Tag Archives: learn

670. Language Learning with James Harris

Talking to writer and comedian James Harris about life as a writer, going to Oxford Uni, being an international Brit and learning German, French and Chinese as an adult.

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Hello folks and welcome to the podcast. I hope you are doing fine on this particular day. This episode features a conversation, recorded a couple of weeks ago now, with a comedian and writer from the UK about various things, as you’ll see. Your task is to follow along and see what you can pick up and what bits of language learning wisdom you can glean from this conversation.

I don’t really know James that well. I’ve only actually met him once in fact.

He’s a comedian and a writer, he speaks several languages and his twitter feed is good value. He tweets about politics, learning languages, the issues of the day, comedy and various other things. We share a mutual friend – that’s Dharmander Singh from Birmingham, who I used to be in a band with and who is now a stand up comedian in Berlin. The time I met James was in Berlin when I was there on holiday, and I did some stand up on the same show as him.

So why have I invited him on the podcast? Well, it’s mainly because of Twitter. As I said his Twitter feed is interesting. He takes a moderate and balanced view of things, and his interests are pretty wide-ranging, including the fact that he’s very international. He’s married to a Chinese girl, he’s lived abroad, he used to work as a tour guide in several countries, he used to be an English teacher like me, he speaks very good German and French, he’s working on his Chinese, he works as a translator and he’s generally an articulate and interesting guy and so I just thought that he could be worth talking on the podcast.

The language learning thing is obviously very appropriate and I’m always interested in finding out as much as possible about how someone has learned a second language to a very decent level in adulthood, and that is something that we talk about for at least 50% of this conversation. The first half of our chat is basically me getting to know James properly, talking about his work, his studies, his experiences of going to Oxford University, why he chose to move to Germany, being married to a Chinese girl. Then we get into the details of how he learned German mainly, but also French and now how he’s working on his Chinese.

No need to say much more except that I hope you manage to follow the conversation clearly all the way through. Let me know how it was for you and I will speak to you again on the other side of this conversation, probably with some background music going over the top.



Thank you to James for being on the podcast today. Look him up online to read some of his stuff, follow him on social media and help him out by keeping him fuelled up on coffee.

Follow James on Twitter @JamesHarrisNow
Writing, Mini Screenplays shoeleatherexpress.org/
BUY A COFFEE FOR JAMES HARRIS t.co/8AAQ6P33wJ?amp=1

So, how are you listeners?

Did you pick up any useful nuggets from that conversation? I think there was some pretty good advice there especially the stuff about reading and noting down certain words, being a bit rigorous about your studying and believing that you can do it, really helps.

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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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.

Click here for information about LEP Premium

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

666. [Part 3] Favourite Scary Films (with James)

James and Luke talk about some of their favourite scary films, and more. This is the 3rd and final part of episode 666.

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Introduction

Hello and welcome back to Episode 666 of LEP in which my brother James and I are talking about scary and evil things. In the first two parts we talked about the number 666, the devil in music, Black Sabbath, and then in part 2 we described some genuinely frightening experiences that we’ve had in our lives. I’m glad to say that more comments have arrived. It’s good to see that people have been enjoying this series.

In this third and final part the plan is to talk about scary films, including the first scary films we ever saw, why people enjoy watching scary films, and then some descriptions of our favourite scary films. I’m sure that not all of you are into films like this, but I hope you can still enjoy listening to us describing them and talking about the effect they had on us when we saw them.

I’ve been thinking. Will you be able to identify the films that we are talking about? I expect that some of these films have different titles in your language. It’s quite important that you know which films they are, even if you haven’t seen them.

You might want to check them out quickly before you listen in order to identify them. You don’t have to watch them all. I just want to be sure that you know which ones we’re actually talking about.

In fact, I’ll give you the English titles now and very brief one-line descriptions (and you’ll see all these titles listed on the page if you want to know the spelling or whatever) so you can hopefully work out which films these are, or you can google them yourself,  see if you recognise them and see what they are called in your country.

So here are the films which we mention during this conversation. 

Do you know which ones they are? Do they have different titles in your language?

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
One of the original horror/slasher films from 1974 about a group of hippies who go on a road trip that ends badly when they get attacked by a weird family of cannibals in Texas, one of whom wields a chainsaw.

Children of the Corn
(1984) Not a very widely known film, to be honest. Adapted from a Stephen King short story of the same name. The plot of the film is described by IMDB as “A young couple is trapped in a remote town where a dangerous religious cult of children believes that everyone over the age of 18 must be killed.” It stars Linda Hamilton who plays Sarah Connor in The Terminator films.

Jaws
The 1975 Stephen Spielberg film about a shark. It’s an absolute classic and the most famous film about a shark, ever.

The Thing
1982, John Carpenter director, Kurt Russel star. IMDB: A research team in Antarctica is hunted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of its victims. It was pointlessly remade a few years ago. The 1982 version is definitely the best one. Amazing and disturbing visual effects.

Alien
1979, directed by Ridley Scott, starring Sigourney Weaver. The one with the xenomorphs, face huggers and stuff. It spawned a whole franchise with sequels including the more recent ones Prometheus and Alien: Something. (I did a whole podcast episode about that actually) Alien: Covenant (Alien: Covent Garden would have been a much better film).

Evil Dead 2
1987, directed by Sam Raimi, starring Bruce Campbell. IMBD: The lone survivor of an onslaught of flesh-possessing spirits hides in a cabin with a group of strangers while the demons continue their attack.

Ghostbusters
1984 Dir: Ivan Reitman, starring Bill Murray – Three former parapsychology professors set up shop as a unique ghost removal service.

Those are the main films we talk about then. I hope you know which ones we mean.

As well as the talk of films, there are a couple of other topics in this episode, including a story that James felt compelled to share with us, from the business world of skateboarding about a skateboard with a famously controversial illustration on it – a picture of satan in hell, being evil. A skateboard with a dangerous design, basically. The story is about the power of superstition, I think.

We also have a go at some armchair philosophy at the end as we consider the idea of whether humans have free will or not, and how this might affect the existence of evil in the world, and whether the existence of the devil can somehow confirm one’s faith in the existence of god. If humans do bad things, is that because they are evil, or is there a more rational explanation for why people do bad things? Big questions which we’re not really qualified to answer, but we have a stab at it.

Also there’s the legendary story of blues guitarist Robert Johnson from the 1930s who, legend has it, sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in return for amazing guitar playing technique and a mastery of the blues. The question is: for what price would you sell your soul to the devil?

That’s an overview of what’s coming up. 

I gave a warning at the start of part 1 of this that you would hear some weird and frightening sounds at some moments during the episode. 

I’d like to say that again now “You will hear some weird and frightening sounds at some moments in this episode”, because we play some audio from some of those horror films, and of course they contain some frightening noises. So be ready to hear some banging or crashing sounds, some scratching and scraping sounds, ominous voices, the sound of a chainsaw, some screaming, and other disturbing noises. OK? 

Apologies again for James’ microphone cutting out a bit during this episode. I hope it’s not too distracting for you.

So, if you are ready and prepared – mentally, physically and spiritually, and not feeling too sensitive, let’s continue with the final part of episode 666. 

And here we go…


Ending

So there you are that is the end of part 3, the last part of this series. I hope you’re not too traumatised by all this!

There is also some bonus audio for this episode in the app. Open the app, find this episode, tap the episode in the list and then tap the little gift icon to access the bonus audio. You’ll hear me describing and reacting to a creepy scene from an old black and white film called The Innocents. James wanted to show me this scene and wanted me to react to it, describing what I was seeing. So if you like you can listen and hear my descriptions, and you can watch the scene for yourself too. I’ll put the video of that scene on the website, and I think I’ll also make that bonus audio available on the website too. 

So, that’s the bonus audio in the app and also on the website.

Check out the page for this episode to see a few select film clips and other bits and pieces.

As ever, we look forward to reading your comments on the episode page. Perhaps you could tell us what you thought of this series. Are there any scary films you’d like to mention? What’s the first scary film you remember seeing? Why do people choose to watch scary films?

This really is the end now. Thank you for listening. Stay safe, stay healthy, stay happy and be excellent to each other.

Bye bye bye bye bye…


Video Clips

Quint describes the USS Indianapolis shark incident (Jaws)

Quint gets eaten by the shark (Jaws)

BONUS AUDIO

Luke sees a scene from The Innocents (1961) for the first time, and describes it.
You can watch the scene below.

666. [Part 2] Frightening Experiences (with James)

James and I share some stories of genuinely scary and disturbing experiences which we’ve had in our lives.

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Introduction

Hello, are you a learner of English? Would you like something to listen to to develop your listening skills and by extension all other aspects of your English and your life? Well, you could listen to this. That’s the idea. Learning English through listening. Learning through listening. Listening through learning. Listening while learning. Listening and learning. Living and learning.

Anyway, welcome to this episode of my podcast.

This is part 2 of episode 666 in which my brother James and I are talking about scary things, horror, evil and general moodiness.

