Tag Archives: learning

522. Learning English at Summer School in the UK (A Rambling Chat with Raphael Miller)

Talking to my ex-colleague Raphael Miller about his new summer school for teenagers as well as many other topics, including British social and communication culture, growing up in Liverpool, studying at Oxford University, the famous Star Wars actor Raphael knows and remembering some of the old-fashioned ways we used to describe computers and the internet. Transcripts and links below. 👨‍🎓🌞🇬🇧

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Your English Summer – Links

Website www.yourenglishsummer.co.uk

Facebook www.facebook.com/yourenglishsummer/

Introduction Transcript

In this episode you can listen to a conversation I had with my friend Raphael Miller. Raph and I used to work together as teachers at the London School of English, along with Andy Johnson, Ben Butler and Carrick Cameron – all of whom have featured in episodes of this podcast.

Since those days, Raph has done lots of work at summer schools in the UK and has recently set up his own summer school project called Your English Summer. This is a school for teenagers from around the world who want to come to the UK to develop their English skills while having a really cool experience living away from home for a couple of weeks.

I thought I would ask Raph about his project, about the benefits of sending your teenagers to the UK for a summer school English experience and also about Raph’s own experiences of learning languages as a teenager and into adulthood.

I hadn’t spoken to Raph for a while – not since the last time he was on this podcast perhaps, and so it was really fun to catch up with him, find out about his project and also just ramble on about all kinds of other things, like his experiences at Oxford University, his childhood in Liverpool and a famous actor that he knows from university, who has had a big role in a Star Wars film. To find out all about that, just keep listening.

This might be a difficult conversation for you to follow, depending on your level. Reasons why it might be hard are:

  • The conversation was done over Skype, so the sound quality isn’t 100% perfect – but it’s good to get used to listening in less-than-perfect conditions, like when you have to do tele-conferences in English at work.
  • Raph has a slight Liverpool accent (but actually I think this isn’t really an issue because it’s really not that strong)
  • It’s all done at natural speed and there are quite a lot of idioms, jokey bits, specific phrases and fluent speech that might be hard to understand.

But the point here is that this is an authentic chat which ultimately is good practice for you.

If you are a parent of teenage kids and you’re thinking about sending them to a summer school in the UK to learn English, you should check out Raphael’s school, which is called Your English Summer – more details at yourEnglishsummer.co.uk

Now, let’s get stuck into the conversation.

Just before I hit the record button, Raph and I had been struggling to get connected on Skype. It wasn’t working properly on his computer, but to solve the problem he just turned it off and turned it back on again, which fixed it, of course – because that’s usually how you fix technical problems. What do you do when something doesn’t work? How do you fix it? Well, have you tried turning it on and turning it off again? There are other generic solutions to typical technical problems of course… can you think of any?

After that we talk a little bit about a recent episode of LEP that Raphael had been listening to – a recent one with Amber & Sarah called “Becoming Maman”… and the conversation just keeps on flowing from there, taking in some details about the social rules related to talking to new parents about their children (in fact, like me, Raph is also a new father – his son is just 6 months old now) British social etiquette in general, how we both know each other and how we first met, and then onto the details Raphael’s project, learning English at summer schools in the UK, Liverpool, Oxford University and various other things…

So, now that you’re ready, let’s dive into this chat with Raphael Miller … and here we go.


Raph also appears in…

160. The A to Z of Christmas

Liverpool Accent Episodes

469. British Comedy: John Bishop

470. Understanding the Liverpool Accent

Your English Summer – Links

Website www.yourenglishsummer.co.uk

Facebook www.facebook.com/yourenglishsummer/

Ending Transcript

That was a rambling chat with Raphael Miller.

Don’t forget to visit www.yourenglishsummer.co.uk

and www.facebook.com/yourenglishsummer/

…for more details about his summer school in Liverpool. Could be a great thing for your teenage kids to do – or if you know any other parents who are looking for a small, friendly and genuinely fun English summer school experience – tell them about Your English Summer.

A note about LEP Premium

I’ve been mentioning this for a couple of weeks now. I expect it to arrive in May. Things slowed down a bit this week because I got really ill with a very nasty throat infection – tonsillitis to be exact. Tonsils are glands at the back of the throat. Mine got infected and all swollen, which was intensely painful for about 5 days. My whole head felt like it was going to explode, I felt like someone was stabbing me in the head and neck with needles, while also periodically stepping on my legs and back in a pair of Dr Marten’s boots. Swallowing was like torture. Not nice at all. It was a lot like when I was sick in Japan. Thankfully this time it was just the tonsilitis and not something more serious. Anyway, the French healthcare system and my wife, looked after me and I’m feeling a lot better. Also, for a week to 10 days this month we’re going to the UK on holiday, which means taking some more time out from podcasting duties. There should be another episode coming out while I’m away but the launch of LEP Premium is unlikely to happen until May. I’m also still working with Libsyn to actually do things like make additions to the app and some other things before LEPP can happen.

Anyway, it should come along in May and when it does you should find that one of the first Premium episodes is a language review of this episode, also there are some language features from the episode about pets I wanted to look at, so that’ll probably come up too.

Remember that one of the aims of LEP Premium is to make sure you really learn the English you’ve heard on the podcast – not just hear it but really learn it properly – the English you might not have even noticed but with which you need a guiding hand – in this case my guiding hand, with all those years of teaching experience, podcast experience – so I can help you with your English and have some fun while doing it.

So, a language review for this episode with LEP Premium coming up.

Remember too that LEP Premium will work like this:

  • You’ll create a profile with Libsyn, my host
  • You pay a small amount per month (e.g. the price of a coffee for me) to access the Premium content
  • You can get the content in the LEP app or via a webpage – same account login.
  • It’s a chance for you to get content that focuses specifically on language teaching, while also making a contribution to LEP.
  • You’ll get those LEP Premium episodes, and also new Phrasal Verb episodes + more bonus stuff just for premium subscribers. You’ll be my VIP club and I’ll be happy to reward you with exclusive content.

Coming soon in LEPland.

Right, time to go now – have a great day, night, morning, afternoon, evening, milkshake smoothie or tropical fruit juice or whatever you’re having. Cheers!

Luke

521. Talking about Pets (with James)

Usually when I talk to my brother on the podcast we talk about fairly obscure topics, like cult films, musical subcultures or skateboarding, but this time we chose a universal topic; pets. Listen to this conversation to hear James and me remembering the pets we had as children and discussing some issues related to keeping animals as pets.

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Introduction

It’s national pet month in the UK from 1 April – 7 May so here is an episode all about living with animals, domesticated creatures, our furry companions, our four-legged friends – pets in their various shapes and sizes.

National Pet Month is actually a registered charity in the UK and its aims are to promote responsible pet ownership, and to make people aware of the mutual benefits of living with pets. You can find out more by going to www.nationalpetmonth.org.uk/

Just like everywhere else in the world, British people love pets – the most common ones being dogs, cats and fish.

Since it is national pet month I thought I would talk about pets with James, my pet chimp, I mean, brother.

We both had pets growing up together as children, so we thought we’d take a little trip down memory lane in this episode and remember some of those cute little animals that we loved so much when we were young.

Yes – pets! It’s a simple topic. It’s a universal topic – I think pets are popular the world over. And it’s a fun topic which we can use as a way of presenting you with some authentic listening practice in English.

When you think about it humans have a pretty diverse relationship with animals. Sometimes we farm them and breed them for various purposes, sometimes we ride around on them (for transport or sport), sometimes we eat them (quite often, for lunch maybe), sometimes they eat us (less often, admittedly) sometimes we just like to watch them eating each other (in BBC nature documentaries for example) and sometimes we like to offer them a friendly invitation into our home so they can live with us, like little hairy members of the family almost, just because we love them, we find them cute and they help to lower our blood pressure. Apparently they are good for us, they can keep us healthy. They’re like little furry doctors with no qualifications except a degree in being warm and cuddly.

That is something people say – having a pet can help you live longer. But surely it depends what kind of pet. If you have a silverback gorilla or a saltwater crocodile as a pet you’re probably not going to live to a very old age. In fact, you’d be lucky to survive beyond a couple of minutes with a crocodile in the house. “Oh that’s a lovely 23 foot long crocodile you’ve got. Oh how original. They’re basically dinosaurs aren’t they? Oh what’s his name – Bitey? Bitey the crocodile. There there Bitey, hello little bitey – CHOMP. Oh he’s bitten my arm off, how adorable… CHOMP CHOMP oh and now he’s grabbed me by the leg and is pulling me underwater where he’ll drown me and then eat me in one go. How lovely.”

It does depend on the pet you choose of course. Crocodiles don’t usually make great pets I expect. But I don’t know maybe they’re very loving and gentle. Let me know if you have a croc as a pet.

Anyway, the most common pets in the world are generally lovely and fluffy and not usually our natural predators of course. Here’s some data.

Pet data stevedalepetworld.com/world-pet-population-data-mixed-bag/ www.petfoodindustry.com/articles/5845-infographic-most-of-world-owns-pets-dogs-are-tops?utm_source=KnowledgeMarketing&utm_medium=Watt%20Products&utm_campaign=Pet%20Weekly%20Roundup%20All%20Others%20List&eid=237316200&bid=1430132

Around the world there may be different cultures of pet keeping, for example whether it is normal to neuter or spay your pets (that means giving them an operation on their reproductive systems so as to make them infertile – unable to breed – in some places that’s normal, in other places you might consider that to be a horrible thing to do!) or whether it is normal to keep your pets mostly indoors or outdoors. In some countries you wouldn’t dream of letting your dog or cat stay outside all night, whereas in other places it’s the other way around.

The cultures may be different, but one thing’s for sure – humans seem to have the desire to live with animals as companions and over time we have developed a symbiotic relationship with certain animals – notably dogs, who seem to express a sense of duty towards their owners and perform various functions for humans.

There are ethical issues relating to keeping pets too of course – it’s always hard to escape issues of morality and ethics even in a seemingly innocent topic like this. For example, is it somehow cruel to keep animals as pets and how do pets affect the natural world around them?

My conversation with James touches on some of these things, but the main reason we chose to talk about this topic was to let you hear a conversation in English about a subject that I’m sure you can all relate to and the main focus of our conversation is to remember the various pets we had when we were growing up as children.

So listen out for some little stories and memories and also descriptions of typical behaviour in the past. See if you can notice certain features of grammar and vocabulary in the way we express these ideas.

The specific vocabulary and grammar relating to that are things I can deal with specifically in another language-focused episode.

But this one is all about listening to some real British English conversation and so, without any further ado – let’s talk to James about pets.


Ending

So there you go, that was my chat with James about pets.

In the comment section please write about pets that you have or that you have had in your lives. Tell us about cute or funny things your pets do. Do you have an unusual pet? Have you got any good little pet stories? Put your thoughts into words and add them in the comment section.

Now, in terms of language – this conversation obviously contained some vocabulary that would be worth reviewing and clarifying.

Also, there was some grammar there. We were talking a lot about the past, so there were the usual past tenses, but also some very specific aspects of grammar that you might not have noticed  and I’m talking about the ways in which we don’t just tell stories in the past but the way we describe habits in the past. There are certain grammatical forms that we use for that, and it might not be immediately obvious to you how it is done.

I can help you learn these things – learn how to notice them, learn how to understand them and learn how to use them to listen and speak like native English speakers.

It would be useful if I published a follow-up episode to this in which I go through all that language. THat’s the sort of thing you can expect from LEP Premium when it arrives.

You’ve heard me talk about LEP Premium in recent episodes. I’m setting it up at the moment. If all goes according to plan then at some point soon I’ll make that service available to you and you’ll be able to sign up, support my work and gain access to some extra episodes in which I focus more carefully and specifically on the aspects of language that you need. Analysing and explaining the grammar and vocabulary in my conversation with James is an example of what you could expect from LEP Premium Episodes.

Also, not just language that’s come up in conversations and monologues, but also it could be a way for me to focus on  other aspects of language that I think you need to know.

As I said, I’m still in the process of setting this up at the moment. I’ll be setting it up with my host Libsyn, so that I can publish the premium content into the App (you’ll be able to sign in to get premium content there) and also online from a computer, so expect more information soon.

Thank you again for listening. Visit the website to see my transcriptions for the intro and outtro to this episode. Join the mailing list. Download the app to get all the bonus content there and to be ready to get LEP premium episodes. Send me a donation through the website if you want to support the show.

Have a great day and if you have a pet, give them a little treat like a snack, a stroke, a scratch or a nice walk in the park.

Speak to you again soon, but for now…

Bye bye bye.

Luke

Phrases and vocab from episode 521. (contributed by Jack)

I don’t know if you can tell but my voice sounds a bit funny
Domesticated creatures
Furry companions
And since it’s a national pet month I thought I’d talk about pets with my pet chimp James.
We thought we’d take a trip down memory lane…..
Pets are popular the world over
Humans have a pretty diverse relationships with animals. Sometimes we farm them and breed them for various purposes. Sometimes we ride around them for transport or for sport.

Sometimes they eat us – less often admittedly.
Warm and cuddly
Salt water crocodile
Silver back gorilla
Chomp
He’s bitten my arm off
You’ve got to throw in some data
Neuter or spay your pets
You wouldn’t dream of…..
We have developed a symbiotic relationship with animals.
Morality
My conversation with James touches on these things.
About a subject that I’m sure you can all relate to
So listen out for some…..
Do you think the audience are expecting this to be riveting and hilarious
I wouldn’t want to build it up too much
Are you a pet person?
A pair of gerbils
Distraction
They come from the Gulf
They tend to gnaw on things
I suspect dad probably named them
The idea of keeping them in a little cage is a bit messed up
Deep ethical implications
They’re not immortal

Luke: One of them had escaped
James: I didn’t remember that, no

Run out of food
Bullied by mice and cats

They thought we’d be traumatised
It was rigid, stiff as a board and it was half way through a loo roll tube.
…..at that moment something clicked.

They’d make bedding out of them
The cats were obsessed with catching the gerbils
I don’t remember there were any gerbil cat crossover

Luke : Just so I can…..
James : fill me in on bits of my life

….and she would curl up in the casserole dish.
Spare bedroom
You try and stroke her, tickle her or something and invariably she would strike out or hiss…..
They had a litter of cats
Kitten
Posy (bunch of flowers)
We took it to the doctors to get it checked out.
She never quite got over that really. He was always screwed up about that.

James : He was mental. Really manic looking face, wild looking eyes. White flash very fluffy. White flash running down its front. And just Bizarre weird animal

Luke : Bonkers

Hyperactive
Running up your trouser leg
Always go for the liveliest one when choosing a cat.

Went to the doctor not to just have it checked out but have it spayed.
Castrated
They spray pheromones and stuff
Vet
Climbing underneath the underside of the sofa.

Introduce a pet into a wild ecosystem where he’ll just ravage all the wild life.
….and somehow he dragged this rabbit through the cat flap as well.

Luke :Several times I would come back, we had a little room between the kitchen and the back garden which is where we’d put the cat’s food down and there was a cat flap….to let the cat into that little space. We wouldn’t let the cat into the house at night. He (posy) would have that utility room area and outside and he would bring in the animals into the utility room onto the door mat and then eat them there. Couple of times I went into the utility room and saw posy in a moment of wildness.

Lions taking down a wilder beast.
Door mat
Bitting the rabbit’s head off
Spleen
Fluffy tail
They’ll stick around and pretend to be cute for food.
Cat isn’t really self aware
…..but yet it is petted, softened and domesticated. They are kind of bipolar.
Run over a dog
They’re pretty nasty psychopaths
Crossbreed to make them smaller, cuter and more manageable
A waste of space
Poker faced
Squashy faced

Luke :They have those creased up faces. And they have those broad front legs, stocky little back legs. And they have the lower jaw sort of…..

James : protruding

Luke : prominent lower jaw…..

Lower centre of gravity
It’s harder for other dogs to flip them over.
Wrinkles and creases in their face are so that the blood can drain off.
That sounds a bit far fetched
Medieval times

Luke : like if people in the city were rioting.

James: bring out some bad tempered cats on leads and sort out the protestors.

Leopard
I think they’d be too skittish to be of any good.
Do you think you could disperse a riot by introducing a bunch of big cats into the streets?
All the big cats that are just loose in London.
Drug sniffing cats
Cat nip – It makes them all high
Drool
I think we are going on a bit of a tangent here.
Dalmatians
We may need to fact check that one
Sleeping on a window sill
We used to put out the cat at night.
Posy was getting up to things at night outside.
Howling and screeching sounds going on in the garden.

James : It’s like having a Mexican stand off. Staring at each other, wailing.

Luke : staring wailing and just arching their backs.

Full moon
…….have a big stand off around a flowerbed; the patio in our garden.

Posy was just lounging like some sort of mafia boss
So he was either the alpha male or the most beta-ish male.
………Lowest rung of the cats.
Debating the best way to overthrow the humans.
a stick insect
Intact you might as well just get a stick
Brown twiggy thing – Stick

James : Now he’s picked the most obscure, not obscure the sort of random words to explain…. They can understand all this but the one word they get hung up on is stick

Luke : I might have been teaching English for 15, 16 years!

James: Stick is something you throw to a dog if it’s fallen off a tree.

Sawdust
They’d be gnawing a piece of wood which would be like rattle and tap against the glass.

Suburban farce
Posy would sort of trot through the kitchen and would be on the floor by the door just casually and he’d spot one of the gerbils out of the corner of his eye and just go bonkers and just launch himself at the gerbilarium and scrabble in the corner.

Metal edged aquarium
Their fins start drooping and you start fretting – May be I haven’t fed them enough
Morsels of food.
It was really very lively.
I don’t know the workings of a gold fish.
We had a tiny little pond; basically an overflow from the gutters. Fairly clean water. It was rain water.

Luke :They’re probably happier there then in a bowl or in a box

James : oh yeah I would have thought so!

A ferret
They are like a mink.
Pole cat
They are pretty versatile, pretty tough little creatures.
They are lively……
They are very good at crawling through tunnels in the ground.

And also up north they have a sport of putting ferrets down your trousers.
Blokes tie strings down the bottom of their trousers and shovel load of ferrets down their trousers and they wriggle around.
Chuck em down their trousers
Mishaps
A dog can around a whole load of sheep and get it through a fend a gate.
Paper round
Some of the dogs are very yappy
Ring the creature in half (break the neck)
They can be mean.
Roulette
It would come tearing towards you.
Whippy stick
It’s a reflection on the owners of how the dog behaves.
Tug of war
It would come bounding up to you.
Bit far fetched
We’d have to walk past the house to get to the station.
I always thought it would leap over the fence.
They are cold blooded animals and they need to be kept warm and I can’t be bothered with that.
Wardrobe full of snakes. She bought a wardrobe and adapted it. Put a glass front on it; I think it might be on the side of it. And there’s two compartments.

Quite affectionate, they purr.

Boa constrictor
Babboon
Scratch his face
Vibe
But you can tell he’s panicking and scared
Where they decided to bring up a monkey or a chimp.
Bunch of hippies decided to rear it.
And it’s miming back
And as it gets bigger it gets more and more unruly.
They start giving it booze and they start giving it weed. And this f***** chimp is smoking spliffs around a table with them.
It’s a bit of a symbiotic relationship.
The ethics of having a pet.
All that is contributing to deforestation
And those cows fart all the time apparently.
And they cut down rain forests to put down cattle farms and stuff
If you’re vegan and you have a pet – You’re a f***** hypocrite.

James : let us know if you’re a vegan dog owner. Actually don’t bother.
How do you justify that?

Cultish following for these dogs.
If they are well looked after they can be very cool.
Dog straining on the lead.
I think that’s a suitable note to end this chat.

He’s gone into the cheesy radio host voice now in case you are wondering.
In the comments section please write about the pets that you’ve or that you’ve had in your life.

Now, you might have heard me talk about LEP Premium in recent episodes. I’m setting it up at the moment.

And if you’ve a pet give them a little treat like a snack or a stroke or a scratch or just a nice walk in the park.

512. My Experiences of (not) Learning French [Part 2] Learning Language in a Classroom vs Learning On Your Own

Talking more about my experiences as a student of French, this time reading from notes I took during my French lessons (when I should have been focusing on the class!) and some considerations about learning a language in a classroom and learning on your own. Notes & transcript available.

