An episode all about studying at university in the UK, with loads of advice about student visas, funding your studies with scholarships, extra-curricular social activities and opportunities at the Students’ Union and more. Features a conversation with a German student currently studying a master’s in clinical neuropsychology at UCL in London. This bonus episode is published in paid partnership with Study UK and the British Council’s GREAT Britain campaign. For more information, follow the links below.
To qualify for British citizenship, one of the requirements is to pass the “Life in the UK” test. Questions cover things like British history, British life & culture, British politics, British geography and principles of modern British life. What do you think? Can you pass the test? Join me as I test online English teacher Cara Leopold (leo-listening.com). How much does she know about her own country of origin? What can you learn about Britain? What IS Britain anyway? Find out in this episode! Video version available.
Can you guess if these “facts” about the UK are true or false? James and Luke read out the facts and then discuss them one by one. Learn some odd things about the UK, pick up some vocabulary about laws and customs, and try not to laugh on the bus.
Video Version (with facts written on the screen) Try activating automatic subtitles
Hello everybody, before I play this episode I think I should give a kind of disclaimer about the content. I just want to say two things.
So this is an episode about Britain recorded with my brother in August, which is obviously before we all got the news that The Queen had been taken ill and had died, and we do talk about The Queen a few times during the episode, but of course she is no longer with us and now we have King Charles III.
So, firstly, the things we say about The Queen will be a bit anachronistic now as you listen to it – anachronistic, meaning belonging to the past, and a bit out of step with the present. So that’s the first thing – this was recorded when the Queen was still alive and when she was the head of state, which is now obviously no longer the case, so there are a few little anachronisms and we refer to The Queen in the present tense.
And secondly, when we do mention The Queen and a lot of other things, it’s done in a humorous way – and I’m aware that some people might find that inappropriate, but we aren’t really mocking her harshly or specifically. We copy her voice a bit and parts of the episode are just a bit silly and funny, but our intentions are decent. I don’t think we could be indicted for treason or anything like that. So, I hope you take it all in the spirit of good natured British humour, which is our intention, and let’s remember that The Queen has been praised a lot over the last week or so for her good sense of humour, so hopefully she would see the funny side (but who knows) In any case, I think it’s ok and I’ve decided to publish this. I hope you enjoy it, and actually I hope you see it as a sort of celebration of British stuff, for what it’s worth.
Alright then, now I have said that. Let’s start the episode properly. Here we go.
— Jingle —
50 Random British Facts (True or False Quiz) with James [Part 1]
Hello listeners, welcome back to my podcast.
Are you ready to do some more listening, to improve your English?
If the answer to that question is “Yes” then, good! Keep listening!
Here is a new episode featuring James, my older brother. This is a 2 part episode actually, and you’re listening to part 1.
In this one you’re going to hear James and me discussing various facts about the UK, that’s the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, of course. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
A few weeks ago, James and I came up with a list of 50 facts about British life, customs, laws, history and culture, which we could talk about on this podcast. We thought you might find it interesting.
So that’s what you’ll hear. But the thing is – some of these facts are true and some of them are not true. They’re false, completely made up, invented by James and me.
So the game is, can you guess which of these facts are true and which ones are false?
Here’s how this is going to work.
First, you’ll hear us reading out our list of so-called facts and you can decide if you think they’re true or not
and then we will discuss each fact, we’ll reveal if they are true or not and we’ll explain some bits of language and culture along the way.
On the subject of vocabulary, two things:
You will find a list of all the “facts” on the page for this episode on my website. They’re all written there for you, so you can go and read them if you like. If you hear a word and you’re not sure what it is, you can check all the sentences there. Also, I recommend trying to read those sentences out loud. All the facts – try reading them out loud. It’s quite good pronunciation practice. You can then compare your version to the the way James and I read the sentences, and perhaps you can shadow us, or repeat the sentences after us. Some of them are actually quite challenging, quite difficult to say clearly as you’ll see. That’s just something you could try doing. There are always other ways to push your English with these podcasts beyond just listening, or if you prefer not really doing any extra practice or anything you can just sit back, listen, enjoy and eat a chocolate biscuit.
Some of the facts presented here are about UK laws, and you might hear a few different words to describe laws – things like this:
To Ban / to be banned
An act of parliament
Provisions in an act
A royal decree
A custom / to be customary
I’ll go through those words briefly at the end of the episode, giving you a little tiny taste of LEP Premium, with definitions, explanations and a couple of examples, just to make sure you understood the full meaning and difference between them, because lots of words like that will just pop up in this episode and you might think “Hold on, how many words for laws and rules are there? What’s the difference between a law, an act, a decree and legislation?
If that’s you – just listen on until end of this part to hear some vocabulary explanations from me, which no doubt will just be really helpful.
This is an audio-only episode, but if you are listening on YouTube you will see that the facts are written on the screen with a few pictures to illustrate them in most cases, which again should help you not only understand everything but also to notice vocabulary, with your eyes, and your brain.
And you can always switch on the automatic subtitles in English on YouTube, which are surprisingly accurate these days.
But now, that’s enough waffle. Let’s get started with part 1 of this, recorded at my parents’ home in England a couple of weeks ago, during the summer holidays, just after we’d eaten a large lunch with the whole family.
OK, so, this is part 1 of 50 Random British Facts, with James.
Random British Facts 1 – 25
True or False? 👉 Listen to the episode to find out the answers.
In a recent poll by The BBC, 71% of British people said that British food was the best in the world. Examples given included curry and lasagne.
8% of British people live in London.
Work meetings in the UK often commence with a short joke before people get down to business. The joke is usually printed on slips of paper or distributed in advance by email.
All pubs must have a picture of the Queen displayed somewhere behind the bar.
Another way to say “thanks” in the UK is to say “Ta”
Big Ben is the nickname of a large clock tower in Westminster.
British people drink 100,000,000 cups of tea a day.
Cockfighting is illegal, but heron fighting is still commonly practiced in rural areas.
During the Second World War a fake “mock up” of London was built in the Kent countryside with an intricate system of lights, to confuse German bomber pilots during nighttime air-raids.
Every year on the 5th November children burn an effigy of a Catholic terrorist who once attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament during the King’s visit.
Every year the Mayor of London is given a dozen oxen as part of his annual pay packet. The livestock are usually donated to a charity of the Mayor’s choice, or slaughtered.
A recent excavation of the site of Shakespeare’s former home in London turned up a number of clay pipes containing the residue of cannabis resin or “hashish”.
In the UK, by law, if one man’s dog gets bitten by another man’s dog, the owner of the dog that did the biting must buy the other man a pub lunch, or something else of equivalent value.
If the UK flag is flying at Buckingham Palace it means the Queen is in the building. FALSE – It’s the Royal standard.
If you live to be 100 years old you will receive a personal letter from The Queen in the post.
In 2020, English winemakers Langham Wine Estate of Dorset won the International Wine & Spirit Competition Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year, which is one of the most prestigious awards a winemaker can win. They beat every top French Champagne brand in the competition.
In 1976 a huge rat was discovered in the London sewer system. The police lost 2 dogs in their attempt to capture and destroy the animal.
In the UK we drive on the left side of the road, but in 1987 the UK government introduced plans to switch from driving on the left to driving on the right, to bring the country in line with European standards. The initiative, which was eventually scrapped, was to be phased in over a period of 6 months, with heavy goods vehicles and buses switching first, followed by cars and then motorbikes and bicycles.
It is always raining, somewhere in the UK.
It is customary to buy a packet of crisps to be shared while having a drink in a pub, and the crisp packet is often ripped open in a certain way to allow everyone to take crisps from the bag. (crisps, not chips)
It is customary to make tea for any tradesmen (plumbers, decorators) who visit your house.
When going to the pub with friends or colleagues, it is customary to order drinks in rounds.
It is illegal in the UK to be drunk in charge of a horse.
It is illegal in the UK to be drunk on licensed premises (a pub).
It is illegal to carry a plank of wood along a road in the city of London.
To be continued in part 2…
So, that is the end of part 1. How many did you get right?
You are keeping track of your score, right?
It might be tricky to keep track of your score, which is fine of course.
