Tag Archives: podcasts

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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Let me know your thoughts and experiences of learning English through listening. Leave a comment below.

489. A Rambling Conversation with Mum (Part 2) + Vocabulary

Here’s part 2 of this conversation with my Mum in which you can hear us wittering on about the bookshop where Mum works, some of the books she’s read recently, and some of her podcast and film recommendations. Vocabulary is explained at the end, and there’s a vocabulary list with definitions available below.

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Vocabulary List

  • we’re proud of our shop, we take a great pride in it (or ‘take pride in it‘)
    • to be proud of something / to take pride in something. ‘To take a pride in something’ is less common.
  • Alan Bennett and Geoff Boycott impressions (quite bad ones)
  • Talking about Beyond The Fringe – a comedy group from Cambridge and Oxford Universities
  • second-hand books / used book
  • We get a lot of cook books books with recipes in them
  • A lot of celebrity biographies and autobiographies
    • a biography = the story of someone’s life, written by someone else
    • an autobiography = the story of someone’s life, written by that person
  • A lot of the books I’ve been reading are quite obscure
    • obscure = known only by a few people
  • The Citadel by A J Cronin
  • A lot of problems were caused by infrastructure, like the sewers
    • infrastructure = the basic facilities such as transportcommunications, power supplies, and buildings, which enable a town, city or country to function. (Collins Dictionary)
    • sewers = the underground tunnels that carry all the toilet waste (i.e. the piss and shit) away
  • Lots of enteric diseases
    • enteric diseases = diseases caused by unclean water
  • Entirely preventable diseases, but not easily treated
    • to prevent a disease = to ensure that a disease never infects people
    • to treat someone / to treat a disease = to give treatment to people who are suffering from a disease
    • to cure someone = to make a disease disappear completely, through treatment
  • They find the sewer and they blow it up so the authorities have to replace it
    • to blow something up = make something explode
  • How did they blow it up? With a bomb? With some sticks of dynamite.
    • a bomb = an explosive device
    • sticks of dynamite =  things that look a bit like candles but they explode because they’re made of nitroglycerine (not wax) and have a fuse (not a wick)
  • It starts out with this man who starts out being incredibly idealistic and wanting to improve things and he gradually gets worn down by the system and ends up becoming one of these quacks who gets himself popular with people who have lots of money and treats them for things they haven’t really got, before he’s finally brought up short

