of 35 young soldiers. It was his responsibility to lead these men off the boat, up the beach and ultimately all the way through France and deep into enemy territory. It was very brave of him, and he fought for my freedom. Without Grandad, I wouldn’t be here today and there would be no Luke’s English Podcast. Thanks Dennis.

Recently my Dad (Dennis’s son-in-law) wrote to Dennis to thank him for what he did on D-Day. Here is a copy of Dennis’s reply, typed onto a computer by my Mum (Dennis’s daughter). Some words are defined below.

Dear Rick,
Thank you for your “Thankyou” card which made me feel both proud and embarrassed – I was only one of thousands.

It was pretty hairy, and for me and many others it started long before we reached the beach. The Channel crossing was vile – I was dreadfully sick. At some point during the night it was my turn to be Duty Army Officer on the bridge and I had to climb up there being sick and miserable. So it was almost a great relief to get onto the beach, even though wet through, having had to wade ashore, and even though there were assorted bits of metal flying around. What amazes and horrifies me is to think that I was just 24 and in charge of and responsible for a platoon of 35 soldiers. If there were privileges attached to commissioned ranks – and there were, of course, I think we deserved them – a lot was asked of us.

However, it was a war that had to be fought, I think, and one simply called on one’s training and did what seemed right at any situation.

I hope the celebrations will go well and it is good to know that what we did is remembered and honoured.

Thank you again – it was very kind of you.

Yours, Dennis.

Thank you too Grandad.

Eddie Izzard
He’s a stand-up comedian from the UK. I’m a huge fan. I won’t write more about him here because I’m planning to do an episode about him soon, in which I’ll play you some of his stand-up comedy. On 6 June he put on a special show, doing 3 performances – one in German, one in English and one in French. That’s really impressive, especially considering he is learning both German and French as second (or third?) languages. I was pretty awestruck to actually meet Eddie on Friday and then sit down to dinner in his company. I still can’t believe it happened because he’s sort of a hero of mine. Listen to the podcast to hear my reactions. I was quite excited.

Here’s some video of Eddie talking about how Anglo-Saxon English evolved, including his version of how English became a non-gendered language, distinct from the gendered French which existed in England at around the same time.

Here is a video showing footage of the D-Day operation. To be honest, the video doesn’t really show us how big the operation was. It was the biggest naval armada the world had ever seen, and has ever seen since. It must have been an overwhelming sight to behold.

War Is Hell

“Some of you young men think that war is all glamour and glory,
but let me tell you, boys, it is all hell!”
-General William T. Sherman