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669. How to Learn English

Giving you as advice about learning English across the four skills of reading, listening, writing and speaking. Full transcript available.

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Transcript

Hello and welcome to Luke’s English Podcast. This episode is number 669 and it’s called How To Learn English.

That’s quite a bold title but this really is a lot of what I have to say about learning English. If you really want to learn this language, this is my advice. 

I’ve been teaching for about 20 years, podcasting for over 11 years now and I keep finding out more about learning a language through teaching it, getting feedback from listeners and also through my experiences of trying to learn French. 

This episode is a distillation of many of my thoughts and advice on how to learn English. It’s not going to cover absolutely every aspect of it, because language learning is a huge subject that encompasses so many different things and you could talk about it all day, but I have decided to talk about learning English, breaking it down into the 4 skills, and giving you as much advice as I can in this single podcast episode. I hope you enjoy it and find it useful.

For those of you who are not so familiar with me and my work. My name is Luke Thompson, I think I am the 4th most famous Luke Thompson in the world. I’m an English teacher, a podcaster, a comedian, a husband and a dad. I am from England but these days I live in France. My podcast is free and is downloaded all over the world. I also have a premium subscription in which I focus specifically on improving your vocab, grammar and pronunciation. To find out more about that go to teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo

Click here for information about LEP Premium

Right, let’s get started.

Hello, welcome to my podcast. 

I expect you want to learn English, right? That’s the main reason you’re listening to this I expect. You want to learn English.

Well, good news! It’s definitely possible. You can learn English and you will if you put in the time and the effort. It’s important to remember that.

What do I mean by “learn English”, though? I mean that you can learn to speak English fluently, clearly and with confidence, expressing yourself with shades of meaning, adapting your English for the situation both in speaking and in writing, knowing and being able to use a wide variety of vocabulary and accurate grammar and ultimately being yourself in the language and developing beneficial relationships with others based on effective communication. Yes, you can. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

That’s it, just a positive and encouraging message at the start. It’s important to always remember that making progress in your learning is a realistic prospect and will happen when you put in the time and effort, and more good news: the more you enjoy it, the easier it is.

I hope this podcast helps you to enjoy getting English into your life on a regular basis, which is a key part of learning the language effectively. 

But what else should you be doing in order to improve your English overall?

In this episode I’d like to talk in some detail about learning English and how you can do it.

This episode is a sort of “come to Jesus moment”, which I feel I should do regularly, just to remind everyone listening that there is a method or approach at work here and that it’s not just you listening to people talking.

A “come to Jesus moment” in the world of business is when someone does a passionate speech or event in which fundamental priorities and/or beliefs are reassessed, or reaffirmed. It’s like when Jesus gathers his disciples around him in order to reaffirm their belief in what he’s preaching or to say some deep stuff which strengthens their faith.

This is a come to Jesus moment for me.

Not that I’m comparing myself to Jesus. No, not at all. Not even a little bit, and anyway that’s not for me to say, that’s for other people to point out isn’t it, not me. Anyway…

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is a method to the madness.

In my podcast episodes, I’m always teaching you, using my particular set of professional skills, but rather than presenting it all as a lesson I usually try to present it more like a radio show or a comedy show even.

So, amidst the episodes about music, comedy, interviews and so on, I thought it would be worth restating the core values of LEP, which I seem to do about once every 6 months or so.

I’m going to give loads of advice here, and this is all based on what I’ve learned from:

  • Teaching for about 20 years
  • Meeting thousands of learners of English, some of them successful, some of them not, working directly with them as their teacher and listening to them talk about their studying habits and experiences
  • The academic studies I’ve done, especially the DELTA which involved extensive reading and writing on various aspects of how people learn and teach English
  • Doing my podcast and getting testimonies over the years from many listeners who told me about how they’ve used it to improve their English
  • There’s also my own personal experience of working on my French

Anyway, the plan is to talk about learning English with a focus on the 4 skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing.

I have talked about these points quite a few times before on this podcast, and have given tons of specific advice about working on your English, including in episodes like 174 (and others)

So I will probably repeat myself a bit. But I still get asked to talk about “how to learn English” very regularly and I think it’s important for me to talk about learning English on this podcast on a regular basis. Obviously, that is what this podcast is about, first and foremost, even though a lot of the time in my episodes you’ll hear me and my guests talking about all sorts of other things. 

Learning English is the main aim of this podcast

Essentially the thinking is that you should listen to natural conversation on a variety of topics and it’s simply listening to things in English (not just listening to things about English) that’s going to help you learn this language, especially if you enjoy the content.

I’ll probably talk about this again in a bit, but let’s say that ultimately the plan with the free episodes is to help you listen to English regularly, for longer periods of time, long term. The more, the better. If the content is enjoyable, that should just make it easier for you to achieve that. In fact, if you’re really into what you’re listening to, you don’t really even notice the time passing.

Then there’s the premium content, which is an effort to push your learning beyond the gains you get from all the exposure and input you get from just listening. The premium content is designed to let you get the benefit of my experience and teaching skills in order to cut out a lot of work that you would otherwise have to do yourself, so I can essentially take you by the hand and lead you through some intensive practice to work on your English more directly.

Click here for information about LEP Premium

So that’s my content, but let’s talk now about learning English as a whole then.

Learning English is a holistic thing. It encompasses many aspects and skills that are connected as a whole. 

There are receptive skills like listening and reading, productive skills like speaking and writing, language systems like grammar, spelling, vocabulary and phonology, social and psychological factors that come into play when we use language when interacting with others, then there are other factors that come into play like identity issues, body language, culture, literature, pragmatics and all sorts of other things. It’s hard to know where to start when talking about it.

You need to learn it to the point where you don’t even think about it any more. 

The more you talk and think about it, the more it starts to sound like the force from Star Wars.

  • Stretch out with your feelings.
  • Do or do not, there is no try.
  • Do not think, feel.
  • Let go, let the English flow through you.
  • I am your father (oh wait)

It’s about learning how to do something which goes right to the core of who you are in fact.

It’s a holistic thing. It incorporates many aspects as part of a whole process and so it’s quite tricky to know where to start.

Let’s put it like this. Language goes in, and language comes out. (I told you it sounds like The Force)

Language is within you and language is without you. It flows through you. It binds the galaxy together.

There are receptive skills (this is how language goes in)

And there are productive skills (this is how language goes out)

There’s the written language

And there’s the spoken language

This is our system.

Think of it like a table with two categories on the horizontal axis and two on the vertical axis, so it’s like a grid with 4 squares in it.

On the horizontal access we have receptive and productive skills.

On the vertical we have written and spoken English.

Within the table we have 4 skills – the 4 squares. 

So in the box marked “written” and “receptive” we have reading.

Below that in the “spoken” and “receptive” categoriy we have listening.

On the right in the “written” and “productive” side we have writing.

And then in the “spoken” and “productive” side we have speaking.

Those are your four skills. Reading, writing, listening and speaking.

The 4 skills are connected in various ways.

Reading and writing deal with the written word of course. 

Reading helps you to write. It helps you to see how the language is built, how words are spelled and how sentences, paragraphs and texts are put together with grammar and textual conventions.

Listening and speaking deal with the spoken word. 

Listening helps you to learn how English actually sounds, how words join together in sentences or longer utterances, it helps you get familiar with the speed, rhythm, flow and intonation of the language. It helps you get used to natural pronunciation which in turn helps you produce English in the same way.

Words exist in visual form, and in spoken form. 

But reading and listening are connected too because they’re both receptive skills. They provide us with input which is the essential foundation of language learning.

And speaking and writing are connected because they’re productive skills.

These are the skills you need to use when using language for various purposes. This is where you are more active in the sense that you are constructing language and putting it down visually in the form of writing, or using your body to produce it orally.

Let’s talk about those receptive skills and input.

Receptive Skills / Input

Prof. Stephen Krashen 

This from Wikipedia

Stephen Krashen has a PhD. in Linguistics from the University of California, Los Angeles.[2] He has more than 486 publications, contributing to the fields of second-language acquisition, bilingual education, and reading.[3] He is known for introducing various hypotheses related to second-language acquisition, including the acquisition-learning hypothesis, the input hypothesis, the monitor hypothesis, the affective filter, and the natural order hypothesis.[4] Most recently, Krashen promotes the use of free voluntary reading during second-language acquisition, which he says “is the most powerful tool we have in language education, first and second.”

The reading thing there is something we’ll come back to in the section about reading.

This is the academic who is always mentioned in this context, when talking about how to learn English these days. Krashen was one in a long line of linguists who came up with theories about how language is learned and should be taught. 

Arguably, we still don’t really know how people learn languages, but various academics over the years have put forward different hypotheses to explain it and these have been the backbone of our understanding of language learning that has informed the way we all learn and teach languages over the years.

Krashen though is the one that people often talk about today, including all the many YouTubers who regularly post videos about the best ways to learn, the only ways to learn, the secrets of learning and all that sort of thing. Krashen is usually brought up because his ideas fit in quite nicely to a model of language learning for today. I mean, it involves a lot of consumption of content in English – plenty of listening and reading and that sort of content is in plentiful supply online, like for example episodes of Luke’s English Podcast.

In his input hypothesis in which he makes the case for the importance of comprehensible input for language learning, he states that in fact the only way we can successfully increase our underlying linguistic competence. This is our system of linguistic knowledge or let’s say that “language instinct” that you have, which even subconsciously gives us a sense of when language is right or wrong. I suppose it could be active in that you know a certain grammar rule and can see when it’s been broken, or passive in that you just feel that something is right or wrong but can’t necessarily explain it. 

I would say the passive knowledge is the vital one because ultimately you just want to be able to feel that language is right or wrong without thinking about it.