I uploaded part 1 of this a few days ago and so far there has almost been radio silence from the LEPsters. Just the sound of crickets in the comment section and on social media, despite the fact that I was regularly receiving messages from people before publishing episode 666 asking about what I was planning to do for this episode with an apparently significant number. There have been one or two comments, but I feel it’s less than usual. What’s going on. Have you been spooked by the subject matter? Are you all freaked out by the number 666? It’s possibly because the episode got blocked on YouTube and YouTube is normally where the first comments come in because it’s easier to comment on YouTube. So nothing from YouTube. I don’t know. The download numbers have been good. Maybe you’re just superstitious but like Stevie Wonder once said “Superstition ain’t the way”.

In any case, let me introduce this properly. This is part 2 and there are 3 parts to this episode. James and I recorded all this a couple of weeks ago – him in London, me in Paris (we did it online of course, we didn’t just shout really loud) and we chatted for about 4 hours I think. I’ve edited that down, but still, this was a marathon recording, just because we had a lot of stuff we wanted to talk about.

In part 1 we talked about why the number 666 is associated with the devil, and then we talked about the devil in music with a little history lesson from James’ friend Kate Arnold who is an expert in medieval music and then there was some rambling from James and me about some of our favourite scary music – mostly the band Black Sabbath who are probably the first band to really make a name for themselves by being quite frightening, but also some death metal, some hip hop and some Aphex Twin. Apologies to those of you who were expecting us to talk more about Iron Maiden and also other genres like black metal and so on.

So that was part 1, but here in part 2 James and I are going to move on from music and instead share a few anecdotes of genuinely scary experiences we’ve had in our lives, scary things that have actually happened to us. So, a bit of storytelling in this one.

Then in part 3 of this we’re going to talk about scary films and horror movies, and then that will be it for episode 666.

I recorded this conversation with James remotely over video conferencing software and for some reason James’ microphone kept cutting out at various times. You might be able to hear it sometimes. He talks and then some of his sentences get cut in half or he suddenly goes silent a bit. I managed to fix this in most cases, but sometimes you will hear his voice cutting out and some words are missing or half pronounced. It was quite frustrating at the time, because of course I want you to be able to hear everything. It becomes a bit more obvious in the second half of this episode, and I hope you don’t find it too distracting. Hopefully you won’t even notice, although obviously you will now because I’ve mentioned it.

OK, so without any further ado, let’s jump back into episode 666 with some scary stories of real-life experiences from James and me, and here we go!


What is sleep paralysis?

www.nhs.uk/conditions/Sleep-paralysis/

Sleep paralysis (32 scary experiences from Reddit users)

32 INSANELY SCARY SLEEP PARALYSIS STORIES


Ending

OK listeners, that is where we are going to stop part 2, but this marathon episode will continue in part 3 in which James and I are going to talk about scary films and some other bits and pieces on this theme.

If you liked hearing our stories, you could check out some other episodes from the archive, which are similar. Here they are (just two of them).

Episode 140 is the one I mentioned earlier. That’s the ghost stories episode in which I tell 4 weird and disturbing stories from my life. Just a heads up: There’s quite a long and waffling introduction to that episode (what a surprise), so if you’d like to skip that and get straight to the stories, you should fast forward to about 17 minutes into the episode. Start listening from 17 minutes in if you want to get straight to the stories. You’ll hear The Scary Clock story again, plus 3 other weird anecdotes. That’s episode 140, starting 17 minutes into the episode.

140. Ghost Stories – True Tales of Really Creepy Experiences

Also there’s episode 372 which was called The Importance of Anecdotes in English, and that one contains 4 true stories told by my mum, my dad, James and me. At least 3 of them are quite frightening, including the time James got stranded in Hastings and ended up sleeping on a stranger’s sofa and it got a bit weird. My dad had a confrontation with a taxi driver in Greece when he was a student and I had a taste of the violent underworld crime scene in Liverpool when I used to live there. That perhaps sounds worse than it is – basically one evening a poor guy who had been kidnapped by drug dealers ended up at our front door and my housemates and I took him in without really realising what was happening, and the next thing we knew we had a bleeding traumatised stranger in our house and potentially some armed drug dealers outside looking for him. That was fun. Oh such lovely days as a student in Liverpool in the 90s.

Anyway, that’s an episode with 4 anecdotes told by my family and it is episode 372. There’s some language teaching about narrative tenses and how to tell anecdotes in that one, but if you want to skip straight to the stories again you’ll need to jump ahead to the 34 minute mark. Episode 372, 34 minutes in.

372. The Importance of Anecdotes in English / Narrative Tenses / Four Anecdotes

But that’s it for this episode. As I said earlier, I’d be curious to know if you’ve ever had similar experiences to us.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you’ve been through much more frightening and dangerous things than us, and I’m sure you have stories to tell.

  • Have you ever experienced sleep paralysis like I described earlier?
  • Have you ever had a really scary ride on a motorbike or perhaps something even more dangerous?
  • Have you ever had a near-death experience or just been freaked out by something you can’t really explain?

Leave your comments in the comment section if you fancy sharing your story with the LEPsters.

The final part of this unnerving trilogy will be arriving soon.

In the meantime, please stay safe, stay happy and stay healthy if at all possible and I will speak to you next time.

But for now, goodbye…

666. [Part 1] The Number of the Beast / Scary Music / Black Sabbath (with James)

Talking to my brother James about the significance of the number 666, and then some scary music including ‘The Devil’s Interval’, Black Sabbath and more…

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Introduction

This is episode 666 and the plan is to talk about all things evil, satanic, demonic, wicked, unholy, malevolent, hellish and scary, focusing on pop culture – music and films and a few anecdotes and rambles.

This is part 1 and this one deals mainly with the musical side of things after we talk about the significance of the number 666.

Just in case you don’t know, the number 666 is associated with the devil, satan, lucifer and generally frightening things like that.

A DISCLAIMER: We’re not trying to offend or upset anyone!

Before we begin, here is a disclaimer of sorts.

I know people are very superstitious out there.

Just talking about this subject will probably make some people a bit uneasy or uncomfortable. Some people take this sort of thing quite seriously.

But, don’t worry, we don’t believe in numerology, the occult or satanism.

It is interesting but we don’t really believe in it.

Also some of you might suffer from hexakosioihexekkontahexaphobia

…which is the fear of the number 666.

Yes, there is a phobia of this number. In the same way that some people have claustrophobia, arachnophobia or glossophobia, there are people out there who have hexakosioihexekkontahexaphobia.

So, if you are one of those people, if you are very superstitious about this stuff, or if you are of a particularly sensitive nature then this might not be for you.

Also, you should know that during this episode we will be playing some extracts of fairly loud and scary music, and also you will hear some clips from scary horror films – including weird and creepy background noises, maybe some screaming, maybe the sound of a chainsaw… you know, stuff like that.

So if you’re listening on headphones or something and you hear some scary noises, those scary noises will probably be coming from the podcast, rather from the world around you…

But just bear in mind that there will be scary noises and some heavy-ish music during the episode, I hope it doesn’t give you a shock or freak you out too much.

OK, I feel I should say that stuff before we start just to give some of you a little warning.

My companion in this episode is my brother James, naturally. He is the scariest person I could think of to invite onto episode 666. (just joking, he’s lovely)

Actually, ages ago James claimed episode 666. He bagsied it.

Also, listeners have been asking me about this since they realised that I’d make it to 666 episodes. Typically comments are like this: Luke, Episode 666 is coming up. I hope you are planning something special for it, like maybe an episode on heavy metal or horror films or something.

Well, that is the plan.


Kate Arnold’s Music 
(download her album here)

katearnolduk.bandcamp.com/


VIDEOS & IMAGES

Maths experts show us how 666 refers to Emperor Nero, and how 666 is not such a remarkable number.

Bill Bailey’s Psychological Doorbell

Kate Arnold

Black Sabbath – War Pigs live in Paris 1970

Black Sabbath Greatest Hits – scary album art

The Triumph of Death by Breugel (don’t look too closely unless you want to see all the disturbing details) More info and a high-res image here mikemonaco.wordpress.com/2010/04/15/the-triumph-of-death/

Tony Iommi and the Black Sabbath sound

Heavy Metal Britannia BBC Documentary (recommended!)

END OF PART 1 – Parts 2 & 3 coming soon…

Hello everyone, this is actually the end of part 1, we will continue the theme in part 2 and as you heard just at the end there we are going to tell some true stories about frightening things we’ve really experienced in our lives.

So, some anecdotes are coming in part 2.

I hope you have enjoyed part 1 and that you’re not feeling too disturbed or anything. 

Just to recap, we talked about the origin of the idea that 666 is the number of the devil, and how it turns out that it’s not quite as satanic as people often think. Then we talked about the devil’s interval in music – the augmented 4th or diminished 5th depending on your outlook on life (augmented means raised – to augment means to increase the value of something or to go up, and diminished is the opposite – to diminish means to make something less – so when you go up one semitone from a fourth you get the augmented 4th, and when you go down from a 5th you get the diminished 5th, but they’re actually the same exact note – just two ways of describing it). We talked about that, which is a feature of so-called unholy music, and then we had a good old ramble about Black Sabbath, heavy metal and other scary forms of music.