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Transcript & Notes

Here’s part 2 of this episode about my experiences of (not) learning French. In the last one I talked about how I learned some French as a child and how I feel I’m not learning it as an adult, despite living in Paris and I made a load of excuses about it, which is exactly what you shouldn’t do of course – because excuses are no substitute for taking action.

In this episode the plan is to talk about some more experiences I had while learning French, specifically some lessons I took at a language school a few years ago in Paris. I wrote some thoughts in a diary while taking those lessons and I’m going to read out those thoughts and then discuss the relative benefits and drawbacks of learning a language in a classroom vs learning on your own using self-guided methods. There will also be some comments and reflections on teaching a foreign language to groups in a classroom environment.

First, some comments from listeners after the previous episode. My listeners are being very kind and understanding, as usual. I received quite a few messages – I can’t read them all out here but this is a selection. On the subject of receiving messages – I’m sorry if you have written to me and I haven’t got back to you. Please know that I do read everything I receive and I appreciate your thoughts and comments very much.

Cat

Luke, I find your lack of French disturbing. 😸

Just kidding.

It must be utterly difficult for you if everyone wants to make use of you as the best known English teacher on the Internet. :) Also your head is busy with all these millions of ideas for your podcast, the gigs and so on. There is almost no room in your brain left free for other languages. You are totally absorbed with creating quality content for your audiences. You shouldn’t be judging yourself too hard. You have your priorities and are doing great job. Now with raising your child bilingually you have the task to pass on to her the exquisite English you have. 👍
We should be doing things we enjoy and not do things that other people expect from us. That guy at the party had been downright rude, he should be thoroughly ashamed of himself. 😸

Jack

C’mon King ! Don’t beat yourself (up) too much. Your French is much better than my English.

Nick

I’ve realized after listening to this ep. that I want to see a French beach!

Mj Moreno 
Funny title! 😂 I’m wishing to listen to the episode. [I’m hoping to listen to it / I’m looking forward to listening to it]

Cesar San Vicente Viñez 
Faut pas se décourager (don’t get discouraged)

Hi Luke,
Ne sois pas si dur avec toi !
I’m pretty sure that you can improve it ;)
Bon courage!
From a Parisian girl

Luke from Poland (?)

Hi Luke. Your story about drilling has inspired me to write a poem for you.
—————————————————
What about my neighbour’s drilling?
I have rather mixed feelings.
I know he just needs some holes
in his floor and in his walls
He needs even lots of drilling
In his ceiling.
But the next sound of a drill
makes me fight , makes me kill
and like a bloody beast
with bare hands, with clenched fists
I will enter his own flat
And I kill him with cold blood.
No !!! I’d rather stop this talk
and I am going for a walk….
—————————————————–
You may read it on the air and for sure it is going to save some lives of innocent neighbours. :-)

Some words & phrases

  • to beat yourself up
  • don’t be too hard on yourself
  • don’t get discouraged
  • self-flagellation (technically means whipping yourself as an act of self-punishment – but also a way to talk about excessive self criticism)

My experience of learning French in a classroom as an adult

The classroom experiences at Alliance Francaise. It’s a bit like the British Council but for French. They promote French culture and also offer French lessons.

So, a few years ago I went to Alliance Francaise to take some French lessons for a couple of weeks.

My wife bought me the lessons as a birthday present, and as an effort to get my French off the ground.

I wrote some notes while I was there. I recently found those notes. I have them here and I thought I’d just talk to you about them now, and try to remember what was running through my head in those classes.

I guess the point here is that I can reflect on my personal experience and generally make a few comments about learning a language in different contexts – paying particular focus to the classroom vs self-directed learning.

Being a student again.

Trying not to fall into all the typical student behaviour: not listening, arriving late, not doing homework and having rubbish excuses, asking unrelated questions, not paying attention to other classmates or listening to them, not really giving a crap about what’s going on, letting the teacher do all the work, not showing enthusiasm for work the teacher has clearly spent time and effort on preparing, not actually speaking French in the classroom, being shy with the other students and not wanting to talk to them, forgetting the book, not really going with activities that the teacher is attempting to set up, looking at my watch, yawning, complaining, judging the teacher on her appearance, etc.

Going for the level check

Got put in an A2 class. Probably because of accuracy, but I’m not really sure. I was never given a summary of my skills and problems.

Bought the book.

This is exactly like my normal experiences as a teacher, but from the other point of view.

Day 1

Joined a class that had already been studying together for a while.

Don’t remember doing much “getting to know you” at the start. I think it was just a quick introduction and then off we went. There were some people in the class I never spoke to at all.

Didn’t catch the teacher’s name at the start, and therefore it was lost forever. Why didn’t I just ask her?

What the class looked like.

Being late!!

Notes I wrote down during classes (when I should have been studying)

Good to see she’s keen. She makes excuses for being 2 minutes late and seems stressed.

Lots of photocopies. It’s very easy to get disorganised. It really helps if the photocopies are hole punched. I don’t mind if they’re not beautifully presented. They should be functional.

I wish she’d just let us talk freely, or try to talk freely!

Too much TTT. I’m very aware of this as a teacher in my own classes. A lot of her talking time is just lost on me. It feels very teacher oriented. She’s explaining a lot and spending a lot of time setting up activities, but I still don’t know what’s going on!

Teach the students, not the plan.

1 hour of pronunciation at the start of the class, with us trying in vain to pronounce certain vowel sounds. I suppose this is really important because mastering these different sounds can make a huge difference to your intelligibility in French. But we spend an awful lot of time on it and I wonder how useful it is. I wonder if perhaps it’s more important to develop fluency in the language, and to perhaps get some remedial correction. I’d like her to let us talk and perhaps listen to us and correct us a bit, and give us some much-needed encouragement. I desperately need encouragement. I really really need someone to tell me “Yes, that’s good! Well done, keep it up!” I can’t remember the last time anyone actually gave me positive feedback about my French. I’m in such a negative rut. I’d love it if she gave me more freedom, some praise and also some remedial correction.

She always expects perfection, but we need encouragement. Sometimes I’d like her to let us talk without interruption and perhaps correct us later. She won’t let us utter anything without it being perfect. I just feel like I’m slamming against a brick wall all the time. Maybe I’m too soft and I expect to just be great all the time. I’m too intolerant of failure. I’m too sensitive. Some of the best language learners I know can tolerate a lot of failure and just keep coming back for more, perhaps out of stubbornness or sheer bloody-mindedness. I need to toughen up a bit.

—— recording had to be abandoned at this point due to crying baby!

[Continuing the next day…]

I wonder which one is better: Loading all the grammar, vocab and pronunciation into the learner and then expecting them to produce correct language as a result, or letting the learner just struggle through with a focus on communication and then helping out in a remedial way.

I’m beginning to prefer the second option. I find it’s more responsive and even natural to emphasise the learner’s personal production of English and work from there, rather than inputting so much. I’m not here to gather information, I’m here to do things, to experiment, to make mistakes and do it my own way. Sometimes the classroom environment and teacher don’t let you own your English. But again, perhaps I’m expecting too much too soon and I might need to stop being so egotistical about it and accept my role as a learner in this situation and just get down to some good old-fashioned studying, and learn those verb conjugations. It’s quite humbling.

But back to the idea of the teacher controlling the class and using quite a rigid programme – being teacher-centred. You could argue that this is a problem from two different angles. Firstly, the teacher might rob the students of their independence, their natural tendency to just try to be understood and to communicate and to discover the language and make mistakes but to essentially “find their voice” in the target language. But also, learners might give up these things as they hand over responsibility to the teacher. In my experience, the best language learners are fiercely self-motivated and take full responsibility for their learning, but the language classroom situation tends to subconsciously cause learners to give up that responsibility to the teacher – so that if no progress is made, it’s the teacher’s fault, and if lots of progress is made – the teacher is a hero. But that ignores the fact that personal motivation might be the most important factor. So, perhaps the whole classroom situation encourages bad habits in learners, by taking personal responsibility away from the learners. Unless the teacher is particularly good, and knows this, and is always making sure that learners take responsibility for themselves while also giving them a structure and framework for learning. It’s hard to be a good teacher – you have to know when to be in charge of the class and be in control, and when to just get out of the way completely.

But then again, perhaps the classroom provides a space in which learners can basically get all the answers that they wouldn’t get if they were just out in the wild west of the real world, where nobody is there to lend a hand and it’s all just a question of survival. (sounds tough)

Anyway, the debate in my head here is about whether the teacher gets in the way of the learners, or is a vital agent in providing the learners with a moment-by-moment study plan.

All too often the teacher isn’t able to just get out of the way, and so you plough through more and more activities, being presented with language that you have to take on – which often leads to that feeling that as a student you’re kind of drowning. It might be nice to just spend some time asking the class some questions, seeing how the students answer them, and then take it from there, doing remedial work, allowing all the students to take part, giving us some discussion time with the corrected language, questions and phrases on the board. Going round, listening to us, gathering feedback to correct us afterwards. There’s not a lot of this happening, so I feel like the classroom situation is not being fully exploited.

This does require a particularly nimble teacher – one who is able to adapt on the spot and come up with feedback, drills, little practice exercises and questions that identify the specific problem the student has, how to remedy it and how to let the students practise it correctly. It also requires that the learners are able to go with the flow too. It’s often more practical to write a plan in advance and just stick to it rigidly regardless of whether the students are really on-board.

They have IWBs, which is nice.

The teacher is sweet, and she got hotter as the course went on.

Her efforts are very admirable. She intends to do an hour of pronunciation at the beginning of each class, and that has to be set up in quite a careful way, involving certain important stages in the exercises. So, she’s made an effort and has obviously spent time preparing this lesson. But a lot of her efforts are just torpedoed by late-comers or just students who seem a bit slow.

I’m aware of how it’s hard to be charming, funny or just yourself in another language. I think I must come across as quite different to my real personality, which is annoying, because I think my teacher and possibly other classmates don’t really understand what I’m saying and therefore who I am. I might give an example of what she’s saying but she doesn’t think it’s related – because I’m unable to specify what I’m talking about because of my poor French. It must seem like I’m not concentrating at all and I’m just rambling or trying to change the topic. I can see how easy it is to seem like a dickhead or a problematic student. Note: for my teaching I have to remember to always give my students a chance. Sometimes somebody will say or do something that I will find strange or perhaps rude. I have to remember that the language barrier often distorts people’s personalities. Then again, sometimes it doesn’t and you find people are the same in both languages. So, maybe I really am someone who doesn’t focus and talks without thinking and rarely makes sense, and perhaps even enjoys derailing things. I hope not.

But I find that I’m a bit weird. I have to explain myself a lot. My head goes faster than my mouth. I have a tendency to ramble and that’s because I;’m afraid that people don’t understand me so I repeat myself, so I must be pretty weird in class. I probably am a bit weird, but in English I’m quick enough to be able to flip that into being funny – I’m fast enough with the language to be able to manage my weirdness and make it humourous instead. In French, I’m just weird.

We do gap fills – paper exercises that are so common in language learning, but paper exercises don’t necessarily help in production of the language because you use different strategies for solving a gap fill exercise than producing fluent spontaneous speech.

Teacher has to be very patient and intuitive. Listening is so important for a teacher. We have to listen to our students, work out what they’re trying to say, and then give them the English they need to say that. Also, good activities are ones that present the students with a need to say certain things, so that they have to use the target language to complete the task. Then the teacher needs to pay attention to how we are completing the task, and give us the right feedback.

Sometimes the teacher thinks I don’t understand, or misunderstands me, but it’s just because I can’t explain myself properly. I feel like talking about what we’re talking about means that we’re communicating on some metaphysical level where you need meta-language to discuss the language you’re learning. It all gets terribly complicated.

U and OO sound – Imagine you’re being punched in the stomach. Imagine that your mouth is a chicken’s arse. These things totally don’t help me! It shows me how so much of our explanations are wasted if they aren’t truly clear. We have to always think from the students’ point of view. This is more about teaching than learning French isn’t it!

As a learner I get the impression I’m being told one thing about French, and then I go out and hear something different. I wonder “Are they lying or just unaware of how their own language is being used in the real world? Or maybe I’ve got it wrong.”

A lot of the time I have no idea what’s going on or what the teacher is talking about. I’m just constantly spinning in space. No idea what’s going on. I’m always right on the edge of understanding things. On the edge of my comfort zone.

It’s a humbling experience, and quite sweet too because everyone’s a bit shy and just trying to do their best, but I feel very stupid indeed.

Sometimes I just can’t explain why I don’t understand. I don’t have the ‘meta language’ to do describe what I don’t understand.

Organisation is vital in language learning. Keeping a good record of vocabulary and other learning notes – but it’s hard to stay organised when you have a busy life. Learning a language is a full-time thing. You really have to devote yourself to it. It can feel overwhelming, but with step by step practice you can do it.

Slow students in the class bring the whole level of the class down. Sometimes I think “Just leave them behind they’re dead to us!” But obviously the teacher can’t do that.

In a classroom environment everyone has a lot of responsibility to work with each other. You need quite a tight team to make the whole thing work.

I felt a weird sense of camaraderie with the teacher, because I’m a teacher too. She didn’t know this until the end. It was funny to be on the other side for a change.

At the end of the course I felt a weird emotional pull. It was a bit sad or something to be finishing the course. It was all too brief.

Learning English in the classroom vs Learning English on your own

In the Classroom

Positives:
Safe space
Teacher
Actual speaking and writing practice
Group means more varied activities and a chance to practise real communication, not just book work
Method
Programme
Text books
Tests
You can ask questions
Experiment
Other students
Learn with others / peer group / Community
Expert explanation of grammar
Correction
Exam classes
Learn from the mistakes of others – Hearing other people’s English can be a good thing
Competition
Teacher’s own material
Social life
Friends and memories
Nothing is stopping you from studying on your own as well – you can combine your private study routine with classroom study – and use the classroom as a safe space, a place to test yourself and have your questions answered
A way to ringfence several hours in the week for exclusive language practice. For some people it’s too hard to build it into the routine, so they just take classes so someone else can manage it.

Negatives:
Slower or faster than others – held back or confused. Weaker students drag you down to their level (but often these are opportunities to learn – they don’t have to be wasted moments)
Level difference (is it really a problem? The assumption is that you need to be with people who are higher than you, but this is a class, not just a social situation)
Personalities in class – sometimes the wrong balance of personalities means that nothing gets done properly
Class sizes – too big? Hard for the teacher to manage effectively, less STT
You have no control over various factors, like the topic or study point of the lesson, who speaks, what the interaction will be etc. You might get to influence that a bit, but you simply can’t expect it all to be done the way you want – it’s a group
Tendency to sit back and be spoon fed
Reduced responsibility
Reverting to the old mindset of being a pupil at school
Hearing other people’s English can be a bad thing, unless it is being corrected
TTT
Possibly annoying teacher!
Expensive & time-consuming
Choosing the right school
In your own country the students will probably be from your country – this can be an advantage in that you will share things more closely, but this can be a disadvantage in that there’s less variety and a lack of an ‘international mindset’ which is helpful in developing a broad mind and to practice speaking to other non-natives from around the world (and the chances are that these are the people you’ll be talking to anyway)

On your own

Positives:
You can use all the things I’ve ever mentioned on the podcast to create your own personalised study plan, or any other techniques or materials that you know. The world of language learning is your oyster.
There’s plenty of free stuff for learning English now
You can work out what’s best for you
Set your own schedule
You don’t have to go at someone else’s pace
You don’t have to go to someone else’s place!
If you’re organised, you can build a study plan that is tailored to you specifically
Massive amount of online stuff available including 1-2-1 lessons, e.g. with italki
Plenty of grammar practice and explanation online
You can surround yourself with English by using things like podcasts, books, italki etc
Take all the responsibility yourself
Cheap
Ultimately, this is the only way because nobody can learn a language for you. Whatever approach you choose you’ll always have to be responsible for your own learning.

Negatives:
There’s a lot of pressure on your shoulders because you’ve got to do it all yourself and keep yourself motivated
You have to be extremely organised and devoted
You have to be able to manage your time and your workflow yourself, and let’s face it most of us need a helping hand
It’s hard to build learning English into everything you do even though that’s probably what you need to get to the higher levels
There’s no teacher to correct your mistakes and give you a plan
It can be lonely
Nobody to actually talk to unless you go online
Materials – which ones?
No guidance or advice from teacher or others – or at least it’s difficult to find – support network

In the end – the classroom is a resource which you have to learn to use. It can be a convenient way to get English practice into your life.

But ultimately, whatever the situation – personal motivation and your approach to what you do – these are the most important things. If you have the right level of motivation, you can use the classroom to your advantage, but it is limited. Outside of class you’ve got more freedom, but that can often result in you doing nothing. Classroom situations give you a bit more focus.

Learning in a classroom is just part of what you can do.

It works really well for lots of people, but not well for others.

It’s all about how you approach it.

In the end – you have to get to know yourself and your own ways of learning.

If classroom learning suits you, go for it – but make sure you use that classroom as a resource and get the most from it.

If classroom learning doesn’t work for you – that’s ok but you need to be very motivated, disciplined so you develop habits in your own time, but you have to be quite organised for that.

I could go on…

I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to this. It has helped me to reflect on my French a bit. I feel a bit better now actually. I think my French is improving, just very slowly indeed – not as quickly as I’d like and it feels overwhelming, but I must remember the example of the elephant. How do you eat an elephant? Just one spoon at a time – but you do have to eat regular spoons – one spoon at a time, as often as you can and enjoy it too! I’ve no idea how an elephant tastes, but since this is just a metaphor, let’s say the elephant is made of the finest Belgian chocolate, shall we?

I also just want to say how impressed I am by those of you out there who have improved your English to a good degree. Many of my listeners – that’s you- you have developed your English really well, often starting from a very basic level and not living in an English-speaking environment and I’m really proud of you. This takes dedication, work, time and effort. I’m also impressed by those of you who have learned English using my podcast. Many of you listen until the end of episodes, you follow me banging on about stuff, you write carefully worded comments and emails, you send voice messages, and of course outside of podcast-related things I’m sure you do plenty of other things that I’m not aware of in order to push your English further and further, even when it’s difficult. You’ve done so well and I just want you to know that I’m really impressed and proud of you. I know the challenge – believe me – so I’m really impressed and proud of you and also flattered that you choose to listen to my episodes as part of your English language lifestyle. There must be moments when you’re listening to my episodes where you’re lost, confused you’ve kept going – and it’s bound to help and I’m sure it has. Well done.

Thanks for listening.

Additional notes (not used in the episode)

Let me remind you of those three things. Just consider how your learning involves these things:

Motivation
Just how motivated are you to learn the language you want to learn? Where does that motivation come from? Is it external (e.g. I feel I should learn it for other people or other reasons) or is it internal (I really want to learn it for myself). Motivation is like the driving force that you need to power your entire learning process. It’s probably the most important thing, because where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Habit
What are the things that you’re actually doing in English? Examine your habits. The main thing is that English practice is in your life as a habit. Habitual practice – regular things – every day probably. But think about those habits too. How many of those things are: Productive (involving you producing English in speaking or writing) Receptive (involving you just consuming English by listening or reading) Regular (on a regular basis – every day if possible) and long (longer than just a few minutes really). Habit is one of the most important things because it makes sure that language learning becomes a regular part of your day. It’s hard to change your lifestyle, so it’s important to try and get into the habit of doing things but little by little. That can mean just spending 10 minutes a day on English. When that has become a fixed habit, you can build on it and push towards longer periods. If you’re already maxing out your English in terms of time, think about pushing towards more intensive productive practice, like writing and speaking.

Resources
What are the things you’re using to learn English? Are there any other things you could get into your life? How can you really exploit them fully? Some simple examples:
LEP – you’re listening, but do you check the episode pages, take the vocab in the lists, read the transcriptions, check out the videos and other links I recommend?
Books – are you reading books at all? If you never finish the books you read in English – consider buying shorter books or graded books (E.g. Penguin Readers) which are appropriate for your level. Do you note certain words or phrases that you discover in the books you read? Are you choosing books that really interest you, or books that you think you should read? Are you choosing books filled with complex old-fashioned language, or books that contain more normal every day English?
Films and TV – do you sometimes watch an episode several times with and without the subtitles? Do you ever repeat the things you hear? Do you make note of new bits of language? Do you go back to those notes and test yourself? Do you record yourself saying things?
italki – get some lessons or conversations. This can be a good way to get proper, real-life communicative practice into your routine. Don’t be shy – give it a try.

