Autumn is in full swing here in the northern hemisphere, so this Real English Conversations episode is full of vocabulary related to the colors, weather, moods and feelings associated with this time of year. Lori and her friend Eliza talk about exercising outdoors, the health benefits of spending time out in nature, and whether or not it’s a good idea to pick and eat wild mushrooms. Feeling tired and drained? Grab your audio player and some headphones, get yourself to a park or forest, and have a nice walk while practicing your English listening!
Supplementary material for further study
How nature affects our health and well-being
What is leaf peeping? Read this article in The Guardian and find out. Includes a wealth of adjectives related to being outdoors in the autumn.
This article explains how you can boost your mood by spending time in nature
Hi English learners! Lori here, your teacher from Betteratenglish.com. Wherever and whenever you happen to be listening to this I hope you’re doing great. I’m recording this in early November 2020, and if you aren’t living out in the bush somewhere with no connection to the outside world, you’re probably aware that it’s a pretty stressful time. So because the past few episodes I’ve given you have been about rather heavy topics, I thought I’d give you something lighter for a change.
A couple of weeks ago I recorded a fun conversation with another English teacher. Her name is Eliza and she is from Belarus. She’s not a native speaker of English, but her English is fantastic. I really enjoyed talking to Eliza, and I think you’ll agree that her infectious enthusiasm and positivity really shine in this conversation. And I also think that teachers who are not native speakers of the language they teach have a deep understanding of what it’s actually like to learn that language, and that this can really benefit their students. I often wish that I could somehow experience learning English like a non-native speaker, just so I would have insight into what it’s really like. Eliza teaches online at italki, so if you feel like your personalities would click and you want to get in touch with her about lessons, you’ll find her italki profile linked the show notes.
All right, the conversation you’ll hear is actually the very first time Eliza and I ever spoke. So I start off by asking her about how she learned English, because I was really curious about that. What follows is a great example of a typical informal conversation in English between two people who don’t know each other, but who at least have some things in common. Becoming conversational in a foreign language is really difficult because conversations are completely unpredictable. There’s no way that you can prepare in advance for everything that might happen in a conversation. As you’ll hear, Eliza and I cover quite a range of topics. We talk about how Eliza learned English as a child, then move on to the health benefits of spending time outside, our favorite seasons, and even whether or not it’s a good idea to pick and eat wild mushrooms.
Here in the northern hemisphere it’s autumn, or fall, right now, so there is a lot of vocabulary related to the colors, the weather and the feelings and moods of autumn. And hey, I even learned a new English expression from this conversation…listen and see if you can hear what that was. And if you’re interested in grammar there is a great example of the use of the modal verb would to talk about activities that you typically used to do in the past. There are also lots different types of conditional sentences in this conversation. So those are some things you can listen for if you are interested in picking out specific grammar points from this episode.
As always, you can find the transcript of this episode linked in the show notes. Or you can go to my website, betteratenglish.com, and find this transcript and many more all waiting there for you to download for your personal language study. My website also has all the different ways you can get in touch with me to let me know how you respond to these podcasts. What do you like? What don’t you like? What do you want more of? Less of? I make these podcasts for you, so if you have something to share with me, please do.
OK, let’s get started with the conversation. Are you ready? Here we go!
Lori: Oh, great. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know how old you were when you started learning English, but your English is…
Eliza: Ooh….I started learning English when I was a kid. I was seven years old at that time, or six, maybe six and a half at school. But you know, I took an interest in English in high school because I participated in Olympiads competitions. And I studied on my own for six hours per day. I bought books. My parents helped me a lot at that time, because we went to the capital of Belarus, Minsk, to buy British books, because the, the shop of British books was only in Minsk at that time. And I had no, the internet was not so widespread at that time. And I didn’t have any resources. So thanks to my parents, and they’re support I was able to buy a lot of books, and I just studied, studied and studied and crammed for hours on end. I participated in Olympiads and won, actually.
Lori: Oh, wow.
Eliza: Yeah, it’s a long story.
Lori: I think so cool to hear that the, the motivation and the interest came from within you. Because I mean, wouldn’t you agree that if you really want to learn and become super proficient at a language, you really do need that motivation?
Eliza: Exactly. Yeah. It’s not possible without it. Actually, maybe it’s not a good idea for a teacher to say so but I believe that being self taught, is sometimes more efficient, more effective, more productive than being taught by somebody else.
Eliza: Yeah. But not, but not everybody can be self taught…equally well, I mean. It takes a lot of self discipline, motivation.
Eliza: Yeah. It’s hard.
Lori: And I think most important is that you have a genuine need or that there’s something that you want to do with the language. That you really feel motivated, like, “I really want to be able to do this thing and I can’t do it now. So what do I need to do to be able to teach myself—or have a teacher help me be able—to do this thing that I want to do?” If you don’t have that, it’s, I don’t know…unless you have, like, more of an an interest just in language in general and find it fun to look at as more of, like, an object of study, then for me it seems like it’s hard to really make progress. But I digress, I digress. Have you been able…?
Lori: One thing about teaching online, I can imagine that you have to spend a lot of time inside at the computer is that…?
