Tag Archives: listening

586. The Importance of Listening

Recently I was reading a book about listening and learning English. This episode is a summary of what I read, including details of how listening fits in with learning English, some considerations of the importance of listening and also some tips for how to improve your English with audio.

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Episode Transcript

This episode is all about the importance of listening in the learning of English. It’s full of various thoughts and reflections about this topic and my aim to a large extent is to give you ideas and inspiration to help you keep learning through listening and to keep doing it more effectively, also to consider some things we know about learning through listening, to encourage you to reflect and form some metacognitive strategies towards your listening and also to give you some practical tips to help you learn English through listening and to improve your listening skills. I suppose ultimately I’d like to develop your process of understanding the place of listening in your learning so that you can take more and more responsibility for that learning. So that’s what this episode is all about. It’s quite appropriate I suppose considering this is an audio podcast for learners of English and you’re listening to this as a way to improve your English through listening, it’s worth taking time to think about the academic points on this subject.

Before we start I just want to say to any premium subscribers that I’ve got a series of episodes probably coming out next week all about grammar, focusing on tenses. We’ll be looking mainly at present perfect, but also comparing it to other tenses. So it’ll be a sort of tense review, focusing mainly on present perfect. There’s also going to be a series about the language which came up in my conversation with James that you heard on the podcast earlier in the year. So, grammar stuff coming next week and vocabulary later. If you want to get access to that stuff and all the other premium content go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium

Recently I was thumbing through some books at work. One of the books was a copy of Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom by Tricia Hedge, which is something of a bible for English teachers. A lot of teachers use this book during their DELTA and CELTA courses as it is absolutely filled with insights about language teaching and learning, all based on academic studies done over the years. It is a great book and covers most aspects of the work of an English teacher, including how people learn English and how, accordingly, English teachers should adapt their teaching methods.

I remember reading the book intensely while taking my DELTA. You heard me talking about the DELTA course with Zdenek earlier this year.

So I remember reading the book very thoroughly when I was doing my DELTA. Can you believe it, that was 13 years ago! It stuns me to imagine that it was so long ago. Anyway, during that time, when I was taking the DELTA and I had nothing else going on in my life – I used to work, come home from work, make myself tea and then retire to my bedroom where I would listen to ambient music and desperately try to focus on my work without getting distracted by absolutely everything in the universe! Because, somehow, when you’re working – everything becomes a major distraction. Anyway, one of the books I used to pour over was this one. I had loads of post-it notes marking various important pages.

Anyway, the other day I was at work and I noticed the very same book on the shelf, so I picked it up and started thumbing through it. 13 years later my situation has changed a bit. These days I’m doing this podcast and the majority of the people I am essentially teaching English to are not in the same room as me, they’re not even in the same country and in fact the only way I can communicate with them is through the medium of audio. I can also write things and post pics and videos on the website, but most of my audience don’t check the website – only about 10% actually go to the page.

Anyway, the point is – it’s now all about listening, which is amazing.

One of my aims in the beginning was to get people listening more, and it’s working. I have always thought listening to English must be an essential way to learn the language. It’s got to be a vital part of the learning process, surely. It’s like music – there’s music theory, music technique and all that, but for most musicians the best way to learn how to play well is to listen to plenty of music, and to practise every day. Listening probably comes first, right? Then it’s a question of practice x 5 and trying to replicate what you’re hearing. But first you have to get to know what music can sound like and to hear the way it is produced. When I first learned to play the drums I became obsessed with listening to my favourite drummers, who were: Mitch Mitchell, Stuart Copeland and Ringo Starr. Playing the drums at the beginning gave me a sense of how the music was produced, so I could listen to those songs and hear what the drummers were doing. I knew how they were doing it – which parts of the kit they were hitting, how those sounds were made. It was all a question of practising until I could do it too. In most cases I couldn’t replicate what they were doing (except in the case of Ringo!) but in practising like that I developed my own style, my own ease, my own technique and ultimately I was able to do things on the drums, play the kinds of beats I wanted to play, fit in with a band in the way I wanted. Obviously, listening was vital. It sounds ridiculous, obvious, right? To learn music, you must listen to it a lot – pay attention to how it all works. It’s the same thing with learning a language.

Obviously there are differences – the thing about music is that you understand it from birth without having to learn it first, right? It’s just something you feel. But anyway, I think the point still stands – that listening is a vital part of the learning process, just like it is with music.

So, back to the book. Now I’m interested in listening and I’m interested in what Tricia Hedge has to say on the subject of listening. So when I had the book in my hands, I flicked straight to the sections about listening and I made a note of what I found there.

In this episode I’m going to explain some of the things I’ve read and reflect on them.

Academics often write that listening is overlooked in ELT

Think about the average English lesson. Most of the time is spent on other language skills and language systems.

Listening is one of the 4 Skills

It is one of the 4 skills and it is a very important part of Cambridge Exams such as FCE, CAE and IELTS. Those exams give equal weight to the 4 skills, so listening is 25% of the whole exam. Is 25% of your study time in class devoted to listening?

We don’t do much listening in class

The majority of classroom work is devoted to other things, probably speaking and writing skills, grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. I totally understand why. I wouldn’t spend all my time doing listening in my English classes. It wouldn’t make sense to get a bunch of learners of English together and just make them do only listening. Class time should be spent on other things, like communication skills, speaking and remedial work by the teacher.

We often listen to scripted listenings in class

Listening is in a lot of course books but the focus still seems to be on scripted dialogues which are designed specifically to present certain language, such as vocab or grammar. There just isn’t time to do extended listening, using unscripted dialogues that don’t follow a pre-planned agenda, but this is the sort of thing people need to practise listening to. Normal speech, which is a bit random, contains things like sentences that don’t end, false starts, moments when people talk over each other, moments of humour or spontaneous reactions and tangents in the conversation. So, real listening is overlooked.

Listening is vitally important in everyday life

The majority of interactions you will have will involve you speaking to a person, and it’s so important to be reactive to what they’re saying, and this relies on your ability to quickly follow what’s being said. It’s like fluency in a way – being able to follow fluid speech without thinking about it too much. That’s very important, of course.

Listening is linked to pronunciation and speaking

Raising your listening skills means raising your awareness of the connection between the written word and the spoken word – meaning that a good listener is able to recognise English as an oral language and this means being able to decode connected speech, elision of sounds, weak forms, how meaning is expressed through intonation and sentence stress. Getting good at listening means getting to know English as a spoken language. This in turn should help you make your English more natural, rather than just a version of the written language which comes out of your mouth, and that is a big problem. When I listen to learners of English (and I have met many thousands of them over the years) it’s amazing how often their mistakes are a consequence of them essentially speaking English as it looks when it’s written down. So many learners of English got to know English as a written language, to the point that the spoken version is so foreign to them that it’s almost like another language.

How much communication time do we spend on listening?

How much time do we spend on listening, when we communicate, compared to the other 3 skills? Research has been done into communication in English, focusing on the average time spent on the different skills of writing, reading, speaking and listening. How much time, on average, do we spend writing, reading, speaking and listening when we are communicating? The research shows that 9 per cent of communication time is devoted to writing, 16 per cent to reading, 30 per cent to speaking and 45 per cent to listening. (Rivers & Temperley 1978, Oxford 1993, Celce-Murcia 1995). There’s no doubt then that listening is really important and is perhaps the first thing you must master when you’re learning the language, followed by speaking. That’s if we decide that time spent during communication is the most important factor. Of course it depends on your situation. Maybe you work in an office and you have to write a lot of emails in English but you never speak it. I guess for you, writing would be the most important thing. But anyway, the numbers speak for themselves. We seem to spend most of our time listening. But we don’t spend most of our learning time on listening. The result is that when we are learning, we focus on learning words, learning structures and so on, but when we actually interact with the spoken version of the language, it all seems totally weird because the way we deliver those words and structures with our mouths often bears no relation to the English we have become familiar with during our studies.

Listening will be more and more important

Listening will only get more important. It’s almost definitely true that society in general is moving away from print media towards sound, so listening has become and continues to become more and more important as we move forward. Much more of our information comes through audio than ever before. With the internet a lot of the news we’re exposed to on social media is small video clips, we send each other audio messages, talk via Skype, FaceTime or WhatsApp, there are frequent audio and video conferences at work, we have a plethora of podcasts available to us and much more than ever we are tapping into entertainment on a global level with platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime where there are loads of English language TV programmes in the original language version, perhaps with subtitles in your language. The internet has allowed us to use listening as the primary source of information transfer today. So, listening is more and more important all the time.

How do people learn English through listening?

But what do we know about how people can learn English from listening? How does this affect the way I can produce LEP and how my listeners can consume LEP?

Input vs intake

Comprehensible input

This is part of the theory of language acquisition which is very popular. The principle is that if learners listen to English which is understandable but slightly higher than their level, and they focus on understanding the message within a meaningful context, that they can then pick up the language as a by-product of the process. This is good news for LEPsters. It means that you can pick up the language from my episodes by listening carefully to the main message being communicated. By interacting with English like this, you’re just naturally exposed to language and learn the functions of phrases and grammar through context. The argument is that you learn a language when you can understand it, and the process of getting to fluent speech comes first through a lot of exposure to the language, at the right level. It’s important that you understand most of what you hear, and that allows you to learn the new things you are hearing.

Intake

This is the principle that people only learn from the bits which are genuinely important to them. Learners won’t learn everything they hear. They’ll be selective, based on their own personal motivations. For whatever reason, each person will value certain parts of the listening content more than others. This is the stuff they’ll really learn. This means, there are certain things that will make the listeners prick up their ears, and a lot of that is based on the preconceptions of the listeners, their values and so on. For example, learners might believe that they can only learn from an authority figure like a teacher, and therefore their words will carry more value and will become part of the intake. On the other hand, words spoken by someone they don’t respect will just go in one ear and out the other side. It’s not just respect of course. It could be other things. E.g. if a listener is an engineer, they’re naturally going to be more motivated towards the language of engineering. What this means for my podcast is that I have to constantly think of ways to keep you engaged in order to turn most of the listening input into intake. It also means trying to cover a wide range of topics, which I try to do. But I also think it’s something to do with being personable, real and relatable while talking. I try to always address my listeners and think about what it’s like for you and hopefully this keeps you focused, which is good for your English.

