EFL Learners - How to Use the Language?

by Pablo
(Colombia)

Dear Diana, I've read your page How to Learn English . It's nice! But, it's really difficult figure out how to do it, if you are an EFL Learner, isn't it?


Could you please provide us with some tips about how to do it? I mean, If I had somebody who I can talk to permanently, it would be easy, but when you are alone in a country where English is not spoken, what could can we do?

I mean, I can read and understand easy English, e.g. TV news, and I can write as I'm doing it right now, but what about speaking? I'm looking forward to hearing your ideas, especially about speaking and also about writing (the output).

I also would like to add that for EFL Learners whose mother tongue is Spanish/French/German, or similar, there are more chances to find an interchange with native or ESL speakers, but, how about for e.g. people whose language is spoken by a minority?

I mean, in on the Internet we have a lot of resources, but I think the spoken part is the real barrier to use the English.

Thank you!
Hi Pablo,

You make some really great points and I would like to address them all. First, I have to say that your writing is excellent. You should be proud of your writing skills. :)

As for the "HOW" regarding "how to learn English" I provide several examples in a 4 part article, How to Study English. It can be found in the "Helpful Articles" area of my site.

You will probably notice that the speaking page has fewer ideas than the rest. This is because it is much harder to practice. So let’s try to work on that now.

The best way is to speak with a native speaker and surround yourself with the language. But like you point out, what happens when this is not an option?

First, you can talk to yourself. I KNOW this sounds stupid but it honestly does work. When you speak to yourself (out loud) you are practicing speaking, just no one is listening to you. That doesn't matter.

What if you make mistakes? You probably will make mistakes but the benefits out-weigh the drawbacks or negative aspects.

Here are some ideas to get you talking to yourself.

  • Pretend you have a split personality. Don't drive yourself crazy, but have a conversation with yourself. Choose an interesting topic and discuss it with yourself.

    If you want you could even get a mirror and talk to your image.

  • Choose an article off the internet and read it aloud. Then discuss it. Pretend that you are hosting a show, a documentary or the news. You could even video yourself to make it more interesting. That would be a great exercise, as you would be able to watch yourself and critique your performance.

  • Listen to a podcast and then talk about it. (Similar to the article idea but focusing more on listening).

  • Another good way to practice is with livemocha.com There they have courses for several levels of English. In my opinion the levels are lower than advertised but it is FREE so you can't complain.

    What I love about their interactive site is that you can practice ALL aspects of English. How do you practice speaking? You are given a text to read and you record yourself reading. Then a native English speaker listens to it and reviews it. It is a wonderful way to get feedback for FREE.

    Those are my ideas Pablo. I am sure there are many more and I invite people to contribute their thoughts below in a comment.

    You are right though; speaking is the really challenging area of English to learn because it is difficult to find people to speak with.

    So when no one is around talk to your cat, dog, wall, plant or the mirror. :)

    What a great question Pablo. Thanks for asking!

    Cheers,
    Diana

  • Comments for EFL Learners - How to Use the Language?

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    May 20, 2009
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    My experience and some personal comments
    by: Pablo

    Diana,

    Thank you for response (and for everything!), and thank you to Nafis for her sharing her experiences and comments.

    I'm fluent but not much. I think I've achieved it, mainly (perhaps) talking to my daughter, and also through different activities, listening, vocabulary, writing, etc, but nothing to do with talking to myself or recording my own voice at all. That's not handy, not everyone can do so.

    I agree that everything may work as long as you have the determination, motivation or need. But the idea is to choose something pleasant, stimulating or motivating. I think working alone is not enjoyable. It requires a lot of self-discipline and hard work. I think if there isn't an opportunity to get a good interchange, a good alternative is to practice with other EFL learners. What about to organize an English local club? But to get really interested people could be the challenge.

    I consider creativity plays a very important role here. And we need to make use of everything that is available. In any case, I'm not sure if talking to oneself can work for most of us. It's unnatural. I definitively think two people are needed.

    Let me tell please about my daughter's English experience. It can be useful for someone. I started to teach English to her since she was four. And I think that fact has helped me a lot, because I've reinforced my English and learned with her together in the process. She is now 12. I think she is high beginner, and she can hold an English conversation and understands relatively well, considering her age and especially our conditions. She knows almost nothing about grammar, because what she knows is the result of our talks and videos that she used to watch again and again. No boring books, and almost nothing of writing.

    Now we keep doing different English activities together when times and distance allow us. I think translation of phrases from my mother tongue (Spanish) to English has turned out being a stimulating and challenging for her and for me (similar to Vaughan method).

    I expect to have time some day to try yours and Nafis advice. I have to struggle against the lack of time. Everyone lacks time! What else... Perhaps the use of fluency books/texts could help. Like the ones you reviewed! Or children's fluency books. Anyway.... As you and Nafis says, the important thing is to do activities aloud!

    I think another aspect that can help is to pay attention about how the words are used in phrases. Nowadays, several dictionaries include a lot of phrases that we could repeat again and again. We could do so taking phrases from TV news, podcasts, etc.

    Some people consider writing is harder than speaking. Perhaps they are right if we would focus to be fluent using only basic English. Perhaps the problem lies on the fact that we get distracted or overwhelmed by grammar and vocabulary, and we simply don't speak!

    I would be glad if this helps to someone! Thank you!

    Pablo

    May 14, 2009
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    Learning Spoken English
    by: Pablo

    Hi Diana,

    Your site is excellent! I'm very glad of having found it. It's really valuable. Related to my question, here a book about the subject, for everyone's consideration:

    http://www.freeenglishnow.com/lse.pdf

    http://www.freeenglishnow.com

    I would like to make some personal comments too, later.

    Thank you,
    Pablo
    I have stumbled across this website before. My only concern with that PDF book is that it is a little...boring. It is very technical and not very interactive. I think there are probably some good points in it, but I am not sure how it will help people in real life situations.

    This is a good point actually. My website is dedicated to helping people use English for life, not to pass and exam. I think preparing for real life conversations and for an exam are two very different things.

    I'd love to hear what other learners think about the free PDF book. What would make it useful or better?

    Thanks for the post Pablo. Do come back and comment again soon! - Diana


    May 13, 2009
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    Nafis' comment as posted on MyEnglish Club
    by: Diana Tower

    I had this problem before and I wanted to figure it out how I could practice speaking. Some people told me that it was better to go to an English class in order to speak with classmates. I did it but it did not work very well because all students are not in the same quality of speaking abilities. Some can speak very well and others can not. So, It did not work for me.

    Then, some said that the more I listen to English, the better I can speak. I did it but it helped me somehow.

    Finally, I found out that I can practice by myself. I talk loudly and record my voice and then I listen to what i said. In this way, I can understand my grammar mistakes and my pronunciation.

    While walking or cooking in the kitchen, i try review my day in English and I think I am an English person and i should say everything in English. When i do this, i know how much words i do not know and how i should talk in English.

    Another way that I found is writing. I found out writing can help me to speak very well. How is it possible? When we write, in fact, we think in English and we look for English words, so , words from conscious mind come out and go into our unconscious mind. This is my interpretation based on my experiences. I do not know if it is really true scientifically or not. But, writing helps me to speak better and vice versa.

    As you said,like excercising muscles of a body, the more we practice speaking, the stronger our speaking ability become .

    I also asked from poeple who learned English as a second language how they learned speaking. They told me that "we only practiced with ourselves, every day for ten minutes and we repeated as much as we can get it right.

    In the end,"Practice makes perfect."

    Thanks,
    All the best,
    Nafis

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