Tim Wilson is a very experienced teacher with an incredible knowledge of English, its origins, its faults and how to learn it.
In this podcast, you will learn:
Which is better, complex language or simple language? Clarity or Complexity?
How to use the semi colon….
Phrasal verbs vs. Latin verbs?
How to prepare for exam day….
How to optimize your study…
How and what to read for IELTS preparation…
Download the whole episode here, for free, then sign up.
Click to read transcript
podcasts all day. It’s been good. I’ve lots of information, lots of new
information, learnt a lot myself. And this episode is with Tim again and
this a collection of some of the best bits cos as I said before we were
talking for about two hours. And firstly I’m talking about accents, so when
we start this one we’re going to be talking about my accent then we talk
about reading, then a bit of English and then whether to use long
sentences, short sentences and so on and so forth.
Quite informative so have a listen and then once you’ve listened, make sure
you check out Jim’s channels on his Youtube channel. He’s got a very good
video about essay writing. I think it’s Zontul Films. Put that into
Youtube, there’s only one of those. Zontul Films and find his video about
essay writing. It’s great. And after you’ve done that go over to
IELTSpodcast.com and, of course, sign up. If you’ve got a few more minutes,
go over to iTunes and leave a 5-star review. That’d be awesome. That’d be
the best birthday present ever.
I’ve kind of altered it a little bit for students so they don’t sound like
a Northerner when they’re speaking.
You know sometimes I think it’s a good thing to sound a little bit more
Northern because when you come to the IELTS exam or what is it, all these
other exams. What are they um?
Language first and stuff like that.
And they always put, put the oral in and put these listening things in
funny accents and when I was doing it they would say to me “could you do a
Yorkshire accent?” I’d say well I can’t really do Yorkshire accent. I sound
like Fred Truman on a bad day. It’s sort of embarrassing if you’ve heard
my, my American accent is even worse. But they didn’t want this. They
didn’t want this sort of clear RP thing.
Ah OK I see. After the recordings this was?
Yes and so when you, when you get to the recording things and you, you
always have these particularly the children, they always say “I couldn’t
hear it. I couldn’t hear it and now” [inaudible]. “It wasn’t clear” well of
course it wasn’t clear that’s exactly the point because that’s why we do
Because in English we don’t, we never finish a sentence. We get the idea
out and then as long as we’ve got eye contact and we think somebody’
actually somebody’s got the idea of what we’re actually trying to say then
I would say in lessons that this is what people do in their own language
but it isn’t. In most languages people finish sentences. In English we
Ah OK. How do you know that? Is that from from studying English or doing
No just listening. For example the Russians are terribly terribly
fastidious about getting their grammar right. We’re not.
And they think that if their grammar is right then there must be a grammar
that’s correct in English. And it isn’t. And then, and then I sit down with
them and I say “Oh my goodness” all of this should be in interview. But I
find for example with the Russian students, and I know them very well.
They’ll talk to me about how difficult grammar is in Russian and how they
have to work very hard at it and I understand. I know a little bit but not
very much I’ve forgotten everything really. But um, when it comes to
English I have say well the reason that that we teach English grammar is
basically a business reason because it’s easier to monitor grammar than it
is to monitor vocabulary. But the thing that’s going to get you the points
in the exam and the thing that’s going to make you fluent is your
vocabulary not your grammar. So what, somehow we, somehow although all the
textbooks are grammar based because they think Ah yes, week one, we’re
going to do the present tense. Week two present continuous, and then we go
on. So we’ve got something to hold on to.
Well in fact some of these grammar points are infinitely, infinitely more
work than one lesson or one week.
Some of them really don’t require any work at all. You’ve got these whole
sort of swathes of chapter to plough through. I remember I, um I was
teaching in Greece.
And I was teaching for a, and there they have these funny little colleges
that were set up to supplement what, what happens in schools because the
schools, really the teaching of English in schools is very poor.
And they’re called frontistiria. Frontisa means to assist or to help.
In fact they help, they help take money from the parents but um. You know
um, the children come to these places and they do actually work and they
and and they and they teachers work. And sometimes they send teachers that
are actually teaching in the schools. And I got a complain from a parent
and I was pulled up to the head teacher and she said to me “why didn’t you
teach pages 46 and 47?” And I said well, the main reason is because I wrote
them, and I know it’s rubbish. You know, part of the problem is, this
teaching of English is, it’s dependent on these sort of nineteenth century
obsessions. English has to be as grammatical and as efficient as Latin,
Greek and German.
And it’s not. It’s a conflation of so many different languages and wherever
you find a French word in English and a French phrase, that follows a
French methodology really in the way that it’s used and the way it works.