The point is that the language should be understandable yet not without challenge, and the content should be presented as valuable but with the understanding that you can’t please everyone all the time – that each individual brings their own personal motivation to the listening experience, which means that different parts are valuable to different people. Each person will focus their attention on slightly different parts based on their feelings and attitudes.

What can I do on LEP?

What I can try to do is make each individual feel personally involved, in any way I can. I believe this is done best when I address the listener directly and sometimes avoid speaking from a script. It’s more human and engaging to talk ‘off the cuff’. Also I should keep the topics varied and also have a variety of people on the podcast.

Why listening is more difficult than reading

The language is transient – I mean, the words are only audible for a moment before they disappear. You can’t normally go back and listen again, unlike when reading when you can simply read the sentence again or scan the text to find something again. Listening comes and goes into the ether very quickly. You need to learn to think in a slightly different way and get used to interacting with the listening text by remembering what is being said, predicting what’s going to come next, and so on.

The written word has a standardised spelling system which everyone more or less follows. Also there are gaps between words on the page, and punctuation to show when one sentence begins and ends etc. With listening you don’t get any of these things. It’s not standardised like writing. You’re dealing with a lot of diversity in terms of accent and different ways the language can sound (and English is an extremely diverse language in which there are many, equally valid, versions of the spoken word).

What can you do?

It’s important to bridge the gap between the spoken version of the language and the written version. One way to do this is to do plenty of listening and reading, so that you’re familiar with the conventions of both versions of the language, but also there are other things you can do.

  • Listen and read at the same time
  • Dictation or listen + repeat dictations (use audio with a script)
    This allows you to turn an interconnected stream of sounds into sentences, words, syllables, phonemes.
    I’ve talked about this on the podcast before and I will no doubt talk about it again because I think it’s a great technique and in fact I’ve been working on some content which is designed specifically for this technique. Basically, listen to some audio, repeat what you hear bit by bit, then compare it to the script. You can then do things like use a pen to mark emphasis, intonation, connected speech, pauses on the script, then record yourself reading out the script, then try and replicate the main ideas without reading (it doesn’t matter if you say it differently – it’s not a memory test, you just have to communicate the main ideas in your own voice – and you might find that you remember some of the lines that you repeated before. You can also try writing down what you’re hearing and comparing that to the script as well. All of it can help you turn fluent speech into individual words, phrases and sentences, helping you work on pronunciation and speaking skills too.
  • Engage with the subject, not just the language. We know that we tend to understand what we hear more when we are engaged in the subject. This means that you should think about the topic being talked about and perhaps predict some of the things we’re going to hear. Basically, before you listen to something, just take a moment to make sure you are intellectually and perhaps emotionally engaged in that subject. Find some way to relate it to yourself personally. Use your imagination to picture the whole subject, issues relating to it and the things which might be said. We know that this helps you to listen more accurately, rather than just going straight into the listening, cold.
  • Learn the phonetic chart and practise it. Get an app, like Sounds or Sounds Right by the British Council. Do all the exercises, learn the phonetic alphabet. These are the basic building blocks of English and can really help you to break down, recognise and replicate sounds, words and so on.
  • When you’re repeating, pay attention to the emphasis. Which word in a sentence is being emphasised? Why? When you repeat, try to say the whole sentence like a word with the emphasis on the same part that you heard it. This can help you not only learn good sentence stress (which arguably is the most important factor in pronunciation) but also can help you identify the key information when you are listening.
  • Listen to a variety of things. Different genres of audio tend to follow their own “macro-script”, meaning that they follow the same kinds of conventions. For example, listening to the news you’ll notice certain things they always say, certain things that they only do on the news. Sports reports have their own characteristics, political speeches have their own style, a radio drama sounds unmistakably like a radio drama, an academic lecture sounds like an academic lecture, etc. You’ve got to get used to recognising certain conventions of different types of audio recording. So listen to a variety of audio.
  • But also, listen to the same thing again and again. Listen to your favourite English podcast every day for a month. You should wait about a month before you make a judgement. Listening to just one episode isn’t going to make a huge difference. Listening to many episodes, regularly, over a longer period – this is what makes the difference. It is a compound effect and to an extent it’s not even noticeable, but keep it up! This is one of the main issues today. People want instant, measurable results, but the reality is that language learning occurs over time and is sometimes not noticable. It sort of happens under the surface. But you have to be in it to win it. If you don’t use it you lose it. So keep listening every day for at least a month, then you’ll see that suddenly you can understand more and more and a whole new world of English can open up for you.
  • Listen to things you enjoy and are really motivated to hear. This helps turn input into intake.
  • Listen several times.
  • Don’t assume that movies and TV series are the best things to listen to. They tend to focus on visuals first. There’s music and other sound effects which actually get in the way. Sometimes dialogue is so naturalistic that it’s kind of impossible to follow. Often I can’t actually hear what’s being said in movies. Audio podcasts are probably better because they’re made for you, and you can just focus on the English exclusively. But, of course, if you like watching films in English don’t let me stop you. If you’re a big fan of the MCU for example – go ahead and watch Avengers: Endgame in English, twice!
  • Watch out for subtitles. Watching Netflix with English subtitles is something that everyone assumes is a great idea, and it is good. You can read what you’re hearing, notice the way the written language is expressed in speaking, you can pick up new words and phrases and so on. But for working on listening skills alone, it’s important to try some other ideas. For example, try to spend time listening without subtitles, then rewind and listen to that section again with subtitles and see what you’ve understood. Use subtitles or scripts after you’ve listened, in order to identify which bits you got and which bits you didn’t. But don’t get too used to always having subtitles when you listen, because this means you don’t develop proper listening skills. Also, don’t feel you always have to have the subtitles on or off. Switch between having them on, having them off, watching scenes several times with and without subtitles. Good learners of English actively use TV and films and think outside of the box a bit. It’s not just a case of switching Netflix to English and then just relaxing on your sofa.

Another thing is this – if you listen to podcasts a lot, then you’re immediately pushing yourself ahead of your peers who don’t do this. Think of the advantage you’re getting over other people who just don’t do any listening.

Motivation, reducing anxiety and building confidence. Listening a lot can really help you with these things, because you become friends with the spoken word. Imagine if you’re a regular and long term LEPster and you have to do a listening test. While other people are probably panicking because listening is a nightmare for them, for you it’s like you’re entering your comfort zone. Make listening your friend. Get to know the spoken version of the language and get a leg up on the competition.

So finally, the points are…

  • Listen a lot! Yey! This is probably good news because if you’re a regular listener to this podcast you just need to keep going! Keep it up!
  • Listen to various things. I’ll try and keep it varied here, but consider checking out some other things. Check out BBC podcasts on different subjects and shop around a bit.
  • Use some techniques, like listening and repeating audio that has a script and learning the phonemic script.
  • But ultimately, just relax and enjoy the process! Take time to reflect personally on what you’re listening to and enjoy yourselves!

I am sure that many of you have some interesting things to add here – either stories of how you’ve improved your English through listening, or specific things that you do relating to learning through listening. So please, add your comments under this episode. Your input is extremely valuable because as well as all these academic studies that underpin many of the things in this episode, it’s the testimony and personal experience of people who have learned English to a decent level that is what counts. So, please, tell us your stories, give us your thoughts regarding learning through listening.

And thank you for listening to this!

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500. EPISODE 500 CELEBRATION! (PARTS 1 & 2)

Celebrating 500 episodes of LEP with a mega-ramble featuring lots of messages from listeners, expressions of gratitude, a cool announcement for all my listeners, some singing, some talk of becoming a dad, the future of the podcast, Star Wars, and loads of fun and good times. Thank you for listening! Parts 1 & 2 are both available on this page.

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Thank you to everyone who took part in episode 500 by sending me a message.

This became a massive celebration. I didn’t expect to receive so many messages. Thank you for all of your kind words, support, and joyful sentiments. I really appreciate it!

Thank you for listening to my podcast all these years. It means a lot to me. I’m looking forward to making more episodes in the future. Seasons greetings for the festive period and have a Happy New Year!

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479. Holiday Diary (Part 6) The Madness of Las Vegas / 11 Gambling Idioms

This episode includes anecdotes and descriptions of our short visit to Las Vegas, including stories of more rental car issues, Las Vegas craziness, winning and losing $$$ and 11 English idioms that come from gambling.

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⬇️ Episode script and notes (Idioms list below) ⬇️

Why Vegas?

It was just as a stopover between L.A. and other areas, and to have a one look in your life, see what all the fuss is about sort of experience.

Take the rental car back to the car rental company.

Remember them, from part 1 of this?

Wrong Cars™

When we picked up the car in LA – just a Nissan hatchback by the way, nothing fancy, at the start of the trip we had to go and wait in a boiling hot car park in Inglewood or somewhere, where I stood waiting on my phone for ages waiting to get through to someone to tell them we had arrived, standing there on hold with my arm going numb and the sun beating down on both me and my pregnant wife, and after about 40 minutes a guy in a rental car came and picked us up, and told us “oh yes, the shuttle busses are in the garage – they broke down on Tuesday”.

We drop off the car, pay the money, ask about the difference in price between the bill and the receipt –
“Sorry Mani, isn’t here today.”

“Can you do it?”

“Sorry, I can’t. He’s the manager.”

(We got fobbed off by the girl behind the counter)

There’s supposed to be a shuttle (bus) service back to the airport.

But it’s obvious that this is a crappy little rental car company that is cutting corners and fobbing everyone off with this talk of the “shuttle” that is mysteriously always in the garage.

