Free English Lessons

Studying History – Listening Lesson (C1-C2)

Did you study history at school? Did you continue with it in higher education or do you enjoy discovering history in your free time? Listen to three old schoolfriends discussing their experiences of studying history. You will also review one of the most confusing areas of grammar and learn about pronunciation and informal vocabulary. This free lesson from Oxford Online English is for learners at advanced and proficiency levels.

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A: I’m fascinated by history these days after travelling so much, but, I mean, I hated it at school. I couldn’t wait to drop it.
B: Why?
A: I suppose it was the way it was dished up – you know, Mr Atkins with his silly stories about Norris and …
C: I … I liked them!
A: Well, they were entertaining, sure … “Norris is an Aztec warrior1, he spots a mystery vessel2 coming over the horizon, … ‘chief, chief, I see a vision come from the sea’ … I mean, I remember thinking, ‘shut up’. What’s this got to do with me?
B: Yeah I guess you didn’t feel it was relevant to you in Britain in the 1990s.
A: Exactly. So what was it about history for both of you?
C: Well interestingly, it wasn’t school, at all. It was those … you know those Airfix3 models we had when we were kids – you know, the planes – and when you got an Airfix model, like, you know, a Spitfire or a Hurricane4, or whatever … in those instructions there was this sort of … this paragraph, this history of the plane – not just all about how to put the model together – so that was it, I just started finding out about them then.
A: So … so that’s why you ended up doing a PhD5 on the Second World War!
C: Right, right, yeah.
A: What about you Sam? Were you the same as Lee? What was your history degree about?
B: Well, I did medieval mainly, ‘cos I preferred it to the more modern stuff.
A: Oh, OK. So … so, when did you decide that you liked history and wanted to do it at uni?
B: Um … probably from junior school, yeah, yeah. We did a school play called The Vackees6 – um, about evacuees6 in the war. And actually I disagree with you about those stories about Norris ‘cos they were just like that school play – you … you were, like, supposed to be that child being moved out of London into the countryside and imagine what it was like.
A: Yeah, yeah, I get that when it’s a play, more than just listening to a teacher prattling on. So, um, medieval, what … what’s that then? Is that like, er, Hanseatic trading league7 and all that?
B: Well, yeah, so it’s about how people emerge from their own little world, started communicating with the next valley – that kind of stuff.
A: And why was that more interesting for you than the war?
B: I … all that stuff about military tactics left me a bit cold. Um … I prefer the sociological stuff that explains everyday life, you know? The nuances of community, the hierarchy of tradesmen, er, how the class system evolves, why religion is so powerful …
A: Right, right … tell me, tell me: what’s your view of all this airbrushing of history that’s going on? You know, the … like when they dumped that statue of the slave trader8 in Bristol harbour the other month. Is it justified?
B: Definitely not.
C: Well, yes and no.
B: But the point of learning about history is you’re supposed to learn from it. If you’re offended by it, it’s good, because you’ll make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
C: Well, I mean, yeah, that’s true, but … but actually Dave, you’ve put your finger on why I love studying history. It was what happened next to that statue – that’s the important bit. You know, they dragged it out of the harbour again, they put it in a museum, they had the debates, they had the demonstrations. Um … so now, this statue being erected in the first place is just one chapter from a darker period of history, and the toppling of it, the putting it in the museum – this conversation we’re having now – this is from the next chapter of a … of a more enlightened time. We o-… we only think a certain way now because of what people thought before.

The exercises below are designed to help you understand the discussion in stages, including some of the grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. These notes are about words not covered in the exercises.

1. A ‘warrior’ is someone who takes part in a war – the word is used in literature, but is less common in factual texts such as news reports.
2. vessel = ship
3. ‘Airfix’ is a brand name.
4. ‘Spitfire’ and ‘Hurricane’ are two types of old military plane.
5. PhD = Doctor of Philosophy – a postgraduate qualification
6. During the Second World War, children who lived in urban areas like London were ‘evacuated’ to rural parts of England. The local children who lived in those rural areas called them ‘evacuees’ or – more informally (and negatively) – ‘vackees’.
7. The ‘Hanseatic League’ was a network of cities that traded with each other around the Baltic Sea.
8. You can read more about this statue here.

Studying History – exercise 1
Gist comprehension: forming a profile of the speakers

If you ever listen to a conversation with multiple speakers – e.g. a Zoom call or a radio discussion – you need to collect information about the speakers to help you put what they say into context, and remember who said what.

Listen to the dialogue once and answer five multiple-choice questions about the three speakers and some of the things they mention.

Studying History – exercise 2
Grammar: review of articles

Articles are one of the most confusing parts of grammar, which many advanced learners still find difficult to get right, because they don’t work the same in different languages.

Listen to five sentences from the dialogue and match them with the rules about article use.

Studying History – exercise 3
Vocabulary: informal expressions

The three speakers are old friends, so they use a number of informal expressions like ‘prattling on’ (= talking at length about unimportant things). If you make friends in an English-speaking country, you will often need to work out the meaning of such language, using the context to help you.

First, listen to five excerpts from the conversation and fill in the gaps to complete the expressions. Then click ‘Next’ to match them with their meanings.

Studying History – exercise 4
Pronunciation: different pronunciations of the same word

You may know about weak forms – the idea that ‘grammar’ words like articles and prepositions are pronounced differently when they are not stressed (which is most of the time). Did you know that ‘meaning’ words (e.g. nouns, verbs, adjectives) can be pronounced differently too?

When speaking fast, we often squeeze words and don’t pronounce them clearly. This is particularly true when you repeat a word a lot in a short space of time. The pronunciation may also change because of the influence of the next or previous word. This exercise trains you to listen closely to these things.

Studying History – exercise 5
Detail comprehension: identifying specific information

Now that you have studied some of the language in the recording, can you pick out the details mentioned by the speakers?

Listen to the conversation again and answer five more questions.

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