Still to come we have our scary stories and then in part 3 we turn to the topic of scary films.

Leave your comments in the comment section if you fancy getting involved.

Thanks again to Kate Arnold for her input in this episode. 

App users – you will find a bit of bonus audio for this episode. It’s Kate talking more about The Wheel of Fortune, which is the name of her album, but it’s also an image which appeared in a lot of medieval art and culture. So if you’d like to hear Kate talking for a couple of minutes about the wheel of fortune, then tap the gift icon for this episode in the LEP App. The icon can be found when you’re playing this episode, it’s next to the share, favourite and download icons in the app. If you don’t have the app, you can get it free from the app store on your phone, just search for Luke’s English Podcast App.

If you’d like to hear Kate’s music properly, without it being faded out by me, then check out the page for this episode on the website where you will find links to her album on Bandcamp and also some YouTube videos of her stuff.

Also on the page for this episode on the website you’ll see a video from Numberphile, explaining in more detail how the number 666 is a code which refers to Emperor Nero rather than the devil, plus some footage of Black Sabbath and the Heavy Metal Britannia documentary which is well worth a watch.

That’s it for this part then and we will speak to you again in part 2, but for now… good bye!

659. Lockdown Chat with Cara Leopold

Chatting to Cara Leopold about living in self isolation, the global coronavirus lockdown and how you can work on your English at home using TV shows and films.

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Hello ladies and gentlemen of the world, I hope you are doing alright in both body and mind at this particular moment in time.

Welcome to this new episode of my podcast which is here to help you develop your English skills simply by listening to some authentic, unscripted and spontaneous conversation – because we know that regular exposure to spoken English is vital in the learning process, and if listening to this can just keep you company for a while too, then that is an added bonus. 

In this episode you’re going to hear a chat with Cara Leopold, an English teacher from the UK currently living on lockdown in the east of France. 

Cara has been on this podcast before, two times as you may remember. 

The first time was back in episode 523 in which we talked about learning English with films and TV shows.

Then more recently we talked in episode 618 about the climate crisis.

This time you can hear us chatting about social distancing and being on lockdown during the current coronavirus pandemic, and some more comments about how to improve your English during this period at home using TV series and films.

Yes, there is quite a lot of talking here about the coronavirus. I hope you’re not completely fed up with this topic now. As I’ve said before, I don’t plan to talk about it too much, but I do still want to address the subject a bit, just because it’s on our minds so much and if I ignored it completely it would just end up being the elephant in the room.

Here is a quick rundown of the main points that came up in this conversation, just to help you understand what’s going on.

First we talk about the complex feelings and emotions we’re experiencing during this covid-19 lockdown, including things like anger, guilt, compassion, empathy, helplessness and general feelings of cognitive dissonance as we try to make sense of what’s going on in the world at the moment.

Then we talk about trying to balance the seriousness of the situation with your general mental health on a daily basis. Weighing up the positives and negatives of being stuck inside while the TV news reports on serious events going on around the world every day.

We talk about how much people are following the lockdown rules in our local areas and the vagueness of government positions on those lockdown rules in both France and the UK.

We speculate about Boris Johnson’s cavalier attitude towards social distancing (if you describe someone as ‘cavalier’ it means you’re criticising them for being a bit careless, reckless or not really taking the situation seriously enough) so we talk about Boris Johnson’s cavalier attitude a few weeks ago which resulted in him personally catching the virus. 

Breaking news at time of recording: he is now out of intensive care, which seems to be a good sign for his health, even though I expect it might have been touch and go for a while. Of course we wish him well, and anyone else who is suffering at this time.

We discuss the challenge of trying to work out a moral position on all of this, specifically several approaches to dealing with the crisis: social distancing vs herd immunity.

We chat about managing daily life at home, with a 2-year-old child (in my case), and what happens when I leave her unattended for more than 10 minutes.

Then we turn our attention to you and your English – and how you can use online content like TV series and films (for example on Netflix or perhaps on OpenCulture.com) to improve your English at home.

We did cover a lot of that kind of advice in episode 523 – link above.

but I will sum up the main bits of advice we made in that episode at the end of this one, so stay tuned for more comments about how you can use TV series and films to improve your English nearer the end of the chat.

By the way, Cara’s last episode was transcribed by the Orion Transcription team and apparently it was quite a tough transcribing job partly due to the sound quality from Cara’s side of the conversation. I think she may have been in an echoey room or at least a room with lots of flat surfaces around (a kitchen maybe) which caused her voice to be a bit difficult to hear. 

So this time Cara made a special effort to create better recording conditions. In fact for the whole conversation she was in a cupboard surrounded by coats – the point being, she was doing her best to get good quality sound. Hopefully she will be a bit clearer this time.

Clarifying Some Reference Points / Vocab

I’d like to clarify a couple of reference points, particularly in the opening minutes of the conversation, to help you follow what we’re saying.

Like an episode of Black Mirror
Black Mirror is a TV show which many of you will have seen, but also plenty of you won’t know about it. Episodes of the show typically involve some kind of scary situation, like perhaps a post-apocalyptic world or a world in which certain technology has completely changed our every day lives and not for the better, or it could be life in the context of an environmental or economic crisis or something. But basically “like an episode of Black Mirror” has become a phrase meaning “like we are living in a scary version of the future” or something.

France 3 / BFM  –> These are news stations which you get on French TV.

Canal+ –> a TV station / online platform which you have to pay for in France

ICU = intensive care unit

Helicopter parent / helicopter parenting = (informal disapproving) a parent who is closely involved with their child’s life and tries to control it too much, especially their child’s education

Collins Dictionary dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/helicopter-parent

There are plenty of other reference points and bits of language that I could explain and clarify now but actually I think it’s best to just let you listen to the conversation and simply try to follow it all, notice things as you go, work them out from context and try to find things that you can relate to personally, but in English.

So let’s begin…


Ending

Thanks again to Cara for climbing inside a cupboard and staying there for the duration of our conversation in a bid to improve the sound quality on her side of this conversation. Nice one Cara.

As ever, you can leave your comments on the website. I’m curious where you stand on all of this. 

I mentioned before that I would sum up the main points Cara and I made in episode 523 about using TV and films for learning English, with and without subtitles.

I’ve decided to put that into a separate episode, because I think that rather than tacking it onto the end of this conversation it deserves to have a whole episode of its own. Plus there will be people out there who would appreciate having all the advice in one single episode. So that will be the next episode of the podcast – a summary of advice for using Netflix (and other platforms) for improving your English, plus some more specific recommendations for shows and films you can watch.

Cara’s free course on udemy.com “Improve your English Listening Skills with Movie Quotes”

www.udemy.com/share/1020Lg/

Upcoming episode with Oli

Long term listeners will remember that I have a cousin called Oli who used to be on the podcast quite a lot until he moved to Bristol and I moved to France and we didn’t get the chance to see each other very often. Well he now works for Netflix as a producer at their offices in Los Angeles (I swear I am not sponsored by Netflix!) He moved there a couple of years ago and coincidentally enough I recorded a conversation with him the other day about moving to the USA, what it’s like working for Netflix as a producer and what it’s like to be a Brit living in the USA and communicating with American people every day. That is coming soon. Again, I’m not promoting Netflix – they don’t need me to do that. But anyway, it was a good conversation that covers details of his work and the communication and cultural differences between the UK and USA.

Coronavirus Mini Interviews 1-3 on Zdenek’s English Podcast

If you enjoyed listening to this conversation with Cara, and you enjoy hearing about other people’s experiences of living in lockdown in different countries then I’d like to recommend that you listen to several recent episodes of ZEP including episode 2 which is with me. Links on the page for the episode or just subscribe to Zdenek’s English Podcast.

Episode 1 – Alexander from Russia, Musa from Turkey who is currently living in the UK, Daniel from Switzerland who is also known from My Fluent Podcast, and Daria from Ukraine.

zdeneksenglishpodcast.podbean.com/e/episode-291-coronavirus-mini-interviews-part-1/

Episode 2 – Luke from England, Rita from Italy, Lavi from Hungary, and Nrup from India.

zdeneksenglishpodcast.podbean.com/e/episode-292-coronavirus-mini-interviews-part-2/

Episode 3 – Kieren from England, Kais from the Netherlands, Nikita from Canada, and Darkan from Kazakhstan. 

zdeneksenglishpodcast.podbean.com/e/episode-293-coronavirus-mini-interviews-part-3/

Some of you will be wondering when another RT report will arrive. Soon, I think!

Thanks and speak to you again soon!

657. [1/2] Why do Brits sing with American accents?

Have you ever wondered why British people sometimes change their accent when they sing? This episode explores the question of why this happens, with various examples and some (dodgy) singing by me. Notes, videos and transcripts available on the page below.

