Chatterbox #181 – Interview with Henry from Spoken

In today’s episode, Andrew interviews Henry, an English teacher who has developed a new English learning tool—Spoken. Join us to discover this exciting new way to learn and practise English for real-life professional and business settings.

Expressions included in the learning materials

  • To plug into [something]
  • To stick to [something]
  • To get the most out of [something]
  • 100 percent
  • Real life/real-life


Note: The words and expressions that appear in bold text within the transcript are discussed in more detail in the Detailed Explanations section that follows the transcript.

Andrew:             Hey there, everybody. My name’s Andrew, and you’re listening to Culips.

Announcer:       If you want to learn English for everyday use, you’ve come to the right place. At Culips, we help make English understandable. By listening to our podcast, you can learn natural expressions and conversational structure. If you’re interested in learning more about Culips and what we do, check us out on Facebook or our website, That’s C?U?L?I?P? Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoy this episode.

Andrew:             Hey guys. Welcome back to another Culips episode. I am certainly glad that you are spending a little bit of your day with us. Today, we have an interview with Henry from the company Spoken. And this is a really cool interview, guys. I think you’re going to like it. Henry chatted with me a little bit about who he is and where he’s from and what he does. And I got to learn all about this app that he has developed with his team, called Spoken.

So he’s going to talk about that, and you will get a chance to listen. And while you’re listening, I would like you to pay specific attention to three keywords that Henry uses. And after the interview has played, I’m going to come back and talk about these three keywords, and explain them to you, what they mean and when they’re used, OK?

So the three keywords that I would like you to listen out for are number one—to plug into, to plug into; number two—to stick to, to stick to; and finally—to get the most out of [something], to get the most out of [something].

OK, so enjoy my interview with Henry, and listen out for those three keywords. When the interview with Henry is finished, I’ll come back for a couple of minutes to talk about these keywords.  All right, here it is, my interview with Henry from Spoken.

Andrew:             Hi Henry. Welcome to the Culips podcast.

Henry:                Thank you, Andrew. It’s great to be on. Thank you for having me.

Andrew:             Hey, no problem. So we’ve got you on the podcast today to talk about your app, Spoken. But just before we get into that, I was hoping that you could tell us a little bit about yourself. You know, where are you from, what you do, that sort of thing.

Henry:                Yeah, absolutely. Happy to. I’m originally from Baltimore, Maryland. That’s about 40 minutes northeast of Washington, DC. And I went down to college in North Carolina, at a small school called Davidson College, where I was an English major. And from there, I finished, and as an English major, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do.

Andrew:             Mmhmm.

And I ended up going over to China with a friend to teach English at a college in Jiangxi Province.

Andrew:             OK.

Henry:                Which is inland and in the south of China.

Andrew:             OK.

Henry:                And there I was teaching Chinese college students, who were learning business English. And that was a great year for me. I really enjoyed teaching, and I really enjoyed also trying to learn some Mandarin. And I enjoyed the challenges of teaching English.

Andrew:             Yeah, it’s a big challenge, isn’t it? In a foreign country where you’re not too comfortable with the language. It can be difficult.

Henry:                That’s very true. And you know, I learned a lot because I had to try to learn the language, being immersed in an environment where there were not many native speakers of English. So I needed to try to learn Mandarin.

And I think my own experiences there helped me teach English to Mandarin speakers trying to learn English.

Andrew:             Right. It’s really important, I think, as an English teacher to have that perspective of your students, right, of trying to learn a foreign language. Because if you don’t know that struggle, then it’s hard to connect with your students, I think.

Henry:                I think that’s very true. And the nice thing was my students also recognized that I was trying to learn, and sometimes they would teach me just as much as I would teach them.

Andrew:             Yeah, so true. It happens that way for sure.

Henry:                Yeah. And after that year, I became more and more interested in language learning and instruction, and I came back to the United States and got a graduate degree, a master’s degree in linguistics.

Andrew:             OK.

