ESL - English as a Second Language

These articles all relate to learning English as a 2nd language.

7 Secrets to Fluent English - Secret #1 - Listening

by Maureen Bouey

“Minds are like parachutes. They only function when they are open.”
Sir James Dewar, Scientist (1877-1925)

Congratulations on taking this step towards being a more fluent English speaker. Many ESL students wonder if it is possible to learn to speak English fluently, like a native speaker. The answer is: Yes!

Is it easy? No. But it is possible.

We believe that you signed up to take this course, because you are a person who is ready and willing to learn. Are we right? You will reach your goals with English if you are:

a) committed to working as hard as you can, and

b) open to new ideas and concepts.

If you faithfully practice what we suggest, you will begin to notice an improvement in your English.

Ok, are you ready?

We have a lot of ground to cover... so let’s get started!

SECRET #1: If you want to speak English fluently, you first must:

LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN,

and then…

LISTEN SOME MORE!

This is the first thing you do when learning a new language – and it is essential to good speaking ability.

Are you surprised? Well, it’s really true; the more you listen, the sooner you will be a fluent English speaker. Lots of listening will also lead to a better (more “natural”) accent.

Many students have said to us, “I don’t understand; how can listening help me become a better speaker?”

Well, how did you learn to speak your own first language? When you were a baby, did your parents sit down with you and begin to explain the basics of grammar in your native language? Did they try to teach you to read or write when you were still crawling around on the floor?

Of course they didn’t! They just talked to you, and to each other, and to lots of other people.

And what did you do? You listened.

Sometimes you listened passively, and sometimes you listened with conscious effort, paying attention to the sounds, rhythms and patterns of speech that were all around you, and trying to understand.

The important thing is, you were immersed in your language – in other words it was all around you. You were like a fish swimming in water.

For a couple of years, you continued to listen. Then, eventually, (probably somewhere around the age of 2) you started to speak. Everyone got very excited of course, including you - but remember - by that time, you had been listening for a very long time!

First you listened; then you spoke. “Obviously,” you say? Yes, but it’s a very important relationship. Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a quite extraordinary Japanese man who was a contemporary of Albert Einstein’s. (As it happens, they were also good friends.)

In the 1930’s, this remarkable man discovered what he called “the mother tongue” method of learning. In his book Nurtured By Love, Shinichi Suzuki explains how he came to understand how people learn language. It suddenly occurred to him one day that “all Japanese children can speak Japanese!”(1) Of course this seemed obvious to everyone, and some people looked at him oddly when he announced this. But what he really meant was that human beings have a natural ability and a “talent” to learn a complicated and difficult language – just by listening to it!

This insight showed him an important link between how we ‘receive’ information, and how we ‘produce’ it. He was a violin teacher, and he began to use this method of language learning to teach young children (3 and 4 years old!) the violin. First, he let them listen to a particular piece of music for several weeks. Then, after a while, they were able to play the piece themselves – without knowing how to read music yet.

This is the first thing you do when learning a new language – and it is essential to good speaking ability.

Are you surprised? Well, it’s really true; the more you listen, the sooner you will be a fluent English speaker. Lots of listening will also lead to a better (more “natural”) accent.

Many students have said to us, “I don’t understand; how can listening help me become a better speaker?”

Well, how did you learn to speak your own first language? When you were a baby, did your parents sit down with you and begin to explain the basics of grammar in your native language? Did they try to teach you to read or write when you were still crawling around on the floor?

Of course they didn’t! They just talked to you, and to each other, and to lots of other people.

And what did you do? You listened.

Sometimes you listened passively, and sometimes you listened with conscious effort, paying attention to the sounds, rhythms and patterns of speech that were all around you, and trying to understand.

The important thing is, you were immersed in your language – in other words it was all around you. You were like a fish swimming in water.

For a couple of years, you continued to listen. Then, eventually, (probably somewhere around the age of 2) you started to speak. Everyone got very excited of course, including you - but remember - by that time, you had been listening for a very long time!

First you listened; then you spoke. “Obviously,” you say? Yes, but it’s a very important relationship. Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a quite extraordinary Japanese man who was a contemporary of Albert Einstein’s. (As it happens, they were also good friends.)

In the 1930’s, this remarkable man discovered what he called “the mother tongue” method of learning. In his book Nurtured By Love, Shinichi Suzuki explains how he came to understand how people learn language. It suddenly occurred to him one day that “all Japanese children can speak Japanese!”(1) Of course this seemed obvious to everyone, and some people looked at him oddly when he announced this. But what he really meant was that human beings have a natural ability and a “talent” to learn a complicated and difficult language – just by listening to it!

This insight showed him an important link between how we ‘receive’ information, and how we ‘produce’ it. He was a violin teacher, and he began to use this method of language learning to teach young children (3 and 4 years old!) the violin. First, he let them listen to a particular piece of music for several weeks. Then, after a while, they were able to play the piece themselves – without knowing how to read music yet.

This method of teaching became known as “The Suzuki Method” and is now used world-wide.

It makes sense, right? First we listen, then we speak, then we read, and then we write. But we listen first; it’s the natural order.

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
Albert Einstein

Your speaking ability (both fluency and pronunciation) will improve if you will listen, listen, listen. Make no mistake – you can improve your English this way no matter what level of English you are at right now: whether you are an absolute beginner or at a much higher level.

“How much listening does it take to make a difference in your speaking?” That’s a very good question! The answer is, “it depends.” We are all so different; we have varied backgrounds, experiences, talents, and abilities, some people will need to do more listening and some people need to do less to achieve the same results.

