Practice speaking by yourself!

Speaking is most often considered the most important skill when learning a language.  It allows us to communicate effectively, which is usually any student’s ultimate goal. We find ourselves in a predicament though when we want to improve this skill, but have no one to practice with. First of all, this is usually a misconception because we usually know at least one person who has better English than we do. This person can become a “chat buddy” in spaces that you designate to this such as having lunch once a week, holding that weekly meeting in English with coworkers or even just grabbing some coffee during your break. Now, let’s say you want more spaces to practice or truly don’t have anyone to speak with, here’s an idea using a playback technique, so you can practice speaking on your own.
First things first, learning a language is not an over night process, so any learning strategy will require consistency to actually be effective. Keeping this in mind, you should set apart anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes to do this exercise.

You’ll need:
1. Video or article of intetest. It can be digital or printed, as long as you can mark it.
2. Cellphone or recording device.
3. English dictionary or computer.

Here’s the process:
1. Choose an article or video that you find interesting from one of the sources suggested below. It can really be from anywhere, just be sure that it has the transcript and the audio available.
2. Read the article or the transcript and be sure to identify the following things:
– new vocabulary
– main idea
You can do this exercise on the computer, but I find it much more pratical to print out the article, so you can write on it.
3. Look up any word you do not understand. Avoid translating! Instead use an English dictionary. Although I prefer using a Thesaurus  (dictionary for synonyms and antonyms), which allows you to easily associate the meaning of the word with the synonyms or antonyns, and to learn new words at the same time.
4. Now, play the audio or video and follow along. Underline or highlight any word that you weren’t sure about the pronunciation. Listen to it a few times, if necessary, until you feel comfortable with the meaning, the words and the pronunciation.
5. Read the article out loud and record yourself with your cell phone or voice recording device. It’s better to do this part by sentences or paragraphs, although if you’re more advanced you can do the whole article without stopping. Depending on your level it will make the following step easier.
6. Finally, listen to your recording and compare to the original audio. Identify the mistakes and make any necessary corrections. If you really want to make sure you have it right, repeat step 5 until it sounds just the way you want it to.

Some additional tips:
The best website that I’ve found so far to do this exercise is Ted, because of its Live Transcript feature. When doing step 6, you can simply click on the word and the recording will go to that part of the video. Having said this here are my suggestions for the websites you can use to practice:

-Words in the news (Intermediate to Advanced levels)

-Voice of America (Basic to Intermediate levels)

-TED (Intermediate to Advanced levels)

-English Central (All levels)

Some additional websites:
-Dictionary
-Thesaurus

Inventing words in the ESL classroom

watermarkEver consider inventing a word? Well, turns out it’s not such a crazy notion. Language is constantly growing, but I’ve never seen anyone motivate us to help it grow quite like Erin McKean. After watching her TED video from November 2014 in New York, I felt the urge to share it because I believe it might help us explore a different perspective on language teaching, and learning for that matter. We are so wrapped up sometimes in using the language perfectly, when in reality the need is to communicate and make ourselves understood.

“Every language is just a group of people who agree to understand each other.”- Erin McKean

Erin who is a lexicographer, which means she basically dedicates her life to finding and including words in the dictionary, gives us an entertaining chat and shares with us her thoughts on words, their usage and how she thinks we should be interacting with the language. From what she tells us language should express what we want to say and let’s face it we can’t always find just the right word.

Take a few minutes and watch the video and then let’s analyze how this could affect our take on teaching English.

Ok, so now let’s put it into perspective as ESL teachers.

A main concern for every English teacher I’ve ever met is assuring that students use impeccable grammar and have good vocabulary accuracy. Sometimes we may miss the fact that they HAVE to make mistakes to actually learn. Let’s give our students the chance to make mistakes and speak freely. If we bite our tongue for a minute, it will be worth it. I promise. As our students lose their fear of expressing their ideas, we can focus on polishing up all those things we are tempted to correct right away. This becomes the perfect moment to give the students the opportunity of grasping and using the grammar in your lesson plan. The challenge is making grammar a “law of nature”, as she puts it. I think this is possible by making our classes fun and engaging so we can successfully teach our students the grammar rules and usage naturally in a comfortable environment. (There are some ideas below in the links.)

We constantly talk about being creative, but when we consider learning a language we sometimes limit it to mathematical-type equations that make up the structure of the language. The learning process needs creativity, even if that involves having fun with a few new words! No language is set in stone, it evolves with the people. Native speakers constantly invent new words, which makes it nearly impossible to truly teach the complete English language to any student. English is spoken as a mother tongue by over 430 million people around the world in 99 countries. Whereas thera are 1 to 1.5 billion non-native speakers.¹ Even though we usually teach a standard English, we shouldn’t forget that our goal is that our student’s make this language their own to the point they can express their thoughts and ideas in it. So, let’s motivate our students to participate actively in our classes by reminding them that they make part of this evolution.

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Application in the classroom:

I usually enjoy it when students make up words, which I think every student has done at one point or another. I had this one student that would constantly invent words, but this actually promoted an environment of investigation and teamwork. When this would occur the class would have to try to guess the correct English word and find at least two synonyms. I’ve found that a Thesaurus comes in very handy in the classroom for this exercise. They would obviously know what he meant because it was an all Colombian classroom, so it was usually a Spanish word that was “turned into” English. Besides creating a fun environment in the classroom, it generated opportunities to learn new words along with their correct uses.

Recommended websites: 

https://www.wordnik.com/

http://www.thesaurus.com/

Teaching strategies to teach grammar without the math equations: 

The Discovery Technique

Guided Discovery

¹http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English-speaking_world