In today’s English listening practice we learn about ordinary people learning huge amounts of information, so much information they actually grow the size of their brains doing it. Along the way you will learn about London taxis and British culture. Listening to everyday English phrases, vocabulary, grammar will help improve your English listening comprehension skills.
Your brain is amazing. It’s the most complex object in the known universe, containing around 100 billion neurons, each of which can connect to thousands of other neurons. Our brains are malleable - meaning they grow and change based on what we do with them. Developing listening skills by listening to everyday English phrases, vocabulary, grammar will help improve your English listening comprehension skills.
Your brain can keep changing throughout your life. Think of your brain as a muscle. If you exercise your brain, it will grow bigger and stronger. You can think of learning a new language, like English, as going to the brain gym and working out. As with any skill, it takes a little time and repeat practice, but
you can and will grow your brain as you learn to speak English.
All of our English listening lessons are designed to help you with learning and memorising English vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and more in a fun and easy way. We design our lessons this way because we know that most people can maintain focused listening for about 10-15 minutes. That means you really pay attention to what is being said and how it is said. We know that information given as stories, with lots of context, helps people with storing information in the brain. We know that spaced repetition is a very efficient way of keeping new information stored in your brain’s longer term memory.
Giving you English lessons in the way that we do is no accident. We have a reason for keeping our English lessons typically 2000 words long, with about 500-600 unique English words in each lesson. Our approach to learning to speak English is popular because it works. The science behind the lessons is invisible. All you need to do is find the time to listen and learn.
Malleable Fare Licence Knowledge Hippocampus Alzheimer Landmarks Navigate
Hi there and welcome this latest podcast from Adept English. Today I’m going to focus on an interesting news article. It’s about taxi drivers and it’s about the brain – that’s BRAIN, the machine inside your head, the thing that you use to think!.
And the ideas in this podcast are very relevant to your English language learning. And of course, as usual while I’m talking through these ideas with you, you will be listening and increasing your knowledge of spoken English as we go. That’s what we call in English ‘dual purpose’ – something that has two purposes, that achieves two goals.
So if you ever come to the UK and you take a taxi, you’ll perhaps be familiar with the idea of a ‘black cab’. A ‘cab’, CAB is an informal word for a taxi – and a ‘black cab’ is a taxi which has a particular old design of vehicle. It’s been traditional for these taxi cabs to be black since World War II, especially in London. And they’re immediately recognisable.
Of course, there are rivals to the traditional taxi, like Uber. But the benefit of using a ‘cab’ or a ‘Hackney Carriage’ as they’re also known in the UK, is that they’re fully licenced, they’re checked out. The drivers have no criminal records. And the ‘fare’, that’s FARE, so the amount of money that they charge you for a trip, a journey – well the fare is the same all the time in a black cab.
Whereas companies like Uber charge more to their passengers at peak times, at the busiest times. Other taxi companies – well, their cars look like any other car – but a licenced ‘Hackney Carriage’ type of taxi, must have a lit up sign, saying ‘TAXI’, usually on the top. And the drivers of these taxis or ‘cabs’ are called ‘cabbies’, CABBIES, so that’s the plural.
So cabbies or taxi drivers are given their licences by local government. A licence, LICENCE means a ‘permission’ – in this case, permission to carry paying passengers in their car. That means the local government departments checks out would-be taxi drivers or cabbies and give them their licence, their permission to do business. And there are different rules for London taxi drivers from the taxi drivers in the rest of the UK.
The black cabs in London are immediately recognisable – like the Yellow Cabs in New York. So if you want to be a London cabbie, a London Taxi Driver, you have to apply through TfL or Transport for London, that’s the organisation that controls the Tube, the trains and the buses in London. And eventually, if you do everything they need you to do, you’ll become licenced through the Public Carriage Office.
But one main difference - if you want to be a black cab driver in London, you have to do what is known as ‘The Knowledge’. That’s KNOWLEDGE. And you’ll notice that it’s got a capital letter – because it’s a specific instance of some knowledge that we’re talking about here.
The requirement to do ‘The Knowledge’ is unique in the world, and is regarded as necessary even in these times when most of us use satellite navigation systems or ‘satnavs’ to find our way around. So what’s meant by this term ‘The Knowledge’? Anyone who wants to be a London cabbie must learn the names and locations of streets in central London and all the landmarks.
They have to learn it and keep it in their head! That means you have to learn a huge amount of information to become a London cabbie. You have to learn 320 main routes through London and the 26,000 street names and locations, which lie within 6 miles of Charing Cross Station. And they have to learn the location of 100,000 of London’s businesses and landmarks or places of interest.
