Many people are absolutely sure that in order to speak good English you just need to practise speaking a lot. While that is true, it’s even more important to listen.
The woman nodded when I explained her that we were going to make sentences with sometimes, usually, never and always. “Easy,” she said.
She put her cup of tea down and opened her mouth to make her first sentence:
“I usually pick up my daughter from the nursery school at 3.30.”
That was good. I told her so.
She made her second sentence:
“It’s usually very busy near the school with parents and caretakers who come to pick up their children.”
Also good. But then she continued her story. It was about the grandparents who are really a great help in babysitting her daughter, and then she went on to tell me about her mother-in-law, who had bought a bike for her daughter. And the daughter is too small to ride a bike, she thinks. She falls off and she gets home tired and with bumps on her legs. However, her mother-in-law takes her for a ride every Wednesday, after she comes to pick up her daughter from the kindergarten. And then she buys her daughter pizza, which isn’t healthy. And so the story went on. And on.
I can give you some more examples of a few of my students who like talking — a lot! While they’re an absolute joy to be with and I never have a dull moment with them, do they really learn good English? They answer isn’t always yes. In fact, the talkers among my students are often my worst students. What do I mean? I mean that they like to talk so much that they get excited when they talk. They get carried away, and before you know it they will have told you a complete story. Once they’re in the middle of their story they forgot what I wanted them to practise. Even if I give them some specific grammar point to learn or I’d like them to use certain new words, this kind of loquacious (= talkative) student will forget about the assignment after a sentence or two. They’ll launch another exciting or funny story of their own, and… there we go again!
How is this connected to being a good listener?
Well, it’s simple. The people who like to talk are amazingly bad listeners, I’ve found. I’ve taught hundreds of students privately, so by now I can tell what kinds of learning behaviours and teaching methods work, and which don’t work at all. Having a student chat about their lives and adventures doesn’t work. Of course it’s important that you can chat when you take an English class. But if your English class is chatting all the time, you probably won’t learn a lot of new things.
Your teacher isn’t there only to correct your mistakes.
To think that you can chat in your class while your teacher corrects your mistakes and that after a few lessons of this your English will be as good as Barack Obama’s, well… I don’t think so! Correcting your mistakes will only work if your English was wonderful to begin with, but you were just making a few mistakes here and there.
So here are some things to keep in mind when you have the luxury of a teacher:
1 Try to talk like your teacher.
Listen to the words they use and the grammar they use. If you hear what you think is an expression, try to use that too.
2 Try to figure out what grammar rule your teacher is using when they say something.
In case you weren’t able to understand what grammar rule is being used, ask your teacher to explain it. You might learn something new!
3 Listen to the instructions of your teacher.
If your teacher is serious, he/she will want you to practise a particular language point. It could be new grammar, new vocabulary or a new kind of sentence construction. This becomes important especially after you’ve learned all the basic phrases. Remember, English isn’t spoken in basic phrases that you can copy from a Berlitz or Oxford study book. You will know English well only after you are able to make your own sentences. Listen carefully to the examples your teacher is giving you.
What if you’re a great talker?
Here are some tips if you just love talking and can’t get enough of it, but you’d also like to learn English:
1 If your English class consists of you holding a monologue while the teacher is laughing and listening, something is wrong. The English class should be in the form of a dialogue to be effective. Sometimes your teacher says or asks you something, then you say something, then the teacher talks again, etc. Sometimes, for practice, your teacher may ask you to tell a story. Or there will be times when you will be asked to relate (=tell) an anecdote, but not all the time.
2 Make your answers or remarks short and relevant. Try not to launch into a full story whenever your teacher asks you something. You will simply waste the time of the lesson and at the end of it you won’t have learned an awful lot.
3 Ask your teacher to have written material or to make written notes about the stuff you’re learning. When you have written material in front of you you will be less inclined (= feel like it) to get distracted by your need to talk (hopefully!).
4 Practise the art of listening. Remember: Speaking is silver, but silence is golden. Can be true in some cases! 🙂