Learning to speak a new language in a classroom

It is hard to imagine that you can improve your conversational skills in a classroom with a fixed teacher or tutor. If you want to improve your listening and speaking skills, you should be practicing with different people, and one a one-to-one basis.

There are several reasons for this:

  1. In a classroom environment, it is generally not possible to engage in a dialogue. You end up taking turns to say something. This is not how conversation take place in a real life environment.
  2. You learn to increase your listening tolerance (the bandwidth of your listening) by speaking with different people. Different people speak differently, even if they share the same nationality or racial background. When I was first posted to the Philippines as a country manager for a multinational company, on one occasion, I asked my staff, “When are you going to get back to me?” They could not understand me even when I repeated this several times. The reason is that as a Malaysian I’m used to pronouncing back as beg. When I was pushed to re-emphasise, I pronounced it as beck. However, the Filipinos are used to hearing back as bark.
  3. You need to build your confidence in using your newly acquired language with people you have not met before. If you have only been speaking with your teachers in class, this will not help to overcome your intimidation and nervousness when you need to talk to someone that you have not met before. Practicing with different people is particularly useful in a language test situation because your assessor will definitely be someone you have never met before and you do not know how he/she will speak.

 


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2 thoughts on “Learning to speak a new language in a classroom”

  1. 2. LEARNING TO SPEAK A NEW LANGUAGE IN A CLASSROOM.

    In response to this article, I totally agree that for a student to improve his conversational skills in a classroom, he should be practicing speaking with different people either on a one-to-one basis or in a group. To improve in his speaking skills, he needs not just confine himself in the classroom to speaking or interacting with his teacher alone. Whenever a teacher steps into the classroom, teaching and learning is going to be very formal. At the same time, the teacher may have to rush through to complete the syllabus and exams formats. He may not have time to further interact with his students other than completing his task as according to the lesson planned for that day. Thus it is not possible for him to engage in a dialogue especially an informal one. The students in the class mostly take turns to speak or answer the questions. Even then, some students may not be called to answer any questions at all because teacher may not have the time to call all the students to respond.
    As for the teaching and learning environment in Malaysia, most of the rural schools students only get to hear and speak English during the English period in the class. Once outside the class, they choose to interact in their own mother tongue. There is no English speaking environment in such school. There is also very little initiative taken by students to create such environment- the fact is they are more comfortable speaking in their own mother tongue.
    In addition, students should learn to speak English with different people from different nationality or racial background. Different people speak differently especially when there is an influence in the different slang or accent used. I remember there was once when I was touring Australia. The driver of the coach tried his best to entertain us with some jokes. It was so hard for us Asians to understand what he was saying. He was talking about an “Irish man” but what I heard was an “Orange man”. When he said “later” I thought he meant “Lighter”. In another situation, a European man said “Start Smoking”, when in actual fact he meant “Stop Smoking”. It took me quite a while to figure out what he said. I realise that as Asians it is hard for us to understand what the Europeans are saying and as for them it seems we speak too fast and it is difficult for them to understand us instead. I may be proficient in English but I always feel intimidated when talking to any European because of their slangs. Therefore, I strongly believe that students should speak English with different people from different nationality.
    Furthermore, building confidence in the newly acquired language with people you have not met before is also another appropriate approach to speaking a new language. Students have been speaking with their teachers in class all this while. They are very familiar with their own English teachers. They don’t feel intimidated nor nervous when speaking with their own English teachers. In fact, they feel comfortable talking to them. Thus the real test is when students have to speak to newly acquainted friends, associates, or even to strangers and that is the time when they lack of confidence in speaking the language. The situation becomes worst when these students are assessed in their speaking exams where by students need to interact in English within stipulated time with total strangers or assessors from other schools.

    Written by:
    Cheah Chai Kim
    2/6/2017

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