A photograph of a London underground map with famous locations. If you want to improve your English vocabulary and listening comprehension, this is the podcast for you.
So ‘The Knowledge’ takes 3-4 years of constant learning and testing and is regarded by some as equivalent to gaining a degree in Law. It’s that difficult! 60% people who try, don’t pass, don’t ever qualify to be cabbies. Learning ‘The Knowledge’ has been a requirement for cab drivers in London since the year 1865. But of course, there’s much more to learn now than there was back then!
So why were London cabbies and ‘The Knowledge’ in the news recently? Well, basically it was discovered in a research study back in 2000 that cabbies brains are different to other people’s. And this research was backed up, strengthened if you like, by another piece of research in 2011, which showed the same brain changes – and proved that people’s brains grow, even in later life, if they study!
And studying for ‘The Knowledge’ is such a massive task that it changes the brains of people who’ve done it. And this is evident on brain scans. The part of the brain called ‘the Hippocampus’, HIPPOCAMPUS is noticeably larger in London taxi drivers. So to researchers, London taxi drivers are of interest, because they’ve all been through the same process of learning – they’ve all had to learn exactly the same information – so it’s interesting to compare the size of their brains.
For scientific research, it’s always useful to have people, ‘subjects’ in your experiment, which have things in common. It’s like all those ‘identical twin studies’, ‘separated at birth’. The idea is that they’re genetically the same, so the differences are seen as being down to other factors. We do know now that identical twins aren’t necessarily genetically exactly the same, but that’s another story!
Back to the London taxi drivers! So this increase in the size of the hippocampus is of interest to researchers, because it’s changes to the hippocampus, that part of the brain, that happen in dementia, in conditions like Alzheimer’s, ALZHEIMER’S.
In Alzheimer’s, your hippocampus shrinks, it gets smaller. And one of the first signs of this disease is that people become disorientated – they suddenly don’t know how to find their way around. So it’s in the news because another team of researchers, led by Professor Hugo Spiers, a Cognitive Neuroscientist at University College London or UCL - he’s paying London cabbies to be involved in his research. And the project is called ‘Taxi Brains’.
This supports the idea that use of your brain affects its structure and the idea of the brain being rather like a muscle. If you exercise it, it gets bigger and better. All kinds of things – like diet, what you eat, your genetics can affect your brain, as can the environment – what’s around you, what kind of air you breathe. But this study will hopefully be further proof that your brain changes in response to how you use it. Use of your brain changes it – for the better.
And of course, this is what you’re doing when you’re learning a language like English. Even as you listen to this podcast, your brain is making new connections because English isn’t your first language. If you learn a new word or phrase, even if you don’t remember it straight away, it makes a small change in your brain.
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You need sleep of course, to make this change permanent – but this is what’s happening all the time, in that wonderful machine, your brain. What seems to be important for the taxi drivers is not just that they learn the huge amount of information that is ‘The Knowledge’, but that they constantly use it in the course of their work. One London cabbie called Rob Lordon has even published a book in 2018 - “The Knowledge: Train Your Brain Like a London Cabbie”.
The ‘Taxi Brains’ project puts taxi drivers into MRI scanners and observes their brains while they are given the job of planning a route through London. The hope is that the MRI scans will show which particular parts of the hippocampus are being used. And which particular parts of the hippocampus have grown larger.
What’s interesting – the cabbies’ brains got larger and larger, the longer they were doing the job of taxi driver. It wasn’t just the initial learning – it was using ‘The Knowledge’ that made the difference. And it appears to be the same part of the brain which is large in animals who ‘navigate’, who are good at finding their way around.
The hippocampus is needed to retrieve memories – and this is specifically the area of the brain that’s affected by Alzheimer’s. The brain relies more on the hippocampus for recent memories than for long-term memories. So someone starting to be affected by Alzheimer’s, first of all has difficulty remembering things that have happened today or yesterday, but they can remember things from long ago.
So this project is ongoing – we don’t yet know the results. But the very idea is an interesting one and one which seems pretty logical. If we put time into studying, if we spend a long time acquiring a skill, like a language – those areas of the brain that we use to do it, surely are likely to grow and keep on growing if we continue to use that skill!
If you’d like more information and more advice, more tips on how to use Adept English and our ‘Listen & Learn’ technique for English language learning – don’t forget to sign up to The Seven Rules of Adept English.
That’s our free course and you can find on our website at adeptenglish.com. And if you want to learn more about taxi drivers and their ‘big brains’, then there are some links in the transcript.
Learn how to use Adept English podcasts to learn English – and grow the size of your brain at the same time!
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.