To be honest, I don’t expect you to do that really. But I wonder if you generally managed to guess which of those things were true and which ones were bollocks.
Did anything surprise you? Did anything amuse you?
Let us know by leaving your comments in the comment section.
That was only the first 25 facts of course. We’re not done yet. This will all continue in part 2 when we look at facts 26-50, in the same way. I guess you can just look forward to that. It will require all your patience to do so, but I believe in you. You can do it.
Now, let me go through some vocabulary, as I said I would earlier.
A lot of these facts deal with things like laws, government actions and also traditions or customs and so I thought I would just clarify some words which relate to those things. Yet again I am doing this on the free podcast as a little taste of the kind of thing you usually get in episodes of LEP Premium these days.
The words I’m going to talk about now are:
Legislation / to legislate
To ban / to be banned
An act of parliament
Provisions in an act
A royal decree
A custom / customary
Words for different types of law or government action
A rule (countable noun)
A rule is just something which says whether you are allowed or not allowed to do something. The difference between a rule and a law is that the word rule is more general and is used in all sorts of situations, not just by governments and the police etc.
Schools have rules (e.g. no chewing gum in the classroom), people’s homes have rules (e.g. no mobile phones at the dinner table).
Also, sports and games have rules, like the offside rule in football.
A law (countable noun)
Laws are the rules which determine wether things are legal or illegal. They are made and introduced by the government and enforced by the police and justice system.
To break a law
We also have the word “law” (opposed to “a law”) which means the whole system of rules which determine what is allowed, not allowed, what people have the right and don’t have the right to do or have.
Legislation (uncountable noun)
Legislation is another word for law, but it is uncountable.
Here are some sentences which basically mean the same thing:
The government created legislation banning the possession of handguns.
The government created a law (or laws) banning the possession of handguns.
So it’s the same as the word law, but we don’t say “a legislation” because it’s uncountable. Instead we would say “a piece of legislation”.
The government introduced new legislation banning the use of diesel cars in urban areas.
The government introduced a new law banning the use of diesel cars in urban areas.
Legislate is a verb
To legislate for or against something – which means to create laws to oblige people to do things, or to prohibit certain things.
The government in 2007 legislated against smoking in indoor public places.
To ban something (verb)
This means to prohibit or stop something and it’s usually used in reference to government laws which make something prohibited.
Smoking was banned in public spaces in 2007.
The government banned smoking in 2007.
Sometimes the word ban is used in situations outside the legal system, for example –
Mobile phones are banned in the classroom.
A person can also be banned from a certain place, for example,
Dave has been banned from the golf club for starting a fight last week.
It can be a noun or a verb.
The smoking ban. There’s a ban on smoking.
The government banned smoking.
An act of parliament
An act is a specific piece of legislation which creates law.
When politicians make laws, for example in the House of Commons in London, there’s a certain process and we use different words for that legislation during the process.
First the law is introduced by a member of parliament as a bill which is a written proposal for a law. The bill is discussed by the MPs in the House of Commons and the House of Lords and is voted on, and when that bill has been approved (including being given the Royal Assent by the Queen) it is written into law in the form of an act.
This act defines the law. It’s kind of like a contract. Each act, which contains various laws, has a name. For example, The Treason Felony Act 1848, which makes it an offence to do any action with the intention of deposing the monarch. This makes it illegal to plan or try to remove The Queen from the throne (or in fact to remove the crown from The Queen) and this includes planning and devising things in written form, spoken form and with the use of images etc. So that’s the Treason Felony Act, which was created in 1848, which makes it against the law to try to depose the monarch.
Another example is the The Data Protection Act 2018, which controls how your personal information is used by organisations, businesses or the government. The Data Protection Act 2018 is the UK’s implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
And another example is the Homicide Act 1957, which makes it illegal to kill someone, or commit murder. By the way, it says 1957, but of course murder wasn’t legal before 1957, it’s just that in 1957 the law relating to murder or homicide would have been redefined somehow, and a new act was created, which contained provisions relating to all acts of homicide.
This is like a specific section of an act of parliament, or a specific detail in an act of parliament. You also get provisions in contracts between people.
A (royal) decree
A decree is an order that something must be done. A royal decree is when the king or queen orders that something must be done. These days it doesn’t happen in the UK, so royal decrees are only heard about when referring to history.
King Edgar in 957 decreed that all settlements (towns) in England were restricted to having only one “alehouse” per settlement. This was a law to try to control the number of pubs or places selling ale across the country. The decree lasted until after the Norman conquest of England in 1066 after which more and more alehouses, inns and pubs started arriving.
Here’s an example from The Bible, of a decree by a Roman Emperor.
The Gospel According to Luke, Chapter 2 Verse 1
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David). To be taxed with Mary, his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
My dad talks about the latest news about Boris Johnson, who on Friday said the UK should now begin the process of finding a new Prime Minister. Why is Johnson going to step down? What scandals has he been involved in during his life? What might happen next? Listen to hear my dad’s comments in plain English.
Hello listeners. It’s new episode time. (applause)
Just before we start, I need to get a message to listeners who are subscribed to LEP Premium through Libsyn.
You’ve heard me say in recent announcements that the podcast has moved to a new host (Acast) and that people who were already subscribed to the premium subscription with the old system (Libsyn) would have to cancel, get a refund from Libsyn and then sign up with Acast. But I need to ask you to wait before doing that! Wait! Hold on! Hold your horses!
Basically – Libsyn premium subscribers – please wait before you cancel and move to the new system. Some of you are saying “but I’ve already done it!” That’s ok.
There’s been a slight problem (a hiuccup) with the process of moving LEP Premium from Libsyn to Acast. I’m working on a solution right now. Everything will be OK, but Libsyn premium subscribers – please wait before cancelling your old premium subscription and moving to Acast+. I will give you instructions as soon as possible about what to do (I’ll record an announcement and I will send you an email)
Some of you have already sent emails to Libsyn and they told you to email me. Again, just wait – I’m working on a solution and I’ll give you more instructions as soon as possible.
If you are not already a premium subscriber – you might want to know that LEP Premium is now available on Acast+. So if you want to get access to over 100 lessons from me about grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation with PDFs to download – go to teacherluke.co.uk/premium and choose the LEP Premium option.
Thanks for listening to that announcement. Now, here’s a Rick Thompson report for you to enjoy, recorded on Monday 11 July 2022.
I’ve got to do a quick intro just to help out the people listening to this who have no idea what’s going on – not generally I mean, but in UK politics. So, a 5-minute intro, then you’ll get your fill of Rick Thompson on Luke’s English Podcast. Here’s the jingle.
Jingle – You’re listening to Luke’s English Podcast. For more information visit teacherluke.co.uk
This is episode 777 and it’s a new episode of the Rick Thompson Report.
Just in case you don’t know, The Rick Thompson Report episodes are when I talk to my dad Rick Thompson about what’s been going on in the news, especially UK news and especially UK politics. My dad is a semi-retired journalist, broadcasting consultant and writer. We’re very lucky to have him as a guest on this podcast.
If you’ve seen any news from the UK recently, you’ll have seen that it’s all been about Boris Johnson (for a change). Boris Johnson is the current Prime Minister of the UK. Yes, the one with the funny scruffy blond hair, the badly fitting suits and the look on his face which makes him look like a schoolboy who’s done something wrong. Boris Johnson – our current Prime Minister. The leader of the Conservative Party and the head of the UK government.
Some of you now are thinking “But wait Luke, he’s not the current Prime Minister! Didn’t he resign on Friday?”
Well, yes, he did make a speech on Friday 8 July in which he said he the process to find a new leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister of the UK should begin now.
So, it looked like he resigned on Friday – he basically said he would resign when the new leader has been chosen, although he didn’t actually say the word resign in his speech (or the word sorry, or anything like that) so he is still the Prime Minister and he will be until the new one is chosen, which will probably happen in September.
What’s going on?
Why did he say he would step down?
What did he do wrong this time?
What are the events that have led up to this situation?
What might happen next?
And what do we really think of Boris Johnson?
That’s what we’re going to try and deal with in this conversation.
I hope you can follow this.
