Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tips for improving conversational skills from an ESL Tutor!


The number one issue that advanced learners of ESL want to address, is the fluency of their communication skills. They want to know how they can speak clearly, how to express their ideas with ease and well.. to speak like a native. As mentioned in an earlier post I touched upon the importance of tucking some idioms under the belt to pull out at appropriate moments in a conversation. Nothing says native speaker louder than a few well placed sayings!

Another important and sometimes overlooked pointer is to be aware of word stress , sentence stress and intonation. It is amazing how much improvement can be gained by being aware of this. Misplaced stress on a word and sentence can result in misunderstandings as well as the dreaded request "Can you please repeat that. I didn't quite get it!" Equally valuable to remember is that intonation conveys meaning so to speak authentically I have a few tips.

1. Don't be daunted! It's better to speak and make mistakes than not speak at all.
2. Practice, Practice, Practice! On anyone...the person who makes your coffee, the waitress, the librarian, the health club receptionist.
3. Listen as much as possible to native speakers. A fun way to do this is to watch movies, TV show, news channels. You need to use active listening skills here and focus on the word stress, sentence stress and intonation.
4. Listen to talk radio..National Public Radio is a good option. If you are in the car a lot , put the radio on and start listening! These methods also work well for learning new vocabulary. You will be amazed how much you can absorb .
5. Keep building your vocabulary as this is key with developing the skills to improve the preciseness and sophistication of your communications. Consider keeping a notebook handy to jot down new words and phrases as they come up. It's useful to write a short sentence giving a context for each new word/phrase to remind you of the meaning when you next look at it.

I always say you may as well try and enjoy the learning experience and I believe these methods can make a challenging endeavor that much more pleasant.

I have come across a couple of websites that I think will be very helpful in your developing the skills I have mentioned.

http://www.freerice.com/
This a word game where you choose the answer that best defines the word. The neat thing about this game is that for every word you get right , "Free Rice" donates 20 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program. You get smarter and people get fed! I like the blurb on their website too "WARNING: This game may make you smarter. It may improve your speaking, writing, thinking, grades, job performance... "

The second website that I recommend for enhancing the learning factor of watching movies is
http://www.eslnotes.com/synopses.html

They have a pretty decent list of movies along with printable lesson plans for you to refer to with helpful explanations of phrases that are used in the movie. There is also a conversation exercise to be done after watching the movie which can stimulate some good talking points.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. --Mark Twain

Please contact me if you would like a private ESL tutor .