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

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

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Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

*Luke speaks French quite badly*

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

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

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

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

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

My first words in French on holiday.

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

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

The interaction went something like this:

“Bonjour! blah blah blah blah blah?”

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

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

*Gives money*

Blah blah blah blah!!

*Gives croissants*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moved to France.

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

That helped quite a lot.

What were those classes like?

Who were you with?

What did we do?

Then moved to France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have lots of excuses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note to self: Don’t be negative!!!

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

I could go on but I won’t…

What my situation proves is this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think it is a vicious cycle.

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

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

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

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

In Part 2:

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

Thanks for listening!

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

 

 

510. Philosophy Quiz (with Amber & Paul)

In this episode you can listen to Amber, Paul and me as we take an online quiz and try to find out what school of philosophical thought we belong to. Are we empiricists, epicurianists, existentialists, hedonists, humanists, platonists, skeptics or stoicists? Listen on to find out more and to hear a full-on discussion of life, the universe and everything.

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Introduction Transcript

Click here for the philosophy quiz.

In this episode you can listen to Amber, Paul and me as we take an online quiz and try to find out what school of philosophical thought we belong to. Are we empiricists, epicurianists, existentialists, hedonists, humanists, platonists, skeptics or stoicists? Listen on to find out more and to hear a full-on discussion of life, the universe and everything.

If all those terms are completely new to you (empiricists, epicurianists, existentialists, hedonists, humanists, platonists, skeptics or stoicists), don’t worry. I don’t expect you to be an expert in philosophy or anything – but this can be a good way to practise listening to a slightly complex discussion in English.

I expect those terms aren’t completely new to you actually, because I’m assuming that you listened to the previous episode of this podcast, although it’s entirely likely that some of you have skipped that episode and jumped straight to this one because you were attracted by the prospect of listening to Amber & Paul on the podcast again.

You might have thought “meh, I’ll skip that one about philosophy and language and I’ll hurl myself towards this new Amber & Paul episode instead.”

Well, allow me to gently guide you back towards episode 509 at this moment because in that episode I explained what those types of philosophy involve, using various examples including how they relate to language learning. So I highly recommend that you listen to the previous episode if you want some explanations and general clarification of some of the concepts involved. It’ll help you to make sense of this episode a bit more, I promise.

And I think the combination of this episode and the last episode should be quite useful for understanding not just the general concepts we’re discussing but also for your English too. So, as you listen watch out for some of the ideas that I was talking about in the last episode.

Often, understanding something you’re listening to is a question of familiarity with the general subject. If you just listen to this conversation without hearing episode 509 (or without having general knowledge of philosophy – which admittedly some of you might have anyway), the topic area might be unfamiliar to you because it’s not every day that we talk about how we understand the meaning of life is it?

So listening to the previous episode could help you get more familiar with the topic and that will make this episode so much more accessible, the things you’ll hear will be a bit easier to understand and it should reinforce some of the language and terms that come up in the conversation and that should all lead to a more effective and satisfying listening and learning experience.

Are you convinced? Yes? You’ve already heard episode 509? Just get on with it? OK then…

So, in this episode you’ll hear Amber, Paul and me discussing the questions in a quiz that I found on Facebook, called “Which Philosophical School of Thought Do You Fall Into?” and generally talking about our approaches to life in general.

You can take the quiz with us if you like. You’ll find the link on the page of course. Click the link and follow the quiz with us. You can read the questions and different options that we’re discussing. You might need to pause the podcast in order to consider your answers on your own before hearing what we say and which options we choose.

www.intellectualtakeout.org/blog/what-philosophical-school-thought-do-you-fall

Or you can just listen along without looking at the quiz – it’s up to you of course. You have free will don’t you? Or do you? Maybe all of this is predetermined either genetically, socially or as part of some divine plan by an intelligent (or perhaps not so intelligent) creator.

Now, I would like to just share some concerns with you at this point. I have a few concerns, and here they are.

I recorded this a few months ago and I’ve been sitting on it ever since. Not literally. I mean I’ve just been holding on to the recording, and wondering what to do with it. The reason for that is that, the conversation didn’t turn out exactly as I had planned or hoped. What I planned and hoped was that taking this quiz with my mates Amber & Paul could be a fun and clear way to explore some philosophical concepts for you my audience of learners of English. But what actually happened, as you’ll hear, is that we got quite frustrated by the way the quiz was written. These quizzes are always a bit annoying aren’t they? You always notice the flaws in the questioning and you wonder how accurate they will be. This quiz is no exception. Frankly, the questions and options don’t make complete sense – they’re quite vague and conceptual and you’ll hear that we spend quite a lot of time just trying to work out what each question actually means. There’s a lot of us interpreting the quiz itself, rather than discussing the philosophy.

On balance I’ve decided it’s still worth listening to, but I just want you to know that I know that it might be quite a heavy conversation for you to contend with. Of course, abstract stuff is harder to follow than down-to-earth stuff. I’m just saying – if you get overwhelmed by this one, then don’t worry – I am aware of that. I don’t mean to underestimate you, but there it is. Anyway, I’m just saying – I know that this is pretty complicated stuff, but I think you should listen to it anyway because ultimately we do finish the quiz and we do find out what school of philosophy we all belong to. It will really help if you take the quiz with us, so do get your phone out and click the link on the page or just google “which school of philosophy do you fall into?” and if you’re walking along in the street while listening to this and you’re looking at your smartphone please be careful where you are walking because I don’t want you to be doing a different quiz later, called “which hole in the street did you fall into?”

Also…

We did this recording at my place and Amber’s young son Hugo was there in the background watching “Andy’s Wild Adventures” which is a CBeebies TV show (BBC for kids). I realise that you can hear the TV in the background a bit. I don’t think it’s too disturbing, but you can hear it a bit. I don’t expect you’ll mind, but remember that I don’t record this podcast in a studio, so sometimes there might be the noise of real life going on around us.

Of course we kept an eye on Hugo during the conversation and every now and then we had to pause the podcast just to check up on him and so Amber could respond to him when he sometimes said “Mummy!”, which you might hear sometimes.

So, I just wanted to explain some of the background noises you might hear while you’re listening to this.

OK then, so get the quiz ready on your phone or computer – the link is on the page for this episode, or just search for “What school of Philosophical Thought Do You Fall In?” – and get ready for some philosophical ramblings from 3 people who quite possibly don’t really know what they’re talking about!

Alright, no more faffing about. Let’s go…!


Ending

I told you it was a heavy one didn’t I?

Are you ok? Are you still alive?

If you found that conversation difficult to follow and yet you are still listening, I just want to say “Well done” for staying the distance and sticking with it. Some people didn’t, they didn’t get here, and frankly they are just weak, generally weaker and will probably die out in the next evolutionary stage, so there. I don’t mean to say that you should feel glad that some members of our species just won’t make it, but rather that you can feel good that you’ll survive. I’m talking nonsense here of course.

Please, leave us your comments. What’s up with you? What are you thinking? What’s going on in your brain-head? We would like to know, and when I say “we” I mean the collective consciousness and the entire human race on a metaphysical level, not just me and the other members of the comment section crew.

Basically, write something in the comment section and express yourself in English!

The podcast will be back, doing it to your eardrums soon. Thanks for listening and take it easy out there in pod-land.

6 quick things left to say:

  1. Get the LEP App – it’s free and there is cool stuff in it that you can’t get anywhere else. All the cool kids are using it.
  2. Sign up to the mailing list to get email notifications of new stuff on the website, like all the cool kids do.
  3. Give yourself another slap on the back for getting this far.
  4. Write something in the comment section, and that includes just the word “something” if you  like.
  5. Check out my sponsor italki for some one-to-one lessons and the chance to talk about whatever you want with your own teacher or conversation partner. www.teacherluke.co.uk/talk
  6. Consider sending me a donation by clicking a donate button on the website. It would be a sincere and practical way to thank me for my continuing efforts to help you with your English in many real ways.Small Donate Button

 

Take care and for now – bye!!!

509. What’s it all about? (Philosophy and Language Learning)

This episode is all about philosophy and how this applies to language learning. Listen to me describing 8 different ‘schools’ of philosophical thought. Are hedonists good language learners? How do rationalists and empiricists disagree about how we learn languages? Is language learning an innate ability or just something that can only happen as a result of things we do after we’re born?  And, how does philosophy answer life’s big questions such as, “What’s life all about?” “What are we doing here?” and “What shall we have for dinner?” Transcript Available.

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Transcript – 95% complete

Introduction

What’s it all about then eh? This is a question that people have been attempting to answer for bloody ages. Nobody seems to be able to agree or decide for certain what the purpose of our existence is, or even what the true nature of reality is, but over the years the things people have said and written in response to this question have influenced our lives in loads of ways, without us even realising it.

Considering the question of “What’s it all about?” is basically the foundation of philosophy and in this episode I’m going to talk about philosophy and define a few of the main types of philosophy that exist.

I’ll also attempt to apply those different types of philosophy to the understanding of language learning if I can. And if I can’t, I’ll just make a jam sandwich or something.

So, with this episode you can learn English relating to lots of things, including abstract ideas, ethics, science, debate, reason, logic, experience and academic thought in general, and also we can consider the process of language learning from a couple of different points of view.

A while ago I found a questionnaire online which was called “Which school of philosophy do you belong to?”

I thought, “that makes a change from the usual stupid quizzes, like ‘Which Star Wars character are you?’ ‘Which type of biscuit are you?’, ‘Which type of fluff are you? The fluff in the corner of the room, the fluff in the tumble dryer, the fluff in your belly button, the fluff that collects in your jacket pocket or the fluff which collects under the strings of a guitar that never gets played?’ (I was the fluff in your jacket pocket by the way).

This one was about philosophy – “Which school of philosophical thought do you belong to?”

And I thought “ooh, I haven’t done an episode about philosophy on the podcast. That might be an interesting, yet fun way to explore a fairly intellectual topic.

I thought it would be an interesting way for Paul, Amber and me to have an intelligent and highbrow discussion (instead of just talking about poo or Russian jokes or having accordions for legs – although they are, of course, perfectly valid topics of conversation).

I haven’t talked directly about philosophy on the podcast before. So I thought it could be an interesting subject for the podpals to discuss.

And we got together a couple of months ago actually, and recorded ourselves going through the quiz in order to find out what school of philosophy each of us belongs to, based on the ways we live our lives and think about the world.

However, the conversation that we recorded ended up being quite heavy. We got a bit bogged down in just trying to understand, interpret and discuss what each question really meant. Not only did we have to try and make sense of the different types of philosophy, we also just had to try and understand the fairly complex questions in the quiz.

It made me think “ooh, this might just be a bit difficult to listen to – a complicated conversation and a complicated topic – it could be a bit of a challenge for the LEPsters.”

I will play you the conversation and you can hear our discussion, and you can also do the quiz with us while you listen, if you like.

But that’s going to be in the next episode because I thought it would be a good idea for me to talk to you about philosophy first, and to define some terms, before you hear our conversation. That should make it a bit easier for you to follow what Paul, Amber and I are going on about, while also making it possible for you to perhaps learn some things about philosophy and also the language we use when talking about philosophy and while tackling the big questions, like “What’s it all about?” and “What shall we have for dinner?” (well, maybe not that one – although it is rather a big question as I’m sure you’ll agree).

Now, I know you might not be philosophers. I have all sorts of people listening to this, from many different backgrounds. Some of you might be academic types, others not. Some of you are the types of people who like complex and abstract discussions, others might be the types of people who would rather listen to us talk about more tangible things, like Amber’s son doing a poo under a table, or something like that.

In any case, I like to present a fairly wide range of topics on this podcast and I think that’s important for your English.

So, let’s talk about 8 different schools of philosophical thought, and then you can listen to Amber, Paul and me taking that quiz, and hopefully it will make a bit more sense to you!

And by the way, if you would rather hear that story of Amber’s son doing a poo under a table in a restaurant (which is a real story) just listen to episode 380 again. You can find it in the archive.

380. Catching Up with Amber and Paul #3

What is philosophy?

Philosophy is all about how we understand the world and how we make sense of everything around us.

It’s not just “why are we here?” or just “what’s it all about?” it helps us to create the assumptions behind how we understand pretty much everything.

Really, it’s about attempting to answer questions that relate to every aspect of our lives.

Wikipedia: It is the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, the mind, and language.[5][6] The term was probably coined by Pythagoras (c. 570–495 BCE). Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation.[7][8] Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it?[9][10][11] What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust (if one can get away with it)?[12] Do humans have free will?[13]

So, philosophy is the study of how we understand everything, and the answers to these questions form assumptions about so many things including :

  • Education (What should children do at school and why are schools important in the first place? How should we organise our universities?)
  • Health (How do we understand our bodies – how do we know what will make us strong or weak, healthy or sick?)
  • Politics (What is the best way to run the country?)
  • Science (What is the nature of reality? How do we measure that? Can science solve the problems we face? What is the scientific method and can it help us to discover the truth about the world?)
  • Debate and communication (What is the most effective way to argue your point in a discussion? What are the most effective ways to present information to people?)
  • Religion (Who or what is God and does he exist? How does this relate to the choices we make in life? Do we even have choices?)
  • Language (What is language? How does it work? What does it tell us about us as people? How do we learn it? Should it be controlled? What constitutes “good” and “bad” language?)
  • Ethics (How do we decide what is the right or wrong thing to do in any situation)

Ethics

An example of an ethical question is “if your neighbours are having a loud party late at night, is it ok for you to call the police to stop the party?”

Imagine – your neighbours are having a loud party and it’s keeping you awake. What should you do?

Here are some of the reasons for stopping it: it’s annoying for you personally, it’s annoying for everyone in the area, it’s somehow damaging behaviour for them – i.e. because they need sleep and shouldn’t drink, it’s breaking a rule imposed by the government. Or reasons for not stopping the party: everyone has the right to have a party sometimes, it would be rude to interrupt their celebration, the police might be unreasonably aggressive with them and someone might end up being arrested or even physically harmed, or

“if they don’t stop playing that music now I will go round there and murder everyone in the building, especially if they play THAT song again”.

These are the sorts of questions that philosophers might spend a lot of time thinking about, especially if their neighbours were having a noisy party next door. The philosopher might spend ages pondering the question of exactly what to do, even if most people would just bang on the wall and tell the neighbours to “shut up! For god’s sake shut up or I’ll call the police” assuming of course that god exists and that the police have got nothing better to do, other than sit around smoking cigarettes.)

Still on that example of the ethics of “having a loud party in a highly populated area”, one of the big responses might be “it’s unfair for these people to have this party, because it is simply unethical for a small group of people to be happy at the expense of the happiness of the majority of people living in the surrounding area.” which would be a very reasonable thing to say under the circumstances. I imagine most people would just think “Those bastards! Those bastards! Those bloody bastards!!!” (which is not an established philosophical position, I think)

The ethical principle I described there (not the “you bastards position” but the “happiness for the majority of people is the deciding factor” position, is: What benefits the majority of people is the right thing to do. English philosopher Jeremy Bentham might come to mind, when considering this idea, if you know who Jeremy Bentham is. If you don’t know who he is, and have never heard his name before, I’d be very surprised if he comes to your mind, to be honest. You might just be thinking “How can I get my neighbours to turn down the music?” and suddenly – JEREMY BENTHAM! – that would be weird.

Anyway, Bentham said “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number [of people] that is the measure of right and wrong”. This is the foundation of utilitarianism – a system which influenced lots of people and, for example, contributed to the construction of the welfare state – that’s the system in the UK that provides healthcare for everyone, but which is probably paid for mainly by the people with incomes – the people who earn money from their work, and the higher the income the more you pay – as tax. As long as most people are made happy, this is the right way to run a society. People who work should pay tax and a lot of that tax should go towards a healthcare system that is available for everyone, even those people who don’t work and even if it means that some people who earn more money are also paying more.

This is an example of how a philosophical idea – in this case “utilitarianism” has an impact on the political policy of a nation, and how that can affect everything else.

You can see here that philosophy is at the centre of all the big questions that we face in society – both personal and communal. E.g. Should guns be legal? Should I buy a gun? Should drugs be legalised? Am I a bad person if I take drugs? Should we download films from torrenting sites, or buy them from the established distributors? Is it wrong if I watch a pirated film on the internet without paying for it? Does it matter which film it is? What if the film is a big-budget blockbuster like Transformers? What if I wouldn’t have actually paid for it anyway? Should I feel guilty if I listen to episodes of Luke’s English Podcast and yet I never send him a donation for his hard work? (by the way the answers to all those questions, in order, are “It depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, YES)

All these questions are philosophical at their very heart – in most cases here we’re talking about ethics, which is just one branch of philosophy.

Different “Schools of Thought”

There are lots of philosophical schools of thought. Not all of them are completely different. Some are quite similar. They came out of different contexts: different people, different periods of time and different places.

Let me go through some of them. Which one do you agree with? It’s quite possible that you agree with more than just one of these things, because I think most of us probably take a bit from here, a bit from there, and have a complex and diverse way of making decisions and understanding the world. In fact I’m quite sure that the general culture in the world is now a combination of all these different schools of philosophical thought, as well as all sorts of other influences, such as traditional customs and beliefs. But there was a time when many the thinking processes that we consider now to be just part of normal common sense didn’t even exist. A lot of the general assumptions that we have about questions of ethics, politics and even language were not always there. Basically, I mean – people used to be really really stupid – like mind numbingly stupid, and slowly but surely, over decades, centuries and millenia, a complex dialogue about the big questions has been going on, involving people from different countries. Various conclusions have been made and a certain amount of progress has been achieved in general thinking… even though some people in the world still enjoy the music of Rick Astley.

The different schools of thought that have appeared over the years are like different realisations – like different rooms in this big palace of thinking that we now all have access too.

So if you feel like it’s hard to make a distinction between some of these schools of thought, that’s ok – some of them are quite similar and in fact over the years they have combined to an extent, so that today it can be hard to distinguish between them. They’re not mutually exclusive.

Also, there are other positions or ways of looking at the world that might emphasise politics, economics or psychology which aren’t included here. E.g. if you believe that the defining force in your life is your place in the class system or wealth system in society, or how your life is dictated by those in power or by the decisions of your bosses, or the police – you might turn out to be a Marxist, or something like that. Or if you think that your experiences as a child are the most influential factors in how your life has meaning, you might be a Freudian, or simply if you believe that our lives are entirely dictated by some sort of intelligent creator who has designed everything including all existence and everything that happens, has happened or will happen – then you might be a religious person like a Christian or a Muslim or something.

Or perhaps if you believe that your life is given meaning by how you interact with audio content uploaded onto an internet based RSS feed, which you then consume through headphones attached to your ears, you might be a LEPsterian.

But again, it’s most likely that your worldview is some sort of combination of all these different schools of thought and of course a lot of the time we don’t really know which school of thought we belong to, because it’s not football. You don’t need to pick a team or anything. And it’s much more complicated than football, and perhaps less fun than football. Certainly in the UK hardly anyone goes around saying “well, I’m an epicurean so I disagree with what you said” or “Hey, shall we get pizza this evening?” “Well, I’d quite like to have noodles so speaking as a platonist I think we should have a debate about it and then choose our dinner based on the outcome of that argument, perhaps you would like to start by outlining your predicates for why you believe pizza is the best option…” Nobody does that, right? But anyway, here we go – different schools of philosophy, in alphabetical order, not chronological. As you’re listening to this you can just think about these questions:

a) Do I understand what the hell this position is all about?
b) Do I agree with this? Is this a good way to look at the world and make decisions?

Empiricism

The basic ideas of empiricism were probably first established by Persian and Arabic philosophers in the 11th and 12th centuries, and then developed into the more established positions by British and Irish philosophers from the 17th century into the 20th century.

Knowledge can only come from what you see and experience with your own eyes. “I’ll believe it when I see it” or “It’s only true if we can actually observe it.” Observation tells us what is true.

This is often contrasted with rationalism which basically says that you can use logic and reasoning to work something out without observing it – e.g. that there are rules of logic that are always true and that these define what will happen.

Empiricism basically says – I don’t trust any other information than the information I’ve seen and I can only know something after I’ve actually seen it, observed it, measured it. So, knowledge is something that comes after our experience.

