Every Day English Conversation About The English Channel
Swimming the English channel is not a common activity. Not likely to happen in normal conversation in English with friends. However, knowing some facts about the English channel is important. This small strip of water between England and France has a lot of history.
Hi there, I’m Hilary and welcome to this latest podcast from Adept English. This is the Monday podcast so it’s longer than the Thursday podcast. Please have a look at our website to find the transcript – that’s the written version of this. And we are here to help you with our ‘learn through listening’ approach to English language learning. If you’ve been learning English for a while, but you aren’t yet fluent, then our podcasts and our courses are exactly what you need to take you to fluency in English. So we podcast on a variety of subjects each week, to give you practice at English language listening.
So today’s topic. If you have a look at a map of the UK, you’ll see a strip of water, some sea between England and the coast of France. In typical English style, we call this piece of water ‘The English Channel’ - as though it belongs to us, of course! However, the French call it La Manche. At its closest point, it’s only 21 miles across – 21 miles of sea water between England and France and between Britain and mainland Europe. The nearest town on the English side – and indeed a big channel port, is Dover, D-O-V-E-R and on the French side, the port town is Calais, C-A-L-A-I-S.
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Now I’ve talked to you in previous podcasts about Eurotunnel and how if you want to travel quickly between England and France, whether you’re in a car or you’re on foot – Eurotunnel is the quickest way to go. However, there are also a lot of ships which go across the English Channel, across this stretch of water to the French mainland. Car ferries – so boats which are designed to take cars and their passengers across, and of course a lot of goods are ferried across the channel too. ‘Ferried’ here means ‘carried in boats’ - lots of things and people being carried across to and from England from mainland Europe.
So the channel is 21 miles across at its widest point – so about 33 kilometres. So just imagine what a challenge, what a difficult thing it would be to swim across the English Channel. A pretty mad thing to do, you say! Well, you would be right. But that’s what some people have done. It’s a bit like climbing Mount Everest in the Himalayas – people do it, just to show that they can!
So who was the first person to swim the English Channel? His name was Captain Matthew Webb and he attempted to swim the English Channel or the Channel as we also call it – first of all in 1875. He succeeded on his second attempt, his second try at swimming across the channel. It took him 21 hours and 45 minutes and he actually swam a lot further than the 21 miles. In total it’s estimated that Captain Webb swam 39 miles! This is because the water in the channel is really difficult water – it’s got a lot of currents. A current in the sea or in a lake, is an area of water which flows faster than the rest. And if you’re a swimmer, then currents can be really dangerous. And currents make it impossible to swim in a straight line. So Captain Webb swam nearly twice the distance he needed to! But along the way he was accompanied by supporters in a small boat, who apparently gave him beer and brandy and also something called ‘beef tea’ which sounds disgusting. He also had to cover himself in grease to help with the cold temperature of the water – it’s only about 14-18C, even in the summer. This also helped protect him from jellyfish stings – ugh!
This Is Not A Formal Conversation Example But A More Casual Conversation Style
So Captain Webb was very much celebrated in 1875 – and for probably 100 years, his face used to be on matchboxes in the UK. A match is what you use to light a candle, or a cigarette or a fire – and therefore matches come in matchboxes. Captain Webb also did other challenges, like lying in a tank of water for 128 hours! He was what we call a daredevil – someone who likes a challenge. If you know David Blaine at all, well Captain Webb was the Victorian version of David Blaine perhaps. Captain Webb died trying to complete another challenge - swimming the rapid waters of Niagara Falls, between the USA and Canada.
So here’s an interesting statistic – if you are looking for a challenge, then there are fewer people who have completed the cross-channel swim than have climbed Mount Everest! Only 10% of people who attempt to swim the English Channel are successful. But is swimming the English Channel something you can still do?
Well the British comedian and children’s book writer David Walliams, did a channel swim in 2006. Now he’s really not an athlete and he had to train for months and months to be fit enough – but he managed to complete the challenge in only 10 hours. Apparently, he had a little snack every half hour to keep up his strength. And he too covered himself in goose fat to keep warm. He also raised a million pounds for charity.
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But it’s even more of a challenge these days, because of how busy the channel is with ships and ferries – as well as the weather conditions. Around 600 tankers – big ships carrying goods – and around 200 ferries travel the English Channel every day. But plenty of people still take on this challenge, so it is possible, if you like to do these kinds of things. But you would need to pay for an escort boat – a boat to travel with you, as you swim.
Apparently the first woman to swim the English channel was Gertrude Elderle in 1926 and there’s now a British woman called Alison Streeter, who has swum the English Channel no fewer than 43 times! Crazy.
My experience of crossing the English Channel is of course on a cross-channel ferry – those big ships that carry people and cars across the sea. And I remember there being some quite rough crossings – the sort where glasses are flying off the shelves in the bar on the boat and people are being seasick! It’s a choppy piece of water! ‘Choppy’ means that there are big waves, the sea is very rough.
Anyway – if you like what we’re doing on our podcasts, go and have a look at our website. You’ll find much more material which is useful to your English language learning – and a lot of it is free. But we do also have courses that you can pay for. If you want to really improve your English, we have our 500 Most Common Words Course, which ensures that you know and learn in context the most common words. And we also have our course, Activate Your Listening Course, which helps take you step-by-step towards understanding real English conversations.
So have a think about whether you might swim the English Channel for a challenge! Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
So an unusual English conversation example but an interesting one. The important thing to remember is that regardless of the topic it's the regular English used in the conversation examples that matters. Listen to this many times, and you will train your brain to remember common English words and phrases automatically.