Season 2 Episode 2


note: this has been transcribed using software and may contain minor errors or inconsistencies

Hello, this is Sean. Welcome to Season 2 episode two of Ethos English, the podcast for Advanced English Learners. 

If you want to build your vocabulary, refine your study strategies, and improve your critical thinking, you’re in the right place. 

You can find the show notes with extra resources, including my monthly newsletter and free study materials at 

Today I want to recommend the book to you. It’s called The Organised Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. 

This book is aimed at a general readership, but I think it’s particularly helpful for language learners and teachers. 

The author is Daniel Levitin, who’s a professor emeritus of psychology, behavioural neuroscience and music at McGill University in Montreal. 

The first two chapters are particularly relevant for our purposes. Chapter one deals with cognition, so how we think, and chapter two with attention and memory. 

Today I’m going to share the two key insights from these chapters that will allow you to be a far more effective language learner. 

The first is that we’ve evolved to ignore information in our environment that may actually be quite valuable to us. 

Secondly, categorising our reality, including language, allows us to make sense of a complex world. What’s more, by consciously learning new categories, we can train ourselves to notice valuable information that would otherwise be invisible to us in short categories. 

Help us become better language learners. 

Now, let’s get started. An important concept that Daniel Levitin explores at the beginning of his book is what is called Inattentional blindness. 

That is, whenever we are focused on something in our environment, we are necessarily ignoring other things in our environment. 

Now bear with me. That is, be patient with me, because this sounds too obvious to be worth discussing. But this actually has profound implications for your ability to be a more effective language learner. 

In order to notice some things, as I mentioned before, we unwittingly filter out other information in our environment. Sounds obvious, right? Like I said, sometimes the most obvious things are the most worthwhile to explore. 

Here’s a quotation from Levitin’s book. On Page 7 he writes the following. 

Attention is the most essential mental resource for any Organism. It determines which aspects of the environment we deal with, and most of the time, various automatic subconscious processes make the correct choice about what gets passed through to our conscious awareness. 

For this to happen, millions of neurons are constantly monitoring the environment to select the most important things for us to focus on. 

These neurons are collectively, the attentional filter. They work largely in the background, outside of our conscious awareness. This is why most of the perceptual detritus of our daily lives doesn’t register, or why, when you’ve been driving on the freeway for several hours at a stretch, you don’t remember much of the scenery. 

That is whizzed by your attentional system protects you from registering it because it isn’t deemed important. 

This unconscious filter follows certain principles about what it will let through to your conscious awareness. 

Now further on in the book, Levitin talks about how we’ve evolved to notice what’s advantageous to us for our survival. 

And so it gives the example of squirrels noticing nuts, dogs noticing smells. And that got me thinking, what about humans? If you think about it, we know that. 

We’ve evolved to live in tribes.

That is socially and so anything that enhances, that is improves our social skills, enhances our chances of survival. 

Whereas in prehistoric times, rudimentary, that is, basic language might have been enough to survive socially. 

Maybe all our ancestors needed was to tell each other where to find food or how to avoid sources of danger. Once larger, more complex societies emerged, we needed new, more sophisticated communication skills. 

Think about mythology and storytelling and the role they played for our ancestors in this new world. The storytellers with an ability to use language skillfully and creatively would have thrived, that is would have been successful. 

Now that we no longer live in tight knit tribes, our ability to communicate persuasively and creatively is more important than. 

As a species, more and more of us are interacting with strangers, and our livelihood depends on connecting with these strangers. We give lectures, create podcasts, publish books, defend doctoral dissertations, pitch business ideas to potential investors. 

In a nutshell, our social success depends on using language effectively. 

Let’s return to the quotation from Levitin book about inattentional awareness. That is, how focusing on one part of our environment prevents us from noticing the rest. 

He uses the example of driving down a highway and how we’re unlikely to remember the landscape we drove past once our journey is over. 

Well, in the context of language learning, your destination that is the highway in front of you is the message you’re trying to express, and the landscape around you is the form. That is the way you express it, that is the grammar, structures and vocabulary you use. 

This distinction between meaning and form might be one of the most fundamental concepts in language learning. 

By default, our tendency is to focus on the message that is the road ahead of us and not the specific way this message is expressed. 

If you’re a cave dweller, knowing this is not an evolutionary advantage. 

But you aren’t. You might be planning a Ted talk based on your research, or preparing for an IELTS exam that will help you get into the university where you want to study for you. This knowledge has a definite evolutionary benefit. 

In fact, anyone whose livelihood that is the work you do to make money and live. 