Rationalism on the other hand says that there are certain universal laws of logic which will ultimately give you the truth about something. So, knowledge exists before us and it’s a matter of uncovering it.

Empiricism is all about ‘what comes after’ and rationalism is about ‘what comes before’.

The ‘what comes after’ means that the knowledge you have of something comes after you’ve observed it.

The ‘what comes before’ means that the principles of logic that exist before an event – universal laws of logic that everyone is born with the ability to use. These laws of logic are then applied to something in order to help us understand it.

So, for ‘flat earth’ an empiricist would say “Let’s look at the earth. Let’s measure it. If it looks round, we’ll know it’s round”. This is limited because sometimes our senses can be wrong. We might not be able to see things, and our senses might even distort what we’re seeing. E.g. for flat earth we can’t see the curvature of the earth from our current position, even if we’re in a plane, even though the curvature is there, because of our relatively close proximity to the earth. You’d need to travel to the edge of the atmosphere to see the curvature, and not many people can do that. So, a problem with being an empiricist is that you put too much faith in your senses, which can be misleading and can’t cover all aspects of knowledge – e.g. stuff that we can’t actually see – like gravity. I think there’s also an argument that the act of observing something has an effect on it. So, observation is not 100% perfect.

I think that the best approach would probably combine both systems, that to prove that the earth is round you’d observe the earth, measure it but also apply different mathematical laws or physical laws to it.

How does it relate to language?

We can align the rationalism side of things with the idea of ‘language nativism’. Rationalists say that we are all born with the ability to use logic and reason, that it is innate to us – perhaps part of our genes. Language nativists argue that we are born with an innate ability to learn languages. That language learning is in our genes. That all of us learn languages in the same way (regardless of the language) and that it is instinctual.

Language empiricists on the other hand believe that language is something that only happens after we are born – that it is something that we learn, rather than something that is kind of built into us genetically.

Epicureanism

This is an ancient school of thought created by a Epicurius from Athens in ancient Greece – around 300 years before the birth of Jesus Christ (307 BC).

This was when people were just trying to work out how to live properly – coming up with approaches to the best way to live your life. These days we are inundated by different methods and approaches to how to live your life. Think of all the lifestyle magazines and articles about dieting and making the right life choices and career moves. Once upon a time, people hadn’t really worked that out, and the philosophers in Ancient Greece really paved the way for this sort of thing. It seems they spent an awful lot of time sitting around trying to work out what human beings should really be doing with their lives beyond just surviving like all the other species on earth.

Epicurius believed that pleasure and pain are the only things that have intrinsic value to beings, and that the goal of life was to maximise pleasure and minimise pain for both yourself and others.

He taught that people thus needed four virtues: prudence (caution – being careful), justice, friendliness and fortitude (courage and the ability to withstand pain and difficulty). Epicurus emphasised that the pleasure from an action must be weighed against the negative side effects, a concept that could be called the ‘pleasure calculation’. For example, you could save up £1000, buy twenty kilograms of chocolate, and eat it all at the same time. In this case though, you need to weigh the pleasure of eating chocolate against the inevitable stomach ache and the weight you’ll gain from eating a third of your body weight in chocolate. Epicurus had a second part of the pleasure calculation that he said to consider: is it worth the momentary benefit of £1000 of chocolate or buying a new bike a bit later for £1100?

The greater pleasure, even if it causes a slight negative effect at the moment, is the greater good. Epicurus also taught that sensual pleasures weren’t all that there was to the world. Epicurus noted that appreciation of art and friendship also count as pleasure. Moreover, Epicurus taught that the enjoyment of life also required old Greek ideals of self-control, temperance, and serenity. Desires need to be curbed, and serenity will help us to endure the pain we may face.[2] Epicurus also preached altruism over self-interest. Said he that friendship “dances around the world, calling all people to a life of happiness.” He taught that the best life for the individual is one that is lived with other people for their benefit in addition to the individual’s own benefit. (RationalWiki)

No idea what he says about language to be honest!

Perhaps that when choosing to learn another language we should measure the benefits of learning that language against the pain we might experience as a result.

I’m pretty sure we can all agree that while learning English can be painful, frustrating, confusing and embarrassing, the benefit of learning this language clearly outweighs those negative things. So, on balance Epicurius would probably say – “Go ahead and learn English! And make friends with people while you’re doing it!”

Existentialism

www.philosophybasics.com/branch_existentialism.html

Language?

Hedonism

www.philosophybasics.com/movements_hedonism.html

Would a hedonist make a good language learner?

I imagine a hedonist might be a bit lazy, especially if learning a language from scratch doesn’t involve much bodily pleasure.

But perhaps hedonists might learn language if it meant gaining access to more forms of gratification. E.g. they might learn language in order to seduce people, get access to alcohol, drugs, or other forms of bodily pleasure! I expect a hedonist’s vocabulary would be rather limited to dirty words, useful phrases for drug deals and pillow talk.

Humanism

www.philosophybasics.com/movements_humanism.html

Language

I’m certain that humanists put a high value on language as a means of connecting with other people in the world. Humanists might have a democratic and prescriptive approach to language too.

Platonism

www.philosophybasics.com/movements_platonism.html

It’s pretty confusing, but to boil it down let’s say: Plato basically invented the first university – a place called The Academy which was positioned outside the city limits of Greece. This was where he delivered lectures to his students and engaged in debates. This was the foundation of certain academic principles and methods. Those academic “for and against” essays that you might have to write at university, or for an IELTS Writing part 2 – that all started with Plato and his academy.

He believed highly in the value of debate, argument and discourse as a way of reaching certain eternal “higher truths” – these are truths which are eternal. He thought that ‘ideas’ were more important than ‘matter’ (physical stuff) and that the persuit of knowledge or the process of learning is a question of uncovering universal truths that already exist in our immortal souls.

Language

From a language point of view, Plato believed that ultimate knowledge already exists inside us and it’s just a matter of uncovering it.

Noam Chomsky has applied this idea to his understanding of linguistics – how languages work, specifically in the idea that there is a Universal Grammar that we are all born with.

Basically, the idea is something like this – how do native English speakers know exactly how to use grammatical forms like present perfect tense correctly, without having formally studied it or been taught it?

E.g. my brother James knows when a sentence is right or wrong – e.g when present perfect is being used correctly or not, although he’s never been taught English grammar. How did he learn it? The idea is that James, like all of us, was born with an innate understanding of grammar.

From www.fluentu.com

1. Plato’s Problem
The writings of Plato stretch all the way back to the beginnings of Western philosophical thought, but Plato was already posing problems critical to modern linguistic discourse.
In the nature versus nurture debate, Plato tended to side with nature, believing that knowledge was innate.
This was his answer to what has become known as Plato’s Problem, or as Bertrand Russell summarizes it: “How comes it that human beings, whose contacts with the world are brief and personal and limited, are nevertheless able to know as much as they do know?” Being born with this knowledge from the get-go would naturally solve this little quandary and consequently he viewed language as innate.

Personally, I just can’t agree with this. What about people who are rubbish at grammar because they’ve had no exposure to it?

(Note: I’ve changed my mind! I think we must be born with the innate ability to learn grammar – but the whole subject is difficult to fully understand)

Scepticism

Philosophybasics.com

Skepticism (or Scepticism in the UK spelling)
At its simplest, Skepticism holds that one should refrain from making truth claims, and avoid the postulation of final truths. This is not necessarily quite the same as claiming that truth is impossible (which would itself be a truth claim), but is often also used to cover the position that there is no such thing as certainty in human knowledge (sometimes referred to as Academic Skepticism).

Language Learning & Scepticism

For language learning, you could say that a sceptic would avoid jumping to conclusions about the language being learned. E.g. when you think you’ve learned a rule about the language, avoid saying “this is always true”. E.g. The idea that quantifiers like “some / any” are always used in a certain way. You might learn from an intermediate book that “some” is used in affirmative sentences and “any” is used in questions or negative – but watch out, that so-called rule is often broken. So, a language learning sceptic might avoid thinking “this is always true” or “this is never correct”.

Stoicism

Dailystoic.com

Stoicism was founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century BC, but was famously practiced by the likes of Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. The philosophy asserts that virtue (such as wisdom) is happiness and judgment should be based on behavior, rather than words. That we don’t control and cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our responses.

Stoicism has just a few central teachings. It sets out to remind us of how unpredictable the world can be. How brief our moment of life is. How to be steadfast, and strong, and in control of yourself. And finally, that the source of our dissatisfaction lies in our impulsive dependency on our reflexive senses rather than logic.

Stoicism doesn’t concern itself with complicated theories about the world, but with helping us overcome destructive emotions and act on what can be acted upon. It’s built for action, not endless debate.

I found this article on Benny Lewis’s website “Fluent in 3 Months” and it’s doing exactly what I’m doing (or trying to do) in this episode – applying certain principles of philosophy to language learning.

This one is written by Jeremy Ginsburg, who describes himself as a writer, entrepreperformer and language learner and you’ll find it on

How to Apply Stoic Philosophy to Language Learning

So there you go folks. 8 different schools of philosophical thought.

Empiricism, Epicureanism, Existentialism, Hedonism, Humanism, Platonism, Scepticism, Stoicism.

There are many more types of philosophy than that of course, but that was just a series of 8, based on this online survey that Amber, Paul and I took recently.

If you’re feeling a bit confused

Don’t worry, I totally understand. Honestly, I’m a bit confused too. That’s normal. This stuff isn’t supposed to be easy, that’s why people have been thinking about it and going on about it for thousands of years.

Really, philosophy is all about wisdom and trying to understand things better, make the right decisions and choose the correct way of life.

I wonder what school of philosophy you associate with most?

Also, if you’d like to listen to Amber, Paul and me finding out which school of philosophy we belong to – just wait until the next episode to hear our discussion.

Thanks for listening!

Luke

508. Six True Crime Stories from Victorian England, Told by My Dad

Learn English by listening to Rick Thompson telling some true stories of petty crimes committed in an English town in 1851.

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Introduction Transcript

Hello everybody, and welcome to this brand new instalment of Luke’s English Podcast – a podcast for learners of English.

In this episode my dad is going to tell you some true crime stories from England’s history. There are six stories in total and they all involve curious crimes and their punishments which can tell you quite a lot about what life was like in England in the mid 19th century.

We have established the value of listening to stories on this podcast before, right? Listening to stories can be a great way to improve your English, especially when they’re told in an interesting, clear and spontaneous way and of course I’m always happy to get contributions from my dad on this podcast – so I’m feeling good about this episode. I think it should be a good one.

These days my dad is semi-retired but he keeps himself busy doing various things, including some volunteer work for an organisation based in the town where my parents live – Warwick, in the midlands, in England.

The organisation is called Unlocking Warwick and it is a volunteer group based in a restored building in the centre of town.

This building used to be a court-house – a place where, in the past, people who had been accused of committing crimes were sent to be tried and possibly sentenced to various punishments, and back in the Victorian times those punishments could be quite harsh. The building operated as a court room from the early 16th century all the way through to the 1970s when it eventually closed. Then, a few years ago the building was fully restored to its former glory and is now a cultural centre for the town of Warwick. The volunteer group that my parents belong to, Unlocking Warwick, does various events and activities in this building as a way of helping people to explore the history of the town, which is also the site of one of the UK’s best medieval castles. Warwick is a place that’s worth visiting if you’re into English history and it’s only about 30 minutes away from Stratford Upon Avon – the birthplace of William Shakespeare.

Last year you heard me talk to my Mum about the Unlocking Warwick project and she mentioned the regency ballroom in the building, where they organise events like dances with historical themes, and since the building used to be the location of a court room, the group also presents dramatic reconstructions of real court cases that happened there.

These are like plays based on real records of the court proceedings which are stored in local archives, and my dad is the one who writes these dramas. He reads the details of old cases from the archives, picks the ones that sound interesting and then turns them into plays which are performed for the public by volunteer actors. They even get members of the audience to shout things out and generally play along, a bit like they would have done during the real trials back in the 19th century.

So, because he’s written these plays, Dad has a few stories at his disposal and I thought it might be fun, interesting and good practice for your English to hear him describe these stories in an episode of the podcast, so that’s what you’re going to get; six true stories of crimes that actually happened in Warwick, told to you by my dad – and almost all of it is told using past tenses – so straight away, there’s some grammar and pronunciation for you to look out for. I’m not going to go into all the details of those narrative past tenses here, but if you’d like to listen to episodes in which I explain those tenses, give examples and help you to pronounce them then you can check out episodes…

Other episodes dealing with Narrative Verb Tenses in more detail

29. Mystery Story / Narrative Tenses 

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

176. Grammar: Verb Tense Review 

They’re all (also) in the episode archive on the website. 

But right now, let’s jump into this conversation that I had with my dad just the other day when my parents were visiting us. So, without any further ado – let’s get started.


The Six Stories

I’d like to summarise those six stories again now, just to make sure you got the main details and to help reinforce some of the language that you heard in the conversation.

You can find the notes I’m reading from here, written on the page for this episode on the website.

  1. The Case of the Notorious Window Smasher
    A woman who would go up and down the high street in Warwick and also in Birmingham, smashing shop windows (cutting up her arms in the process) and stealing goods, including a roll of top quality French material – and she was sentenced to time in the house of correction where she probably had to do hard labour all day, including walking in the treadmill – a kind of human-powered machine for grinding corn or wheat. Imagine being a sort of hamster in a wheel all day long – like going to the gym, but doing it for 10 hours or more and I’m sure the conditions were very dusty and awful. The Victorians, being sort of puritanical and protestant had a strong work ethic, and believed that hard work was the right remedy for people’s problems. You can see how this went together with a certain industriousness that marked that period of British history.
  2. What Happened to the Extremely Drunk Man?
    He was brought into the court by a policeman simply for being very very drunk, and was sentenced to 6 hours in the stocks.
  3. The Story of the Poor Lunatic Woman
    Her husband took her to the authorities claiming she was hysterical and completely impossible to live with, and she was promptly taken to the local lunatic asylum where she probably spent the rest of her life – but was she really mad, or did her husband just want to get rid of her?
  4. The Woman Who Ran Away from the Workhouse
    There were different places you could end up if you were found guilty of a crime, or simply didn’t have the means to look after yourself. The worst would be Australia, which was probably a very tough place to try and survive back in those days and the long boat journey would probably kill you anyway. Then there was prison, and I’m sure 19th century prisons would have been full of disease and all kinds of hideous misery. You heard about the hulks – these broken old ships that were moored on the river Thames in London, which worked as prisons. I expect the ones on the land weren’t much better. Then there were the houses of correction – essentially prisons where you did hard labour all day long. Then there were workhouses – not exactly prisons, but places that would house people who had no money. They’d give them accommodation and food in return for work. Honestly, I think places like this still exist in many parts of the world and it’s really sad and terrible, especially when we realise that some of the products that we consume might have been made in places like these – we call them sweatshops these days – places where people work long hours in awful conditions. The woman in this story ran away from her workhouse because, as she claimed, they weren’t feeding her. I expect that could be true. I think the food given to people in workhouses was often just very weak and watery soup (called gruel) which probably contained next to no nutritional value, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some people were denied food as punishment in a workhouse. There was so much cruelty in those days. This woman ran away, and was caught – but she hadn’t really committed a crime, had she? A workhouse wasn’t a compulsory place to stay. It’s not a jail. She ran away of her own free will. But they caught her and charged her with theft of the clothes she was wearing. I expect the clothes were provided for her by the workhouse – so that’s how they got her. It makes me wonder if there wasn’t some sort of personal revenge or some kind of personal vendetta against this woman, or some kind of conspiracy against her. Her sentence? 3 months hard labour in the house of correction. I’m sure some people profited from all this free labour.
  5. Why did Joseph Smith Break a Lamp in the Market Square?
    Just to get arrested and put in the house of correction – because he had no money and no food. So he did it just to get fed and housed, even if it meant having to do menial work. It sounds like he was pretty desperate. There was no such thing as welfare or social security in those days. That didn’t arrive for nearly another 100 years, after WW2.
  6. What Happened to the Shoemaker’s Rabbit?
    It was stolen – and footprints were found in the garden of the house where the theft happened. Emmanuel Cox was charged with the theft – and accused of stealing the rabbit and cooking it in a pot.  The police officer that arrested Cox seems to have been tipped off by someone. The constable mentioned “Information received” – so did someone tip him off about Emmanuel Cox? Was someone trying to set Cox up, or did they have genuine information about Cox? In any case, when Cox’s place was searched they found a rabbit skin hanging up in the kitchen, which the shoemaker identified. It looked like an open and shut case. The evidence was a dead giveaway! But during the trial a woman in the audience defended Cox (she turned out to be someone he lived with – so probably not a great witness) and it was claimed that there was a witness who could testify to Cox’s innocence – but he couldn’t be found. In the end Cox was acquitted – the magistrate let him go without a charge, because he said the evidence was not sufficient. I wonder what the punishment would have been, for stealing and eating a pet rabbit? I’ll hazard a wild guess at 3 months in a correctional house, because it seems that doing pretty much anything would land you in the correctional house for 3 months, if you were a petty criminal and you lived in Warwick.

Well there you have it, the case of the shoemaker’s rabbit and 5 other stories.

I hope you enjoyed it, that you learned some English or at least you had some nice and nourishing listening practice – yum yum yum.

You can find notes and some transcriptions on the page for this episode on the website, where you can see some of the words and phrases used in this episode.

Don’t forget to download the LEP app for your smartphone. It’s free – that’s where you’ll find the entire episode archive on your phone and there are various app-only episodes and other bonuses for you to check out.

Join the mailing list on the website to get an email whenever I upload new content. That email will contain a link that’ll take you straight to the page for that content – usually a new episode and sometimes some website-only content, like when I’m interviewed on someone else’s podcast or if I want to write to you about something in particular that I think might interest you.

Sometimes episodes arrive on the website a day earlier than everywhere else, so being an email subscriber might be the fastest way to find out about new episodes when they’re released.

So, be an email subscriber, be an app-user and if you enjoy my episodes and find them useful and if the spirit moves you – please recommend this podcast to at least one person who you think might like it, leave LEP a review on iTunes or the Google Play store, and you could consider sending a donation to the podcast to help with running costs and perhaps as a sincere way to say thanks for my work.

In any case, I’d just like to say thanks for listening and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Bye! 

Luke

507. Learning English with UK Comedy TV Shows

Recommendations and descriptions of British comedy TV shows with some comments about how to use comedy TV shows to learn English. Transcript available below.

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Transcript (95% complete)

Hello, etc! (some rambling here at the beginning!)

British TV Comedy

I often get requests from listeners asking me to recommend some good British TV comedy shows. So, that’s what you’re going to get in this episode – comments about using comedy TV to improve your English and then some recommendations of TV shows that you can watch.

I love comedy and I think we have a lot of great comedy in the UK.

The USA is also known for its comedy of course, and I’m sure almost all of you are aware of American shows like Friends, The Simpsons, Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother and so on.

But Britain also has a long tradition of comedy shows on TV – sitcoms, sketch shows and character-based comedy dramas. There are so many TV comedies from the UK and many of them are truly loved by the British public. Comedy is one of the things about the UK that I am most proud of.

It’s not just Mr Bean, by the way.

British and American comedy shows are different, in the same ways that British and American culture is different. Generally speaking, I find American shows to be slightly more positive in tone, the characters slightly more attractive and successful – and perhaps because of the commercial nature of a lot of American TV channels their comedy can be a bit more conventional and safe. I mean, I get the feeling that the producers of the shows are very conscious that they have to make their advertisers happy and as a result the shows end up having to appeal to a broader audience and this means that the shows are slightly less risky, slightly less edgy and slightly less weird than British comedy shows.

British comedy can be complicated for non-Brits to get and it can be an acquired taste. People sometimes say “British humour” or “British comedy” as a synonym of “weird, dark, surreal, complex, cerebral” and sometimes “unfunny”. I would agree with most of that, except the “unfunny” part of course. I am very glad that British comedy shows are a bit darker, weirder, more surreal, more complex (sometimes) and dare I say it – more intelligent.

Let’s not get snobbish here… British people have a tendency to become a bit snobbish when talking about American things, and that’s not very attractive. Ultimately, it’s a matter of context, taste and point of view and I really don’t want to get into the British comedy vs American comedy debate here.

