This is the transcript for the Real Exam English podcast episode about learning.

Hello and welcome to Real Exam English, today’s episode is about learning, another really common topic in English exams. We have speakers from England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, all answering questions about learning. You will hear loads of useful expressions and idioms, some amazing ways to structure your answer, plus some wonderful language for speculating about photographs. As usual you can find the transcripts for this episode on the Real Exam English website, Realexamenglish.com

Ok then, let’s go with the questions.

what practical skill would you like to learn?

I have always had a desire or I guess I’ve always been drawn to certain survival skills and I’m I’m not necessarily the type of person to think that the world is going to be destroyed in the blink of an eye. I’m I’m not a survivalist or something like that, but I still would like to learn.Some things such as learning to build a fire out in the wilderness, learning to fight, find water out in the wilderness. skills like this that if something serious ever did happen, whether I got stuck or or something serious happened to society, I would be much better off in in looking after myself.

Can you learn something if it is something you dislike?

I think that there are lots of different challenges in terms of learning from being bored. The amount you can apply yourself and a lot of these are connected to if you purely if you like the subject. I think it’s quite necessary for people to learn Or to at least to attempt to learn things that they dislike. And the reason I think That is because we might dislike something because of some misconception we have about the subject, or we don’t have a we can’t recognize its importance and I think a perfect example of this is mathematics, in which I would say in the majority of people say they don’t like it. However, getting to certain points of it, people can Understand its importance.

What a cracking pair of answers. In the first answer we heard these two really nice ways of saying that you would like to do something, they were: I have always had a desire or I guess I’ve always been drawn to certain survival skills. It´s great to have some expressions like this as it’s very typical in an exam to be asked questions about what you would like to be able to do.

Next we heard this awesome idiom “that the world is going to be destroyed in the blink of an eye”. If something happens in the blink of an eye then it happens really quickly. For instance, the pickpocket robbed my wallet in the blink of an eye.

In the second answer, we`re gonna focus on the connectors as the answer is structured excellently. So what did we hear. Firstly, to explain what he was thinking he said And the reason I think that is…then….we might like something because of some misconception…..a perfect example of this is mathematics, in which the majority of people don´t like it. However, people can understand it´s importance. Wow, so many connectors in one short answer, if this were an exam, the examiner would be really impressed and would be giving high marks for discourse management.

If you could learn a new skill, what would you choose to do?

Hmm, if I could learn any skill, I would choose to. I suppose I would choose to learn how to draw. Ah yeah, I’ve always loved looking at cartoons, and I think it’d be awesome to learn how to draw cartoons and how to you know. Start cartooning. 

How can class size affect learning?

Well, in many ways. It reflects the dynamic, uh, and the the possibility for different types of dynamics. The possibilities for different types of dynamics and interactions. Let’s say there’s a class of, you know, six students.Uhm, that opens a possibility for doing.Error exercises. If There’s a class of you know, 10 or 15 students. Then there’s a possibility of doing team exercises and team interactions.Of course, if there’s 30 or 40 students, it’s probably going to be a lecturer type of interaction. So the first thing that comes to mind is what kinds of interactions are available. Uhm, so yeah, that’s  that comes that’s the first thought to mind.  

This first answer is a perfect example of how to give yourself time to think about what you are going to say. The speaker said so much before actually giving his answer, he started off with Hmmm, then he repeated the question a bit, if I could learn any skill, I would choose to. Then he adds a bit of speculation, I suppose I would choose, then finally his answer to learn to draw. We´ve spoken before about it being useful to have some techniques to give yourself some extra time to think, as the questions you get asked, particularly at a higher level, can be tricky, often things you haven’t thought about even in your own language. So make sure to practice these time-buyers, so that it sounds natural in an exam.

Can you learn something if it is something you dislike?

I mean, I definitely think you can learn something you even if you dislike it, because there’s always going to be things that you just like doing, but I find it to be more of a challenge. 

 So for example, I had to learn how to do my taxes. I have to learn how to do certain computer things, all those kind of things. Yeah, I don’t really like to learn them. So it’s harder for me. It’s harder to learn if I don’t like something, but. I don’t think it’s. 

You have to like something to learn it. You know, I mean. 

Do you think that having a private lesson is better than having a lesson with other students?

I think it depends on what your goals are and what your your outcome is. So for example, I think if you. My gut reaction would be no, they did better. It’s always better to have more interaction and listening to other people and dynamics of lots of people speaking together. 

But if you have a real targeted interest and you’re really drilling down on something you really have to Put your nose to the grindstone to to learn something, and you’re also under a time constraint The private lesson might be the way to go, but I think for for general learning acquisition for learning things that you can’t expect to learn, that I definitely prefer the group. 

Some fantastic expressions to focus on here. Firstly, my gut reaction would be no. So your gut reaction is something you feel, without stopping to think about it, like your instinct. For instance, in many detective movies when the police go to round to speak to suspects, they get a gut reaction about who the killer is. Then we heard when you are drilling down on something you have to put your nose to the grindstone. So drilling down on something is really focusing on something specific, for example my English teacher has been drilling down on connectors in class recently. Then to put your nose to the grindstone means to work hard for a long time. You can also you keep or have your nose to the grindstone. An example would be, she kept her nose to the grindstone all year and ended up passing her C1 exam with top marks!

Ok next up we have some photo speculation. You should be able to see the photo in the artwork on your podcast app. If not, you can find a link for it in the show notes, and it´s on the blog on the Real Exam English website. OK then here we go.