But that being said, your active knowledge can be really useful when doing things like avoiding common errors as a result of your first language, or consciously pushing yourself to create language which is normal.

Anyway, Krashen says the only way to increase your linguistic competence is through comprehensible input, meaning reading and listening to things that we mostly understand and that with the context of what you do understand, you are able to work out the bits that you don’t know. This is how we acquire new languages.

So basically, we learn a language when we understand it. So, naturally, according to Krashen, the receptive skills come first.

I think this makes a lot of sense to me. I think it’s bound to be true that we learn language by listening to it and reading it. But what about those moments when you have to speak or write, what about learning the grammar and all the rest of it?

Krashen would say that we learn the grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation of a language by listening to it or reading it, and that it’s a natural process and part of how we decode language through comprehensible input.

So, don’t worry about grammar rules and all the rest of it, just listen and do your best to keep up and work out what’s going on, and do it regularly.

Again, I am sure this is true but I also think it’s worth studying the language a bit too, breaking it down a bit, seeing how it works, actively trying to learn more vocabulary, checking up on the rules of grammar and doing some controlled practice. Working on your pronunciation by copying and training your mouth and brain to cooperate with each other, like the way we practise certain movements in sport or musical parts on an instrument. 

I do believe that controlled practice and conscious learning like that must also be beneficial because I’ve seen it happen. Doing some active studying can be like a fast track of English learning. It can cut out a lot of time by helping you realise certain things about the language quickly, and I think if you then notice it again while listening and reading that only reinforces what you’ve learned.

Of course, you shouldn’t get blinded by grammar or pronunciation rules and so on, to the point that you can’t see the wood for the trees.

Try not to get hung up on grammar, because it can make you process language in an unnatural and contrived way. It can get stuck in your head and block you a bit. Instead, try to notice patterns and incorporate them into your use of English. Try to see grammar study as a way of confirming things you’ve already noticed, or a way of consulting with a reference book as you also just absorb English more naturally. If you only study English with the grammar, it’s going to be a weird abstract process for learning the language. It’s better to focus on consuming English in the form of messages which you are trying to understand, and then perhaps check your grammar later to straighten things out.

The premium subscription is where I help you with that sort of thing, hopefully combining with the free content to give you all the stuff you need to attack English from several angles.

Click here for information about LEP Premium

Anyway, what Krashen is saying I suppose is:

Input is vital. This is like your food.

Receptive skills / input

Language has to go in before it comes out.

How can you learn this language if you haven’t heard it and read it a lot?

Read and listen to things that are slightly above your level, so you can understand 60-80%. You need to be able to understand that much for your brain to work out the remaining 20-40% that you don’t know. Meaningful context is vital.

Basically, listen x5 and read x5.

It’s largely a question of finding the right stuff to listen to.

There’s this podcast of course. Others are available.

Watch TV and films with and without subtitles.

Hopefully you’ll find content that you actually want to listen to, not just for studying English. So if you do get addicted to a Netflix series and you can’t wait to find out what happens next, that’s good! That means you will get more comprehensible input and you will be much more focused and involved in it, which is great for your English. Or maybe you want to hear another stupid and funny conversation with my friends just because it makes you laugh and you feel some sort of connection to it. All of that is great because it will help you listen more, listen longer and listen long term.

Reading

This one is also a pleasure to talk about because it’s a pleasure to do and there are lots of great things to read.

Let’s hear from Krashen again as he is the master of the whole input model.

This is again from Wikipedia, which I think is fine usually for the basics like this.

Extensive reading, free reading, book flood, or reading for pleasure is a way of language learning, including foreign language learning, through large amounts of reading. As well as facilitating acquisition of vocabulary, it is believed to increase motivation through positive affective benefits. It is believed that extensive reading is an important factor in education. Proponents such as Stephen Krashen (1989) claim that reading alone will increase encounters with unknown words, bringing learning opportunities by inferencing. The learner’s encounters with unknown words in specific contexts will allow the learner to infer and thus learn those words’ meanings. 

Of course that system is disputed because this is the academic arena we’re dealing with and people are always putting forward ideas, defending them, disputing them and so on. It’s how we move forwards and learn about this stuff.

So this is extensive reading which is different to the sort of intensive reading you do in English lessons, where you spend ages on just one page of text, break it down into tiny chunks, understanding every single morsel. With extensive reading it’s all about just getting as much English into your head as you can by reading as much as you can, and you focus on reading enjoyable things, especially stories and you don’t stop too much to analyse the language or even check words, you just keep trying to follow what you’re reading. The more involved in it you are, the better.

Again, this point about input is that it feeds your instinct for the language. You get a subconscious sense of what is right or wrong, which comes in very handy for when you’re doing those nasty sentence transformations and use of English tasks in a Cambridge exam like CAE. What you really want in those situations is to know exactly which preposition or auxiliary verb is missing, or to be able to manipulate sentences in a variety of forms. I reckon it helps to do a bit of language practice as well, with a few controlled exercises but the idea is that it should all go in naturally giving you this sense of language competence.

It’s important though to choose texts which are not too difficult for you. You need to be able to understand enough to be able to get a grip on the rest of the language.

So which books do you choose? 

We’ve talked about the importance of choosing stuff that’s interesting to you, that reflects the type of English you might need. 

Genre isn’t an issue. People assume you need to read or listen to the news but as we’ve already established they don’t really talk like normal people on the news, and they also write in a certain “newsy” style. Funnily enough it might be more useful to read the tabloid papers as they write in a more conversational style, but I think it’s worthwhile looking beyond the news.

Basically, read whatever you want.

Even comic books or graphic novels as they’re known for adults.

Graphic novels can be brilliant because they support your understanding with the images and often the English is in the form of speech so you learn really directly how to apply that stuff to real life. I love graphic novels in French. It’s my favourite way to work on the language.

You could consider the current bestsellers. If other people like the books then why shouldn’t you? Look in the fiction and non-fiction categories.

Just check Amazon bestsellers or Waterstones.com www.waterstones.com/books/bestsellers for their current lists.

Graded Readers

Or try graded readers, which are an excellent and underused resource. I really recommend them if you’re not a strong reader. They’re previously published books, and often some of the great classics and modern classics in English, but they’re republished with English that is graded for certain levels. The number of words is reduced, it’s truncated and essentially it’s a way to increase the percentage you do understand, and decrease the amount you don’t understand, getting to that 80/20 spot where you can maximise your language learning. 

There are lots of titles to choose from and various publishers. Check these ones out

But your English may well be good enough now to have a go at a book for native speakers. So go for it. You have loads of options. Just make sure you enjoy reading on a regular basis.

I would also add that it’s important to choose texts which are written in modern style and perhaps about an area that you are particularly interested in. Perhaps think of it like this – what is the kind of English you want printed on the back of your head (on the inside)? Odd question, but I mean, what is your target English. Perhaps it’s the involving and descriptive storytelling of fiction, or it’s the matter-of-fact world of non-fiction. I reckon non-fiction is probably better because it reflects the kind of English you are more likely to be writing, especially if it’s things like academic work or reports at work, because they’re all about presenting you with information, data, commenting on what’s going on, describing how to do things and that’s probably the sort of thing you’ll need to use English for, especially in writing. 

So, just read and enjoy it!

Here are some more book recommendations

Book of email correspondence

www.amazon.co.uk/Executive-Guide-mail-Correspondence-Including-ebook/dp/B07J1XGRZ6/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=email+correspondence&qid=1592316807&sr=8-1

This might be a bit dry but it will really show you loads of examples of emails with full explanations, so you can read and learn.

David Crystal 

The Story of English in 100 Words

Anything by David Crystal is fantastic, but this non-fiction book will teach you the entire story of the English language through 100 words and there are some great words in there like 

Loaf, Street, Riddle, Arse, Jail, Wicked, Matrix and Skunk, to name but a few. 

So you’re bound to learn tons from that.

Biography

Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny By Nile Rodgers

Fiction

The War of the Worlds by HG Wells

The writing is a bit old fashioned. I have to be honest, but it’s mostly modern in style and I think it’s worth it because the story is amazing and it’s not too long. It’s wonderfully descriptive and much better than any movie version could be. Definitely one of my favourite books of all time.

Productive skills / output

This is where we get to the more nebulous world of productive skills. It’s like an alien land where monsters roam, a bit like war of the worlds maybe.

OK I’m exaggerating here but I mean that productive skills are a bit harder to pin down because even more psychological and social factors come into play. You have the public aspect of it, the fact that you’re trying to manipulate the language and get your ideas across in the right way, being coherent and cohesive and in the right style with the right level of politeness with the correct conventional replies and requests and on and on it goes!

Again, I’m making it sound tricky, but I mean that you are involved so much more because you’re making the language and actually using it. This is exciting because you get to express yourself which is the most wonderful and gratifying thing you can do in another language, and when it slides out quite fluidly and you’re not too blocked by who knows what, then it’s all gravy. But sometimes it just doesn’t seem to work out that way and you get mixed up and it doesn’t come out right at all. There’s a sense of performance in productive skills, and a sense that you have to be aware of the right way to conduct yourself, and to be able to utter things in English instantly, following what the other person is saying, it’s all done in a sort of unconscious blur and thinking about grammar in that situation is a killer.

So it’s about getting a level of ease, a level of comfort, a platform from which you can bob and weave your way through the conversation, finding other ways to say things and switching correctly between tenses and situations. I think you get what I mean. 

So how do you work on these things?

  • Ease – a voice, fluency
  • Control – grammar, vocab, pronunciation
  • Range – a wide range of language for a wide range of things
  • Coherence – does it all make sense? Can people follow you easily?
  • Cohesion – particularly in writing, how does the whole text make sense as a whole?
  • Social factors – knowing how to put things and how to manage relationships through language

Again, the idea is that this language is just built into you from all that exposure and input.