Eliza: It’s true. It’s true. Yeah. I’ve been searching for different materials for a long time before I stumbled upon something worthwhile to include into lessons. But actually, I’ve been teaching for many years. So that’s why for me now, it’s not that hard as it was, for example, nine years ago. No, it’s kind of just a walk in the park. If I may say so.
Lori: Yeah, a metaphorical walk in the park! But you are still…when you’re teaching and doing these things…you’re still inside, right? You don’t take your laptop outside and do lessons?
Eliza: Oh, you know, the weather now doesn’t enable me to do this. Of course, I would do this with pleasure, and I did it in the summer. Last summer. But now it’s not possible. Actually. I’m looking out of the window right now and I can see a drizzle…it’s drizzling… the sun… the sky’s overcast and, yeah, it’s not inviting. So no, I don’t want to go out, no.
Lori: I feel the same way…when I look outside and see it’s raining I’m not so motivated to get outside. But I will say as long as you have proper clothing and it’s not like just too terrible, you know, just totally pouring down [rain], with heavy winds or something. For me, the hardest part is just getting out the door. Once I’m out the door, then I find that it’s really, it’s not that bad, you know?
Eliza: Yeah, I agree. Especially, you can go leaf peeping. Yeah, not just going for a walk but leaf peeping. If you know what I mean?
Lori: Actually, I didn’t, you, we had talked earlier and you had mentioned this idea about leaf peeping. And I had no idea what it was.
Eliza: Yeah, it’s it’s a funny sounding term. Which means just obviously, what can you do with leaves? Yeah, when you are walking on a brisk, autumn morning, you can just pick leaves, red, yellow, russet, different colored leaves and just enjoy the views. Yeah, sort of this thing, yeah.
Lori: And apparently it’s actually a term, that is, an American term for basically going sightseeing with the goal of looking at beautiful autumn foliage, if I understand correctly, but I had never heard it heard it before. And at first I thought, “Ooh, that sounds a bit dodgy…leaf peeping!”
Eliza: It does!
Lori: …hiding in the bushes…hiding in the bushes and peeping out through the leaves!
Eliza: Oh, that’s what one of my students told me, yeah, when I asked him what he thinks it might mean. But yeah, it’s not that dodgy as it sounds. Actually it’s very beneficial if you go for a stroll in an autumn park and collect some leaves. It’s not just the idea of cleaning the leaves from the earth, from the ground, yeah, but enjoying the different colors and soaking up the atmosphere. Because according to some psychologists, it can boost your mood. Yeah, it can keep at bay some viruses and strengthen your immune system. So lots and lots of different benefits.
Lori: Yeah. And I would say that that probably generalizes to just being outdoors in general in pleasant surroundings, that it’s not specifically related to leaf peeping, or, you know, autumn foliage, but just in general, being outdoors, in pleasant surroundings, experiencing the wind on your face and the sun shining and seeing the plants and the trees, and if you’re lucky, maybe animals, that…that there’s something in us that just, it really makes us feel good.
Eliza: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. Maybe can be explained by the fact that we, as a human race, yeah, we’ve all lived close to nature more than we’ve lived in concrete jungles. Yeah, in cities in big cities. So yeah, actually, how long have been have we been living in cities? Yeah, in terms of history, yeah, for two centuries?
Lori: Yeah, something like that, I would say, it probably started…
Eliza: It’s a drop in the ocean.
Lori: …around the Industrial Revolution? But history is really not not at all…my expertise at all. But compared to our…the the course of human evolution, the time we lived in cities is…is just a tiny little blip, really.
Eliza: That’s right. That’s right. It’s a drop in the ocean, compared to all the long centuries and thousands of years of communing with nature, living side by side. Yeah, that’s why I believe nature, it calms down your nerves, and is the best healing method.
Lori: Yeah, yeah, I know that I just love being out in nature when I can. But actually, where I live right now, is not really the best for being outdoors.
Eliza: Really, why is that?
Lori: Mainly because I live, I live sort of on the outskirts of a little town. And it’s mostly an agricultural area so I can get out and I can walk but the…I have to walk on quite a bit of kind of dangerous roads before I get to a place where…
Eliza: What a shame!
Lori: Yeah, it is a shame. And I could, I mean, it’s so easy. I’m actually so lazy, I’m so spoiled. I could hop in the car or get on my bike and you know, within 10 minutes, be somewhere much nicer. But I find that I just don’t take the time to do that. And that’s something I think I need to change.
Eliza: Okay, is it because of the autumn? Or do you tend to behave like this in all seasons?
Lori: It’s it’s pretty much all seasons. And it’s all since I moved here to the Netherlands, for sure. Especially moved to where we live now. We moved to a new house a couple years ago, and it’s just not…like the area right around the house, where I walk out the door and get on…you know, start walking…it’s not that nice for walking. I would have to make an effort to to go somewhere.
Eliza: Okay, but what Okay,
Lori: But what about you where you live? Do you have a nice place nearby?