Anyone whose livelihood depends on communication in English needs to know about how our attentional filter works and learn how to reset it so that you can start noticing not just meaning but also form, that is, the patterns of language. 

Now we’re going to look at how learning about new categories of language, that is, specific patterns in English, will help you reset this attentional filter. 

To prevent you from being in attentionally blind. 

Before we look at language, I want to give you an example from everyday. 

Life related to this concept of the attentional filter and inattentional blindness. So a couple of years ago I took in a greyhound, a rescue dog and. 

I had never had a dog before and so I didn’t really pay attention to dogs that much. I saw them in the street when I was out and about, but once I adopted Sasha. 

That’s the name I gave my dog well. 

I started noticing greyhounds everywhere. If you’ve never seen a greyhound or you’re not familiar with them, you can Google a picture of them there. 

For racing and hunting and so they’ve got a very particular look. They’re an unusual looking dog. They’ve got these sort of very long limbs, they’re very sleek looking, they’ve got these long pointed snouts. 

So they look quite unusual, and yet the fact is because the category of greyhound was not important in my reality before having. 

Greyhound. I just didn’t really notice them. They weren’t salient. They didn’t come. 

They didn’t seem obvious in my environment and so I didn’t notice them. 

And then once I had a greyhound, I suddenly started spotting them all over. And it wasn’t that suddenly there were more greyhounds in my environment. 

It’s that I learned a new category and that shifted my attentional filter. So a basic example from everyday life. Now we want to look at. 

This in the context of language learning. So last week I talked about the category of D lexicalized verbs that verbs like get, go, take, make, do, have, give, put and set. 

And I drew your attention to this category because these verbs are so ubiquitous. That is, they’re so common that language learners fail to notice them. 

You ignore them because they are like the trees along the side of the highway. There’s just too many of them. They’re too similar for us to notice. 

And that’s precisely why we need to start noticing them, because they are parts of chunks that are the building blocks of English. 

So that was an example last week of how I was trying to develop your attentional filter as English language learners. 

And I gave the example of the news story about Quasi Korting, who was until last week, until a few days ago, the chance of the exchequer in the UK that is the Minister of Finance. 

And I talked about how there was a headline referring to him setting economic policy and how that got me thinking about how set. 

As a D lexicalized verb is a very productive verb in English. And how? 

It has a lot of collocations combinations in natural English and I gave some examples such as set a precedent, set a record, set a goal, set a target set an example. 

Now I could go on, but I won’t. And I’ve been following this story and this week just I think 2 days ago. Kwarteng. 

He was replaced as chancellor by the Prime Minister, Liz Truss, and he was replaced by someone called Jeremy Hunt, and he’s done away with all of the measures that Kuortane was going to bring in that I described last week. So that’s some good news on the political front as far as I’m concerned. 

Now I’ve been following this story, as many of us have been, and as I was reading a headline, I think just yesterday in the Guardian about this, I noticed a headline which referred to taxes being set to rise. So whereas quasi korting last week was talking about tax cuts, the Tories. 

Party The Conservatives have actually reversed course and decided that, in fact, some taxes may need to increase. And so the headline in the art in the in the guard. 

Was some taxes set to rise that are set to rise? And I of course noticed this use of set. If something is set to happen, it’s expected to happen. That is, it’s considered highly likely. 

And I’ve reflected on how. 

My attentional filter was probably adjusted by the fact that last week I was working on the lexicalized verbs, and so I was more I was primed to notice this pattern in English in his headline. 

And I’m pretty sure that if I hadn’t done last week episode on the lexicalized verbs so this category of vocabulary in English, I’m not sure I would have noticed this example. 

In the article from from yesterday’s Guardian now. 

I noticed a different pattern as I was reading up on this story related to the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that’s today’s category of language of vocabulary in English. 

I was reading about how members of the Labour Party, the political party that has been in opposition for many years now, is sick and tired of watching the Conservatives destroy the economy. 

And then I read commentators saying that we needed to return to tried and trusted tax policies, and others saying that by firing quasi korting. 

The Prime Minister was leaving him high and dry. That is, she was abandoning him. 

Notice how sick and tired, Trident, rusted and high and dry all follow a similar pattern. They consist of two words joined by and. 

This category of vocabulary in English, this chunk is called a binomial. 

And they are incredibly common in English. 

It’s important for us to be aware of them as a chunk that is a single unit of meaning, a category of vocabulary English that you should be aware of, not just to learn these particular ones, but to be aware of the category. So you start noticing them as you listen to natural English and read it. 

Now, although by and large, binomials are words joined by and. 

So there’s another one, by and large, that itself it means, generally speaking, by and large, that is also a binomial. 