    • to start out = to start from the very beginning
    • to be idealistic = to base your behaviour on certain ‘ideals’ or ‘principles’ even if it’s impractical or unrealistic. It’s a bit similar to ‘naive’.
    • to get worn down by something = to become weaker because of difficult experiences over time
    • a quack = a fake doctor
    • to bring someone up short = to suddenly stop someone doing something, often with a surprise
    • to be brought up short (passive version) = to suddenly be stopped (by something) in what you are doing, often with a surprise
  • It’s quite moving = makes you feel a strong emotion
  • There’s this character arc of this guy who starts out innocent and gets seduced by the money
    • a character arc = a narrative or storyline for a particular character which changes from the start to the finish
  • There’s lots of parallels (with today)
    • parallels = similarities
    • there’s a lot of parallels / there’re a lot of parallels
  • It espouses socialist ideas
    • to espouse something = to support it (usually a way of life)
  • Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
  • This one is very short. It’s a novella.
    • a novella = a short novel
  • It’s a tiny book but it contains a heck of a lot
    • a heck of a lot (of something) = a lot (but emphasised with ‘a heck of’ – also ‘a hell of a lot’)
  • It’s about class, it’s about post-traumatic stress after the First World War, it’s about families losing sons
    • PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder = emotional distress or shock which continues in your life after experiencing extreme danger or stress. It’s common in soldiers who have experienced the shock of combat in war.
  • If English is your second language it can be a bit of a slog sometimes to keep going (reading)
    • a slog = a long, difficult and tiring experience
  • The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemmingway is a short book
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (film) – it’s not really about spying (says Mark Kermode)
  • The Adam Buxton Podcast (especially episodes with Louis Theroux)
  • People say he (Louis Theroux) is faux naive. He comes across as innocent so he has to ask questions to find out what’s going on.
    • to be faux naive = ‘fake’ naive – pretending to be naive
    • to come across as something = to give an impression of something – e.g. he comes across as a really nice guy (he gives the impression of being a nice guy). Tom Cruise comes across as being a really friendly, fun and hardworking person. I wonder if he is like that in real life. I expect he is hardworking, but I wonder if he really is that friendly and fun all the time.
  • He looks a bit dorky, goofy, geeky.
    • All these are words to describe someone who is not cool. They’re very similar yet slightly different in meaning.
    • dorky = unfashionable, awkward, not socially relaxed and laid back, a bit uptight and uncool.
    • goofy = just a bit ridiculous, but also in appearance – perhaps with teeth that are sticking out or big glasses, big ears – ridiculous looking features. Think of Goofy from the Disney animations.
    • geeky = interested (maybe obsessed) by things like computers, comics, science fiction rather than people. (Louis Theroux definitely isn’t a geek, but he comes across as geeky)
  • He’s quite tall. He’s a bit gangly. His arms and legs are very long.
    • gangly = a description of physical appearance – tall and thin with an awkward appearance and a clumsy manner
  • He’s got this awkward Britishness.
    • Awkward is a word that comes up a lot in my conversations. I often say that British people seem awkward, that I felt awkward in a situation, or that a particular situation was awkward. Louis Theroux can be described as having awkward Britishness.
    • Awkward = uncomfortable, not completely relaxed and loose, a bit embarrassing, a bit shy
  • Do you fancy him?
    • to fancy someone = to find someone physically attractive, in a sexual way (but this is the sort of word that teenagers use)
  • He’d spend time with all sorts of weird fringe groups
    • fringe = edge
    • fringe groups = groups that exist on the edge of society, e.g. cults, religious sects, conspiracy theorists, extremists etc
  • His naive awkward English friendliness is very disarming and as a result people open up to him
    • to be disarming (adj) = to make people less hostile or aggressive, perhaps by being charming.
    • to open up (to someone) = to become more open and revealing with people, e.g. to start talking about personal things
  • The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andrew Miller
  • He’d lost the knack of being able to read for pleasure
    • the knack of doing something = a particular and skillful way of doing something. E.g. There is a certain knack to closing the bedroom door silently in my flat. You have to pull the handle down, pull the door in slowly, let the handle go back and then pull the end of the handle until you hear a little ‘click’. There’s a knack to doing it. In this case, my dad has lost the knack of being able to read for pleasure. ‘to lose the knack of doing something’ is a common way to say that you have lost the specific ability to do a certain thing.
  • Steve Earle – I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive (book)
  • (It’s about) a doctor in the 1960s who was a junkie
    • a junkie = a drug addict (especially heroin)
  • It was a redemptive tale, a story of redemption
    • to redeem yourself = to change from a life of sin/evil/immorality to a life of good
    • redemption = the process of being redeemed
    • a redemptive tale = a tale of redemption
  • Trainspotting 2 (actually called T2: Trainspotting)
  • They’re all addicted to heroin, and it’s really grim.
    • grim (adj) = unpleasant and depressing
  • It’s directed by… whatsisname, whatdoyoucallim, whojumaflip… Danny Boyle!
    • these are all words for when you can’t remember someone’s name
  • His style – it’s very in-your-face, intense, visceral
    • in-your-face = bold, direct, aggressive, assertive, intense
    • visceral = relating to strong feelings, emotions
  • I was streaming with tears by the end of it
    • streaming with tears = tears were running (streaming) down her face
  • Book: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (written in a dialect)
  • When there’s no more time:
  • The time is getting on and we really ought to draw it to a close
  • We’ve run out of time

Those author, comedy, book, film and podcast recommendations again

237. OPP: Other People’s Podcasts (Part 2)

Part 2 of my top 10 list of podcasts that I listen to regularly and which I would like to share with you. [Download]

Small Donate ButtonThis episode is not about podcasts for learners of English. It’s also not about podcasts made by LEPsters. It’s just some podcasts that I love to listen to and that I’d like to share with you.