Henry:                Which is the study of language. And it’s not something you hear of every day. It’s not a very, very common master’s degree to get, but for me, it was a field of study I really liked and was passionate about. And after earning that degree, I continued to teach English, this time in the United States.

Andrew:             OK.

Henry:                And from there, I spent a few years teaching English, and I got interested in education technology.

Andrew:             Education technology. What is that?

Henry:                Using technology to help people learn or help teachers teach.

Andrew:             OK, so you became interested in education technology, and this inspired you to create your English learning tool, Spoken. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you created Spoken and what it does?

Henry:                Yeah. And from there, we started … We built Spoken. It was initially an app, just like you would have on your phone, but we did a number of tests that we call pilots. So a pilot test, we had many users start to use it. And that’s when you can really actually watch how people use your software.

And we decided from our pilots, you know what? People don’t use apps as much as you think they do. Oftentimes, if I look at my phone, I have pages and pages and pages of apps. And I actually only use four or five on a daily basis.

Andrew:             It’s true. Yeah, you’re absolutely right about that.

Henry:                And we’ve had some studies that … You know, people spend 90 percent of their time on only five apps.

Andrew:             Interesting.

Henry:                And so we were going to create an app, but the problem was people aren’t downloading and using most of their apps today. And obviously, if you want something for people to help people, you want them to use it.

Andrew:             Right. So you decided to scrap the idea of developing an app. And what was the alternative that you came up with?

Henry:                Sure. We started using the messaging systems, like WhatsApp or Telegram or WeChat. There’s many more that people like to use on a daily basis. We found that every day, people were spending almost an hour in their messaging apps, messaging friends, getting messages from friends. And then that was a very, very nice place for us to try to plug into, or to try to offer our services through.

Andrew:             If you are like me, and you have friends in many different countries, I end up using maybe four or five different messaging apps, including all the ones that you mentioned. And because of that, I spend a lot of time using chatting apps. And I’m sure our listeners do too.

Henry:                Yeah, they’re so convenient, and they’re always the first thing you see when you open … When you turn on your phone.

Andrew:             Yup.

Henry:                Because you always are getting messages.

Andrew:             Or the things that wake me up in the middle of the night.

Henry:                That too. That’s why I became a fan of the Do Not Disturb mode for certain hours.

Andrew:             Oh yes, a very important feature. Absolutely.

Henry:                Well, 100 percent.

Andrew:             OK. So Spoken then is an English-language learning service that is offered through these texting or chatting apps. So can you just introduce us to Spoken? What does it do, and how can it help you improve your English?

Henry:                Sure, absolutely. So through messaging systems, users get connected to our instructors on the other side, who are native-speaking instructors. And we focus on professionals mostly now, so people that want to learn English for their professional skills and their jobs, and their career purposes today.

So many of our lessons are about getting jobs and job interviews, or working with clients or interacting with your boss, or dealing with billing, for instance.

Andrew:             Mmhmm.

Henry:                A number of those business interactions that occur.

Andrew:             So a real business focus.

Henry:                There’s a business focus to it today, yes.

Andrew:             OK.

Henry:                And we believe that people learn best when they’re learning in lifelike situations. So a lesson will usually be about a real situation that you might find yourself in. So maybe you have an interview, and the lesson is you … In the lesson, you are being interviewed by somebody who you need to impress in order to get the job.

Andrew:             OK, so the content of Spoken mirrors real-life situations that you will actually encounter in your real life?

Henry:                That’s exactly correct.

Andrew:             OK.

Henry:                We find that is more motivating for people. They can see the use very directly for the lesson.

Andrew:             OK, so we have Spoken delivering us lessons that are business-focused, but very natural and practical. And so I’m curious, what kind of learner will get the most benefit out of Spoken? Do you recommend it to beginners or advanced students, or all levels? Who is it designed for?

Henry:                That’s a great question, Andrew. Most lessons … Well, our lessons have different levels, and even in a lesson, there are different levels of difficulty. And we say though, you should have a base of English.