And when you find a, when you find a Greek word, that follows. Plurals are
Plurals of a. How often do we talk about “he has an agenda?” no he doesn’t!
He has an agendum. He has agenda but no one would say that! And that’s
completely pompous. I actually I do know people who are pompous enough to
actually say “Ah he has an agendum.” The singular of agenda is agendum, the
plural is agenda and it follows, it follows classical rules.
Exactly, like criteria, criterion.
Yes criterion, criteria. I don’t know many people who use the word
criterion. But what, if you can start to get students interested in this, I
think that’s fun. There are word lists.
And I didn’t get one, I should probably have a word list printed out from
the classroom. You know, they need, they need to know words like
beneficial, conceptual, persistent, depression, notwithstanding. They need
to know these words which are not immediately common and they don’t turn up
in the textbooks.
But I, if you get one of these lists, and you just put it on the wall of
every classroom, that’s more valuable than having grammar or alphabets.
Exactly, because if the student can learn the formula and the actual system
for making, for constructing the sentence and they know the formula, you
know you said for the French words or for the German or for the ones with
the German prefixes or suffixes or whatever.
Just a word about reading here. You know you’ll go to various schools and
they will say “oh you should be reading the newspaper. The newspaper, yes,
I think the newspaper is valuable but the newspaper has some disadvantages
as well. The newspaper always has a very limited vocabulary. At the moment
if you know the name Obama and massacre, then you’ll probably be able to
ready more or less everything in the first four or five pages.
I see, yeah.
It’s got a very limited and predictable vocabulary.
Now, where do you find a vocabulary that is not predictable, that is less
limited. Well you find it in a modern novel.
A good point.
Never read Dickens, unless you’re studying it. I mean I love Dickens
immensely but um, don’t, don’t read it. Don’t read Jane Austen. It’s dating
back to the eighteenth or nineteenth century. It won’t be.
It’s not practical, no. It’s not useful.
It’s not useful. Whatever your parents say, about reading great literature,
don’t. You should read rubbish.
Yeah. Keep going.
Don’t read Harry Potter because it’s too difficult and that really is the
apogee of rubbish. But yes, sorry. I love Harry Potter. The er the um, try
and find rubbish. Try and find a good detective novel try and find good
I always found Michael Crichton was great fun, the man who wrote Jurassic
But you, but you, you’ll find your own things and whatever you’re reading
in your native language, trying to do the same thing in English.
Of course. Yeah.
If you like reading about, um, about baseball in Spanish, try and read
about baseball in English. Actually you probably won’t be able to do that.
Yeah yeah I know what you mean. It’s basically just transfer. And a teacher
who I interviewed before, he said basically, put your life in English and
when you’re having your breakfast you should listen to the BBC or you
should listen to the sports programmes but anything that you’re listening
to now in your native language, put it into English.
Do something in English every day that you would normally do in Italian,
German, Spanish, French.
Every day. And you shouldn’t be doing it for work. You should be doing it
for pleasure and the moment you realise you’re doing something in English
for pleasure, that will be the moment that you can take the IELTS
A very, very good point that. Very well expressed yeah. And there’s the
added bonus as well if you’re doing it for pleasure obviously you’re going
to do it ten times more than as if you think of it as work. Excellent
And even computer games. I mean, one hesitates to encourage them. I
actually spent some time making them on one occasion. I can’t play them. I
can hardly switch on the computer but um, the, even computer games. Keep
them in English.
Yes. I have one student who plays Call of Duty and his vocabulary is, it’s
not your average vocabulary. It’s like kill, run, surrender, and all of
this stuff this kind of vocabulary.
It’s fine he’s got vocabulary. There’s another one called Age of Empires
which is very good and people will improve their geography with that. It
doesn’t matter. Whatever you do in your own language, try and do a bit of
that in English. And try and do it routinely. The other thing that’s worth
doing though it’s terribly difficult to encourage if you’ve got no habit of
doing it yourself, in your own language, is to write a diary.
The advantage of writing a diary in English is that, very often, your
friends will not be as good at English as you are and they won’t be able to
read it so, so you can really sort of throw yourself into it and be very
truthful and honest and get rid of all the demons in your life.
Good point. Good point that. Now I was just going to-
And also be, be prepared to make mistakes in class and in what you’re doing
in what you’re writing. Just take it the, the time to be daring is now in
class, not in the exam.
And try and make as many mistakes as you possibly can in class. If you
think of it like, like the theatre. The classroom is your rehearsal period
and if you can’t make mistakes then, then you’re going to make mistakes in
And if, if you’re an actor, if you don’t make mistakes, if you don’t get
rid of all the rubbish in the rehearsal then when you get in front of the
audience, then the rubbish comes out then and it’s disastrous.