The simple and true answer is this: “the more the better.” And even more importantly: “the more often, and the more consistent, the better.”

So, there we have it! That’s the first secret - being a good listener will help make you a better speaker. And the great thing about listening is you can practice it just about anywhere! If you have an ipod, you can carry your listening practice with you on the bus, train, subway, car or plane.

Of course, it’s true that those of you who are spending some time in an English-speaking country will have many more opportunities to overhear English. But wherever you are, try to expose yourself to a variety of different voices – just like when you were a baby learning your first language. The more you do this, the better! Here is a list of some suggestions for you to try. We know you’ll find more!

  • Listen to English TV stations or programs. Try closing your eyes sometimes. This will challenge your to “hear” more – especially to hear the rhythm and intonation in natural speech.
  • Watch English videos (it’s much better to not have subtitles!).
  • Listen to English radio – you can do this anywhere in the world (BBC/CBC/Voice of America, etc.).
  • Listen to songs – practice singing along!
  • Listen to recordings of books.
  • As you are walking down the street, listen for English.
  • Listen to conversations in coffee shops, on the bus, at parties…
  • When you hear a few English words, repeat them to yourself. Repeat them again and again. Can you understand what was said?”
  • The Internet. This is a great source – there are literally HUNDREDS of helpful sites for you to listen and practice. Here are just a couple to start with:
    http://www.esl-lab.com/
    http://home.gwu.edu/~meloni/eslstudyhall/shlistening.htm
    http://iteslj.org/links/ESL/Listening/

These are just some ideas – the important thing is to listen OFTEN and to listen CONSISTENTLY.
10 minutes every day is better than 1 hour per week.

“A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he gets to know something.”
Wilson Mizner

Maureen Bouey is an ESL teacher who travels the world teaching. She is the co-author of Smart English Grammar – Real English Listening – Intermediate with Dahlia Miller.

(1) Nurtured By Love. Suzuki, Shinichi. Exposition Press, New York, 1969 (p.9)

7 Secrets to Fluent English - Secret #2 - Reading

by Maureen Bouey

Last time we looked at Secret # 1 to speaking fluent English. This was Listen, Listen, Listen! I hope you’ve already started looking for more listening opportunities – it really is SO important. This time we will explore the next important secret to speaking English. Let’s begin!

SECRET #2: READ

Read often

Read a LOT!!!

I know, I know! Some of you don’t like reading – even in your first language. I admit, if you like to read, you will have a bit of an “edge” (an advantage), but, even if you don’t really like reading, I promise to show you why this skill is so valuable to fluent English. And maybe, together, we can find a way for you to like it!

“What is reading but silent conversation?”
Walter Savage Landor

In this lesson I will show you:

  • how reading can help you become a more fluent English speaker, and
  • how to find reading material you can enjoy.

First though, let’s look at a couple of ‘whys’. Here are two questions for you to consider:

1. Why is reading such a valuable skill?
2. Why do you need to read to improve your English?

Let me try to answer these questions for you.

Reading and writing are linked. Reading is written information going in; writing is written information going out. Even if you don’t like writing, you’ll probably want to be able to write well in English, for tests, for business, or even for communicating by email or mail. Perhaps you’re a song writer and would like to write songs in English. If so, then read. THROUGH READING, YOU WILL IMPROVE YOUR WRITING.

What other benefits can you get from reading? Probably one of the biggest advantages is that you can broaden your vocabulary. You can learn brand new words and, at the same time, gain a deeper understanding of words you have heard or seen before. You see, what you are doing is learning/reviewing words “in context”. And this is so important!

When you learn a new word “in isolation”, you don’t get a clear understanding of how to use that word. And yet, learning words in isolation is the way most students learn new vocabulary! For example, here is the word “shout” and here is its definition: “to speak very loudly - either because someone is a long way off, or because you are angry.” So, you’ve learned the definition of the word “shout” but can you use it?

Another way of learning the meaning of a new vocabulary word (the way ALL native speakers of their own languages learn) is to understand new words from context. For instance: if you read a story and there is the sentence, “He shouted so loudly, it hurt her ears;” and then you read another story with a sentence that says, “Don’t shout so loud – you’ll wake the baby!”… well, you’re going to begin to have a pretty good idea of what “shout” means, aren’t you? You can understand and learn the meaning of new words from the context (from what’s around the words). This is the most natural, and very best way to learn new vocabulary. So, READING IS A GREAT WAY TO BUILD VOCABULARY.

Which brings me to this important point: DO NOT use your dictionary when you are reading (at least not at first). Use it later if you still don’t understand the word from the context. You see, if you stop to use your dictionary, it breaks the natural rhythm of your reading.

A third reason why you should read is because IT INCREASES YOUR EXPOSURE TO ENGLISH IN GENERAL. In other words, you will understand more about Western culture through reading, and if you do, you will understand the language more, including idioms, etc.

“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”
Mason Cooley

Here are some great tips on HOW TO READ:

  • Read WITHOUT a dictionary.
  • When reading, practice either guessing at the meanings of unknown words or ignoring them. Don’t worry about every little detail. Keep reading even if it seems a little bit hard (but not too hard). Try to get the overall meaning.
  • Read quickly. By maintaining a natural rhythm and flow, you will learn to “infer”, or guess meanings.
  • Read aloud – to children, to friends, or just to yourself. (This will improve your pronunciation as well.
  • If a book is just too boring - or too hard - stop reading and find another book.
  • Read without stress – get a cup of tea or coffee and relax.
  • Read frequently – ten or fifteen minutes every day is better than an hour once a week.

