Tag Archives: short story

724. The Mountain (Short Story) + Video

Reading an emotional short story, with vocabulary explanations and differences between British and American English.

Audio Version

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Video Version

via Commaful

Read the story on Commaful here commaful.com/play/aknier/the-mountain/

Introduction Transcript

Hello listeners, welcome back to my podcast. I hope you’re doing well and that you’re ready to learn some more English with me in this new episode.

This one is called The Mountain and I’m going to read you a short story and then use it to teach you some English.

There is a video version of this available on YouTube with the text on the screen, so you can read and listen at the same time and you can see my face while I’m recording this, if that’s what you’d like to see. You can find that video on the page for this episode on my website or on my YouTube channel – Luke’s English Podcast on YouTube, don’t forget to like and subscribe of course.

Stories are great for learning English, and I’m always searching for various stories that I could read out on the podcast. I’ve found a few stories and texts, both online and in books that I have on my bookshelves, so you can expect more story episodes like this coming in the future as I read things in different styles, from different texts, including some well-known published work and some independently published stuff and fan fiction that is available online. 

Stories make ideal material for language learning. They are compelling and often the text of the story is also available which makes it extra useful for language learning because it works as a transcript for what you are listening to.

Today I googled “Free short stories online” and I ended up on a website called commaful.com 

This website is described as the largest library of multimedia stories online. Commaful.com 

On Commaful you can read and share stories written by users of the site, fan fiction, poetry and comics, and they have a picturebook format, which means that their stories are presented in a slightly different way, which makes them a bit more pleasant to read online or on mobile devices – more pleasant than just reading text on a screen, which is never a pleasant way to read literature. So rather than just presenting their texts on screen, they put each line of the story on top of an image of some kind (like a picture of a lake or a landscape or something) and you can swipe from one image to the next, reading each line of the story as you go, which is quite nice.

When reading these stories out loud the format encourages you to pause as you read each line, which is quite a good habit. Pausing is a good presentation skill.

It can be a good discipline to practise because pausing can add some space for the audience to think and can change the atmosphere slightly, adding extra weight to each line that you say. So pausing and taking your time can be good presentation skills to practise.

First I’m just going to read the story to you. You can just follow along and try to understand what’s going on.

Then I’ll read it again and I will stop to explain some bits of English that come up, and there are various nice bits of English in here – phrasal verbs, expressions and other nice bits of vocabulary mainly.

The story is written in American English, which is mostly the same as British English really, but I will point out any differences and will give you the UK English equivalents, so this can be a chance to learn some British and American English equivalents.

I’ll do a vocabulary and language summary at the end too.

As I said, there will be some pauses between the lines of the story, because of the way the story is presented to me on the website. I don’t normally pause like this when doing this podcast, but it could be useful because it might help you absorb what I’m saying and you can use those pauses to repeat after me if you like. This will be easier if you can read the lines with me, and again you can do that by watching the youtube video, or visiting the story on commaful.com

Or you can try repeating without seeing the lines if you want an extra challenge.

And of course you can simply enjoy listening to the story without worrying about repeating or anything like that. 

The story is about 10 minutes long, just to let you know what to expect.

The rest of this episode is me explaining and describing the language in the story.

By the way, this story was posted on commaful.com by a user called Aknier and I am assuming that Aknier is the author of this, so credit goes to him or her for writing it.

Follow the link in the description to access the story and you can leave comments there if you like.

I hope you enjoy it!

But now let’s begin the story…

Ending Transcript

OK so that is where the video ends, but I’m adding a bit more here to the audio version in order to do a quick language summary of the bits of vocabulary that came up in that. 

How was that for you? Did you enjoy the story? As I said, there weren’t many narrative elements. It was more an emotional story, but quite an interesting one.

Again, I do recommend that you try reading the story out loud, either by repeating after me or not.

Now let me recap some of the vocabulary items and British and American English differences that you heard there, just to sum up and help you remember what you’ve just heard. I’ll be as brief as I can while jogging your memory here.

You can find this vocabulary list on the page for this episode on my website of course.