It’s all a bit complicated. To be honest, while my dad was talking during this conversation, as an English teacher, alarms were going off in my head. I mean, I kept thinking “oh, god, we’re going through a lot of quite specific and complex language here, at a fast pace, and we’re not really stopping to clarify things in the way that I know, as a teacher, that my learners often need to be done.” Maybe I could have interrupted the conversation at various points and added in some explanations, but you know what – that just wasn’t possible this time. Also, my dad was in full flow here, so I decided to just let him rip.
So, as is often the case, I’m just throwing you in at the deep end and playing the conversation for you. Hopefully you’re curious enough about this situation, and that listening to my dad is enjoyable enough, that you feel motivated to stay focused and keep listening. If you can do that, this will definitely help your English.
Perhaps I can make a premium episode explaining a lot of the language in this conversation, but – that might be difficult because I don’t have very much time available to me to do that. At the very least, I will try to add some words and phrases to the website page for this – you would check them if you want to see how certain words are spelled and you can check then in a dictionary if you like.
A lot of our conversation focuses on why Boris is resigning, and that means describing his personality, describing things he has done both as Prime Minister and before, describing the scandals he’s been involved in, and describing the way the UK government works (or doesn’t work in this case) and how leaders are chosen in the UK. Watch out for language relating to those things as well as little idiomatic phrases and so on.
But generally, I hope you can really just get into this subject and try to find out a thing or two about Boris Johnson that you weren’t aware of before. He’s not just a funny looking politician with a sense of humour. There’s more going on than that.
I’ll talk to you again briefly at the end of this, but now, let’s get started.
Sorry – I had no time to write some words and phrases from the conversation here!
This is episode 666 and the plan is to talk about all things evil, satanic, demonic, wicked, unholy, malevolent, hellish and scary, focusing on pop culture – music and films and a few anecdotes and rambles.
This is part 1 and this one deals mainly with the musical side of things after we talk about the significance of the number 666.
Just in case you don’t know, the number 666 is associated with the devil, satan, lucifer and generally frightening things like that.
A DISCLAIMER: We’re not trying to offend or upset anyone!
Before we begin, here is a disclaimer of sorts.
I know people are very superstitious out there.
Just talking about this subject will probably make some people a bit uneasy or uncomfortable. Some people take this sort of thing quite seriously.
But, don’t worry, we don’t believe in numerology, the occult or satanism.
It is interesting but we don’t really believe in it.
Also some of you might suffer from hexakosioihexekkontahexaphobia
…which is the fear of the number 666.
Yes, there is a phobia of this number. In the same way that some people have claustrophobia, arachnophobia or glossophobia, there are people out there who have hexakosioihexekkontahexaphobia.
So, if you are one of those people, if you are very superstitious about this stuff, or if you are of a particularly sensitive nature then this might not be for you.
Also, you should know that during this episode we will be playing some extracts of fairly loud and scary music, and also you will hear some clips from scary horror films – including weird and creepy background noises, maybe some screaming, maybe the sound of a chainsaw… you know, stuff like that.
So if you’re listening on headphones or something and you hear some scary noises, those scary noises will probably be coming from the podcast, rather from the world around you…
But just bear in mind that there will be scary noises and some heavy-ish music during the episode, I hope it doesn’t give you a shock or freak you out too much.
OK, I feel I should say that stuff before we start just to give some of you a little warning.
My companion in this episode is my brother James, naturally. He is the scariest person I could think of to invite onto episode 666. (just joking, he’s lovely)
Actually, ages ago James claimed episode 666. He bagsied it.
Also, listeners have been asking me about this since they realised that I’d make it to 666 episodes. Typically comments are like this: Luke, Episode 666 is coming up. I hope you are planning something special for it, like maybe an episode on heavy metal or horror films or something.
Well, that is the plan.
Kate Arnold’s Music (download her album here)
VIDEOS & IMAGES
Maths experts show us how 666 refers to Emperor Nero, and how 666 is not such a remarkable number.
Bill Bailey’s Psychological Doorbell
Black Sabbath – War Pigs live in Paris 1970
Black Sabbath Greatest Hits – scary album art
The Triumph of Death by Breugel (don’t look too closely unless you want to see all the disturbing details) More info and a high-res image here https://mikemonaco.wordpress.com/2010/04/15/the-triumph-of-death/
Tony Iommi and the Black Sabbath sound
Heavy Metal Britannia BBC Documentary (recommended!)
END OF PART 1 – Parts 2 & 3 coming soon…
Hello everyone, this is actually the end of part 1, we will continue the theme in part 2 and as you heard just at the end there we are going to tell some true stories about frightening things we’ve really experienced in our lives.
So, some anecdotes are coming in part 2.
I hope you have enjoyed part 1 and that you’re not feeling too disturbed or anything.
Just to recap, we talked about the origin of the idea that 666 is the number of the devil, and how it turns out that it’s not quite as satanic as people often think. Then we talked about the devil’s interval in music – the augmented 4th or diminished 5th depending on your outlook on life (augmented means raised – to augment means to increase the value of something or to go up, and diminished is the opposite – to diminish means to make something less – so when you go up one semitone from a fourth you get the augmented 4th, and when you go down from a 5th you get the diminished 5th, but they’re actually the same exact note – just two ways of describing it). We talked about that, which is a feature of so-called unholy music, and then we had a good old ramble about Black Sabbath, heavy metal and other scary forms of music.
Still to come we have our scary stories and then in part 3 we turn to the topic of scary films.
Leave your comments in the comment section if you fancy getting involved.
Thanks again to Kate Arnold for her input in this episode.
App users – you will find a bit of bonus audio for this episode. It’s Kate talking more about The Wheel of Fortune, which is the name of her album, but it’s also an image which appeared in a lot of medieval art and culture. So if you’d like to hear Kate talking for a couple of minutes about the wheel of fortune, then tap the gift icon for this episode in the LEP App. The icon can be found when you’re playing this episode, it’s next to the share, favourite and download icons in the app. If you don’t have the app, you can get it free from the app store on your phone, just search for Luke’s English Podcast App.
If you’d like to hear Kate’s music properly, without it being faded out by me, then check out the page for this episode on the website where you will find links to her album on Bandcamp and also some YouTube videos of her stuff.
Also on the page for this episode on the website you’ll see a video from Numberphile, explaining in more detail how the number 666 is a code which refers to Emperor Nero rather than the devil, plus some footage of Black Sabbath and the Heavy Metal Britannia documentary which is well worth a watch.
That’s it for this part then and we will speak to you again in part 2, but for now… good bye!
An episode about British English slang and culture, featuring expressions that Brits know but everyone else finds confusing. Here are the first 30 expressions in a list of 88 that I found on independent.co.uk. Includes plenty of funny improvised examples to make you laugh out loud on the bus.
He’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic, isn’t he?
I’m a bit of a Beatles anorak.
Bagsie the front seat! Shotgun!
4. The bee’s knees
He’s the bee’s knees.
5. Bender (go on a)
I went on a 3-day bender last weekend. I feel rough as f*ck right now.
6. Blinder (to pull a)
You pulled an absolute blinder in that negotiation.
My brother has chipped in here with a comment, saying that he thinks the most common collocation with Blinder is “to play a blinder” and I admit that he’s right. Thinking about it, I’ve definitely heard “play a blinder” more than “pull a blinder”.
A quick internet search shows us the same thing.
Collins says it’s when a sports player or musician plays something really well but it’s also applied to when anyone does anything well. For example, you played a blinder in that meeting.
Or You played an absolute blinder getting us front row tickets for this show.
OK, so let’s say “play a blinder” more often than “pull a blinder”.
7. Bloody / Bleedin’
Bloody hell Harry! Bleedin‘ Heck!
8. Bob’s your uncle
Put the bag in the mug, add hot water, then some milk and Bob’s your uncle.
We’re staying in a bog-standard hotel up the road.
Put the money in theboot of the car.
11. Botch(ed) job
You did a real botch(ed) job on that chair. It is a real death-trap. You really made a botch of that, didn’t you?
Do you need a brolly?
13. Budge up
Come on, budge up a bit. I don’t have much room.
14. Builder’s tea
I like a nice cup of builder’s tea, me.
