Episode 6

Hello and welcome to episode 6 of No Word Is An Island Advanced English, the podcast for inquisitive students of English who want to lose weight, get six-pack abs and become a millionaire. Oh, wait, I mean, the podcast for students who want to be more fluent and articulate in English. Sorry, what with it being January I’ve got New Year’s resolutions on my mind. After all, who doesn’t?

Before we get started, I hope you’re all doing well. This is a friendly reminder that this podcast is best used with the interactive transcript and Quizlet flashcards available at BetterLanguageLearning.com/podcast. All of the key words and chunks in this episode are annotated, which means that if you hover your mouse or finger over any text highlighted in pink you’ll see extra information, such as definitions, synonyms, register (i.e. that is to say is it formal, colloquial, literary, etc.). Bear in mind the advice I gave back in the very first episode, namely that you, as an advanced learner, need to focus on developing your productive vocabulary, that is the language you are confident using when speaking and writing.

One of the worst pieces of advice that teachers give language learners is that they should focus on understanding vocabulary through context. If you’re reading for pleasure this might be a good strategy, but context is not enough to allow you to correctly and confidently use words and chunks that you come across while reading. I cannot emphasise this enough – advanced learners need different strategies. While it is time-consuming, looking words up and recording and reviewing them using a flashcard app like Quizlet or Anki is the simplest and most effective way to improve your English. Apart from that, this podcast is your best bet, as it is designed to make things convenient. I select vocabulary suitable for C1 and C2 students, provide definitions, review tasks and flashcards, so you don’t have to.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I’ve got New Year’s resolutions on my mind. If you make a resolution to do something, you are making a promise to yourself to do something. The noun resolution comes from the verb resolve. And just as you can make a resolution to do something you can also resolve to do something. So you can make a resolution to quit smoking or resolve to quit smoking. Resolve can also be used as a noun, meaning strong determination to succeed in doing something.

We often talk about someone showing great resolve, in the sense that someone demonstrates their determination to achieve something, often in the face of difficult circumstances or challenges. Let me give you a personal example. Throughout my adult life I had enjoyed drinking alcohol. For the most part it didn’t interfere with my responsibilities. By no stretch of the imagination was I an alcoholic. But I won’t deny that I began to associate alcohol with having fun and being social. A meal without a glass of beer or wine just seemed a bit boring. Last year I realised that alcohol was becoming a crutch, a way of coping with isolation in the pandemic. By chance I came across a book called This Naked Mind, by Annie Grace. In it she shows how we are socialised in very insidious ways to associate alcohol with positive social situations, and that thanks to advertising and social conditioning the belief that drinking is harmless fun, indeed that it is even fundamental to a happy life, goes unquestioned. Now, don’t worry, I’m not trying to foist my sobriety on you or anyone else.

But I do think it’s worth drawing your attention to the fact that a simple book with a simple premise can change your life for the better.

Anyone who starts to make changes to their life knows that this can invite criticism from loved ones and strangers alike. And, sadly enough, our fear of ostracism, that is of being excluded, is so strong that we will refrain from doing the things we need to do to keep growing. Your new, healthier diet might be inconvenient when you go out for dinner with your friends. Your workout schedule might clash with your social commitments. This past year I showed great resolve in not giving up on my promise to myself. What’s more, when people at parties acted like there was something odd about my not drinking, well, having read up on the subject, I was prepared. In fact, seeing people bothered by my personal choice actually strengthened my resolve to stay sober.

A Roman coin bearing the image of Janus

As I was thinking about the concept of New Year’s resolutions, I began to wonder where this tradition started. I did some research and found out that the ancient Babylonians are believed to be the first culture to have made them, albeit in mid-March, which coincided with the planting of their crops and their new year. It was thanks to Julius Caesar in 46 BCE who changed the calendar and made 1 January the beginning of the new year. January was named after Janus, the two-faced god who inhabited doorways and arches, and it was to him that Romans made sacrifices and promised to change their ways. As you can see, new year’s resolutions are a venerable tradition that stretches back several thousand years.

But just because something has been around a long time doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth doing, right? People are notoriously bad at sticking with their resolutions and numerous polls bear this out. So does this mean that resolutions are pointless? If you think about the types of resolutions most people make, they usually revolve around health and appearance. It could be giving up a bad habit like smoking or drinking, or taking up a new one, such as exercise.

While these goals are laudable, I would suggest a different approach. Last year I took part in a meditation challenge organised by the 10% Happier podcast and app, both of which I highly recommend. It was based on the concept of self-compassion developed by psychologist Kristin Neff. Her premise is that instead of seeking self-esteem, which is contingent on external factors, that is it depends on things outside your control, we should pursue self-compassion. It’s hard to do the idea justice in so few words, but suffice it to say that I found this concept profoundly helpful. It’s about finding ways of working through your fear of failure, of accepting yourself as you are. Her approach reminds me of the quotation by Carl Rogers, one of the founding fathers of psychotherapy, who said “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change.” By the way, why is it we talk about founding fathers but not founding mothers? Perhaps that can be a subject for another episode.

Whatever your goals are, don’t give up on them. But if you pursue them while being self-compassionate, that is, by being tolerant of your own shortcomings, you will actually be more likely to achieve them, not less. And apparently people who are more self-compassionate have closer, more fulfilling relationships. I urge you to watch Dr. Kristin Neff’s talk, which I’ve linked to in the show notes, and check out her website, where you can complete a test to find out how self-compassionate you are.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter on my website to get bonus review materials and find out about new courses I’m developing. If you use Apple podcasts please rate and review the show as this helps me reach a wider audience.

I’d love to hear from you. What do you make of this week’s topic? What are your New Year’s resolutions for learning English?

Send your comments and questions to podcast@BetterLanguageLearning.com


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