All posts authored by Santino Zhakata
When I was learning Portuguese and living in Mozambique, I remember how I spent a huge amount of time in my room, studying and trying to understand the language´s grammar. It was definately a long time and somehow, I never quite got the confidence to start opening my mouth and speak Portuguese to people I met. It is as if I was waiting for one special day when I would reach THAT level and suddenly open my mouth and the language would pour out effortlessly. That day never came.
I can speak English, Shona , Swedish and Portuguese? Which language can you speak? I don´t speak German or Spanish. or French. Do you know anyone who can speak Arabic? All these sentences and questions have one thing in common. They put emphasis on skill of "speaking" as representing the ability to communicate in a language. I wonder why. If one onsiders that language knowledge is made up of four inter-related skills "speaking", "listening", "reading" and "writing", all of which facilitate understanding and communication.
While it is definately challenging to have a conversation by just speaking without listening or to write without being able to read, the majority of language learners I have met value "speaking" as an indication of knowing a language. So, let´s consider "speaking" as being of great importance and answer the question, "how does a learner improve this skill?"
In this post I will give you a few points and resources on how to best improve the skill of speaking. While there is definitely a lot of resources out there that can be used in learning English, the question is always, where to start and how to proceed once one has started. My experience has taught me that having a good consistant pace plays a huge role in getting to the goal you have set out to achieve.
When I was learning Portuguese and living in Mozambique, I remember how I spent a huge amount of time in my room, studying and trying to understand the language´s grammar. It was definately a long time and somehow, I never quite got the confidence to start opening my mouth and speak Portuguese to people I met. It is as if I was waiting for one special day when I would reach THAT level and suddenly open my mouth and the language would pour out effortlessly. That day never came. Instead I met a friend who was a native and dared to speak his English with me every now and then. He spoke, however, plenty of Portuguese in-between the moments of English. I caught right on and after some time, we were using both languages inter-changeably quite comfortably. As my network expanded, I met more people who spoke no English at all. By then, my courage to speak had set in and my mask of dread had shrunk and couldn´t fit back anymore. What did I lear from all this?
My lesson was that, it is more rewarding to start speaking a new language as early as possible compared to studying it extensively at the expense of speaking what you already know thus far. So, how does one start to speak?
Two handy shortcuts to teach beginners
.1. I´m... Vs My name is...
A few shortcuts to speaking can probably be found if you ask yourself what is the first information you might want to communicate and what conversational situations are you likely to find yourself in. An example I would recommend is learning to use the phrase "I am" . I would even dare to say learning this goes a longer way in helping you understand the language than what learning to say "My name is..."would. Why am I saying this? While most learners are comfortable learning or rather memorising to say , "My name is..." , the grammatical components in this phrase are complex compared to just, "I´am (I´m)". In the latter phrase, while it is not only convenient to avoid tackling such grammatical components as possessives ("My"), just yet, the phrase can funktion in more practical situations in expressing yourself as a beginner. An example of what I mean is that the phrase "I am" can be used with a wide range of words ranging from nouns (e.g "I´m Santino" , "I´m (not) a teacher); verbs (e.g. I´m (not) thinking/dancing/coming or going) or adjectives ( e.g I´m (not) sad/happy/hungry/thirsty or lost). This makes "I´m" a very handy and multi functional phrase to learn when you are a beginner as compared to "My name is..." . in isolation with both verbs and nouns be learning how to say. With that being said , here is a link that I consider very helpful in utilizing the phrase " I´m " , with various combinations to express varied meanings. Note: if some of the words are unfamiliar to the learner, it is necessary to help them first refer to a dictionary in order to understand the full meaning of their usage in this context.
Basic usage of "I´m"
Using "I´m" together with verbs
2. I want - A handy way to speak about present and future.
A couple of months ago, I came across a book called "Fluent in 3 months" written by a guy called Benny Lewis. The book blew me away. It gave good explanations to some of the issues involved in language learning as well as handy tips on ho to make it in you language journey. It made so much sense. It wasn´t anything special, but it wass stuff I could realet to. Some of it I had personaly gone through myself, others I knew, but did not have the right words to express it. There were also some stuff that was totally new to me and refreshing. So I would totally recommend the book to any language learner.
It is in the book, that I come across this tip on how to use auxilliary or helping verbs, like for example "want", as a shortcut to expressing a wide range of language situations. An example is learning to use "I want" / "I don´t want" infront of the usually abundant lists of infinitive verbs that can be found in most dictionaries and phrase books for learning English. "I (don´t) want to sleep/sing/come/eat and so on. I want can be used also as a shortcut in learning to express the future tense. As an example, a learner can be understod just as well if s/he says "I want to travel instead of using the future conjugation, "I will travel". This felt like a good alternative since, I can recount from my experience that a sizeable number of learners I have encountered all too often say "I will to travel" for example.Utilising helping verbs helps beat the confusion of switching between tenses instead empowers the learner to take advantage the huge sources of infinitive verbs that come with most language glossary lists. I this way, the infinitive form can be used correctly. By taking away the "to" in the infinitive verb, the learner can further learn to utilize the imperative form without much adjustment. If one gets used to use " to come". for example, it becomes easier to direct the word "come" to someone as an imperative.
With that being said , here is a link that I consider very helpful during those first stages of learning to speak English. With that being said , here is a link that I consider quite helpful to beginners utilizing the helping verb " I´ want "
Basic usage of "want"
Note: Even though in these examples they use the informal version "I wanna", the learner has to use "I want " in order for them to connect the infinitive verb as it is.
Below: a table showing other situations where "want" can function in helping quick speech.
Image: courtesy of say it in english.com
© Santino Zhakata 2011
I am Santino Zhakata, born in Zimbabwe, living in Sweden. I do a lot of writing, photography , blogging and website creation for fun and for profit. My fields of expertise include teaching and tutoring English via distance or face to face. I also specialise in communication for development. Welcome to my blog, feel free to share your thoughts.