Give us a butcher’s at that! Have a butcher’s at this.
I’m really cack-handed today. I don’t know what’s the matter with me.
You’re such a cheeky little monkey!
18. Chinese whispers
It must have been Chinese whispers.
Let’s get together and have a good old chinwag.
I tell you what. It’s absolutely chockablock out there. Absolutely chocka.
You must be really chuffed!
You dropped an absolute clanger at the dinner party.
What a load of absolute codswallop.
24. Cost a bomb
Those new iPhones cost an absolute bomb.
I am absolutely cream-crackered. I think I’m going to go straight to bed.
26. Curtain twitcher
Our neighbour is a bit of a curtain twitcher.
I’m going to make some tea. Dench. (?)
I just want to add something about the word “Dench”.
I said that I didn’t know this and that I don’t use it.
My brother reckons the word is “fake”, by which I think he means that this one isn’t really used.
He’s never heard or used it either.
I don’t know why the Independent would add a fake word in their list, but let’s just say that you can probably avoid the word “Dench” and not worry about it at all.
If you’ve heard or seen the word being used, add a comment to the comment section.
I’ve just done a quick google check and there are entries for the word in Collins (but not an “official” definition – it was added by a user) and Urban Dictionary – both confirming that the word basically means “nice” or “Awesome” but there aren’t that many entries for it.
So I think we can conclude that it is a new phrase, probably only used by a few people, particularly younger generations.
Tim’s a jolly good bloke. A bit dim though.
That exam was an absolute doddle.
30. Dog’s dinner
You made an absolute dog’s dinner of that.
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For me, this is British humour and music at their finest, and it's part of a European absurdist art movement that started 100 years ago, and which runs through a lot of Britain's best TV and radio comedy. 2/12
In this episode I’m joined by Jennifer – a podcaster from the USA, and we test each other on our knowledge of slang from our countries. Listen and learn some informal words from British and American English. Notes & definitions below.
Here’s a new episode and in this one I’ve got a guest. I’m talking to Jennifer from the English Across the Pond podcast. You’re going to hear a mix of both British and American English and you can learn some slang from both sides of the Atlantic. Also you can find out about Jen, her podcast, and the other language learning services that she offers to you, with her co-host Dan on their podcast and also through their website. More on that in a moment.
But first let me give you a little bit of news here before we get started properly.
A little bit of news before we get started properly
If you’re a subscriber to my email list then you will have received an email from me recently with a link to a post that I published on my website. Did you get that email? Did you click the link? Normally emails from me just contain a link to a new episode, but sometimes I send you other stuff, like posts on my website which you might find interesting.
Basically in that recent post I said a couple of things. One of them was that February might be a bit quiet for the normal podcast – I mean, these free episodes (because there’s the free podcast and the premium podcast, you see). This is the second episode I’ve uploaded in February, and this might be it for February actually, on the free podcast and that’s because I’m focusing on LEP premium this month in order to make up for the lack of premium episodes in January.
So if you’re a premium subscriber you’ll see that you’ve been getting new episodes regularly and that’s going to continue throughout the month but the number of normal free episodes will be a bit lower.
Now, this means that all the free subscribers can just catch up on all the episodes I’ve uploaded since the start of the year (which is quite a lot) but if you want more you could just wait a bit for some new ones to come along, or you could consider signing up for the growing library of premium stuff.
New premium episodes this month include ones covering vocab & grammar from my recent conversation with Zdenek Lukas. I picked out over 40 bits of target language for you to learn from that, and so there are about 4 parts to that episode. Then, in the pipeline I’ve got premium episodes focusing on language from the Paul Chowdhry episode and the recent episode with James. Tons of language for you to learn. This is all stuff you’ve heard on the podcast, but I’m doing all the work of explaining, clarifying and demonstrating the language and also drilling it for pronunciation and all that – all to help you not just hear it but properly learn it. I do all that work so you don’t have to. To subscribe to my premium content, go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium
The other thing I wrote about in that recent website post was that I was featured in an episode of the Rock n’ Roll English Podcast. Do you remember Martin and Dan from episode 490. They’re the guys from Rock n’ Roll English, which is another British English podcast. Just recently they had me on one of their episodes and we talked again about how to handle awkward social situations (like we did the first time I was on their podcast), and we covered some pretty funny and fairly disgusting topics, including the ins and outs of giving up your seat on the tube, how long you should hold a door open for someone and how to deal with poo smells in public toilets. Yes, the poo thing is a subject that quite regularly comes up in their episodes.
Anyway, check the episode archive on my website for the recent website post about Rock n Roll English and that’s where you can find the relevant links to listen to that.
Now then, onto this new episode of Luke’s English Podcast…
This is another collaboration with a fellow podcaster. There are quite a few of us out there in podcastland and from time to time we invite each other onto our respective podcasts as you will have noticed.
This time I’m talking to Jennifer from English Across the Pond. Some of you will be familiar with English Across the Pond – it’s another podcast for learners of English, hosted by Jen in the USA and Dan in the UK (that’s another Dan – not Dan from the RnR English Podcast). They do weekly episodes focusing on different topics and you can listen to their conversations which include both British and American English.
In this episode you’ll hear me talking to Jen via Skype (she was in California), and we chose to focus on slang words in British and American English.
UK vs USA Slang Game
We decided it might be interesting to see how much of each other’s slang words we know by playing a kind of UK vs US Slang Game.
What do you think will be the result?
So we both prepared a list of 5 slang words and prepared to test each other, and that’s what you’re going to hear.
There’s a bit of chat between the two of us first, so you can get to know Jen a little bit and then we get stuck into the slang game.
As you listen, see if you can play along with us. Do you know all the words in this game?
Keep listening to hear the words explained, defined and demonstrated. I have a feeling that long-term listeners to my podcast might know some of the British ones because I’ve probably dealt with them in previous episodes of this podcast, but do you know all of them? And how about the American English slang words you’re going to hear?
All the answers to the slang game are on the page for this episode if you want to see them.
And also keep listening until the end to find out about a nice offer that Jen and Dan have for you in terms of the learning English content that they are providing on their website.
Anyway, I hope you’re ready for some real slang from both sides of the pond.
So without any further ado, let’s get started.
Answers to the slang game
1. Buff (adj) You’re looking buff, have you been working out? Meaning = muscular, toned
2. give me / let me have a butcher’s at that thing (noun) Giz a butcher’s at that new phone of yours = give me a look at that new phone of yours Meaning = Give me a look
It’s cockney rhyming slang. “A butcher’s hook” = a look.
3. Chuffed (adj)
I’m really chuffed to bits to have won the prize. When my daughter does something for herself she always looks so chuffed. Meaning = pleased, or pleased with yourself
4. Gutted (adj) How do you feel to have lost the match today? I’m absolutely gutted to be honest. Meaning = very disappointed
How would you feel if these things happened? Chuffed or gutted?
Dan wins a podcasting award, but you don’t.
Tom Cruise crashes his car into your house.
5. Knackered (adj) I’m absolutely knackered this evening. I had an absolutely awful day at work today. I had to work a 12 hour shift with no break. I’m knackered. I’m just going to go straight to bed. Meaning = very tired, exhausted
USA slang words (California specific)
1. a grippa somethin’ (a grip of something) You must have a grippa toys in your house at the moment. I have a grippa things to do today. I have a grippa work that I need to get done today. It feels good when we get a grippa things done. Meaning = a lot of
2. To rock something (clothing) You’re rocking some fresh sneakers. I’m rocking this fresh cardigan. I’m rocking some dope corduroy pants (trousers) this afternoon. My brother rocks a cowboy hat. Meaning: To wear some stylish clothes
3. To post up somewhere If you want to go into that shop, I’ll just post up here and wait for you. I like to just post up at the beach all day long and enjoy the sun. Meaning: To stay somewhere for a while and hang out.
4. To flip a bitch Hey, at the next light, flip a bitch. Meaning = To do a U-turn (to turn around 180 degrees)
5. To trip out I was tripping out because I thought I saw you at the restaurant yesterday but I thought “He’s not here. He’s not in Southern California.” Meaning = to be confused
So there you have it.