I would say that there’s a great deal of other stuff you can do to improve your productive skills beyond reading and listening a lot, of course.

In both writing and speaking the first thing to remember is you need to engage in it as much as possible. Real writing and real speaking.

Ultimately this means trying to use language to communicate a message in some way and that’s what you should be focusing on. Meaningful interactions, especially ones in which you have something to offer or something to gain, such as negotiations or even information gap situations in which you’re telling someone something they don’t know. Also social interactions involving being polite or building relations with people. Ultimately, doing it for real is the best workshop in which you can work, rolling with the punches and trying to keep track of what you’re learning. 

This is why people learn English best when they’re forced to do it because of their surroundings. They learn by being a waiter in London for a year or working in an office with native speakers, or being plunged into a foreign university for a year, or moving to a new country and having to cope with all the challenges that brings and in a second language. I suppose this is immersion, but it;s more than that. I recommend actually conversing with people to just practise. It’s the 5 Ps.

It’s like going to the gym. Fluency is like physical fitness in your mind and also in your body because you’re using your mouth, your breathing and your head and hands to communicate too.

It applies to writing too. You can observe the way other people write their emails and kind of copy their style, you have to really think about what you’re saying and doubtless you will end up writing emails with requests, with information, with questions and with complaints and so on, so you will have to learn on the job. Being thrown in at the deep end, or if you just have to use English at work it could either be a big stress for you or a huge opportunity to just go for it.

Anyway, let’s talk about specific productive skills – writing and reading, and how to work on them.

Let’s say you’re not actually in a situation where you can talk to people or have correspondence with people, or have to write things which other people will ultimately have to read. Unless you find a tutor on italki for example then that person could be your practice point for speaking and writing, giving you feedback as you go. But let’s say for the purposes of this episode, it’s just you and the English language, facing each other off in a kind of wild west fashion.

How can you practise on your own?

Writing

Obviously you need to write. But what are you going to write and who is going to read it?

Firstly – just write, write regularly, write meaningfully and write with a reader in mind, even if nobody reads it. This is important because it will help you get used to simply putting your ideas into words. It’s a creative process and also a mechanical process to an extent. Building sentences is a sort of art or a craft. You have to practise it in order to get some level of comfort with it. Let’s imagine there’s a muscle in your head (this is not scientific at all) which, if you never exercise it, will be quite weak and underdeveloped. But if you exercise that muscle regularly it will be strong, reactive and quick. I expect there is a part of the brain responsible for creating written language, and a sub-section for creating written English. Keep that part of your brain fresh by writing English as much as you can. That’s as scientific as I can get here.

So, here are some things you could write

What to write

  • Anything
  • A diary
  • Email an imaginary person (spooky?) or yourself (think outside the box here ok?)
  • Academic writing – text types
  • Emails – email types and conventions
  • Reports – same!
  • Formal and informal letters – same!
  • Applications – same same!

Basically – Whatever you have to write, you should try to find some samples of these texts and aim to copy them. Copy the style, the arrangement, the language they use and reproduce it yourself. Texts that you write will invariably be very practical so it’s about reporting information and asking questions. Look at the sample texts and copy them.

It helps if you have a specific workbook. I recommend Email English by Paul Emmerson. It’s a simple workbook that helps you work on almost all those things and I’m not even sponsored by Macmillan or anything, it’s genuinely a great book.

They also have downloadable email writing tasks on the Macmillan website or here

Email English by Paul Emmerson

Worksheets www.businessenglishonline.net/resources/email-english-worksheets/

Ideally you’ll have a teacher to proofread your work, correct you and give you feedback.

If this isn’t possible, it’s still a good idea to write. 

Other ideas

A diary (just describe things that happened, or make it more personal and really explore your thoughts and feelings. If the words don’t come, just use basic words. If you feel unable to express yourself perfectly, express yourself imperfectly but try to express yourself.

Writing is not just sentences, it’s paragraphs and pages. The thing you are writing will define how you write it. This means – conventions of certain texts, formality level of the language.

Specific exam tasks → IELTS, FCE, CAE, CPE, BEC higher and vantage

These will often push you to learn the conventions of different types of text, so it could be a good idea to take a Cambridge exam if you want to work on your writing.

Vocabulary Notes

You might write some notes on vocab and I would recommend here that you take a more extensive approach to doing this. Don’t just have one word per line. I want to see one word or phrase at the top of the page, and then loads of text underneath full of examples and your own examples with the language. You can then come back and cover up some of the words and try to remember. Alternatively you can use my PDFs with the notes and memory tests if you’re a premium subscriber. Little plug there for my other podcast.

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But making more extensive vocabulary notes with plenty of examples means that not only are you recording vocabulary, you’re practising using it in writing too.

Speaking

I mentioned italki before and you can find tutors, teachers and conversation partners there for regular practice and I do recommend doing that.

Otherwise, let’s look at some ways you can work on your speaking other than in actual spoken practice with others. Developing your speaking on your own.

This is quite a tricky thing to do because normally speaking is an instantly interactive form of communication. It also involves a lot of listening and then being able to produce English instantly and without hesitating too much.

It’s also quite physical as it involves using your mouth to produce words and sentences in the right way.

And of course there are all those cultural things to think about too.

But really speaking should just be your attempt to find your own voice in English, with fluency and with a specific tone. Of course it comes through a lot of practice, of having conversations in which you’re not really thinking about what you’re saying on a grammatical level but it’s pouring out of you due to necessity and not being able to really think a lot. Doing that regularly helps your brain map out the extent of the English you have and increase it, keeping it sort of fresh. That’s not scientific but more a metaphor of what I think speaking can do. It activates something in you that you have to maintain and keep active or those parts of the brain go dull.

So practice x5

But with who?

The fact is, it just helps to talk to other people and that’s the best and most basic advice I can give. Outside of that, you have to manipulate your surroundings and use your imagination to practise speaking on your own.

Talking on your own (and even in your head)

This might sound a bit odd, but it’s a surprisingly effective way to activate English that is in your head. You essentially talk to yourself, out loud, in English, describing what’s going on, what you’re doing, what you’re thinking about, say it all in English. Alternatively you can just do it in your own head and just think the sentences. This also keeps that system of language production in your head fresh. 

Listen and repeat

You can use certain audio and play a bit, pause, repeat what you heard, rewind, repeat again and keep going until you’ve got it, and then check the transcript or subtitles to see if you’re correct, check any new words and carry on. Always find ways to vocalise the things you are learning and that means saying them out loud even to yourself.

You can also practise different speaking scenarios.

Preparing for a Cambridge exam you can find past papers with speaking part preparation and practise. Find out what’s required in the different parts, watch videos of people taking the speaking part on YouTube, practise answering common questions about yourself, practise speaking on a topic for a minute or two, practise discussing your opinion on the issues of the day. Those are all specific speaking skills that you can practise on your own. I particularly recommend listen and repeat, especially when you have to take quite a long utterance in English, hold it in your head and repeat it like it’s one word? It’s like going to the gym in English. It involves a lot of things: Understanding the clip, identifying the words and grammar, being able to remember it all, being able to produce it in a similar way. That’s a whole punch of different kinds of practice. And if you repeat the sentence straight away, and again, you might notice certain little errors you’re making and correct them. So repeat over and over again, a bit like practising boxing combinations in the ring before the big fight.

In reality, the 4 skills are often mashed up together and you find you are doing things like listening and speaking at the same time, while also taking notes, looking at visuals and so on. It all gets very messy when language is actually applied to real communication in the real world.

A little note about pronunciation and a sort of disclaimer.

The disclaimer

I think there are probably plenty of other things I have not mentioned in this episode, such as not talking about specific memory techniques (done that) or specific features of pronunciation (done that) or exactly how to read a book to learn English (done) or plenty of other things probably. To be honest this is just a podcast episode that I wanted to make about the 4 skills and it expanded into an episode all about learning English as a holistic process.

Anyway, the note about pronunciation

  • It is worth learning the phonemic script
  • It is worth getting the sounds app on your phone
  • It is worth doing drills and practising different features
  • It’s worth getting a book called Ship or Sheep or other books of that nature.
  • It’s worth remembering that if you have an accent when you speak that is fine and it’s part of who you are, the main thing is that you speak clearly, not which regional accent you have. Clarity is the thing to achieve. Also, it’s extremely difficult to “lose” your accent in English. Hardly anyone does it. But you can still be fine with your accent. English is quite open like that. Everyone’s welcome.

But there you have it. That was quite a comprehensive look at how I think learning English is best when you combine two things: comprehensible input, and a clever studying routine.

I think it can work wonders for your English.

And that’s what I try to do with this podcast. Give you all the input in the free episodes and then do some more focused studying in the premium content. Hopefully, together those two channels can boost your English to the max.

Thanks for listening.

To sign up to lep premium go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo for all the details.

Click here for information about LEP Premium

465. How I make episodes of the podcast (Part 2)






Talking about the technical side of making podcast episodes, including fascinating* insights about my recording equipment and an exciting** anecdote game. Includes upbeat music to absolutely guarantee*** that you will not be bored during the episode!

*insights may not actually be fascinating
**management holds no liability for any lack of excitement experienced
***not actually a legally binding guarantee

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Introduction

Here’s a new episode and I’m continuing to talk about how I make episodes of the podcast, and this whole thing is a response to a question sent to me by Carlos from Barcelona

In the last episode I was talking about the creative side of coming up with ideas and making them into podcast episodes. Not that I know what I’m doing really, but a few listeners have asked me about this over the years and I thought it might be interesting to answer those questions and just lift the lid on LEP and let you see how episodes are recorded.