Again we’re told that the shuttle is in the garage so we squeeze into another rental car with a German couple this time.

My wife is in the front, and I’m squeezed in with the Germans.

The Germans are quite nice, but it’s pretty clear they didn’t have the best experience with their car and they’ve driven a really long distance, without cruise control (which is standard for rentals usually) and they’re saying to the driver,

“Do you not have cars with cruise control? Because it’s very uncomfortable to drive 4,000 miles without cruise control, you know?”

I’m thinking – 4,000 miles! Without cruise control. His leg must be knackered.

The driver goes “Cruise control? Yes, there is cruise control.”

“No, there is no cruise control in this car.”

“This was your rental?”

Turns out the “shuttle” is just the same car the Germans just rented.

“Yes, there is no cruise control in this car. It was very difficult for us. Do you not have cars with cruise control?”

The driver is not interested in taking questions. He says “Some of them do and some of them don’t.”

“I think it would be good if your cars have the cruise control”

“I’m just the driver man”

I note in my head that our car had cruise control, and I never used it, not once, but I don’t say anything. I don’t think it would have helped.

“Well, our car had cruise control, and guess what we never used it! Ha ha, it would have been useful if we’d swapped, right? I bet you would have appreciated that after the first 3,000 miles!!”

But I didn’t say that. I just ‘enjoyed’ the really awkward vibe in the car, and the knowledge that my wife was pretty much steaming, but keeping herself under control.

After the Germans got out my wife chose to cross-examine the driver.

“So, where are the shuttles?”

“Oh, they’re in the garage, we had some trouble with them.”

“Both of them?”

“Yes, it’s just a coincidence.”

“OK. When did they go in the garage?”

“Oh just on Friday.”

“Well last week you said they broke down on Tuesday.”

“I’m just the driver”

“I know you’re just the driver but…”

“You’re getting driven there, I’m driving you personally…”

“I know but we just don’t appreciate being lied to, that’s all…”

At this point he got really angry and started making it personal.

“OK, you’re getting personal with me now, and I don’t appreciate you making personal attacks against me, ok?

As I was taking the bags out of the back, I was trying to say, “Look, it’s not personal we’re just commenting on the service. We were told one thing, we get another thing. It’s not you, right? it’s your management, right?”

He just went “Well I deliver you to the airport and you make it personal” and he just got in the car and drove off.

I couldn’t help feeling bad for the guy. I think he probably has no choice but to lie about the shuttle thing because the crappy management of this company keeps telling their customers there will be a shuttle. It’s written in their emails and stuff. I imagine he’s just trying to keep his job.

He couldn’t really say “Yes, well to be honest sir our company is lying to you. We don’t have any shuttles, it’s not worth it – you know? Because we don’t get enough customers to justify using a whole bus, and there’s obviously nowhere for us to park one anyway, so we just use these cars and I’m always dealing with these problems, but it’s because the management keep lying.”

He can’t admit that the company lies or is wrong. It’s unfair on him. I know, I’m making excuses for the guy, but what can he do?

The management should just say they have a personal car service, it would solve the problem.

That’s the solution. We don’t care about shuttles. Just say there’s a personal car service. The driver can introduce himself. “Hi, I’m Carlos, I’m your driver, where are you guys from?” Etc. That would solve the problem. Instead, Carlos (or whatever he’s called) is on the defensive and can’t start talking to the customers because he knows they’re not happy. Poor Carlos, and poor customers.

I wonder what’s really going on there – at this particular franchise of Wrong Cars™.

Anyway, after that we got on our plane for the short flight to Vegas. We could have driven but we planned this to make sure there was as little driving as possible, because when you’re pregnant it’s not good to sit in a vibrating car for hours on end, and anyway it sucks to be stuck in a car all the time.

We arrive in Vegas

It’s hot.

It’s in the middle of the Mojave Desert for goodness sake.

We rent a car from another company this time – more established. Enterprise. Admittedly, it’s a bit more expensive but we don’t want to risk it because we’ll be driving in some fairly deserted spots and we want a car that will not break down and that has customer service that’s actually available by telephone.

So we get to the car rental area – a massive building in airportland. Dazzling service. We’re in the car in a matter of minutes and it looks brand new. We rented a small SUV. The main thing was that it was comfy and could deal with bits of rough terrain if needed. We get a Jeep Renegade. It’s pretty cool. Wife is happy and in comfort. OK.

Staying at New York New York Hotel.

Vegas is completely insane and, honestly, not a great place. In fact it’s the most tawdry, sleazy, tacky place ever.

Pick the most touristy part of any town and amplify it by 1000. It’s like that.

It’s boiling hot outside but inside it’s freezing, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to build this massive place with all these things like swimming pools, hotels and golf courses in the middle of the desert.

God knows how they get their water.

And it’s just a weird place cut off from reality in which you are constantly being seduced and distracted by flashing lights and big things and encouraged to gamble your money away. It’s like one huge sales pitch in the form of a city.

Inside the casinos there are no windows. They’re like huge circus tents on the inside, with big restaurant facades around the edge, tables for gambling – playing poker or roulette or the one where you throw the dice and there are loads of different numbers and letters and it’s a bewildering illusion of choice, big individual gambling machines, lamp posts (inside the hotel), fake little streets, massive Irish pubs (which is never really a bad thing in itself) but all this stuff and you look up to the sky and it’s the black ceiling of the hotel above you, quite high and in the background. It’s probably daylight outside, but you can’t see the desert sun. Inside the hotel’s gambling area there’s this black canopy of the ceiling above all this trashy fake stuff.

It’s so weird to come to the desert and then find yourself in this totally synthetic place all set against a black backdrop.

This is some people’s idea of a wonderful place – a vast plastic playground with so many attractions, but there’s something very unnatural and twisted about it.

Weird things

People smoke indoors and this feels wrong now after 10 years since the smoking ban. No big deal, but still… I think the reason is that they prioritise the gambling, so even though it fills the air with harmful smoke, it means people stay at the tables and don’t go outside to smoke their cigarettes.

There are tourists wandering around, families and stuff but also you spot these grizzled gamblers losing fortunes.

You see some old people who have travelled for miles to spend their money because they don’t really know what else to do with it, so it all goes in these machines.

There are some really drunk people, sitting at the bar.

But also families with kids walking around.

Even some bars have gambling machines built into them, so you can lose money (or maybe win) while you’re taking a break from the bigger tables.

In one casino, where we went to the theatre – there was a girl in suspenders dancing erotically on a table, and kids were wandering around.

Seriously weird.

It was like a strip club in Disneyland. It was like a cross between Disneyland and a lap dancing club. Adult Disneyland, but with families wandering around in it.

Our hotel had a rollercoaster going around it.

Yep, a rollercoaster, with tracks that actually went around the outside of the hotel.

You can stand in the bedroom and every now and then you hear the rumble of the rollercoaster and the muffled screams of people outside the window. This is from inside your hotel room..

If you part the curtains and look out you can see part of the track twisting around past the window and eventually you’ll see the rollercoaster race past, people screaming.

Take a look into the distance and there are the mountains, some desert and then closer to you just weird, big shiny bright buildings and Trump tower. A massive tower with his name at the top in huge gold letters.

“We’ve got the greatest buildings folks, all the best casinos. You’re gonna have fun, and you’re gonna make so much money. We’re gonna Make America Great Again. Believe me folks.”

And the house always wins.
That’s the thing with these casinos.
You have to enjoy the process of it, because you’re basically paying money to experience the excitement of possibility of having more money, even if the probable outcome is that you’ll end up with less.
You’re paying for the excitement of losing, it’s exciting because there’s a possibility that you won’t lose, but the fact is you will probably lose.
So the chances are that you’re going to lose
but you might win
and that’s what makes it exciting
to throw your money away.
The house always wins.
Sometimes somebody wins.
But most people are losing.
And the house is always winning.

Fair enough though, people choose to gamble and they probably enjoy it. People seem to enjoy it – that’s their choice, but it doesn’t appeal to me very much, beyond just having a go to see what the fuss is all about.

But there are some good things about Vegas, ok!

It’s not all awful! It’s fun for a night or maybe two, depending on what you do.

It is a big spectacle – some of the hotels look amazing and massive, and also there are some spectacular shows that you can see – like dance shows such as Cirque du Soleil or Blue Man Group and magic shows like David Copperfield or Penn & Teller.

We chose to go there as a stopover but also to experience it and we did have a laugh!
You have to just go with it a bit and just go ‘ wow, look at that, that’s ridiculous!’

A lot of the time we were walking around, couldn’t believe our eyes, saying “this is insane” “Look at that! It’s a massive Egyptian pyramid!

Our hotel was basically a recreation of the New York skyline. Other hotels have things like an Eiffel Tower, an Egyptian Sphinx, massive fountains and light shows.

It was pretty weird to see the Eiffel Tower considering we see it every day in Paris.

Also, it’s a very convenient place – in the sense that it’s really easy to access the airport, it’s not all that big, things are open 24 hours a day.

People are helpful and friendly.

There was a wholefoods there. In fact there are a few Wholefoods supermarkets there – say no more!

Some of the stuff is good fun.

So, that’s that then isn’t it.

Penn & Teller

Gambling in the Casino

We played some one of the “one armed bandits” – the fruit machines. It’s like one dollar to pull the arm and watch some things spinning around. We put aside about 50 dollars for fun. My wife enjoys the one armed bandits and she’s actually very lucky. I’m a lot more sceptical about it.

But she thinks she’s blessed with luck or something.
(Actually she’s blessed with Luke, but anyway… I’m not sure “blessed” is the right word – “married to” is probably better)

In England, when we had first met each other, we took a trip to Brighton, on the south coast, and we went to the pier (a wooden walkway that stretches out over the sea, wooden legs supporting it – a pier) where there are lots of arcade machines and gambling machines and other attractions, and she was convinced she would win money on the machines and I was going “ but the house always wins” and she was saying “no I’m magic!”.

