Today I’m taking you on a walk-through of one of my favourite series, which came back at the end of March.
It’s Silicon Valley, which is an HBO show. It’s one of the preselected series on my Freedom from Subtitles programme. That’s because on the official HBO YouTube channel, there are a whole bunch of Silicon Valley clips with accurate subtitles and time stamps. So it’s an awesome resource for working on your listening and breaking free from the subtitles.
It’s a comedy series about a group of guys in Silicon Valley who are building a tech start-up called Pied Piper. The founder is a guy called Richard Hendricks,, who is a programming genius, but rather socially awkward and maybe not really suited to running a business. He creates a really powerful compression algorithm.
He’s working at the time and he enters into a bidding war with his employer Gavin Belson, who is the head of the evil tech giant Hooli. He actually ends up getting investor funding and starting his own company called Pied Piper of course.
In the company there’s him, there’s Jared, whose real name is Gordon, who is probably one of the funniest characters in any series I’ve ever seen!
There’s also Elrich Bachmann, who’s the person who runs the incubator where they set up the company.
Then there are two engineers that they work with, Dinesh and Gilfoyle who hate each other and spend most of their time insulting each other.
So, what’s great about this series, is that I think it really characterises all the ups and downs and the stresses of creating a business. Usually every season ends on some kind of cliff-hanger. So something awful has happened to the guys, for instance they had an idea stolen, or they ran out of money, or they mess up a client project. You know. All the dramas that can happen in the tech business.
So there’s always a season finale that’s a bit dramatic.
I really like it because it really keeps you hooked and addicted to the show.
Pied Piper’s steps to success
If you’ve never seen the series before, I’m using this clip called “Pied Piper’s steps to success”, which is a bunch of clips from the different seasons to give you an introduction and introduce you to the main characters.
When I do these walkthroughs, my aim is to really help you understand the tricky listening bits, the new expressions, and the cultural references.
I think the best way to get subtitle free is to have someone watching with you who can explain the stuff that you don’t know – especially cultural things, or things to do with characters in a series you’ve never seen.
So this is one of the things that I do for my students to help them to get subtitle free too.
In this video there is a bit of background music that might affect comprehension a bit, but in the normal clips from the series you don’t have this. They’ve just put it on here, which is a bit annoying.
A very quick word before we start about the company name. The name is Pied Piper, chosen by Richard, and that name is actually taken from a German fairytale. It’s about a man who plays a pipe and leads all the children of a town away with his music, after he had done the same with the rats of the town, but the people of the town didn’t pay him. So that’s what that’s a reference to.
Ok so let’s get going with Pied Piper’s steps to success.
“Pied Piper sounds like a great place to work.
Pied Piper is duh best!
Oh my God! Every day feels like I’ve died and gone to hell!”
So we’ve just seen our two warring engineers Dinesh on the left and Gilfoyle on the right. They’re talking to this guy who’s asking a perfectly innocent question about Pied Piper – “oh it must be a great place to work?”
Gilfoyle says “every day feels like you’ve died and gone to hell”.
So this idea of dying and going to hell is an expression we use to say that something is really awful. Gilfoyle is probably the trickiest person to understand because he doesn’t articulate very clearly.
In this expression we’ve also got some links that make it tricky to catch: “died’n’gone” all joins together in the middle, which makes it a little bit trickier.
“I’d like to talk to you about a company called Pied Piper.
What does it do?
So we just saw Jared trying to explain what Pied Piper is to those poor people who probably weren’t too interested. So it asks the question “what does it do?”
Questions in English typically get very squashed down, especially the ones that we ask all the time. Here, when he asks the question, it sounds like “whatd’us’I’do?” He really squashes down the auxiliary verb and joins it with the word “it”.
In this next scene we see the Pied Piper team at the Tech Crunch Disruptor competition:
“We are a compression company.
Ladies and gentlemen. Pied Piper appears to have …”
So they just got this amazing score at the competition for their compression algorithm, which really impresses everybody.
“this kid Hendricks and the Pied Piper team just ran a 2-minute mile”.
So this guy on the phone said: “this kid Hendricks and the Pied Piper team just ran a 2-minute mile”.
So this is a reference to the 4-minute mile. In 1954, a guy called Roger Bannister managed to run a mile in 4 minutes for the very first time. After that, that became the standard for all male professional runners, or middle distance runners.
So when he said that Pied Piper just did a 2-minute mile, it means that they’ve completely broken through the standards, in this case, the standard for compression algorithms. It’s obviously really really impressive.
“The ultimate enterprise data storage solution. Power. By Pied Piper.
Now that’s what I’m talking about
What the fuck is that? Is that a VCR?”
Ok so this clip is from the season where Pied Piper decides to bring in a CEO from outside. If you’re a fan of Groundhog Day, you’ll recognise that the CEO here, Jack, is actually Ned Ryerson, Phil’s annoying friend from school. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go away and make sure you watch Groundhog Day – it’s a brilliant film.