Vocabulary List

  • I hardly cried (I didn’t cry a lot)
  • To work hard / to hardly work
  • To fuss / to make a fuss (Fuss = anxious or excited behaviour which serves no useful purpose. “What’s all the fuss about?” “Everyone’s talking about this Meghan & Harry interview. What’s all the fuss about?” “Why don’t you complain?” “Well, I don’t want to make a fuss”)
  • To make a scene = do something which attracts a lot of attention, like angrily shouting at staff in an airport terminal or hotel lobby
  • Siblings (brothers and sisters)
  • To bet that something will/would happen (to be sure it will/would happen) “I bet that England get knocked out of the World Cup on penalties” or “I bet it rains this afternoon”.
  • To shrug your shoulders
  • To grit your teeth = (literally) clench your jaw so your teeth are held tightly together (idiom) to decide to do something even though you don’t want to “I had to tell my dad that I’d crashed his car, so I just gritted my teeth and told him”)
  • A cast / a plaster cast 
  • To be able to afford something  “We couldn’t afford it” “We can’t afford it” (use ‘be able to’ after modal verbs when you can’t use ‘can’ – “We won’t be able to afford it”)
  • A cripple (offensive word)
  • To get picked on
  • To get teased
  • To make fun of someone
  • To get bullied
  • To get catcalled
  • To flash a smile
  • A blinding smile
  • To take that as a yes
  • To get upset
  • To get fired
  • To skip lunch
  • A scholarship
  • To be stunned
  • To soften your voice
  • To talk back
  • To sneak into the kitchen
  • To sneak money back into your wallet
  • Fight – fought – fought
  • Buy – bought – bought
  • To cheat on someone
  • To freak someone out
  • To make it up to someone
  • To raise your voice
  • To shout
  • To scream
  • To cave (in)
  • Emotional outbursts
  • To melt
  • To punch someone in the jaw
  • To stare blankly
  • Stand up for yourself
  • A mess
  • Serene
  • Tranquil
  • Deadly / the deadliest

American English / British English

  • Fifth grade – Fifth year
  • Pants – trousers
  • Mad – angry
  • To figure something out – to work something out
  • To yell – to shout
  • A jerk  – an idiot
  • To take out the trash – to take the rubbish out
  • Chores – housework
  • To punch someone in the jaw – to punch someone in the face

710. The Umbrella Man by Roald Dahl (Short Story)

In this episode I read out a short story written by Roald Dahl and then comment on the style, language and plot. Enjoy some storytelling and learn some English in the process. Video version available.

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Video Version

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Transcript & Notes

Hello listeners, how are you today?

In this episode I’m going to read a short story to you, which I hope will be an entertaining and pleasant way to learn English with my podcast. I’ll also give some comments on the story afterwards and I will highlight a few bits of vocabulary at the end, but the main thing is that I’d just like to let you listen to a good-quality and entertaining short story in English.

I am currently videoing myself while recording this episode and the video will be available on my YouTube channel and on my website, and I’m sharing my screen in the video so you can read my notes and the text for this story with me, if you like – sort of like an on-screen transcript. The notes and stuff will also be available on the page for this episode on my website. Check the show notes for the link for that.

The story I’m going to read today is called The Umbrella Man by Roald Dahl.
I think it was originally published in 1980 in his book “More Tales of the Unexpected”.

Do you know Roald Dahl? I have read a Roald Dahl story on this podcast before – that was The Hitchhiker in episode 545. It was a popular one, so let’s do it again.

Roald Dahl is one of the UK’s favourite authors, and of course he’s popular around the world too. You might already be aware of him and his work. He was born in 1916 and died in 1990 and most of his writing was done in the 70s and 80s. His most famous stories were written for children (Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, James & The Giant Peach, the BFG, Matilda and plenty of others) and my childhood was full of Roald Dahl stories (maybe yours too), but he also wrote a lot of short stories for adults or young adults, particularly earlier in his career. This is one of those stories.

Get some of Roald Dahl’s books!

I’d like to suggest that you purchase some of his work – his books.

I’ve got two books of his short stories for adults. The books are called “Roald Dahl: The Complete Short Stories Vol.1 & 2” and I highly recommend them. They are available from all the usual bookshops. “Roald Dahl: The Complete Short Stories Vol.1 & 2” The Umbrella Man appears in “The Complete Short Stories Vol.2”

Notes on Language & Style
The story was published over 30 years ago now, and was probably written earlier than that. I’m not sure when the story is set, but it feels a bit old fashioned. For the most part the English is the sort of modern, neutral English that you would come across today and so almost all of it is appropriate for you to learn and use, but some of the dialogue is a bit dated. I’ll point out some of that old fashioned language later.

