Hi English learners! Lori here, your teacher from Better at English dot com.
It’s story time here today, something I don’t think I’ve done here on the podcast before. I’m going to use natural English, but will try to speak just a little more carefully than I normally would, so that more people can follow along.
Today I’ve been thinking about mistakes, mainly how the fear of making mistakes in English really holds some learners back. Believe me, I know how this feels. I’ve made plenty of embarrassing mistakes myself in my target languages. Luckily, most of the time I’m able to just laugh them off, and they don’t really get me into trouble. But sometimes mistakes lead to a total breakdown of communication. And that’s no fun at all.
I thought you might like to hear about one of my more memorable mistakes, a mistake that actually caused a real problem and made me feel super embarrassed. It happened over 30 years ago, (yes, I’m that old) but it taught me such an important lesson about language learning that I still remember it to this day.
So let me take you back over thirty years, to my first year living in Sweden. I think I’d been living there for about nine months when this happened. I’d been trying to learn Swedish since I arrived, and by then I was able to understand a fair amount. I think I could speak without too much difficulty about general, everyday things. I still made tons of mistakes, for sure, but they didn’t really cause problems. That is, until this one particular day.
Hi English Learners! Lori here, your teacher from Better at English.com. For your listening practice today, I’ve got another Real English conversation. It’s actually one of my favorite conversations from deep in the Better at English archives. I’ve re-edited it so that new listeners can enjoy it.
This conversation features lots of idioms and slang, and is a good example of a spontaneous, authentic English conversation between two people who know each other well. It also features lots of narrative tenses. You can read more about the verb tenses used in this conversation here.
Are you ready to practice your English listening skills? Here comes the conversation.
Lori: Yeah, something kind of funny happened to me when I was shopping for office supplies today.
Andy: OK, what happened?
L: Well, my boss had, had given me a list of office supplies to buy on my way home from a teaching gig, because I drive right past the office supply shop.
And I’m always happy to do it, ’cause, as you know, I LOVE office supplies — it’s almost like my, my “office-supply porn” — I can go in and get my daily fix of all the nice things for, you know, keeping organized, and folders and notebooks, and…I had a whole list of things to buy.
And when I got up to the register and the clerk was ringing me up, the total came to over a thousand Swedish crowns. Which is not a problem, I mean, they just just send us an invoice; it wasn’t like I had to worry about money. But then he said, “Because you spent so much money here today, you can go pick one of those rolls of toilet paper over there.”
A: Toilet paper!
L: Yeah, toilet paper! And, I mean, we’re always happy to get free toilet paper; you know, it’s one of those useful things that, that, you know, a business has to buy…
A: You can never have too much.
L: Yeah, exactly. But the thing is, I looked at where he was pointing, and it was these HUGE, GIGANTIC, industrial-sized packages, all shrink-wrapped in plastic, of toilet paper…I mean, it was HUGE, I could NOT BELIEVE that I was getting one for free.
This is the free downloadable transcript for the Real English Conversations episode from Better at English. Download the transcript to read along as you listen. The transcript also contains a study guide with vocabulary definitions and English usage notes.
Hi English learners! Lori here, your teacher from Betteratenglish.com. Last week I shared the first part of a cool conversation I had with Dr. BJ Fogg, all about making the most of your motivation. Today you’ll be hearing part two, the final part of this conversation. If you missed the first part, make sure to go back and listen to part one before you listen to part two.
At the end of part one, BJ was telling me about his goal to get better at writing neatly on a whiteboard. He knew that he needed to practice a lot if he wanted to improve, so he wanted to make it as easy as possible to practice every day. In this part of the conversation, you’ll hear what he did to change his environment to make practicing easy, even on days when his motivation is low. You’ll also hear about how his practice routine is working for him.
BJ: One of the habits I’m doing right now is, I’m practicing whiteboarding. I’m practicing with markers writing on a whiteboard. You know, like teachers do.