Here are some tips on WHAT TO READ:

  • Well, the short answer is: read anything and everything!
  • Choose something based on your ability – for instance, if you are at a pre- intermediate level, don’t try reading a long, difficult novel.
  • Read for information.
  • Read for pleasure – science fiction, mysteries, romances, etc.
  • Read about topics that interest you.
  • Read books, magazines, newspapers, journals, the Internet, letters, emails, texts, bus schedules, travel brochures, textbooks, novels, cookbooks, you name it!

And here’s a great way To Practise both your Listening and Reading Skills:

Read books that have audios (tapes or CDs) with them. With audio books, you’re practicing both of your receptive skills (listening and reading) at once. You can do this anywhere, and it’s very, very helpful.

It’s a fact: the more you read, the sooner you will begin to easily recognize more and more words. When this starts to happen, the speed of your reading will increase. Best of all, you will grow increasingly more comfortable with English. There have been several scientific studies done that show when students read a lot they become more confident, and thus improve their overall English.

Why not keep a reading log (a record of what you’ve read)? It will surprise and encourage you when you look back on it.

These are just some ideas – the important thing if you want to improve your reading, vocabulary and general English: you must read OFTEN and read CONSISTENTLY. 10 minutes every day is better than 1 hour a week.

Here is a common English expression: “There’s no time like the present.” Perhaps you have a similar one in your own language. It simply means: there is no better time to begin something than the present moment. In other words, right now!

So, we’ll see you next time with Secret # 3! Until then, Keep Listening and Reading! And if you’re ready to begin, there’s no time like the present!

Maureen Bouey is an ESL teacher who travels the world teaching. She is the co-author of Smart English Grammar – Real English Listening – Intermediate with Dahlia Miller.

7 Secrets to Fluent English - Secret #3 - Grammar

by Maureen Bouey

Well, so far we’ve looked at the importance of listening and reading – the two ‘receptive’ skills. Have you been practicing these? If you have, congratulations! You have taken important steps towards fluent English.

Come with us while we explore the next important secret to speaking English. Secret #3 is actually more about something you should NOT do. What is it? Read on!

SECRET #3:
FORGET ABOUT GRAMMAR

What? How can you possibly forget about grammar!? Forgetting about grammar is very important for becoming fluent in English.

Well, of course you need some grammar. SOME.

But I’m willing to bet my last dollar that you’ve already got enough – and probably you have a lot of it. I’m even willing to bet that you could more than likely beat almost ANY native English speaker in a grammar contest. I really mean that because, you see, most native English speakers don’t understand grammar very well at all.

You all know someone (maybe it’s you), who can get a very high score on a grammar test, but can’t speak or understand any English. Does that really seem like a successful model of language learning? It would be like completely understanding the theory of music, the structure of music, and what all the notes and little marks mean, but…almost never actually playing music (or singing). It wouldn’t make much sense, would it?

“To learn it, do it!”
Roger Schank

You see, having perfect English grammar does NOT mean you can speak English fluently. In fact, the two are not really related at all. If having excellent grammar meant speaking English fluently, many Asian students would already be able to do it. Why Asian students particularly? Because, as an ESL teacher, I have seen hundreds of Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese and other Asian students come to Canada with quite a high level of grammar. Sometimes they have written the TOEIC or even the TOEFL and gotten a very high score.

But…they often have trouble having a real conversation. That’s because, if you actually want to speak English, and understand English, only practicing grammar is not going to make a difference. Not really.

Let’s think for a minute: What is grammar? What is any kind of grammar – in any language? Well, it’s structure, isn’t it? It’s all the basics. In the case of English grammar this means knowing what the seven parts of speech (articles, prepositions, nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and conjunctions) are, and knowing how to put them together.

So for instance, you learn that you always need (at least) two things to form every sentence – a noun and a verb. For example: “Dogs run.” You might want to add more information - about the dogs, perhaps, so you can add an adjective. “Young dogs run.” And, you might want to add more information about ”how” they run, so you could add an adverb. “Young dogs run quickly.” Certainly understanding these basics are important to your ability to “move around” and “build” in English.

However, past a certain point, you need to let go of your attempts to be more and more ”perfect” at putting the pieces together, and just USE the language.

You may think your English is not very good yet, but if you can understand some English – and if you can get people to understand you, then isn’t that the whole point?

And, although you really DO need to know the basics of structure - or grammar - learning more and more and more detail is not going to improve your fluency. The ONLY thing which will improve your fluency is…practice using the tools. And that is…speaking, listening, reading and writing. These are the skills of a language – and the whole purpose to learning it.

“But I make a lot of mistakes!” ”My pronunciation is not good,” many students say. Well, of course you make mistakes! First of all, everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – makes mistakes. This means ALL native speakers, including English teachers. Making mistakes is a normal part of being human and speaking a language. Second, you make mistakes because you’re learning something.

Making mistakes is a normal part of the learning process. Learning and making mistakes go together - automatically. Just like in an old song called “Love and Marriage”. “Love and marriage; Love and marriage; Go together like a horse and carriage.” “A horse and carriage?” Well I said it was an old song. Anyway, making mistakes is a huge and important part of learning. In fact…if you aren’t making mistakes, you probably aren’t learning.

Just for a moment, imagine something, will you? Great! Imagine that you are taking care of a one-year-old baby. It might be your own baby; it might be a niece or a nephew, or a friend’s baby. It doesn’t matter. In any case, you’re looking after this one-year-old baby. The baby can’t walk yet – it can only crawl. As you are sitting in a chair, the baby crawls over to you and, using a small, nearby table, pulls himself up to a standing position. The baby smiles at you and you smile back. He is very encouraged by your smile and wants to come over to you. So, he lets go of the table, and takes a step. You smile and hold your hands out in encouragement, so he laughs and takes another step. You clap your hands and laugh with happiness. The baby takes one more step and then…falls down!