Now, if you liked what you heard there and you’d like to hear more, you could check out English Across the Pond – they have weekly podcast episodes, but also you could consider signing up for their Gold Membership Package, which includes loads of cool stuff to help you learn English with Jen and Dan.
I’m just telling you about this because you might be interested in what they have to offer. So here is some info that might be of interest to you, plus a couple of freebies (that means free things)
So you heard Jen mention this near the end of the conversation there.
Basically, if you sign up with their membership package, every week they send you a learning plan which contains loads of exercises, activities, tests, vocabulary lists, grammar explanations and also a speaking task and a writing task each week with real feedback from Dan and Jen. So, each week their members get a study plan with all those things.
Jen and Dad have set up a little freebie for any LEPsters that choose to become members, and that’s two free study plans if you sign up within the first week of this episode being published.
So, sign up and you’ll start to receive their weekly study plans and if you sign up within one week of the publication date of this episode you will get two extra study plans as a free gift.
So, if you’re interested just click the link on the page for this episode (below) or go to https://www.teacherluke.co.uk/eatp
Testing Paul Taylor’s knowledge of British life, history and culture and discussing the “Life in the UK” citizenship test. Practise listening to British English natural speech, learn facts about the UK and have a laugh as Paul gets angry about this test for people who want to become UK citizens. Will Paul actually pass the test? Listen to find out what happens. Transcriptions and notes available.
In this episode you’re going to listen to my friend Paul Taylor attempting to pass the UK citizenship test.
Every year thousands and thousands of people choose to become British citizens, for various reasons. This year one of those people is Meghan Markle, who is moving to Britain to marry Prince Harry – as everyone knows because it’s all over the news, probably all around the world. In fact the wedding is happening tomorrow! By the time you listen to this they will probably be married. I hope everything goes well for them.
Anyway, there are lots of complicated requirements for becoming “naturalised” as a British citizen, including the fact that you need to prove that your English is at B1 level or above, and you have to pass the Life in the UK Test. This test is supposed to make sure that you have sufficient knowledge of life in the UK in order to integrate into British life. The assumption is that if you can pass this test then you know enough about life in the UK to be considered worthy of being a British citizen.
By the way, quite a lot of people fail this test. I was looking for specific data. I found that in 2016 about 36% of people failed the test. Just over a third.
What is the content of this test?
Do you think you have enough knowledge of “Life in the UK” to pass it?
What kinds of questions do you expect to find in this test?
Is the average British person able to pass the test? You would imagine so, right?
What can you, my listeners, learn from this in terms of “essential British knowledge” and useful British English vocabulary?
And can my mate Paul Taylor, who was born in the UK and has spent much of his life living there, pass this test?
Let’s find out as we take the British Citizenship Test in this episode.
A Long Episode!
This is a long episode, but there is absolutely loads of stuff that you can gain from this in terms of historical and cultural knowledge – both from the past and present, as well as vocabulary and general listening practice and also just the pure enjoyment of listening to Paul becoming increasingly angry about the content of the questions in this test.
Also, there is quite a lot of swearing in this one, and by swearing I mean rude words that you normally shouldn’t use in polite company because they can be very offensive. So, watch out for those rude words – either because you don’t like that sort of thing, or because you love to hear how people swear in British English. In either case – you have been informed – there is rude language in this episode.
So I suggest that you do listen to the entire thing, perhaps in several sections – when you press pause your podcasting app should remember where you stopped listening so you can carry on later. There are notes and scripts for the intro and outro to this episode on the website – so check them out.
Now, without any further ado, let’s get started…
THE “LIFE IN THE UK” CITIZENSHIP TEST
The test is computer based. Applicants coming in from outside the UK need a certain level of English and they need to take this test.
Requirements for British citizenship https://www.gov.uk/becoming-a-british-citizen
⬇Click the link below to take the same test we did⬇
Criticisms of the Test
A summary of criticisms and comments on how the test needs to be reformed https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/01/british-citizenship-test-meghan-markle-brexit-reform
The criticisms in a nutshell:
While it’s obviously good to know facts about a country’s history – what is the true purpose of a citizenship test? It’s to ensure that people understand the values of that country, and practical knowledge of daily life in order to help them integrate
The questions seem arbitrary and inconsistent
Fair enough, there are questions about certain key moments in our history and in our political system but a lot of important things are missing (e.g. the number of elected representatives in the devolved parliaments, but not the number of MPs in commons? The height of the London Eye?)
They won’t help people integrate, and they won’t help people just get by on a daily basis
It also doesn’t educate people about history – there’s no interpretation of why these things are important. If anything it will just piss people off.
What might be more helpful would be:
Teaching people social rules (e.g. how to order a drink in a pub)
Teaching people about common culture so they know what the hell British people are talking about half the time
Teaching people the essential basics of how to live – like, bank holidays, how to phone for an ambulance, how most Brits are shocked by things like animal rights or racial or sexist jokes
But it’s all wrapped up in politics and perhaps the people who wrote the test didn’t do it to help migrants – the opposite, maybe.
What would you include in the citizenship test?
The “Real” Citizenship test
This is an alternative test based on suggestions by British people on Twitter
I don’t want to extend this episode a lot more but I do want to say “nice one” for getting to the end of this one. I say that because I know it can be hard to follow about 90 minutes of native level speech in English, and Paul does speak pretty quickly as a few of you mentioned to me after hearing the previous episode with him.
I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again – the more you listen, the better, and sometimes listening to fairly quick speaking can be really good training for you. It’s important to mix it up – sometimes listening to content that you understand without too much trouble, and sometimes listening to more challenging things. There is value in both, and basically the important thing is to keep going and not give up. If you’re listening to this it means you didn’t give up even if you didn’t understand everything. Nice one.
Then again, some of you might be thinking – Luke, it was a pleasure and I wish there was more! Well, in that case – great! I agree. This was a fun one.
There’s more to be said on the UK citizenship test so I might be doing another episode on this soon.
But for now – that’s it! Download the LEP App from the app store. Check out the extra content you can find there.
Have a great day, night, morning, afternoon or evening wherever you are in the world and whatever you’re doing. Speak to you again on the podcast soon, but for now… bye!
Talking to my ex-colleague Raphael Miller about his new summer school for teenagers as well as many other topics, including British social and communication culture, growing up in Liverpool, studying at Oxford University, the famous Star Wars actor Raphael knows and remembering some of the old-fashioned ways we used to describe computers and the internet. Transcripts and links below. 👨🎓🌞🇬🇧
In this episode you can listen to a conversation I had with my friend Raphael Miller. Raph and I used to work together as teachers at the London School of English, along with Andy Johnson, Ben Butler and Carrick Cameron – all of whom have featured in episodes of this podcast.
Since those days, Raph has done lots of work at summer schools in the UK and has recently set up his own summer school project called Your English Summer. This is a school for teenagers from around the world who want to come to the UK to develop their English skills while having a really cool experience living away from home for a couple of weeks.
I thought I would ask Raph about his project, about the benefits of sending your teenagers to the UK for a summer school English experience and also about Raph’s own experiences of learning languages as a teenager and into adulthood.
I hadn’t spoken to Raph for a while – not since the last time he was on this podcast perhaps, and so it was really fun to catch up with him, find out about his project and also just ramble on about all kinds of other things, like his experiences at Oxford University, his childhood in Liverpool and a famous actor that he knows from university, who has had a big role in a Star Wars film. To find out all about that, just keep listening.
This might be a difficult conversation for you to follow, depending on your level. Reasons why it might be hard are:
The conversation was done over Skype, so the sound quality isn’t 100% perfect – but it’s good to get used to listening in less-than-perfect conditions, like when you have to do tele-conferences in English at work.
Raph has a slight Liverpool accent (but actually I think this isn’t really an issue because it’s really not that strong)
It’s all done at natural speed and there are quite a lot of idioms, jokey bits, specific phrases and fluent speech that might be hard to understand.
But the point here is that this is an authentic chat which ultimately is good practice for you.
If you are a parent of teenage kids and you’re thinking about sending them to a summer school in the UK to learn English, you should check out Raphael’s school, which is called Your English Summer – more details at yourEnglishsummer.co.uk
Now, let’s get stuck into the conversation.