Andrew:             OK.

Henry:                You should be a beginner today to take full advantage of Spoken, to get the most of out it. So high beginners, intermediates, and even advanced learners, that is who Spoken today works best with.

Andrew:             OK, very good.

Henry:                And also in Spoken, we focus on the four skill areas. We focus on listening, comprehension. We focus a lot on speaking and pronunciation.

Andrew:             OK.

Henry:                Because we find that’s an area that many learners, whether they’re beginners, intermediates, or advanced, can work on. And all of our learners will get unique, very specific, custom feedback on their pronunciation every week.

So our coaches will listen to you speak and give you feedback in a report every week on areas you can improve upon.

Andrew:             OK. So I’m just going to cut in right there for a moment if you don’t mind. So how does that work? Do students make a recording on their phone of them speaking and then it’s sent to your instructors for feedback?

Henry:                Exactly.

Andrew:             OK.

Henry:                Speaking exercises, students will use the voice message option to reply to their instructor and complete the exercise. And then later, they will get even more specific feedback that looks at the English sounds they were having trouble with.

Andrew:             OK, very cool. So this is another way to take advantage of this chatting technology, right? It’s not just text messages. It’s also voice messaging.

Henry:                That’s 100 percent correct. Chatting is a great mechanism or a great channel for language learning because it’s about communication.

Andrew:             Absolutely. OK, so what were the other aspects that students can practice in the app? We have speaking and listening, and what else?

Henry:                Sure. We have an emphasis on vocabulary, and vocabulary that is specific to different situations. So if you have a good base of English vocabulary already, this is a great way to add on to it by learning more terms that may be found more often in business or professional situations.

Andrew:             Sure. And I was actually playing around with Spoken the other day, and I noticed that the vocabulary that you teach is … Like you mentioned, it has a very heavy business focus. So that’s really great for all the professionals out there who need English for their job.

OK Henry, what is another aspect students can expect to study in Spoken?

Henry:                The final one is maybe the least fun one, but something everybody can benefit from, and that’s some grammar practice.

Andrew:             Hmm, OK.

Henry:                Though for us, we like to stick to making it feel like it’s a real-life situation. So all of the grammar work … It’s not just grammar exercises, you are working with the sentences and the phrases that you would use in real-life situations. And we teach grammar through that.

Andrew:             OK, so it’s again using practical and real-life situations to teach natural grammar that’s important for that specific situation, right?

Henry:                Exactly. That’s the idea.

Andrew:             OK. That is very cool. How can our listeners learn more about Spoken?

Henry:                Oh, well, thank you, Andrew. Sure, we have a website that is So that’s And we are actually creating a specific page for Culips listeners.

Andrew:             Yeah, that’s right. And so the address for this page is going to be So

Henry:                Exactly. And if they do like it, then because they are Culips listeners, after the free lessons, they can sign up for a 20 percent discount too.

Andrew:             Awesome. So it sounds like there’s really nothing to lose. If you’re wondering, “How can I improve my English? I need more practice.” And I guess especially if you’re interested in learning business English, then yeah, check out and try out Spoken.

Well, Henry, it was great talking to you today. Thanks so much for introducing our listeners to Spoken.

Henry:                Yeah, thank you for having me, Andrew. It was great to chat.

Andrew:             Yeah, take care.

Henry:                You too.

Andrew:             OK, guys. So I hope you enjoyed my interview with Henry. I know I certainly had a great time talking to him and getting to learn about Spoken.

OK, let’s take a look at the three keywords that I talked about at the start of the program. Now, just to review, they were to plug into [something], to stick to [something], and to get the most out of [something]. Oh, three phrasal verbs. I like them. OK, so to plug into [something], to stick to [something], and to get the most out of [something].

Did you hear them used in this episode? If you did and you were able to understand what they meant in context, that’s great. If not, don’t worry. I’ll explain them now.

So the first expression is to plug into [something], to plug into [something]. Henry used this expression when he was talking about his research, and his research that showed that people spend about an hour a day using messaging apps on their phone, these chatting programs, right?