Ok, here’s my point: is the baby’s fall a mistake? Or is it normal? In this situation, how do you respond to the baby? Do you feel disappointed that he failed? Do you scold him? Do you say “Oh no, you can’t do it!”? Or, do you feel excited because the baby tried and succeeded (he walked two steps!).

Of course, this is a bit of a trick question. I know you are a kind, caring person and you would be supportive and encouraging of the baby - because the fact is, he succeeded, didn’t he? He is in a process of learning a new skill and he will fall down many times. Of course. Just as you will make many mistakes –that’s how you know you’re learning. That’s how you know you’re PROGRESSING.

So, remember, grammar is a tool. It is a tool to fit the pieces of a language together. The whole point to learning any language is to use the language - not to master the tools of structure.

Remember, we are not saying you don’t need to study grammar at all. It has its place. What we are saying is, put it aside sometimes. Just listen. Read. And speak. Good luck!

Until next time,
"Just do it!”

Maureen Bouey is an ESL teacher who travels the world teaching. She is the co-author of Smart English Grammar – Real English Listening – Intermediate with Dahlia Miller.

7 Secrets to Fluent English - Secret #4 - Speaking

by Maureen Bouey

How have you been doing? Are you listening to some English every day? Are you reading (at least some) English every day? Almost every day? If not, remember, even as little as ten minutes a day - especially if it’s regular and consistent - will really help you on your road to fluency. So even if you’re very busy, if you’re serious about improving your English, you should make just a few minutes available to do these valuable activities.

All right then. On to the next topic: Secret #4 to speaking fluent English!

SECRET #4: SPEAK (ENGLISH, of course)

My dear student, you simply must speak!

And I mean speak often. You should be speaking English at every opportunity, and you should be taking every advantage that comes your way to practice speaking English.

You should speak even when you are uncomfortable, and you should speak when you aren’t quite sure you will be understood by other people. And,

You must speak EVEN if you feel shy - and I know many of you do. Is this you - are you shy? Do you sometimes avoid speaking because you feel shy? Well, listen carefully and I’ll tell you what I always tell my students: “Shyness is expensive.” What do I mean by that? Just this: the cost of shyness = the loss of an opportunity to speak. And, when it comes to language fluency, opportunities for speaking practice are pure gold. This is true in any language of course, not just English. When it comes to learning a language, practice is what builds fluency.

Did you get that? I’ll repeat it because it’s so important.

PRACTICE is what builds fluency.

It is absolutely extraordinary how seldom many, many ESL/EFL students actually DO speak. And not speaking is a vicious cycle. They don’t speak because they can’t, and they can’t speak because they don’t. It doesn’t make sense, does it?

Well, it’s a simple fact, you CANNOT become fluent any other way. Think about it. Speaking practice is how you became fluent in your first language. Practice is how EVERYONE becomes fluent – whether it is their first, second, third, or tenth language. It is the ONLY way.

To return to shyness again for a moment, if you ARE shy, I know that this aspect of language learning is harder for you (perhaps much harder). And I’ll be honest with you: those of you who are naturally outgoing and sociable definitely DO have an easier time of it in this area.

But don’t worry, it’s not time to throw in the towel (this is an idiom that means ‘give up’). If you are shy, you’ll just have to work a little harder. You’ll have to push past your feelings of discomfort and force yourself to participate verbally in situations. You CAN do it.

“You don’t understand me,” you might think.

But I do. Believe me: I can sympathize with shy students. I know how difficult it is because for many, many years, I was shy too. I do understand; I am speaking from personal experience. I know very well what the reluctance to speak feels like – AND, I know the price you can pay - because I paid it.

I won’t bore you with my story, but I lost many social and learning opportunities due to my shyness, and it wasted a lot of time. That’s all I’ll say on this at the moment. This is a whole topic of its own, but let me just say this, you CAN overcome it. I did. And it doesn’t mean completely changing your personality.

I think this fourth secret to speaking fluent English is, in some ways, the most obvious. Maybe it doesn’t really seem like a ‘secret’. Yet, so many students do not speak. Instead, even in a conversation class, they look down and focus their attention on their notebooks or dictionaries. Instead of asking a teacher for information, for example, they will look in their (bilingual) dictionary. Sometimes they’ll ask a friend or a classmate – but often, the question is not even asked in English.

“A different language is a different vision of life.”
Federico Fellini, Italian Film Director

This quote from the famous Italian director is so true. Language is a part of culture, and so to make a real connection with a language, it is important to participate in the culture as much as possible. HOW you can do this depends on whether you are currently in an English speaking country or in your own country.

If you are in your own country, you clearly won’t have as many English speaking opportunities as you will if you are in a country where English is spoken as an official language. But you will have some speaking opportunities. The obvious one, of course, is that you can join a language school.

If you do join a language school, it is much better for you if you can be taught by native English speakers.

Also, try to make sure the school has a good conversation program, and that they don’t just teach grammar and how to study for tests. You could even ask the staff if they use the “Communicative” style of teaching (1) there. But remember, once you’re in the language school, it’s up to you. Nobody can FORCE you to speak; you have to do that for yourself.

What else can you do? Well, that largely depends on where you are. Aside from language schools, try to participate in as many activities as possible that give you speaking opportunities. Try to think about where there are native speakers, and look for opportunities to speak there. Where do they eat? Where do they drink their coffee or beer? Where do they relax? Be creative.