So yeah exactly. Get it out of the system and just get anything that’s
niggling you or any points that you don’t understand, back to front, inside
out, as the teacher, get it out of the way in the classroom. Don’t start,
and another thing, don’t start experimenting with new things in the exam.
In the exam. In the exam exactly. The reason people do that in the exam is
because it’s probably the first time they’ve really done any work. So try
and do, try and do the work, try and do some work before you actually get
to the exam itself.
Make sure the exam is not the first time you start doing serious work and
you start concen- Um there, there’s another thing that’s worth mentioning
here and this is a bit controversial. But um. I once asked somebody um do,
is there any particular music you listen to when you’re writing an essay?
And this person said to me “are you completely crazy? I can’t do two things
at once.” And it’s very valuable advice. If you’re listening to music while
While trying to do two things at once you cannot.
So that’s number one. I mean your mind may be much better than mine of
course and you may be able to do two or three things at once. I can’t but
number two from a practical point of view. When you go into the exam, there
is no music and you can’t have music in the exam. So, simply from a
practical point of view of preparing for getting into the exam, do your
writing in silence because that’s what you will be doing when you’re in the
So switch that thing off, focus, actually do some work before into the exam
because then you will be really practising what you’re going to be doing
when you, when you’re being tested.
Uh hu, yeah. Good point, good point. Somebody was telling me about the
doctor who had concentration problems and he went to see how she was
studying, and she had Skype switched on. She had Messenger switched on, she
had some music blaring out and then she had her phone in one hand like
texting somebody and at the same time she was trying to write an essay. And
it was just like come on. How are you going to anything in these
You can’t do all this at the same time so you have to set yourself up but
don’t. Try to be realistic. If you plan your own time then you know what
the parameters are. It’s not good enough just simply to say “Oh my mother’s
told me I’ve got to go upstairs and work now” because it won’t happen.
You’ve got to decide. When is the best time for me to work? I mean if you
can learn this now then you’ll have it for the rest of your life but some
people, some people realise ah, I actually, I’m a morning person. I work
terribly well in the mornings.
Yeah. Uh hu.
Many teenagers, they’ve got a problem with their circadian rhythms. It’s
something to do with the middle of your brain and the timing function goes
a bit wrong. And so, really, as a teenager you want to go to bed at two
o’clock in the morning. You want to get up at ten thirty. And adults think
you should be on their own rhythms and they don’t understand you and it’s
quite true. But even within that, you know that there are certain times of
the day when you are functioning well and there are certain times of the
day when you’re not functioning well. So, when you want to be creative,
when you actually want to do something serious, that’s the time when you
write. When you want to do something which is boring and which is just
simply routine, then you do that at a time when you’ve not got so much
Yeah good point.
You divide your work into that work which is routine, which doesn’t require
so much effort or so much commitment from you when in fact you probably
could even switch on the radio or have your Skype on or something or your
phone in your hand. And them and then you need to find the time when you
are really focused, when you mind is functioning and that’s the time when
you do your essay writing.
Exactly that’s the time when people often go and chat to their friends and
they, I’m sure they are incredibly stimulating and exciting when they are
chatting to their friends but that’s the time actually that you should be
Ah ha that’s great advice. It’s a question of knowing. Another way to put
would be to know yourself whether you are a morning person, and afternoon
person or an evening person. Some people work-
It doesn’t matter.
Yeah yeah. And then just adapt your own study schedule to what kind of
person when you work best. And another thing, just a side note. A lot of
people, myself included that um, when I approach a task, sometimes it’s
really difficult to get all the thoughts in order and to sort of like avoid
the distractions you know? So one thing that I find really helps to focus
is if I sit down and then just do something similar to what you mentioned
before. And it’s like a mind dump and just write everything just emptied my
mind of everything just write it down. For about just ten minutes, just
constant writing whatever. I’ve got to take the rubbish out, I’ve got to
send this email, write it all out, put it on paper.
Lists lists lists absolutely.
Exactly and then start the task in hand. And that works wonders.
I was going to say something else about priorities which a lot of students
don’t realise. When it comes to your, to your energy, there’s a question:
do you actually want to have maximum energy when you’re attending a class
when you’re in a class? Is that the time when you really need to be putting
in all your effort? Actually the answer is no. You need to put in a certain
amount of effort during a class but the real effort is in your homework.
Which is where your digesting what the class has taught you.
Now, what people tend to do is to do it the other way around. If they want
to impress, they want to impress teacher. Well actually the person you
impress in the end is your examiner.