So because of that, the Spoken team realized that there was an area of the market that they should try to plug into. OK, let’s listen to that part of Henry’s interview one more time.

Henry:                We found that every day, people were spending almost an hour in their messaging apps, messaging friends, getting messages from friends. And then that was a very, very nice place for us to try to plug into.

Andrew:             OK, so what does it mean to plug into [something]? OK, well in a general sense, when you plug into [something], you become involved with something and knowledgeable about that thing, OK? So for example, let’s make a sentence. Let’s say, “Dan is plugged into the music scene in his community.” Dan is plugged into the music scene in his community, OK?

So this means that Dan is involved in his local music community and is knowledgeable about it. In a more specific sense, when we use to plug into [something] to talk about computers and technology, it means to gain access, OK? To gain access.

So when Henry talks about plugging into chatting programs, he means he wanted Spoken to be delivered through chatting programs, OK, so that Spoken could gain access to the users of chatting programs.

OK, the next key word for today is to stick to. And Henry said this when he was talking about how Spoken teaches grammar in a natural way. So let’s listen to Henry say this.

Henry:                We like to stick to making it feel like it’s a real-life situation.

Andrew:             OK, did you hear it, stick to? So what does it mean, to stick to? It means to limit yourself to only one thing, to restrict yourself to only one thing. So when Henry says that Spoken sticks to teaching grammar in a natural way, it means that Spoken only teaches natural grammar. It sticks to natural grammar. There’s no deviation, there’s no movements from teaching grammar naturally or digression. Spoken only teaches natural grammar. So it sticks to it, OK? It sticks to teaching grammar in a natural way.

OK. And finally, our last keyword is to get the most out of [something], OK, to get the most out of [something]. Let’s hear Henry use this expression, OK? It’s quick so listen carefully.

Henry:                To get the most out of it, to get the most out of it.

Andrew:             Henry used this expression when he was talking about what level of English learners should use Spoken. And he said that you should be at least a beginner to get the most out of it, OK? You should be at least a beginner to get the most out of it. So what does it mean, to get the most out of [something]?

Well, it means to take full advantage or to get the most benefit from something. So according to Henry, as long as you’re a beginner in English or a high beginner, you can get the most out of Spoken, or you can take full advantage of his app.

If you want to take full advantage of studying with Culips, we suggest that you sign up to become a Culips member, OK? Members get a ton of great stuff, including transcripts, detailed explanations and examples of key vocabulary, and quizzes for each and every one of our episodes.

And if you want to learn more about the keywords that I just talked about in this episode, well check out the learning materials for this episode. We will definitely have more information there. Signing up for membership is super easy. Just visit our website,,, to learn all about it.

That’s it for now, everyone. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll be back soon with another Culips episode. I’ll talk to ya then. Bye.


Detailed Explanations

To plug into [something]

Our first key phrasal verb expression in this episode, to plug into [something], means to connect or to become involved with something—usually a group of people, an activity, or an organization.

At the simplest level, to plug into [something] means to connect to something. For instance, if you plug an electronic device into a computer, the two technologies are connected, and can communicate and share information. So when you plug into [something], you become involved with and can gain knowledge about that something. If you are already plugged into [something], then you are already involved and know all about that something.

Here’s one more example with to plug into [something]:

Dana:               Hey Jacob, is it true that you really like playing chess? I want to learn how to play. Do you any tips or know a chatroom or group that I can plug into?

Jacob:              Of course! Come with me to the chess café next time, and you can connect with some players. It’s also a great place to practise.

To stick to [something]

To stick to [something] is a phrasal verb that has two related meanings. The first, which Andrew mentioned in this episode, is to focus on or to continue with something, without making any changes. For example, if a friend asks you to change plans, and you want to stick with your original plans, you could say, “I am going to stick to my plan.”