In this one the plan is to talk about the technical side of doing the podcast.

Vocabulary

Watch out for vocabulary which will be explained in forthcoming episodes, including uses of get, technical language and other expressions.

Feedback

Send me a private message with more details.

Please be constructive with your feedback! Thanks :)

464. How I make episodes of the podcast (Part 1)

Talking about the creative side of making podcast episodes, including some thoughts on how to come up with ideas and how to speak in front of an audience.

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Introduction

Today I’m talking all about how I make episodes of this podcast including details about the technical side (all the gear I use and how I use it) and the creative side (how I come up with ideas and make them into episodes).

I’ve also decided to make sure there’s plenty of language content in this one too. Obviously it’s all English – these are all words, you know.

But what I mean is that later I’m going to highlight certain bits of vocabulary that will come up in my descriptions, including;

  • vocabulary for talking about technical stuff like recording audio
  • some uses of the word “get”, which is one of the most commonly occurring verbs in the English language
  • and also just some other fixed expressions and bits of language I think are worth pointing out to you.

As you listen to this, you can watch out for vocabulary and try to predict which bits you think I will be explaining later.

So, even if you’re not completely married to the subject matter of this episode, you can just try to get through the bits about how I make the podcast, try to spot some vocab and then hold on until the end when you’ll hear me going through that language for you which should help you to get your head around it all.

In fact, did you notice that I’ve already used ‘get’ several times. I said ‘try to get through the bits I say about recording equipment [how I make the podcast]’ and also ‘help you get your head around it all’.

To get through something = to finish it, or pass from one end to the other. “I’ve just got to get through this work.” or “I’ve got a lot of emails to get through” or “I know it’s hard when you have depression, but don’t give up, you’ll get through it.”

To get your head around something = to understand it. It’s often used in the negative form. “I just can’t get my head around all this recording equipment.” or “I can’t get my head around this tax return. It’s a nightmare.”

So, watch out for that kind of thing – other uses of ‘get’ and more expressions, I’ll be highlighting and explaining it later.

Let’s get back to the topic of this episode: How I make episodes of Luke’s English Podcast.

Message from Carlos in Barcelona

Just to explain why I’ve chosen to do this episode, here’s a message I got not long ago from a LEPster in Spain.

Hello Luke,

My name is Carlos and I’m a listener of your Podcast. I’m from Barcelona.

First of all, I’d like to congratulate you, your podcast is excellent. It helps me to improve my English and it’s also fun. Hence, I think it’s a way of learning English without realizing that I’m actually studying it.

In addition, I’d like to suggest a topic to be talked in one of your programmes. It would be great if you told us how you record a podcast, like how you prepare it and record it and what software and hardware you use.

Well, it would be fun to know what the podcast is like. Sometimes, I wonder about the insides of it.

I hope you like my suggestion.

Yours sincerely,
J.Carlos Mena

I do get quite a lot of messages like that, from people asking me either about the technical side of the podcast making process – like what kind of gear I use, or the creative side – like, where I get the inspiration for episodes, how I come up with ideas.

I’ve been meaning to do this episode for a while now and so finally I’m glad to have actually got round to doing it at last.

OK, so let’s talk about what goes into the making of episodes of this podcast – the whole process from me starting from scratch to you listening to the podcast and, if I’m doing it correctly, you learning some English and maybe even getting the giggles on a bus somewhere while people give you weird looks, if I have managed to amuse you at all.

Listen to the episode for all the details… the expressions with ‘get’ will be explained later.

Music created at www.jukedeck.com/

439. Reading Books to Learn English

Here’s an episode for you to listen to while I’m on holiday. I’m recording this the day before I go to Japan. So by the time you’re listening to this I’ll be on the other side of the world, trying to remember how to speak Japanese.

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Introduction

This episode is all about reading books in English. I probably won’t upload another episode for a week or two. That little break will give my listeners a chance to catch up on the recent episodes. Also, there are loads of episodes in the archive that you might not have heard yet and you might want to listen to if you are suffering from LEPaholism and you can’t get enough.

Every episode of LEP is available in the archive on my website, even if you can’t see them all on iTunes. They’re all still here. Just go to teacherluke.co.uk and click “Episodes”.

Just before we get started let me just remind you of several things:

  • Please vote for Luke’s English Podcast in the British Podcast Awards. I need every single one of you to vote. If you are next to a computer or you have your phone just go to www.britishpodcastawards.com/vote and vote for LEP.
  • If you’re in Toyko on 13 April, come to Gamuso in Asagaya for my comedy show. I will be performing comedy there with a few other people. It’s free to get in. Doors open at 7. I expect the comedy will start at 8. No idea if it will be busy. You can’t book in advance, so just turn up and get a seat!

Books

This episode is all about books. I’m going to recommend some self-study books for learning English, talk about the value of reading books in English and then go through some of the books which I have in a pile on my desk and talk to you about them – just to inspire you to do some more reading this year, in English of course!

Hi Luke! My name’s Matias, I’m from Uruguay, South America. Also, I’m a British English lover haha. I’ve been studying the language on my own for 7 or 8 years maybe, and English culture as well.
I found your podcasts just a few months ago and you gave me a whole new perspective on the language and I really appreciate that.
I emailed you because I want you to recommend some self-study books. I’m already using English Grammar In Use and doing exercises almost every day. What other books could I use?
Thank you a lot for all of your work. Have a great day!

Some self-study books for pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar

You’ll find the names and authors of all these books on the page for this episode on my website.

Pronunciation
Ship or Sheep by Anne Baker (minimal pairs) CUP
English Pronunciation In Use series – CUP
Work on your Accent by Helen Ashton (Collins )
Sound Foundations by Adrian Underhill (Macmillan) – for the teachers

Vocabulary
The ‘In Use’ series is good – English Vocabulary in Use
They also have Professional English In Use – different titles.
Practical Everyday English by Steven Collins
Also Advanced Everyday English and High Level Everyday English

Grammar
Grammar for Business by McCarthy, McCarthy, Clarke & Clarke
Practical English Usage by Michael Swan (reference book)
English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy

Writing
Email English by Paul Emmerson

The value of reading books

I did an episode all about this a couple of years ago – you should listen to it. It includes a list of recommended books. Check it out here teacherluke.co.uk/2015/02/01/reading-books-in-english/

There’s also a reading list on my website which includes every single book I’ve recommended or mentioned on the podcast. Check it out here teacherluke.co.uk/useful-websites/the-uks-favourite-books/

  • Practice practice practice practice practice practice practice
  • You can go at your own pace
  • It’s seriously relaxing – certainly compared to staring at a screen. Try reading for 15 minutes before sleeping, it’s very good for you. Also you can take a book anywhere.
  • Vocabulary and grammar development
    Perhaps the best way to work on your grammar and vocabulary is to see it being used in context. Reading gives you access to the living language. Simply interacting with it by reading it is a great way to learn it. You can practise being mindful while you read, which is a question of noticing features of the language as you see it. This can be more efficient than reading grammar explanations.
  • Often the most useful parts of grammar study are the examples where they highlight certain bits of usage. Grammar is often unsatisfying because ultimately there aren’t always logical reasons why the language is the way it is.
  • Stop looking for explanations and just accept it. Let the language flow through you and get to know it. Don’t expect it to follow the same rules as your language or to be logical.
  • Grammar books are great for reference and self study. So, if you notice a pattern or a feature of the language you don’t understand – you can check it out in the grammar book, like “Practical English Usage”. The same goes for vocabulary and a dictionary. But by interacting with the written word you will find that the grammar goes in as a consequence.
  • Exposure = developing your instinct for the language. Reading an entire book is very good for your grammar. Imagine all those sentences that pass before your eyes and go through your brain. It’s a great way to study structure without even studying it really.
  • The importance of visualising the written word
    A word exists in many different dimensions – the way it sounds, the way it feels when you say it, all the meaning associations you have with it, the way it looks and the way it feels to write it by hand or on a computer. You should get to know every single side of a word and that means reading a lot in order to fix the visual side in your mind.
  • Educational value
    Learning about the culture of the language you’re learning is vital. It helps you get into the mindset of the language so you can get a sense of the rhythm, but also the humour and how certain things are suggested, hinted at, referred to and so on. Also you just learn some information that will help you. It’s not just a question of learning the words, but learning the whole culture within which those words exist.
  • Books can be a great way into a culture.

How to choose the right book for you

  • Not too old (think of the style of language – although old fashioned English is rather beautiful – watch out, anything written before about 1800 is going to sound pretty outdated and might be difficult to follow.
  • Not too long – obvs, you want to finish it
  • Something you’ve already read in your own language
  • Something that just appeals to you – it’s vital that you like the book, so go with your gut.
  • Something with fairly ‘normal’ English e.g. beware of something like The Martian – it contains loads of technical language – but then again it’s also quite a riveting page turner. But be aware of the type of English you’ll be getting.
  • Go for page turners – remember, your objective is to read as much as possible and to get the satisfaction and motivation of having finished the book. Don’t be afraid to read some trash. It doesn’t have to be the most high-class book.
  • Consider graded readers, like the Penguin Reader series – and choose the advanced level books. They’re shorter, easier versions of brilliant novels in English. There are various versions of readers – but check out readers.english.com/readers for more info.
  • Consider reading graphic novels. They’re easier to read and the visuals help to move the story along. It’s a bit like watching a movie but with all the advantages of a book.

How to learn English from reading books

Study
You read with a notebook and dictionary with you. When you come across a new word you check it and make a note of it. Remember to write more than the translation. Write an example sentence and a mnemonic if possible. You could highlight the word in the book too and come back to it later.