If, however, you are in an English speaking country, you have a much larger number of options. (And I highly recommend you take advantage of them while you are there!) Again, you may want to join a language school. Or, you may want to attend a regular school if you are at a high enough level. There are so many possibilities and ideas. Here are just a few; you probably have more:

  • Go to a gym (the YMCA or YWCA is always a good choice)
  • Take a class - any class: art; cooking; photography; music; (whatever interests you!)
  • Join a conversation club.
  • Volunteer (they will be VERY happy to see you!)
  • Go to church or temple.
  • Live with a homestay family (NOT with students from your own country).
  • Travel
  • Go Shopping and ask the sales clerks a lot of questions.
  • Basically, go where the English speakers go.

“Language is a steed which carries you into a far country.”
Arab proverb

Please believe me, there is no shortcut. So, remember, watch for opportunities, actually look for opportunities. Make your own opportunities. Ask questions. Don’t worry, just speak.

*Note: It’s a fact in our world that things are a little different for males and females. Unfortunately, if you are a girl, or a woman, you have to be more cautious and can’t speak to just anyone - anytime.

Maureen Bouey is an ESL teacher who travels the world teaching. She is the co-author of Smart English Grammar – Real English Listening – Intermediate with Dahlia Miller.

7 Secrets to Fluent English - Secret #5 - Writing

by Dahlia Miller

Let’s quickly review the first 4 Secrets:

Secret #1: Listen, listen, listen and then listen some more!
Secret #2: Read. Read often. Read a lot!
Secret #3: Forget about grammar!
Secret #4: Speak.

These secrets are simple and they are true. You can use them everyday to improve your English. We know you can do it!

SECRET #5: WRITE EVERYDAY!

It’s true! The more you write, the more fluent you will become.

There are two main styles of writing in English: fiction and non-fiction. Fiction writing has few rules; non-fiction writing has many rules. Both types of writing can help you to improve your English fluency.

In this article, let’s look at how writing everyday can help you to improve your English fluency. Then we’ll look at writing fiction and non-fiction.

But first, let me ask you a question: “Do you like writing?”

Do you enjoy writing in your first language? If you say no, then writing in English may not be easy for you. Relax, don’t push yourself too hard. Writing everyday, for just 10 minutes will make a big difference in your writing and in your speaking!

Besides, if you don’t like one type of writing, it is always possible that you may like another type. The only way to know what you like is to try all styles of writing.

How Can Writing Everyday Help You to Improve Your English Fluency?

1. If you write everyday, you will begin to understand English and English-speakers better.

In Day 2 of this article series we said:

“A reason why you should READ is because it increases your exposure to English in general. In other words, you will understand more about Western culture through reading, and if you do, you will understand the language more, including idioms, etc.”

Well, the same thing is true for writing. If you learn how to write well in English, you’ll understand more about Western culture. You’ll be able to experience the culture from the inside! You’ll be communicating in English, so you’ll be learning about how English speakers look at the world. You’ll also be learning about how English speakers understand the world through their writing and reading!

That makes sense, doesn’t it? If you practice writing in many different English styles, you’ll be practicing writing like native English speakers. The more that you practice writing like a fluent English speaker, the more fluent you’ll become!

2. If you write everyday, you will become very familiar with English.

Professional writers write everyday. If you are going to write well, you will need to write regularly. Just like listening, speaking, and reading, you need to practice, practice, practice your writing EVERYDAY!

“If you would one day renovate yourself, do so from day to day.”
Confucius

Even 10 minutes a day will improve your writing. Writing everyday will give you a chance to practice new vocabulary and grammar structures. If you write everyday, you will become more familiar with using English.

Okay, now let’s look at fiction writing now and how you can use it to become more fluent in English.

Okay, on to the topic of FICTION WRITING.

Fiction writing is very personal. Fiction writing (poetry, songs, comic strips, short stories, novels, etc.) has only a few rules about style and formatting. It can be serious or it can be fun. It can be formal or informal. We all have our own way of expressing ourselves. This is true in writing as well: we all have our own way of expressing ourselves through writing.

It’s even possible to create your own style and formatting with poetry, songs, comic strips, short stories, and novels. Because you can make up your own rules, fiction writing can be fun and easy.

One of the reasons you are studying English is so that you can use it. Right? Sometimes students feel nervous about writing in English. Either they don’t like to write or they are nervous about making mistakes.

If You Feel Nervous About Writing because you don’t like making mistakes, here is a kind of fiction writing that can help you: Journaling (writing only for yourself). Even if you don’t feel nervous about writing, Journaling is a great way to improve your fluency.

This is how to Journal:

  • Find a place where you feel comfortable to write.
  • Choose a topic (for example, what you did yesterday, sports, music, travel, etc.).
  • Write without stopping for as long as you feel comfortable.
  • Try to write as many words, phrases, and sentences as you can.
  • Do not think about mistakes or worry about whether your grammar is correct.
  • When you are finished, you may choose to read your journaling or you may choose to simply recycle it.

With journaling, you are practicing expressing yourself without an audience. There is no one to tell you if what you are writing is correct or incorrect. No one is listening; no one will read this writing. It’s okay to make mistakes in journaling. It’s a safe space to practice.

“Take chances. You will succeed if you are fearless of failure.”
Natalie Goldberg

If you write without nervousness, you will probably enjoy writing more. You will also increase your writing (and speaking) speed and fluency with Journaling.

Now, on to the topic of NON-FICTION WRITING

Non-fiction writing is very different from fiction writing. It can help you in different ways to become fluent in English. Did you know that in non-fiction how you write is almost as important as what you write?