By today’s standards the characters sound quite posh and upper-class (and I’ll try to reflect this in the way I read it out).

I’ll give more comments at the end.

I’m going to start in just a moment.

How to use this episode

1. Just listen, follow what I’m saying, enjoy the story and don’t feel pressured to do anything else.


2. If you want to take it further and push your learning more, then you could get a copy of the story, and use it as a learning resource.

If you want the text of the story you could buy “The Complete Short Stories Vol.2” and read it there.

Alternatively, I found a PDF copy of the book which has been posted by someone online, so you could click the link to the PDF and read that (link in the show notes and on the episode page)

Click here for the PDF of the story

You could read it while you listen to me so you can connect the written word to the spoken word, or you could read it again later and take more time over it.

For pronunciation, you could shadow the story with me – read aloud at the same time as you listen, perhaps with the text in front of you.

You could record yourself reading the story, and then listen back and compare it to my recording, perhaps focusing on different aspects of pronunciation.

For vocabulary, you could find any words or phrases that you don’t know and check them using an online dictionary like www.collinsdictionary.com (Oxford, Cambridge, Longman and Macmillan dictionaries are also available and I often use them as a teacher too)

Or, as I said, just relax and listen to the story without worrying about doing anything else.

Let’s get started! I will summarise this at the end in plain English so you can be sure you understood the main events.


Luke reads the story


I hope you enjoyed that!

A summary of the story

Here’s a summary from www.roaldfahlfans.com It neatly summarises the story in plain English in a couple of paragraphs. This should help you to make sure you got the main plot. As I said if you have specific bits of vocabulary that you’d like to check, you can do that on your own using one of those dictionaries. We might go through a few little details in a minute. First let me read out this summary.

www.roalddahlfans.com/dahls-work/short-stories/the-umbrella-man/

I like this because it’s enjoyable to listen to the way the man persuades even this very suspicious woman to give him some money. I don’t think tricking people for money is good or anything like that, but I do find it interesting when people have fairly complex but effective techniques for fooling people.

It’s also interesting how the woman’s attitudes about class and social status make her quite susceptible to this man’s trick, and I’m sure she wouldn’t be the only one. She judges people by their appearances and seems a bit snobbish, and he uses that to his advantage. He gives the impression of being a gentleman, and this is what allows him to take advantage of the woman.

We all have natural prejudices, which can affect the way we judge people. It seems this old man uses people’s prejudices as part of his trick.

Here are some comments about the way the characters are described and the English used.

One of the strengths of this story is the way the characters are given depth. The story is told in a relatively simple manner with short sentences and not a lot of extraneous detail but the small details that are given make the characters 3-dimensional.

This is done by showing us little contradictions in the things they say or do or at least hinting at some little conflicts that they seem to have inside them, some positive and negative traits, particularly the mother.

The mother is strict, but she’s willing to give her daughter a banana split after her dental appointment. I guess she is kind and loving and wants to treat her daughter to something nice after the frightening ordeal of going to the dentist, but is it a good idea to treat your child to such a sugary dessert after the dentist has filled a hole in her tooth? I guess we all have to balance being strict, giving treats and managing the dental health of our children. But it’s interesting that we wonder slightly about what kind of mother she is. Maybe I’m reading too much into it here, but what did you think? What do you think is going on between the mother and the daughter? Does she seem to be a good mother? I suppose that’s a subjective thing. But I’d be interested to know what you think.

She’s a bit stuck up and snobbish. She looks down her nose at the man when she believes he is begging for money, but then she can’t hide her admiration for him when she believes he is perhaps a titled-gentleman, maybe someone who comes from the upper-classes in society.

Her attitudes about people and their status are clearly revealed by her reactions to the man at different moments. This is a good example of the principle of “show, don’t tell” which I think is a good method for telling stories. “Show, don’t tell” basically means that it’s always better to show the reader how to feel rather than telling them how to feel.