The person, you don’t actually have to impress your teacher that much. Your
teacher is like your doctor. She should be there to be able to see your
weak points as well. You don’t need to impress your teacher every day but
you do need to have that energy to do the homework properly. The homework
is not some sort of, it’s not some sort of afterthought. The homework is
what you’re working for.
There’s one question that I haven’t asked yet and it’s um, would recommend
employing sophisticated words and risking the comprehension of the article,
or going for basic ones and being crystal clear? Which approach do you
recommend? Or even just a blended approach?
Right well there’s a, there’s a general point that I can make first of all.
And that is in most languages other than English the longer sentence and
the longer word suggest that you are more in control and more academic.
OK. In, in English, um well I was taught when I was about seven years old,
um that gravity was very important. I didn’t understand it when I was
seven. Now I think I probably do understand it but you know, the idea is,
can you explain something intelligently to an intelligent seven year old?
And if you think about that all the time in English, that’s how you should
be writing. You should be writing for an intelligent seven year old. And
even complex issues like nuclear physics. You should be able to express in
English in intelligent language. Now where’s, where’s the problem? Remember
that English is made up of at least two languages. There’s Anglo Saxon
which lies underneath modern English, and then there’s the Latinate, the
classical stuff which English has stolen from Italy, from Greece and from
So and that, that came through with um, in 1066 when William the Conqueror
comes into England and he brings all this French language with him with its
sort of Latin and Greek origins. Now, the point about this is, there’s
almost always two words for everything. Let’s take, at the moment I’m
sitting facing the computer. I’m sitting in front of my desk, my table, my
bureau! From which we would get the word bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is,
cratos means to rule and bureau is a desk.
So it’s rule of desk. Aristocracy rule of the best, democracy rule of the,
rule of the um demos.
Demographic. But, so um there’s always two or three words for everything in
English. Now what you should, what you should aim for is to try and get the
simplest word that does the job. And ideally, we want something which is
Anglo Saxon. Now Anglo Saxon is a very interesting language. We all think
ah my goodness I don’t know any Anglo Saxon. Anglo Saxon is a subject at
An um in Oxford for example it was taught by J.R.R. Tolkien who was the man
who wrote The Lord of The Rings and everybody knows that.
He was a professor of Anglo Saxon, that was his subject and Anglo-Saxon lie
behind modern English. Now we all know Anglo Saxon because if we drop a
brick on our foot, we come out with a word which we hear on the street with
four letters. That is an Anglo Saxon word and you can find it in Geoffrey
Chaucer, you can find it in Beowulf and in, in the great poetry of Anglo
Saxon. You can find it on the street.
And is that is that. Is it the one that rhymes with book?
Well it maybe I have no idea. But the the, there are many of them. And and,
and these words, these words. So if you’ve got a simple, monosyllabic word
a word which, like that, just one syllable, that’s an Anglo Saxon word. And
that’s the sort of word we want to be aiming for when we’re writing
A word which has got bertghweehdjd with about twenty syllables in it –
that’s what we’re trying to avoid unless we absolutely need it. That’s why
phrasal verbs are so valuable. Phrasal verbs are generally Anglo Saxon
And sadly in English as a foreign language, in IELTS and stuff, we learn
the phrasal verbs as a sort of afterthought after we’ve done all the other
stuff we have time for phrasal verbs. We should be learning the phrasal
verbs as we progress through our lessons. So for example, um, when, when I
was in Greece, there was this wonderful word synergázomai. Synergázomai in
the Oxford Greek/English Dictionary translates and there are three
translations. Cooperate, collaborate and work together.
When I was being offered jobs, people would say “will you collaborate with
us? Will you cooperate with me?” Well, cooperate and collaborate in English
have got quite negative connotations.
Cooperate means to do something I don’t want to do and collaborate means to
work with the enemy. That’s the only expression which is completely clean
and which I can use in all contexts in work together. But because that’s a
phrasal verb, because I’ve been told as a, or because many people, many
students have been told that phrasal verbs are something that you use
Um people think, people think ah yes, I should be using all of these long
words because it sounds grander, because it’s better but it’s actually,
generally wrong because it’s got a very specific meaning and it’s very easy
to get it wrong.
I see. But I, I’m sort of, sorry go on.
I was just going to say, I was under the impression that when you write
academically, traditionally the academic texts in English were writing,
were written in Latin so we should therefore follow sort of like their the
tradition that is used, the Latin words and not use the phrasal verbs.
Yeah, this is the subject of a lot of debate at the moment and, and and the
broad principle today is that you should write as clearly as possible.
Yes. This seems a more modern approach.