My main point is: American TV comedy is generally more well-known than British TV comedy – and so my job here is to bring to your attention some of the really great programmes that have been made in the UK so you can enjoy them like I do and use them to learn English.

I think if you’re into British things and that includes our humour and our outlook on life in general, I think I might be able to introduce you to some programmes that you will really enjoy and that will be great content for you to consume as learners of British English.

I grew up watching British comedy on TV. For a while it was the highlight of my week. I used to plan my entire life around the comedy shows that were on TV in the evenings. That was my life. Playing football and watching comedy on TV.

Using TV Comedy in Class

I have always been really keen to introduce my students to British comedy and time and time again I have chosen to play clips of shows or whole episodes of shows in my classes.

This is actually a less effective and worthwhile than you might expect, unless as a teacher you do certain things.

The less successful thing to do is to just play an episode of a show without any preparation. E.g. “OK, it’s Friday afternoon, let’s watch a DVD. Turn out the lights, get comfortable, here we go.”

Expectation = we will laugh, everyone will enjoy it and learning English will be fun and relaxing on a Friday afternoon.

Reality = you don’t understand it, you don’t laugh, don’t have fun and just come away thinking British comedy is “weird and unfunny”.

This is because understanding and enjoying comedy is one of the more difficult things to do in another language. There are so many things that go into your enjoyment of a bit of TV comedy. Linguistically – you need to understand every detail and understand it fast. Often, jokes are very subtle and understated – especially if it is a good comedy. I think good comedies are often quite clever and not totally obvious. Some really great comedy is very obvious of course – like Charlie Chaplin or Laurel & Hardy – physical humour, or the humour of slapstick. But I really love comedy which is quite subtle, and I think a lot of British shows rely on this sort of thing. So, your English has to be really sharp to pick up on the particular use of language, or the way things are suggested rather than obviously stated. Also, you need to understand the cultural context too – like the fact that some British comedy shows present characters and situations that are familiar to most Brits, but which people who aren’t familiar with the culture wouldn’t really understand.

So, if your English isn’t quite sharp enough and you’re not familiar with the cultural context, a comedy show might appear to be unfunny and just weird.

So as a teacher I actually find it to be very hard work to use comedy TV shows in class successfully. It often takes a lot of pre-teaching of vocabulary, lots of preparation in terms of getting the students to discuss and consider the ideas, characters or situations in the show, and the chance to see scenes several times, perhaps with a script to help. In the end, the laughter might get lost, and unless the students are particularly motivated by the idea of enjoying a comedy TV show, it might just be a better idea to do something more conventional and learner-oriented in a classroom.

I have to admit that I’ve had some very frustrating experiences in class, when I’ve presented something to a group of students – perhaps an episode of a TV programme that I really love, and it hasn’t gone down very well. I just end up feeling a bit hurt. Imagine sharing something you really love with a group of people, and to have them just look at you blankly, or yawn, or say “it’s not funny” or “I am boring”.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some classes that adored the comedy I’ve shown them and asked for more, but not always.

Of course it’s all a question of taste and perhaps my expectations are the problem. I expect/hope that every single person in the class will get it. In reality, only some will get it. Perhaps it’s hard to enjoy it in a classroom context and really these things take time.

You need to watch again and again, to get to know the characters and so on. It takes time to really get into a show, to find it funny and to develop a love for it. Repeated viewings and a love for a show are great conditions for learning English from it. Also, I get downhearted when just one person isn’t into it. I might not notice the students who loved it just because Juan Pedro seemed bored.

So, perhaps the classroom isn’t the best environment for using TV comedy, but I am still convinced that there is a lot of value in using comedy shows to learn English.

My students who tell me they watch TV shows in English are always the better learners in class

One thing I do know for sure – the best learners of English in my experience are the types of people who take the time to get into TV shows and who don’t expect simple laughs at the start. Often the outstanding learners of English I’ve met are the ones who’ve told me that they’ve watched entire seasons of Black Books, or that they really loved watching Red Dwarf or The Mighty Boosh. It does happen sometimes.

Here are some facts: All the learners of English who have told me that they regularly watched a British comedy TV show have been good learners of English – communicative, good vocabulary, better understanding and pronunciation than their classmates and showing good potential for making progress through their English course, and I’ve never met a terrible learner who told me they watched comedy shows in English.

The ones who tell me they watch comedy shows in English are always the better students. Is there a connection? There must be something. Maybe the ones who enjoy watching comedy in English are the ones who are just more motivated, less willing to give up, more curious. THese are probably the successful traits – motivation, curiosity, patience, a desire to discover the deeper meaning beyond just learning the language as quickly as possible. If you have those traits I’m sure you’re more likely to be a better learner of English and you’re probably more likely to enjoy watching comedy programmes in English.

So I do encourage you to try and get into British comedy, even if it’s tricky at the start. Also, realise that there might be more to British comedy than meets the eye. It’s not like a lot of American comedy shows which are a bit superficial, to be honest – I mean, there’s never a lot of tragedy, pain, or harsh reality in those shows. Friends, for example – it’s all too colourful. The characters don’t seem to ever really suffer. Their lives are amazing. Where is the existential suffering? Their apartment is too nice. Their lives are too rich. They’re ultimately too happy and successful. I find that harder to relate to and therefore harder to get into. I need more depth than that. I don’t just want my comedy to be escapism. I want it to allow me to explore more complicated feelings and ideas. Comedy can be challenging, complex and fascinating.

Again, I should point out that it’s not a simple case of – American comedy = superficial, British comedy = deep. There are plenty of deep, dark and complex American shows. The Simpsons, for example – at it’s best it’s extremely nuanced and reflects such a multifaceted view of life, including not just Homer falling over, but the highs and lows, pain and joy of family life in all its richness, even if the characters are all presented in bright yellow colours.

What I want to do in this episode is sell the idea of using comedy for learning English, manage your expectations about British comedy in order to help you learn from it more effectively, and also recommend some shows.

I think from the outset this might be an impossible mission – to explain British comedy to an international audience of learners of English, and then have them actually go and watch it and also enjoy it as much as me – this may be an impossible mission, but I feel compelled to do it, and really – it’s up to you to make the mission a success isn’t it? There’s only so much I can do. The rest is your responsibility.

One advantage that we have is that you, my audience, aren’t just ordinary learners of English because I suppose you are already into British things, you probably like comedy and you must have a sense of humour if you either a) enjoy this podcast or b) have listened to it for a long time (this is a no ‘no sense of humour’ zone as far as I’m concerned) So I’m assuming that you’re already curious about British comedy, or you already appreciate it, or you are keen to get some recommendations from me about shows that I like.

I have one recommendation for you to consider…

Do not consume British comedy as comedy. Do not think of it as comedy.

This is reverse psychology, but it might just work.

Don’t think of it as comedy – because if you sit down to it expecting to laugh all the time, you might just be disappointed. Instead, think of these shows as tragedy, or a study in character.

By removing the emphasis on comedy, you should be able to focus instead on simply understanding the motivations of the characters, the situations they find themselves in and how this is all expressed by the things they say and the ways they interact. If you understand all these things, you might find it funnier or more moving as a result.

Think of them as pathos. (Pathos is like comedy, but instead of creating laughter, it creates sadness or a feeling of sympathy)

Think of each show as a study of some individuals and their lives filled with quiet desperation, or hope, or frustration, or ambition, or failure or contradiction.

Think of each show as a personality study or a soap opera.

But don’t think of it as a comedy.

This doesn’t mean that you should expect these shows to be rubbish and boring.

No, on the contrary – the shows are not rubbish, they’re often very good and really carefully created, even if they are filmed in TV studios with some cheap special effects or bland-looking lighting or set design and possibly with actors that don’t look like glamorous movie stars.

You might not get all the bright colours, white teeth and good hair that you might see in an American show.

But you will see really interesting people, very witty bits of dialogue, unexpected moments, awkward social situations with hilarious consequences. Some really complex and satisfying characters, and some genuinely classic moments of British TV culture, which have captured our imaginations and entered the popular consciousness.

But don’t consume these shows as comedy, but rather as drama.

Understanding British Comedy TV

Often in British TV shows the comedy comes from the frustration, the embarrassment, the flaws and the failures or the fears of the characters, or the ways that the characters argue and the funny moments of friction between them.

British TV comedy characters are like characters in Shakespearean tragedies. I know that sounds like I’m over egging the pudding a bit, but really I do believe that. The best TV comedy characters have fatal flaws. They have specific problems in their personalities that send them on a narrative arc which aims at success but usually ends in tragedy. Just like in a good Shakespeare play.

I’ll go into more detail in a moment.

But now, here are some specific tips for …

How to use shows to improve your English

  • Watch with and without subtitles
  • Use a notepad to make a note of what the characters are saying – especially when you notice specific phrases or other features of language.
  • If there are bits that make you laugh, note them down! Note down the phrasing, the intonation, the specific words, reactions and the lines that lead up to the funny moment. If it made you laugh it obviously meant something to you, so you’ll probably remember it better.
  • Repeat the funny lines to yourself a few times and try to copy the timing and emphasis.
  • Be aware of where the characters come from and how they speak with an accent.
  • Turn the spoken word into the written word and then back to the spoken word again.
  • Record yourself saying some bits.
  • Go the extra mile.
  • Maintain your curiosity. Give the shows a chance. It might take a while before you really get it and start finding it funny. But hang in there, it will come. Don’t expect too much, even though I’m telling you that these shows are wonderful. But trust me when I say that they are good.
  • When you find a show that you just like, watch it again and again! You can learn more from watching one show you like lots of times than from watching lots of shows you don’t like a lot.
  • Consider recording the audio from shows and listening to them without the visuals. It’s not a crazy thing to do. I did it at university with 2 episodes of I’m Alan Partidge. They used to entertain me so much that I recorded the audio onto my walkman and listened to them when I was on the bus. I learned a lot of the lines and I still really appreciate those episodes today.
  • Or if you have space on your phone, download the shows and watch when you’re on the bus or whatever – but obviously be careful of the NSFW content.
  • Read about the shows online. Often there are summaries of each episode on Wikipedia or on IMDB. Use those websites to find discussions of the episodes too, and also lists of quotes from the episodes.

Here are some specific shows that I can recommend.

Themes in UK TV Comedy

Almost all of these shows feature these themes:

  • The character is stuck in a situation in his/her life.
  • But the characters dream big – they have high hopes and big ambitions – they think they are better than the situation they’re in.
  • In every episode they try to achieve something, attempting to rise above their every day life.
  • But frustrating events work against them and they stay stuck in the same situation.
  • They’re thwarted by the situation around them but the biggest cause of their failure is themselves. Perhaps the character’s ambition, lack of self awareness or the fact that the character thinks they are better than their situation – these things cause the character to fail.
  • The main problem – the character doesn’t accept his/her situation and is not self aware and therefore always ends up frustrated, despite trying to achieve something bigger.

So, what about this list of shows?

I’ll explain the basic synopsis of the show and will also try to tell you what kind of English you might hear in the show as well as any other details I think you should know.

I’m not sure how you are going to actually find or get hold of these shows. I know some of you out there in internetland have access to anything through torrenting sites and stuff, or on those websites where shows are uploaded for streaming.

I recommend that you find the shows online, get them on DVD or however you normally watch programmes.

You also might think to yourselves, “Do I have to watch any of these shows…? Is this compulsory homework?” Well, no of course you can do whatever you want and if you’d rather just not bother, like I’m sure a great many of you will do, then go ahead. Carry on living your lives exactly like before, listen to the podcast on your way to work or whatever and that’s fine. But I know that quite a lot of you are interested in finding some British TV shows to watch – so here’s a list of personal recommendations from me to you.

These are all shows I have watched and enjoyed. In no particular order.

By the way, all of these could and should be individual episodes of the podcast in their own right, in which we listen to some clips and all that stuff, and I might do that in the future.

Some British TV Comedy Show Recommendations (in no particular order)

The Office

Reality-style sitcom (or “mockumentary”) Early 2000s.

Basic description?

This is a tragedy set in an office. It’s also a romance, of sorts.

There are two types of character – the ones who are trapped in hell and the ones who don’t realise that they’re trapped in hell. The hell in this case is an office in Slough. Perhaps hell within hell, because it’s bad enough being in Slough but working in an office in Slough is even worse.

Type of English

It’s very “realistic” – it’s a fly on the wall drama. The camera men are trying not to be intrusive. It’s like we’re just observing life in this office. As a result it’s not always clear what’s being said. Characters might mumble sometimes, and their sentences aren’t always complete – it’s the style, but this is good because this is how people actually speak. The laughs are not signalled, and there’s no laughter track. It might look like just a depressing office and this is the point.

That’s what this is about. Remember – tragedy! Most of the characters are from the south and don’t have really strong accents except a couple of them who have accents from the South West (Gareth for example).

I’m Alan Partridge

Mid 1990s – now

A man who thinks he is an A-grade broadcaster is actually a D-grade broadcaster – but it’s so much more than that. It started as a parody of the way TV broadcasters speak, but it’s become a parody of a certain type of middle aged British Man – the kind of man who reads the Daily Express and votes for Brexit.

I need to do a whole episode about this. You need to understand that Alan is someone who speaks like a local radio presenter in ordinary life and it shows how alienated he is from normal people. He talks to the public on the radio, but in real life he’s hopeless, but he doesn’t realise. His accent is a bit like a parody of a sports reporter or a radio presenter. This is a complex character and he doesn’t realise how ridiculous he is. We’re laughing at him, not with him.

Father Ted

Actually Irish not British.

Sitcom – 1990s

The pathos: a man who is stuck in the priesthood with a drunkard and an idiot on an island off Ireland and he dreams of having a more glamourous life.

It’s not a British show, it’s Irish. The accents are from the Republic of Ireland.

Blackadder

Historical sitcom or satire – 1980s – 1990s

Edmund is essentially a modern-minded man stuck in the idiocy of British history.

This features some of the UK’s most favourite actors and comedians including Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. Usually the English you’ll hear is quite old-fashioned. You’ll hear parodies of old English styles, and plenty of sarcasm. Although the style is old fashioned (it’s set in the Tudor period, Regency period or WW1 period) the characters should speak clearly and in RP.

Don’t watch series 1 of Blackadder! Avoid series 1. Only series 2-4 are good.

Bottom

Sitcom – 1990s

Two complete cretins live a miserable unemployed existence in Hammersmith – it’s basically Samuel Beckett.

They speak with a bit of RP and a bit of London. Often the characters adopt high-class English in contrast to the low-class situation they live in.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus

Sketch show from the 1960s and 1970s.

A group of highly educated Oxbridge graduates make fun of absolutely everything, including history, comedy clichés and existence itself.

George Harrison once said that when The Beatles split up at the end of the sixties that The Beatles spirit passed into Monty Python. There’s something in that, because the pythons had something special about them. Not every sketch is great, but a lot of them are brilliant. It’s probably best to just watch the films – Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Spaced

Sitcom – Late 1990s early 2000s.

Two twenty-somethings who live in a fantasy world of their own creation struggle to exist in the real world – everything they do becomes a scene from a famous film.

The Day Today

News parody and satire. Mid 1990s.

The news is pompous and self-important to the point of being surreal.

Brass Eye

The same concept as The Day Today but a lot more controversial.

Only Fools and Horses

Sitcom – 1980s – 1990s.

Two orphaned brothers from a working class background just try to make ends meet. One of them ends up becoming middle class when he falls in love with a middle-class girl, but he’s working class at heart.


Shows I talk about in the Bonus Audio – in the LEP App.

Black Books

Sitcom – Late 1990s – early 2000s.

Bernard works in a bookshop selling books to the public. He loves books but the problem is he hates people. He also loves wine and smoking. It’s a bit like Withnail &I.

Absolutely Fabulous

Sitcom – 1990s.

Two posh middle aged women who work (in the vaguest possible sense) in the fashion industry in London try to live like they are still teenagers in swinging London in the late 1960s.

The Thick of It

Political satire and sitcom – Late 2000s.

Politics is a dog-eat-dog world in which serving the public is the lowest priority.

Yes Minister

Political satire and sitcom – 1970s – 1980s.

Politics is a dog-eat-dog world in which serving the public is the lowest priority – but with less swearing and more charming old fashioned upper-class sophistication.

Dad’s Army

Sitcom – 1960s – 1970s

Britain’s last line of defence against the Nazis is a group of incompetent old grandads.

Red Dwarf

Sci-Fi Sitcom – 1990s.

The last human being alive is stuck on a spaceship with a hologram of the person he hates the most, a senile super-computer, a robot butler and a man who evolved from cats – full of sarcasm, put downs and cheap science fiction special effects.

Gavin & Stacey

Sitcom – Late 2000s

A genuinely sweet and heartwarming comedy about two people from two different British communities (Essex in England and Barry Island in South Wales) who fall in love with each other.

Outnumbered

Sitcom – late 2000s – now.

Two exhausted parents attempt to bring up 3 children, and lose the battle.


Other shows (I didn’t get time to mention them at all)

One Foot in the Grave

Sitcom – 1990s.

A man in his 70s just wants to enjoy his retirement but he is constantly frustrated but life’s little irritations.

Little Britain

Sketch show – 2000s.

A sketch show in which a range of eccentric and grotesque British characters talk in catchphrases.

The Fast Show

Sketch show – 1990s.

The same as Little Britain, but with a bit more pathos. This came before Little Britain.

Extras

Sitcom/drama – 2000s.

A man struggles to become famous as an actor and writer, and then when he does become famous he realises how empty it is – all the celebrities he meets are total weirdos – and they are played by themselves.

The Royle Family

Sitcom/drama – 1990s/2000s.

A northern working class family live their lives sitting in front of the TV. The twist is – we are watching them from the TV’s point of view.

The Trip

Drama? 2010s – now.

Two middle aged men go on a road trip and bicker with each other, while competing to see who can do the best impressions of famous actors – we also realise that their lives are a struggle between ambition, the emptiness, self-fulfilment and a life in show business. Stars award-winning comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon and directed by filmmaker Michael Winterbottom.

All these shows sound like dramas or tragedies, but they are really funny and charming and I recommend you check them out!

The League of Gentlemen

Sketch show – 1990s – 2000s.

The Mighty Boosh

Surreal sitcom – Late 2000s.

They’re both losers in their own way and they live in a dream world of their own creation – and that dream world is populated by all kinds of wonderful, colourful characters, music, and magic, but it’s all about this funny relationship between two mis-matched friends.

This show is bonkers but really sweet at the same time. The two main characters speak in modern London accents. Vince has an estuary English accent – sort of like cockney – typical London accent. Howard is similar but probably closer to RP.

Peep Show

Sitcom – 2000s.

A terribly dark tragedy about the struggle of two cynical guys in their 30s attempting to live in modern London. The horror comes from the fact that we can hear their thoughts and see the world from their point of view, and they’re awful people.

They’re both quite well-spoken, particularly David Mitchell’s character who is very uncool and his slightly posh RP is evidence of that.

Fawlty Towers

Sitcom – 1970s.

An utterly fed up man is stuck in the wrong job – welcoming people into his hotel on ‘the English rivera’.

The IT Crowd

Limmy’s Show

The Inbetweeners

Keeping Up Appearances

One Foot in the Grave

Porridge

The Young Ones

Steptoe & Son

Allo Allo

Panel Shows

Have I Got News for You?

Mock The Week

Never Mind The Buzzcocks

8 out of 10 Cats

QI

Would I Lie to You?

And plenty plenty more!

If you like a British comedy TV show and I didn’t mention it. Add it in the comment section. :)

505. A Chat with Dad & James about Star Wars: The Last Jedi (with Vocabulary)

Here is the third and final part of this trilogy of episodes about the latest Star Wars film. In this one you’ll hear a conversation between my Dad, my brother and me that I recorded just after we’d seen the film a couple of weeks ago. Now, I know that this is perhaps a bit too much Star Wars content on this podcast. Even if you are a fan it might seem like overkill. So let me emphasise the value of the conversation in this episode as an opportunity for you to learn some natural English in an authentic way. You’ll hear us talking spontaneously and then in the second half of this episode I’ll to explain some of the bits of language that come up in the conversation. So, this isn’t just chat about a film, it’s a way to present you with real British English as it is actually spoken.

