English Corner – Utilization, Not Memorization

Many English language learners and students are taught from a young age to memorize, repeat, and regurgitate what they have been assigned by their teachers. When it comes to the main focus of English as a Second Language, there is a tendency for educators in this field to focus on having memorization be the main focal point of an English student’s language base when it should not be this way. Instead of memorization and repetition, we should instead focus on helping English language learners with utilization, which means putting the English grammar and vocabulary they have acquired for actual use.

While learning different types of English vocabulary and understanding English grammar rules are very important parts for a beginner student to master, instead of focusing on fill-in-the-blank, matching, and multiple choice questions, teachers should instead focus on putting the English student in situations where they need to use this vocabulary or remember these grammar rules so they’ll better be able to retain the knowledge they have gained. Relying too heavily upon vocabulary sheets or grammar rules sheets for too long will disengage the students from enjoying the process of mastering a foreign language.

A good lesson should encompass grammar and vocabulary together, but for which leads to a chance for the students in the class to be put in activities or lessons where they need to use what they have learned right away so they retain it better. There are numerous examples out there on how to achieve this kind of lesson plan but a good one would involve speaking and writing parts, so students not only engage with the material alone but also with each other or in small groups. English does not have to be boring but a strict curriculum with the same activities over and over again will not help students to improve their retention of the language.

Students have the responsibility to study the grammar and vocabulary that the teacher has assigned in class, but it is the teacher’s responsibility to mix the subject matter up enough so that the students will have enough chances to let the material sink in over time so that they can absorb it better. In addition to speaking and writing exercises, utilizing listening and reading activities are crucial too. To break up the monotony of continuous vocabulary and grammar exercises, a good English teacher will mix it up in different ways to make the class more fun and interactive.

In my experiences as an English as a Second Language teacher, I have noticed a deficit in some cases where the students are able to do well on grammar and vocabulary assignments but struggle greatly when it comes to utilizing these lessons to improve their speaking and writing capabilities. By incorporating related speaking and writing activities to supplement the new material, students will better able to progress in these areas as well. Going through the textbook, doing the same kind of activities over and over again is no recipe for a proficient English learner.

When it comes to speaking, if you are doing a unit on types of food and drinks, it’s good to do an activity where students ask each other questions and get answers from their classmates. They could ask, “what is your favorite food?”, “what do you like to eat for breakfast / lunch / dinner?”, “What supermarket do you go to?”, “Do you like to cook? why or why not?” These question and answer activities are extremely effective in keeping the students engaged and allow them to put their grammar and vocabulary knowledge to good use by actually applying it in a real-life situation.

For grammar retention, writing sentences and even essays are a key aspect to utilizing the grammar lessons that they have learned in the past and applying them in the present. For example, if you introduce an essay topic or question such as “Where do you see yourself in ten years?, what will you be doing with your life, and what would you like to do?”, this essay assignment is a great way to jog the student’s memory so that they remember how to use verb tenses such as the ‘simple future tense’ or the ‘future progressive tense.’ Letting students use the future tense to describe their future selves is a great way in engaging them honestly and utilizing their understanding of English grammar by putting it into the written form.

Your English students will also be more engaged when they can utilize their base grammar and vocabulary knowledge to both read and listen. Having high levels of comprehension in these two areas is crucial in becoming a proficient learner of this language. For Reading, it’s important to incorporate different forms of reading for your class such as poetry, short stories, interesting magazine articles, and relevant newspaper articles.

For example, if your class is learning about how to describe weather in English, it would be good to share the newspaper section, which covers the weather specifically, and have the students describe the weather in different cities and towns from reading the descriptions in the newspaper. Having the students read newspaper articles about current events and other news will help satisfy their curiosity about English-speaking cultures and countries. There are numerous speaking and reading activities that can be done together to utilize what the student has learned to be put to good use.

Lastly, being able to utilize listening to music, audiobook passages, or news reports will do a great job in allowing the students to hear the grammar and vocabulary necessary to further their comprehension. You can get very creative with listening lessons and add on speaking and writing components to give your students more chances to utilize their English language skills in different ways. Testing the students without multiple choice, matching, or fill-in-the-blank activities can be done by assessing their comprehension of listening passages. Listening and repetition is also another way to help students retain their vocabulary and grammar knowledge.