BJ: And I want my handwriting to get much, much better and so, I’m practicing every day. But anyway, what I did was I went out and I got some marker paper, I got a bunch of markers, I got different whiteboards so I have whiteboards in different parts of my house. I have the marker paper, I have markers, I have a marker in my bathroom, one in my sun room, I have a whole set in my office, I have a whole set in my other office. In other words, I made it really, really easy to practice writing with markers by getting all the materials and getting everything set up. And I did that when I was in a period of high motivation. So now, it’s really easy just to pick up a marker and practice. I don’t have to be super motivated.
Lori: Right. And– and you can tell yourself that, you know, “You have all your materials. It’s all easy right at hand.” You could even tell yourself, “I’m just going to write one sentence. That’s all I feel like doing right now and —
BJ: Yeah. In fact, just before your call, that’s what I did. I was sitting down and I was going to read but I was like, “No, no. I’m just going to, like, get out the marker board and write one sentence.” And I ended up filling up the entire marker board because I thought, “Oh, this is kind of fun. I’m going to keep going.”
Lori: Yeah —
BJ: And then, you called.
Lori: Have– have you — oh, I’m sorry to interrupt your practice…
BJ: [crosstalk] No, I was expecting your call.
Lori: …while you were on a roll. But yeah, and I guess…how’s your writing? Has it been improving? It must be improving.
BJ: Oh my gosh, it’s so much better.
Lori: And that —
Lori: Because I can imagine when you start seeing that your efforts are paying off, that that makes it more likely that you’re going to pick up those pens and do your practicing.
BJ: Yeah, and I– I think there are some behaviors or skills where it becomes clear pretty quickly — your progress. And then there are some, at least outcomes, where it’s harder to measure like, “Wow, am I really reducing my stress? Am I really getting healthier? Am I really…,” you know, whereas the whiteboarding — and then, I practice guitar every day…
Lori: Oh! Cool.
BJ: …and– and other things. Yeah, but in those two cases, it’s very clear that you’re getting better. It’s just obvious that you’re getting better. And the writing is one that I may have other people join me in because…and then take pictures before and after because it’s– it’s quite dramatic.
Lori: I…yeah, I can imagine if you practice. I mean, I haven’t practiced writing really since I was a kid; and learning to write and then, you know, you get your hand style and you think that that’s sort of what you’re stuck with for the rest of your life.
BJ: And part of it is changing; changing like what your style is. You know, because my normal style doesn’t work very well on a whiteboard so I have, sort of…it’s almost like having, well, in some ways, speaking a different language because you shift into a different gear. So, I speak Spanish and French, and I know when I speak those languages, I go into a different gear. It’s just different. And when I’m writing on a whiteboard, it’s not like I’m writing in a notebook. It’s just…I’m drawing in a different– different movements and different ways of thinking, well, about the letters and the spacing of the letters. And on the whiteboard, I’m trying to get things very straight, up and down just like you might try to get an accent, like, you know, an accent right and you’re really focusing. I think there’s probably a lot in common about learning languages and practicing other skills. …
Hi English learners! Lori here, your teacher from Betteratenglish.com. You are in for a treat with this episode of Real English Conversations. It’s a really special episode, and I’m so happy to be sharing it with you.
A while back I had the huge honor of having a conversation with one of my own personal heroes, Dr. BJ Fogg. BJ is the director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University. Put simply, he’s a scientist who spends a lot of time studying how to help people create desirable habits and getting those habits to stick. The concept of motivation plays an important role in BJ’s work. I think most people would agree that motivation is incredibly important for successful language learning, maybe even the most important thing. When you’re highly motivated, it’s easy. But when your motivation is low, it’s not so easy.
BJ has lots of practical advice about how you can make most of your motivation, no matter if it’s high or low. His way of thinking about motivation as a wave blew my mind when I first came across it. The motivation wave can easily be applied to language learning, so I am super excited to share it with you.
As always, you can find the full transcript of this conversation, including a bonus vocabulary lesson at betteratenglish.com/transcripts.
OK, you’re about to hear part one of the conversation. I’ll pop in again at the end to give you four things you can do to get the most benefit from this episode.
Are you ready? Let’s go!
Lori: Can– can people depend on motivation when they’re trying to learn things and do things that are difficult?