They aren’t for learners of English specifically. This could mean they’re hard to understand for you. However – it could be really good for you to at least try listening to one of these podcasts and see if they click with you. It could be really good for your English, especially if there’s one that really grabs your attention.
Click here for part 1 of this episode.
5. The Bugle (UK)tumblr_static_bugle_logo
This is a satirical news-based comedy podcast. The show is presented by stand-up comedians Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver. Andy is based in London and is one of the country’s top satirical comedians. He specialises in puns, which are word jokes. Often he goes off on a whole series of puns based on a certain topic. John Oliver is based in The USA (you might have seen him on The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight). With Andy in London and John in NYC they tend to focus on the big political news events of the moment and they generally take the view that many of those world events are ridiculous, especially the hypocrisy of politicians and the questionable actions of world leaders. They also take a pop at smaller events in the news. Mainly they use politics and news as a starting point for comedy. Andy has quite a surreal take on issues and John Oliver has a slightly hysterical approach as an Englishman living in one of the craziest countries in the world, USA. I find their podcast hilarious and it regularly has me laughing out loud on the Paris metro, and then embarrassingly realising that other people are looking at me like a weirdo.
Listen to: Scottish Referendum.

cover170x1704. The Smartest Man in the World (USA)
Greg Proops is amazing. He’s a stand-up comedian (of course he is!) with an incredible talent for improvisation. In the 90s he became famous for being on a show called “Whose Line is it Anyway?” which was a fantastic improv comedy show. These descriptions don’t really do him justice though, because you might just think, oh another stand-up comedian, great. Well, Greg Proops is also a voraciously intelligent commentator. He’s a scathing satirist. A left-leaning libertarian (if such a thing is possible) with little patience with the agenda of most of our world leaders or heads of corporations. He’s incredibly well-read, has fantastic taste in music, and uses a wickedly articulate and broad range of vocabulary. In fact, he wields words rather like a beat poet, and his podcast is an intoxicating mix of improvised comedy, biting satire, beat poetry, ranting and raving about the state of the world, movie-related banter, anecdotes, drug stories and so many other things. His podcasts are almost always recorded live, in various places around the world. I recently saw him recording a podcast in Paris and it was just amazing to see him there in person, recording an episode of the podcast, responding to questions from the audience, dissecting current events in the newspapers, ranting about the NSA and generally being the awesome and immaculately dressed dude that he is. Greg for me, as well as being a top-class entertainer, is also a raconteur and by that I mean that he is a person who tells anecdotes in such a funny and articulate way that he’s raised it to the level of performance art. He manages to evoke the spirit of America’s greatest writers, actors and poets from some golden age of Hollwood in the 1930s, 40s or 50s. His podcast is one which you should listen to at night, with a glass of something to drink and maybe a pipe a jazz cigarette or something. Typically Greg drinks vodka during recordings of his podcast and yet his mind always stays clear and incisive. Greg Proops is a classy dude and he is definitely worth listening to. However, you might find him hard to follow because he does speak very fast, with quite a strong Californian accent, and he makes lots of specific cultural references you might not be familiar with, and he is also very verbose – he uses lots of big words. If that’s your sort of thing, you should definitely check out his podcast.
Listen to: The beginning of an episode – Reds
America is England’s Fault (talking to an audience in Australia)

51o5s-S7gVL3. The Ricky Gervais Podcast (UK)
This was the first really big podcast – when it was regularly being uploaded it was the most downloaded podcast in the world at one point. It came out probably about 10 years ago and it is still available but you now have to purchase the archives on iTunes or maybe on Audiable.com for just a couple of pounds per season. It’s not a lot and it’s worth it. I used to listen to this back in my kitchen in Ealing, West London while I was doing my cooking and it used to make me laugh out loud every time. The Ricky Gervais Show is not really recorded any more but it is still a classic podcast. The set-up is simple really. It’s Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington. Ricky and Steve are well known comedians and writers. They won awards for their show “The Office” and they’re generally considered to be top-level comic talent. Karl Pilkington is just a bloke. He’s a really ordinary, average working class bloke from Manchester. He’s not very well educated. He’s not a sophisticated guy, but he is perhaps one of the funniest people I’ve ever heard – but he’s not really trying to be funny. He seems to just be quite serious most of the time, and yet the things he says are brilliantly straight-forward and simple minded while also being incredibly funny. It’s like seeing into the mind of an idiot, but it’s more than that because Karl often has such a simple view on things that he’s quite hard to argue with. His common sense might be ill informed, but it’s got an undeniable sense of simple logic about it. Often he’s completely wrong about things, but you can understand why he has those views. He’s also slightly obsessed by certain topics, like stories of monkeys acting like humans, or insects which he’s discovered in his daily life, or stories of tribes in remote parts of the world. Generally what happens is that Ricky and Steve start talking about something and then they ask Karl what he thinks. Then Karl gives his view and it provokes hysterical responses from Ricky and Steve, who berate him for being an idiot while arguing with his stupid ideas. It sounds a little cruel at times, as if Ricky and Steve are bullying Karl – but really this is just the way male friends in England talk to each other. We often take the piss out of each other and argue, but really we’re close friends. You can see that the relationship between these three is actually very close and that Ricky and Steve really love Karl but they’re also amazed by his thought processes. Karl used to be a technician or producer on Ricky’s radio show but because of the podcast he’s become a successful travel writer and TV presenter in his own right now.
Listen to: The first episode of the Ricky Gervais Show.