There you go, just to show illustrate how common there. So by and large binomials consist of two words like by large which are joined by and. However, binomials can also be joined. 

Can be words which are joined by or, as in the example of the Prime Minister’s firing of quasi korting was a make or break decision. That is a decision that would either. 

Make her career as a Prime Minister or break it. 

And sometimes they’re also joined by by, as in, bit by bit, little by little, and so on. 

Also notice how. 

Binomials often follow certain sound patterns. This is another way of making categories more salient, more noticeable, if we notice the sound patterns is a very common theme in English. 

So we have high and dry make or break, notice the rap, the rhyme, whereas. 

Tried and trusted contains what we call alliteration. That’s simply the repetition of the initial consonants. Tried and trusted. 

There are loads of examples of chunks in English which contain rhyme, alliteration and other features. A sound features will come back to this in future episodes. 

Finally, it’s important to to notice how the and in binomials gets reduced to, as in high and dry, not high and dry. Tried and trusted. Not tried and trusted. 

This will have a big impact too on your ability to understand natural speech. 

Here’s another quotation from the organised mind, this time about the importance of categories. 

So Daniel Levitin writes the following productivity and efficiency depend on systems that help us organise through categorization. The drive to categorise developed in the prehistoric wiring of our brains in specialised neural systems that create and maintain. 

Meaningful, coherent amalgamations of things, foods, animals, tools, tribe members in coherent categories. 

Fundamentally, categorization reduces mental effort and streamlines the flow of information. 

This bears repeating. I’m going to read the final sentence again. 

Fundamentally, categorization reduces mental effort and streamlines the flow of information. 

So noticing categories of chunks in English, like de Lexicalized verbs and their collocations, binomials and so on. This allows you to organise your lexecon more efficiently and thereby allows you to speak more fluently. 

You can devote more of your mental effort to planning what you’re going to say. 

Now, throughout the rest of this season, I’m going to be exploring different categories that help us streamline the work of language learning. 

Last week it was collocations with delexicalized verbs. This week it was binomials. 

And next week, well, you’ll have to tune in to find out. 

Now here’s today’s vocabulary. Don’t forget if you want to receive a quizlet flash card set to study this vocabulary, sign up to my newsletter by going to the show notes at and click on this episode. 

At the end of the month, you’ll get a study set for the month episode. What’s more, you should also be following me on Instagram at Ethos English with Sean to see my daily content. 

Here’s today’s vocabulary. 

Bear with me. 

This is a chunk we use when speaking and when we want to ask someone to wait while we find out information, finish what we’re doing, etc. And it’s on the polite side. It’s a bit formal if you say bear with me. 

If you do something unwittingly, it means you do something in a way that shows you do not realise you were doing it. 

Formal pieces of waste that remain after something has been broken up or used. 

At a stretch without stopping, as in the example, she rarely sleeps for 8 hours at a stretch. 

Deem formal. Think of something in a particular way or as having a particular quality. 

Synonym consider. 

Deem usually follows the pattern deem that or be deemed to be, as in they deemed that he was no longer capable of managing the business. 

They were deemed to be illegal immigrants. 

By default, if something happens, by default it happens because you did not do anything to change it and you did not consciously choose it. 

Be set to rise, be set to increase. 

If something set to rise or set to increase, it’s expected to rise or increase, and it’s considered likely to rise or increase. 

Be sick and tired of something. Be angry or bored with something that has been happening for a long time. 

Be tried and trusted. A tried and trusted method has been used successfully many times. 

Leave someone high and dry. 

Leave someone without any help or without the things that they need. 

Streamline. Streamline has two meanings. First, the primary meaning, which is now actually less common, and then the secondary meaning, which is how I used it in today’s podcast. So the primary original meaning was to form something into a smooth shape so that it moves easily. 

Through the air or water. Think of a stream and a line. Very visual. 

However, the way we use it more commonly now is to make something such as a business, organisation etc work more simply and effectively. 

As in the example, leading organisations use software to streamline their workflow. 

I want to thank you for listening. Don’t forget to subscribe to the show on your preferred podcasting platform. I’d love to hear from you. 

What did you find most useful or interesting about today’s episode? What topics would you like covered in future, send me an e-mail to or DM DM me. 

On Instagram at Ethos English with Sean. 

Have a great week.

Please subscribe for access to the full transcript and flashcards for self-study.
By sharing your email address with me you consent to receive my newsletter and information about services that I offer. You may unsubscribe at any moment by emailing me at I use Mailchimp as my marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices at
I agree with the Terms & Conditions