Enjoyment
Don’t bother checking words all the time. Just read the book because you’re interested in the story. Focus on getting through the story because you want to know what happens next. You will naturally start picking up new words as you encounter them. But try to be mindful when you read – every now and then you can just slow down a bit and focus on some language. Perhaps read a quick passage again and think about the grammar you can see. Why is it written that way? What kind of grammar is it? What’s the effect of writing it like that? What about these words? Do you know them? Could you use them yourself for something in your own life? Ask yourself these questions and then continue. Feel good when you’ve finished the book. Take time to reflect on it. Think in your head, speak aloud, talk to your language partner or write in a diary your thoughts about the book. Move onto the next one!

Next episode: This pile of books I have on my desk

Your comments: What books in English can you recommend?

379. The LEP Anecdote Competition

Details of a new LEP competition / Competition rules / Advice & Tips / Inspiration / Some Funny Anecdotes

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Transcript Starts Here

OK listeners, it’s competition time again on the podcast. This time the competition is all about anecdotes. I did an episode about anecdotes recently. It was number 372. In that one I talked about anecdotes and why it’s important to have a few anecdotes that you can tell in English. I think they’re pretty important and fun. I also gave you some tips on how to tell good anecdotes, and you listened to a few genuine anecdotes from my Mum, my Dad and my brother.

I love stories, especially true ones and I love hearing about people’s experiences. I’m sure that loads of you out there have had some pretty cool experiences too and that there are some lovely little anecdotes just waiting to be told.

So that’s why I’m using anecdotes as the basis of this competition.

I want you to send me your anecdotes. That should be clear.

Now, the last time I launched a competition featuring the voices of my listeners I got a lot of recordings and it ended up being about 8 episodes, which was awesome, but that was quite a lot. I understand that not all of you want to listen to the voices of listeners – you come here to listen to me, or my guests. But it’s still great to have some contributions from listeners, just not too many. So this time I’m going to do it slightly differently. There will be stages, a bit like the World Cup, so that I can filter out some of the competition entries that I get and just present the cream of the crop in an episode of the podcast. I’ll tell you more about the stages and how this will work in a minute. The main thing I want to do now is to strongly encourage you to send me your anecdotes. So, please send me your anecdotes!!!

But first I should say this – don’t worry, your anecdote does not have to be perfect or anything! I promise – it doesn’t have to be perfect, just tell us a little story about yourself – that’s all you have to do. We;re going to have a little anecdote party and everyone has to bring a little anecdote. You know the way that when you’re invited to a party you have to bring cake, or drinks, or crisps. Well, this is just like that except that you have to bring an anecdote. It doesn’t have to be amazing, it just has to fill up the table, ok, and then we can have an anecdote party! But the party will not happen unless you send me that little story you have, so do it! But remember – no pressure, just enjoy yourself.

Now, I constantly tell you anecdotes about my life on this podcast. I do it all the time and I hope you enjoy them. Now, I’ve done a lot of sharing on the podcast and so it’s time for you to share back with your stories. I’m fed up of hearing my own stories. Now I want to hear about your experiences! We’re having an anecdote party and you’re all invited!

I’m presenting this as a competition, but it’s not about the winning, it’s about the taking part. It’s about filling up that table with anecdote cake so we can stand around with cake and drinks and have an anecdote party. So, if you’ve got a personal experience you can tell us about, record it and send it to me! In this episode I’m going to tell you how to do that, and give you some tips and inspiration for your anecdotes.

Competition Rules

First, the rules of the competition. Any half-decent competition has rules, so here are the rules for this one.

1. Record an anecdote and send it to me! Duh! “What’s an anecdote?” you might be asking. It’s a little personal story, told in a social situation. It’s a story about something that happened to you once in your life. For example, it could be a dangerous experience, a funny moment, an embarrassing thing that happened, a surprising thing, an accident, a mystery, a meeting with a person, a run-in with the police or just a misunderstanding. We all have little stories like this from our lives – think about it, what’s a thing that has happened to you – tell us the story of that! Again – it doesn’t have to be perfect! No pressure, just enjoy yourself.
2. Your recording must be no longer than 5 minutes! 5 minutes maximum. Please keep to this rule. Generally anecdotes shouldn’t go on too long (although I am guilty of spinning out my anecdotes quite a lot – for example the hot bath story I told recently). But also, if I get too many anecdotes it will all last too long. 5 minutes max. Feel free to do less than 5 as well. If your anecdote is 2.5 minutes – that’s great! Just don’t go over 5 mins.
3. Your story should be true, but you can exaggerate a bit in order to make it entertaining, that’s normal.
4. Send your anecdotes by email to podcastcomp@gmail.com – or simply go to my website and send me a voicemail using the tab on the right side. You’ll just need to have your microphone connected. If you don’t have a microphone, just use your smartphone to record a voice memo and send it.
5. Closing date for the competition: 5 October (National Teachers Day in the UK)
6. Then round 1 begins. In round one I will publish all the anecdotes on my website. I’m not going to play them in an episode of the podcast at this stage, I’ll just publish them on the website so you can listen to them there.
So, the anecdotes will be published on the website, you will be able to go and listen to them all, and vote for your favourite.
Then I’ll count up the votes and the top 10 anecdotes will make it through to round 2.
7. In round 2 I will publish the top 10 anecdotes in an episode of the podcast and then everyone can listen, and vote for their favourites by using a poll on the website. That way, only 10 anecdotes are actually played on the podcast.
8. After some more voting time I will count the votes. The winner will be interviewed on the podcast, or will get a gift – I haven’t quite decided yet (remember it’s not about the winning, it’s about the taking part). IN any case, the winner will get the glory of being the LEP Anecdote Master, or LEPAM!

9. Don’t read from a script!

Basically – maximum 5 minutes, true story, send your recordings to me, then several stages of voting, 10 best anecdotes and a winner at the end!

Advice

Use a decent microphone. Most iPhones or smartphones have good mics these days.
Try to be in fairly quiet surroundings. Speak closely into the mic.
Practise your anecdote a few times (you could do this with your italki teacher if you like), but always record the first time you tell it. Sometimes the first time is just naturally the best! But then practise it a bit and record it again. Decide which one is best.
Try to keep it spontaneous! So, don’t read it from a script. You should avoid that habit. It’s better if you learn how to say the anecdote without reading it directly from a script.
It doesn’t matter if it’s not word for word perfect, just focus on getting across certain main ideas. If you read from a script it might be obvious, and it tends to sound fake and it’s not so appealing. It immediately will sound more robotic. Make your speech spontaneous, trust me. So no reading from a script.

I have the right to use or not use any recordings I want.

How to tell a good anecdote

Here’s a reminder of my tips from episode 372. You could consider these when you record your anecdote, or if you prefer you can just completely ignore these tips and do it your own way! Be an individual!

First: don’t feel any pressure, and just enjoy yourself. You could forget all the other tips and focus on that – it’s the most important thing. Forget about everything else and just enjoy telling us your little story!
Here are the other rules which you could just ignore to be honest:
1. Don’t get stuck in the details. Just tell us the events and situations which are necessary to show us how you felt. If you get stuck in the details just say “anyway” and move on.
2. Think about the feelings you’re trying to convey, and how they will affect the way you tell the story. Are you expressing fear, surprise, weirdness, luck, sadness, humour, relief, happiness? Let that feeling come through in your storytelling.
3. Use past tenses in the right combination – past simple, past continuous and past perfect. But to be honest, it’s good to keep it simple so you can just use past simple for the entire thing if you like (for example: my brother’s anecdote).
4. Introduce your story with a sentence like “This is a story about how…” and try to set the context of the story by saying something like “This happened when I was…”
5. Give the story an ending, for example, you can just say “And that’s what happened!” or “And that’s it!” or “And that’s why …” (include something you always or never do, a piece of advice or a lesson you learned, for example)
6. If possible, try to explain what that story means to you or what you learned from it.

That’s it in terms of rules and tips. Now it is over to you.

As I said earlier, even though I’ve given you advice on how to make a good anecdote, the first thing to remember is that you shouldn’t feel any pressure, and you should just enjoy yourself! Make sure you achieve that first, before you worry about any of the other things! No pressure and just enjoy yourself! I can’t wait to hear your stories.

I know what you’re thinking

You’re thinking – I’d quite like to take part in this. I’ve got an anecdote I could tell. I think I’m going to take part in this. I’m going to send a story to Luke.
Great! If you are thinking that – then great! But just make sure you do it! Don’t procrastinate. Don’t think: “Oh, I’ll do that later”. Do something now! just send me a little story, I’m dying to hear from you. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Your story doesn’t have to be the best in the world. We’re just having an anecdote party and everyone has to bring some anecdote cake or the party won’t work! I’m inviting you, so bring some cake it’s the least you can do!

Think of it like this: your anecdote will be one of a number of stories from my listeners and the overall effect will be so cool that it doesn’t matter if each story on its own is not individually amazing. It doesn’t have to be amazing. So, if you’re even considering sending my something, let me encourage you to definitely do it, and do it sooner rather than later!

Remember: No pressure, and just enjoy yourself!

Inspiration

Here are some questions to give you inspiration:

Can you think of something relating to one of these points?

– an embarrassing thing that happened to you
– a misunderstanding
– a weird person you met
– a famous person you met
– something you found which you still have
– how you met your best friend/girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife
– an accident you had
– a scar you’ve got
– a time you got into trouble
– a time you thought you were going to die!
– a time you won something
– something that happened to you while travelling
– an animal-related experience
– something funny that happened in your family
– something that always happens to you, regularly
– a misunderstanding that happened relating to language or culture
– something that happened to you at work
– something that happened in an English lesson
– something that happened as a result of listening to LEP
– something that happened to you while you were listening to LEP
– the worst/weirdest date you ever had
– the worst/weirdest job interview you ever had
– anything else!