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Introduction Transcript

[⬆️⬆️⬆️The first paragraph is at the top of the page ⬆️⬆️⬆️]

When my family were staying with us for a few days during the Christmas holiday period, fairly soon after our daughter was born, Dad, James and I left my wife and my mum at home to look after the baby and we went off to see the new Star Wars film. This has become something of a Christmas tradition now.

After seeing the film we came home, drank some red wine and then recorded our thoughts and comments for the podcast. That is this conversation.

As you’d expect we were feeling quite excitable after having just sat through 2 and a half hours of intense Star Wars action and we were also slightly tipsy on French wine and so the conversation is quite animated and lively. You will hear us talking over each other a bit. Not every sentence is completed. Some words get cut off as we interrupt each other and although that’s all completely normal in conversations like this, it might be difficult for you to understand everything, depending on your level of English, but watch out for various nice expressions that pop up during our chat. I’ll be explaining some of them later in this episode.

Right then, let’s hear that conversation now – and remember of course that this will contain lots of plot spoilers for Star Wars Episode 8 – so if you haven’t seen it yet, please do so before you listen to this. This is your final warning – plot spoilers are coming – please do not let us spoil your enjoyment of the film. You could always come back to listen to this episode later if you want.


Outtro Transcript

Near the end of the conversation there you heard my dad and my brother expressing their doubts about whether this conversation might be either too difficult for you to follow or simply boring for you to hear because of the slightly geeky levels of detail about Star Wars. That’s quite a frequent reaction from them, isn’t it. It’s a bit annoying when they say that kind of thing, but to be honest, I think they’ve both got a point, to a certain degree, and this shows that making podcast content for learners of English can be a bit of a tightrope. Episodes should be clear enough for learners of English to understand, but at the same time spoken at a natural speed to make them authentic. I want to be able to explore subjects in some depth and detail so that the content is original and insightful without episodes becoming too specific, too long or simply uninteresting for you to listen to. It can be tricky to walk that line. The fact is, it’s probably impossible to get it 100% right every time and produce episodes that are popular and useful for absolutely everybody across the board.

But in the end I’m not going to worry about it too much. I expect I lost a few people with all this talk of Star Wars, but if that is the case – so be it. Looking on the bright side – maybe those of you who share my enthusiasm for these films have really enjoyed this trilogy.

In any case, that’s it for Star Wars for a while.

Now, let’s focus our attention on language – specifically vocabulary. What about some of the expressions, phrasal verbs and other bits of language that you heard?

I’ve been through the conversation again and made a list. It’s quite a big list. I wonder how many of these phrases how many you noticed and how many passed you by. We’ll see.

Let’s go through them now. And this isn’t Star Wars vocabulary – it’s all English that you can use to talk about all manner of different things.

This is your chance to broaden your vocabulary, increasing your understanding of not just this conversation but native-level English in general.

Vocabulary (not just Star Wars related)

Listen to the episode to hear my definitions and explanations.

  • Your daughter is gorgeous and all in one piece, and very healthy and alert. It’s a wonderful thing and I’m now an uncle.
  • Dad: I’m wearing a flat cap, smoking a pipe, sitting by the fire and dozing. James: No change there then.
  • There’s been a big backlash against this film from the die-hard fans.
  • Is there a theory that the score has been dragged down artificially?
  • The sequel trilogy is a return to form, you think?
  • The characters are running out of steam.
  • It doesn’t have the same wow factor as before. So they’re exaggerating everything to keep it going.
  • It didn’t have the same feeling as the originals, that’s what you can boil it down to.
  • They added new scenes. They added nothing. They detracted from the originals.
  • I was like you once. Full of beans and spunk!
  • I punched a bloke in the face once for saying Hawk The Slayer was rubbish.
  • I was defending the fantasy genre with terminal intensity when what I should have said is Dad, you’re right, but let’s give Krull a try and we’ll discuss it later.
  • “Jar Jar Binks makes the Ewoks look like… f*cking… Shaft!” Spaced – Series 2 

The Ewoks were annoying, but Jar Jar is so annoying and terrible that by comparison, the Ewoks look extremely cool, like Shaft. This does not mean that Shaft looks like an Ewok. It just means that Shaft is very cool and Jar Jar is very uncool.

Shaft (1971)
Directed by Gordon Parks
Shown: Richard Roundtree (as John Shaft)

 

  • Tim, I’m going to have to let you go.
  • Phew! I thought you were going to fire me then!
  • I thought it went seriously downhill when they started to introduce teddy bears.
  • They used more animatronics and puppetry.
  • There are a number of set pieces. It moves from one set piece to another set piece.
  • I thought it was a little bit trying too hard. It was a little bit frenetic.
  • It does go on a bit.
  • I thought they could have done without the cute creatures. It’s a bit of Ewokism here.
  • To be honest I kind of got over my star wars obsession when I was about 12.
  • I’m not one of these rabid fans.
  • I’m starting to warm to the new characters.
  • Dad said there were too many explosions. James: I know what you mean. It’s the law of diminishing returns. You see one explosion and it’s “ooh wow”, and you see 100 explosions and it’s like “meh“.
  • I liked the bit when the guy got chucked into the extractor fan. It was like he got chucked into a lettuce shredder. Bits of him went flying out. That was cool.
  • The extractor fan/lettuce shredder – They should have a grill over that or some sort of guard rail. It’s a health and safety issue. It’s a health and safety nightmare.
  • To me, it needs a bit of lightening up. I don’t want it to be like one of these superhero films like Batman where everything’s deadly serious and shrouded in seriousness. Come on it’s a kid’s film – just lighten up!
  • On milking the sea alien – I thought that was wrong on many levels, but I laughed.
  • I liked Adrian Edmonson. Every moment he was on screen I was stoked.

The rest of this vocabulary is explained in the Luke’s English Podcast App – Check the bonus content for episode 505

How to find bonus content for episodes in the app

  • Snoke was a classic baddie. He looked horrible and it was lovely when he came to a sticky end.
  • Hang on, let me finish!
  • Were you disappointed that we didn’t learn anything else about him, that he just died? James: No I was glad to see the back of him.
  • Some people feel disappointed that his character wasn’t developed. Do you think he was killed too easily? Dad: Well, I think he was very cut up about it. (!!!)
  • He was just a really evil thing that had to be got rid of.
  • You take for granted the special effects involved.
  • On Luke throwing away the lightsabre. Dad: He didn’t hurl it into the sea, he just tossed it over his shoulder.
  • Pronunciation: We’ve been to that island. We’ve been to those rocks. We’ve been into those huts. We’ve been there. /bin/ not /bi:n/
  • Maybe Chewie did eat the porg. Dad: I think, “Chewie” – the clue is in the name. He should have chewed into that porg.
  • Luke Skywalker was flawed.
  • He’d coached this trainee jedi, his nephew, who had perfect credentials, good bloodline.
  • He peaked too early.
  • You can see that we’re running out of steam.
  • Did you like the new AT-AT walkers? I thought they were sick. I liked the way they walked on their knuckles. I thought it was funny the way they look like they’re grumpily stomping along on their knuckles.
  • Gorilla walkers / guerrilla war in the forest
  • (There’s a moment where we go from talking about gorilla walkers to guerrilla warfare (Ewoks vs Empire). These are two different words that sound the same.)
  • I was genuinely and generally interested.
  • It didn’t feel like they jumped the shark.
  • Disney are going to milk this one dry.
  • Luke Skywalker brushing his shoulder / Obama brushing his shoulder.
  • He turned the tide against him by being too cool in the Whitehouse.
  • At least I didn’t sigh in this episode.

504. My Review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Part 2)

Continuing to talk about the latest Star Wars film at length(!) – going through the storyline and giving my thoughts on the characters, events and the audience backlash. Transcript available below.

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Transcript (95% complete)

OK, so if you check the length of this episode you’ll see it’s more than 2 hours long – Yes, this is definitely the longest episode of LEP I’ve ever done! And this is part 2 of a double episode. If you put parts 1 and 2 together that adds up to nearly 3.5 hours of me talking about Star Wars The Last Jedi. Added to that, the next episode will also be about Star Wars – and that will be a conversation between my dad, my brother and me. So, this has become something of a Star Wars marathon on Luke’s English Podcast. Those of you who are fans of Star Wars will probably be happy about that! Those of you who aren’t interested in Star Wars, or if you just think this film completely sucks – of course you could just skip this episode – I’ll be uploading more non-Star Wars episodes soon, I promise. OK, so strap in then, let’s embark on part 2 of this epic Star Wars themed episode…

Transcript – 504. My Review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Part 2) PDF

Transcript (95% complete)

OK, so if you check the length of this episode you’ll see it’s more than 2 hours long – Yes, this is definitely the longest episode of LEP I’ve ever done! And this is part 2 of a double episode. If you put parts 1 and 2 together that adds up to nearly 3.5 hours of me talking about Star Wars The Last Jedi. Added to that, the next episode will also be about Star Wars – and that will be a conversation between my dad, my brother and me. So, this has become something of a Star Wars marathon on Luke’s English Podcast. Those of you who are fans of Star Wars will probably be happy about that! Those of you who aren’t interested in Star Wars, or if you just think this film completely sucks – of course you could just skip this episode – I’ll be uploading more non-Star Wars episodes soon, I promise. OK, so strap in then, let’s embark on part 2 of this epic Star Wars themed episode.

Hi, welcome back to the podcast. This is part 2 of a double episode I’m doing about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. In this one I’m going to continue going through the storyline of the film and giving my thoughts and feelings about the characters and events. I thought I’d be able to do all of this in one episode but I have got a bit carried away so I’ve split it into 2 parts.

You should listen to part 1 before listening to this…

If you’re not a fan of Star Wars you could just skip this one. I’m recording it really for the people who’ve seen the film.

Spoiler alert – I’m revealing lots of details about the film, so you should wait until you have seen the film before you listen to this.

There is a script for most of what I’m saying on the episode page on my website so you can read along while listening, or just check for certain words and phrases that you’ll hear me use.

If you’re listening in the LEP app, just click the link for the episdoe page in the episode description – that will allow you to read the script while you’re listening.

After this episode there will be another one about Star Wars – and that will be a chat with my brother and my Dad that I recorded just after we all saw the film together about a week ago.

I realise I’m devoting quite a lot of podcast time to this new film – but I just really enjoy talking about it right at this moment

and as far as I’m concerned that’s enough of a reason for me to do this on the podcast.

Don’t worry, I won’t be doing Star Wars forever of course and we’ll get back to other topics and themes on the podcast soon.

OK then, so I expect the ones still listening to this are the Star Wars fans – so, let’s now continue where I left off.

I was describing that moment when General Leia gets blasted into space when the bridge of her ship gets blown up.

I said that this is quite a controversial scene…

I admit that this scene is weird and we’ve never seen this before in a Star Wars film, but I really don’t think it’s as bad or ridiculous as some people think.

So, Leia is hanging in space in zero gravity after the bridge of her ship has been blown up. She’s hanging in zero gravity. Apparently now we have zero gravity in space. Now – there is no consistency regarding the science in these films as we’ve seen already many times. This is not science fiction – there doesn’t need to be consistent, logical physics. This is a film series in which there are explosions in space, a huge planet sized space station that blows things up with lazers and a mystical force that allows people to control minds, lift objects and even project lightning from their fingers.

In this particular scene. The science serves the characters, the action and the plot, and it can be bent this way and that. We are supposed to just suspend our disbelief and go with the vague rules of this universe. In this case, in this scene, there is zero gravity in space and so Leia is just hanging there. It seems that her skin maybe beginning to freeze, which is what would happen in space I suppose.

She looks dead.

But then her fingers twitch and her eyelids open. When I saw this I immediately thought – she’s using the force to keep herself alive. It’s a survival thing. Then she extends her arm and floats back towards the ship.

Some people say she flies and they get very angry and upset saying “The force doesn’t let you fly”. Well – first of all, she’s not flying – she’s floating through zero gravity.

It wouldn’t require much force power to do that, right? There’s no atmosphere or gravity so it just requires a little bit of force power to pull herself back to the ship.

Also, we know that Leia is force sensitive but up until this point her power has just been to communicate with Luke through the force, to feel and sense things through the force and perhaps the suggestion that she’s been influencing events through the force for a while – like perhaps helping that bomber in the opening battle sequence, and influencing Kylo’s decision not to attack the fleet and so on.

So she has the force but she’s never used it to her full potential. It’s not hard to imagine that in a crucial moment like this that she’d be capable of keeping herself alive and pulling herself back to the ship through zero gravity.

We see this slightly odd, yet strangely beautiful image of Leia floating through space in the middle of a battle. It’s eerie and we’ve never seen anything like this before.

Again, a lot of people hate this scene, but I think they’re being a bit hysterical.

This has never happened before – it’s not consistent!

Yep, well a lot of people complained about episode 7 because it contained nothing new.

This is something new and it’s not completely far fetched. She’s not flying, she’s floating in zero gravity. Leia can’t fly ok? She’s not superwoman. It’s zero gravity. She’s just floating.

So, I’m fine with this scene, but only fine with it.

They could have done this differently.
Other criticisms of this scene include the fact that Leia uses the force here just to save herself, other characters die and she could have saved them.

Well, let’s face it – this film is all about breaking away from the old stuff and that means that some of the old characters have to die, and that includes someone like Admiral Akhbar- the guy who looks like a fish.

I’m not that bothered that Akbar is gone. I liked him – I had the Admiral Akbar toy when I was a child, but it’s fine – we can let him go. These are tragic events.

But maybe she could have used the force differently – like perhaps she could have somehow contained the explosion and held the bridge together – but that surely would have taken much more force strength and ability. I reckon keeping herself alive and then floating back to the ship is consistent with the fact that she’s never fully trained or developed her force abilities.

This moment is also weird and spooky considering the fact that we all know that Carrie Fisher died just after making this film. Here in the film we see her character apparently die, but then her eyes open and she makes a miraculous recovery. I find this spooky and odd, but it doesn’t make me angry or make me want to throw my toys out of the pram and weep for the death of Star Wars. That’s a bit hysterical.

Also, there’s a sense that in the negative reaction to this scene (and to quite a lot of the rest of the film) there’s a bit of sexism going on. Perhaps people just don’t like the idea of a woman flying. I know one person in particular who expressed this opinion – like “What, women can fly now?” “Women can do anything in movies now – this is ridiculous – it’s just rampant feminism”.

Again, that seems like a slightly hysterical reaction. How many times have we seen flying men in movies? How many times are male heroes celebrated by seeing them fly through the air? Tons of times. Superman, Batman (alright he doesn’t fly but almost) Iron Man, Spiderman, Thor and tons of others. Nobody complains about flying men, it happens all the time and it’s not going to stop happening. Then we get one flying woman (who isn’t even flying) and some people throw their toys out of the pram and start complaining about rampant feminism. It’s not the end of the world.

Some people might say – but it’s not consistent with the films. I’d say – yes it is consistent – she’s using her latent force abilities to briefly preserve her life and to pull herself back to the ship.

You might disagree with me on this one – because it’s a really divisive moment in the film and I think a lot of people just couldn’t handle it and this was the moment when they just gave up on the film. If that’s you – write your thoughts in the comment section. What exactly is wrong with this moment? Put your thoughts into words. I’ve given you my point of view, why not give me yours?

So, Leia gets back to the ship and is in a coma. She’s replaced by Vice Admiral Holdo.

Ahch-To – Luke & Rey

Words I used to describe Luke Skywalker:

  • grisled
  • haggard
  • he looks like a wizened old hermit

Luke chucks the lightsaber away.

I was really shocked – gobsmacked. My jaw dropped at this moment.

I was expecting him to refuse the lightsaber but I didn’t expect him to do that, but I went with it.

I was shocked but I went with it.

This is another one of those moments that’s a deal breaker for a lot of people. Some people see Luke throw the light sabre over his shoulder and they find it to be a fundamental problem.

I can understand that. I think it seems a bit dismissive and casual, but this is where Luke is as a character in the story. He has been on this island for god knows how long and he’s utterly lost faith in the Jedi and in the so-called myth of Luke Skywalker. He doesn’t believe in these symbols any more and he has no time for people who expect him to live up to the legend of Luke Skywalker and that’s because at one point he believed in his own legend himself and as a result of that he thought he could do more than he could and this ended in complete failure. He couldn’t live up to all the expectations that he even had of himself.

Some people say this is not consistent with Luke’s character, but I say – why not? Why can’t Luke have gone in this direction in the 30 years since Return of the Jedi?

I found it really interesting that Luke had undergone such dramatic and traumatic changes since episode 6.

Luke’s character in this film is about learning from failure, about being fallible, about struggling with expectations, about the legacy of the Jedi, about the heavy burden that is being the last jedi.

In this film they could have made Luke a massively powerful hero who takes on the First Order armed only with his laser sword, but instead they went for a more complex study of a man who has failed, isolated himself and then slowly comes to terms with what it means to be a myth and how he can use this to do powerful things.

Rey hangs around but Luke refuses to talk to her.

We get some scenes which show Luke’s weird and eccentric lifestyle on the island. He fishes for massive fish in the sea, he lives among the porgs, he even drinks milk from the breast of some kind of weird sea mammal. Not directly from the breast, but he fills a flask with green milk that he gets from the breast of a weird creature that looks a bit like a walrus or something. He then drinks the milk and it drips down his beard, and he stares at Rey while doing this, looking pleased with himself. He’s being purposefully disgusting, and Rey thinks it’s weird.

The green milk scene is another controversial one – controversial meaning that it has split opinions. Some people say this kind of thing has no place in Star Wars and that the humour didn’t really work.

Personally I was fine with it. Both times I saw this in the cinema I was one of the only ones laughing at this moment.

I don’t mind a bit of weird humour and I think Star Wars has always featured this kind of thing.

For example – Jabba The Hutt is a weird creepy slug which licks its slimy lips in a really creepy way when looking at female characters, and there are plenty of other weird moments in the original trilogy. None of them are as blatant as this, but it’s not a complete departure from the world of Star Wars in my opinion.

And just personally, I found it really funny. I also thought that this was Luke testing Rey a bit, in a similar way to how Yoda tested Luke in The Empire Strikes Back. When Luke first arrives on Degobah to meet Yoda (and he doesn’t know what Yoda looks like) Yoda meets him and makes him think he’s just a weird and annoying little creature. He pretends to fight with R2D2, steals Luke’s food and seems totally eccentric and strange. It’s only later that Yoda reveals himself to be a great master. It’s as if he needed to show Luke that you shouldn’t expect heroes to look like heroes and that true heroism is in your actions not in your appearance.

Also this is a trope in a lot of kung fu movies from the 70s. The kung fu master appears as a sort of crazy fool who tests the patience of the main apprentice, giving him lots of annoying tests – and secretly he’s training the apprentice without him realising it.

I like Luke’s grumpy, weird side in this and I found it to be a pleasant surprise.

Anyway, Rey tries unsuccessfully to persuade Luke to join the Resistance and Luke hides in his cabin.

Chewie smashes the door in.

Luke finds out that Han is dead. This doesn’t change his mind, but maybe a little bit.

He visits the Milennium Falcon – this is a big nostalgia moment. The first time we’ve seen Luke on the Falcon since Episode 5 maybe.

He finds R2D2 and the moment they reunite is pretty amazing. Luke removes his hood in order to see him and it reminded me of when Obiwan removed his hood to look at R2D2 in Episode 4.

Them reuniting made me well up…! I’m not ashamed to admit it. R2 is so important to Luke’s whole journey. He’s the whole reason he ended up on this adventure in the first place.

R2 seems to try and persuade Luke to join the Resistance but Luke says “no way”. R2’s response is brilliant. He just plays the hologram of Princess Leia from Episode 4. Luke says “that was a cheap move” or something – and it’s a bit true, this is a pretty cheap way for R2 to persuade Luke, but also a fairly cheap way for the film to make any Star Wars fan feel emotional.

R2D2 goes straight for the jugular (vein).

This was always one of the most magical moments in the original film. When he was a frustrated farmboy dreaming of having adventures, this hologram of a beautiful princess asking for help completely captured his imagination and catapulted him on this journey into adventure, heroism, the force and self-discovery. The function of it here is that it brings Luke one step further towards remembering who he was and it is a stark contrast to who he has become now.

But he’s still committed to the fact that he can’t be involved because he’s convinced that he’ll do more harm than good.