Just before I hit the record button, Raph and I had been struggling to get connected on Skype. It wasn’t working properly on his computer, but to solve the problem he just turned it off and turned it back on again, which fixed it, of course – because that’s usually how you fix technical problems. What do you do when something doesn’t work? How do you fix it? Well, have you tried turning it on and turning it off again? There are other generic solutions to typical technical problems of course… can you think of any?
After that we talk a little bit about a recent episode of LEP that Raphael had been listening to – a recent one with Amber & Sarah called “Becoming Maman”… and the conversation just keeps on flowing from there, taking in some details about the social rules related to talking to new parents about their children (in fact, like me, Raph is also a new father – his son is just 6 months old now) British social etiquette in general, how we both know each other and how we first met, and then onto the details Raphael’s project, learning English at summer schools in the UK, Liverpool, Oxford University and various other things…
So, now that you’re ready, let’s dive into this chat with Raphael Miller … and here we go.
…for more details about his summer school in Liverpool. Could be a great thing for your teenage kids to do – or if you know any other parents who are looking for a small, friendly and genuinely fun English summer school experience – tell them about Your English Summer.
A note about LEP Premium
I’ve been mentioning this for a couple of weeks now. I expect it to arrive in May. Things slowed down a bit this week because I got really ill with a very nasty throat infection – tonsillitis to be exact. Tonsils are glands at the back of the throat. Mine got infected and all swollen, which was intensely painful for about 5 days. My whole head felt like it was going to explode, I felt like someone was stabbing me in the head and neck with needles, while also periodically stepping on my legs and back in a pair of Dr Marten’s boots. Swallowing was like torture. Not nice at all. It was a lot like when I was sick in Japan. Thankfully this time it was just the tonsilitis and not something more serious. Anyway, the French healthcare system and my wife, looked after me and I’m feeling a lot better. Also, for a week to 10 days this month we’re going to the UK on holiday, which means taking some more time out from podcasting duties. There should be another episode coming out while I’m away but the launch of LEP Premium is unlikely to happen until May. I’m also still working with Libsyn to actually do things like make additions to the app and some other things before LEPP can happen.
Anyway, it should come along in May and when it does you should find that one of the first Premium episodes is a language review of this episode, also there are some language features from the episode about pets I wanted to look at, so that’ll probably come up too.
Remember that one of the aims of LEP Premium is to make sure you really learn the English you’ve heard on the podcast – not just hear it but really learn it properly – the English you might not have even noticed but with which you need a guiding hand – in this case my guiding hand, with all those years of teaching experience, podcast experience – so I can help you with your English and have some fun while doing it.
So, a language review for this episode with LEP Premium coming up.
Remember too that LEP Premium will work like this:
You’ll create a profile with Libsyn, my host
You pay a small amount per month (e.g. the price of a coffee for me) to access the Premium content
You can get the content in the LEP app or via a webpage – same account login.
It’s a chance for you to get content that focuses specifically on language teaching, while also making a contribution to LEP.
You’ll get those LEP Premium episodes, and also new Phrasal Verb episodes + more bonus stuff just for premium subscribers. You’ll be my VIP club and I’ll be happy to reward you with exclusive content.
Coming soon in LEPland.
Right, time to go now – have a great day, night, morning, afternoon, evening, milkshake smoothie or tropical fruit juice or whatever you’re having. Cheers!
Hello, etc! (some rambling here at the beginning!)
British TV Comedy
I often get requests from listeners asking me to recommend some good British TV comedy shows. So, that’s what you’re going to get in this episode – comments about using comedy TV to improve your English and then some recommendations of TV shows that you can watch.
I love comedy and I think we have a lot of great comedy in the UK.
The USA is also known for its comedy of course, and I’m sure almost all of you are aware of American shows like Friends, The Simpsons, Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother and so on.
But Britain also has a long tradition of comedy shows on TV – sitcoms, sketch shows and character-based comedy dramas. There are so many TV comedies from the UK and many of them are truly loved by the British public. Comedy is one of the things about the UK that I am most proud of.
It’s not just Mr Bean, by the way.
British and American comedy shows are different, in the same ways that British and American culture is different. Generally speaking, I find American shows to be slightly more positive in tone, the characters slightly more attractive and successful – and perhaps because of the commercial nature of a lot of American TV channels their comedy can be a bit more conventional and safe. I mean, I get the feeling that the producers of the shows are very conscious that they have to make their advertisers happy and as a result the shows end up having to appeal to a broader audience and this means that the shows are slightly less risky, slightly less edgy and slightly less weird than British comedy shows.
British comedy can be complicated for non-Brits to get and it can be an acquired taste. People sometimes say “British humour” or “British comedy” as a synonym of “weird, dark, surreal, complex, cerebral” and sometimes “unfunny”. I would agree with most of that, except the “unfunny” part of course. I am very glad that British comedy shows are a bit darker, weirder, more surreal, more complex (sometimes) and dare I say it – more intelligent.
Let’s not get snobbish here… British people have a tendency to become a bit snobbish when talking about American things, and that’s not very attractive. Ultimately, it’s a matter of context, taste and point of view and I really don’t want to get into the British comedy vs American comedy debate here.
My main point is: American TV comedy is generally more well-known than British TV comedy – and so my job here is to bring to your attention some of the really great programmes that have been made in the UK so you can enjoy them like I do and use them to learn English.
I think if you’re into British things and that includes our humour and our outlook on life in general, I think I might be able to introduce you to some programmes that you will really enjoy and that will be great content for you to consume as learners of British English.
I grew up watching British comedy on TV. For a while it was the highlight of my week. I used to plan my entire life around the comedy shows that were on TV in the evenings. That was my life. Playing football and watching comedy on TV.
Using TV Comedy in Class
I have always been really keen to introduce my students to British comedy and time and time again I have chosen to play clips of shows or whole episodes of shows in my classes.
This is actually a less effective and worthwhile than you might expect, unless as a teacher you do certain things.
The less successful thing to do is to just play an episode of a show without any preparation. E.g. “OK, it’s Friday afternoon, let’s watch a DVD. Turn out the lights, get comfortable, here we go.”
Expectation = we will laugh, everyone will enjoy it and learning English will be fun and relaxing on a Friday afternoon.
Reality = you don’t understand it, you don’t laugh, don’t have fun and just come away thinking British comedy is “weird and unfunny”.
This is because understanding and enjoying comedy is one of the more difficult things to do in another language. There are so many things that go into your enjoyment of a bit of TV comedy. Linguistically – you need to understand every detail and understand it fast. Often, jokes are very subtle and understated – especially if it is a good comedy. I think good comedies are often quite clever and not totally obvious. Some really great comedy is very obvious of course – like Charlie Chaplin or Laurel & Hardy – physical humour, or the humour of slapstick. But I really love comedy which is quite subtle, and I think a lot of British shows rely on this sort of thing. So, your English has to be really sharp to pick up on the particular use of language, or the way things are suggested rather than obviously stated. Also, you need to understand the cultural context too – like the fact that some British comedy shows present characters and situations that are familiar to most Brits, but which people who aren’t familiar with the culture wouldn’t really understand.
So, if your English isn’t quite sharp enough and you’re not familiar with the cultural context, a comedy show might appear to be unfunny and just weird.
So as a teacher I actually find it to be very hard work to use comedy TV shows in class successfully. It often takes a lot of pre-teaching of vocabulary, lots of preparation in terms of getting the students to discuss and consider the ideas, characters or situations in the show, and the chance to see scenes several times, perhaps with a script to help. In the end, the laughter might get lost, and unless the students are particularly motivated by the idea of enjoying a comedy TV show, it might just be a better idea to do something more conventional and learner-oriented in a classroom.
I have to admit that I’ve had some very frustrating experiences in class, when I’ve presented something to a group of students – perhaps an episode of a TV programme that I really love, and it hasn’t gone down very well. I just end up feeling a bit hurt. Imagine sharing something you really love with a group of people, and to have them just look at you blankly, or yawn, or say “it’s not funny” or “I am boring”.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some classes that adored the comedy I’ve shown them and asked for more, but not always.