Parsnip Stick


There’s a lady and a Child holding a stick.I do not know what this stick is. I do not know why they’re holding it up, but the the young girl is holding it where they’re both holding it. The girl looks really happy about it and the woman looks happy that the child is happy. So I’m going to make the assumption that she is her mother, but I’m damned if I know why they are holding this stick.


Looks like a it’s, uh, looks like a relative and and A and a girl. Just because they’re in like a comfy house together, they’re probably related and she seems to be showing the girl.Something, maybe it’s something that she used like for a sport or. Or maybe it’s like some kind of a construction material and the girl is like checking it out. And the older lady is happy to share this. Uh, item with with the girl.


OK, I would stay up.Speculation mother daughter or maybe aunt and a niece and it looks like it’s Some kind of unusual gift, and they’re they’re trying that the young girl is trying to unwrap it or Unveil it in some way that might be exciting.

Ok, so let’s take a look at what language was used here for speculating. We had plenty of looks, the woman looks happy, it looks like a gift, we have seems, she seems to be showing her something. We had maybe, maybe its something she used for sport, might, it might be exciting, probably, they’re probably related. Ok so they are the more normal ones, then we had two fancier structures. The first one was I´m going to make the assumption that she is the mother, nice, and I’m damned if I know why they are holding the stick, which means I have no idea why, or I haven´t got a clue why they are holding the stick. Really nice ways to speculate there, and not ones you will see very often in any English textbooks, great stuff.

One other thing to comment on here is the use of adjectives. In the first answer we hear the woman looks happy, the girl is happy, the child is happy. Also, in the second answer hear the older lady is happy. Students very often use basic adjectives like this, happy, or sad, or good or bad, when describing photos. Remember it’s an exam and your objective is to impress the examiner, so you really need to practice using better adjectives to describe photos, and particularly people’s feelings, which is a very common question. So for instance, instead of happy, say she looks pleased, or delighted,  chuffed, made up, over the moon…or if you really gotta use the word happy then she look as Happy as Larry, much better, right?!

Some people say that the only way we really learn things is by trying to do things and making mistakes. Do you agree?

I would agree, yeah, I would agree with that because a lot of my students, you know, they’re afraid to make mistakes, and often students don’t speak because they’re afraid of not.You know, speaking well or making a mistake, and I always say to them well, you’re better to to speak.And make a mistake than to not speak at all, you know, and we can help you.With come, you know, with the mistakes that you make and help you to improve them so.

Is there a tip you could give to someone learning something?

Listen, listen and come be open minded and be prepared to learn you know, because if you’re not open minded, it’s going to be much harder for you To learn because different English speaking countries, for example, speak different ways and have different accents, and sometimes even say words differently, you know, so it’s about listening and just being prepared to to understand what’s being taught.

Some sage advice there from this English teacher, who is from New Zealand by the way. As she says, when learning to speak English, it’s much better to speak and make a mistake than not to speak at all. The same goes with writing, when you learn some new grammar or vocabulary it´s super important to try it out, even if it means you might make a mistake or two. In fact, even in an exam if you make a mistake with less common words or structures this will not count against you and you can still get maximum marks. So, be ambitious, try stuff out, it’s the only way to get yourself up to that next level!

some people say that we should keep learning new things all our lives. What do you think?

Absolutely I think learning new things keeps your mind fresh. Having an interest in new things. Uh, it keeps your mind more active and and I think. 

An active and open mind is less likely to slow down and atrophy, so I I think learning new things is very, very important throughout your life. 

And to what extent do you agree that learning should always be fun? 

I think it’s much, much easier to learn when it’s fun and I don’t think learning can always be fun. ’cause there are some things you need to learn. That are literally never going to be interesting. 

Ok, in the first answer we heard that an open mind is less likely to slow down. Less likely here means that it is less probable, but it sounds much better to us less likely instead or there is less probability to slow down, which doesn’t sound so natural, and is something I hear a lot from Spanish and Italian speakers.

Then we heard literally, which is a very interesting word. Originally, it meant using the real meaning of a word, like I live literally next door to my grandmother. But then the word acquired this new meaning, used in an exaggerated way to emphasize a statement that is not literally true or possible. For example, I drank too much wine last night, I’m literally dying today. Ok, you’re not, you’re going to live, but we get the idea, you big moanyarse!

Some people say that we should keep learning new things all our lives. What do you think?

I agree with that. I think you know.It keeps life interesting for a start. Secondly, I mean, there’s been. There’s been plenty of medical studies that have proven that it’s actually good for your brain to be learning new things because it reduces the risk of getting alzheimers.And and also you know the reality of it is we don’t know everything. We actually probably don’t. We probably know less than we think we do.So why not learn the world is An amazing place and it’s got so much to offer us, UM, so why not try and find out about things? I think I think learning is really important. I’m definitely a lifelong learner.

What practical skill would you like to learn?

There isn’t one. There’s quite few actually up, but I think, well, I definitely like to learn upholstery, and I would also like to learn some.I think probably a bit of engineering electrical engineering 2 completely different things on the spectrum, but I think I’d like to learn both of those.

Another really well structured answer here. “it keeps life interesting, for a start….secondly…..and also….and then a nice rhetorical question, so why not try and find out about things? Superb!

Then a cool little expression, a lifelong learner, which of course is someone who continues learning for their whole lives. Some of you, in fact, might be lifelong learners of English. It would be awesome to use this expression in your exam if an examiner asks how long you’ve been learning English. Instant vocabulary points for you!

And that is all the vocabulary we have for today folks. Hopefully you are as happy as Larry with all of the brilliant language on offer in this episode and if you want to get more awesome tips like you heard today, then why not book a class with me, check out the Real Exam English website for more details, realexamenglish.com

Okey dokey, all the best!


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