Just remember, no pressure and just enjoy yourself!

Send your anecdotes (5 mins max) to podcastcomp@gmail.com or just leave me a voice mail using the tab on my website.

I can’t wait to hear your stupid, terrible, brilliant, funny, boring, confusing and fascinating anecdotes!

Remember the closing date is: 5 October (UK Teachers Day) and please – feel no pressure, relax and just enjoy yourself.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Let’s have an anecdote party!

Before we go, there’s a bit of time – so let’s listen to a few little anecdotes that I found online.

Louis CK – Punching a dog in the face to save its life

Essentially this is a story about how Louis’ dog ate chocolate. If dogs eat dark chocolate it can kill them because they lack an enzyme to deal with it. So, Louis had to rush to the pharmacy to get hydrogen peroxide and make the dog drink it, but it’s quite difficult to make a dog eat hydrogen peroxide in order to make it vomit all the chocolate out of its belly. In the end he had to wrestle with the dog and force it to drink the chemical. I love the way Louis tells the story, particularly the way he gives a voice to the dog and explains the emotional motivations of the dog, and highlights the irony of having to attack the dog in order to save it. Don’t worry – your anecdote doesn’t have to be as good as this, but we can learn about story telling from Louis!

Carlo Rota – Meeting Freddie Mercury from Queen

This one is a great little story, but it’s also interesting to hear how Carlo (an Italian-Canadian actor, born in England) uses present tenses, not past tenses, to make his story more engaging. We do this sometimes, although I think you should learn how to use all the right past tenses before you break the rules and use present tenses to tell a story.

A Red Chair story from the Graham Norton about a ‘happy’ donkey

The Graham Norton show is a very popular entertainment chat show on the BBC presented by a comedian called Graham Norton. One of the features on the show is the Red Chair. What happens is that any member of the audience who has a good anecdote is invited to sit in the chair and tell their story. This one is by a guy called Mohammed who went on holiday as a child and saw a donkey, who was, let’s say, feeling quite happy. The other guests on this show were Ricky Gervais and Johnny Depp – you might hear them making comments and laughing in the background.

So, that’s some inspiration and entertainment. Now, get thinking about your anecdotes and send them to me. You’ve got until UK national teachers’ day – 5 October.

Bye bye bye bye bye.

First background music: BenSound www.bensound.com
Jingles: Jake Bullit soundcloud.com/jakebullit
Other background music: Luke on Kaossilator soundcloud.com/user-896257419

364. TEN TOP TIPS for Learning English

LEP is back after a two-week absence. This episode is about top tips for learning English. Here are some ideas about learning English that have occurred to me in the last couple of weeks of teaching intensive general English classes at school.

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So, how’s your English?

Remember to be responsible for your own learning. Nobody can learn for you.

It’s all about establishing habits for improving your English, and keeping up those habits.

TOP TIPS FOR LEARNING ENGLISH

  1. Watch movies and TV in English. This is what people always say, but it can work really well if you do it right. Here are some specific tips. Repeat watch a movie that you love in English. Watch it with subtitles in English. Then watch it again without the subtitles. Put your phone in front of the TV or computer and record the audio, then listen to it when you’re out and about. Quote some of the lines. Recreate parts of the film on your own. Go the extra distance and think outside the box.
  2. Find a book that you know quite well. Read it in English and also listen to the audiobook. You won’t mind repeating it because you love it. You already know the story, so now you can explore it in English. Imagine hearing all those lines in English again and again.
  3. Keep two notebooks. Go down to the stationery shop and buy two nice notebooks. The first one is for scribbling things down quickly and just keeping quick notes. The other one is where you keep an organised record of words and rules. Keep the first one with you when you’re watching, reading or listening to stuff in English, or when you’re in conversation on italki or something. The other one is going to be like your bible for English and you’re going to write it yourself.
  4. Use mnemonic devices to help you remember.
  5. Listen to my podcast! Listen to episodes more than once. You’ll find that specific things I say will stick in your mind. You’ll also find things funnier and funnier, I promise. Some of my episodes are designed mainly to make you laugh. You need rewards for understanding and learning a language, so let the funny moments be a reward in themselves. Enjoy the process of understanding what I’m saying, and getting the subtleties and nuances. Check out the page for each episode. You’ll often find words written there. Often the introduction or the whole episode is transcribed. You can use that to help you learn.
  6. Get a grammar book and do the exercises, then do them again a few months later. English Grammar in Use is still the best one. Even if you’re pretty good at English already, going through those pages systematically will iron out a lot of the fossilised errors you have. Then when you listen to English, read English or speak to people just try to notice some of the grammar you’ve been studying. Also, if you don’t understand some of the grammar – don’t worry about it, just carry on. The worst thing you can do is stop when you feel confused or frustrated. You don’t have to understand 100% of the grammar. Just understanding 70% is ok. Do your best to understand it all, but it gets pretty complex and abstract (not as much as most other languages). The main thing is: when you experience difficulty or resistance – the worst thing you can do is stop. Just keep going anyway! Work with what you have and make progress in little steps.
  7. Just keep yourself switched on at all times! Be mindful. Notice language and take opportunities to learn. Some learners of English are just not diligent enough. Every error is an opportunity to learn. Bit by bit, step by step.
  8. The pizza analogy.
  9. Enjoy the small victories. Every single positive moment in your learning should be celebrated. If you understand something fully – well done you. If you say exactly what you wanted to say – well done you. If you stopped making a fossilised error, well done you.
  10. Enjoy it! You only get one life. (deep and meaningful moment)

 

More episodes coming soon.

Thank you so much for your comments and messages. I’m sorry I can’t reply to them all.

Have a good day/night/evening/morning, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing!

:)

230. Can You Learn a Language in 6 Months?

Small Donate ButtonThis episode is based on a TEDx presentation by Chris Lonsdale, who claims that any normal adult can learn a language within 6 months. Is that really possible? What method of learning does Chris propose? How does this relate to listening to Luke’s English Podcast? You can see the video of Chris Lonsdale’s talk, with a transcript below. [Download]


Chris Lonsdale’s TEDx Talk (transcript below)