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Notes & Transcriptions

Hello listeners,

This is episode 657 and it’s called “Why do Brits sing with American accents?”

Essentially this episode is about accents in English, and how our accents sometimes change when we sing.

This is all based on an email I got from a listener recently. Here is that email.
I’m curious to see if you have ever wondered the same thing.

An email from a listener, with a question about accents

Name: János Bernhardt /jænɒʃ bɜːnhɑːt//

Janos gave me the OK to read this out, and I’ll make some corrections as we go.

Message:

Dear Luke,

I have just watched this video (attached) and one question came to my mind about the british english accent.

A couple of corrections from Luke

“British English” should have a capital B and a capital E (British English) because we capitalise the first letters of nationality adjectives and the names of languages in English. Also, I’d avoid saying “The British accent” or “The British English accent” because there are lots of British accents, and this often annoys British people, who often get a bit offended by other people writing “the British accent” and they say “There’s no such thing as The British Accent!”. So, I suggest that instead you should say “British accents”, just “British English” or maybe “a British accent”.

Let’s rephrase Janos’s sentence like this:

I’ve just watched this video and one question came to my mind about British accents…

The video in question is of a British singer called Charlotte Awbery who became a sensation (in February) due to a viral Instagram and YouTube video in which she was randomly asked to sing in a Tube station in London.

In the video sent by Janos, we see that she sings Lady Gaga’s song “Shallow” from the film A Star Is Born really well, just like Lady Gaga, but when she speaks she does so in a completely different accent to the one she was singing in.

We’ll listen to the video in a moment, but let’s continue Janos’ email.

In the video Charlotte clearly loses her accent when she sings, but when she speaks I can hear her beautiful british accent. Is this a normal thing or she has to pay close attention to this during singing? Does she have to…

Sorry for disturbing you if it is a stupid question and also sorry for my bad english.

By the way I love your podcast. I just discovered it recently but I really try to relisten as much episodes as I can.

I am really trying to relisten to as many episodes as I can.

Thanks a lot Luke!
Kind Regards,
János Bernhardt

This is an example of an email from a listener which immediately sent me down a huge rabbit hole (a complicated journey in which you get lost looking for an answer).

That doesn’t always happen when listeners send me questions, but it did with this one. To be honest, I should have been working on other things but when I received this email it caught my attention and then I got sucked in! I thought it would make a perfect episode of the podcast because it’s about accents in English, it’s about American and British English, it’s about music, it’s about culture, it’s about identity and I am certain this is a question that a lot of you have thought of → Why is it that British singers often sing with American accents?

Brits don’t always sing with American accents (there are plenty of cases when this doesn’t happen, as we will see later in the episode), but they often do.

This is the stuff I’m interested in. Also it gives me a chance to play a bit of guitar and do some singing on the podcast too, which I will probably do a bit later when we get stuck into this properly.

God knows how long this episode will be, because there’s a lot to unpack here. It might be a double episode. We’ll see.

Before we go any further, we should check out that clip that Janos sent to me, so we know what he was talking about.

Let’s listen to the video that he mentioned.

Charlotte Awbrey on The Ellen Show

This is a clip from the Ellen show (an American chat show), and you’ll hear various people speaking including chat show host Ellen Degeneres, and also some other people. I won’t explain any more. Let’s just listen to the clip and your job is to work out what is going on, who is speaking and where they are from.

Comprehension Questions

  1. What’s happening?
  2. Who is talking?
  3. Where are they from?
  4. What accent does Charlotte have?
    Don’t just say “British”. Can you be more specific?

In summary…

Charlotte Awbery: 5 Things To Know About The Subway Singer Who Nailed Lady Gaga’s ‘Shallow’ 

Charlotte Awbery is an internet sensation after a video of her showcasing her incredible singing voice went viral on February 20. Just four days prior, a content creator named Kevin Freshwater shared a video of a segment he hosted called, “Finish the Lyrics.” In the video, Freshwater can be seen traveling through the streets and subways, asking random people to finish the lyrics of popular songs. And, that’s where he came across Charlotte, who was making her way to a train in the subway. [The Underground!]

Freshwater approached Charlotte who was visibly caught off guard, and began singing the lyrics to “Shallow” — Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper‘s Oscar-winning hit from the film, A Star Is Born. Charlotte began singing the lyrics quietly, but just enough for Freshwater to recognize how talented she is. When he kept asking her to sing more, Charlotte went all out and it took the internet by storm.“

Then she was invited onto the Ellen show with Ellen Degeneres, to sing the song and then be interviewed.

The thing is, she sang with an American accent but then spoke with a really broad Estuary English accent (some call it cockney, some call it Essex – basically it’s a strong local accent from the area to the east of London.)

So, going back to Janos’ original question then:

Why did Charlotte Awbery switch from an American accent when singing, to a British accent when talking?

Is this normal?
Do British people normally do that when they sing?
Do they/we have to make special effort to do it?
What’s going on?

Is this normal? Do Brits normally do this when they sing?
Yes, lots of Brits suddenly change their accent and sound American when they sing. (Why? We’ll see). I’m talking about singing pop music, which sort of covers various forms of modern music that largely originate in the USA, like jazz, blues, soul, country, rock & roll, rock, gospel –> all the main ingredients of modern pop music.

It’s not just Brits. Irish people, Australian people, people from New Zealand, people from South Africa, any English speaker, including non-native speakers of English in France, Germany, Japan, wherever! Everyone does this.

I’m sticking with Brits though because that’s what I am and that’s what I know.

Yes it is very normal and very common. There are various degrees of it – sometimes it’s just a slight American accent, sometimes it’s really strong. We’ll be looking at some examples later.

But it doesn’t happen every time. There are plenty of examples of British singers singing in their own accent too (again, more on this later).

Do British people have to make a special effort to sing in an American accent?
I would say “no”, it normally happens completely effortlessly but it does depend on the song, or the style of the song. In fact, in many cases it would take a lot of effort to sing some songs in a British accent even if that is your native accent. I’ll hopefully demonstrate this later when I try to sing some songs myself.

What’s going on?
Various things! This is a complex question to answer and that’s what the rest of this episode is about. I’m going to explore the answer to the question, although I’m not a linguist or a sociologist or anything so I’m kind of working it out myself. One thing that can help is to listen to some samples of music and also it might help if I try and sing in different accents myself and we can see what happens.

Basically, singing and speaking are different. Let’s talk about why.

Social, linguistic and musical conventions 

American accents are conventional in music which has its roots in the USA.

Certain genres of music were born in the USA, including most pop music, soul, rock, R&B, jazz, funk, hip hop → this goes back to the roots of modern pop music, American blues, gospel and country music.

Therefore, when singing pop songs an American accent is the standard and is therefore easier, more normal and more natural.

Singing those songs with an obvious RP accent (or other) just ends up being weird, unnatural and wrong sounding, mainly because it would be unconventional. It just doesn’t sound right to sing certain songs with a British accent like mine.

But there are plenty of exceptions to this too, and that’s songs, genres or bands that have something authentically British about them.

In the case of this song (Shallow) Charlotte is singing a Lady Gaga song, and Lady Gaga sings it with an American accent because she is American. It’s a cover version and it would be a bit weird if she made it sound different to the original. Also the song is in a country-rock style, and in country music it’s normal to sing with a really pronounced accent – probably a southern or mid-western drawl. “Shallow” is a song from the film “A Star is Born” which is about a country singer.

Singing “Shallow” in a British accent

Let’s play “Shallow” on the guitar and first sing it in an American accent and then in a British accent.

How does it sound in my accent?

What’s your accent Luke?
Just a reminder (and because people often ask me questions about this) My accent is basically standard RP, which is said to be not specific to any region of the UK, but to be honest it’s usually associated with educated, middle-class people, probably from the South East of England. I’m not trying to say I’m educated (and of course you can be highly-educated and everything and have a regional accent), but I’m definitely middle class and from the south east of England, but I also spent time growing up in the midlands as well as west London, so you might hear a bit of west-midlands Brummie in my voice or a bit of a London accent – if you’re listening very carefully. But basically, I speak with standard British RP from the south east of England but I’m not posh.

“Shallow” Lyrics (written by Lady Gaga with Andrew WyattAnthony Rossomando and Mark Ronson)

Lyrics: tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/misc-soundtrack/a-star-is-born-shallow-chords-2488086

Shallow doesn’t really sound right in my accent.

I don’t know what you think. There’s bound to be some people who prefer my British version. It’s a question of taste, but I think overall my British RP version wouldn’t really be accepted by most audiences. It would be weird, different, unconventional. Most people in the USA would think it was weird and wrong, I reckon.

But some songs and genres are definitely British and British voices are more obvious → things like folk music, UK hip hop (does Rapping count? It’s basically talking), Britpop, merseybeat, punk – in fact any music which is uniquely or authentically British in some way, or in which the local identity is being emphasised.

Brits sing in a British accent when they’re really being themselves, when it’s traditional British folk music, or when they’re pushing the British identity in the music.