In fact Luke has cut himself off from the force completely. He’s lost faith in the Jedi order.

But you get the sense that he’s not a lost cause. He acts like he’s definitely against the idea of coming back, but we see that he is quite curious about Rey and there is still a spark of the old Luke Skywalker in there.

At one point Rey seems to be called to a big old tree on the island, which I think is the original Jedi temple – or a force tree – I’m not sure of it’s significance completely but I expect it is mentioned in one of the books or something. The tree also houses the sacred Jedi texts. Rey seems drawn to this place and Luke notices this and follows her from a distance.

That’s when he becomes curious about Rey – when he notices that she’s been drawn to this significant place and there’s an interesting exchange there where we see that Rey is confused and doesn’t know who she is. She doesn’t understand how she has her force sensitivity and who her parents are (she’s feeling a bit force sensitive). She’s desperately looking for answers to the questions of her identity while also trying to get Luke to come and help the Resistance. She seems lost and is desperate for guidance.

No idea of how the time works here – all this is going on while the Resistance are battling against time up in space somewhere. Perhaps Ach-To runs on different time cycles. God knows. I don’t think it matters that much.

Luke finally agrees to train Rey a bit. “Tomorrow at dawn – 3 lessons”. Again this is like a kung fu movie or a samurai movie or something, and that is really cool.

3 lessons about the Jedi and why they have to end.

All the while, Rey and Kylo keep having weird force visions in which they are connected and they chat. It’s a bit like secret Skype or something. ForceTime.

She berates him for killing Han Solo and says he’s a monster.

He makes fun of the fact that she is looking for parental figures everywhere.

They grow strangely close, mainly because they’re in similar situations. She’s desperate for guidance. He’s curious about her force abilities, and perhaps is working out if she is an enemy or perhaps a potential ally. They both are alienated from their so-called mentors.

It’s weird and I didn’t know which way this would go. I expected that they’d join forces somehow and fight against both Snoke and Luke Skywalker, but I didn’t believe Luke Skywalker would be a real antagonist.

Like I said before – there’s nothing like watching a Star Wars film when you don’t know what is going to happen next.

Skywalker gives Rey some lessons in the force, but his intention is to break down her misconceptions about what it is, and what the Jedi really are. I could have had more of this to be honest, but then again in the original trilogy there wasn’t much detail about the force either.

With the force I think the more you explain it, the less interesting it becomes. In The Phantom Menace there were these things called midiclorians, which are living organisms that actually carry the force – and it was possible to measure, scientifically, how much force a person had based on their midichlorian count – and because this is physical that this could be genetic and handed down through family connections.

But midichloreans were never spoken of again because they took the magic out of the force. The version of the force we have here is back to how it was in Episode 4 – a mystical energy that binds the galaxy together.

Rey doesn’t understand the force at all – thinking it’s just about controlling people’s thoughts and about moving rocks. This is the childish version of the force. Skywalker tells her it’s a lot more than that, giving a similar version that Obiwan gave to him in episode 4 – that it’s a neutral natural power that exists in the balance between everything.

There are some funny moments where Luke makes fun of her and the way she misunderstands the nature of the force. Again, I’m not bothered by the jokey bits because this is Star Wars not Batman The Dark Knight.

One funny moment is when he tells her to ‘reach out’ and she takes it literally. He means that she should reach out with her feelings, but she reaches out with her arm and he tickles it with a piece of grass saying “can you feel that? That’s the force!” and then he slaps her hand and says “that’s not how the force works” or something. Again, this reminds me of training sequences from kung fu movies which have some humour in them and involve the pupil getting it wrong and the master teasing them.

Then Rey does reach out to the force with her feelings and Luke gives her a little lesson in what it is, and how to connect with it. He’s shocked that she immediately gets pulled towards the dark side, which is represented by a weird dark cave under the island. The rock under her cracks and she has a weird vision of being covered in water.

Luke is shocked that Rey didn’t resist the dark side and he refuses to train her any more because the last time this happened it all went horribly wrong.

He also attempts to explain to Rey how he has lost faith in the Jedi, how they were wrong and arrogant in assuming that they owned the force and how their legacy is failure. In the prequels the Jedi were blinded by their own arrogance – they didn’t see how a powerful sith was taking control of the senate right under their noses. Lack of vision etc. Again – more hubris. They were too sure of themselves and that’s why they failed.

I find this pretty interesting. A lot of that is true, right?

I’m not surprised that Luke has gone this way and I just find it interesting from a character point of view.

Later, I’m not sure when, we get more info about what happened between Luke and Ben Solo (Kylo Ren).

The story is told 3 times, and each time you get a slightly different version of events.

First time is what Luke says to Rey.

He tells her that he sensed growing darkness in Ben and he went to see him during the night to try and reason with him, but Ben flew into a rage and pulled down the building on top of his head, and then destroyed the temple.

The second version of the story is what Kylo tells Rey during one of their ForceTime sessions. He tells her that Luke didn’t give the complete story and that Luke had come with his lightsabre to murder Kylo in his sleep.

A lot of fans can’t handle this and just believe that Luke would never do this and that their childhood is ruined and all that, but it’s not the final version of events.

The third version of the story is the true one.

Luke explains to Rey that he had become aware of a growing darkness in Ben and that he struggled with what to do about it. He went to Ben’s room in the night to read Ben’s mind and was so shocked by the darkness inside him that in a moment of compulsion he ignited his lightsabre in order to kill him and rid the galaxy of another possible evil tyrant, but that as soon as he ignited his sabre, he regretted the decision and realised that this meant killing his nephew, one of his students in a cowardly way. So he immediately changed his mind when he realised what he was doing.

I think this just gives Luke’s character more depth. Remember that he was the last jedi and perhaps he’d taken on too much in agreeing to train these young students. That’s a big job and perhaps he wasn’t really capable of doing it all on his own.

Maybe Yoda and Obiwan’s force ghosts hadn’t visited him for ages so he hadn’t had guidance from them.

As he said – he believed in his own legend and this was his failing. He took on too much and ultimately wasn’t able to handle the task of restarting the jedi order on his own, taking on his sister’s troubled son who was also incredibly powerful in the force but touched by the dark side and was already being manipulated and controlled by Snoke through the force. It was all too much for one guy.

I think there is a lesson here and that is that success can be very dangerous – in this case Luke had success in the fact that he helped to redeem Darth Vader and kill the emperor. This can lead to a false sense of confidence which can lead ultimately to failure. There’s a lot of that in this film. It’s tragic, but at least there’s more depth to it than just gymnastic lightsabre duels and “being badass”.

Anyway, Luke tells his story – of how he immediately changed his mind and was not going to kill Ben, but then Ben woke up and saw Luke standing over him with his ignited lightsabre and that’s when he pulled down the building on top of Luke and destroyed the temple. It’s a sort of misunderstanding that makes Ben think Luke really was going to kill him. In any case, Ben rejects Luke and he then probably gave his allegiance to Snoke.

Luke again tells Rey to get off the island. He’s gone there to die, etc.

This pushes Rey closer to Kylo who is the only one who seems to understand her. Will she turn to the dark side to be with him? Will he turn good? No idea.

Not sure of the chronology here.

At one point Rey visits the dark cave, like Luke does in Empire Strikes Back. This is a really cool and spooky sequence where she seems to see herself trapped in a time line or perhaps it’s just her reflection repeated again and again. She follows this line of reflections until she’s face to face with a mirror and she’s convinced that this will reveal the truth she’s been looking for – her parents. A dark figure approaches her in the mirror. Who is it? Luke? Snoke? Han? Leia? Another figure from Star Wars lore? In the end, she finds herself staring at her own reflection.

What does this mean? I guess it means that she’s on her own and her parents just aren’t important.

Also, at some point here, Luke decides to reconnect with the force. He sits on the stone altar on the clifftop and meditates. I think he makes a connection with Leia, who is in her coma. I think this is where Luke realises a lot of things – but it’s not actually shown in the film. By reconnecting with the force here, I think he gets strength from his renewed connection with Leia, realises that there is something he can do. Basically, by reconnecting with the force he realises his power and perhaps his hope again, or realises the importance of Rey. I’m not sure.

Rey and Kylo have a Forcetime – again they’re getting closer to each other all the time. I think in this one Kylo is topless which kind of amps up the sexual tension between them. Rey seems to believe in Kylo more than she does in Luke at this point and she probably believes she can turn him to the light side of the force etc, but we still don’t really know how Kylo feels. He’s hard for us to read – he’s just blank and unreadable, which is a strength in terms of the acting performance. He could be a bit vulnerable, perhaps a bit lost, but possibly pure evil – we don’t really know!

They actually touch, and when they do Luke bursts into Rey’s hut and is shocked to discover them in contact, and he destroys the hut and breaks the connection.

Then there’s a sort of fight between Rey and Luke, where Rey demands to know if Luke really did try to kill Kylo, and she attacks him with her staff, and Luke defends himself with a stick and disarms her. To me this looks like he’s still training her. When he disarms her, she force grabs the blue lightsabre and appears to have beaten Luke who kind of falls to the ground and gives up – but if you watch closely we see his hand is raised and I’m sure that he could have summoned his green lightsabre whenever he wanted in order to defend himself. I think he let Rey get the better of him.

This is when he confesses that he did momentarily contemplate killing Ben, but that he instantly changed his mind. So – just to set the record straight on this, Luke was not going to kill Ben in his sleep. The idea flashed across his mind when he saw that Snoke had turned him to the dark side, but he instantly changed his mind. I say that because a lot of the hardcore fans have lost faith in this film because they thought Luke was going to murder a child in his sleep – he wasn’t.

Rey then decides to leave the island in order to go to Kylo because she believes she can turn him. Luke says “No, it won’t go the way you think”. It’s a bit like that moment in Empire Strikes Back when Luke goes to confront Vader but Yoda tells him he’s not ready yet.

Rey is delivered to Kylo Ren in an escape pod from the Millenium Falcon and then we get one of my favourite moments in the film. Kylo puts Rey in handcuffs and on the way to Snoke’s throne room they have a conversation.

She explains that she’s confident Kylo will turn to the light because she’s had a vision.

But Kylo explains that he’s also had a vision that Rey will turn to the dark.

I suspected that Kylo would turn to the light, because there was more evidence for it.
I didn’t really believe Rey would turn to the dark side, but there were a few things that suggested that she could – e.g. she was drawn to the dark side during her vision while training with Luke.

She is pretty impulsive and often strikes out in anger, it seems – and that’s often the way towards the dark side.

Then the doors open and Rey meets Snoke for the first time.

Meanwhile, Luke goes to destroy the Force Tree and the ancient Jedi texts.

Yoda appears and stops him.

It’s wonderful to see Yoda again.

He’s not CGI Yoda, it’s puppet Yoda.

They actually used the original mould from Return of the Jedi.

It works.

Basically, he tells Luke that this is all a lesson and that Luke is a good master because he is teaching Rey the value of failure.

“The greatest teacher, failure is.” – he says. Apparently Yoda still hasn’t perfected his grammar, despite failing to speak it correctly for probably about 900 years or something.

Anyway, it’s a good lesson and it brings some redemption to Luke – who feels like he’s a lost cause. Everyone has to fail and it’s your failures that help you to improve. Success brings over-confidence and arrogance sometimes, whereas failure and accepting your failures brings us opportunities to learn.

It’s true for learning English too – our failures are great learning opportunities. We have to say something wrong a few times before we can say it correctly. Expecting to get everything right first time is just unrealistic. Accept failure as the best way to learn, and not something to be ashamed of, you can overcome your problems and learn to be really strong.

Yoda then destroys the force tree and (apparently) the sacred Jedi texts, as if to say to Luke – yes, you’re right – let’s destroy the past and start again. Luke is shocked that Yoda has done this (and apparently force ghosts can summon lightning now in Star Wars – fair enough, we were looking for some new force abilities, right? Apparently force ghosts can interact with the real world now – ok, fine)

The tree burns, containing the books – and Luke says “But the sacred jedi texts!” and Yoda says “Read them have you? Page turners, they are not.” I laughed out loud at this line.

Yoda’s two lessons for Luke:

Failures are valuable learning experiences.
Students always grow beyond their masters.

Back to Snoke’s room.

Snoke reads Rey’s mind, plays around with her – she attempts to fight back several times – grabs her light sabre but snoke makes it fly around the room – she grabs Kylo’s light sabre and Snoke flings her around the room. He seems impressed with her tenacity and he actually says “such spunk!” which made me laugh, because… well the word “spunk”. Do you know what that means?

It’s a bit rude. Here are the two definitions.

Courage, bravery, strength of character.
Semen (offensive)

He means defintion 1, but still – it’s a bit creepy that Snoke gleefully talks about “spunk”. Snoke is a horrible, creepy old git.

He’s also really arrogant and wealthy – he wears a gold robe a bit like Hugh Hefner the playboy guy. He’s horrible. But the CGI motion capture is brilliant. He looks really realistic. Good job Andy Serkis and the special effects team.

Snoke then reads Rey’s mind. I think he was considering whether she could be turned to the dark side, perhaps to become his apprentice and replacement for Kylo. That’s often the way it goes – but he summarises that she’s too pure or can’t be turned or something. So, he decides that Kylo should kill her, perhaps to complete his training.

Meanwhile Kylo looks at the situation quite blankly except for subtle reactions and the movement of his eyes. It reminds me of how Vader observed the Emperor when he was attempting to turn Luke to the dark side. We suspected that Vader was loyal in his heart to Luke. Similarly, I suspect that Kylo hates Snoke and feels resentment towards how manipulative he is, and we suspect that Kylo has feelings for Rey or at least believes that Rey might join him somehow. I wonder if this is a romantic feeling or a strategic one.

Snoke orders Kylo to kill Rey, and we still don’t know what Kylo is thinking. Rey looks up at him and simply says “Ben” – appealing to his good side.

At this point Snoke gets really carried away, proclaiming that he can see Kylo’s thoughts and that Kylo is turning his lightsabre and is going to ignite it in order to kill his true enemy.

But secretly Kylo is using the force to turn Luke Skywalker’s lightsabre which is sitting on the table next to Snoke, and as Snoke is convinced that he’s seeing Kylo’s intentions to kill Rey, perhaps he’s not seeing it clearly and in fact Kylo ignites Luke’s lightsabre killing Snoke.

I found this really surprising and satisfying. The look on Snoke’s face – he’s so shocked! It’s also a really well-directed sequence.

The lightsabre stabs Snoke in the side and then we see the scene from Kylo’s point of view, and Kylo pulls the sabre towards him, cutting Snoke in half! The ignited sabre flies through the air and Rey’s hand comes up to grab it.

Rey stands and for a moment Kylo and her face each other and we wonder whether Kylo is going to attack her, or what will happen…

Then everything goes in slow motion as Rey and Kylo, are attacked by 8 Praetorian guards and they fight back to back on the same side against the guards.

This is an absolutely wicked sequence. The guards are fantastic. They wear this weird red armour which appears to be able to deflect some lightsabre blows. They also have different weapons – swords, staffs, a sort of whip that becomes a sword. It all happens incredibly quickly and the screen is filled with several fights at the same time. Sparks fly, Rey screams and roars as she fights, Kylo’s fighting style is brutal and sketchy. It’s raw power.

At one point the wall catches fire and in the middle of the fight the room starts buring down. One of the guards gets thrown into some kind of fan unit and gets chopped into pieces. It all happens incredibly quickly and intensely.

Rey also has some good moves. Again – I don’t know how she learned to fight like this. Let’s just say that growing up on a rough junk planet like Jakku meant that she had to learn how to defend herself, add to that the fact that she’s obviously gifted with force abilities and has had some light sabre fighting experience now – she’s also brave and intelligent.

The two of them manage to fight off the guards and defeat them, but it’s not easy. At one point it looks like they’ve been beaten. Kylo is unarmed, Rey is held by one of the guards, but she manages to get out of it by dropping her lightsabre, getting out of the guard’s grip and then catching the sabre again in mid air before dispatching the guard.

Kylo is still being held by the last guard, who is kind of strangling him. Rey quickly throws her sabre to Kylo who catches it and ignites it instantly, sending the beam through the guards face, who drops away, dead.

What I like about this moment is that Kylo catches the lightsabre, ignites it, lets the guard drop and steps forward and he never takes his eyes of Rey at any point, and never blinks.

Then, still staring intensely at Rey he steps forward. Rey tells him there’s still time and that they can save the Resistance. She assumes he’s turned good, but he hasn’t.

He tells Rey they should let the past die and start anew – kill Snoke, kill Skywalker, let the Resistance die.

Rey is sort of heartbroken and just says “Ben, don’t do this”.

He also tells her who her parents are – I guess he saw it in a vision or something. He says that they were junk traders who just sold her off as a slave for money and that now they’re dead and buried in the desert. “You’re nobody, nothing…” “but not to me”.

He begs Rey to join her, but she’s heartbroken and won’t do it.

She sees that Kylo is beyond redemption at this point. I think Kylo has crossed a line and he’s the new Snoke. All these changes of position happen really fast. Surely, this is the interesting part of this film – what is really going on in Kylo’s head? Will he go good or bad? In Return of the Jedi we have similar questions about Darth Vader and ultimately he turns good, but in this one Kylo doesn’t. He’s the bad guy. He wants to kill her friends and he’s being very manipulative. He might be lying about her parents, even though she says she’s always known deep down that they abandoned her. But maybe he’s lying or something. Perhaps we’ll see.

Or perhaps her lineage isn’t important and it doesn’t matter what your family connections are. Anyone can be strong in the force.

She goes to grab Luke’s lightsaber from Kylo and it ends up suspended mid air between them as they both struggle to grab it. The lightsabre explodes.

In the film this part of the story is told in parallel with the other parts which I haven’t mentioned yet – namely the Finn and Rose storyline and the Poe/Admiral Holdo storyline.

Finn and Rose storyline.

Finn is going to escape and find Rey. Rose stops him. They work out together (cheesily) that the hyperspace tracking can be stopped if they disarm it from the lead ship. Finn has intel on the location of the tracker and they work out that they can get in and disable it, and save the Resistance. It’s surely a suicide mission.

Poe agrees, and they call Maz Kanata for info.

Maz Kanata is a crap character, isn’t she? A sort of vague orange Yoda who isn’t as interesting as Yoda.

A complex and contrived plot is set up where Finn and Rose have to meet a code breaker who can help them access Snoke’s ship (is it Snoke’s ship or another ship – not sure).

So they head to Canto Bite.

“The worst type of people”

Just park on the beach – bad move. But these kids don’t really know what they’re doing.

A bit like the Cantina Bar but everyone’s rich.

Weird horse things on a racetrack, they’re looked after by slave kids.

Rose hates the town.

Little drunk creature putting coins inside BB8.

They get caught and thrown in jail. Pretty rubbish.

Then Benicio Del Toro’s character turns up in the film.

He’s great. I’ve always liked him in films. He’s an “engaging screen presence” to quote Mark Kermode.

He overhears them discussing their plan and says he can get them in the room on the FO ship.

Somehow he has a way to pick the lock and get out, and with BB8’s help they get away, so do Finn and Rose who escape on the horses, which smash up the casino resort before being released into the forest. This is a bit cheesy and feels a bit like a “message” about animal cruelty.

I love animals, so fair enough – but it’s a very Disney moment. Anyway, DJ turns up in a ship with BB8 and they get rescued, and the fly towards the FO ship for their mission, which is to go undercover and turn off the hyperspace tracking, while the Resistance are still running away from the FO and slowly running out of fuel.

DJ is an interesting character. He’s one of those ones who exists in the moral grey area between the good and bad sides, a bit like Boba Fett and even Han Solo at the start of Episode 4.

I think this gives some much needed moral ambiguity.

Also, he shows us that the rich people on Canto Bite make their money making and selling weapons to the FO and the Resistance. This adds a bit of complexity to the whole “intergalactic war thing” which underpins this whole series of films, and just shows that there’s more to this than just good guys vs bad guys – there’s a whole industry behind these wars that makes some people really rich. I think for some fans this is a bit too political for Star Wars, which is ironic considering how politics were involved so much in the prequel films.

They make it onto the Supremacy (I think) and go undercover.

BB8 disguises himself as one of those little black droids – a “mouse” droid I think they’re called.