Roald Dahl could have told us directly that the mother was a bit snobbish, by saying something like “My mother was always a bit snobbish and looked down on people lower than her and yet admired the upper classes highly” but it’s more effective for him to show us her attitudes by describing her reactions to the man at different moments in the story. This allows us to work out for ourselves that the mother is a bit of a snob, or maybe she’s just trying hard to get the best life for her and her family.

She dreams of living a more wealthy and privileged life, having a car and a chauffeur. This shows us something about her position in society and that she’s probably middle class or upper-middle class and dreams of having more comfort and convenience in her life, like upper-class people have.

She’s very untrustworthy and suspicious. Are these negative traits or is it wise to be cautious of others? But she’s also willing to be quite adventurous, chasing after the old man when she realises that he’s up to something.

All of these little conflicting things, so efficiently described, help to flesh out her character and make her a lot more human and relatable. We kind of see how the daughter might feel – being a bit wary of her mother’s strictness but enjoying spending time with her, having just been treated to a nice banana split and sharing the afternoon together, also her disappointment with the way her mother treats the old man at first, learning about how to deal with strangers in the street and then the excitement of chasing after him.

Roald Dahl always does this – somehow allows you to experience the excitement of being with certain other people.

Then there’s the little old man who just loves a drink of whiskey but apparently doesn’t have any money of his own, and yet he has cleverly come up with a genius little plan to get money from people in the street. I suppose he won in the end, and the mother was shown up to be a bit of a snob or something. (Maybe I’m being a bit mean to the mother – is she a snob, or is she just wary of certain types of person?)

I wonder if this little event affected the way the daughter saw the mother, if it brought them closer, or if the mother was embarrassed. In the end it seems that the mother and daughter just shared a funny little experience together. Ultimately it is quite adorable the way the two of them interact and I get quite a warm feeling from them.

I like the neatness of the story, the cleverness of the man’s plan, the mischievous elements and the moment when the old man drinks his whiskey – it seems like he really enjoys it.

What about you? What do you think of the story? Leave your comments in the comment section.

Posh / Old-Fashioned Sounding Vocabulary

  • Again, if there are specific words or phrases that you’d like to check, I’ll let you do that yourself using the book or the PDF and a good dictionary, but I mentioned before about how some things sounded quite old fashioned and posh, and I’d like to point those things out.

    Things that sound posh or formal, or at least old-fashioned. (posh people often sound a bit old fashioned for some reason) I wouldn’t really use these phrases in my normal everyday life.

    Obviously you can speak how you like. I’m just pointing out things which I think sound a bit old-fashioned or posh.
  • “I assure you!” → “Honestly!”
  • “Old people like me become terribly forgetful” → “really”
  • “I beg you to believe me, madam” → “Believe me, please!”
  • “Isn’t it the silliest thing to do?” → “Isn’t it such a stupid thing to do?”
  • “I summon a taxi to get me home” → “I get a taxi” or “I call a taxi to get me home”
  • “Oh mummy” (a lot of posh kids call their Mum, “mummy” – I think most British kids call their mother “Mum”)
  • “Don’t be so beastly to him!” → “Don’t be so horrible to him!”
  • “It’s of no importance so long as I get home” → “It’s not important…”
  • “I wanted to satisfy myself that he wasn’t a trickster” → “I wanted to be sure…”
  • Goodness Mummy, what a hurry he’s in” → “Oh my god!” “Wow”
  • Good heavens, it’s a pub!”
  • By golly, he’s got a nerve!”
  • “That’s a jolly expensive drink” → “That’s a really expensive drink”
  • Super” → “Amazing, brilliant”

Fancy another Roald Dahl story?

I have read a Roald Dahl story before on the podcast. Some of you might remember. I read The Hitchhiker in episode 545. You can check it out in the archive if you’d like to listen to it. There’s also a link to that on the page for this episode on my website. teacherluke.co.uk/2018/09/07/545-the-hitchhiker-by-roald-dahl-short-story/

Finally, let’s listen to the author himself introducing the story at the start of an episode of Tales of the Unexpected, the TV show. Check this out.

I believe that Roald Dahl witnessed a real umbrella man on the streets of New York, but I wonder if he really did try the trick himself, and whether you are tempted to try it too, but I’m not sure the whole world needs more tricksters, does it?

Thanks for listening, speak to you again in the next episode, but for now – good bye bye bye…