How you write is almost as important as what you write!

It’s VERY important for you to practice non-fiction writing with correct formatting. If you practice writing non-fiction with correct formatting you will have greater success in communicating.

Here’s an example:

Imagine that you want to get a job with an English company. To get a job, you need to give or mail the company a resume. Do you know what a resume in English looks like? If you send a resume that doesn’t look like most English resumes, the company might not even read it! You won’t get the job because your resume is not written in the correct format and style.

Formatting means:
The rules about where words are placed on the page. For example, formatting for resumes is different from formatting for letters.

Formatting includes:

Rules about what paragraphs should look like.
Rules about where to place the date, your name, a greeting, the contents, and your contact information, etc.

The best way to learn proper formatting is to read, but if you want to study English formatting, you can. There are many style books and websites with information about formatting. This website has lots of useful information about writing in English: http://www.ohiou.edu/esl/english/writing/index.html

But remember, THE BEST WAY TO LEARN TO WRITE IS TO READ AND THEN PRACTICE WRITING EVERYDAY!

Non-fiction writing for university or business (letters, faxes, essays, resumes, articles, etc.) is usually quite formal. For university and business writing, it is important to use the correct tone as well as the correct grammar, punctuation and formatting.

Don’t be discouraged. Learning how to write in English is not that difficult. It just takes practice.

Here Is How To Write Good Non-Fiction:

  • Figure out who you will be reading your writing (your audience).
  • Decide on the style of writing that you will use.
  • Read other examples of the style of writing you have chosen.
  • Think of what you would like to say.
  • Write down your ideas in sentences.
  • Put your sentences together on the page in the correct format.
  • Re-read your writing. Check to see if there are any mistakes.
  • Look at your writing. Did you use the correct format? Does it look like the other examples that you read?
  • Be proud of yourself!

Here Are Some Things You Can Do To Become More Fluent In English Through Writing:

  • Write EVERYDAY (for 10 minutes or more)!
  • Practice ALL styles of writing. The first time you write a paragraph or an essay, it might not be very good, but the 40th time you write a paragraph or an essay, it probably will be good. Practice your writing!
  • Try journaling.
  • Find a pen pal.
  • Write emails or text-messages. (Email is another form of writing that does not have many rules. So go ahead: relax about following the rules and have fun communicating by email.)
  • Read ALL styles of writing.

Remember that most writing is meant to be read. It is communication. If you want to communicate well, it’s a good idea to know who you are writing to.

Dahlia Miller is the owner of Smart Tutor Referrals in Victoria, BC, Canada. She is the co-author of Smart English Grammar – Real English Listening – Intermediate with Maureen Bouey.

7 Secrets to Fluent English - Secret #6 - Build Vocabulary

by Maureen Bouey

SECRET #6: ANALYZE to BUILD VOCABULARY!

Secret # 6 is about analyzing language – the English language.

Have you ever played with blocks or legoTM? These games have lots of little pieces – different sizes and colours of plastic or wood – and you can put them together in different ways to make different things. Then you take them apart and put them back together in another way to make something different. It’s fun!

Well in some ways, the English language is a lot like that. You have a whole bunch of bits and pieces and you can put them together in different ways to make different words. Instead of analyzing how to work with things, we analyze how to work with words.

This week’s lesson is about how one aspect of English can help you to build a larger vocabulary (and NOT by trying to memorize a ton of words). We will briefly talk about the mechanics and origins of the English language, and then look at how analyzing English words – by taking them apart and putting them back together again – can help you to increase your vocabulary.

Are you interested in having a larger vocabulary? I hope so because it is a valuable and important goal which will help you on your path to becoming a fluent speaker of English.

Some people say that there are more words in the English language than in any other language in the world. It’s impossible to know exactly how many words there are, but there have been estimates of around three million – or more.

Yikes!

Ah, but don’t worry! Of these, only about 200,000 are in general use today. And while an educated English speaker has a vocabulary of about 20,000, he/she only uses about 2,000 in a week’s conversation. Certainly it is possible to get by with a lot fewer than 2,000 words per week.

Anyway, back to our topic: the mechanics of English or AFFIXATION. I’ll explain. Mechanics, in language terms, means the adding and subtracting of words or groups of letters to ‘roots’, or base words. Root words are the origins or beginnings of the words. I’ll give you an example.

Let’s look at the word ‘television’. There are actually two parts to this word: ‘tele’ and ‘vision’. The first part, ‘tele’ means distant; the second part, ‘vision’ means sight, or the power of seeing. Put together, the new word means: seeing from a distance.

Now, imagine you are reading an English magazine and you come upon the word ‘telephone’. Imagine this is a new word for you – you don’t know what it means. Do you immediately turn to your dictionary and look it up? NO! You don’t need to. You already know what the word television means and so you can work out what ‘telephone’ means. Since you already know that ‘tele’ means distant, if you also knew that ‘phon’ meant sound, then you would know that ‘telephone’ means sound from a distance.

This is an example of affixation. ‘Affixation’ is adding a letter, or a group of letters, to a word to change its meaning.

In the last example, the four letters, ‘tele’, do not make a word. Rather, ‘tele’ is a prefix. A prefix is a group of letters which goes in front of a word (just like ‘pre’, itself is a prefix).

A suffix is a group of letters which goes at the end of a word (like ‘ly’ added to adjectives to form an adverb, or ‘-s’ added on to countable nouns to make plurals). For example, we can change the word ‘quick’ to ‘quickly’ by affixing the suffix ‘-ly’ to the root ‘quick’.