Transcript of Chris Lonsdale’s Presentation
How to learn any language in six months: Chris Lonsdale
Have you ever held a question in mind for so long that it becomes part of how you think? Maybe even part of who you are as a person? Well I’ve had a question in my mind for many, many years and that is: how can you speed up learning? Now, this is an interesting question because if you speed up learning you can spend less time at school. And if you learn really fast, you probably wouldn’t have to go to school at all. Now, when I was young, school was sort of okay but I found quite often that school got in the way of learning, so I had this question in mind: how do you learn faster? And this began when I was very, very young, when I was about eleven years old I wrote a letter to researchers in the Soviet Union, asking about hypnopaedia, this is sleep learning, where you get a tape recorder, you put it beside your bed and it turns on in the middle of the night when you’re sleeping, and you’re supposed to be learning from this. A good idea, unfortunately it doesn’t work. But, hypnopaedia did open the doors to research in other areas and we’ve had incredible discoveries about learning that began with that first question.
I went on from there to become passionate about psychology and I have been involved in psychology in many ways for the rest of my life up until this point. In 1981 I took myself to China and I decided that I was going to be native level in Chinese inside two years. Now, you need to understand that in 1981, everybody thought Chinese was really, really difficult and that a westerner could study for ten years or more and never really get very good at it. And I also went in with a different idea which was: taking all of the conclusions from psychological research up to that point and applying them to the learning process. What was really cool was that in six months I was fluent in Mandarin Chinese and took a little bit longer to get up to native. But I looked around and I saw all of these people from different countries struggling terribly with Chinese, I saw Chinese people struggling terribly to learn English and other languages, and so my question got refined down to: how can you help a normal adult learn a new language quickly, easily and effectively? Now this a really, really important question in today’s world. We have massive challenges with environment we have massive challenges with social dislocation, with wars, all sorts of things going on and if we can’t communicate we’re really going to have difficulty solving these problems. So we need to be able to speak each other’s languages, this is really, really important. The question then is how do you do that. Well, it’s actually really easy. You look around for people who can already do it, you look for situations where it’s already working and then you identify the principles and apply them. It’s called modelling and I’ve been looking at language learning and modelling language learning for about fifteen to twenty years now. And my conclusion, my observation from this is that any adult can learn a second language to fluency inside six months. Now when I say this, most people think I’m crazy, this is not possible. So let me remind everybody of the history of human progress, it’s all about expanding our limits.
In 1950 everybody believed that running one mile in four minutes was impossible and then Roger Bannister did it in 1956 and from there it’s got shorter and shorter. 100 years ago everybody believed that heavy stuff doesn’t fly. Except it does and we all know this. How does heavy stuff fly? We reorganise the material using principles that we have learned from observing nature, birds in this case. And today we’ve gone ever further, so you can fly a car. You can buy one of these for a couple hundred thousand US dollars. We now have cars in the world that can fly. And there’s a different way to fly that we’ve learned from squirrels. So all you need to do is copy what a flying squirrel does, build a suit called a wing suit and off you go, you can fly like a squirrel. Now, most people, a lot of people, I wouldn’t say everybody but a lot of people think they can’t draw. However there are some key principles, five principles that you can apply to learning to draw and you can
actually learn to draw in five days. So, if you draw like this, you learn these principles for five days and apply them and after five days you can draw something like this. Now I know this is true because that was my first drawing and after five days of applying these principles that was what I was able to do. And I looked at this and I went ‘wow,’ so that’s how I look like when I’m concentrating so intensely that my brain is exploding.
So, anybody can learn to draw in five days and in the same way, with the same logic, anybody can learn a second language in six months. How? There are five principles and seven actions. There may be a few more but these are absolutely core. And before I get into those I just want to talk about two myths, dispel two myths. The first is that you need talent. Let me tell you about Zoe. Zoe came from Australia, went to Holland, was trying to learn Dutch, struggling extremely … a great deal and finally people were saying: ‘you’re completely useless,’ ‘you’re not talented,’ ‘give up,’ ‘you’re a waste of time’ and she was very, very depressed. And then she came across these five principles, she moved to Brazil and she applied them and within six months she was fluent in Portuguese, so talent doesn’t matter. People also think that immersion in a new country is the way to learn a language. But look around Hong Kong, look at all the westerners who’ve been here for ten years, who don’t speak a word of Chinese. Look at all the Chinese living in America, Britain, Australia, Canada have been there ten, twenty year and they don’t speak any English. Immersion per se does not work. Why? Because a drowning man cannot learn to swim. When you don’t speak a language you’re like a baby and if you drop yourself into a context which is all adults talking about stuff over your head, you won’t learn.
So, what are the five principles that you need to pay attention to? First: four words, attention, meaning, relevance and memory, and these interconnect in very important ways. Especially when you’re talking about learning. Come with me on a journey through a forest. You go on a walk through a forest and you see something like this. Little marks on a tree, maybe you pay attention, maybe you don’t. You go another fifty metres and you see this. You should be paying attention. Another fifty metres, if you haven’t been paying attention, you see this. And at this point, you’re paying attention. And you’ve just learned that this is important, it’s relevant because it means this, and anything that is related, any information related to your survival is stuff that you’re going to pay attention to and therefore you’re going to remember it. If it’s related to your personal goals then you’re going to pay attention to it, if it’s relevant you’re going to remember it.
So, the first rule, the first principle for learning a language is focus on language content that is relevant to you. Which brings us to tools. We master tools by using tools and we learn tools the fastest when they are relevant to us. So let me share a story. A keyboard is a tool. Typing Chinese a certain way, there are methods for this. That’s a tool. I had a colleague many years ago who went to night school; Tuesday night, Thursday night, two hours each night, practicing at home, she spent nine months, and she did not learn to type Chinese. And one night we had a crisis. We had forty- eight hours to deliver a training manual in Chinese. And she got the job, and I can guarantee you in forty-eight hours, she learned to type Chinese because it was relevant, it was meaningful, it was important, she was using a tool to create value. So the second tool for learning a language is to use your language as a tool to communicate right from day one. As a kid does. When I first arrived in China I didn’t speak a word of Chinese, and on my second week I got to take a train ride overnight. I spent eight hours sitting in the dining care talking to one of the guards on the train, he took an interest in me for some reason, and we just chatted all night in Chinese and he was drawing pictures and making movements with his hands and facial expressions and piece by piece by piece I understood more and more. But what was really cool, was two weeks later, when people were talking Chinese around me, I was understanding some of this and I hadn’t even made any effort to learn that. What had happened, I’d absorbed it that night on the train, which brings us to the third principle. When you first understand the message, then you will acquire the language unconsciously. And this is really, really well documented now, it’s something called comprehensible input and there’s twenty or thirty years of research on this, Stephen Krashen, a leader in the field has published all sorts of these different studies and this is just from one of them. The purple bars show the scores on different tests for language. The purple people were people who had learned by grammar and formal study, the green ones are the ones who learned by comprehensible input. So, comprehension works. Comprehension is key and language learning is not about accumulating lots of knowledge. In many, many ways it’s about physiological training. A woman I know from Taiwan did great at English at school, she got A grades all the way through, went through college, A grades, went to the US and found she couldn’t understand what people were saying. And people started asking her: ‘Are you deaf?’ And she was. English deaf. Because we have filters in our brain that filter in the sounds that we are familiar with and they filter out the sounds of languages we’re not. And if you can’t hear it, you won’t understand it and if you can’t understand it, you’re not going to learn it. So you actually have to be able to hear these sounds. And there are ways to do that but it’s physiological training. Speaking takes muscle. You’ve got forty-three muscles in your face, you have to coordinate those in a way that you make sounds that other people will understand. If you’ve ever done a new sport for a couple of days, and you know how your body feels? It hurts. If your face is hurting you’re doing it right.
And the final principle is state. Psycho-physiological state. If you’re sad, angry, worried, upset, you’re not going to learn. Period. If you’re happy, relaxed, in an Alpha brain state, curious, you’re going to learn really quickly, and very specifically you need to be tolerant of ambiguity. If you’re one of those people who needs to understand 100% every word you’re hearing, you will go nuts, because you’ll be incredibly upset all the time, because you’re not perfect. If you’re comfortable with getting some, not getting some, just paying attention to what you do understand, you’re going to be fine, you’ll be relaxed and you’ll be learning quickly. So based on those five principles, what are the seven actions that you need to take?
Number one: listen a lot. I call it Brain Soaking. You put yourself in a context where you’re hearing tons and tons of a language and it doesn’t matter if you understand it or not. You’re listening to the rhythms, you’re listening to things that repeat, you’re listening to things that stand out. So, just soak your brain in this.
The second action: is that you get the meaning first, even before you get the words. You go “Well how do I do that, I don’t know the words?” Well, you understand what these different postures mean. Human communication is body language in many, many ways, so much body language. From body language you can understand a lot of communication, therefore, you’re understanding, you’re acquiring through comprehensible input. And you can also use patterns that you already know. If you’re a Chinese speaker of Mandarin and Cantonese and you go Vietnam, you will understand 60% of what they say to you in daily conversation, because Vietnamese is about 30% Mandarin, 30% Cantonese.
The third action: start mixing. You probably have never thought of this but if you’ve got ten verbs, ten nouns and ten adjectives you can say one thousand different things. Language is a creative process. What do babies do? Okay: Me. Bat(h). Now. Okay, that’s how they communicate. So start mixing, get creative, have fun with it, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to work. And when you’re doing this you focus on the core. What does that mean? Well with every language there is high frequency content. In English, 1000 words covers 85% of anything you’re ever going to say in daily communication. 3000 words gives you 98% of anything you’re going to say in daily conversation. You got 3000 words, you’re speaking the language. The rest is icing on the cake. And when you’re just beginning with a new language start with the tool box. Week number one in your new language you say things like: ‘how do you say that?’ ‘I don’t understand,’ ‘repeat that please,’ ‘what does that mean,’ all in your target language. You’re using it as a tool, making it useful to you, it’s relevant to learn other things about the language. By week two that you should be saying things like: ‘me,’ ‘this,’ ‘you,’ ‘that,’ ‘give,’ you know, ‘hot,’ simple pronouns, simple nouns, simple verbs, simple adjectives, communicating like a baby. And by the third or fourth week, you’re getting into what I call glue words. ‘Although,’ ‘but,’ ‘therefore,’ these are logical transformers that tie bits of a language together, allowing you to make more complex meaning. At that point you’re talking. And when you’re doing that, you should get yourself a language parent. If you look at how children and parents interact, you’ll understand what this means. When a child is speaking, it’ll be using simple words, simple combinations, sometimes quite strange, sometimes very strange pronunciation and other people from outside the family don’t understand it. But the parents do. And so the kid has a safe environment, gets confidence. The parents talk to the children with body language and with simple language they know the child understands. So we have a comprehensible input environment that’s safe, we know it works otherwise none of you would speak your mother tongue. So you get yourself a language parent, who’s somebody interested in you as a person who will communicate with you essentially as an equal, but pay attention to help you understand the message. There are four rules of a language parent. Spouses by the way are not very good at this, okay? But the four rules are, first of all, they will work hard to understand what you mean even when you’re way off beat. Secondly, they will never correct your mistakes. Thirdly they will feedback their understanding of what you are saying so you can respond appropriately and get that feedback and then they will use words that you know.
The sixth thing you have to do, is copy the face. You got to get the muscles working right, so you can sound in a way that people will understand you. There’s a couple of things you do. One is that you hear how it feels, and feel how it sounds which means you have a feedback loop operating in your face, but ideally, if you can look at a native speaker and just observe how they use their face, let your unconscious mind absorb the rules, then you’re going to be able to pick it up. And if you can’t get a native speaker to look at, you can use stuff like this: [slides].
And the final idea here, the final action you need to take is something that I call “direct connect.” What does this mean? Well most people learning a second language sort of take the mother tongue words and take the target words and go over them again and again in their mind to try and remember them. Really inefficient. What you need to do is realise that everything you know is an image inside your mind, it’s feelings, if you talk about fire you can smell the smoke you can hear the crackling, you can see the flames. So what you do, is you go into that imagery and all of that memory and you come out with another pathway. So I call it ‘same box, different path.’ You come out of that pathway, you build it over time you become more and more skilled at just connecting the new sounds to those images that you already have, into that internal representation. And over time you even become naturally good at that process, that becomes unconscious.
So, there are five principles that you need to work with, seven actions, if you do any of them, you’re going to improve. And remember these are things under your control as the learner. Do them all and you’re going to be fluent in a second language in six months.
Thank you.

Comments Thread from YouTube

sorin86yt

Incredible stupid ideas. An incredible collection of sophisms. A stupid guy who has no idea about language learning. And it is supported by “studies”. Of course, you can “speak” Chinese in 10 days, but that will be “hello” and “thank you”. This video is a mockery. This moron cannot even understand the role of grammar. Grammar is not some torture that you sadistically apply to students. Grammar is the short(est)cut to make students understand how that language works: This moron doesn’t even know that there are a lot of people who can’t even speak their mother tongue properly. But “EVERYBODY” will learn a foreign language in 6 months. Will they go to their jobs in the mean time? Take care of their family matters? Sleep? Follow his advice and you’ll speak that language the way lowly-educated immigrants do.