I was shaking my head thinking “there is no magic, only the force” and she put one pound in a slot machine and promptly won £20, and said “I told you I was magic”. We walked away £20 richer. We didn’t continue gambling. I think she’s smart enough to know that you quit while you’re ahead.

The same thing happened years later, we were in a little resort in the north of France where you find some casinos. She’s not a gambling addict or anything. She just likes playing the machines a few times when we’re on holiday sometimes.

We went to a casino and chose to spend no more than 50E. A 50E limit. Ooh, big bucks, right?

We were walking around trying to find a good machine. There were some slightly sad looking people just sitting there plugged into these persuasive light shows – it’s a sort of low level basic addiction (or high level for some people) – an addiction to the sales pitch, basically.

I was being very sceptical, and making various sceptical noises.

We ended up leaving with 80E, 30E up from when we went in.
Not bad.

We quit while we were ahead.

In Vegas we did some gambling on the machines. I was thinking, “Well, she is magic. Maybe we’ll win enough to get a half decent dinner.”

We lost all the money we took in. All of it.

It was a steady one directional flow of us putting money into the machines and getting nothing in return. Las Vegas just ate our 50 dollars like a crocodile eats a chicken. One gulp, all gone, didn’t even chew. It didn’t even touch the sides as it went down.

We won nothing.

Well, almost nothing. We always seemed to win a few credits just before our money ran out, which I’m sure is a little trick to encourage you to put more money in because you think the machine is going to ‘start paying out’ at some point.

Obviously, we didn’t know what we were doing. We had no clue and I’m sure those machines were the wrong ones to be playing, and some of the casinos are better than others, but anyway we weren’t really there for the gambling. We were more interested in playing it safe.

11 Gambling Idioms (that don’t just apply to gambling)

  1. to be on a winning streak (when you’re winning)
  2. to be on a losing streak (when you’re losing and nothing is going your way)
  3. to break even (when you take the same amount of money that you spent – in gambling or in business. No profit, no loss.)
  4. to quit while you’re ahead (stop when you’re winning)
  5. the house always wins
  6. to bet (to gamble) “I bet you £20 that Arsenal win the game” or (a challenge) “I bet you can’t throw this paper ball in the bin from there!” or (an expectation) “I bet all the tickets are sold out”
  7. to show your hand (show the cards in your hand / reveal your position)
  8. a poker face (a facial expression which reveals nothing – used while playing poker, or in any other situation where you keep a straight face)
  9. don’t push your luck (take a big risk and try doing something that could end in failure – it’s a bit like saying “watch what you’re doing” or “be careful”)
  10. to raise the stakes (the stakes = the money which you have to gamble in a round of poker. The expression is used to mean to increase the amount of money you can win or lose in a gambling game, but also to raise the general level of what you can win or lose – e.g. this line from a recent Daily Mail news article “Mr Trump raised the stakes in the escalating crisis over North Korea’s nuclear threats, suggesting drastic economic measures against China and criticising ally South Korea.”
    www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/pa/article-4847836/North-Korea-conducts-nuclear-test-making-hydrogen-bomb-claims.html
  11. the chips are down (chips = the plastic coins you use while gambling. The expression means – when you’re feeling bad, or when the situation is bad) E.g. in cricket – “When the chips are down for England, Moeen is often the side’s most useful player.”

I once saw a great documentary by Louis Theroux about high stakes gamblers in Vegas. Some of them lose thousands of dollars, but they keep gambling because they think they’re going to eventually start winning it all back. I’ve put some videos from the documentary on the page for this episode. I love Louis Theroux’s documentaries. They’re fascinating.

The phrase that I take away from one of the videos: Louis and a high-stakes gambler are standing in the biggest hotel suite in the city, looking out of the window at the huge hotels and Louis says “Vegas – they didn’t build these casinos on winners you know” and the guy says “I think in the lifetime, everyone’s a loser. But the thrill of being able to win today, lose next month, win the year after. I think it’s the challenge. I think it’s the thrill. I think it’s the entertainment in this city.”

Louis Theroux Gambling Documentary – video clips

Louis hangs out with a high-stakes gambler in a very expensive hotel suite in Las Vegas

Here’s the same guy, after losing about $400,000 dollars in 3 days

Louis gambles with a couple of gambling “enthusiasts” (addicts?)

Louis plays the “one armed bandits” with Martha (these are the machines that took our $50 in just a few minutes) Martha says “I lost 4 million dollars in the casino in 7 years.”

Louis gets lucky playing Baccarat
“Because I resigned myself to failure that night, Lady Luck had decided to tantilise me by making me win.”

How gambling can be dangerous

It seems that this is how it goes:

  • You might begin by winning some money. Then you feel lucky so you bet bigger, but you lose it.
  • You then start digging yourself in deeper and deeper, expecting your luck to change but there is absolutely no certainty that it will.
  • Some people talk about ‘the law of averages’ – suggesting that in time any sequence will balance out. E.g. you might spend a certain amount of time losing, but ultimately this will be balanced out by the number of times you win.
  • But that’s assuming that gambling in a casino is random. Usually it is subtly weighed in favour of the casino so that the pattern is that the casino wins more often than you. Even if you win a lot, the casino can afford it because more people have lost overall.
  • Often these high stakes gamblers keep betting because they think they’ll eventually start winning. They often don’t and then leave utterly devastated by the loss.
  • The house always wins.
  • Then what might happen is that you’ve lost, you’re dejected. You resign yourself to failure but play another game because why not, and then you hit a winning streak.
  • What a powerful combination of defeat and then victory, all out of your control. You’re at the mercy of this external force, playing around with “luck”. (Not Luke)

And the house always wins.

We drove along the strip. It’s madness out there! Just all the flashing lights and the spectacle, it’s like Picadilly Circus on steroids and the steroids are also on steroids.

Unbelievably massive plate of pancakes for breakfast.

Then we got out of town.


I told you I would talk about nature and canyons, and big rocks! All that stuff I really loved seeing, but I got carried away – distracted by tales of gambling in Vegas.

Las Vegas – a place that seems diametrically opposed to somewhere like Bryce National Park or The Grand Canyon.

I’m glad we only spent an afternoon, one evening and a night there.

Natural beauty is so much more real.

Well, anything is more real than Las Vegas, I suppose.

Thanks for listening.

Join the mailing list.
Thanks to the Orion transcription team and Andromeda proofreading team.
Shout out to the comment section crew.
Shout out to the Long-Term LEPsters, you know who you are.
Shout out to the new listeners, I hope you stick with us.
Shout out to every single one of you all around the world, listening to this right now and united by the fact that you are all citizens of LEPland or Podland or whatever we are calling this community which crosses international boundaries.
Be excellent to each other and party on!

Speak to you in the next episode.

Luke

Photos

463. News, Comments & Questions

Giving some news, responding to comments & questions, rambling about new shoes and getting lost in the jungle.

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JILMANI’S 15 DAY CHALLENGE

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ALEXANDER GREK’S DETECTIVE NOVEL

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459. Lazing on a Sunny Afternoon

Rambling on about so-called “facts” I found on the internet, while sitting in direct sunshine wishing I had beer.

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Introduction

In this episode I’m just sitting in the sunshine and I just want to ramble with absolutely no preparation. I’ve been doing quite a lot of fairly serious episodes about language, and politics and there’s more to come. But in this one I don’t want to feel obliged to make any serious points at all. Instead I’d much rather just be light hearted and talk about whatever comes into my head in an effort to just relax and have fun.

Nothing is written down. I have literally no idea what I’m going to talk about. I’ve got loads of episodes in the pipeline but for this one, it’s just turn on the microphone and let’s go. It might be pretty inane and stupid. Don’t take too much of it seriously. But who knows what kind of vocab or idioms will pop up, and maybe some other bits.

So – expectations should be a full on ramble with no particular language aim than to just follow the English as it accompanies my stream of consciousness.

Let’s go through 9facts.co.uk. I have no idea if they are actually facts, but it’ll give me a springboard to just ramble about whatever I come across.

9facts.co.uk/en/


Images and “facts” from www.9facts.co.uk


Song

The Kinks – Sunny Afternoon tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/t/the_kinks/sunny_afternoon_crd.htm

What do you think?

What are your thoughts on the topics that came up doing this episode?
Leave your comments below.

432. British TV: Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (Part 1) [Video]

Talking about restaurant culture in the UK, an introduction to one of the UK’s most famous chefs and a chance to learn some authentic English from a popular British TV show featuring Gordon Ramsay. Video available. Includes swearing.

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Introduction Transcript

Hello, and welcome back to this podcast for learners of English. Here is a new episode for you to listen to and indeed watch, because I’m videoing this one. You’ll be able to find the video on the page for this episode on my website, or by visiting the YouTube channel for Luke’s English Podcast.

A lot of what I am saying here – particularly in this introduction is written on the page for this episode. So you can read it with me, or check it for certain words you hear me using. The best way to get access to these pages is to subscribe to the mailing list.

In the last episode of this podcast you heard me talking to Amber about restaurants and hotels and some crazy TripAdvisor reviews.

At one point in the episode we talked briefly about Gordon Ramsay – one of the UK’s most famous chefs, and his TV show “Kitchen Nightmares” which was a really popular show in the UK a few years ago, and I thought it could be interesting to do a whole episode about that.

So in this one I’m going to talk a little bit about Gordon Ramsay and then we’re going to listen to some YouTube clips from one of his TV shows and I will help you understand all the language that you’ll hear. No doubt there will be some new vocabulary in the process – probably on the subject of food, cooking, restaurants and kitchens but lots of other natural language that just comes up, including plenty of swearing, because Gordon Ramsay is known for his frequent use of swear words.