A huge reason why English as a Second Language students struggle with retaining their knowledge of the language is that they are simply not utilizing it enough. Teachers should be aware that endless vocabulary and grammar lessons that are based around memorization and repetition are not helping their students but hurting them instead. In addition, focusing only on teaching to the test is a recipe for disaster and students will not enjoy actually learning the language if the teacher is not utilizing creative lesson planning, fun activities, and group cooperation when it comes to improving their students’ English skills.

In order for students to keep their English skills going into the future, teachers should focus on speaking, writing, listening, and reading lessons so that students will not only utilize the language in various ways but to also remember and use it years into the future long after they finish working with that teacher.

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English Corner – The Keys to Public Speaking

It can be difficult to speak in front of another person when you are not so sure of your English abilities. You’re probably comfortable when you talk to your family or your friends but you struggle to practice your English skills in front of random strangers. You’re fine on the phone with your best friend and may have no problem talking to them one-on-one. You might even be comfortable speaking in front of a class to practice a dialogue that your teacher prepared for you.

However, what about when it comes to speaking in English in front of a large group? Public speaking makes most people uncomfortable or nervous even when they are talking in their native language. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to make it easier especially when it is your first time talking in front of strangers or an audience where you do not know anyone. The next time you have to do a presentation or make a speech, try these techniques and see if they help you. The more you practice your English in front of people who don’t know you, the more you’ll be able to gain self-confidence and get better at speaking even if you happen to make a few mistakes.

Choose a Topic You Know Well: Think about your background and experiences. Who are you? and what do you know a lot about? When you speak to a group for the first time, you have to be yourself. Don’t try to talk about something you know little about. Also, remember to not try to be someone you’re not. If you love sports, for example, do a presentation on your favorite baseball team and why you like them so much. You could also discuss what sport is your favorite to play and how it is played.

In order to grab the audience’s attention, remember to include personal stories from your own life and use a conversational tone as you would with a friend or a family member. Your audience wants to hear about your knowledge and expertise but they also want to get to know the real you along with how you were able to become the person you are today.

Practice and Practice Again: After you plan your formal presentation, it’s time to practice your English. If you do not want to practice it in front of friends or family, at least try to practice in front of a mirror or in front of your pet if you have one. You should use a clock or an alarm so that you know how long your presentation will take. Then, do your whole presentation out loud without stopping, even if you catch yourself making a few grammatical errors.

It is absolutely necessary that you follow through with your presentation even if you are not perfect at it during your practice runs. Also, please be sure to practice with the equipment you plan to use such as a laptop or projector. You may also need to practice with a microphone so you can know if you need to be louder or if you need to tone down your voice a bit for the future presentation. Practice more than once and when you have put that fear behind you, remember to practice in front of a friend or family member if possible. They might be able to give you some helpful advice about your tone, grammar, subject matter, etc. They will be your best critic because they know how your English is in spoken form.

Use Eye Contact and Gestures: Words are only one way that we communicate during a spoken presentation. You can also connect with your audience through your body language. First, always make eye contact with someone in the audience. Remember to look directly at different people in the audience so that they feel that you are talking to them personally. Second, use natural movement with your body and use gestures to get your points across. You do not have to wave your hands and arms around ecstatically but it is good to move them around to emphasize a certain part of your speech that you feel is uniquely important. Walking around the stage or platform a little can make you look less nervous and also gives you an air of confidence. On top of all that, being able to use your hands while you talk can also be helpful for your presentation.

Never Say “You’re Sorry”: Finally, don’t ever apologize for being nervous during a presentation, especially when English is not your native language. The audience probably doesn’t know or realize how nervous you are, and they are more interested in hearing about your topic for which you are an expert in. Also, if you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s alright to admit that you don’t know it and to move on to the next one. You don’t have to say you’re sorry. However, it’s great if you can explain to that audience member that the question is not something you know about. When you can do this in a polite manner, you will be able to move on to the next question without offending the audience you’re talking to.