BJ: Well, in order to do anything difficult, you have to have motivation or you won’t do them. So either, if it’s…if the behavior or task is difficult, you’ve got to find some way to summon up some motivation; or if you make the task simpler, you won’t need so much motivation. So you basically have two options: boost your motivation or make the task easier to do.
Lori: Okay yeah, that– that makes a lot of sense. And I— I noticed in your video, you said that…people often, like teachers or people trying to initiate behavior change or help people change their behavior, that, you don’t like to hear them talking about, “motivating behavior change,” you prefer the term “facilitating” behavior change. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that.
BJ: Yeah. In English, there’s a common phrase that people use when they talk about behavior change, “We need to motivate behavior change.” And yes, you could motivate behavior change but there’s other ways to get behavior to happen. And if you’re looking at long-term behaviors or getting people to create habits, focusing on motivation is the wrong focus. You really need to look at, how do we make the behavior easy to do? And also, it’s related to the habits — how do we make the behavior rewarding or emotionally satisfying? And so, the thing that I’m worried about is by using that phrase, “motivate behavior change,” people are really limiting themselves in how they think about the different ways to design for behavior change.
Lori: It’s interesting to me, coming from, you know, having a background as a teacher. I can remember from my initial teacher training, we were often…it was either implied or— or sometimes even overtly stated that the idea was, “You have to motivate your students. You have to do things to keep their motivation up.” And— and of course, you know, [as a teacher] you want to be motivating and inspiring to people. But when I saw your video, your presentation about the motivation wave, it’s kind of like, a little bell went off that– you know, that it makes so much sense. Could you just explain just the basic, basic idea about the motivation wave — talking about the peaks and valleys, and difficult and hard?
BJ: Everyone, I think, has experienced this phenomenon in their life where they get excited about doing some behavior or some set of behaviors like, getting healthier or reducing stress. Now that excitement, as it goes up, I decided to call that, a “motivation wave” because it will go up but it will also come back down. So, it’s not a constant thing. And what the motivation wave allows you to do, when the motivation wave is high — you can do hard things, you can spend lots of time, you can put in a lot of effort, you can persist through hardship if your motivation is high. And as your motivation comes down, you can’t do the hard things anymore, you only can do simple things. And so the key to understand…there’s a few keys: Number one, that motivation won’t always be high. That goes up and down. And then two, when motivation is high, that’s the right time to get yourself or other people to do hard things. And when motivation is low, you can’t do hard things; what you can do are simple things. And so designing — if you’re trying to get yourself to study more or exercise more or what have you and your motivation’s really low, then you should take, let’s say, the study task, and break it down to just three minutes and say, …
Hi English learners! Lori here, your teacher from Betteratenglish.com. In this episode of Real English Conversations, you’ll hear part 5 of my conversation with Kyla. This is the final part of our conversation about the book Daily Rituals by Mason Currey. In the previous episode we talked about dealing with distractions and interruptions when you’re trying to work. This time we talk about one of the biggest interrupters of all: email. We also talk about ways to structure your day to make it easier to do important things.
After the conversation I’ll be back with three questions you can use for speaking practice. Oh, and one final note: I’ve marked this episode as explicit because near the end of the conversation I say a couple of mildly vulgar words. They’re very common slang words that you hear all the time on TV, but I’m playing it safe and warning you anyway. You never know what someone might find offensive!
OK, let’s get on with the conversation!
Real English Conversation Transcript
Kyla: I was going to say, I guess, one drawback about the book actually is that so much of it is, there’s not— there’s not very many current contemporary people in it to ask about their rituals. It’s, yeah, an awful lot of people from the last century before, before internet and so it would be— it would be nice to find, you know, the daily rituals of more people living now with the different forms of communication that we have now.
Kyla: Because of course there were several people that would have, you know, they’d have their hour in which they would make their phone calls to their agents or their phone calls to newspapers or, you know, when it was still there. Because you still had the communication that was required with the— the rest of the world. But I think it was probably much easier to schedule, “Okay, this is the time that I’m going to be on the telephone because this is when I have access to a telephone or…”
Kyla: You know, “This is the time of day when I sit and write my letters and read my letters,” which there’s no reason why we can’t do that now but I think it’s easier when you have a physical letter that you can put in a pile on the— on the bedside table or the coffee table and…
Lori: Right. And it’s— it’s also…there’s a limit there, you know. It’s self-limiting. You see, “Okay, I have five letters I have to answer…”
Kyla: That’s right.
