One of the best ways of conditioning your brain to hear English and understand English is to listen to native English speakers. The more listening you can fit into your life the more automatic the understanding. The important thing it to listen to normal English conversations, the conversation you would have with friends.
The more diverse the topic the better, but keeping to everyday English vocabulary rather than specific vocabulary is the best approach. This is exactly why today's English podcast lesson is an everyday English dialogue. It takes a simple topic (we talk about smart audio devices which listen to us like Alexa or Siri on iPhone) and we talk like a native English speaker would talk over a coffee to a friend in the UK.
Listening to this English audio will help with training your brain to store common English conversation vocabulary, it provides an example structure of how you might talk about your own topics in English. Who knows, you might even enjoy learning a little about Alexa and Siri.
Once you’ve listened to the audio several times, and can understand what’s being said without having to lookup words or replay parts of the audio, you are ready to join in on English conversations. At this stage your language part of the brain works quickly enough, listening and understandingg, your brain is on autopilot.
Now you have time to focus on what you will say (structuring vocabulary, phrases, idioms and grammar), how you need to say it (accent, pronunciation).
Alexa Siri Misheard
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Hi there and welcome to this latest podcast from Adept English. If you want to be able to join in conversations in English, to understand and speak English fluently, learn everyday English then we’re here to help. If you find conversations in English difficult, or maybe you even find our Adept English podcasts difficult, then you should have a look at our Most Common 500 Words Course. This course, which is available to buy right now on our website, helps you improve your level of English, helps you come up a level, so that the podcasts are easier.
ONLY the 500 most common words are used on this course. So if you do our 500 words course like a series of podcasts, but with restricted vocabulary, and you listen lots of times to each recording, you will learn the 500 most common words in English AUTOMATICALLY! How good is that? And despite restricting the whole course to the most common 500 words, we’ve still managed to include conversations in English with different speakers, as well as my voice.
So if you want to improve your English, but the podcasts are a bit difficult – buy our 500 words course – and feel yourself improve! You can give yourself daily English conversation practice through listening. And then when you do come to speak, it’s so much easier!
Today I’m going to talk about a personal experience – something which took me by surprise, which hasn’t happened before and which happened to me twice this week! ‘Twice’ means ‘two times’. And something which has made me think. I’ve discussed it with my family – and my daughter suggested a couple of documentaries which I need to watch to educate me further on this subject. Documentaries are television programmes which are factual, which contain lots of facts and which educate you, inform you, ‘put you in the picture’ to use an English idiom. The BBC is particularly good at these, if you have access to UK television and you can find them on Netflix too.
So I’m a person who loves facts, loves knowledge, likes to be informed. And I have areas of interest, which I’ll research and investigate. This last year for example, I’ve done a lot of reading about pharmaceutical medication – the pills and medicines that we’re all given – and how often, these pills and medicines don’t do what they’re supposed to do, and sometimes they can actually harm us. I think I’m quite well informed on this now. So I like to know, I like to educate myself and find about about things which are not necessarily the mainsteam opinion, not the official version.
I like to investigate areas or subjects where people are perhaps not being told the whole truth. And sometimes where people are not being told the truth on a wide scale. Having read about pharmaceutical companies and medicines, especially for psychological problems – which is of course my profession, my job, my area of work – I think that there is a huge amount of untruth going on around that subject.
And of course, where there seems a valid point of view, which is different from what we’re being told – either in the newspapers, on television, by politicians or by businesses like the pharmaceutical companies – I do like to pass it on, sometimes in an Adept English podcast! Or at least, I like to ‘raise the issue’, ask enough questions so that it makes you think about it too. And often these may be subjects you’re already thinking about. The aim is for our podcasts to be more like a normal English conversation with friends, so that it’s more real, more authentic! They’re English conversation lessons, but it doesn’t feel like that!
So, what came to my attention this week, that falls into this category? Well, two experiences which occurred on consecutive days. Consecutive, C-O-N-S-E-C-U-T-I-V-E means happening one after the other. So one happened on Wednesday last week and the other happened on Thursday. So, if you listen to Adept English podcasts regularly, you’ll know that my main job, my profession is psychotherapy. I’m a psychotherapist – which means that I spend my time listening to people, talking with them about their problems and helping them to feel better, finding solutions to their emotional difficulties.
Now one of the most important things about this work – it’s confidential. So that word is ‘confidential’, C-O-N-F-I-D-E-N-T-I-A-L – and it means that what’s talked about in my work is private. It’s not for sharing, it’s not discussed with anyone else. So private, P-R-I-V-A-T-E and confidential are English adjectives which means ‘It’s sensitive information. It’s not information to share with other people’. So if I’m doing a session with somebody, nobody can listen in on that.
So last week on Wednesday, I was doing a session with a client, a patient if you like – who was online. We were doing our psychotherapy session on the internet. All of a sudden, there was another voice talking in the background and the client said ‘Oh, that’s Alexa. She’s supposed to be switched off’. So for those of you who don’t know, Alexa, A-L-E-X-A is a woman’s name, but here an automated voice, a digital assistant. A piece of computer software, which is intended to be helpful to you around the house.
Alexa is the software and she’s installed in your Amazon Echo or your Amazon Echo Dot. She’s really useful – you can say ‘Alexa, what will the weather be like tomorrow?’ or ‘Alexa, can you time 5 minutes for me?’ - that’s when you’re cooking perhaps. Or ‘Alexa, where is the nearest petrol station that is open right now?’ Now these devices, the Echo or the Dot are of course, voice-activated – so they respond to your voice – and you usually have a word, which wakes them up. The problem is that means that although they’re not active, they’re listening all the time!
So probably for most people, that’s not a concern. Until you think about what information they might be collecting. Your private conversations, that go on in your house, in your car – or in our case, what’s being talked about in a private psychotherapy session!
And it’s not just Alexa. On Thursday last week, I was in a similar situation, having a private, confidential conversation with someone, in the course of my psychotherapy work. And all of a sudden the other person’s iPhone, or rather the digital assistant software on the iPhone, Siri – that’s S-I-R-I – it suddenly started to talk. Siri had interpreted something I had said as the activating voice command – and took what I was saying as a command to play music. So Siri started to play really loud music, from the iPhone – and it took about five minutes before the person I was with, was able to switch off their phone. So another session, where a piece of software on a mobile phone this time, was listening to our conversation. Aaaah.
A photograph smiling young woman using a smartphone in the evening cityscape
That’s not OK. This is especially the case, when you consider that interpreting different, voices, tones and accents, different human voices cannot be done solely on the device in your room. It’s too complex for that. So recordings of what’s going on in your room are often uploaded to a cloud – to an internet-based storage area – so that they can be listened to by actual human beings and interpreted. Spooky! Who listens to them? What conversations are accidently recorded and analysed? It’s hard to know the answers.
The problem is the voice activation. It’s not perfect – and your device may think it’s hearing a command and interpret this and carry out an action. But actually it’s made a mistake, it’s misheard what is going on. It’s perhaps heard part of a normal conversation and taken it as a command. And we have devices like these in our homes – or in the case of our mobile phones, we take them everywhere with us. Even to bed! So perhaps we need to think about this a bit more. Although we may welcome the convenience, the usefulness of a digital assistant like Alexa, perhaps we need to think more carefully about where and how we use them – especially when they could be used to collect our personal data. This is something I’m going to educate myself on some more I think!
So there you are. Something personal and authentic – it really happened – and hopefully something which might make you think too! I think I’ll probably come back to you with more information on this subject, when I’m more informed myself! So Adept English – giving you English conversation topics to practise your basic English conversation skills.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.