Do Your Best: Nobody’s perfect at public speaking even if their native language is English. You may make a few mistakes but the audience will respect and admire you for giving it your best and presenting to them about a worthwhile topic. As the old saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and neither will the perfection of your public speaking skills. The main things to take out of your public speaking experience are to develop your grammar, diction, vocabulary, and overall cadence. Putting yourself out there is hard to do but you will be a better English speaker for it and after having gone through these experiences, you will have more confidence and better communication skills. Whether you are pitching your new business, explaining your scientific discovery, or examining the witness at a trial, good public speaking is absolutely key to your professional development.

English Corner – Five English Mistakes That Can Be Easily Fixed

New students of the English language are destined to make mistakes when practicing their skills and abilities in building up their proficiency. There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes but I’d like to share the five most common mistakes that are easily fixable given my experience in teaching English as a Second Language. Instead of letting these mistakes continue unabated, it’s important for teachers such as myself to correct our students right away so as to not let these small mistakes become bad habits. When you have a small error, usually grammatical in nature, it’s necessary for the teacher to use his or her expertise to correct the student right away and show them the difference between the right approach and the wrong approach to the mistake.

You should always be correcting the student politely and then showing them where exactly did they go wrong, and how they can avoid the same mistake again. Hopefully, English as a foreign language student will be able to avoid some of these five mistakes but I would say that it is quite likely that they will commit one or two of these five errors. Luckily, these mistakes are easy to fix and once you do, the student can move on to more intermediate and advanced challenges.

            1.) Neglecting both indefinite and definite articles: Some non-native speakers of English have a bad habit of leaving out the ‘a’, ‘the’, or ‘an’ at the beginning of their sentences. They may state their sentence as being “Economy performed very well.” While it’s easy to understand the sentiment of the sentence and the meaning will come across to the native speaker, it won’t be grammatically correct. It’s always necessary to put a definite article like ‘the’ before the word ‘economy’ in order for it to sound like a sentence that a native speaker would put together. “The economy performed very well,” should be the sentence that the foreign learner of English must use to be grammatically correct and fully understood.

This is an easy mistake to correct but if left unchecked, the non-native speaker will forget many times to add ‘a’, ‘an’, or ‘the’ at the beginning of their spoken or written sentences. For ESL teachers, this is a key mistake that students will make especially from language backgrounds where ‘definite and indefinite articles’ are not used. Another example of an indefinite article not being used is a sentence like “I have cat.” While we know that person has a cat, there is the key ‘a’ word missing to make it grammatically correct. The student should then be correct for the sentence to be “I have a cat.” While these are not major mistakes, by showing your students the correct structure, you will be doing them a big favor and helping them to become better English learners.

            2.) Mixing up singular and plural noun usage: Another slight mistake that ESL students make as beginners is to mix up singular and plural nouns. Knowing when and when not to use the ‘s’ at the end of nouns is key to having a grammatically correct sentence. It should be made clear that the letter ‘s’ should only be added to the end of a noun when there are more than one item, place, or thing being referenced. The key difference from one example would be ‘You eat one cookie’ and then ‘You eat two cookies’, with ‘s’ only being added to the noun ‘cookie’ when there is more than one being referenced.

You can also use ‘many, a few, a lot of’ before the noun ‘cookies.’ Countable and uncountable nouns go hand in hand with singular and plural nouns as grammatical concepts. ‘Countable’ nouns are usually plural meaning referencing more than one in number while ‘Uncountable’ nouns are usually singular in nature and can’t reference multiple persons, places, and things. Being able to use singular and plural nouns in written and/or spoken sentences is key because it will come up very often. If you make a small mistake with this concept of mixing up their usage, it should be corrected as soon as possible in order to not become another bad habit.

            3.) Forgetting to use prepositions and conjunctions: Before you can speak and write with some authority, you will need to study, use, and memorize the correct prepositions and conjunctions. Oftentimes, ESL students can forget the need for prepositions, conjunctions in a regular sentence but that will mean your sentence won’t be grammatically correct. A sentence like this one as an example would not work without prepositions or conjunctions. “He left me didn’t return I was not afraid I knew he would be back.” There are four prepositions and conjunctions missing from that example sentence and it can still work as a sentence, but it is fundamentally incomplete and would raise some eyebrows from native English speakers.