Yes, there will be quite a lot of swearing in this episode, and you know my position on this. I’m choosing to show you the language as it is really used and that includes the rude words, but don’t be tempted to start throwing swear words into your everyday English. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that swear words are a short cut to sounding exactly like a native speaker. Often it just gives people a bad impression of you. We’ll go into it more later, because there are quite a lot of unwritten social rules around swearing that you need to be aware of – the main one being, that with swearing it is much much easier to sound rude and inappropriate than it is to sound cool. Think of swearing as a motorbike – you might think it’s cool but unless you really know what you’re doing you’re likely to seriously injure yourself. Similarly, swearing can be cool when it’s done in movies or even by someone like Gordon Ramsay, but if you try and do it in your normal life there’s a good chance you’ll just offend people.

So anyway, we’ll listen to some of the English in these YouTube clips and analyse the things they’re saying so that in the end you can understand it all just like I do, which should help you learn some real English in the process. You’ll also learn a thing or two about restaurant culture in the UK and about Gordon Ramsay who is one of the most well-known people in Britain.

Who is Gordon Ramsay and what’s the TV show?

Gordon James Ramsay, is a British celebrity chef, restaurateur, and television personality.

*Difference between a chef and a cook? Basically, a chef is someone who’s had professional training – at least a culinary degree, but a cook is just someone who cooks food. Both might work in a kitchen, but mainly being a chef is about having the status of culinary qualifications and experience.

Ramsay is one of the most famous chefs in the UK and probably in the world too. He has a reputation for being an excellent restaurateur and chef, and also for his extremely strict and direct style. He’s often very rude, saying exactly what he thinks about the people he’s working with in the strongest most colourful language. Imagine an army captain shouting at a platoon of soldiers during military training, but with really good food.

Ramsay was born in Scotland, but he grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon, which is in fact not far from where I grew up in England). So, he is Scottish but doesn’t speak with a Scottish accent.
Ramsay now has restaurants all over the place – in London, in Paris and in New York. During his career he has trained at the highest level with French chefs in the UK and in Paris. He specialises in Italian, French and British recipes, and his cooking is known for being simple, unpretentious, high quality and delicious.

His restaurants have been awarded 16 Michelin stars in total. The term “Michelin Star” is a hallmark of fine dining quality. Michelin stars are very difficult to win and restaurants around the world proudly promote their Michelin Star status if they have one. His signature restaurant, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, London, has held 3 Michelin stars since 2001, which is a mark of extremely high quality in restaurant dining.

As well as being a top chef, Ramsay is also a TV presenter. He first appeared on TV in the UK in the late 1990s, and by 2004 Ramsay had become one of the best known celebrity chefs in British popular culture, and, along with other chefs like Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, and Delia Smith, he has influenced viewers to become more culinarily adventurous.

As a reality TV personality, Ramsay is known for his fiery temper, strict demeanour, and use of expletives. He often makes blunt and controversial comments, including insults and wisecracks about contestants and their cooking abilities.

Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares used to be on British TV a few years ago – probably around 10-15 years ago now. These days you can find most of the episodes on YouTube.

Local restaurants vs manufacturing companies and processed food

Ramsay is actually very passionate about local restaurants in the UK.

In the UK our eating out culture is vibrant and successful but it is being undermined by a number of factors. One is the industrialisation of food culture. THis means that big businesses are involved in preparing food at an industrial level and then selling it to restaurants as part of a large corporate chain.

These chains might be restaurants which are all owned by one company, or food manufacturers who dominate the wholesale market, driving down their prices and pushing out competition such as local producers who sell fresh products.

In these industrial food manufacturing companies, the food is prepared in high quantities and then sold off to other companies and restaurants as part of a corporate supply chain for food.

There’s a big infrastructure for food purchasing in the UK which is dominated by these big food manufacturers. As a result, many smaller restaurants are forced to buy industrialised and mass-produced food because it is cheaper and more convenient than fresh food which you can buy direct from farms or markets.

If you were a struggling restaurant owner in a town in the UK, what would you do? Buy your food fresh from a local producer and then make sure you sell it in a short-term period, or buy similar products from a mass producer but at a lower price, and it’s food which you can store for longer because it has been processed to stay fresh.

In the end, people choose to eat at home, especially during an economic crisis.

So, economic factors are having a negative effect on the restaurant culture in the UK to an extent. Family owned restaurants should be where you get proper traditional and delicious local food, but these restaurants are being squeezed economically and forced to go along with the industrialised food manufacturing process.

Also, there are many chain restaurants which you find on high streets in the UK. These are not locally run, but are owned by big companies who have a single business model which they apply to all their restaurants. The fact that these places are part of a big corporate chain means that they can drive down their prices, making it very hard for local restaurants to be competitive. As a result, these smaller places suffer, struggle and often close down.

Gordon Ramsay believes that these local restaurants are the backbone of our restaurant culture in the UK, and he strongly believes that they need to be supported so they can compete with the corporate chains, and given training so they can serve the best food possible. Essentially that’s the concept behind Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, but also it’s just entertaining watching him shouting at incompetent chefs. You sort of let him get away with the way he bullies people because you believe that really he’s just trying to help them to learn the discipline you need to run a really good restaurant.

But he does seem really passionate about proper restaurant culture in the UK and I like that about him. Even though he’s making this reality show and he’s making money from doing it, I think he really does care about improving restaurant culture in the UK.

On the other hand, he is very good at TV. He knows how to make entertaining TV, and he’s got a good formula for it. Basically, this means that he takes the harsh discipline and the no-nonsense brutally honest approach that he applies to his kitchen management, and uses it when giving feedback to the restaurants which he visits.

Let’s listen to a few scenes and I’m going to make sure you understand everything that’s going on and everything that’s being said.

Let’s learn English with Gordon Ramsay

The TV Show

Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares used to be on UK TV about 10-15 years ago.
The format is this – Gordon Ramsay visits a failing restaurant somewhere in the UK. So, restaurants that are failing – e.g. losing money, getting terrible reviews etc. He goes into the restaurant and spends a week there, observing the way the owners run the kitchen, how the business works and what’s going on at all levels. Usually he starts by sitting down to eat the chef’s speciality dish, and it’s nearly always disgusting, and Ramsay comments on how it tastes, how it looks, and also the decor of the restaurant and the service from the staff.

Then Ramsay gives his feedback to the owner and the chef, and it’s always a massive reality check, and it usually involves very strong words and lots of swearing. This is what happens when a top-level chef enters the world of a crappy low-level restaurant.

Then over the course of the week, Gordon helps the managers turn the restaurant around. It’s almost always a huge challenge and often the most difficult part is dealing with the psychological aspects – the stubborn chefs, the relationship issues in the kitchen, the fact that these people have personal issues which are causing the business to go horribly wrong.

It is car-crash TV. We see arguments, meltdowns, unhappy customers and so on.
In almost every episode Gordon seems to go hopping mad as he can’t believe the incompetence or shockingly low standards of service shown by the people in the restaurant. He then tries to help them change everything and turn the business around. It all makes really great telly.

And by the end of the episode, with Gordon’s help they have usually turned the restaurant into a successful business again.

There’s a UK version and a US version.

If you search for Kitchen Nightmares on YouTube you will probably find the US version first, but I think the UK version is better!

But really, it is better because the US version is horrible. It’s full of really fast editing and there’s loads of music which is added in order to tell you how you should be feeling about what’s happening. It’s distracting and patronising.

Example of the US version (just listen to all the distracting sound effects and music)

The UK version just has some rock music in the background at the start, but then during the show it’s more simple and you can just focus on what’s happening without constant sweeping sounds and tense music.

Let’s listen to some scenes from one of the episodes.

These scenes actually come from an episode called “Gordon Ramsay’s Great British Nightmares” which was shown on TV between series 5 and 6 of Kitchen Nightmares. It’s basically the same as any other episode of the series.

Gordon Ramsay’s Great British Nightmare – Dovecote Bistro

Summary
Gordon goes to visit a restaurant in Devon called Dovecote Bistro, which is run by a guy called Mick.
Mick is a former truck driver and burger van operator who has opened this bistro with his wife and adopted daughter, Michelle. Ramsay is firstly appalled by the psychedelic wallpaper decorating the restaurant, and then his attention turns to the food and the way it is cooked. While Ramsay is impressed with the simple menu, he is furious to find that Mick has very little cooking ability, using orange squash to make a sauce and using vacuum-sealed pre-cooked lamb shanks in a microwave bag. Not only does he show little responsibility in the kitchen, he is also secretive with his spending and is hugely in debt. Mick is adamant that the problems in the kitchen are not his fault, and his stubbornness causes a rift with his wife and daughter. Ramsay solves the crisis by taking the business matters out of Mick’s hands and kicks him out of the kitchen. His daughter, Michelle, is placed in charge of the kitchen despite having no cooking experience. She rises to the challenge, and while Mick is not convinced over replacing his microwave food, the reopening is a success.
Months later, Ramsay returns to find that the restaurant is making profit. He sent Michelle for further culinary training, and she impresses Ramsay with freshly cooked food.
The restaurant was renamed Martins’ Bistro during production.

Video 1 – Flourescent duck cooked in orange squash

Vocabulary

Let’s see what this ex-trucker can do
Lamb shanks
Fuck me! (surprise / shock)
Your blouse matches the wallpaper
I feel like I’m tripping out!
I’ve never touched the stuff but I feel like I just swallowed an E.
The hideous wallpaper
On paper it looks delicious
Orange squash
A spoonful of gravy
Fuck me do I need sunglasses!
That’s worse than fucking Benylin
They’re actually vacuum packed
They can last for about a year
They’re bought in, they’re vacuum packed
They’ve got a shelf life of about a year
Well, fuck me!
That might be the worst food I’ve ever come across
He might be beyond my help
It doesn’t need refrigerating
How in the fuck could you charge 11 pounds for that?
E numbers, like Tartrazine
Do you feel like having a shit?
Thank fuck I didn’t eat it.
I’m surprised you haven’t killed off half the population of Okehampton

End of part 1 – part 2 available very soon!