Of course it’s all a question of taste and perhaps my expectations are the problem. I expect/hope that every single person in the class will get it. In reality, only some will get it. Perhaps it’s hard to enjoy it in a classroom context and really these things take time.
You need to watch again and again, to get to know the characters and so on. It takes time to really get into a show, to find it funny and to develop a love for it. Repeated viewings and a love for a show are great conditions for learning English from it. Also, I get downhearted when just one person isn’t into it. I might not notice the students who loved it just because Juan Pedro seemed bored.
So, perhaps the classroom isn’t the best environment for using TV comedy, but I am still convinced that there is a lot of value in using comedy shows to learn English.
My students who tell me they watch TV shows in English are always the better learners in class
One thing I do know for sure – the best learners of English in my experience are the types of people who take the time to get into TV shows and who don’t expect simple laughs at the start. Often the outstanding learners of English I’ve met are the ones who’ve told me that they’ve watched entire seasons of Black Books, or that they really loved watching Red Dwarf or The Mighty Boosh. It does happen sometimes.
Here are some facts: All the learners of English who have told me that they regularly watched a British comedy TV show have been good learners of English – communicative, good vocabulary, better understanding and pronunciation than their classmates and showing good potential for making progress through their English course, and I’ve never met a terrible learner who told me they watched comedy shows in English.
The ones who tell me they watch comedy shows in English are always the better students. Is there a connection? There must be something. Maybe the ones who enjoy watching comedy in English are the ones who are just more motivated, less willing to give up, more curious. THese are probably the successful traits – motivation, curiosity, patience, a desire to discover the deeper meaning beyond just learning the language as quickly as possible. If you have those traits I’m sure you’re more likely to be a better learner of English and you’re probably more likely to enjoy watching comedy programmes in English.
So I do encourage you to try and get into British comedy, even if it’s tricky at the start. Also, realise that there might be more to British comedy than meets the eye. It’s not like a lot of American comedy shows which are a bit superficial, to be honest – I mean, there’s never a lot of tragedy, pain, or harsh reality in those shows. Friends, for example – it’s all too colourful. The characters don’t seem to ever really suffer. Their lives are amazing. Where is the existential suffering? Their apartment is too nice. Their lives are too rich. They’re ultimately too happy and successful. I find that harder to relate to and therefore harder to get into. I need more depth than that. I don’t just want my comedy to be escapism. I want it to allow me to explore more complicated feelings and ideas. Comedy can be challenging, complex and fascinating.
Again, I should point out that it’s not a simple case of – American comedy = superficial, British comedy = deep. There are plenty of deep, dark and complex American shows. The Simpsons, for example – at it’s best it’s extremely nuanced and reflects such a multifaceted view of life, including not just Homer falling over, but the highs and lows, pain and joy of family life in all its richness, even if the characters are all presented in bright yellow colours.
What I want to do in this episode is sell the idea of using comedy for learning English, manage your expectations about British comedy in order to help you learn from it more effectively, and also recommend some shows.
I think from the outset this might be an impossible mission – to explain British comedy to an international audience of learners of English, and then have them actually go and watch it and also enjoy it as much as me – this may be an impossible mission, but I feel compelled to do it, and really – it’s up to you to make the mission a success isn’t it? There’s only so much I can do. The rest is your responsibility.
One advantage that we have is that you, my audience, aren’t just ordinary learners of English because I suppose you are already into British things, you probably like comedy and you must have a sense of humour if you either a) enjoy this podcast or b) have listened to it for a long time (this is a no ‘no sense of humour’ zone as far as I’m concerned) So I’m assuming that you’re already curious about British comedy, or you already appreciate it, or you are keen to get some recommendations from me about shows that I like.
I have one recommendation for you to consider…
Do not consume British comedy as comedy. Do not think of it as comedy.
This is reverse psychology, but it might just work.
Don’t think of it as comedy – because if you sit down to it expecting to laugh all the time, you might just be disappointed. Instead, think of these shows as tragedy, or a study in character.
By removing the emphasis on comedy, you should be able to focus instead on simply understanding the motivations of the characters, the situations they find themselves in and how this is all expressed by the things they say and the ways they interact. If you understand all these things, you might find it funnier or more moving as a result.
Think of them as pathos. (Pathos is like comedy, but instead of creating laughter, it creates sadness or a feeling of sympathy)
Think of each show as a study of some individuals and their lives filled with quiet desperation, or hope, or frustration, or ambition, or failure or contradiction.
Think of each show as a personality study or a soap opera.
But don’t think of it as a comedy.
This doesn’t mean that you should expect these shows to be rubbish and boring.
No, on the contrary – the shows are not rubbish, they’re often very good and really carefully created, even if they are filmed in TV studios with some cheap special effects or bland-looking lighting or set design and possibly with actors that don’t look like glamorous movie stars.
You might not get all the bright colours, white teeth and good hair that you might see in an American show.
But you will see really interesting people, very witty bits of dialogue, unexpected moments, awkward social situations with hilarious consequences. Some really complex and satisfying characters, and some genuinely classic moments of British TV culture, which have captured our imaginations and entered the popular consciousness.
But don’t consume these shows as comedy, but rather as drama.
Understanding British Comedy TV
Often in British TV shows the comedy comes from the frustration, the embarrassment, the flaws and the failures or the fears of the characters, or the ways that the characters argue and the funny moments of friction between them.
British TV comedy characters are like characters in Shakespearean tragedies. I know that sounds like I’m over egging the pudding a bit, but really I do believe that. The best TV comedy characters have fatal flaws. They have specific problems in their personalities that send them on a narrative arc which aims at success but usually ends in tragedy. Just like in a good Shakespeare play.
I’ll go into more detail in a moment.
But now, here are some specific tips for …
How to use shows to improve your English
Watch with and without subtitles
Use a notepad to make a note of what the characters are saying – especially when you notice specific phrases or other features of language.
If there are bits that make you laugh, note them down! Note down the phrasing, the intonation, the specific words, reactions and the lines that lead up to the funny moment. If it made you laugh it obviously meant something to you, so you’ll probably remember it better.
Repeat the funny lines to yourself a few times and try to copy the timing and emphasis.
Be aware of where the characters come from and how they speak with an accent.
Turn the spoken word into the written word and then back to the spoken word again.
Record yourself saying some bits.
Go the extra mile.
Maintain your curiosity. Give the shows a chance. It might take a while before you really get it and start finding it funny. But hang in there, it will come. Don’t expect too much, even though I’m telling you that these shows are wonderful. But trust me when I say that they are good.
When you find a show that you just like, watch it again and again! You can learn more from watching one show you like lots of times than from watching lots of shows you don’t like a lot.
Consider recording the audio from shows and listening to them without the visuals. It’s not a crazy thing to do. I did it at university with 2 episodes of I’m Alan Partidge. They used to entertain me so much that I recorded the audio onto my walkman and listened to them when I was on the bus. I learned a lot of the lines and I still really appreciate those episodes today.
Or if you have space on your phone, download the shows and watch when you’re on the bus or whatever – but obviously be careful of the NSFW content.
Read about the shows online. Often there are summaries of each episode on Wikipedia or on IMDB. Use those websites to find discussions of the episodes too, and also lists of quotes from the episodes.
Here are some specific shows that I can recommend.
Themes in UK TV Comedy
Almost all of these shows feature these themes:
The character is stuck in a situation in his/her life.
But the characters dream big – they have high hopes and big ambitions – they think they are better than the situation they’re in.
In every episode they try to achieve something, attempting to rise above their every day life.
But frustrating events work against them and they stay stuck in the same situation.
They’re thwarted by the situation around them but the biggest cause of their failure is themselves. Perhaps the character’s ambition, lack of self awareness or the fact that the character thinks they are better than their situation – these things cause the character to fail.
The main problem – the character doesn’t accept his/her situation and is not self aware and therefore always ends up frustrated, despite trying to achieve something bigger.
So, what about this list of shows?
I’ll explain the basic synopsis of the show and will also try to tell you what kind of English you might hear in the show as well as any other details I think you should know.
I’m not sure how you are going to actually find or get hold of these shows. I know some of you out there in internetland have access to anything through torrenting sites and stuff, or on those websites where shows are uploaded for streaming.