Some British musicians make an effort not to sound American. You can hear that in some of the Beatles’ output (although sometimes they’re a bit American sounding too) and definitely in punk bands, new wave bands, britpop bands and so on → any musical movements in which a British identity gets pushed to the forefront.

Some examples of British music sung in a British accent

Madness – My Girl

Original version

Me singing it with an American accent (sounds wrong!)

Lyrics: tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/madness/my-girl-chords-202328

So, in summary, I’d say that although this seems a bit weird, it’s common for Brits to sing with American accents because of the conventions of pop music which has its roots in the USA, but there are also examples of Brits singing in their own accents.


There’s a lot more to talk about and to investigate here, so let’s go into a bit more detail.

This article from thrillist.com has some more comments (read some extracts) 

I might be re-emphasising what I just said, but I think it’s worth reading these extracts from an article I found on a website called Thrillist.com

www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/why-do-british-singers-sound-american

One of the most prominent academics on this case is Peter Trudgill. In 1983, the man published an oft-cited study that examined the disconnect between how so many British pop singers talk in real life and how they perform. He concluded that acts like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones incorporated American phonetics because they were so influenced by Yankee musicians — particularly blues acts. (Remember, the Stones got their name from a Muddy Waters track.) It was an attempt to ape their idols and break into the U.S. market.

Rolling Stones singing “Not Fade Away”

Trudgill noted the American-ness got less aggressive as time wore on, and the British Invasion acts became more comfortable with their native speaking voices. By the time the ’70s arrived, punk bands like The Clash were turning away from American affectations.

So, basically –> In the beginning, UK singers were copying their American idols, but later this influence lessened.

Here are a couple of examples of UK punk bands singing in obvious British accents, to illustrate what Peter Tudgill said.

Sham 69 – Hurry Up Harry

Peter & The Test Tube Babies – Banned from the Pubs

That’s one explanation, but seeing as we still have modern fakers like Adele, it’s incomplete.

Adele speaks with a cockney accent like Charlotte Awbrey but sings in an American accent.

Some people argue that the phenomenon is more a matter of technique. Billy Bragg, who’s normally pretty cool with singing like a Brit, once said, “You can’t sing something like ‘Tracks of My Tears’ in a London accent… the cadences are all wrong.”

Billy Bragg singing normally

Billy Bragg singing Tracks of My Tears by Smokey and the Miracles.

So the point here is that it is just easier to sing in an American accent and sometimes an American accent is just appropriate for the song.

A recent study by Andy Gibson, a sociologist in New Zealand, would appear to back Bragg up. Gibson found that Kiwis defaulted to an American singing voice across the board, and it wasn’t a conscious choice. He surmised it was just easier to sing in that accent. That’s partially because of the way we round off certain words when we sing, and partially because the world is so used to hearing American accents in pop songs, it requires more effort and concentration to sing in a different accent. Even if that “different accent” is your default speaking voice.

Clearly, researchers are still working on a definitive answer. But people do “lose” their accents through song, and it’s not some weird conspiracy. It’s just linguistics! Or Mick Jagger’s fault. You decide.

What are the phonetic features of this “American Singing Accent”?

Let’s break down “the American singing accent” vs my British accent

I’ve decided called it “the American singing accent” because it might not match perfectly with General American or with all American accents.

America is a diverse place and there are many diverse accents there. But it seems that there is a certain kind of American accent that we can hear in a lot of music.

I get the feeling that this accent comes from the people who sang the blues and gospel (basically that means black communities in southern states) and from people who sang country (mostly white singers from southern or midwestern states) but I’m not a musicologist.

Features of The American Singing Accent (my own made-up term)

  • Diphthongs are flattened to long single vowel sounds. This can help in singing, because it allows you to hold one note for a long time.
  • Common examples:
    I (often) sounds like aaaa
    My (often) sounds like maaa
    Try sounds like traaaaa
    Life sounds like Laaaaaaaf
    Time 
    “Out” sounds like “aaaat”
    “Sight” sounds like “saaaaat”
  • /r/ sounds are often more rounded “Now you’re out of sight here” “Now yurrrraaaaatu saaaaat heRe”
  • It’s generally a bit more nasal “Tell me something girl. Are you happy in this modern world? Or do you need more?” “Tell me something boy. Aren’t you tired tryin’ to fill that void?”
  • “Baby” sounds like “Baybeeee”

I’m sure there are other features. Let me know in the comment section if you can think of others.

To be honest, the best way I can demonstrate this is to try and sing some more songs in different accents and see what happens.


Ending

That’s where we’re going to pause. This is the end of part 1, and we will continue in part 2, which will be available soon, possibly already.

In part 2 the plan is to explore this question further by doing some more singing. I’m going to take some songs which are normally sung in that American singing voice, sing them normally and then sing them in my accent and we’ll see how it sounds. 

We’ll also hear some more examples of British singers singing in American accents, and also British singers singing in British accents. 

So, a lot more examples in part 2 to illustrate what I’ve been talking about in this episode.

As ever, I’m interested in your comments. Perhaps you have examples of British singers singing in American accents, or British singers singing in British accents.

Or maybe there’s a song which you like, but you don’t really know what the accent is?

In any case, you can share your thoughts and YouTube videos in the comment section.

I hope you’re keeping well, that you’re not climbing the walls or going stir crazy if you are currently in self-isolation at home. If you’re cooped up with members of your family I hope you’re managing to make it work and that you’re not at each other’s throats. Maybe you’re a lovely lovely time, in which case I am happy for you. If you’re struggling then hang in there, this won’t last forever. And if you or anyone else you know is currently unwell, then I wish you a speedy recovery and what else can I say –> may the force be with you? Actually, that’s when the lockdown is supposed to be lifted here. May the 4th (although I suspect it will be extended) but anyway, “May the 4th be with you”.

Alright, that’s enough. I hope you have found this interesting and part 2 should be available now or very soon, so you can get stuck into that. 

So, speak to you again in part 2 but for now –> bye bye bye!

Click here for part 2

654. Computer-based IELTS / Stories about The First Time… (with Jessica Beck from IELTS Energy Podcast)

A chat with Jessica Beck from the IELTS Energy Podcast about the new computer-based IELTS test, plus some funny stories about doing things for the first time, motivation in language learning, dealing with the stress of public speaking and seeing “The Fonz” on a ski slope. Get a $50 discount on Jessica’s new IELTS online course by going to www.teacherluke.co.uk/3keys

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Transcripts for the introduction & ending

Hello listeners, how are you? I hope you’re alright. How are you all coping? I hope you’re all doing ok out there in podcastland.

Here is a new podcast episode to listen to and this time I am joined by IELTS teacher Jessica Beck who you might know from the IELTS Energy Podcast and All Ears English.

Jessica has been on LEP a couple of times before as you may remember. She is a specialist in IELTS preparation, having taught IELTS courses for many years now both in classrooms and online.

Just in case you don’t know, IELTS stands for the International English Language Testing System. It’s a proficiency test which reveals a person’s English level, and it’s fiendishly difficult, requiring a lot of preparation in order to make sure that you get a result that reflects your English at its best. I recently talked about the speaking part of the test with Keith O’Hare in episode 640.

Jessica recently invited me onto an episode of her podcast – the IELTS Energy Podcast, and we talked about differences between American and British English (because the IELTS test features both versions so it’s interesting to compare them and look at some common vocabulary differences).

That is #850 of The IELTS Energy Podcast, called “What’s a Zebra Crossing? Luke Will Tell You!” There’s a link on the page for this episode if you’d like to hear it.

IELTS Energy 850: What’s a Zebra Crossing? Luke Will Tell You!

And now Jessica Beck is back on my podcast again in this episode.

Here’s a little overview of what’s coming up, in order to help you follow the whole thing.

First you will hear some chat about the weather where we live. I’m in Paris and she’s in Portland up in the North West of the USA near Seattle. This smalltalk should give you a chance to get used to the speed of the conversation, before we move on to talk about the computer-based IELTS test.

Planning to take IELTS? You’ll need to prepare properly.

Some of you will be planning to take the IELTS test in the future and you might be wondering about the best way to prepare, especially if you’re studying at home. If that is you, then you could check out the 3 Keys IELTS course which Jessica and the other girls at All Ears English have created. It’s a really solid and complete package which includes pretty much everything you need to get success in this course, including video lessons, test practice and 90 minutes of one-to-one counselling with one of the girls over skype.

I suggest you check out the Personal Coach course for the computer based test. And listeners to my podcast can get a 50$ discount on that, which is nice.

Check out www.teacherluke.co.uk/3keys for all the information. You’ll hear some more details about that later.

www.teacherluke.co.uk/3keys

So there’s some chat about the weather and then some chat about taking the computer based version of the test, but it’s not all about IELTS. I think we just talk about IELTS for the first 10 minutes in fact and then you will hear us sharing a couple of personal stories about doing things for the first time, one involving the importance of not giving up even when it hurts, and the other story is about how to deal with the stress of public speaking. We reflect on the lessons learned from those experiences and their relevance to the challenge of learning a language.

