English Corner – The Utility of One-on-One Practice

When you are learning a new language especially one where you don’t have a lot of access to native speakers of that language, your ability to learn the foreign language can suffer as a result. Even if you are learning from someone in your country who speaks with advanced proficiency, there is still a discernible difference between a native speaker who also would likely be a qualified teacher for foreign students and one who is a teacher but is still a non-native teacher.

Now, there are a lot of great foreign teachers of second languages including the English language out there who are non-native speakers but I think that if a student has the chance to work with native speakers especially if they have taught before and are certified, your odds of getting better at the target language will increase exponentially. Most group classes or formal class settings for language learning instruction place an emphasis on a comprehensive strategy involving reading, grammar, vocabulary, and listening comprehension. However, while there is a little bit of speaking and writing practice, it is often not enough and there is also no time spent on the individual student and their own strengths and weaknesses.

If you are in a class of 25 to 30 students, one teacher will not be able to effectively work with each student as much or as effectively to improve either the speaking or writing skills in such a constrained time period. If you have four or five hours of English language instruction per week, the chances are high that out of that amount of time, there will only be 30 minutes to an hour dedicated to either speaking or writing instruction, which is very little.

While group or class settings can be ideal for addressing certain proficiency needs such as the aforementioned reading, listening, grammar, and vocabulary practice, such a large setting is often not conducive to conducting good lessons related to addressing speaking or writing practice. In order to boost a student’s proficiency levels specifically with regards to their speaking or writing needs, then you’re going to have to go smaller to get the best results. Any student of the English language must take it upon themselves to find one-on-one practice because that is the best way to help them achieve the best results when it comes to improving their English especially when it comes to speaking or writing.

Even if a student has no access to one-on-one practice, an admirable alternative would be small group sessions or roundtables of no more than five students so they can get as much individualized attention as possible. The key point to make is that one-on-one or small group practice will help the individual student advance a lot more in English than in a large classroom setting. Large classroom settings can benefit ESL students in some ways especially for socialized learning and group practice, but it lacks that kind of one-on-one correction and encouragement that a foreign language student often needs to succeed.

If the English student in question doesn’t have the funds or the time to research private options, it would be ideal for the school or learning institution providing his class study to provide him or her with some outside options for additional learning, especially online if the student is able to do so. While funding private one-on-one learning may not be possible for the academic institution, to improve their students’ performance, they should do their best to make one-on-one tutoring as cost effective as possible.

If it cannot be offered within the institution, then it should be subsidized as much as possible and referred back to other trusted learning centers or individual teachers who will do a great job in assisting the student in one-on-one tutoring. One-on-one learning, especially for speaking and/or writing purposes is extremely effective for a number of reasons. The greater amount of attention, the ability to correct the student quickly and show them how to fix their errors, and the ability to have a longer, more in-depth conversation or writing session is key to helping the student than they could receive instead in the classroom setting.

To have the ability to study the language on a one-to-one basis is a key part of becoming a better English speaker and writer. To have an hour or two of one-on-one practice will do wonders for the student’s self-confidence, their comprehension, and their ability to cover more topics than they would in a class with 25 other students. The next best option that the student has without spending any money is to attend a language exchange event if available in their city or town where they can practice English with another speaker in exchange for sharing their native language with another student or more. These language exchanges are a great way for language students to meet each other, practice their native and foreign languages, and build a community of like-minded students. While these are not specifically one-on-one practice events, you are likely to be speaking to one other person at a time as you rotate to talk to other people at the event as they likely go for a few hours each time.

By practicing one-on-one, you are not able to hide from your language ability and will put them to the test. Overall, that is an excellent way to develop your English proficiency and to do it more quickly. In a classroom, you can hide as other students answer questions and do work on shared projects but there is no hiding in a one-on-one practice session. While it can be intimidating to work with a teacher or a peer one-on-one, it’s not only good for the student’s English language skills but also for their personal development and socialization.

An added bonus to this is that the student can learn from a native speaker perhaps or a person from a country where the language is native to them. Lastly, with the advent of digital learning, it is now easier to work online with a native speaker from halfway around the world in English or another language for free with a peer or with a paid tutor for anywhere from thirty minutes to a couple of hours each week.

Group lessons and classroom learning are key to being better at English but if you really want to develop your proficiency to the highest level, you should consider learning and practicing on a one-on-one basis as much as possible. You’ll be putting yourself out there and may mistakes but that is a natural part of any learning process and you will definitely grow as a result of being accountable for both your failures and your successes as a language learner.

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English Corner – Embrace Your Errors

It’s natural to make mistakes. As famous English poet Alexander Pope once wrote, “To err is human.” To err or to make a mistake is unavoidable and the earlier you accept the fact, the faster you will be able to move on. If you can’t acknowledge your mistake, you won’t be able to fix it which will help you to become a better English learner. The 1st step in the process of improving your proficiency is realizing you are going to make mistakes and to be ready to correct them so that it does not happen again.

The ability to make yourself vulnerable is key when it comes to learning a new language. The vulnerability to put yourself out there and making yourself susceptible to making mistakes will do more for your English language learning than anything else. If you do not try at all or if you refuse to participate, you will definitely not improve at all. It is okay to be nervous, shy, and even worried about these mistakes but you should know that there are countless others who have come before you, made the same mistakes but they learned from them, and they were able to use these mistakes to fuel their improvements and use them as motivation to become better listeners, readers, speakers, and writers.

When you make an error, stop yourself and ask: ‘why is this an error?’ Also, realize ‘how could it be fixed?’ and then lastly inquire to yourself about ‘what can I do to avoid this mistake in the future?’. If you stop, answer, and process these three questions, you will be well on your way to avoiding further errors and helping also to allay your fears of making them in the first place.

An English teacher can only do so much for each student especially if they have 30 to 40 of them in the classroom. The individual student must take it upon themselves to face their fear head on, make the inevitable mistakes, and to learn from them through perseverance and practice. A teacher can only do so much to motivate his or her students but it is up to the student themselves how far they want to take their language learning. The classroom is a place of equal standing among language students but it is outside of the classroom where those who put in the most effort, who will likely make the most mistakes, but who spend the most time fixing those mistakes who will have the most lasting success.

Learning a language is hard work but it can be among the most gratifying things worth accomplishing during our lives. It can be messy, uncomfortable, and challenging process but that goes for life itself as well. There will be setbacks and obstacles laid in your way but you must not be afraid of making mistakes. Being able to make mistakes and to bounce back from them shows a spirit of character and determination that is not easily quenched. If the fire of learning is in you, you won’t be dismayed when you use the singular noun instead of the plural noun or you put the verb at the beginning of the sentence instead of in the middle.

Hopefully, you will have caring teachers to light your path forward along with friends and family at your side when you stumble and make those mistakes. Embracing your errors is not an easy process by any means but it’s a necessary part of the learning process. Looking back on your past mistakes, you will be grateful that you made them because they taught you a lesson and they made you a better learner. Without the chance to make mistakes, there is no true mastery. I hope that all of you English language learners reading this article to know that when you fail, simply brush it off, try again, and push forward until you succeed.

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