WTF_with_Marc_Maron2. WTF with Marc Maron (USA)
Surprise Surprise, Marc Maron is a stand-up comedian! His podcast, called WTF is one of the biggest podcasts on the internet. Basically, the show is hosted by Marc in his own garage. Marc is a sort of washed up comedian with all kinds of personal issues, neuroses, addictions and psychological hang-ups. he originally started his podcast about 6 years ago when his career was on the rocks. At that time his marriage had ended in divorce, he was recovering from drug and alcohol addictions, and his anti-social behaviour and neurotic attitude had caused his career to nosedive into the ground. His friends (including Louis CK) were finally achieving the success they’d been working for, but Marc was broke, paranoid and on his own. Then he started the podcast with the aim of trying to work out what the fuck was wrong with him, and what the fuck was going on. He’s remarkably open, sincere and frank on the podcast, talking in great detail about his personal feelings and problems. Sometimes it feels like he’s complaining and moaning in a very self indulgent way, but I have to admit that it’s one of the most engaging podcasts I listen to. It’s really raw, real and gripping and I find that I learn all kinds of things about the human condition from listening to it. No other interview show or podcast goes so deep into feelings, motivations and choices. In each episode he talks about his life for about 15 minutes, including difficult choices, damaged relationships or just anecdotes about social situations he’s found himself in. Then he invites a guest on the show, usually a comedian, actor or musician, and talks to them about their whole career, dealing with their whole life story really. The thing is, Marc is an excellent interviewer and he has a particular talent for engaging with his guests in a very honest and open way. His interviews are really revealing, and he gets under the skin of his guests brilliantly. Sometimes he’s so close to the bone that the interviews are quite uncomfortable and awkward, even confrontational, as Marc attempts to challenge his guests to explain themselves and answer their critics and so on. The result is a really fascinating listening experience, which can be amusing, revealing and touching. It’s also particularly inspiring for me because Marc has rebuilt his career on the back of the success of his podcast. In fact, the podcast has completely revived him as a stand-up and now he has his own TV show, he has successful books published and he regularly sells out theatres for his one man comedy performances. It just proves to me that podcasts are a really valuable and valid form of media communication – just as valid as traditional forms like radio or television.
Listen to: Episode 500 – from 1:16

Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo1. Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo’s Film Review (UK)
This is my favourite podcast and the one which I have been listening to for the longest time. I first started downloading this podcast back in 2006 but I’ve been listening to Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo talk about films on BBC radio for many years. Mark used to be the film reviewer on radio 1 in the 1990s and Simon has been on the radio for even longer than that.
There are several great things about this podcast. One of them is the interplay between Simon and Mark. Mark Kermode is a very well-respected and highly qualified film critic. He’s an academic, he’s written books and made documentaries about films and he really knows what he’s talking about. He can be a bit pretentious and annoying, but really we love him because he has strong beliefs, and a genuine passion for films. In fact, his principles (which are sort of left-wing really) are what guide his approach to movie reviews. He tends to passionately rant about the films he loves and hates, speaking very quickly, using all kinds of imagery, stubbornly arguing against big-budget brainless Hollywood films like Transformers or Sex In The City. He often gets very angry and worked up about films he’s reviewing – going on and on in a very amusing way about exactly what is so awful about a certain film he’s seen. Simon on the other hand is the calm voice of the ordinary man. He is a reasonable guy who doesn’t get so hysterical about films and this provides a really great counterpoint to Mark’s obsessional approach to his film reviews. Mark gets angry, Simon stays calm. Mark passionately hates a film, Simon then says that he quite enjoyed it, and Mark nearly explodes! They argue, they bicker, and they regularly witter on about nothing in particular. In fact, this is is a podcast about films, but it’s not really about films, it’s about everything really, but the subject of movies is what holds the show together. Mark and Simon complement each other perfectly. They have slightly differing world-views, but they also have a lot of things in common – their age, the fact that they have families and so on. Although they argue and pick on each other, they clearly have a lot of affection for each other. Ultimately, this is a heart warming listening experience which also teaches you lots of things about movies. Highlights for me are the running jokes, the emails from listeners, and Mark’s epic rants about films that he hates. The podcast is available on the BBC and is uploaded every week. I highly recommend it – but it’s just my own personal choice. It’s one of the most popular podcasts in the UK. It’s recorded while they do their radio show, then edited and uploaded immediately after the show is broadcast on BBC 5 Live.
Listen to: One of Mark’s epic rants. (Pirates of the Caribbean)