Lori: …and you know that it’s not like today with email where at any second, you can get more added to that pile and you never know when you’re going to get one.
Kyla: That’s— that’s right. You’re sitting there answering, it’s like, “I have five emails to respond to,” and by the time you’re done, there’s five more. [laughs]
Lori: Exactly. Or you send your answers and then the person replies right away with still more questions, and it never ends.
Lori: So there— there was more of a sense of, like, these finite chunks of work that you could do in a given period than— than now where the boundaries between work and not work and yeah, it’s just getting fuzzier and fuzzier all the time, I think.
Kyla: That’s right. Yeah.
Lori: But I agree. I agree with you that it would be great to hear some examples or read some examples of people living in our time dealing with the— the kind of problems we’re dealing with every day. Yeah, very cool. Let me see. Was there something else? I guess my— my…I don’t know if it would be my final question, but one question that I have for you is, if you have picked up anything from the book that you have started to apply to your own life, or that has somehow changed the way you approach getting your creative work done or your productive work done?
Kyla: One of the— one of the things for sure is, and I actually went and found the quote again because I thought it was a brilliant quote, and it’s from William James. And he talks about what he calls the “effortless custody of automation.”
Kyla: I have really tried to do sort of the opposite of automating the creative process, but that’s automating the mundane process. And I found a little bit of success and I think— I think it has grown over time and will continue to grow but sort of, like, we kind of have a routine in my household of, like, when dishes get washed and when they get put away and who does what. And I think it sort of making habits out of the mundane but other necessary things that have to happen and just kind of getting those things out of the way without having to think about them leaves you more time and more space to do the things that really matter, which, you know, is creative work or learning new things. And I think that was sort of, oddly enough, one of the things that I really took from that book, and it’s almost the opposite of what the book was about in some ways. [laughs] …
Hi English learners! Lori here, your teacher from Betteratenglish.com. In this episode of Real English Conversations, you’ll hear part 4 of my conversation with Kyla. Up until now we’ve been talking about the book Daily Rituals by Mason Currey. But in this part of the conversation we digress [go off topic] and talk about dealing with distractions and interruptions when we’re trying to work. That’s one of the fun things about conversations: you never know where they are going to go!
What kind of things do you find distracting when you are trying to work or study? How do you feel when you get interrupted when you’re trying to concentrate? Do you think you have anything in common with Kyla and me? Listen to the conversation and find out!
After the conversation I’ll be back with three questions you can use for speaking practice.
OK, let’s get on with the conversation!
Lori: Yeah, it’s, I think, really important. I found that it kind of made me feel a little bit better about myself because I find that if I’m going to sit down and do something, maybe not necessarily– necessarily creative, but that really requires my full attention and concentration, I cannot handle distractions and interruptions…
Kyla: Yeah, yeah.
Lori: …at all.
Kyla: They’ve even done studies where, I think when you’re trying to do something, every distraction, it takes you about 15 minutes to get back…
Kyla: …to what you were doing? Like, that’s the amount of time it takes your brain to handle, “There’s been a distraction! What was I doing before? Where was I? Oh yes, here we are…”
Lori: Yeah. It’s –
Kyla: “…now we’re going again.” And so that, having that sort of place to make sure that no distractions bother you.
Lori: Yeah, it’s really important. And I think nowadays, you know, people with families, and not to mention just our little devices going off and pinging us all the time. You know, it’s– it’s getting harder and harder to create that– that block of undisturbed, focused, uninterrupted time for yourself, I think.
Kyla: It is. It– it really is. And I was, you know – Google just had their…just released their news on their, sort of their new gadgets; the new Android, the new apps they’re coming up with.
Kyla: And one of the things they’re doing is they’re trying to integrate all of your electronic devices so that if somebody calls you on your phone, it will alert you on your laptop.
Kyla: And I was just like, “That’s a terrible idea!” [laughs]
Lori: It’s…I think it’s a horrible idea.
