Welcome to engVid.
In today's video I want to talk to you about how to improve your listening.
Now, there're a few things I'm going to talk about.
And, again, this is all from my own personal experience having taught for nearly 20 years.
And I've taught people from all over the world, and there's one aspect of listening to English
that I think is very troublesome for a lot of people.
And it doesn't really even have to do much with English itself; not with the language.
It has to do with culture.
Now, a lot of people who are studying English are using textbooks; they're only studying
from textbooks to improve their listening and improve their vocabulary, their grammar, etc.
The problem with textbooks is that they are very limited in terms of the exposure you're
getting to the language.
Now, "exposure" means what you're basically coming in contact with; what you're seeing,
what you're hearing, what you're reading.
So, if you're only looking at textbooks, you're getting very simple English, even if you're
Like, advanced-level textbooks, they're still very focus on very specific contexts that
they want you to study.
And another thing they're not doing is they're not putting a lot of informal language into
So, now, that's why we're going to look at culture.
Now, the thing to remember about language, and again, this is not only English; this
This is any language that you might want to study.
Language is a living thing.
Language evolves - means it changes over time.
But it has a memory.
And this is the problem because you have to keep up with the new language, plus you have
to understand the references to the old language or to the old points of reference.
And that's what we're talking about, here: Lack of reference.
So, you might be watching a movie or even a TV show, or you're speaking to some people
Local people in the place where you're speaking English, and they might say something.
They may say a joke, for example, or they may talk about a situation, like politics
or anything like that, and they're making a reference to something.
Now, you heard it correctly, you heard the words, but you have no idea what they're talking
And the problem, here, again: It's not the language; it's the fact that the thing that
they referred to, you just don't know what that...
What they're talking about.
So, for example: Sports, literature, movies - these are major points of reference for
a lot of people.
And think about, again, where you're going to be studying...
Where you're going to be speaking English.
If you're planning to go to the US and you're studying American English, but then you come
to the States and you have no idea what anybody's talking about half the time - again, some
of it is just the language, but a lot of it is the cultural references.
So, let's talk about sports as an example.
Americans love sports, and sports is such a big part of everyday life in the US that
a lot of the language from sports makes its way into everyday speech.
So, if somebody says: "Okay, well, the ball's in your court."
They're talking about a situation: "I've done everything I can."
Like, my friend and...
My friend and his girlfriend had a fight.
And he apologized and he bought her some flowers, and he did everything he could.
Now the ball's in her court.
And you're thinking there, like: "Ball?
Like, what does 'ball' have to do with anything?
What does 'court' have to do with a girlfriend/boyfriend fight?"
What this means: "The ball is in your court"...
So, think about basketball.
You have a basketball court.
When the ball is in my court, when I have the possession of the ball, it means I'm in
control of the ball.
So, I control the play; I decide to go this way, this way, up the middle, up the sides,
slow, fast; I control the tempo, I control the direction.
So, to say: "The ball's in your court" means that you have the control...
The decision on how to proceed is now yours.
So, if his girlfriend...
If the ball's in his girlfriend's court, he did everything he can, now she must decide
and continue the process.
That's from basketball.
So, there was a business meeting-okay?-and we sent one of our company's representatives
to the client's office to try to convince them not to leave; not to go to the competitor.
And the guy came back and I say: -"So, how did the...?
How did his meeting go?"
-"Totally dropped the ball."
And you're listening, and you're going: "Ball again?
What's with this ball?
Everybody's holding a ball?
Like, was it juggling?
Are they playing basketball here, too?"
Here, they're using football analogy.
So, the player catches the ball and he's running down the field, and he gets tackled.
If he drops the ball...
Now, they also call it "fumble".
You could say: "Oh, he totally fumbled it."
He dropped the ball."
If the ball drops, the other team can pick it up and run the opposite direction, and
score and you're going to lose the game.
So: "If somebody dropped the ball" means he did a very bad job; he made a big mistake,
and there's going to be negative consequences.
But if you know nothing about football and you don't know any of the language about football...
And Americans love football, and they're going to use the football language all the time.
In fact, I'm going to make a video about sports expressions in everyday conversation to help
you guys out; but for now, an example.