415. With the Family (Part 3) More Encounters with Famous People

Here’s the final part in this trilogy of episodes recorded at my parents’ house on Boxing Day. In this one my mum, dad and brother tell us a few more anecdotes about their encounters with some well-known people.

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Introduction Transcript + some ad-libs

The conversation you’re about to hear was recorded with my family on the same day as the last couple of episodes. It was quite late in the evening, after my uncle and aunt had gone home and after dinner and number drinks had been consumed. Picture a very warm and cosy living room with a wood burning stove going in the background.

After listening to Nic describing his encounters with some famous rock stars earlier in the day, the other members of my family wanted to get in on the action too with their stories about brushing shoulders with the stars. So here are a few other anecdotes from my dad, my brother and my mum.

It turns out that my family have met some genuine legends. I didn’t even realise that a couple of these things had happened. You’ll have to wait and see who they are. But here are some slightly cryptic clues.

Can you guess which people I’m talking about?

  • One of the UK’s favourite authors who wrote a series of beloved books which have also been made into successful films.
  • A British comic actor who likes eating ice-creams and fighting zombies, criminals and aliens, in his movies (not real life of course).
  • A small but very important woman who often appears in public but is also a very private person.
  • A nonagenarian who once said that he was “the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children.” A nonagenerian is someone in their nineties – also, septuagenarian (70s) and octogenarian (80s).

There are others too, including an American punk rock star with lots of tattoos and muscles, a Shakespearean actor who has become a successful film director and an actor who had a bit part in the British TV series The Office.

I should perhaps remind you of several other anecdotes which you might have heard on this podcast before, which are mentioned in this conversation.

  • The time my brother ended up lost in Hastings and slept on a stranger’s sofa and woke up to discover the guy sitting in a chair next to him. Was the guy just friendly and welcoming, or slightly creepy? Originally told by my bro in this episode https://teacherluke.co.uk/2016/08/09/372-the-importance-of-anecdotes-in-english-narrative-tenses-four-anecdotes
  • The time my mum met the King of Tonga. Originally told in this episode too https://teacherluke.co.uk/2016/08/09/372-the-importance-of-anecdotes-in-english-narrative-tenses-four-anecdotes
  • The time I met comedian Eddie Izzard and was a bit lost for words. I sort of went to pieces a bit and made it really awkward and weird by saying “You’re in my head!” – not the right thing to say at all. Originally told be me in this episode https://teacherluke.co.uk/2014/06/10/184-lukes-d-day-diary-part-2/

Anyway, you can now sit back and enjoy some more time with The Thompsons.

***

Outro Transcript + ad-libs

Funny, isn’t he? My brother. I would like him to be on the podcast more often, if he’s up for it. The thing is that he’s a bit modest really and isn’t the sort of outgoing person who likes to broadcast his thoughts and opinions over the internet, although he obviously should because he’s got a lot to offer. He ought to do a podcast or something like that, right? He does have a YouTube channel but it’s mainly skateboarding. www.youtube.com/user/VideoDaze/videos

*All the background music in this episode was also made by James*

The people mentioned in this episode

If you liked this one, try listening to these ones

79. Family Arguments and Debates

322. With The Thompsons

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

408. Catching Up With Amber & Paul #4 (+ videos)

Amber & Paul are back on the podcast and we do the usual catching-up session and go off on a few tangents about Amber’s play, Paul’s showbiz life, marshmallows, microphones, tea & coffee, accents and more. There are videos for the intro and outro of this episode (below).

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INTRODUCTION

This episode sees the return of pod PALs Amber Minogue and Paul Taylor, which means that The Talkative Trio are reunited on the podcast once more.

Time was pretty tight for this conversation because Paul was working to a very strict schedule on the day it was recorded, which was yesterday in my flat.

As you’ll hear, Paul arrives a little bit late because he was having lunch with some TV industry people and then he has to leave before the end of the recording to be interviewed on the radio, because he’s so hot right now in the world of showbiz.

Amber has also been very busy recently doing various things including writing and rehearsing a play, so it’s been hard to get the three of us in a room together all at the same time.

As a result this episode was arranged at the last-minute and the conversation was completely unplanned. All I wanted to do was to catch up with the two of them and ask the usual question: What have you been doing?

You’ll hear that things carry on quite rapidly and there are plenty of the usual tangents – those moments when the topic suddenly goes off in a different direction.

It might be hard to follow, so to help you keep up, here’s a basic summary of the main things that we talk about. You’ll find these notes written on the page for this episode, including some words that you might hear in the conversation but not know. You might want to check these notes to see words that you might have missed, to check their spelling etc.

  • First of all Amber tells me about the play for children that she’s been working on with our friend James Simpson.
  • Paul then arrives, you hear the buzzer buzzing and he comes in carrying a bag containing a new iPhone 7, still in its box, which he collected from the shop earlier in the day. It’s a present which all his friends bought for him a few months ago for his 30th birthday, organised by his girlfriend. We all chipped in some money and got him a new phone.
  • Amber tells us some more things about her play, including how it contains a few slapstick moments, meaning some funny scenes of fairly violent physical comedy involving a first-aid box and some marshmallows. Apparently at one point in the play James hits Amber over the head with the first aid box. By the way, a first-aid box is a box that contains basic medical supplies for administering first-aid, that’s why it’s called a first-aid box. It contains, things like plasters, bandages, antiseptic, tiny scissors, and maybe some other little medical things that you don’t understand etc.
  • Also in the play they also fight over a marshmallow, which Amber wants to dip into her tea.
  • This leads us to talk about dipping things into cups of tea, like marshmallows and biscuits, which then causes us to talk about what you put in your tea when you’ve run out of milk, which actually happened to Paul the other day. His solution was to use whipped cream as a substitute.
  • That leads me to ask the question of whether you really can put cream in tea, and we agree that you can definitely put cream in coffee, especially a particular type of coffee which is served with whipped cream on top, which in France is called café Viennois – which I think translates as a Viennese coffee – or a coffee from Vienna.
  • That causes me to ask what they call a Viennese coffee in Vienna, speculating that they might just call it a coffee, which leads to a similar question about the French phrase “creme anglais”, which translates literally as “English cream” – but in the UK we just call it “custard”.
    I then ask Paul and Amber to explain to you my audience what custard is, and Paul suggests that instead of us explaining it at great length, you could just ‘google’ it.
  • I remind Amber & Paul that it is necessary to explain some words sometimes, like the word ‘custard’, because this is Luke’s English Podcast and it’s probably a good idea to explain words sometimes.
  • This prompts Amber to comment on the way that I seem to choose to explain words quite randomly in my episodes – like when I recently spent quite a lot of time explaining the word ‘flea’ in a recent conversation I had with my Dad on the podcast.
  • We then go back to food and talk about typical English puddings which can be served with custard, including crumble, sticky toffee pudding and the oddly named ‘spotted dick’.
    I refer to spotted dick as a dessert, which causes Amber to comment that this is the wrong choice of word and that I should say that it’s a “pudding” not a “dessert”.
  • This brings up the slightly confusing and long-running debate about the correct choice of words to describe certain things in Britain, especially in relation to the dinner table. This all relates to British rules of etiquette and language in polite society, perhaps relating to French vocabulary we sometimes use in English. We don’t talk about this very clearly and it might be a bit confusing for you, and really the whole subject of the rules of British etiquette and social class deserves an episode of it’s own.
  • Nevertheless, in order to clear it up a bit, here’s a quote from a book called “Watching the English” by Kate Fox. Kate Fox is a social commentator who writes about social behaviour in England, and “Watching the English” is a good book that explains many things about English life. This is what Kate has to say about the words “pudding” and “dessert” in English. By the way, both these words are used to refer generally to sweet food which is served after the main course. You have the starter, then main course, then the pudding/dessert. Your choice of the word ‘pudding’ or ‘dessert’ seems to depend on your level of class, and apparently according to upper-class culture the word “dessert” is vulgar. Kate Fox: ‘The upper-middle and upper classes insist that the sweet course at the end of the meal is called the ‘pudding’ – never the ‘sweet’, or ‘afters’, or ‘dessert’, all of which are déclassé and unacceptable’ (Fox, 2005, p79). So, according to upper-class etiquette, pudding is the correct term for the sweet course that comes at the end of the meal. Fine. Amber seems to think this is because the word “dessert” is of French origin, but I’m not sure. By the way, in some places (e.g. France and Japan) pudding is a specific kind of dish. For example in Japan ‘pudding’ is a sort of caramel or custard creme dish. In the UK it just means the sweet course at the end of the meal and can include all kinds of things, like cakes, pies, ice-cream, trifle, Eton mess, bread and butter pudding or even jelly. “What’s for pudding?” for example.
  • I try to explain all of this, but I can’t manage it, instead saying “This is tangent city” when I realise that we keep going off on mad tangents and it’s probably quite confusing for the audience – that’s you.
  • Our talk of pudding then causes us to start talking about Pudong, an area in Shanghai, and specifically the Pudong River in Shanghai. Paul tells us a bit about that and then there are a couple of references to the slightly rude sounding English words ‘poo’ and ‘dong’ before things settle down a bit and we start talking about Paul’s recent showbiz news, including how he is going to be interviewed on a radio station called “Oui FM” later in the afternoon, so we go from poo to wee in just a few sentences.
  • At one point Paul nearly uses quite a clever word – ‘concise’ but then doesn’t use it, preferring instead to choose a more simple way of putting things “using the least words possible” (which means to be concise).
  • We talk about responses to Paul’s recent videos including a few YouTube comments & some criticism he received from a serious person in an email (the criticism was in the email, not the person – you can’t put a person in an email).
  • Things get quite geeky when I then start talking about cameras and microphones and the challenges of capturing good audio when you’re recording videos.
  • There’s some talk of different types of microphone, including boom mics, lapel mics, dynamic mics and shotgun mics but then Amber decides it’s all getting a bit too geeky and we move onto something else.
  • We make plans to hang out again on Thursday on the set of Paul’s TV show while they’re doing some filming, and we decide to record a podcast while we’re there.
  • Following on from my recent episodes about accents, I ask Paul & Amber what their accents are, and what they think my Dad’s accent is, and Amber declares her love for my Dad.
  • Then Paul has to go for his radio interview on “Oui FM” and leaves, and Amber & I carry on and talk a bit more about her play before having a massive conversation about Christmas which will probably be uploaded in a forthcoming episode.

