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A cup of coffee with a friend

Updated: Jan 24

Tell me a tale is a program that is meant to get you, the language learner, to do some hard work towards improving one particular aspect of your use of English to communicate: improvising beyond basics.

The first step on this path is the video that you look at. A native English speaker is telling you a story. The story is about something. For example, this week's story is a dramatization of someone new in town trying to become familiar with the local coffee shops, with the objective of locating the one that makes the best coffee.

Coffee matters is one of our earliest videos. In fact, it was the first video Robert made for us. It does something that most of our videos don't do: part of the story is shown as a dramatization. Robert holds a fictitious conversation (obviously with himself playing both parts). I let this slip by because the video itself was of value.

You can see that, while the storytelling part is strong and sound, that little fictitious "conversation" was really not real at all. Besides the obvious fact that we only hear one side of the chat, the side we do hear is off. It's certainly grammatically correct and the vocabulary is fine, but it is also totally artificial. The language used in that small, one-sided chat is not something you should learn or use at all. It's almost poetic, but not at all day-to-day.

It's all about the narrative

The part of this video that you should pay attention to is Robert's story. That story is what we at SLB have chosen to focus on.

  • How do you get beyond the basic language you've studied and learned in countless artificial dialogues?

  • When someone asks you "How was your day?" do you cut the conversation short with a terse "Fine", or do you share an anecdote about something wonderful (or awful!) that happened to you?

It's about the cup of coffee

When you go out to have a cup of coffee alone, you probably take a book with you or read the newspaper. Or you may pull out your phone and spend some time doing an activity on a language app. The only conversation you've had involved

  • a greeting,

  • placing an order and

  • a thank you.

You have one conversation left to you, which is the "how much" pay for your coffee exchange.

You can learn these conversations by heart just through repeated study. They are finite structures with easily exchangeable parts. For example, if you want tea instead, you only have to substitute "coffee" with "tea" and you're on your way. That part of learning English is pretty easy since English is a really structured language.

Same goes for a chance encounter. Say someone you know slightly from work comes in with her husband. Again, you'll have the greetings, perhaps a comment about the weather, but you see that she wants to have coffee with her husband, so you stick to the small talk and the chat remains basic.

Having coffee together

Things are much different when you go to the coffee shop with a friend. Of course, when you first see each other, you'll go through the routine basics. But once you're settled down at the table with two steaming cups of coffee between two people who want to spend some time together, you know you have to get beyond basics.

When your workmate asks "How's work?" you can answer with a brief "Fine, thanks"; that's all that exchange needs. That's small talk, easy to memorize, easy to remember and use, it's always the same with small variations.

When your friend asks you "How's work?" you can't just answer "Fine," and let it go. Your friend wants "the dirt", he ants you to share some information with him, maybe continue a story that he is already aware of. He wants you to tell him a story.

Tell me a tale on YouTube

And that's what we hope to help you with with the Tell me a tale YouTube channel and the added activities in the blog and the mini-lessons. It's a lot of work for you, but there's no way around it: if you want to improve, you have to actively do something.

So, subscribe to the YouTube channel so you don't miss a single episode of Season 01. Click on the link in the description of the video to find the blog post for that video. Click on the links in the blog post and get familiar with the language. Subscribe to the blog and get access to the mini-practice lessons. All this activity will only help you to improve!



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