It’s a more modern approach and and so that means it’s a phrasal verb that
has been pulled into the centre of-
It’s come back into fashion.
It it’s absolutely central. And er and the issue is that these Latinate
words, it’s so easy to get them wrong. It’s so easy to misuse them.
And er, and because they all have very precise meanings. That’s the,
they’re there they’re precision manufactured words, whereas the phrasal
verb is a much broader thing. And we can use it in so many different
contexts. That’s why it’s so difficult to learn phrasal verbs because they
have so many applications.
You have to learn them, you know the phrasal verb is your friend. And so.
And so first thing going back to your question. Should we be using complex
language or simple language? Always try, try to be as simple as possible.
Only use complex language where you have to technical and specific and make
sure, particularly in the exam, that you’re using complex words which
you’ve already tested out. So, during your class, use complex words. Have a
dictionary by you. Particularly have and English English Dictionary.
Particularly have a dictionary that has got etymology. Etymology is the
study of where words come from.
It doesn’t matter what your own native language is. If it’s Spanish, if
it’s Italian, if it’s German. We have stolen most of your words. So, go
back and have a look and and and look at just the Spanish word and, what’s
the word we’ve stolen from you? Now, have a debate and find out if we use
the word in the same context. We probably don’t because we stole it four
hundred years ago or five hundred years ago and that word now, in Spanish,
has slightly changed its meaning from how we, from the meaning it had when
we stole it. And we’ve used it and taken it off. So we’ve got this division
where, where words divide from their meaning and so we may use a word which
you find very familiar in a different way to the way that you use it.
Words have additional meaning and when we steal a word we may misunderstand
Yeah and I think that’s the origin of when you are doing these languages,
it’s the origin of false friends.
Yeah absolutely. But that’s where the classroom comes in useful. Enjoy
these words, play around with these words. Only use complex words in an
English exam if you understand them and use the classroom to play around
with these. It doesn’t matter if you get the word wrong in the classroom.
Native speakers do. I mean when I was ten, I thought the word tedious meant
tiring. It means boring.
And my mother, who was a bit grand, had this really rather special party
and she invited lots of very important people and at some point, and she
allowed me to stay up for it. And at some point she said to me um, “So,
Timothy, are you enjoying yourself?” And I, being a sort of intelligent ten
year old, I wanted to show off and said “yes I am really, but I do find it
a bit tedious” and she said “well if you find it tedious you can go to
bed!” And because I was too grand myself to admit that I didn’t know what
the word tedious meant, I had to go to bed. Use the opportunity to learn
how to make mistakes in class and then only use these complex words if you
understand them. Otherwise try always to express things in simple language
and simple language is your friend.
And also don’t, don’t try and do long sentences. A long sentence is not
something that’s necessary and it’s foreign to English.
Yeah, good point. Or even, or even just, I just going to say you could even
mix it up at least you know, so that you can show the examiner that you
know how to use those connecting words.
Absolutely. The best of all situations is where you have the mixture,
because this is good English. The best of all situations where you have a
mixture of Anglo Saxon and Latinate, classical words. So you have a mixture
of longer words and these shorter, punchy words and you have longer
sentences and short sentences. If you want to make a point, use a short
Yes. Yes good point. For example.
Try punctuation. One bit of punctuation which is always overlooked in
English as a foreign language is the semicolon; the semicolon acts like a
full stop but it doesn’t finish anything completely, you can keep going.
We use that in the middle of the, well, not in the middle, but it’s a semi,
so you said it was a full stop but we carry on going.
You can carry on with the same sentence, with the same idea. So a semicolon
is very useful in building up a paragraph. So you can have two things about
the same idea; put a semicolon between them. So if you have a list where
you want to identify three things. Firstly I, I love the sunshine,
semicolon; I also love rain and windy weather, semicolon; most importantly,
I love snow, full stop.
I see. OK.
That, that would be a possibility.
Just got one more question. What the, for learning new words and new
vocabulary, what’s probably the best technique you’ve got from your days of
teaching? What was really effective for the students?
Well I’m I’m still teaching but I’m-
Little bit, little bit. But the the the most effective thing, um, now as a
teacher I always felt like it was important to throw in some bizarre words
into my lessons, whatever I could, just to let people know that they exist.
But err you cannot learn a new word in a list.
You have to learn a new word by using it in a sentence and if it’s a
sentence that you the student create, then that, then that’s going to be
something that you remember.
And if, the funnier the better. So if you can be wacky and peculiar, then
you’re going to remember these new words.
That’s an amazing point actually yeah. Just one last question then we can
we can finish unless you’ve got anything else to say on that?
No I never have anything to say.
Oh OK. I see.