 

 

Marcus T Anthony

Have you considered the possibility that you don’t understand the subject matter? What would happen if, instead of opposing ideas which contradict yours, you tried embracing them?

 

 

Radouane Rabei

I don’t know how or where you get the nerve to be able to say something like ‘Incredible stupid ideas’ and ‘A stupid guy who has no idea about language learning.’ when everything you say after that proves, you actually know absolutely nothing about language learning. How many languages did you have to learn other than English?

 

If it takes you 10 days to learn “hello” and “thank you” in Chinese, or any other language for that matter, that’s called a learning disability, you might wanna have that checked.

 

I learnt to speak English a while back in less than six months, but English is not the best example because it is such a practical language (you use 30% less words in general to say something in English than you would if you say it in French), I honestly think it is one of, if not the easiest language to pick up, I love it

 

Here is another genius statement

 

‘Grammar is the short(est)cut to make students understand how that language works’

 

I was perfectly fluent in French before I knew anything about French grammar, and in fact for French that would be the long(est)cut, French is a very impractical language, with ridiculous grammar rules.

 

This man in the video talks a lot of sense, if you really apply everything he says it would take the average person less than six months to speak any language pretty well, I have done it myself twice, and seen it done countless times with friends I grew up with .

 

Does this mean we should all start fires at our local libraries, and ban language classes, no of course not

 

Are you gonna be perfect in that language in six months, no, but it will be much easier for you to learn grammar after if you still really want to.

 

sorin86yt

+Marcus T Anthony Actually, no, I haven’t. I have 20+ years of experience in language tutoring. I tried some of the new stupid fast-food methods and they are what they are: deceptions. All these fast-food ways have appeared for commercial reasons. They fool potential clients that learning can be miraculously shortened, and also that any moron can learn a foreign language. This way language teaching businesses attract more clients willing to take short-cuts. There are also a lot morons exited by “revolutionary” ideas, like teenagers, and really believe that the man who will live 300 years is already born.

 

 

Jaime Benito de Valle Ruiz

For your information, Chris is almost native-like in Mandarin (I’ve heard him), so I am sure he knows a thing or two about learning a difficult foreign language well, regardless of what is trying to sell us. How about you? I guess you must have mastered dozens of languages to make your claims about how stupid these methods are, right? What he is saying overlaps a lot with the advice I’ve heard from others polyglots, so I don’t think it is as silly as you think… unless you are the indisputable king of languages, that is.

 

By the way, while I first had a placement in a language school, I saw a few students becoming reasonably fluent in other languages within 4 months, to my surprise, and a lot of them within 6 months, and I don’t mean saying hello and goodbye, but maintaining a fluent conversation for hours on topics as complex as politics or sociology, or discussing their cultural or banking problems, as well as being able to read a newspaper without effort and comfortably watching movies without subtitles. Granted, some occasional mistakes here and there sometimes, but good enough to function efficiently in a professional working environment (where they also say hello and goodbye too).

 

One last thing: almost no native speaker in any language has any conscious knowledge of their own grammar. Grammar is great for understanding how a language works, if that is what you want, but it won’t even guarantee that you’ll be able to speak or even understand the language. Grammar is to languages a bit like a book of human physiology is to playing a sport. And I know because I am a grammar freak.

 

Paul Coffey

+sorin86yt Given your 20+ years of tutoring experience, I’m curious to hear what alternative methods you would propose.  Like many of the people who have left comments here, my lived experience of getting to fluency in two new languages (Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese Chinese) matches very closely the methods that Chris is talking about.

 

For example, he talked about acquiring the language based on prior understanding (i.e. the comprehensible input approach).  Based on my experience in China, I found that watching movies in their original English, and then repeatedly watching them with the Chinese audio dubbing, was very useful to me.    Watching them in English allowed me to first understand the story, and then re-watching them in Chinese enabled me to take advantage of the comprehensible input environment.

 

Having said that, I’ve only got my own personal experience to go by.  Clearly, your own experience is somewhat at odds with what Chris is saying.  Could you share a little more about what has worked for you?

 

 

Truthseeker1961

People like ”sorin86yt” who have been deeply entrenched in their respective fields ALWAYS have knee-jerk reactions to new ideas and new methods because THEIR way is the ONLY way, and they don’t want to hear anything about it outside of their norm, and the 6 people who ”liked” his comment are staunch defenders of the status quo no matter what advances are introduced now, or anytime in the future.

 

 

sorin86yt

I kinda knew I was going to stir up such comments from delusional people. However, Youtube comments is not the right place for scientific debates.

 

Almost each minutes of this video contains something stupid. We can only try to point out some of the cheats. The most obvious one is the arbitrary duration: 6 months! Why 6 months and not 6m and 1w? Or 5m and 2w? What exactly does that person do during those 6 months? Only travelling by train in that country? Do they sleep? Do they have a job? Do they see after their family? Are they healthy?

 

Any competent language teacher will tell you that “6 months” is meaningless. The learning process is estimated by professionals in HOURS!!!! Take my intermediate-level English course. The “average” student (“average” – another approximation that kills the idea of a fixed time) will need about 80 hours of instruction with the teacher, and then about the double in individual study (homework, practice, listening etc). A rough total of 240 hours. What is that in calendar time? Nobody can foresee!! If the student happens to have a lot of time to dedicate to the foreign language, let’s say 6 hours/day, we calculate 40 days, which happens to be about 5 times faster that the moron in the video claims. :)  (Not mentioning that 240 hours mathematically equals 10 full days!). However, this doesn’t happen in real time. That “average” student has a job, a family, a hobby, (a disease maybe?), he has to sleep, to eat, to drive… Eventually, it comes down to about 6 hours/week (2 in class and 4 outside), which suggests 40 weeks (a little more than 9 months, not bad, huh?). However, that too rarely happens in real life. In a nine months’ time both the student and the teacher will have holidays, or business travels, or sick leaves… It may go up to 1 year and beyond. BUT the orientation line is always the number of hours. Not X months.

The next level of deception in this video is about the student. Who is that student? Whoever has ever taught anything knows students are of various “speeds” (because of talent (of course, talent matters hugely, morons!), previous knowledge, motivation, practice environment, how serious the student is about learning….). What is “6 months” for a student might be “3 months” for another one or “12 months” for another one (or even “never”!).

 

This video looks just like a stupid teleshopping presentation where they want to make us believe that the kitchen knife is the most spectacular invention of mankind.

 

83. How to Swear in British English – VERY RUDE CONTENT (with James)

Warning: Explicit Content. Do not listen to this if you are easily offended. This episode contains lots of very rude words and offensive content. You can read all the swear words, and watch some videos below.

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Right-click here to download.

Introduction

This is an overview of all the swear words in British English. The aim of this episode is to explain how to swear. Please remember that swearing is very offensive and is almost always inapporopriate. Please do not swear regularly! It doesn’t sound good.

In this episode I am joined by my brother James and we explain all the main swear words in English, their meaning, their use and how offensive they are. You can read the list of swear words below. Please remember that they are very rude indeed!

I do not intend to cause offence with this episode, just to educate people about language.

VOCABULARY

Here is a list of all the swear words. The * represents how rude or offensive the word is in my opinion.

*damn
*blast
*hell
*damn it
*damn it to hell
*damn you
*bloody hell
**bugger / bugger it / it’s buggered / you daft bugger
***piss / piss off / what a pisser / it’s pissing it down / I’m pissed off
***sod / sod it / you sod
***arse / you arsehole
***prick / you prick / you dick / you dickhead / you cock
***crap / that’s crap / that’s a load of crap / don’t talk crap
****bastard
*****bollocks / that’s a load of bollocks / never mind the bollocks / that’s the (dog’s) bollocks
***balls
*nuts
*****bitch
*****you bellend
*****wank / you wanker
***you tosser
******shit / to do, take, have a shit / that’s shit / that’s the shit / to have the shits / are you shitting me? / I shit you not / he’s a shit / this is good shit / shit head / shit face / shitty / bullshit / I’m shitting myself / I was shitting it / I don’t give a shit / shit – shat – shat / I was shit scared / I don’t give a shit / when the shit hits the fan / to be shitfaced
*******fuck / to fuck something / fuck off / fuck you / shut the fuck up / fucking hell / I’m fucked / that’s fucked up / what are you fucking doing in my bed? / what are you doing fucking in my bed? / what the fuck? / no fucking way! / what the fuck are you doing? / who the fuck is he? / un-fucking-believable / abso-fucking-lutely / you fuck / you fucker / for fuck’s sake / I don’t give a fuck
********mother-fucker
*********cunt / he’s such a cunt / I felt like an absolute cunt / you stupid cunt / you fucking cunt

All those words are offensive, but the following are the very taboo words which genuinely cause a lot of offence. They’re mainly used as racist abuse: nigger (often heard in hop-hop records as black American people sometimes use this word to refer to themselves) and paki – which was used as a term of racist abuse against people of asian origin living in the UK in the 70s and 80s. It’s associated with hate crimes and racism, so of course I think it’s a very offensive word.

So that’s it. It seems that swear words used to be religious in nature “damn”etc, then they became about sex or the body, “fuck” “shit” etc, but are they really that offensive? Not in comparison with words used in racial abuse. Perhaps it is the reasons for which words are used which are offensive, and not the words themselves. What is in a word? Offensive words can be powerful so think twice before using them.

VIDEOS

Here are some videos that feature lots examples of swearing.

George Carlin’s Classic Bit about Rude Language