Also, listening to this you will be able to notice differences between Jessica’s American English and my British English, not necessarily in terms of vocabulary used but more just in terms of our intonation patterns or the tone of our speaking in general. It will probably seem really obvious at the beginning, especially if you are very used to hearing me speak.

Listening back to this conversation myself and during I somehow felt extra British (a bit awkward, perhaps a bit posh and quite wordy) and that Jessica was being extra American (super enthusiastic, energetic, positive). Actually, we end up making fun of each other’s speaking style at one point as we do impressions of each other presenting our podcasts. It’s a bit of a laugh and you should enjoy it.

Anyway, I will now stop rambling now so you can listen to this conversation with Jessica about IELTS and about what we learned from the challenge of doing some things for the first time and I’ll talk to you again briefly at the end of the episode.


Not sure who “Fonzie” is? Have a look… (he’s the guy in the leather jacket on the motorbike)

Ending

Thanks again to Jessica for coming on the podcast again and sharing that story. I can’t believe she saw The Fonz on a ski slope. That doesn’t happen every day, does it?

I’m genuinely curious to see if any of you actually know who The Fonz is. He is mentioned in the film Pulp Fiction, if you remember. The scene in the diner with Samuel L Jackson, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer and John Travolta. There’s a kind of Mexican stand-off (of course there is, it’s a Quentin Tarantino film!) and if you don’t know what a Mexican stand-off is, it’s when loads of people point guns at each other in a film (and maybe in real life I don’t know).

Anyway, Samuel L Jackson manages to make Amanda Plummer’s character calm down by saying “We’re going to be like 3 little Fonzies here, alright? And what’s Fonzie like?” and she’s like “What? Wh…” “WHAT’S FONZIE LIKE???” “He’s cool.” “That’s right he’s cool. So we’re going to be like three little Fonzies here ok” etc. It’s a memorable moment, if you remember it that is.

Anyway, if you are considering preparing for IELTS and you have, say, 30 or 60 days available ahead of you, then you might consider the 3 Keys IELTS Personal Coach course for the computer test, and if you’re interested go to teacherluke.co.uk/3keys to get a $50 discount.

www.teacherluke.co.uk/3keys

Alrighty then. So how are you holding up?

It’s a tough and weird time, there’s no doubt about it. As I’ve said before, this virus isn’t just a threat to your physical health. Obviously you need to take steps to avoid catching it, but also to avoid spreading it too, but at the same time please do look after your mental health. Keep yourself busy, find a routine in your daily life, do some indoor exercise like Yoga. Read books. Don’t spend the whole day staring at social media or watching 24 hour news. Use this as a chance to get some things done that you’ve been putting off for a while. Keep in touch with friends and family. Just a few ideas. I mean, what do I know? In any case, do take care of yourselves out there and I hope that this podcast can keep you company just a little bit during this weird time.

I’ll speak to you again soon, but for now, Bye!

653. Gill’s Book Club – “The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper” by Hallie Rubenhold / How to read books to improve your English

Talking to my mum about a good book she read recently; a social history about 5 women who had one thing in common – they were all murdered by Jack The Ripper in 1888. Also includes some advice and comments about reading books to learn English.

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Introduction

Hello everyone, How are you doing out there in podcastland, or should I not ask?

We all know that the dreaded coronavirus is making life difficult for everyone and I very much hope that you are basically well and that you’re keeping your spirits up despite the many difficulties that you might be facing during this tricky period. I expect you will either be extremely busy looking after children, or perhaps trying to solve work-related problems, or perhaps you’re growing increasingly bored and lonely if you’re just stuck at home in self-isolation. I am also attempting to adjust to a new routine as we are looking after our daughter, trying to keep her busy, while also trying to get work done. But really, things are not too bad for us at this stage. We’re quite lucky.

I just want to wish everyone all the best and I hope you’re managing to stay positive. I won’t talk a lot more about this situation right now. I’m thinking of doing one or two episodes about self-isolation and associated vocabulary in the coming days or weeks.

In any case, this can be a good opportunity, if you have the time, to focus on things like listening to podcasts or reading books to improve your English and in fact that is what this episode is all about. It’s a podcast conversation with my mum about books, well, about one book in particular.

That’s right, this is the first episode of Gill’s Book Club, which I mentioned on the podcast a while ago, I think in my mum’s episode about Quintessentially British Things from January in which she chose to talk about 3 of her favourite books. I suggested that that might make a good regular feature for episodes of this podcast. Lots of LEPsters agreed and my mum is happy to do it and so here it is. Gill’s Book Club.

The concept is pretty simple. I talk to my mum about books that she has read. She describes them, tells us what they are about and what she found interesting about them. We can also read some samples from the books too if possible.

It could be any book or books she wants → an old favourite, a recent discovery or just something she thinks will be interesting to talk about. Hopefully it will just be a pleasant listening experience for you, but it could also give you some inspiration if you’re looking for a book to read in English.

Briefly, before we start. Here is some advice on how to use these episodes of the podcast.

How to use these episodes of Gill’s Book Club

You can either

a) Just listen to the episode, try to follow what my mum and I are saying and hopefully find it pleasant to listen to without feeling the need to actually read the book being described. As I’ve said before, it is very important and beneficial for your English to listen to things like this on a regular basis, equally it is important to read regularly.

So, your other option could be this:

b) Having heard us talk about this book, you can then get your own copy and then read it yourself. Alternatively you could get the audiobook version.

And perhaps if the particular book we’re talking about isn’t exactly what you’re looking for, listening to my mum talking about reading could just encourage you to read more in English yourself even if it’s not the book we’re describing.

If you do want to read a book to improve your English then I have some advice for you, but I’m going to tell you that advice after you’ve heard my conversation with Mum because I don’t want to go on and on too much here at the start.

So listen all the way until the end of this episode to hear specific advice from me regarding how to choose a book to read in English.

Anyway, let’s now talk to my mum. We decided to talk about just one book in this conversation in order to be able to focus our attention more clearly.

Don’t forget to check the page for this episode on my website, where you will find all the details of the book plus some other notes, transcripts of my intro and ending and so on.

So, without any further ado, let’s talk to my mum.


Ending

OK so there you are, that was the very first episode of Gill’s Book Club. Let us know what you think by leaving your comments in the comment section on my website. You’ll find this episode in the archive, or just click the link in the show notes in your podcasting app.

I said at the beginning that I had a few tips to help you choose a book in English.

I’ve talked about this on the podcast before in quite a lot of detail, but here’s some of my advice just distilled into a few brief points.

Tips for choosing and reading books in English

  1. Choose a book you want to read. You’ve got to be motivated to read the book. Would you choose to read that book in your first language? People often say to me things like this, “I thought of reading Harry Potter, what do you think?” and I ask them if they would read it in their language and they kind of say “No”. I wonder then why they would choose to read it in English. Choose a book that you actually want to read, not only because you think it might be good for your English. Don’t choose to impose a boring and ‘homework-style’ reading experience on yourself. It is possible to read in English for pleasure and improve your language skills as a result.
  2. Pick a book which contains the right kind of language. Pick something modern if possible. Older books (including really popular stuff like Sherlock Holmes Jane Austen and Charles Dickens) tend to be written in a fairly old-fashioned style which can be really difficult for learners of English (and me too – I love Sherlock Holmes but I often struggle to understand what is actually happening because it’s all so dense and detailed). Try to find something in a plain, modern style. Obviously, if point 1 is more important to you (i.e. you just really really want to read that book) then point 2 is less of a concern. Ultimately it’s good to be exposed to all types of English and if you’re motivated that’s the best thing. But to be on the safe side, pick a modern book in plain English. Harry Potter for example is not a bad choice in this case. It’s not perfect, because a lot of the words are made up words in the HP universe, but mostly it is written in a modern way, similar to how people actually speak now. You heard Mum and me mention Bridget Jones’ Diary, which I think would be a great choice actually, because it’s a good book and it’s written in the sort of English that people actually use these days.
  3. Pick a book which you will be able to finish. Finishing a book is great isn’t it? It gives you a sense of success and closure, literally. That’s important! So, consider a shorter book, or even a book which has been graded for your level (Check: Macmillan Readers, Penguin Readers, Pearson English Readers – they all have some excellent books graded for different levels – choose a book you want to read and something appropriate to your level, probably B1 intermediate, B2 upper-intermediate or C1 advanced). Also consider buying the sort of book that is quite easy to read, like a page turner (The Da Vinci Code is an example of a page turner – it’s quite easy to read and you just want to know what happens next. Page turners usually contain mystery, romance or horror). An advantage of page turners is that you can fly through them quite quickly, which is one of your aims – get as much English into your head as possible. A disadvantage of page turners is that they can be a bit meaningless and of poor quality. For example, I found the 5th HP book to be a good example of a page turner. I couldn’t wait to get onto the next page to find out what was going to happen next. I read it incredibly fast, but at the end I realised that nothing really happened in the book. Somehow JK Rowling wrote it so that I felt something interesting was always around the corner, but then when I finished it I realised that it was mostly nothing. Someone dies at the end and that’s it really. But I read it extremely quickly. And that is actually a good thing for learning English. You want something that will allow you to read more and more and more.

