Speaking fluently for work and life…

July 27, 2011 by 4 Comments
Humps in the road

Humps in the road

Many people live and work in a foreign language environment daily for years and never learn much more than the very basic words in the language.  I know, I have met many such people.  Then there some of us would like to also learn a language with which we have no direct contact.

How do you break into that other language community?

There are three main scenarios here for the would-be-language-learner:

1.  You speak one language at work but live in a community where another language is spoken, which you cannot speak well or at all

2. You work or live in a bilingual or multilingual environment and there is a language you want to learn

3. You have no or limited exposure to the language you want to learn

The old speech about people being flattered if you show an interest in learning their language is true in most circumstances.  Build on this positivity.

There is normally no rush to learn a language.  It is not a race.  In fact, most people I have met/seen who learn languages quickly tend to forget them just as quickly.  Why is this?

Languages need a bedding down period to really sink in!  

OK, so here are some practical steps to take to pick up and practice the language you want to learn.  Try out what you feels comfortable for you and adapt them to suit your needs.

1.  Make time.  Don’t be scared if you miss a day or can’t move forward because a point in the language is still unclear or not fully committed to memory.  Many of us get that feeling of “I am just too tired, I can’t be bothered, it’s too hard or what’s the point?  I feel like I am just treading water”.  You need to break through those negative feelings.  If you really are not in the mood, just revising old material for ten minutes a day is better than having huge gaps in your studies.  You could even just listen to something you know, if you are really pushed for time.  This is particularly important at the beginning of your studies.

Bilingual sign at shop in Wales

Bilingual sign at shop in Wales

2.  Think about the language or in the language, if you can.  This is as simple as thinking about what you can say in a language: naming objects you see during the day, trying to remember phrases, dialogues, texts and words.  Use mental hooks to remember things, associate words and phrases to things you find memorable.  Do whatever you need to do to make the words and phrases memorable.

3.  Involve people in your learning.  Use it with those around you and ask about things you want to know or to understand better.  In an office you could practice the basic phrases each day then build up to ask a speaker of the language to join you at coffee or lunch break.  Talk about what you like, dislike or anything that you feel confident saying.

4.  If you live in a place where the language is spoken, go shopping for things (even if you don’t need them – no purchase necessary!) in town just to see the signs, labels or even ask for items to practice the words and structures.  You can prepare for this before you leave the house.  Check out translations, like this bilingual one in Wales.  Think of related words too.  For example, “glo” is “coal”, but “pwll glo” is “coal mine” and “pwll” is a “pool” and is used to make “pwll nofio” which is a “swimming pool”.   Think of how words change in different sentences, depending on how they are used.

5.  Go to places where new vocabulary will present itself to you, like the zoo or theatre or anywhere else you might not usually go.  Revise vocabulary and sentences you might need beforehand.

6.  If you are in a place for long enough, join a club, group or sign up for a course in something that interests you.  I have done this a lot myself, including salsa lessons in Czech, a Greek course in Dutch and an Albanian course in Macedonian.   You may sign up for a course or language group in the language you want to learn too.

Using language to communicate

We use language to communicate and this is what you need to have in mind when you are learning.  It sounds obvious, but it is easy to forget that in the beginning if you get bogged down in too much detail.  Don’t forget why you are learning it.  It is important to keep you motivated.

Rambling in Wales - bilingual signs

Rambling in Wales - bilingual signs

There is a reason why most language books teach you to talk about the weather, asking for directions etc.  We use these topics in our daily life in conversation with other people.  We can use them to build friendships.  These things are key, so try to practice them as much as possible.  This will build up your confidence, even if it does sometimes seem boring.

If you are not in a place where you can use the language, then you can do a lot of this online.  You can chat to people on Skype or via SharedTalk and write on forums that interest you.  You might meet also natives learning your language on busuu.com or livemocha.com.

You are not on your own in finding it tough to break through those language learning pain barriers.  Keep your goals small to build up your level.  This helps to keep your focused.  Saying, “I am learning X language” is a lot different to saying, “I am studying about how to talk about the weather today”.