Sports, if you're going to the States: Learn about football, learn about baseball, learn
about basketball because these words are going to be used in everyday conversation.
Catch-22 is a famous novel by Joseph Heller.
And "catch-22" is an everyday expression; it means either way you look at a situation,
it's a bad outcome.
For example, in the common...
The most common example of a catch-22: When you graduate high...
University, you want to find a job.
Most companies want you to have job experience.
But if you...
If you need job experience to get a job, then you can't get the job to get the experience.
So, it's a catch-22; either way, you can't do anything.
And this came from the novel.
But it doesn't mean that everybody has read this novel, but everybody knows this expression
made famous by this novel.
Or: "A rose by any other name".
Now, this is a line from Shakespeare, and a lot of Shakespeare's language is used in
Most people don't realize it's from Shakespeare, but they know the expression.
"A rose by any other name is still a rose."
So, you can look at something, and you can call it something else; you don't change the
fact of what the situation is.
So, if you can look at a...
Let's say politics.
You look at a particular situation: The president did this, but he called it something else
that sounds good.
He did something bad, he called it, like, philanthropy - it's still something bad.
You can change the name; you can't change the fact.
And another thing to keep in mind: Remember I said: "A rose by any other name is still
People who are familiar with these expressions - they're going to use half the expression;
they're not going to use the full expression because saying half is enough.
Everybody understands the ending; they don't need to say it.
So, you need to read a lot of stuff.
And both of these two come from the same movie, actually.
Very famous movie.
"I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."
I forgot the "anymore".
"I don't think we're in Kansas anymore" means we're in a very strange situation; we don't
know what to do because everything is not like the way it's supposed to be.
Or: "Well, he saw what's behind the curtain and he lost all hope", or faith, or whatever.
Both of these expressions come from the movie The Wizard of Oz.
Dorothy says to her dog Toto, when they wake up after the tornado...
They're looking around.
You got, like, a yellow-brick road, you got little munchkins running around, and a witch.
A good witch, a bad witch, and everything: "Oh, what...?
What's going on?
I'm a little confused.
I don't think...
Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore" means we're in a strange situation; we have
"To see what's behind the curtain".
So, Oz was this great and powerful wizard, but then Toto went and pulled back a curtain,
and they could see a little, old man using some machines.
So, when you see what's behind the curtain, you see that there's no real secret to it;
there's no great power to something.
It's a very simple thing made to look like something else.
But, again, if you've never heard of the movie, The Wizard of Oz, and somebody uses this expression,
you're not going to understand.
You heard: -"I don't think..."
'I don't think', I know this."
-"...we are in Kansas."
-"'we are', okay.
I think Kansas is a state in the US.
We're not in Kansas.
No, we're in New York.
What does Kansas have to do with it?"
So, you don't know because that's not what it actually means; it means something else.
"Show me the money" from the movie Jerry Maguire - Tom Cruise: "You show me the money.
Show me the money."
It's a good movie, by the way; you should watch it.
But what does this mean now?
"Show me the money" means: Prove it.
Talk - cheap.
I don't care about what you have to say; show me something, do something to convince me.
All of these things...
You know all the words, you heard all the words, but you don't understand them, so how
are you going to fix this situation?
You have to engage the culture of the country you're going to, or the country you want to
If you want to learn about the States, watch sports, watch Hollywood movies.
You want to go to England, watch whatever sports they play, like soccer, or rugby, or
lacrosse, or cricket, or whatever.
Learn those languages...
Learn those words and expressions.
Figure out what is popular in the culture.
And again, there's a reason it's called "pop culture".
And if you're not sure what "pop culture" means - "pop" means popular.
Find out what is popular in the culture, because these things will be referred to.
And especially learn a little bit about the history of the nation.
Americans and British, they always make references to historical characters, or historical situations
or events in modern contexts.
Everybody knows Napoleon, and Napoleon is always brought up in whatever contexts today
Now, how are you going to do this?
You all have an internet connection; you're watching this on the internet.
Start reading local newspapers, start reading the national newspapers-okay?-from the country
you're going to, and look at the expressions they're using.