So, overall you need to strike a balance between

  • A book which you want to read
  • A book which contains the right kind of English (today’s English, basically)
  • A book which you will be able to read

But the most important one is #1 → Pick a book you want to read, because motivation will carry you through points 2 and 3, and if you enjoy something the language is more likely to stick with you.

You can also choose to stop and check words in a dictionary, note them down, perhaps note the extract in which they appear, or just carry on and focus on continuing the book and only check new words when you think they’re really important. If literally every other word is new to you, then it might be better to choose a graded reader as I said before. In those graded books, the range of vocabulary is narrower and they’re easier to read. And remember, it’s not about being able to understand the most difficult books. It’s about reading as much as possible, as regularly as possible and enjoying the experience.

I think The Five is certainly an interesting sounding book which I can imagine many of you would like. The reviews for it are great. It has a rating of 4.5/5 on Amazon.co.uk. Although the English can be quite dense (which is normal for books like this), it is written in a modern style and there is definitely a lot of vocabulary which you would pick up from it. So if you’d like to learn more about these 5 women and their lives, then get yourself a copy of The Five by Hallie Rubenhold.

It’s available in Kindle version, Audiobook version and normal paperback and hardback versions.

Get a free 30 day trial with Audible.com including a free audiobook of your choice by going to www.audibletrial.teacherluke.com

Click here for 30-day trial with Audible, including a free audiobook of your choice. You can cancel before the end of the month and keep the audiobook. 

Tips on how to read a book in English

Basically there are two approaches. Oh, I’ve already mentioned these things. Forgive me now as I repeat myself a bit.

1. Have a dictionary and check words as you discover them, noting little definitions or other things that might help you remember the words, possibly keeping a vocabulary notebook as you go.

2. Just focus on reading for pleasure and try to tolerate or guess the words and phrases you don’t know. Keep going and try not to be distracted by bits you don’t understand. It might make more and more sense as you continue.

I do strongly suggest that you persevere through the first 25% of the book. Often it takes a while to get used to a new book and it might not grab you until you get through a certain number of pages.

Resist the temptation to give up. Keep reading! Don’t stop! Push through the difficult or boring bits. From time to time, stop to think about the book and try to form some opinions on it as you go. What do you think of the characters? What’s actually going on? What is the writer’s point of view? What is this really about? What does the world of the book actually look like, feel like and even smell like? All of that can help you to get into the book more as you read it.

That’s it! Leave your comments below and tell us what you think of Gill’s Book Club. 

649. An Unedited Ramble (March 2020) Never Explain, Never Apologise? / No Stress / Method To The Madness / 3 Songs on Guitar

Luke talks on his own without stopping, restarting or editing, including responses to comments about recent episodes, thoughts on the methodology behind this podcast, some vocabulary teaching, a few songs on the guitar and more. This is no-stress episode, and a chance for me to just check in on you and make sure you’re all doing ok out there in the world! 😉

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Image by Larisa Koshkina from Pixabay.

Episode Notes

These are just notes and not a full transcript. Some chunks of target vocabulary are highlighted in bold.

In this episode you’re going to hear me talking on my own, which probably means it’s going to be easier to understand and follow what I’m saying than some of the episodes I’ve uploaded recently, because I’ve uploaded some pretty challenging episodes over the last few weeks and months, and years… I try to mix it up a bit, with some challenging ones and some easier ones. Let’s say the easier ones are when I’m on my own and the more challenging ones are when I’m with other people or when we are breaking down recordings of other people.

But this one is just me, and you, because you’re involved. You’re listening aren’t you?

I hope this will come as something of a relief to you, at least to those of you who are pushing yourselves by listening to my podcast, and who might have quite a tough time understanding the more challenging episodes.

I know that some episodes are difficult to follow sometimes, because of the speed of English you’re hearing from my guests and me, and because we might be talking about subjects that you aren’t so familiar with.

Anyway, no stress today, there’s enough stress in the world. The plan here is just to chat to you, have a good old-fashioned ramble on LEP.

So you can have a bit of a breather today and just enjoy listening to this. And I hope you listen to all of it, from start to the finish. If it makes any difference to you, I will sing you a song or two with my guitar at the end. So if you’d like to hear me singing again, as I do at the end of episodes sometimes, then stick with it and keep listening until the end. Don’t be tempted to skip forward. That’s cheating.

Two words: deferred gratification.

It’s important to have a bit of self-discipline and I’m talking to myself there as much as I’m talking to you. 

When I decided to do this episode I thought (and it’s always like this, with these rambling episodes as I’ve come to call them) I decided initially to just talk without preparing anything in advance. Just no pressure, no specific agenda, just speak my mind and try to express the ideas which have been building up in my head since the last time I spoke to you like this.

The idea is that I can keep it authentic, in the moment and I don’t have to spend ages working on it before I even start recording. That’s what I think when I decide to do an episode like this.

But that’s easier said than done, because…. (What happens Luke? How do you end up writing so much in advance?)

Basically: I want to talk with no preparation, but then I have to write some things down or I won’t remember to mention them, but then I end up starting to type out everything in advance. 

It’s hard to know when to stop preparing and when to start recording.

So I’ve decided to just get started here without worrying too much about having every single detail prepared in advance. 

I know it’s probably not an issue for you, but I’m just giving you bit of insight into what goes through my mind when I prepare and record an episode. 

So → No more preparing, it’s time to start talking, which might mean there is some rambling here, which is fine and great.


Episode Aims

  • The main aim of this episode is to check in on you (make sure you’re doing alright) but not check up on you (to investigate, gather information, spy on someone)
  • And just chat to you about various things on my mind, things that I think are of interest to you as a member of my audience.
  • Talk a bit about recent episodes, just to establish where we are.
  • Give a few bits of news.
  • Respond to a couple of comments I’ve received
  • Have a bit of a laugh → just have some fun on the podcast because that is one of my favourite things about doing this. Just messing about and having fun, with no stress involved!
  • Sing one, two or maybe three songs on the guitar, which I will leave until the end.

As we go through all of this, I am sure that there will be various expressions, vocabulary and other language points that will come up. [A lot of it is highlighted for you here]

When I talk in episodes of this podcast I am sure that some people don’t notice what the method is. Most people like to think there is a specific pedagogical method at work and in my experience it is necessary to tell people (my students for example) exactly what the method is in order to put their minds at rest so they know they’re in safe hands.

What I will say is this – it might not be obvious all the time, but there is method to the madness I can assure you. I’ve been teaching for nearly 20 years now and to an extent I am now just always teaching. I’m always in teaching mode. This means that I’m always thinking about what you while I am talking. I’m always thinking about the listener not because I’m so selfless and wonderful but because I know what I’m doing.

*You don’t need to justify it Luke*

Let’s just say this → Even when it’s not obvious that I am teaching you, I am teaching you. Every minute you listen to this (and indeed most other things you could listen to, but the difference here is that I am doing this specifically for you as a learner of English and even more specifically as a LEPster) … every minute you listen to this is a minute in the bank of your English. 

I’ll talk more about methodology and this podcast in a bit. I’m still technically in the introduction here.

I have no idea how long this will take, but it usually takes longer than I expect, so this could easily be two episodes.

But seriously, let’s forget about the clock for a while, ok? Don’t worry about how much time is passing. If you need to stop for some reason, just stop. Your podcasting app will remember where you were when you stopped and you can carry on again when you’re ready.

The main thing is: just listen, just try to follow everything. If you can follow it all without trouble, then fantastic, give yourself a little pat on the back. If you can’t follow it all, just do your best, keep going, don’t give up, rewind and listen to certain bits again if you need to. 

And this is where your podcasting app will help once more because you should have those helpful buttons which let you skip back by a few seconds. I use them a lot when I’m listening to podcasts, including ones in French (Any good french podcasts to recommend Luke? I’ll add that to the list for this episode – see below) 

You will see various notes on the page for this episode. This is all the stuff I wrote down before recording. It’s not a transcript, but if you hear me saying something and you’re wondering what it is, check out the page and you might see it written there.

I understand that checking a website isn’t all that convenient, even when you have a smartphone to hand. 

But anyway, it is there. If you’re listening in an app (including the LEP app) check the show notes → There is a link there that takes you right to the relevant page each time. That’s one of the fastest ways to get straight to the correct page. Otherwise, join the mailing list to have the link sent to your inbox, or just check out the episode archive on teacherluke.co.uk where you can find everything.


Is everyone ok out there? Let’s be honest, this is a pretty crazy time. I hope you’re doing ok. Hang in there, stay positive!