Ignore all of the other people talking about how much they are studying, speak and know.  The bacground noise from this can be distracting.  If they have useful advice, then listen to it, try it out and judge it for yourself.  There is no one size fits all in language learning.  You need to see what suits your learning style.  There is no competition here, you have already learnt at least one language fluently and you can learn others too.

You’ll be speaking fluently before you know it! 🙂

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This post was written by Richard


  • Andera Sann says:

    Very fantastic info can be found on web blog .

  • Michael says:

    In my opinion it is expedient to practise a daily life topic in English in the following order:

    1. Learners listen to and pronounce each sentence of English speech (thematic dialogues and narrative texts with transcripts).

    2. Speaking on each conversation topic (imitation of dialogues (role play), ready-made thematic questions and answers with helpful content for using in daily life, narrations/telling stories, talking points and discussions of issues).

    3. Learning of additional conversation sentences and vocabulary from English phrase books, conversation books and general thematic English dictionaries that provide useful usage sentences. Making up one’s own sentences with difficult vocabulary for potential use in daily life.

    4. Extensive reading of thematic texts and materials from various sources.
    Telling the content of thematic texts.

    5. Writing on real life topics.

    As you know word combinations in speaking are unpredictable. There are different word collocations/phrases and synonyms to convey a thought in English.
    It’s possible to encompass in ready-made materials a wide variety of English phrases for each conversation topic. It is a good idea to prepare a potential list of phrases with sentences on each conversation topic, for example fixed conversational phrases that do not require English grammar knowledge (greetings, forms of addressing a person, thanks, well-wishing, apology, agreeing, disagreeing, emotions, etc.).
    Practising English with such materials can help a learner easier choose the most appropriate word combinations to convey a thought.
    Multiple frequent reading of such sentences in English will gradually ensure firm memorisation of English vocabulary and contribute to developing good speaking skills.
    By combining the most inclusive English phrase books, conversation books, general English thematic dictionaries, software, audio and video aids and websites you can create the most practical and thorough content for mastering each conversation topic in English for all levels including a wide selection of ready-to-use phrases, vocabulary and sentences for daily use.
    Your own ready-made materials could be superior to (more helpful than) any conversation book or a phrase book in terms of useful comprehensive content and vocabulary.

    It is important that learners make use of various aids to improve their English conversation and vocabulary skills: audios, videos (English learning videos, travel videos, etc.), Internet resources, English learning magazines, newspapers, newsletters, radio programmes (especially the BBC English learning programmes/materials), TV programmes (educational programmes, documentary films, movies, news), books and e-books on a variety of subjects, online communication with native English speakers (chat, email, Skype).
    Good libraries and the Internet have a wide selection of English learning aids.

  • Michael says:

    There are quite a lot of ready-made conversational dialogs on a multitude of topics with authentic natural wording with useful content (vocabulary) for practice at all levels of difficulty from basic to advanced levels. It’s hard and time-consuming for learners on their own to create such dialogs with diverse content as this would require a lot of imagination about potential content of conversations in various situations and issues of discussions.
    Therefore it is a good idea for learners to select ready-made dialogs with the most practical helpful content at all levels of difficulty and with the best wording in terms of vocabulary. So learners can select at their own discretion a number of ready-made dialogs on each real life topic. On the basis of those ready-made dialogs learners can create their own dialogs taking into account their potential needs, preferences, circumstances and personal situation.

    After listening to and reading dialogs learners can write key words and phrases, or main ideas as a plan, or questions on each dialogue that require long answers to make easier for them to imitate (reproduce, act out/role play) each dialog to practice speaking in the target language.
    When practicing speaking using ready-made dialogs on one’s own it is a good idea to record one’s speech on audio and to compare it with the original text or audio recording.

  • Mendis says:

    I have been attending Practical Mandarin classes for a few months now and have thoroughly enjoyed each lesson. I had good knowledge of the language before hand and my aim is to build on what I know and become more fluent in mandarin.

    Our lessons are structured but there is flexibility and our teacher Vivien will cater for your needs where possible. I have come out of each lesson feeling like I have learnt something new. Her lessons are fun and you are encouraged to participate in an informal atmosphere. I highly recommend Vivien’s lessons as she will identify your needs and help you to improve, no matter what level you start at.

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