He’s disguised as one of them by hiding under a black dustbin as far as I can see.

Amazingly nobody really notices them, including Finn who surely is a famous traitor by now …

I say nobody notices them, actually an evil black version of BB8 does notice them. I love this evil BB8. He’s actually called BB9-E and it’s interesting how just a few changes in design makes this little droid instantly evil looking. I think I heard Mark Hamill talking about this in an interview – just a few changes – make the droid black, with a different shaped head and it just screams “Nazi!” It does look like a nazi version of BB8. Also, they manage to endow him with a lot of menace and malice. His red eye narrows with suspicion when he sees Rose, Finn, DJ and BB8.

Long story short – they get to the tracker and it turns out that DJ has set them up – he betrayed them and he betrays the whole Resistance and their plan to escape to Crait because the FO offered him loads of money. Finn gets angry and calls him a traitor I think, or says something like “They’re the bad guys” – and DJ says something along the lines of “Good guys, bad guys, what’s the difference. They blow you up today, you blow them up next time…”

I find his cynicism and pragmatism to be refreshing and interesting in the context of this binary good guys vs bad guys conflict. This is a really enjoyable bit of ambiguity and I really hope we see Benicio Del Toro’s character again.

Perhaps the most interesting moments in all of Star Wars are the moments when there’s moral ambiguity – like the character of Boba Fett who is only interested in self-preservation and money, or the moments when Luke Skywalker appears to drift towards the dark side slightly in order to achieve things – specifically when defeating Darth Vader, or when Anakin/Vader goes dark and then light at the end. These are the interesting moments and DJ is an example of that.

So, Finn & Rose are caught, The Resistance are screwed…

Some people complain that the Finn and Rose storyline doesn’t achieve anything. But that’s the whole point – it’s another lesson in failure. Sometimes characters fail in films – it’s boring if they just succeed every single time – and anyway the Resistance were always the underdogs and Finn and Rose were never going to succeed with this plan anyway – it’s was a suicide mission. They’re lucky that they got this far.

Back to what’s happening with The Resistance fleet.

Leia is in a coma, Holdo takes over. Poe disagrees with her strategy – which appears to be just to jump ship and escape the fleet. He thinks it won’t work and it’s cowardly. He attempts a mutiny but gets stunned by Leia who she comes back.

She uses a blaster set to stun. We haven’t seen this since episode 4 – blue rings firing out, rather than red or green laser blasts.

It turns out that Holdo’s plan is not to just escape the ship, but to evacuate to a nearby planet that they’ve been heading for.

Poe wasn’t aware of this because he was demoted.

They plan to escape to Crait where there’s an old rebel base. They can use that as a defensive fortress and can call for support from around the galaxy.

Just as well really, because Finn and Rose’s mission has failed.

Then we discover that DJ has told the FO about this plan to evacuate to Crait and the FO begin attacking the escape vehicles as they head towards Crait. The Resistance is screwed now.

Finn and Rose’s mission to stop the hyperspace tracking has failed and now the FO know about the other plan to escape to Crait and are blowing up the escape transports. Also, at this moment it looks like Rey is about to be executed by Kylo Ren.

Finn and Rose are about to be executed.

Oh yeah and Captain Phasma has turned up too – apparently she didn’t die in Episode 7.

She doesn’t really do much, except being Finn’s nemesis.

Leia and the rest of the Resistance have boarded the escape transports to Crait, but Holdo stays with the main fleet, and when she realises that the escape transports are being attacked she suddenly decides to sacrifice herself and aims the Raddus at The Supremacy (Snoke’s ship) and goes into hyperspace.

WOW – a really mind blowing moment and done really well because the Raddus enters hyperspace and flies at lightspeed through the Supremacy and a bunch of other FO ships causing massive damage and a huge explosion and it’s all done instantly and in total silence, followed by a really cool sound effect.

Silence used to great effect.

The explosion on The Supremacy gives Finn and Rose the chance to avoid being executed and they fight back against Captain Phasma and the storm troopers while the whole hangar bay explodes around them. There are tie fighters falling on the floor and blowing up, AT-AT walkers crashing here and there.

In the midst of all this chaos, Finn and Phasma have a battle and Finn fights with a lot of spirit. Rose shoots Phasma but the blast deflects off her armour. Cool moment.

Phasma appears to have the upper hand in the fight and knocks Finn into a lift shaft, but clearly Phasma hasn’t seen the Original Trilogy – we know that there are moving platforms that go up and down in these shafts and of course Finn hasn’t fallen to his death, he reappears and smashes Phasma in the face, cracking her mask. She says “You’ll always be scum” before falling into an explosion. I doubt that she’s dead. She’s bound to come back next time.

“Rebel scum” – this is the default insult for Rebels or Resistance fighters it seems. Scum is a bit like a dirty layer that floats on the top of old water or something. It’s just a generic insult, but it was used once in Return of the Jedi when an imperial officer said it to Han Solo and it sounded cool – so now the word is used a lot.

These films still trade a lot on nostalgia for the old films, and it works.

Finn and Rose manage to escape the burning ship – how? They’re rescued by BB8 driving a AT-ST “scout walker” thing, which made me go “Yeah, right?!” out loud in the cinema when I first saw it.

People complain that Rey’s character is too perfect and that she can do anything and that this is unrealistic and unfair and some sort of feminist agenda or something, but BB8 (and R2D2 for that matter) is also a perfect character who seems to be able to do anything. He takes out FO guards, he can pilot an AT-ST walker, he can get blown up and assemble himself again, he can fix any problem on an X-Wing – but nobody complains about that.

OK, so now the storylines come together.

The Resistance (Leia, Poe and the few remaining other people) make it to Crait and set up their base there. God knows why it takes the FO so long to attack them here, but it does. Maybe they needed a bit of time to set up all the awesome weaponry that they’re going to use to smash through this big door to this old Rebel base where The Resistance are hiding.

Finn and Rose escape The Supremacy with BB8 and join the Resistance on Crait.

The idea is that The Resistance can defend themselves here, call for help and then wait for the help to arrive.

The thing is, no help comes. None of their allies out in space care. No Lando Calrissian or anyone like that – nobody’s coming to help them. So it’s about a couple of hundred REsistance members vs the FO with their huge AT-M6 walkers.

They have trenches, with some defensive weapons and this huge reinforced door protecting them, and a few very sketchy looking ground fighters, and that’s it.

The FO have a massive battering ram cannon which is “Death Star technology” – basically a smaller version of the Death Star’s big green laser that can blow up planets. This is what they’ll use to break through the door.

The idea is that The Resistance need to somehow destroy the cannon if they stand a chance of surviving.

Now, what about Rey.

Last time we saw her she was locked in a tug of war with Kylo over Luke’s blue lightsabre, which caught in the middle between the two of them, explodes.

Apparently Kylo was knocked out by the explosion and Rey managed to escape in Snoke’s personal ship, and she took the fragments of the light sabre with her.

We see Snoke’s dead body, his tongue sticking out, lying on the floor. Also both his hands were severed when Kylo killed him – this is pretty neat because someone always gets their hand or hands removed in Star Wars films, in this case it was Snoke, but he also lost the whole top half of his body. I wonder if we’ll ever find out Snoke’s back story, but I guess we never learned The Emperor’s backstory in the original films, he was just a powerful old dark side user and that’s it. I think we probably knew more about him than Snoke though, and I admit that we could have used just a little bit more exposition about Snoke – just a bit of detail. I think the hardcore fans are very upset about this, because they spent 2 years coming up with very elaborate theories about his origin – like, he’s Mace Windu, or he’s Darth Plageius (The Emperor’s old master). It seems he’s not that important, and anyway we don’t need an origin story for everyone, do we? I expect there will be a book about him coming out or whatever.

Then General Hux comes into the room and can’t believe what he’s seeing – Snoke is dead, his tongue sticking out and everything. Kylo is still unconscious and Hux actually goes for his gun – he would have killed Kylo in his sleep probably – because they don’t like each other and Hux would probably like to take control of the FO, but Kylo wakes up. They argue and then Kylo force chokes Hux, which is very reminiscent of Darth Vader. Hux capitulates and calls Kylo “Supreme Leader” – “The Supreme Leader is dead – long live The Supreme Leader!” So, Kylo is in charge of the FO now.

So, the confrontation on Crait.

The FO approach the base with the big gun.

The Resistance launch a counter attack with these beaten up old speeder things. There’s almost no way they can win.

The Millennium Falcon turns up at the last minute and helps out by making all the Tie Fighters chase it. This is another big emotional moment, when the Falcon turns up to save the day – or save that particular moment anyway – the music swells (John Williams’ score is brilliant again) – there are some stunning visuals as the Falcon is chased by Tie Fighters through these crystal caves and tunnels under the surface of Crait.

But ultimately, the Resistance mission to destroy the battering ram cannon can’t win and Poe calls it off. This shows us that he’s learned something about leadership and strategy from the beginning of the film.

But Finn doesn’t want to give up and he’s about to sacrifice himself for the Resistance by flying his ship into the cannon in a suicide mission. I was convinced he was going to do it, but at the last minute Rose crashes into him and saves him.

This is a really cheesy moment I have to say.

First of all, you can see from the wide shots as Finn is flying that Rose is nowhere near him – but again, this is a bit like that moment with the detonator button that gets caught by Rose’s sister at the start of the film – movies often break the rules of physics like this – so I’m willing to let it slide. And then there’s the moment where after Rose saves Finn she gives a little speech saying “We don’t do this to destroy the things we hate, we do it to protect the ones we love,” and then she kisses him. So this is a slightly forced romantic moment first of all, but the sentiment is nice. We should protect the things we love rather than destroy the things we hate – and it’s all sweet and good and nice, but I thought about a moment from Episode 3 – a crucial moment when Anakin turns to the dark side. He decides to join Emperor Palpatine precisely because he thinks this is how he’s going to save the one he loves – Padme. He is seduced by the dark side because he wants to prevent Padme from dying. So, it’s all about point of view isn’t it.

Protecting what you love, destroying what you hate – they’re sort of two sides of the same coin aren’t they?

Still, I think the basic message is nice – love conquers hate. I do agree with that. Be careful of doing things for hateful reasons. We should be motivated by love, basically.

But isn’t this a slightly selfish thing for Rose to do? She stopped Finn from potentially saving the entire Resistance just because she personally loves him.

But maybe The Resistance were screwed anyway. I think the point is – we shouldn’t think about this toooooo much. We shouldn’t expect Star Wars to be this perfect flawless thing. As I said before, I think the good things in this film outweigh the bad things

But then again – if you’re angry about this Star Wars film, that’s fine – it’s up to you. I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong. Everyone has their own subjective reaction to the film.

So it looks like The Resistance are screwed then.

Somehow Finn manages to fly back to the base or perhaps even drag Rose back there – I’m not sure how, but I dunno, maybe he used some of those trenches or something, or maybe one of the crashed speeders still worked.

Leia looks defeated. She says that hope is lost.

But then Luke Skywalker turns up. There’s an emotional moment when he speaks to Leia – they agree that Kylo wasn’t Luke’s fault, and Luke comforts Leia by giving her a memento of Han Solo – a pair of dice that used to hang in the Millenium Falcon.

Luke then goes out to face the First Order armed with his Light Sabre.

When I saw this I was really excited and yet didn’t know what to expect. Luke said it himself that he couldn’t face the entire FO armed only with a laser sword.

Kylo, in his command ship, orders everyone to fire on Luke, using all their weapons.

The AT-M6 walkers all fire on Luke.

Kylo is enraged – shouting for more more more!

This really is overkill. There’s just a huge cloud of red dust where the lasers are firing.

Hux says “that’s enough” and the guns stop.

Kylo slumps in a seat. He should be satisfied, but he’s not. He’ll probably never be satisfied.

We’re all thinking – surely Luke isn’t dead! And of course he isn’t. He steps out of the cloud of red dust, unscathed. He looks up at Kylo’s ship and even brushes his shoulder dismissively, which is pretty cool.

There’s something strange about Luke. He looks younger. His beard and hair are shorter. He has no dust on him.

Kylo is furious again and instructs his soldiers to take him down to the surface to face Luke.

Kylo says “I suppose you’ve come here to save my soul”
Luke: No.

This was awesome, I can’t really explain why. Also, Mark Hamill in this film is absolutely brilliant. He’s really developed as an actor since the original trilogy.

He ignites his light sabre – and it’s the blue one. Weird, I thought the blue one got split in two when Kylo and Rey were fighting earlier. Kylo doesn’t seem to notice this because he’s in a rage.

He ignites his crackling red light sabre. I love Kylo’s brutal style and the way he stands sort of hunched over. Luke looks really cool in his classic Jedi clothing. Kylo runs at Luke and attacks him but Luke manages to avoid all his attacks. He does some pretty cool moves where he kind of rolls out of the way, making Kylo really angry.

This is not the epic gymnastic light sabre combat from the prequels. This is a lot more about the drama between the two characters. There’s a lot more emotion and feeling in this than in watching Anakin and Obiwan jumping from object to object swinging their lightsabres again and again until you’re emotionally uninvested in the action.

This is much more like a Japanese samurai movie, where the swordplay is brief but intense. In fact Luke looks a lot like a samurai in this scene and that is fantastic. So atmospheric and powerful.

An interesting detail in this fight is that Kylo’s feet leave red marks on the floor where the salt gets disturbed, but Luke’s feet make no impressions on the floor at all. Apparently you can also see salt particles falling from Kylo during the fight, but nothing falling from Luke. Only later do we realise that Luke isn’t really there at all – he’s doing a force projection from Ahch-to and it’s all part of a plan to mentally defeat Kylo while giving the remaining members of the Resistance a chance to escape.

Luke tells Kylo – “today the Resistance is reborn and you can never defeat me.”

He also does some Obiwan Kenobi stuff to him, saying “If you strike me down in anger I’ll always be with you, just like your father.” That’s got to hurt!

Kylo angrily charges at him and swipes his lightsabre at Luke but the blade passes straight through his body.

At the time I was thinking – wow, has Luke been hiding his power all this time? Is he immune to lightsabres? Then I thought, oh wow he’s a force ghost!

Then it’s revealed that the real Luke is meditating on a rock in Ach-to. This whole thing is a force projection!

Luke then says to Kylo – “see you around kid.” and disappears. That’s a Han Solo quote too!

I think what this means is that Luke is going to haunt Kylo as a force ghost – he’s always going to be there and Kylo will never have peace, he’ll always be reminded of how he murdered his own father.

Then Luke disappears and Kylo is in a rage again.

What I like about this:

We don’t get a big light sabre duel, but that makes a change – at least we have some really interesting character-based interaction.
Luke manages to teach Kylo a lesson without using violence.
He only uses defence.
He defeats Kylo mentally.
He sacrifices himself to save the Resistance.
He shows Rey that the force isn’t just about lifting rocks, controlling people’s actions or being really good with a lightsabre – it’s also about introspection and peace.
Also, I like the fact that in the midst of all this fighting, explosions – Luke has learned how to win a battle without using violence.
In fact, I respect Luke’s decision to just go on an island to live like a hermit. At least he’s decided that he’s fed up with the incessant fighting and war. He’s perhaps the only character to say that he’s had enough of the fighting – and isn’t this a sort of logical progression of what he learned while facing the emperor in Episode 6. He threw his lightsabre away and refused to fight or give in to his anger because he is a Jedi.
Don’t blame Luke for choosing to go to that island and for feeling like a failure – he was actually just trying his best to prevent any further catastrophe.
This feels like the true way of the Jedi – from a certain point of view.

Also, he’s demonstrating incredible force power by doing this projection. This is something new that we haven’t seen before. Again, some people are pissed off with this saying “That’s not how the force works!” but honestly I’m glad that we’re seeing some new force powers in this film. It’s about time we had some slightly new things.

By doing this, Luke also manages to create the myth of Luke Skywalker, which will no-doubt be told again and again. He’s accepted his place as a myth and how important and powerful this can be as a way of inspiring new generations to have hope. This is beautiful. Luke has always been a symbol of hope, but he’s a fallible human who couldn’t always live up to his own myth, but he manages at the end to do it in his own way according to how he understands the light side of the force – using defence not attack, without using violence, fighting a mental battle.

Then on Ach-To we see Luke collapse from the strain of doing this massive force projection. He climbs back up onto the rock and stares out across the ocean at the sunset, and it’s two suns.

This made me cry! I couldn’t help it. It just took me straight back to the moment in Episode 4 when Luke was not much more than a boy staring across the desert at the dual sunset – full of aspiration and dreaming of adventure, and that’s how he ends his life. I can’t put it into words really, but this got me right in the feelings. It’s pretty ridiculous I know, but there it is.

Luke then disappears in the same way Obiwan did and Yoda did. He becomes one with the force.

I guess this means that he’ll be back as a force ghost in episode 9. Good – I really like Mark Hamill and I hope to see more from him.

Meanwhile, the last remaining members of the Resistance have worked out that there must be a way to get out through the back of the caves by following the crystal foxes that live there. There’s quite a magical moment where one of the beautiful crystal foxes leads them to a gap at the back, but it’s filled with boulders.

Rey is on the other side – she’s used the tracking device to follow their position from the surface, in the Falcon with Chewie.

She works out that the pile of boulders is blocking them from escaping and she’s going to need to use the force to move them all.

This is a bit ironic because earlier in the film Luke told her that the force isn’t about lifting rocks! But apparently sometimes it is! Of course she manages to lift all the rocks, freeing the last remaining members of the Resistance and they escape in the Falcon. There must be just about 10 people left! But Leia says they have all they need to start again. They’re the spark that will light the fire to burn the First Order down, etc.

We see also that Rey has managed to keep the sacred jedi texts – they’re in a drawer on the falcon. So I suppose this means she can learn the ways of the Jedi properly and maybe she’ll get some help from Luke’s force ghost.

Kylo and Rey have one more force vision before the Falcon leaves. They stare at each other and Rey closes the door – signifying that she’s closing herself off from him, I suppose. But surely the interesting thing going forward will be their relationship. Will she be able to turn him back to the light, or defeat him somehow? Will Kylo turn her to the dark somehow? What’s going to happen to Kylo? I quite like the idea that he’ll be haunted by Luke – a bit like the way Macbeth is haunted by his friend Banquo in the Shakespeare play Macbeth.

In the final scene of the film we see some of the slave kids on Canto Bight – one of them is telling the others the legend of Luke Skywalker – him standing up against the entire First Order. It reminds me of how C3P0 tells the Ewoks the story of the rebellion. The other children are enthralled by the story and seem genuinely inspired. This shows that the legend of Luke Skywalker gives hope to the next generation.

Then the kids are told off by their cruel slave owner boss type guy and one of the kids goes out to sweep the yard. He grabs the broom using a force pull – showing that he is force sensitive, and then he looks up at the stars and sees a distant spacecraft fly across the sky. The End!

I suppose this scene means that:
Anyone can be strong in the force – you don’t have to be part of a specific bloodline
Luke’s legend is an inspiration to the poor, lost or forgotten people
The Resistance is not dead and there’s still hope left in the galaxy
That’s a nice message isn’t it?

So in summary, I found The Last Jedi to be bold in the way it refuses to pander to the fan theories and expectations, brave in the way it pushes the saga forwards by doing some new things and letting some old things die, nuanced in the way it allowed the characters to develop in complex and quite flawed ways, fun in how it included some pretty weird comic moments and just awesome in the way it dealt with several key moments of action that were fuelled more by emotion than by technical skill. I think it’s an intelligent film, a surprising film, it’s one of my favourite Star Wars episodes and I’m looking forward to seeing it again so I can pick up on some more of the subtle details that made it enjoyable.

I have no idea how episode 9 is going to carry on – and I like that feeling.

Apparently JJ Abrams is going to conclude the saga by directing episode 9. JJ is obviously a very competent filmmaker and someone who understands the core appeal of Star Wars but I’m also a little bit worried because JJ has an approach to making films that involves posing lots of mysterious open ended questions rather than by providing satisfying resolutions. Think of Lost, the TV show – it was brilliant at setting up lots of questions and mysteries that kept the audience guessing, but none of those questions and mysteries were adequately explained in the end. I just hope that episode 9 can at least bring some resolution to the story, rather than just leaving it all open to the interpretations of the slightly unhinged fanbase.

I look forward to reading your opinions if you have them.