So, I hope that helps you understand what you are about to hear from the Tangential Trio. But, now, without any further explaining – here is that conversation as it actually happened!

JINGLE + CONVERSATION

‘OUTRO’

Amber and I started talking about Christmas there and we went on to talk about it for ages – like over an hour of chat about Christmas shopping, games, food, family traditions and everything else relating to the festive time of year. That conversation will continue in the next episode, maybe the episode after.

We talked a little bit about Paul’s English in that conversation.

People sometimes say “Paul’s accent/English is influenced by his French”.
It isn’t. Certainly not his accent anyway.

That’s one of the interesting things about Paul. When he speaks French there is pretty much no trace of an English accent in his speech, and when he speaks English there is no trace of a French accent.

Other announcements

LEP Moscow Get-Together
Hey Luke!
Well, the very first LEP Moscow GET-TOGETHER has just happened! The first of it’s kind, it seems to be a historical :) event in Russia! Everything went great, it was awesome to chat in ENGLISH with like-minded people!!! Personally I felt as if I had known all of the participants for ages – open, nice and smiley friends! I hope somebody else could feel a similar thing.
First, we got to know each other, which was the main achievement! It was interesting to know when and how everyone had found LEP one day, which episodes were our favourite ones, which experiences in English language learning we had (useful Internet resources, grammar books, pronunciation etc.)
A couple of pics and a short audio message from us to you are attached.
Thanks again and again for that announcement and actually for everything you do!!!
We hope to provide more listeners with a chance to meet and speak regularly and one more way to let them know is to “friend” your group on FB with ours www.facebook.com/groups/734996946664425/ and VK vk.com/clubnu1 .
Have a nice Monday, Jedi-Podmaster!
Dmitry

Here are those Moscow LEPsters saying hello!

Transcript Collaboration
~ well done everyone!
Thank you especially this month to Antonio for managing everything.
There is an email now for the Orion team. Just write a comment on the page for the transcript collaboration and Antonio will let you know what to do.
Make sure you read the rules.
Transcript collaboration page: teacherluke.co.uk/episodes-with-transcripts/transcripts/ 

Daniel Goodson – My Fluent Podcast
A LEPster podcast in which you can join Daniel in his quest to become better and better at English.
Daniel interviewed one of the managers of the Transcript Collaboration – Piotr from Poland
www.myfluentpodcast.com/e20-interview-with-piotr-from-poland-transcribing-transcript-collaboration/

Zdenek’s English Podcast
Also, on the subject of LEPster podcasts – Zdenek Lukas continues to do his show, called Zdenek’s English Podcast. Recently he’s been doing episodes about his experiences studying for the DELTA (Diploma in English Language Teaching for Adults) which is a seriously challenging postgraduate qualification in English teaching, which involves not only a lot of writing about linguistics and teaching methodologies, but also plenty of assessed teaching sessions too. It’s a difficult course with many challenges and many things to learn. You can listen to Zdenek talking about it on his podcast in some recent episodes.
Get it here audioboom.com/channel/zdeneks-english-podcast

Join the mailing list for direct access to the page for every episode, and for any other content I put up, including videos that I might start doing with my new camera soon.

That’s it! Cheers!

VIDEOS

Here’s one of Paul’s “What the F*ck France?” videos. This one’s about how it’s difficult to learn French.

LEP VIDEOS

Here are a couple of bonus videos of me recording the introduction to this episode, and a failed attempt at recording the outro too (I forgot to press ‘record’ on my audio device!)

They’re in black & white because I think it looks cool. The gorilla ↴ is pink, ok! 

Thanks for watching. I’m just experimenting with videos at the moment, but if you like them, I might do more.

The Russian Joke appeared in US TV show Parks & Recreation – watch until the end

Music credits

Jazzy xylophone tune & piano tune by BenSound – www.bensound.com

Other music by me, or by my brother James Thompson.

395. “Have you ever…?” with Paul Taylor and Robert Hoehn

In this episode I’m joined by Paul Taylor and Robert Hoehn and we do a speaking exercise that I often use in my classes to help my students to practise using different grammatical structures in their speaking. I thought it would be interesting to record some native speakers doing the exercise too, so that’s what you’ll hear in this episode, as well as various little anecdotes, a few jokes and general chat. The conversation contains swearing and a few humourous comments which shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

[DOWNLOAD]

Today I’m joined by a couple of guests. First of all I have Paul Taylor with me, fresh from an appearance on French TV.

And also, Robert Hoehn is back on the podcast.

Last time Rob was on was in episode 143, in which we hung out together in Rob’s kitchen, we made some tea cocktails and then Rob offended everyone with some obnoxious comments about American foreign policy.

Since then I have never invited Rob back onto the podcast.

Until now.

I thought it was time to bring him back on since his name has been mentioned a few times recently.

First of all, we have to deal with the fallout from his last appearance (which actually wasn’t that bad) before going on to talk about some other stuff.

How Rob offended everyone last time (well, not everyone…)

Last time Rob said some comments which were not supposed to be taken seriously. Just some stuff about America bombing other countries.

He hasn’t been on the podcast since. (except for a brief appearance during one of the Star Wars episodes, and a telephone call to Paul once)

So I think we need to deal with that and perhaps roast Rob a bit before moving on. Once he’s been roasted, his name will be cleared and his debt to my audience will have been paid.

Jokes from Rob’s roast

A roast is something that American comedians do. It usually happens on someone’s birthday. All the comedians take turns to insult the roastee. It gets pretty harsh and insulting, but that’s the whole point and everyone gets roasted. You’re not supposed to get offended. It’s a tradition.

Here’s what I said during Rob’s roast.

Hanging out with Rob is a profound experience. After you spend time with him you might have a crisis of religious faith. Not because he has persuasive arguments against the existence of god, but because if god does exist that means he has created everything, including Rob – and the question is “Why?” “Why would he bother?” “Why would an intelligent creator choose to invent Rob Hoehn? what would be the point?” It’s impossible. It wouldn’t have happened. So, Rob’s existence is basically proof that we are alone in the universe. No intelligent designer would have decided to create Rob, so there is no god and this is all the result of random chance.

But it’s exciting hanging around with Rob.

I imagine it’s a bit like spending time in the company of a great ape, like an orangutan.

It’s exciting, because you never quite know what he’s going to do next, and it’s fun to speculate on just how intelligent he really is. Whenever he manages to do something, like communicate a complex message it’s always very exciting, “Ooh! he asked for a banana! Ooh he offended everyone! Amazing!” but there’s always a fear that he’s going to get confused and start throwing things around or pull someone’s arms out of their sockets.

Rob of course is American. He’s from Minnesota in the mid-west of the USA, and he’s a great ambassador for the USA because he basically embodies all of the values that we associate with the united states. Basically I’m saying that he’s fat and ignorant.

I invited Rob onto the podcast a few years ago. I thought it would be a good idea. I’d now like to read a selection of comments that I got in response to that episode.

The first one is a message from a regular commenter, someone who regularly commented on every episode I uploaded.

“Hello Luke, as you know we all love your podcasts because they’re authentic and full of life…”

That’s nice.

“…However…”

Ooh

“However, this American was utterly arrogant and full of himself. I’ve never heard such a smart alec person in my whole life, I feel like jumping off a bridge.”

I never heard from that person ever again. Never left a comment ever again. He disappeared. I don’t know what happened to him.

Here’s another one.

“Hello Luke. I’m afraid…”

That’s not a good start.

“Hello Luke. I’m afraid I am completely disgusted by Robert. At 42mins50seconds…”

So this person continued to listen, despite being completely disgusted.

“At 42mins50seconds, on the subject of American attitudes to other countries, he said ‘The truth of the matter is that we just do not fucking care. We do not care at all what anyone thinks, because we Americans know that we can completely dominate everyone and if someone pisses us off too much – BOOM! Smart bomb.”

I’m actually quite proud of these comments because I don’t know if you noticed but they are very well written. In fact, I have used Rob’s comments a few times in class because they are very motivating. The students can’t wait to give all kinds of angry and abusive responses to what he said. They just keep producing more and more English in response to his statements. So thanks Rob you have definitely helped to improve the motivation and productivity of my listeners.

Rob originally moved to France to train to become a clown, which wasn’t necessary, let’s be honest. He wanted to become a clown because he was so inspired by his hero Ronald McDonald.

So there we are Rob – all is forgiven. You’re back to square one again. Welcome back to the podcast.

Have you ever…?

This is a conversation generator that I use in class. I usually use it in fairly low level classes in which they’re just learning to use structures like:

  • present perfect for life experiences – “Have you ever ridden a Segway?” “Yes, I have / No, I haven’t”
  • Questions in past simple tense – “When did you ride it?” “How was it?” “Did you enjoy it?”
  • ‘would like + infinitive / wouldn’t like + infinitive’ – “Would you like to ride a Segway?” “Yes, I would / No, I wouldn’t”

Have you ever…?

  • seen a ufo
  • eaten an insect
  • flown in a helicopter
  • done a jump in a car
  • made a complete fool of yourself in public
  • killed an animal by mistake
  • had a public argument or fight
  • gone scuba diving
  • slept outside (not camping)
  • met a famous person

Tell us about them in the comment section. Have a good day, evening, morning, afternoon or night and I’ll speak to you again on the podcast soon. Bye.