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236. OPP: Other People’s Podcasts (Part 1)

This episode is about other people’s podcasts that I love listening to and that I’d like to share with you. [Download]

Small Donate ButtonThis episode is not about podcasts for learners of English. It’s also not about podcasts made by LEPPERS. It’s just some podcasts that I love to listen to and that I’d like to share. They aren’t for learners of English specifically. This could mean they’re hard to understand for you. However – it could be really good for you to at least try listening to one of these podcasts and see if they click with you. It could be really good for your English, especially if there’s one that really grabs your attention.

I listen to podcasts on my phone, or on my mp3 player when I’m out and about or when I’m doing something. How about you?

LEPPER Podcasts
Zdenek’s English Podcast
Guillaume’s English Podcast (www.talk2learn.ch)
Chris’s English Podcast
Learning with Myself
There’s also a Skype group which you can find out about in the forum. Click here for the LEP Skype thread in the forum.

My Favourite Podcasts
jcwn10. Wireless Nights with Jarvis Cocker (UK)
I just started listening to this so I don’t have much to say except:
– I discovered it on the BBC podcasts website (www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts) by just browsing and clicking.
– Jarvis Cocker is great. He used to the lead singer in a band called “Pulp” who were one of the biggest bands in the UK during the 90s (and after). They were one of the top bands in the musical movement known as Britpop, along with groups like Oasis and Blur. Jarvis is a really cool guy. He’s intelligent, ironic, humorous and has really wide-ranging interests. He’s pretty much interested in everything. Also, he’s my neighbour! I recently discovered that he lives just two doors away from me here in Paris and in fact I see him in the street sometimes.
– The podcast is called “Wireless Nights with Jarvis Cocker” and it covers all kinds of different topics. They’re all like mini-documentaries in which he deals with different subjects each time, all with the aim of “taking listeners on a nocturnal journey around stories of night people.” So, it has this cool, late-night atmosphere in which you go on a little journey into a fascinating new world. Recent episodes have covered subjects like The Moon (including tales of people who have somehow been touched by the various manifestations of the moon, including astronauts who actually walked upon its surface) and this one from last week: “In front of a studio audience, Jarvis Cocker and the BBC Philharmonic weave tales of insomnia, nocturnal inspirations and dark imaginings from the world of classical music – against the backdrop of a President embroiled in the Vietnam War.”
– It won the Prix Italia for Extraordinary Originality and Innovation, a top European radio prize. Originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4.
– Let’s listen to a bit from his most recent episode. Play the intro to the Moon episode.

adamandjoe9. Adam & Joe (UK)
This was my absolute favourite podcast for a few years, and it’s probably the podcast that inspired me more than any other. I’ve talked about Adam & Joe on the podcast before (in an episode about anecdotes). Unfortunately they’re not doing the podcast any more, which is a great pity, but they’re all still available in iTunes – not all of them, but what is available is a kind of ‘best of’ selection. By the way – avoid the Adam&Edith episodes – they’re crap, but all the Adam&Joe episodes are great.
– They’re comedians, radio & TV presenters, Joe is a film director.
– Personally I like the podcast because I feel that I’m totally on the same wavelength as them. Their humour is both stupid and clever at the same time. They observe a lot of funny details about life in the UK and typical experiences that everyone shares, like going to the cinema, how it feels to come back from holiday or going to the doctor. The podcast is full of amusing little jingles and ironic jokes. Adam & Joe have been friends since childhood and that really comes through on the podcast. They’re quite childish but really sweet, funny and charming.
– Play a clip called “Bikes on a train / Posh bloke”