So Jack decides to put the Pied Piper compression algorithm into a box that he can sell to businesses as data storage.
He’s excited about that, but the Pied Piper team aren’t really.
He uses the expression “now that’s what I’m talking about”. That’s an expression that we use to mean “isn’t that awesome?” or “how amazing is this?”
Because it’s an expression that we use frequently, we tend to squash it down and make it harder to hear. When Jack says it, he makes the T disappear from “that”, he joins “what” and “I’m” together, and “talking” gets reduced to “talkin'”. “Now tha’s what I’m talkin’ about.”
Gilfoyle responds by asking “what the fuck is that?” So a more polite way to say that would be “what on earth is that?” and he squashes the question down to “whadda fuck is tha’?”
He also asks “is that a VCR?” A VCR was the old machine that we used back in the 80s and 90s to play video tapes. Again, as in normal spoken English, questions get reduced down a lot, so instead of “is that a” it sounds like “is’a’a”
“I’ll give you 3 million dollars for right now.
Gavin Belson just offered me 3 million dollars for Pied Piper.”
So there we saw Gavin Belson, who was Richard’s old boss, offering to buy Pied Piper.
“Go for Ed Chambers
Ha Ed, did that pussy Jared keep you on hold for long?”
Here we’ve got Jared who is normally very polite, self-effacing and just not obnoxious like this at all. Here he is pretending to be his alter-ego Ed Chambers over the phone to a supplier to make negotiating easier.
So Dinesh told him “oh yeah, what I used to do in an old job is I would pretend to be my supervisor and I would speak in a really obnoxious way to be able to get through to the right people and negotiate more easily.”
As I said, Gilfoyle who’s speaking here is tricky to understand because he doesn’t articulate very clearly and he speaks fast.
He just said “There is someone else. Someone who’s been on the cover of one of the most prestigious tech publications in the world”.
So, we can see this is Richard’s good friend “bag head” who isn’t in the company because he’s not smart enough or talented enough, but for some reason he’s managed to fall into lots of money and fame, despite his incompetence.
You can see here that he’s on the cover of the magazine he’s reading and Gilfoyle just referred to “one of the most prestigious tech publications in the world”, by which he means Wired Magazine, which is a very famous tech magazine.
So you’re going to understand the joke that Baghead is going to make inadvertently in a second:
“He sounds awesome! Can we get him?”
So he says “he sounds awesome! Can we get him?!
He doesn’t realise that Gilfoyle is talking about him, Baghead.
He says “soun’s awesome.” He misses the D sound off “sounds” and joins it to “awesome”. He then says “can we ged’im?” He takes the H off “him” as we normally do in fast spoken English.
“I wanna back you. To make you a billion dollars. To make me a billion more.”
So here we see Richard with Russ Hanneman, who is a billionaire who made his money putting radio on the internet. He’s not a very reliable person, but Pied Piper have had to contact him in the past throughout the seasons for money and for help. So here Russ uses the classic squashed expression “I wanna” instead of “I want to”.
He also has a link, where he says “I wanna make you’w’a” He adds a W sound between “you” and “a”.
“how does that sound?”
Then he asks Richard, and that’s really hard to catch, that question at the end, because questions are quite tricky to catch in fast spoken English. So he asks Richard “how does that sound?”, but he reduced it down to “how’s that sound?” He means “What do you think of the idea?”
“said you, you wanna make some kind of a a a deal? .. substantially difficult, truly repugnant.”
So here we’ve got Monica who works at the investment fund that’s supporting Pied Piper. She’s an ally of the company. She says to her boss Laurie “apparently you’re planning to give money to Russ Hanneman” and she kind of hesitates and says “a a a deal” because she’s so surprised that her boss would work with someone who’s so obnoxious.
That’s kind of unusual in a script. Normally actors don’t hesitate or use filler expressions or any of these things that we do in spontaneous speech because they’re reading from a script. But this is just to show the surprise at her boss meeting with Russ, who is not the type of person that he would normally work with.
So I’ve taken you through the majority of the clips. What I’m going to ask you to do then for the next section is to work on it by yourself. So you can continue watching without the subtitles initially, trying your best to use the visual clues to figure out what’s going on.
Then, when you’re ready, when there’s maybe a section that you find a little tricky, you can replay it, and you can try writing out what you hear. That’s the most effective technique for working on your listening and getting rid of the subtitles. You want to write out what you hear and then compare with the subtitles.
So you can either switch on the subtitles or you can open up the transcript to see the full text of what everyone’s saying, check your work, and then that way you’re going to start to think – ok, did I miss a word that I know? Did I miss a new word that I need to go away and learn? Did I miss some kind of reference that I don’t know because it’s cultural or it’s to do with the series?
This is where you start actually learning from your mistakes and making some progress.
Feel free to tell me what you missed or what you misheard in the comments here.
I’d also like to know are you going to start watching Silicon Valley? If you are already watching, what do you think of season 5? Have you seen the first couple of episodes? Are you enjoying it so far?
Please let me know!
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you again very soon!