I recommend that you find the shows online, get them on DVD or however you normally watch programmes.
You also might think to yourselves, “Do I have to watch any of these shows…? Is this compulsory homework?” Well, no of course you can do whatever you want and if you’d rather just not bother, like I’m sure a great many of you will do, then go ahead. Carry on living your lives exactly like before, listen to the podcast on your way to work or whatever and that’s fine. But I know that quite a lot of you are interested in finding some British TV shows to watch – so here’s a list of personal recommendations from me to you.
These are all shows I have watched and enjoyed. In no particular order.
By the way, all of these could and should be individual episodes of the podcast in their own right, in which we listen to some clips and all that stuff, and I might do that in the future.
Some British TV Comedy Show Recommendations (in no particular order)
Reality-style sitcom (or “mockumentary”) Early 2000s.
This is a tragedy set in an office. It’s also a romance, of sorts.
There are two types of character – the ones who are trapped in hell and the ones who don’t realise that they’re trapped in hell. The hell in this case is an office in Slough. Perhaps hell within hell, because it’s bad enough being in Slough but working in an office in Slough is even worse.
Type of English
It’s very “realistic” – it’s a fly on the wall drama. The camera men are trying not to be intrusive. It’s like we’re just observing life in this office. As a result it’s not always clear what’s being said. Characters might mumble sometimes, and their sentences aren’t always complete – it’s the style, but this is good because this is how people actually speak. The laughs are not signalled, and there’s no laughter track. It might look like just a depressing office and this is the point.
That’s what this is about. Remember – tragedy! Most of the characters are from the south and don’t have really strong accents except a couple of them who have accents from the South West (Gareth for example).
I’m Alan Partridge
Mid 1990s – now
A man who thinks he is an A-grade broadcaster is actually a D-grade broadcaster – but it’s so much more than that. It started as a parody of the way TV broadcasters speak, but it’s become a parody of a certain type of middle aged British Man – the kind of man who reads the Daily Express and votes for Brexit.
I need to do a whole episode about this. You need to understand that Alan is someone who speaks like a local radio presenter in ordinary life and it shows how alienated he is from normal people. He talks to the public on the radio, but in real life he’s hopeless, but he doesn’t realise. His accent is a bit like a parody of a sports reporter or a radio presenter. This is a complex character and he doesn’t realise how ridiculous he is. We’re laughing at him, not with him.
Actually Irish not British.
Sitcom – 1990s
The pathos: a man who is stuck in the priesthood with a drunkard and an idiot on an island off Ireland and he dreams of having a more glamourous life.
It’s not a British show, it’s Irish. The accents are from the Republic of Ireland.
Historical sitcom or satire – 1980s – 1990s
Edmund is essentially a modern-minded man stuck in the idiocy of British history.
This features some of the UK’s most favourite actors and comedians including Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. Usually the English you’ll hear is quite old-fashioned. You’ll hear parodies of old English styles, and plenty of sarcasm. Although the style is old fashioned (it’s set in the Tudor period, Regency period or WW1 period) the characters should speak clearly and in RP.
Don’t watch series 1 of Blackadder! Avoid series 1. Only series 2-4 are good.
Sitcom – 1990s
Two complete cretins live a miserable unemployed existence in Hammersmith – it’s basically Samuel Beckett.
They speak with a bit of RP and a bit of London. Often the characters adopt high-class English in contrast to the low-class situation they live in.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus
Sketch show from the 1960s and 1970s.
A group of highly educated Oxbridge graduates make fun of absolutely everything, including history, comedy clichés and existence itself.
George Harrison once said that when The Beatles split up at the end of the sixties that The Beatles spirit passed into Monty Python. There’s something in that, because the pythons had something special about them. Not every sketch is great, but a lot of them are brilliant. It’s probably best to just watch the films – Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
Sitcom – Late 1990s early 2000s.
Two twenty-somethings who live in a fantasy world of their own creation struggle to exist in the real world – everything they do becomes a scene from a famous film.
The Day Today
News parody and satire. Mid 1990s.
The news is pompous and self-important to the point of being surreal.
The same concept as The Day Today but a lot more controversial.
Only Fools and Horses
Sitcom – 1980s – 1990s.
Two orphaned brothers from a working class background just try to make ends meet. One of them ends up becoming middle class when he falls in love with a middle-class girl, but he’s working class at heart.
Shows I talk about in the Bonus Audio – in the LEP App.
Sitcom – Late 1990s – early 2000s.
Bernard works in a bookshop selling books to the public. He loves books but the problem is he hates people. He also loves wine and smoking. It’s a bit like Withnail &I.
Sitcom – 1990s.
Two posh middle aged women who work (in the vaguest possible sense) in the fashion industry in London try to live like they are still teenagers in swinging London in the late 1960s.
The Thick of It
Political satire and sitcom – Late 2000s.
Politics is a dog-eat-dog world in which serving the public is the lowest priority.
Political satire and sitcom – 1970s – 1980s.
Politics is a dog-eat-dog world in which serving the public is the lowest priority – but with less swearing and more charming old fashioned upper-class sophistication.
Sitcom – 1960s – 1970s
Britain’s last line of defence against the Nazis is a group of incompetent old grandads.
Sci-Fi Sitcom – 1990s.
The last human being alive is stuck on a spaceship with a hologram of the person he hates the most, a senile super-computer, a robot butler and a man who evolved from cats – full of sarcasm, put downs and cheap science fiction special effects.
Gavin & Stacey
Sitcom – Late 2000s
A genuinely sweet and heartwarming comedy about two people from two different British communities (Essex in England and Barry Island in South Wales) who fall in love with each other.
Sitcom – late 2000s – now.
Two exhausted parents attempt to bring up 3 children, and lose the battle.
Other shows (I didn’t get time to mention them at all)
One Foot in the Grave
Sitcom – 1990s.
A man in his 70s just wants to enjoy his retirement but he is constantly frustrated but life’s little irritations.
Sketch show – 2000s.
A sketch show in which a range of eccentric and grotesque British characters talk in catchphrases.
The Fast Show
Sketch show – 1990s.
The same as Little Britain, but with a bit more pathos. This came before Little Britain.
Sitcom/drama – 2000s.
A man struggles to become famous as an actor and writer, and then when he does become famous he realises how empty it is – all the celebrities he meets are total weirdos – and they are played by themselves.
The Royle Family
Sitcom/drama – 1990s/2000s.
A northern working class family live their lives sitting in front of the TV. The twist is – we are watching them from the TV’s point of view.
Drama? 2010s – now.
Two middle aged men go on a road trip and bicker with each other, while competing to see who can do the best impressions of famous actors – we also realise that their lives are a struggle between ambition, the emptiness, self-fulfilment and a life in show business. Stars award-winning comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon and directed by filmmaker Michael Winterbottom.
All these shows sound like dramas or tragedies, but they are really funny and charming and I recommend you check them out!
The League of Gentlemen
Sketch show – 1990s – 2000s.
The Mighty Boosh
Surreal sitcom – Late 2000s.
They’re both losers in their own way and they live in a dream world of their own creation – and that dream world is populated by all kinds of wonderful, colourful characters, music, and magic, but it’s all about this funny relationship between two mis-matched friends.
This show is bonkers but really sweet at the same time. The two main characters speak in modern London accents. Vince has an estuary English accent – sort of like cockney – typical London accent. Howard is similar but probably closer to RP.
Sitcom – 2000s.
A terribly dark tragedy about the struggle of two cynical guys in their 30s attempting to live in modern London. The horror comes from the fact that we can hear their thoughts and see the world from their point of view, and they’re awful people.
They’re both quite well-spoken, particularly David Mitchell’s character who is very uncool and his slightly posh RP is evidence of that.
Sitcom – 1970s.
An utterly fed up man is stuck in the wrong job – welcoming people into his hotel on ‘the English rivera’.
The IT Crowd
Keeping Up Appearances
One Foot in the Grave
The Young Ones
Steptoe & Son
Have I Got News for You?
Mock The Week
Never Mind The Buzzcocks
8 out of 10 Cats
Would I Lie to You?
And plenty plenty more!
If you like a British comedy TV show and I didn’t mention it. Add it in the comment section. :)
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