Studying root words is a huge topic all on its own. You probably already know that English is a language with varied roots (actually quite a hodgepodge ( ). In order to help you understand root words, here is just a very brief HISTORICAL OVERVIEW of how the English language came together.

The English language is a combination of a number of other languages. English originated in northern Europe as battling groups moved in and conquered each other. English is basically a Germanic language. There are also many ‘borrowed’ words from the Danish and Norse Viking languages that came originally from the Romans. The French language entered in 1066 when the Normans conquered Britain. (Greek also had an influence, which came later.)

Throughout its history, many new words have been, and continue to be, created. Shakespeare alone is said to have invented over 1600 new words. Then, as the British began colonizing after the 16th century, more and more borrowed words from other languages came into the English language. Just some of the languages which have contributed to English are: Latin, Greek, French, German,Arabic, Hindi (from India), Italian, Malay, Dutch, Farsi (from Iran and Afganistan), Nahuatl (the Aztec language), Sanskrit (from ancient India), Portuguese, Spanish, Tupi (from South America) and Ewe (from Africa). Wow! No wonder it’s confusing.

So, to sum up, why study root words and affixation? Studying root words, prefixes and suffixes can really help you build and expand your vocabulary. It will allow you to guess at the meanings of words when you’re reading, thus preventing you from always going for your dictionary. This is just a small taste of this large subject.

Maureen Bouey is an ESL teacher who travels the world teaching. She is the co-author of Smart English Grammar – Real English Listening – Intermediate with Dahlia Miller.

(1) A hodgepodge is a mix or variety of something.

7 Secrets to Fluent English - Secret #7 - Believe in Yourself

by Maureen Bouey

Well, here we are at Secret #7 - the final in this series of lessons on how to speak English fluently. This last secret is extremely important – possibly the most important of all. Without this, you could easily become quite discouraged and feel that you just aren’t progressing. You might even be tempted to give up. Well, we certainly don’t want that to happen so…

SECRET #7: is BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!

In this final article, we’ll talk about believing in yourself (and some obstacles to believing in yourself) and then we’ll discuss why Learning Styles are important.

“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right”.
Henry Ford

This quote from Henry Ford is one of my favourites. I like it because he is so right. You must believe in yourself. You have to believe that you CAN do it (anything!); that if you really do the work, practice and persevere; you WILL achieve your goal.

You need this belief in yourself because as you move along the path toward your goal, there will be both good and bad moments. In some of these bad moments, you will experience doubt, anxiety and frustration. Sometimes you will feel as though you are not improving – that you are just staying the same.

And then sometimes, other people will voice THEIR doubts about you. This doesn’t feel very good, and sometimes this can come from people who are very close to you – perhaps even the people who love you the most (like friends, classmates, parents and other family members).

Now, usually these people don’t mean to be unkind; they may be worried for you – for your future – or, they may just not be aware of how difficult it is to learn to speak a new language. If these “doubters” are your parents, they may feel a sense of anxiety; after all, parents usually want their children to be successful, and sometimes they want it so much, they become frustrated and worried.

So even though people don’t intend to be unkind or unsupportive, sometimes they ARE a little bit anyway. And, whether they intend it or not, we can feel their frustration and anxiety – and it just doesn’t help much, does it? In fact, all it really does is to make US feel anxious and frustrated too. Sometimes (if it’s our parents, or someone else we really care about) we even start to feel responsible for trying to make them feel better, or happier. Then, this makes us a) anxious (a bad mindset for learning anything) and; b) feel a bit responsible for their happiness and peace of mind. This is NOT healthy, and it is not really possible!)

If you are one of the lucky ones who are surrounded by people who support you 100% of the time, that’s fantastic! It really is, and I hope you know how lucky you are. However, it doesn’t describe everyone. If it the people around you are not always supportive of you, that’s ok. You can still be the one who believes in and supports him/herself.

Another critical thing for us to do is to be kind and forgiving with OURSELVES – as kind and forgiving as we would be to a small child we loved and were taking care of. Do you remember before when we talked about when you were first learning to talk or walk? How did you learn? That’s right; you learned slowly and gradually but, you got it. Eventually, you got it – in your own way and in your own time.

This is SUCH an important point. You learn in your own way – in your own time. We are all unique and we all learn things in our own specific and unique ways.

Each person has his or her own learning style. Some of us need to ‘see’ information in order to understand it; some of us need to ‘hear’ information and some of us need to ‘do’ it before we can really understand. Which one are you? Well, let’s ‘see’.

Think for a moment about when you are learning something new (anything – it can be a new language, a new computer game or some new other new subject). What is the best way for you to learn? Does the information make the most sense to you if: a) the teacher writes the information on the board?; b) the teacher just lectures, and verbally explains the information? or, c) you actually DO it yourself? Probably you learn - at least somewhat - by using a combination of these methods. But chances are, you’ll have a preference for one of them. One of them probably makes it easier for you to learn new information.

Now, if you said that you prefer to ‘see’ information, then you are a VISUAL learner; seeing information helps you understand. However, if you said that you prefer to ‘hear’ information, then you are an auditory learner – your main way of learning is to ‘hear’ it. And, if you said that you need to ‘do’ or experience something in order to understand it, then you are a kinesthetic learner.

When we look at learning in this way, we are looking at what your “learning style” is. Knowing what your learning style is (and working with it) is SO important. Once you understand what your learning style is, you can learn any new information in the way that best suits YOU. For example, if you are primarily a visual learner, then you will know you need to ‘see’ the information somehow. If you are an auditory learner, you recognize that you need to ‘hear’ information. And if you are a kinesthetic learner, you will know that you need to actually ‘experience’ something before you can understand it.