The second meaning of to stick to [something] is to continue doing something even when it becomes difficult. For example, if you’re listening to Culips, you probably want to stick to learning English. In other words, you want to keep working on your English, even if it’s not always easy.

Here’s one more example with to stick to [something]:

Jesse:               I know we were supposed to meet for lunch tomorrow, but do you think we could do it on Thursday instead?

Rachel:            Thursday doesn’t work for me. Could we stick to tomorrow?

Jesse:               OK.

To get the most out of [something]

To get the most out of [something] is a phrasal verb construction that means to get the largest benefit out of something. In other words, if you get the most out of [something], whether it’s an activity, project, or experience, you gain the greatest value you can from it.

For example, we often talk about how a Culips membership can help you get the most out of studying with Culips. In other words, using our learning materials (like you’re doing now) helps you learn the utmost amount of information each episode.

So if you gain the greatest amount of benefit or positive experience from something, you have gotten the most out of [something].

Here’s one more example with to get the most out of [something]:

Elsie:                The book we had to read for class today way super long.

Sasha:             Yeah, it was too long! I gave up halfway.

Elsie:                You didn’t finish it?

Sasha:             I didn’t bother. It was too long and boring.

Elsie:                You really should have read the whole thing. How do you expect to get the most out of class if you don’t even know what’s being talked about?

100 percent

100 percent means completely or entirely. The expression is often used in casual conversation, often used to show agreement with someone.

For example, in this episode, Andrew mentions that the Do Not Disturb function on phones is an important feature. Henry replies by saying, “100 percent.” In other words, Henry is saying that he agrees completely with Andrew’s statement.

So if you want to tell someone that you agree entirely with something that they’ve said, you can say, “100 percent.”

Here’s one more example with 100 percent:

Ben:                  Do you want to go grab a coffee? I think it would be nice to get out for a little walk.

Sarah:              100 percent! I’ll definitely come with you.

Real life/real-life

Real life and real-life are two terms that are used to talk about what happens in the world, as opposed to what that happens in fiction (stories, movies, games, etc).

Real life is a noun that means in the world, and is often used to refer to events that happen in the world or in someone’s life. When someone says that something happened in real life, they mean it was a real situation that happened in the physical world.

In recent years, we also use the term real life to distinguish between things that happen in the physical world and things that happen on the internet. For example, if you told someone that you made a friend, they might ask if you made a friend in real life or online.

Real-life, with the hyphen, is an adjective that means happening or existing in the real world. So when Henry mentions that Spoken focuses on making their lessons about real-life scenarios, he means that their lessons deal with situations that happen in the real world.

Here are a couple more examples with real life/real-life:

Jen:                  You look really pleased. Did something good happen today?

Hugo:               Yeah! My post on Facebook went viral! It got thousands of likes. I feel so accomplished.

Jen:                  That’s cool and all, but does it actually help you in real life?

Hugo:               I guess not. It’s still pretty awesome though!


Marlene:          How’s school coming, David?

David:               Really well! I’ve got an awesome internship lined up for next semester.

Marlene:          Oh cool! What are you doing?

David:               I’ll be working as an assistant editor for a magazine. I’m really excited about gaining real-life experience. I’m so lucky!

Marlene:          That’s amazing! It sounds like it will be an awesome experience.

David:               I sure hope so.


1. True or false: Real life and real-life are terms that refer to what happens in fiction or on the internet.
a) true
b) false

2. If someone says they are going to stick to their dinner plans, they mean they are going to __________.
a) change their plans
b) keep their original plans as they are
c) change either the time or the place
d) eat a heavy meal

3. If you have gained the greatest benefit possible from something, you have __________.
a) observed or listened to something
b) seen the worst of something
c) profited from something
d) gotten the most out of something

4. Which of the following means 100 percent?
a) completely agree
b) mostly agree
c) mostly disagree
d) completely disagree

5. When you become involved with something, you are __________.
a) plugged up from something
b) down with something
c) plugged into something

Quiz Answers

1.b       2.b       3.d       4.a       5.c