How To Make Your Language Learning Better

“KNOWING is not enough we must apply. WILLING is not enough; we must do.”
by ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe~


There are many reasons why we go to language classes. One of the more important reasons is that we are seeking feedback from the teacher to let us know if we are getting any better at the language we are learning. This is the way most of us were taught languages at school, so it is not surprising that as adults we fall back on what we know.

However by over emphasising the importance of the teacher what we are doing is not placing due importance on the feedback we are getting ourselves every time we open our mouths, or to the input that we have access to through various media.

I’ll give an example here about my work with a client. He is a Mandarin Chinese speaker with some fluency and control of English, but he has wanted to improve his pronunciation. I have helped him with some issues he has had directly, in a way not that dissimilar to how I showed how I helped a Vietnamese girl make her English pronunciation and spelling better.

However with some issues, I purposefully decided not to directly help him at all. Instead, I talked to him about the importance of improving his listening of himself and of others. This conversation needs to be understood in the context of my working with him in ways that demanded that he be more attentive to what he sees and says. ( what I mean by that can also be seen at the link above). So we isolated a number of words that he felt he had some problems with. I then told him not to look at texts, dictionaries, online etc for help. Rather, to focus on listening for these reasonably high frequency words when he is watching TV, talking with people, etc etc

Over the next few weeks, he asked me a number of times if he was improving. Every time I responded with, “what do you think?”  He soon get the message that I was not going to help here. I did remain of course attentive to his pronunciation of these words. At first there was no noticeable change, but with time, I did notice that he had made improvements to 2 of them.  What was more noticeable to me that I discerned that his English was getting better in other ways. It was always not that clear how, but I saw he was paying more attention to things, more aware of himself, that is looking for feedback. There was a change of mindset and attitude, so now rather than believing and expecting that only others can correct what he does, he was now paying more attention to what he saw and heard. He was becoming more careful, self correcting more, etc.  All very good signs.  Once he noticed that he can make his English better, without my help, that disempowering attitude of continually looking to others for guidance in learning started to change.

I share this example here to illustrate the point that we all have been gifted with powers that enable us to discern whether what we say sounds like what we hear. The problem is that we have not been encouraged to display these powers, instead we have grown accustomed to wait for others to decide whether what we say is okay or not.  We need to grow out of this “habit” so we can recapture the powers we all have, and which we all displayed learning our mother tongue. And this way our speech can become better than just okay!

Teachers can have a place in the life of a language learner, but their place is best fulfilled when they lead learners to a place where they can once again be the powerful language learner we all were.  Then we will be able to learn from every interaction we have, from every exercise we do, not always waiting for teachers to tell us whether we have learned something or if our language is better in some way.

  • Michael

    The actual process of oral communication consists of two integral parts: listening and speaking.

    People develop not only listening comprehension skills in English by watching English movies (films) and other programmes on video, on TV or on the Internet, or by listening to BBC English, the Voice of America and other programmes, and to audio/video recordings for learning English. People also listen to and learn different accents and peculiarities of English usage in real life settings in different English speaking countries by native English speakers in terms of pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and style (formal and informal English). Informal English includes colloquial, slang and dialectal usage.

    Regular long-term listening to various authentic English audio and video materials helps a learner produce his or her own sentences more quickly and with better wording when speaking than without adequate practice in listening comprehension in English.

    Listening practice in English is also very important because foreign learners of English living and learning English in non-English speaking countries have limited opportunities for regular long-term oral communication in English with native speakers of English on a variety of topics and issues using comprehensive content and extensive vocabulary.

    And both listening and speaking content of various topics and extensive vocabulary can be covered in practising listening comprehension in English (for example in listening to dialogues, discussions, debates, interviews, narrations, etc).

    It is a good idea to practise speaking and discussions of issues in English after listening to texts and programmes in English. Speaking in English requires from a learner to combine his or her pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary knowledge, thinking over word and phrase choices (and good listening comprehension skills when conversing) to say good sentences as to their content. Even native speakers of English may experience some difficulty to express their thoughts accurately, precisely and most appropriately in particular contexts. Skillful impressive speaking using the most appropriate vocabulary is an art that many people (including native speakers) lack.

    Therefore speaking in English is quite challenging and more difficult for foreign learners than listening comprehension in English. Foreign learners of English generally have more opportunities for practising listening comprehension in English than for speaking in English. When a learner listens to English, he or she does not have to create (to construct) in mind and to say own sentences in English like in speaking, but has to understand the content of sentences said by English speakers. The points mentioned above may explain why for most learners it is easier to practise and to develop better skills in listening comprehension than in speaking English.