Luke

Paul’s TV Show

Paul is currently having a lot of success on French TV (and on YouTube) with his series of mini TV shows in which he makes fun of French culture. The show is also produced with the help of Rob Hoehn, and Amber and I have writing credits on some episodes. Check out a couple of recent episodes below.

 

Photos

grasshopper-guacamole

Paul’s grasshopper guacamole

386. Breaking the Intermediate Plateau (Part 2)

Here’s part 2 of this episode about ways you can push your English to higher levels even if you feel that your progress is stuck or moving very slowly. Click here for part 1 of this episode wp.me/p4IuUx-6Wl

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Measure your progress – test yourself

Take a test, do an IELTS or CAE simulation. Speak to people and see how it goes. Try to understand a TV show without help. Read authentic material. Try to do exercises meant for a specific level and see how it feels. Take FCE use of english sample papers. Take the grammar test at the back of Blue Murphy. Download Duolingo and take their level test.

Use DIALANG dialangweb.lancaster.ac.uk/

DIALANG is an online diagnostic system designed to assess a person’s proficiency in 14 European languages.[1][2] Competences tested are reading, writing, listening, grammar and vocabulary, while speaking is excluded for technical reasons.[1]

DIALANG was designed primarily for European citizens to assess their language abilities in adherence to Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference – CEFR – as a basis for determining language proficiency. The CEFR is a widely recognized framework used to describe and measure the language proficiency level of a learner in a particular language.[1]

Dialang was funded by the SOCRATES programme and by some 25 institutions, largely universities, throughout the European Union.[3]

Also, ExamEnglish.com www.examenglish.com/leveltest/index.php

Practice practice practice practice practice (The 5 ‘P’s)

Practise using it! Again – a language partner on italki can help.

A note about using italki or any 1to1 lessons – make sure you know what kind of teacher you’re looking for. Be clear about what you want from lessons. If you want plenty of speaking, say so – be clear that you want a lot of language feedback. Bring topics yourself. Be imaginative and prepare questions, speaking tasks etc. If you need to do job interviews, ask to do that, and bring some materials to the lessons – e.g. job interview questions. The more involved you are the better. Know exactly what you want before you get into the lessons. In the first lesson or trial lesson, explain what it is you want to practise. This will avoid the trap of just talking aimlessly, or letting the italki teacher talk too much or make it all about them. I think a good italki teacher should do a lot of listening. Make sure you take time to show that you respect them as a teacher and that you’re glad to talk to them, but also make it quite clear what you expect from them.

Attitude

It’s how you perceive your progress. Where are your priorities? What’s making you feel like you’re not making progress? Perhaps you’re focusing on one thing too much that might not be that important. E.g. you might be frustrated that you can’t lose your accent, but in fact that doesn’t matter too much. Understand that some things will just never be perfect, and realise that you’ve made a lot of progress in other areas. Don’t get caught up on your accent – don’t let one thing hold you back. Keep pushing in other areas too.

Be positive!

Yes we can!

A lot of people just tell themselves they can’t do things.

A student of mine recently told me that she couldn’t speak English. She said “I think I can’t speak. I don’t know why but I just can’t speak English. What do you think?” I said – well, you can speak English because you’re doing it right now. What you mean is that it’s difficult.

When you experience resistance, don’t say “I can’t do this”, just say “this is difficult”. It’s all achievable with practice and the right attitude.

Goals

Give yourself little goals, not one big one. Learn English step by step. I know some students who have unrealistic goals, or at least goals that are too high. E.g. I want to become bilingual – it might be possible one day, but at the moment it’s probably best to scale it down to something more achievable, like I want to improve my accuracy, or I want to be able to speak on the telephone about my work more confidently. I want to improve my sales skills in English, for example.

Don’t create a vague goal like “I want to master English”. It’s built for failure.

Create specific goals that will allow you to define a specific set of actions to achieve it.

Goals are pointless unless you have a plan on how to achieve them.

Let’s use the CAE test as a standard. Cambridge English have put a great deal of time and effort into classifying and testing advanced English. Let’s use their test and their assessment criteria to create goals. You’ll see that there are a LOT of goals here! But the point is – they’re specific.

www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/cambridge-english-advanced-handbook-2015.pdf

I can/want to/will:

(let’s just use writing and speaking as an example or this will go on forever)

  • Writing
  • Write a structured ‘for and against essay’ in which I compare two opinions on a subject, write in the appropriate register, use the right linking phrases, develop arguments and give a persuasive point of view.
  • Write a business email with the appropriate style, including the right opening and closing parts and the appropriate phrases for making requests, agreeing, disagreeing, asking for and giving information.
  • Write a business report in which I give details of results, numerical data and recommendations for action to be taken.
  • Write a personal email in a friendly style.
  • Learn and use the appropriate phrases and style to achieve all those types of writing.
  • Speaking
  • Use a wide range of grammatical structures accurately and with the right amount of control (note that this aim focuses on being able to use the grammar not just understand it)
  • Use a wide range of vocabulary, especially on abstract areas which are unfamiliar. (again a focus on using vocab not just understanding it)
  • Produce longer pieces of structured spoken English with little hesitation, e.g. a 1 minute speech on any topic.
  • Speak clearly and intelligably (not with a perfect British accent!)
  • Use intonation and sentence stress to help me make a point
  • Interact naturally in conversation with others, including negotiating things, managing any breakdown in communication. (this is about effective communicative competence and comes from listening as much as from speaking but must be practised in the context of real communication)

You could even break those things down into more specific goals too. E.g. to be able to talk freely about finance, or to be able to write clearly about facts and figures, or simply to be able to say all the numbers and dates without hesitation.

That all might seem a bit challenging, but it has been proven time and time again that breaking down your learning into small yet achievable goals is the way to deal with the challenge.

Step by step

How do you eat an elephant – one spoon at a time. How do you climb a mountain – one step at a time. Don’t try to leap up it. Take it steadily – it’s a long journey but every step is a step in the right direction. Sometimes you take steps backwards and work out where you’ve gone wrong and then find the path again.

Repetition

Study the grammar again and again and again. Test yourself again and again. Learning a language is difficult. It takes time and effort. Accept that and just keep going day by day. In the end it will all pay off. When I first started teaching English I couldn’t understand a lot of the grammar. I had to study it for ages at the weekend before I taught it, but I learned my own grammar! It helps that I’m a native speaker, but understanding the rules was difficult for me too. Now I know it well and I think it’s because I put the time in and because there was pressure – I had to teach it. Also it’s because I studied and taught the grammar again and again. It’s the same with vocab, and with other areas like listening.

Listen to episodes of the podcast more than once, like this comment from Mayumi

MayumiM 3 minutes ago

Hi, hope you feel better than the day you recorded this episode. Your voice is kinda sexy like you mentioned and I’ll miss that when your voice is fully recovered, though.;) Anyway, you always keep encouraging us to keep listening even though we have some difficulties to understand everything and listen again. That totally worked this time for me. I’ve repeated last Ian Moore episode maybe 3 or 4 times straight. I could do this because the conversation was just fascinating. Maybe I could understand 70% at first and next time, 80% or more and at the end of this routine, I felt I could get almost everything! After that, I did with different episodes and it went well, too.

Thank you for encouraging us as always and I’m looking forward new episodes.

Enjoy it! Take stock. Enjoy the small victories. See progress as achievable.

Grammar

Spend some time learning grammar but do it selectively. Use the murphy grammar test to identify things you need to work on. Notice the grammar you’ve been studying in the real world. You’ll start to notice it everywhere.

Don’t get blocked by your grammar knowledge

I suggest studying the grammar, but sometimes you need to know when to just put the grammar rules away and use the force.

Listening and reading a lot are just as important in learning grammar as focusing on the rules. You need to have seen and heard a lot of grammar to be able to judge if something is right or wrong and to make sense of the rules. Always remember to understand and analyse the language in a meaningful context, not just abstract grammar rules. Everything comes back to the way the language is actually used, not the so-called rules on paper. Understanding this can help you study grammar more effectively.

Notice grammar in the real world. Make your own rules. Test them. Check them with the rule book. Keep going.

Writing to get through the Plateau

I should also mention that writing is a really important way to get through the intermediate plateau.

You can use it to help you find errors that you make in your language, correct them and learn to stop making them. Often these errors are simple fossilised mistakes that you know you shouldn’t make. Your own knowledge of the language plus any research you do can help you identify and correct the mistakes, making it less likely that you’ll do it again.

So you can correct yourself by doing some creative writing and then checking it carefully on your own. But also you might need someone to correct your writing or give you feedback. You might have a native speaker, a teacher, an italki teacher or a relative who can check your work, or  you can you have your writing corrected through sites like Lang-8 and LingQ.

Different skills in English are connected and mutually beneficial. There are basically 4 skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking, and they’re all connected. There are receptive skills like listening and reading, and then productive skills like speaking and writing. Listening is connected to speaking because it is the oral version of the language, and reading is complementary to writing because of the syntax, the spelling and punctuation.

Writing is also different to speaking in that you have more time to reflect on what you’re putting down. When speaking you have to be spontaneous and it’s linked to body language. Writing is a solo experience and that allows you to think more clearly about the language you’re producing.

Also, as you correct your writing, this will benefit your speaking by giving you an inner monologue which can be converted to speech. All in all, it’s a good idea to practise writing as well as speaking in order to improve your accuracy and fluency.

Enjoy it 

Enjoy the English you consume and produce. Follow your heart and focus on the aspects of language that you enjoy and that will keep you coming back. Take pleasure in the act of learning a language. Remember that it’s making you a much more rounded and multidimensional person.

Here are some motivational quotes

Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can; there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did.
‒Sarah Caldwell

Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.
‒Chinese Proverb

To have another language is to possess a second soul.
‒Charlemagne

❝The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.❝ Ludwig Wittgenstein

Rapping with Fluency MC

253. Rapping with Fluency MC!

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