Interview with an English Teacher

My friend, Bryan, is an English teacher in China. Currently, he’s teaching elementary school age learners. He’s got quite a bit of teaching experience, and has mastered the ability to make English fun and interesting for his students. Bryan also has learned Mandarin and Cantonese fluently, making his living experience in China especially enjoyable and rich. Bryan is a perfect example of a successful ESL teacher that loves his job and has been able to help many people succeed in learning English, while getting the most out of the local culture.

Watch the YouTube video link to see my interview with Bryan. https://youtu.be/nCIoz6jdeyQ

Here is a list of Bryan’s tips for learning English. These are not only helpful for students of English, but also ESL teachers and all language learners.

Biggest Obstacles:

  1. Pronunciation. Perfect your pronunciation by watching native speakers. Chinese speakers often have trouble pronouncing the “th” sound. Mimic American English speakers and don’t be shy about sticking your tongue out a little bit.
  2. Grammar. In Chinese, there are tones which English speakers find difficult to master, but English has 16 different time frame tenses. These are complicated, and even native speakers don’t use or understand them all. Don’t worry too much about grammar, just work on being understood.

Mastering Fluency:

  1. Live the language. Bryan relates how he was forced to become fluent in Chinese when his roommate didn’t speak English. It forced him to communicate as best he could, and this made him learn quicker. Don’t worry about being ‘book smart’ when it comes to a language, get out there and use it. Put yourself in situations where you use the language.
  2. Watch videos. Watch videos and TV in English. Don’t just watch them to be entertained, watch them to learn something. Repeat what you are watching, even if you learn just a few sentences. Go ahead and learn things, even if they seem silly. Bryan learned how to ask people if they prefer cats or dogs and then went to China Town in New York and asked every Chinese person he could find his question.
  3. It takes time. Bryan estimates it takes 3 years to become fluent enough to hold a conversation in English for about an hour. This could vary, depending on the person and learning opportunities. The important thing is not to give up, but keep trying and learning. Don’t worry if after years of learning, you still don’t understand everything, that’s normal.

6 Keys to Fluency: 6. Don’t Get Discouraged

This is the final post in my six-part series about achieving fluency in English.  In this video I talk about what naturally happens when you learn a language, you plateau.  This point is when the majority of language-learners give up, because they get discouraged.  Don’t let that happen to you!  Discouragement is like a poison that slowly eats away at your desire to learn.  Keep that desire strong with an incentive and look for progress you are still making, even if it is imperceptible.  (Watch the video to see these words in bold defined.)

Keep learning, and as always, thanks for watching and reading!  I’m working on an exciting new project with UDEMY.com. Details to come about my new course that helps you get beyond the basics and master the English language. Don’t forget, if you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments.  I love to hear from students! My students are my incentive for teaching!

6 Keys to Fluency: 5. Don’t Get Hung Up on Grammar

When you get hung up on something, that means you are stuck on it in the sense that you are thinking too much about it or worrying about it.  Getting hung up on grammar means to worrying so much about how you are saying something, that you can’t concentrate, or think about, what you are saying (or what another person is telling you) to have a fluent conversation.  Paying too much attention to being grammatically correct becomes distracting to your brain, and then you cannot focus on the quick back and forth of a conversation in English.

This is not an unusual problem for learners.  I have met many English language learners that score really well on exams and probably know more about English grammar than I do, but have a difficult time keeping a normal conversation going in English.  Instead of approaching the complications of English grammar from an academic standpoint and memorizing the long lists of rules and exceptions to rules, it is better to learn it the way most native speakers learn it, by listening and practical usage.  If you ask a native speaker why he uses grammar in a certain way,  he will probably reply that “it sounds right”.   That’s the way most native speakers figure out the correct answers on grammar exams too! (and the reason why so many native speakers have bad grammar habits)

Of course, some basic grammar rules must be learned, and even memorized.  There is no way around that in any language.  However, beyond the basics, listening to English conversations and learning the way phrases are used by native speakers goes much farther in helping a student become fluent. I personally hate teaching advanced grammar rules to students, mainly because it is boring and complicated both for them and me.  Over the years, I have made an extensive study of the English language and all of its peculiarities, and I still am learning new things about grammar all the time.  So don’t worry too much about having perfect grammar when you are speaking to someone, chances are that no one will even notice if you make a mistake or two.

