Free English Lessons

A Talk About Climate Change – Listening Lesson (C1-C2)

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Climate change is one of the hottest topics around nowadays. Listen to a woman giving a talk in a conference call to colleagues, concerning what their company plans to do to tackle the issues. You will review the grammar of complex sentences, learn vocabulary related to climate change and colloquial expressions, and focus on the pronunciation of the schwa. This free lesson from Oxford Online English is for advanced learners.

Listen to the dialogue at normal speed here:

or listen to a slower version here:

I’ve called this talk “There Is No Planet B” because it’s a bit of a catchphrase1 at the moment – Greta Thunberg used it at a recent climate conference, as you know. It’s also the title of a book by Mike Berners-Lee, from the University of Lancaster – and if his name rings a bell, it’s because his brother Tim founded the world wide web. Well, his book outlines some of the biggest climate changes the world currently faces and what we could do about them. I truly recommend it!

Now, I know there are always voices of doubt – I’ve had a few naysayers2 already saying “don’t make us feel guilty for destroying the planet” and “remember the Ice Age – global warming isn’t just a manmade thing”. Well … so what if it isn’t? Whatever you think causes greenhouse gases, using up the earth’s finite resources is 100% human. The planet doesn’t drill for its own oil. The fossil fuel industry might say “we all depend on oil – everything you buy relies on something having been delivered by a petrol-driven vehicle at some point; fossil fuels are the backbone of our comfortable lifestyles!” … well … they won’t be when they’re all gone. There is no oilfield B!

So, our company wants to make more than just a token effort – we don’t want to be accused of greenwashing, claiming to be eco-friendly while actually continuing as we always have. To do that, every one of us needs to be on board, including the doubters – because saving the planet means saving money too! If you fill your car with petrol, there’s only a certain number of journeys you can make before you have to fill her up again! The longer you can avoid using the car, the more time before you have to pay for more petrol. The same should go for water, gas and electricity: the trouble is you turn on the tap and there’s always water; you turn the knob and the gas comes out; the lights always come on at the flick of a switch. You get your bill every quarter and think “hmm, that’s gone up a bit!”, but what if those utilities were actually just like that tank of petrol? You’d soon think twice about using water if it came from a tank in the garden and you had to pay for someone to fill it up every time – particularly if when you phoned them they said “nah, sorry mate, it’s all gone”.

Our company pledge is for every member of staff to do one thing less in your working life, one thing less in your home life and even one thing less in your social life. In work life, you might print less, or do it double-sided; in your own time, cover yourself in soap in the shower before you turn the water on; when you’re with friends, put all your phones in the middle of the table and pledge not to look at them until you leave – you’re using the phone less, so you won’t have to charge the battery so soon, and you’ll use less of the electricity in the tank.

Now, I’ve created a pledge page on the intranet3 site – if you’d like to go there now, you’ll see it on the right-hand side. I’m gonna stop talking for a moment or two and ask you to go there now and enter some pledges …

Some of the language that you might not know in this recording is explored in the exercises below, which are designed to guide you through understanding the speaker. These notes concern other words not included in the exercises. We recommend that you try the exercises first and come back to refer to these notes if you need to.

1. catchphrase = a phrase or slogan that a lot of people have started saying, or that one person (e.g. a quiz show host) always says in a certain context
2. naysayer = a person who tends to give negative opinions, particularly when these opinions are in opposition to more common views
3. intranet = a company’s internal network of websites, only available to those with password-controlled access, or using certain computers

The speaker also mentions Greta Thunberg and Mike Berners-Lee. Click the links to read more about them.

A Talk About Climate Change – exercise 1
Comprehension: identifying the speaker’s opinion

A lot of what the speaker says in this talk is her own opinion, but there are also some examples of ideas expressed by other people, which she quotes and then comments on. Can you tell which is which?

Read five quotes of things that the speaker says and listen for them in the full recording (above). Decide if they are her own opinion or if she is quoting someone else. If it’s the latter, decide why she is mentioning it.

A Talk About Climate Change – exercise 2
Vocabulary: climate change words

There are a number of words in the talk related to climate change, the environment and man’s use of the earth’s resources.

Read a definition of five terms used by the speaker, and listen for them in the recording. Write the words exactly as the speaker says them.

A Talk About Climate Change – exercise 3
Vocabulary: colloquial expressions

The speaker uses a number of informal and figurative expressions. This is very common in ordinary conversation but less common in very formal speeches. Since this is a less formal speech in a modern tech-age, her register is formal at times and more informal at others.

Listen to five utterances from the recording and fill in the gaps with the exact words that you hear.

A Talk About Climate Change – exercise 4
Grammar: conjunctions in complex sentences

The grammar we use in speaking tends to be less complex than in writing. There are more short and simple sentences. However, complex sentences should still be used to link ideas. If you can do this when speaking, you’ll get higher grammar scores, as well as improving what some exams call ‘coherence’ and others call ‘discourse management’ – both mean helping the listener to follow how your ideas are connected.

Look at some complex sentences from the recording and write one conjunction from the box in each gap. There are three that you don’t need to use.

A Talk About Climate Change – exercise 5
Pronunciation: the schwa

Do you use the schwa when you speak? Native speakers do it a lot, even though most probably don’t know what it is! It’s the name of the vowel sound /ə/ – the vowel in the word ‘the’ when it comes before a consonant. It also occurs on the unstressed syllables of words like computer and about, as well as in the unstressed weak forms of common words like to, for and at. In fact, it’s been calculated that more than 60% of unstressed syllables in English are pronounced with the schwa. It’s by far the most common sound in English!

Listen to five utterances by the speaker and decide how many times she uses the schwa.

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