Eliza: Oh, fortunately, I live near a park. Actually, there is a forest, a patch of forest near my house, and a park so I can choose where to go. And actually, yeah, I’m spoiled in that sense. Yum. And, you know, there are a lot of things that you can do. Not only just go for a stroll or leaf peeping, for instance, go mushroom picking, though it’s not my cup of tea. What about you? Do you like it?
Lori: Have you have you tried picking mushrooms? Really?
Eliza: I’m ashamed to say no. I’ve never done this because I’d never trust my choice of mushrooms. I wouldn’t wouldn’t want to get food poisoning. Yeah. Right. But it’s immensely popular among people here in Belarus…
Eliza: …because I leave in capital in the capital of Belarus, Minsk. And you know that in autumn a lot of my acquaintances, friends, even students go mushroom collecting to forests.
Lori: Oh, wow. It’s so interesting that you bring that up, because before I lived here in the Netherlands, I lived in Sweden for, whoa…close to 20 years…
Lori: And there mushroom picking in the autumn is totally a thing.
Eliza: Oh, really?
Lori: Yeah, it’s a…yeah. And I was fortunate enough to have parents-in-law who were very, very good at picking mushrooms. And because it’s such a popular thing that…you learn, actually that there are—they call them the seven safe types of mushrooms—that once you learn to identify those seven types, it’s almost impossible to make a mistake.
Eliza: Mm-hmm. Still I’m not convinced, though, you know? Yeah, well, I’m really afraid of that this thing.
Lori: Yeah, yeah. But what once you’ve learned and once you’ve been out and actually got your hands dirty and done it and you’ve really learned the, you know, the seven safe types, you’ll see that it would be…really, I think the only way that you could make a mistake is if somehow as you were cleaning your mushrooms a bad one sort of got in and you didn’t notice it. But it would be really, really hard to, for example, what they call it
Eliza: To confuse them?
Lori: Yeah, yeah, would be really hard if you stick to those seven safe types because it’s not only the way the mushrooms look, but it’s how they smell, where they grow. And yeah, so I feel safe. I would feel safe picking my own mushrooms and eating them. But…
Eliza: What’s holding you back?
Lori: Yeah, I’ve actually never tried here in the Netherlands. I know. We have forests. So I’m sure there must be mushrooms growing to pick but you know…
Eliza: After the podcast, maybe you’re going to pick a bucket. Yeah, get all get dressed and go out there.
Lori: Yeah, well, I will say that it is one of my best memories of being outdoors is going mushroom picking on a beautiful, crisp, clear, cool autumn day. And spending all day walking through the forest and picking mushrooms and then you know it’s a little bit cold but not to where you’re super uncomfortable. Yeah, it’s just so satisfying to then come home.
Lori: Yeah, come home, and you’ve had exercise and you’ve been out in nature and yeah, I really actually miss that from Sweden. It’s It’s funny, but talking about it now has brought up all those feelings.
Eliza: Now you’re getting nostalgic, aren’t you?
Lori: Yeah, yeah.
Lori: What about you? Have you got any memories of particularly nice times being out in nature?
Eliza: You know, oh, okay, apart from leaf peeping, and the absence of mushroom picking, what else can be done? What else can I be doing in parks? Maybe just going for, going on a picnic might be an option for me. Because I like barbecue, grilled fish, for example. Even mushrooms, grilled mushrooms, but not picked by anyone I know. Vegetables also. And you know, I remember the picnics that we had with our family when I was a child. Yeah, back in childhood. That was fantastic. Because my father would cook fabulous barbecue, and my brother would go fishing and me and my mom would spend the day talking. And also there’d be some friends or relatives of ours. And we’d be spending a really wonderful time together in nature. Yeah, despite the mosquitoes actually. Yeah, that’s a nuisance. But if we don’t take them into consideration, I believe that nature is a wonderful thing in all seasons.
Lori: Yeah. Yeah, it’s definitely, I think all seasons have their, you know, have their charm.
Hi again! I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Eliza. It’s funny, ever since our conversation I’ve been making it a point to spend more time outside. And I have to say, it feels amazing. And I truly feel that it was a direct result of talking to Eliza, it’s like it gave me a little motivational boost. And incidentally, I recently heard from Eliza that the same is true for her. She’s also been motivated to do more exercise out in the fresh air. Do you remember in the introduction I mentioned that conversations are tricky because you can’t predict where they’re going to go? Well, the results of conversations are also unpredictable. You never really know where a conversation is going to lead you, or how getting to know someone new is going to affect your life.
All right then, if you’re in the northern hemisphere, I hope you’re able to enjoy some cool, clear autumn weather, and that nature is treating you to a gorgeous display of autumn colors. It’s a great time of year for walking outdoors, so I hope you are somewhere you can take advantage of that. Maybe you can even try some leaf peeping! Or mushroom picking…but mushroom picking only if you really know what you’re doing, please!
In the show notes you’ll find links to Eliza’s teacher profile on italki as well as other places you can find her online. And there are also links to some supplementary articles about the health benefits of being outdoors, and of course, leaf peeping! That’s all for this time. This is Lori signing off from Better at English headquarters, wishing you an inspired and productive day. Bye for now!