These are small errors but would hurt your ability to be understood or seen as an intermediate or advanced English learner. In order to change this example for the better, we need to make the sentence have both prepositions and conjunctions. “He left me and didn’t return but I was not afraid because I knew he would be back.” These two grammatical functions add a lot of substance to your sentence and makes it flow that much better. If you leave these conjunctions and prepositions out of your sentences, it will hurt your proficiency and you won’t be able to correct these particular mistakes.

            4.) Changing the order of the sentence from (Subject – Verb – Object): Spoken and written sentences in English have a strict order in terms of formation like any other language. While other languages could be ‘subject – object – verb’ or ‘verb – subject – object’ in official syntax, English, as a language, follows the strict format of ‘subject – verb – object’ at all times especially if you’re looking to form a complete sentence. You can form sentences in English in another order and you may be understood by a native speaker, but it won’t be grammatically correct, and you will be creating yet another bad habit that can be easily corrected. Every language has a basic structure and it needs to be observed at all times. You can’t cut around the edges in terms of the sentence structure or it will stand out as a huge error.

Basic sentence order should be memorized when you are first studying a foreign language and that includes English. A wrong sentence in terms of basic order would look like this as an example: “Store goes to the he.” You have the ‘object’ at the beginning which is wrong, the verb in the middle which is correct, yet the subject is at the end of this example sentence when it should be at the beginning. The sentence order is completely wrong here, but it is easily fixable in the following manner: “He goes to the store.” SVO or ‘Subject – Verb – Order’ is a clear and concise grammar rule that is fundamental in order to master the basic sentence structure instrumental in creating good sentences. A basic mistake like changing the order of a sentence form unnecessarily can be fixed quite easily. subject (he), verb (goes to), and object (the store). You just have to switch the order around a bit if it is incorrect and then you’ll be ready to move on to the next sentence while keeping the right order.

            5.) Capitalizing the wrong words in a sentence: Let’s remember that correct capitalization can be quite easy to do but it remains as a difficulty for many English as a second language students to master due to how, when, and where to capitalize words. It’s not a huge mistake so students may commit the error thinking that it’s not a big deal, yet correct capitalization can set you apart in terms of your writing proficiency from other learners. To neglect the basic rules of capitalization sets you up for bigger and more costly grammar mistakes. If you are able to take care of the basics and capitalize words throughout the sentence, then you’ll be well on your way to becoming a great English learner. An example of poor capitalization in a sentence would be as follows: “i Went to the grand canyon and it was Fun.” There are a few errors here that should stand out to you and are easily fixable, but a few students may choose to not revise the errors and leave the sentence wrongly capitalized. The key fixes are easy to implement for this sentence and would like the following revised sentence: “I went to the Grand Canyon, and it was fun.”

The changes I made include ‘I’ as capitalized, ‘went’ as not being capitalized, ‘Grand Canyon’ as being capitalized, and ‘fun’ as not being capitalized. In keeping with the basic rules of capitalization, proper nouns (Grand Canyon) should be capitalized, as well as the first word in any sentence, ‘I’ in this case, and to recall that ‘went’ as a verb should not be capitalized along with an adjective such as ‘fun’ when it comes at the end of the sentence. Conjunctions, or a preposition such as ‘and’ should also never be capitalized in a regular sentence.

Taking the time to take care of capitalization errors will put you ahead and establish your English language proficiency as improving by fixing your mistakes. If you have the time to write, speak, and use the English language, you should also use that time to revise, fix, and correct your errors to become a better student and a better learner.

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If you are interested in taking a private English lesson, check out my teachers page here where you can learn with me in a one-on-one hour session: Learn English with Ben

Lastly, please check out my Udemy courses on ‘Beginner Grammar’, ‘Intermediate Grammar’, and ‘Advanced Grammar’ here: My Udemy Courses