If you come across something and you understand the words, but you don't understand the sentence
- look it up; figure out what you can...
What it means.
One place to do this, you can Google this: Look for an urban dictionary.
An urban dictionary is the dictionary not like Merriam-Webster's or an Oxford dictionary.
It will tell you the meanings of certain words and expressions as they are used in pop culture.
An urban dictionary can be very useful.
Don't learn grammar from it; don't study it for your IELTS, TOEFL, CAE, whatever exam
Use it to learn how to speak to everyday people on the street.
Watch TV shows from the area you're going to.
Watch movies made from the area you're going to.
Now, if you want to pick up on the slang and a bit more of the pop culture-and this might
sound a little bit weird-watch YouTube videos created by young people in the area you're
Now, I'm not too young.
I'm not that old, but I'm not that young either.
There's a lot of slang that people use these days that I don't even know what they mean.
I can guess because of the context and I can guess because some of the references, but
for somebody learning English, this will sound like complete jibberish.
Now, it's still pretty popular, but if you talk about a person who's a "trainwreck",
So, especially when you're talking about, like, Hollywood actors or actresses: "Oh,
Like, I think Lindsay Lohan"...
I don't know if everybody knows Lindsay Lohan: "She was a total trainwreck."
Now, if you think about a train, you have one train going this way, another train going
this way - it's a big mess.
And when you say someone is a trainwreck - means that...
That person's life is a complete mess; it's a disaster.
They destroyed everything that they had, and now they're, like, basically nothing.
Now, on the other hand...
I'm still going to go on the motif of trains.
I don't know if this is still popular, but it was popular for a little while.
"Off the rails".
Again, when we're talking about "off the rails", you have your train tracks - those are called
So, these guys are the rails.
If it's off the rails, it means it's, like, lost control.
But this is actually a good thing.
If you go to the party and: -"How's the party?"
-"Oh, it's off the rails", or whatever.
It's really good.
It's so out of control that it's really good.
But at the same time, "off the rails" can also be very bad.
So: "The meeting went off the rails" means we lost control and the whole thing fell apart,
and the whole meeting was a terrible failure.
Now, if you're going to hear this...
People are going to use this in everyday speech.
This is not so common in writing because it's too casual, but in everyday speech you're
going to hear these words all the time.
Now, if you understand what a train is and you understand what a wreck is, it doesn't
mean you're going to understand what the people are talking about because you don't have the
cultural connection; you're not connected to the culture of the place.
So, the bottom line here: Get out of the text books, at least a little bit, and learn real
But do it as a complement.
Complement your textbook studies with real studies; books, newspapers, magazines, online
articles, TV shows, movies, YouTube channels.
Now, I'm personally shocked by just how many channels there are on YouTube now and how
many different ways you can learn to put on makeup, or how many different ways you can
Everything these days is DIY: Do It Yourself.
DIY decorating, DIY this, DIY that.
Or: "lifehacks", this is another buzzword.
And I've watched some of these lifehack videos, and I...
I mean, kind of...
Some of them are a bit ridiculous; some of them are, like, kind of funny; some of them
are actually pretty useful.
But for you, these are all very good videos because you're going to hear real people without
a script just talking, talking like they would to their friends because they view their audience
as their friends.
Listen to your friends.
Let your friends talk to you.
Join the comment section.
Get into the comments, start, you know, getting involved in dialogues.
Some of them get a little bit mean, and rude, and nasty - stay away from those ones; but,
you know, the good dialogues in the comment section, get in there, start talking sort
of, but: Listen, listen, listen.
It's not all about textbooks.
Learn the textbooks for the tests; learn real English for real English.
And, again: Practice what you're learning.
Find someone to speak with.
Use these expressions in everyday life, and your listening will just improve, and improve,
So, these are just some tips.
There are other sources; sports, literature, movies, history - lots of different sources.
Figure them out, learn from them, improve your listening skills, and your speaking skills
as you go.
So, if you have any questions about this, please go to www.engvid.com and join the forum,
and you can ask me questions about anything you learned in this video.
There's also a bit of a review quiz you can take there to review what we talked about
And if you like my channel, please subscribe to it on YouTube and come back for more good
tips to improve your English.