041811browimage8. John Lennon – The Rolling Stone Interviews (UK)
As well as being a great musician, John Lennon was also a fascinating speaker. I find all of The Beatles to be really interesting and funny, but John is the one who catches my attention more than the others. Paul is great, but I often get the sense that he’s being careful about his public image and putting on a slightly contrived ‘upbeat’ persona in interviews. George was very funny, dry and honest – in a similar way to John, but sometimes he could be a little bit evasive as well, and his spiritual beliefs could dominate his interviews. Ringo is great but doesn’t really have that much to say. John is perhaps the most open and honest of The Beatles – in a way that draws you into his heart and mind, revealing his vulnerability, his anger, his intelligence and his humour too. He had an extraordinary life, from childhood all the way through to his untimely death. This set of podcasts is an audio interview he did for Rolling Stone magazine in 1971, and it catches him at quite a vulnerable period in his life. At that time he was still dealing with the breakup of the Beatles, attempting to find a place for himself in the world, breaking down the Beatles myth and setting himself up as an individual in his own right, with Yoko Ono by his side. He’s outspoken, sincere, angry, defensive, aggressive, humorous, and passionate in these conversations. If you’re a Beatles fan, this is essential listening because it gives you real insight into the innermost thoughts and feelings of John Lennon, but if you’re not a Beatles fan I think you’d still find this fascinating because it is such an open, honest and frank interview with one of the most extraordinary people of the last century. The audio quality is a bit sketchy because this is taken from the original tape recording of the interview. The interviewer is not really audible – his questions are very quiet, but John’s answers are easy to hear.
Listen to:

startalk-radio-show-by-neil7. Startalk Radio (USA)
Neil De Grasse Tyson is an astrophysicist with a talent for speaking in a very accessible, engaging and entertaining way about science. His podcast deals with all kinds of different subjects from a scientific point of view. For example, he did one all about zombies, one explaining scientific errors in films and others about robots, aliens, hip hop and sex. He brings intelligent guests onto his show, and is almost always joined by a comedian called Eugene Merman who provides some light comic relief. Ultimately, Tyson inspires your thirst for knowledge and wonder and also provides us with a sense that science can be a kind of spiritual pursuit, or certainly a very meaningful and emotional thing, not just a cold and soulless subject. He’s also very funny!
– Listen to the clip “The most astounding fact about the universe”
– Listen to another clip in which he deals with a question about UFOs

did6. Desert Island Discs (UK)
This is an absolute institution on BBC Radio. This programme has been broadcast on the BBC for over 70 years, with a format that has basically remained unchanged for that whole period. As a child the radio was often playing in the kitchen at home and often this is the programme that would be on. It’s now part of the landscape of not only my childhood, but so many other children too. For me it is on the same level as The Beatles, Doctor Who, BBC News and all these other cultural landmarks of my life and childhood over the years.
It’s basically just an interview programme with a twist. The twist is that we, the interviewer and the guest all imagine that the guest is going to be sent to live on a desert island for the rest of their life. The guest (or ‘castaway’) is allowed to take a few things with them – namely, 8 pieces of music, a book and a luxury item. In the interview they talk about their life, explain their musical choices (usually these relate to specific moments or feelings from their life) and explain their choice of luxury item. The format is a success because it creates an intimate atmosphere in which the interviewee is encouraged to share deeply personal reflections on their life so far, and we get to listen to some of their favourite music too. It’s absolutely delightful and a great way to get under the skin of each guest, and there have been some really great guests on the show.
The interviewer has changed a few times. It used to be a woman called Sue Lawley, who spoke with a crisp RP accent. Now it is presented by Kirsty Young who comes from East Kilbride in Scotland. Kirsty’s accent is absolutely delicious – I mean, it’s very lovely to listen to (and it helps to know that she’s a very attractive and intelligent woman). She very deftly and carefully manages to ask some very revealing questions and guests are usually more than glad to take part and share themselves with the audience. The combination of Kirsty’s lovely accent, her intelligent questioning, the candid intimacy of the guests and the little bits of music we can hear make for a really rewarding listening experience. It’s a BBC podcast so the sound quality is excellent.
You can either subscribe to the current podcast with all the latest DID episodes, or search through the DID archives. I’d recommend that you search through the archives and find names of people you know, like Sir Michael Caine, Ricky Gervais, Steve Coogan, Morrissey or Emma Thompson.
Listen to: Morrissey
Search for Desert Island Discs in YouTube.

Click here for part 2.
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