Kyla: Like, in order to get anything done, you pretty much have to disconnect from the internet if it’s not required for what you’re doing. [laughs]
Lori: Yeah, totally. And you know, I’ve really come full circle when it comes to things like the internet and being connected in social media. I mean, in the beginning back in, well let’s say, 10 years ago when it was still fresh and new and people were talking about web 2.0., it was this fantastic thing.
And now I find, oh my god, I just, I don’t want all that distraction and all those little tiny calls to my attention throughout the day that I’ve almost become anti- [laughs] internet. Which is, I mean, there’s some kind of irony there because I also am running a website, and of course I want people to look at my website and listen to the podcasts. So it’s kind of a, um – yeah, almost hypocritical but…
Kyla: No, I’m the same. I mean, for…and I’m sort of like, I’m not a…I’m a great– I’m a great social person in person but I’m not– I’m not entirely sold on this social networking business. But I’m a musician! [laughs] So…
Kyla: Now I have all these, you know. All these, you know, different websites and, you know, the various platforms for getting your music out and I’m…I kind of have to be like, “Okay, I really need to schedule some time a day to actually go and use these things,” you know? It’s…I mean, it’s a great tool to, you know, exactly kind of get your– get your music or your– your podcasts or whatever it is you’re doing out to the world. But at the same time, if you spend all of your time on that, you kind of lose the time that is required to actually make the art…
Kyla: …that you’re making in the first place and –
Lori: Yeah, I couldn’t have said it better myself. [laughs]
Kyla: [laughs] We actually – the album that I recorded with my band a couple of years ago – we’d had…we recorded the whole thing about three times, and I just wasn’t happy with it. There were things that we just weren’t happy with the first couple of times. And we’re all recording at home. And we finally got it recorded but we moved into a new apartment and just decided not to get internet until the album was done. And it really– it really did work out well. And it’s fine because I work full time, and we watched Doctor Who every night which is, like an hour and a half long. Like, I was like, “I don’t understand how we recorded an album!” because I was working 40 hours a week, and we watched TV every night. But at some point between the 40 hours and the TV, there was about 2 hours in which I was just plugged in and recording guitar so…
Lori: Oh, cool.
Kyla: But it was kind of, yeah, there– there was absolutely no outside distraction. And I still need it too, you know. I mean at the time, well, and still, like, email is the way you contact me for the most part. So I still had to be going, like, I had to take about, you know, 45 minutes to go to a cafe or the library to use the Wi-Fi too to do those things. But it was really like, “This is the time of day in which the internet is attached,” and, you know. And it kind of worked out, like, yeah, it was almost like, “Here’s a schedule for this,” and then the rest of my day didn’t have any of those distractions. I was like, “How come I can’t do that when I have internet in the house?”
Lori: Right. When you were using that little block of time every day to– to do your internet things; did– did you notice that you were more efficient or that you got more done?
Kyla: Oh, definitely. Definitely. Yeah.
Lori: Because –
Kyla: Because it was like I’d…I would have a list! I’d be like, “Okay, these are the things I need to do on the internet. So you know, check this email, make this post and…” and yeah. And I did. It was, like, “Here’s my time. I don’t want to be here too long.” Yup, I definitely.
Lori: Yeah. I can’t remember who it was, I heard someone else talking about that or reading about it who was basically saying the same thing – had trouble with their internet at home and was, like, forced to just go out to a cafe or something once a day to do all the emailing and would just, like, bang through all these! Everything! Get it all answered in, like, half an hour. Whereas, when he had his great internet at home, he could spend forever on the internet and not get anything done.
Kyla: Oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Lori: So there’s something about that idea of– of putting some kind of limitation on yourself or knowing in advance that it really is just a discrete amount of time that you had to do something that kind of forces you to really get down to it and get it done. It’s very interesting.
Lori: So yeah! [laughs] This is turning into quite the conversation. [laughs]
Kyla: It is! Yes, it is. [laughs] We’re somehow– we’re somehow still on topic but not at all talking about the book.
Lori: Yeah. But that is the way– the way things go…
Kyla: That’s the way things go.
