In this post, I thought I would focus on helping non-native English speakers with a common problem, conversation. I found during my recent visit to China many people could speak or understand some English, but were hesitant to engage in English conversation. I hear this from my students too, although some have taken English classes for years, they still have trouble with conversation. How can this be overcome?
While each student may have things they find particularly difficult with English conversation, I have put together a list of ways to help students. These ideas can help even if you can only speak a little bit of English, or you have been learning for years. Actually, some of these pointers might even be helpful for someone that has been speaking English all of their life, but has difficulty expressing themselves in conversation. Work on these things one or two items at a time, until you are successful.
- Don’t translate in your head, this takes too much time. Also, don’t be trying to think about what you will say next. Listen closely to the speaker, or you may miss valuable information.
- Being nervous or lacking confidence can harm your abilities. Relax. Have a positive attitude.
- Put your brain to work, even if you don’t understand all of what is being said, try to figure it out. Don’t just give up or ignore things you don’t understand. Each conversation is a learning experience.
- Use simple language, don’t try to use complicated vocabulary during conversation.
- Learn a list of useful phrases commonly used in conversation, instead of individual words.
- Communicate ideas. Try to work on understanding the main point and being understood. Focus on the meaning rather than the actual word usage.
- Conversation is more than words. Don’t be afraid to use body language and emotion to figure out what is being said or to help listeners better understand you.
- Don’t focus on grammar rules while talking, it will distract you. Focus on the point you are trying to make, don’t worry about making mistakes.
- Pay attention to the rhythm of the language. Listen for stress and intonation (see last week’s post) as keys to what is being said. Learn how to use these tools.
- If you make a mistake, or don’t know what to say or was said, don’t be afraid of correcting yourself or saying that you don’t know the word. Most listeners are glad to help you out. Don’t be afraid to laugh at your mistakes.
- Listen to native speakers as much as possible. Learn what sounds right.
- Use every opportunity to converse. Practice!