Thanks for reading my blog.  It is very important to me to meet the needs of learners of all types.  Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment about anything you would like me to talk about in the blog or check out my Facebook page for more cool stuff.  I also have video course available for purchase on UDEMY.com.  If there are any topics you would like me to host a course on, please let me know!  If I use your suggestion in my next course, I will make the course available to you at no charge.

 

 

6 Keys to Fluency: 4. Think in English

Constantly going back to your native language in your mind to translate can be a huge barrier to becoming fluent.  In this video blog post, I will discuss how you can learn to think in English in 4 steps.  In this way, you can better train your brain to not rely on translating words as you speak, write or listen to them.  While mental translation may be necessary when first learning a language, it becomes a distraction as you progress beyond the initial stages and can prevent you from mastering one.

6 Keys to Fluency: 3. Learn Phrases

In this video blog post, I will discuss how learning individual words instead of words in phrases makes achieving fluency more difficult.  When you come across a new word, try to learn it within a phrase.  By doing this, you are learning how to use the word and will likely remember the word better.  Learning commonly used phrases in conversation, will help you to speak more comfortably as well.

Try this:  Listen to or read a conversation about a simple subject between 2 native speakers.  How do phrases help you to better understand the words they choose to use?  By analyzing short everyday conversations like this, and then learning phrases as they are used by speakers, you can become more fluent.  Below is a sample dialogue using the word ‘fine’ and the word ‘set’:

Ricky:  Hi Mickey, how are you?

Mickey: I’m fine, how have you been?

Ricky:  I’m ok.  How are things going at work?

Mickey:  No problems, everything is fine and dandy.  How’s your wife?

Ricky:  She is off visiting her sister in New York, so I’m left home alone.

Mickey:  We should get together and grab a bite to eat.  I know a great place downtown that serves the best beer and burgers.

Ricky:  That would be great, let’s set a date.  Burgers are my favorite, and nothing goes better with a burger than a nice cold beer.

Mickey:  Let’s do it Friday after work.  I get off at 6.

Ricky:  I’ll meet you at your office  at 6:15, and then we can take the train downtown.

Mickey:  Great!  See you then!

6 Keys to Fluency: 2. Learn by Listening

You can learn quite a bit just by listening.  Listening engages your brain and helps you to recognize and remember things you have learned.  When learning a language, like English, taking time to listen is very important.  In this video, I’ll discuss what you can listen to and how listening can help you understand native speakers better and even speak more fluently, just like a native speaker.  This is done through stressing the proper words and understanding sounds– take note of the example I give.

Try this:  Listen for the schwa sound in native pronunciation.  It is that neutral “uh” sound that is described by an upside down ‘e’ in dictionaries.  Native speakers use the schwa sound for function words and to connect words together, and this can make it difficult with listening comprehension for learners.  Mastering the pronunciation and usage of the schwa sound in words is important to achieving fluency in English.

6 Keys to Fluency: 1. Study in the Correct Way

This series of blog posts supplemented with videos is all about improving fluency.  This first video will help you understand what it means to be fluent and discuss the first key to fluency, Study in the Correct Way.

Some things to consider about your studies:

  • Is my instructor certified?  Are they a native speaker with a good accent?
  • Do I use online sources I am sure are accurate and correct?
  • Am I having to try to later unlearn bad language habits?
  • How do I learn best?  An audio learning learns by listening, a visual learner learns by watching or reading and a tactile-kinesthetic learner learns by doing an action while learning.

Some ideas for studying creatively:

  • Listen to and watch native speakers on TV and in movies
  • Read interesting stories, magazines or books in English
  • Listen to English language music or podcasts while exercising or doing chores
  • Draw pictures of things you are learning as well as write words
  • Write music, poetry, short stories or even jokes in English
  • Play games that help you learn English

Happy learning!  The next post will discuss another key to fluency.