Lori: …it’s kind of cool. Did you –
Lori: No, go ahead.
Kyla: Oh, you go ahead.
Lori: No –
Kyla: No, you –
Lori: No, no, no, no, you. You, go ahead.
Kyla: No, no, you! [laughs]
Lori: No, I’ve already actually already forgotten what I was going to say! So…
That’s all for this time. I hope you’ve enjoyed the conversation. Remember that it’s important to practice speaking if you want to improve your English fluency. Here are 3 discussion questions that you can use to practice with your teacher, tutor, or your language exchange partner.
1. What is the biggest internet distraction for you, and how do you deal with it when you need to work?
2. How do you feel about constantly getting email and social media notifications on your phone or computer?
3. Do you think you work more productively when you have a set block of time? Why or why not?
Make sure to download the transcript so you can read along to check your understanding. The transcript also has notes about the language we use in the conversation, and explains a lot of the vocabulary. You can find it at betteratenglish.com/transcripts.
Until next time, keep on practicing your English. In fact, you can practice right now by leaving me a voice message or joining the conversation on the Better at English Facebook page. You can find all the ways to get in touch at Betteratenglish.com/contact. Bye for now!
Vocabulary and usage notes
to sit down and do something
People often use the phrase to sit down and do something to talk about starting to do tasks that take a lot of time and attention, for example writing a long text, working on a drawing, answering a lot of email, etc. Usually you need to sit down to do these tasks, and the hardest part of doing them is forcing yourself to start.
To cope with or deal with something successfully
All of someone’s attention. Full is a very strong collocation with attention, so learn it as a phrase!
A distraction is something that takes your attention away from where it should be, or where you want it to be.
And interruption is something that stops you from doing whatever you are doing for a short period of time.
If something bothers you, it annoys you, often because it interrupts you or distracts you.
not to mention
[Download the transcript for the rest of the vocabulary]
Hi English learners! Lori here, your teacher from Betteratenglish.com. In this episode of Real English Conversations, you’ll hear part 3 of my conversation with Kyla. We are talking about the book Daily Rituals by Mason Currey. In this part we talk about the routines and practices that many creative people have in common.
Now before you listen I have to warn you: this is a particularly challenging conversation. Here is why: because both Kyla and I read the book, we have a lot of shared information in our heads. When speakers have a lot of shared information, they often leave out details. They know that the other person already knows the information, so they don’t have to say it.
If only one of us had read the book, this conversation would have been very different. We would have had to do a lot more explaining, and mention a lot more specific details.
What does all that mean for you? As you are listening, don’t worry too much if some things are unclear, or if you feel that you are missing information. To help you out, I have marked the particularly challenging parts in colored text in the transcript. And at the end of the transcript, I’ve included a short quote from the book so you can read the part we are talking about.
After the conversation I’ll be back with five questions you can use for speaking practice.
OK, let’s get on with the conversation!
Kyla: That’s right, exactly. And the amount…it seems a real recurring theme in the book is three hours. The amount of people that did, that worked for three hours a day that got all their…even – even the ones that didn’t have jobs that had their time completely open, a lot of them seemed to work for three hours. And the rest of the time would be, you know, visiting and going for long walks and…
Lori: Yeah, that was –
Kyla: …having luxurious dinners.
Lori: That was another really striking one – the role of walking.
Lori: Because you had these people, like you say, they would work their stretch of – of three or four hours. I think– I think Beethoven is an example of this. He would– he would work, get up in the morning, drink his coffee. I think he was the one who counted the [coffee] beans. [laughs]
Kyla: He counted the beans! Yeah. [laughs]
Lori: How many was it in each cup?
Kyla: 60 or something?
Kyla: Was it 60? [laughs]
Lori: That sounds right. Yeah, he measured up precisely 60 beans for his coffee and would work. And then he would take these long, vigorous walks armed with note paper to jot down ideas, I guess. And I think it was also Beethoven who would, during his work periods when he would feel stuck, he would get up and go walk outside for a little bit and found that , kind of, unlocked his creativity.
Download the transcript for the rest of this Real English conversation, the vocabulary lesson and bonus discussion questions for speaking practice.