So, you know that it takes time and practice to learn a new language. You know that each person learns in an individual and unique way. You must be patient with yourself, and remember: while there is no shortcut to fluency, you CAN get there. You did it once; you already speak your own language fluently. Sure it’s easier to learn a new language when you’re a baby – but it’s also completely possible to do it now too!

Believe in yourself and you can do anything!

“Man is what he believes.”
Anton Chekhov (Russian playwright)

We hope that you have found this e-course helpful. Please practice the suggestions that we have made. If you do, your English will improve steadily. Remember, each day you must choose to study.

Good luck!

Maureen Bouey is an ESL teacher who travels the world teaching. She is the co-author of Smart English Grammar – Real English Listening – Intermediate with Dahlia Miller.

Studying Vocabulary

by Dahlia Miller
October 2004

“For me, words are a form of action, capable of influencing change.
Ingrid Bengis (Russian American author, 1915-1982)

Words are language. We communicate with words. We share knowledge with words. We learn new topics, and new languages by studying words.
Are you learning new vocabulary words now? There are many techniques to help you learn and memorize new vocabulary. Here are some:

Use the Words – Using your new vocabulary is the most important way to practise new vocabulary. If you use your new word, it will help you to remember it. If you don’t use your new word, you will probably forget it. So, use your new word as often as possible! Say the word and write the word, talk about it, listen for it.

Tell Someone About the Words – Talking about newly learned vocabulary helps to keep it in your mind. Saying the words and using them in sentences helps you to create more memories of the word.

Ask Yourself Questions About the Words – What does the word mean? What does it remind you of? Where did you learn it? What does the word sound like? When will you use this word? What letters are in this word? What is the origin of the word?

Brainstorm – Write your new vocabulary word on a page. Then write everything that reminds you of this word. Include other words, memories, phrases, drawings, synonyms, antonyms, definitions, stories - anything that reminds you of your word. Brainstorming helps your brain to make connections between the new and old information. If you are studying the word “gullible,” for example, think about where you learned it; a synonym; someone you know who was gullible; another word it sounds like; a time when you were gullible; etc. Brains are networks. When you see or hear a word, your brain searches your memory for any information connected with that word. If your brain has many connections with this word, you will remember the word quickly and easily. If there are few connections, you might not remember the word at all.

Write Definitions – Keep a vocabulary journal. Record you new word, the definition, a picture or drawing, the date, who taught you the word, synonyms, antonyms, the part of speech, etc.

Highlight Your Dictionary – As you learn new words, you can highlight your dictionary to remind yourself of the words. If you look up the same word three or four times, this will remind you to study this word again.

Prefixes/Suffixes/Roots - Studying root words, prefixes and suffixes can really help you build and expand your vocabulary. It will allow you to guess at the meanings of new words when you’re reading. For example, “supervision” is “super-” “-vis-” “-ion” or, the act of seeing/watching over.

Build Word Families – This is a great way to learn four words at once. Make a chart for yourself with five columns. Label the columns “Vocabulary,” “Noun,” “Verb,” “Adjective,” and “Adverb”. Write your new word in the first column. Include the definition of the word, a sample sentence and a sample question using the word. Then in the “Noun” column, write the noun form of the word, a sample sentence and a sample question. If the noun form has a different meaning from your original word, also write the definition. In the next columns, write the verb, adjective and adverb forms of your new word with sample sentences, questions and definitions (if necessary).

Synonyms/Antonyms – Like building word families, memorizing synonyms and antonyms for new vocabulary can help you to learn many new words at one time. Synonyms are words with similar meanings; antonyms are words with opposite meanings. Record these on a chart with definitions, sample sentences, and sample questions. You could also record these on flashcards.

Mnemonics – Mnemonics are memory tricks that help you to remember many words easily. They are easy to use and work very well. There are many interesting memory techniques. The April 2004 issue of “The Smart Connection” describes several mnemonic techniques and lists several websites with tips on using mnemonics. View it online on our website.

Flashcards – Flashcards can be a very helpful way to study new words. You can write your words on one side and the definition on the other. To make your cards more interesting, you can: use different card colours (to show different types of words, different topics, etc.); use different pen colours; draw pictures; write sample sentences; glue pictures from magazines, etc.

Record Yourself Reading the Words, Definitions and Examples – The more you say new words and hear them, the more you’ll remember them. Some people like to record themselves and listen while they sleep. Memory works most efficiently if you are paying attention, so sleep-learning may not be the most efficient method for learning new vocabulary.

Get Creative with Your New Vocabulary – Draw pictures, make collages, write songs, write poems, write stories, doodle, write the words in the sand, make up crosswords (you can build word puzzles for yourself at: http://www.puzzlemaker.com/). Playing with your word will help you to remember it. You do not have to sing your song for anyone else, so, don’t be shy.

Use Many Senses When You Study Your Words – Use many senses and you will remember the new word more easily. For example: read the word, say the word, write the word, touch your fingers for each letter as you spell the word, walk around the room and recite the word, repeat the word as you walk.

Practise Pronunciation of the Words – You can improve your pronunciation and vocabulary at the same time. Focus on using correct pronunciation, word stress, and intonation. Watch yourself say the words in the mirror – Tape record yourself reading the words, or saying them in sentences. When you are recording or listening to the tape, pay attention to your pronunciation.

Test Yourself – You can create questions to test your skill with newly learned vocabulary. Matching style tests (matching words to definitions) are fairly easy to create.

“There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.”
Homer (800 BC – 700 BC), The Odyssey