Recent episodes 

Ian Moore → It’s interesting that Jack in the comment section mentioned that he found it waaaay easier to understand Ian this time compared to last time. This could well mean that his English listening skills have improved in that period – considering there are about 300 episodes between Ian’s first appearance and his second. So, I’m very happy to hear that, basically. 

I’m also happy to have had Ian on the podcast again. He really is a very witty man, not to mention well-dressed. There are a few videos of him online, doing comedy, being interviewed on TV and so on, and he is very good. 

Alan Partridge episodes

What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. (or so they say)

“You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” (and you shouldn’t try to) ~originally attributed to John Lydgate and then Abraham Lincoln.

Slightly puzzling stats for the AP episodes. Part 4 and 6 have a similar number of listens, but episode 5 has about 25% fewer listens. What’s that all about? 

The Intercultural Communication Dance with Sherwood Fleming → The main point is, focus on the message, not how the message has been delivered to you. I would also add: be thoughtful, be respectful, think about the other person, listen to them and pay attention to them, adapt your style accordingly. Ultimately it comes down to compassion. Be compassionate. Think about the other person, think about their situation, be less self-involved. Thinking about the other person, what they want and what they are really trying to say → this helps a lot. It helps you avoid conflict and it helps to bring more respect to you. In theory.

Recent Amber & Paul Episodes

It was fantastic to speak to them on the podcast recently. I think it’s best when the three of us have a specific aim for an episode, especially if it is a game of some kind. 

Amber had her baby! It’s a girl. Mum and baby are both doing fine. I’m hoping to speak to Amber soon about it, with Paul there too. Congratulations to Amber, her husband, and their little boy who now is the brother to a little baby sister.

Quintessentially British Things 

James – A few people going Hmmm. Some saying how fun it is to listen to the two of us, a couple of people saying they found James to be a bit rude because he kept cutting me off. We have a close relationship, but like all brothers we fight sometimes etc… conditions for recording, we both had a lot to say, etc. We mention it at the end of an upcoming episode we’ve done about music.

James’ comment

Hi people, sorry if I came across as rude / impatient. It was late, we were tired, and I’m afraid to say I was very, very drunk. ; )

Ones with Mum and Dad – all positive saying they found them interesting and lovely and I’m lucky to have a family like that, and I am. Episodes of Gill’s Book Club (which it will probably be called) should arrive this year. RT report too, when we feel like it!

A lot of conversations with native speakers at normal speed. What is your method, Luke? 

Upcoming music episode with James

Thoughts about the challenge of listening to some of my episodes.

I like to consider the thoughts of my listeners but ultimately I have to go with my gut and use my own judgement

The majority of comments come from LEPsters with pretty good English. So I don’t hear from lower-level listeners so much. 

Comments on the website → More people came out of the woodwork and that’s great. I’m not concerned. People need to go out of their way to visit the website, find the episode page, find the comment section, possibly sign into the comment section (Disqus) and write a comment in English. Most people just end up being ninjas often because there are various little barriers in the way. I get it! 

People comment in various ways → comment section, email, twitter, facebook, Youtube. The LEPsters’ comments are spread out all over the place. So they’re not all consolidated in one place. Maybe I should just stick to ONE platform, but I think this would ultimately make it more complicated for people to listen.

Premium → I am working on new stuff all the time. I say it’s about grammar, vocab & pron, and it is, but that sounds a bit dry doesn’t it? Remember – it’s still me, I’m still trying to do it in the LEP way, which means I make efforts to keep it entertaining at all times, as well as clear. Upcoming episodes will be about common errors I’ve noticed in comments and emails and things.

LEPster meet up in Paris + stand up show from me?

World Book Day – Thursday 5 March. www.worldbookday.com/

You’re reading a book, right? What are you reading?

Name: Miguel

Message: Hello there Luke, it is a great pleasure to be one of your thousands of listeners. Must admit that I am on the ninja´s listener side…Just a quick question, What kind of book would you suggest I should read in order to improve my english comprehension? I am going for the c1 advanced by the way and the big deal for me is the huge amount of sources offered on the Internet…

Thanks in advance my friend, carry on the good work!

Luke’s Reply

To be honest Miguel, you should just pick a book that you really want to read and that you will probably enjoy. You could pick the English version of one of your favourite books or perhaps a book of a film you like. 

You can also get graded books at the C1 level, which would also be a good idea. 

I’m assuming you mean reading novels rather than grammar/vocab books. 

Hope that helps. 

Check these episodes from the archive

French podcasts (difficult to find the right one for me, I must be quite picky)

Un Cafe Au Lot 7 → Louis Dubourg chats with French stand-up comedians, including some of my friends and acquaintances. Paul is interviewed there, so is Seb Marx and also some other big names like Fary and Gad Elmaleh.

French Voices → Conversations with interesting people with some things to look out for in English at the start)

French Your Way Podcast –> Specifically about teaching us French, making things clear and memorable, correcting certain mistakes, a lot of it is in English. Jessica is on maternity leave, starting in June. She’s probably fully involved with her baby. I hope she comes back soon when she is able to.

This comment is sponsored by LEP Premium – www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium

Message: Hello Luke,

I have been a regular listener of your fantastic podcasts since 2018 and I am the one who requested an episode on the topic of “articles” a couple of weeks ago.

I just finished the fifth episode of this series this morning and I must say that it is the most brilliant episode that you have ever recorded. I didn’t not think you were capable of doing that in 2009 because this requires a lot of experience. I do not know if the Lepsters realize the amount of work that you have performed to complete this series. During the last 20 years, I have often searched for such a lesson focused on the right use of articles but I have never found it. There are so many rules but also exceptions that it drives me nuts. As a neuroradiologist at Lille University hospital, I regularlly write scientific papers on neurovascular diseases in international journals and I am frustrated to systematically see the editorial office of the journal change my sentences by adding or removing articles. I feel more confident now even if it takes a long time to master the correct use of articles.

I don’t know if I have correctly used the articles in this message but I am very happy to get a comprehensive document on this topic.

Thanks a lot Luke and keep it up. You are such a lovely person who is very inspiring to me.

Take care

Xavier

Luke’s response

Oh what a wonderful email, thank you very much Xavier. 

Yes, you used all the articles correctly in this email. I’m glad to see my episode has helped you!

I’m also very glad to receive emails such as this, from interesting and intelligent people who actually use my content to actively improve their English. It’s very inspiring.

TRANSCRIPTION PROJECT

This is a community effort in which LEPsters can transcribe episodes of the podcast. 

I’ve mentioned it before, now I’m mentioning it again.

Antonio’s comment

The transcription project is one of the most powerful options we have in this podcast.

Since I started learning English, I’ve always heard the same piece of advice from teachers I’ve been listening to, which is: “We must read, listen and write to have better English skills.”

Well, the transcription project is the perfect example and could allow us to reach this goal entirely.

The transcription project does not only involve transcribing but also proofreading episodes. That’s why I created two teams. The Orion team makes the transcriptions, and the Andromeda team proofreads and corrects the texts done by the Orion team.

And I want to tell to people, asking to join the project, that we can fulfil our goals staying in this project longer than one or two episodes. Nobody is going to encourage us or give a hug or give a kiss. Still, the joy of seeing this project growing up and becoming better than when we started participating in it is immense. Staying for an extended period allows you to see your real improvement.

When you proofread the episodes you did one year before, you are going to find a lot of mistakes and misheard words. That means that you can hear sounds and terms you couldn’t hear previously. That also means that you are becoming a better English speaker.

As I’ve often said, the transcription project is a hard task to do, sometimes we can feel bored, but we can not forget why we are doing it and what goal we want to reach. Mastering a language when you don’t live with native speakers is very hard. This project and Luke’s English Podcast episodes allow us to fill the gap. However, we need something more to stay in this project longer. We need to have another goal. A different goal than learning English. A goal which means giving back something to others.

Yes! Learning plus giving back is something much more powerful. We learn English for free, and we transcribe episodes and correct them for free.

Doing that we fulfil another goal: We help everyone coming to LEP to learn faster with our transcripts. The number of them is close to 342. (probably more since this was done – because 618. The Climate Crisis is also finished now and needs to be proofread).

I started my collaboration in 2015, and even if I am not as good an English speaker as I want, I know I am much better than then.

Thanks to people joining the Orion and Andromeda teams, staying with me, and helping me to continue with this project.

Cara Leopoldptholome/Antonio • (Paraphrased / a reply to a different but similar comment also by Antonio)

I don’t think people realise how important it is to keep listening and coming back to the same material, instead of just moving on to the next thing. Your engagement becomes much deeper and you’re more likely to learn and remember the new words, as well as improve your listening skills. I also really like the fact that it’s collaborative and that the transcription improves over time as more people listen to it – a community effort!

3 Songs by Neil Innes

Click the links for lyrics and chords.

I Must Be In Love neilinnes.media/wp-content/themes/neil-innes/chords/oooolalala.html

I Love You neilinnes.media/wp-content/themes/neil-innes/chords/loveyou.html

Let’s Be Natural neilinnes.media/wp-content/themes/neil-innes/chords/natural.html