How to improve your listening (when learning another language)

Whenever I’m talking to a prospective student, he or she says:listen

“My listening is not as good as it should be”, or  “I just can’t understand what’s being said”. “Give me the text of what’s being said and I’ll understand everything.”

Well … life doesn’t come with subtitles so, … what should you do if you want to improve your listening skills in the language you’re trying to learn?

Here are 3 simple steps – which if followed will most certainly help you out:

  1. Listen everyday – and I mean it. It’s way easier said than done. Especially if you’re not living in the country where your second language is spoken, you will have to go an extra mile to listen to it. A little and often will work wonders. You may ask how much is a little – well it will depend on your time availability. But I’d say that anyone can squeeze 15 minutes of their BUSY day to listen to some of the language their learning.
  2. How to listen – podcasts are a great idea – available anytime, anywhere. You do not necessarily need to use podcasts on learning Spanish or French or English but podcasts produced in that language. Of course, if your L2 level is below intermediate  you will have to choose podcasts where the audio quality is good and the content is appropriate to your level. Moreover, if the speakers are way too fast you can slow down their speech by just pressing a button. Isn’t technology something wonderful? It is my own experience listening to podcasts for nearly 10 years that when you have 2 people chatting the listening becomes more entertaining and pleasant. Monologues tend to be sooooo boring. More than 2 people can get confusing on identifying all the speakers especially if some don’t have a clear voice.
  3. Read and listen – many audio / video broadcasts have a transcript choice. For example, CNN and NPR provide tons of transcripts of different shows and you can listen to them whenever / wherever you wish and read the transcript to check the parts you didn’t get. Also, many kindle e-books have an additional feature that is the professional recorded audio version available – on Audible or equivalent. So you can listen and read the text – alternating. Or read first and then listen. And then go to another section and first listen and then read.

He who has ears listen to what the teacher has to say to the learner.

Cheers,

Mo

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How do I get rid of my foreign accent?

Get rid of your foreign accent? Quite often students approach me with that question.

First, you’ve got to be aware of your limitations and set “realistic” goals.

We can talk here about accent elimination – when you will be talking exactly like a native speaker as long you stick to that corner of the world forever – or we can be talking about accent reduction – ranging from communicating clearly with the people around you knowing you’re not from their village but not being able to figure out which village you come from.

Some people (a few I’d dare say) have a special gift for impersonating another language as if they were acting before an audience (channeling another accent). But most mortals can be content with being clearly understood and focusing on something else.

I honestly think that the second path is more realistic. A language learner’s goal must be to be able to communicate clearly and accurately (within certain parameters).

How can you achieve that? First, start exposing yourself – no, not to children on a playground – don’t be a pervert! Expose yourself to different accents – listen, repeat, shadow others. Record yourself and play it back. Compare. Evaluate.

See that not only isolated words sound ok but practice linking words. Make clear sentences. Follow the rhythm and intonation of the language. There is a musicality to the language that will make life much easier for you if you start “singing” to the right tune.

I know, I know, some people can’t even hum “Happy Birthday to you.” I’m not saying it’s going to be easy but remember that sometimes we’re making progress but we don’t feel like it. But other people can tell.

I remember when I started dabbing my feet in Teaching English as a Foreign Language here in Brazil – the owners of a little language  school near Paulista Avenue told me during a hiring interview: “Your accent is hard to pinpoint. Some words sound more British other times more American”.

And that was who I was at that time. My only international experience had been to America, the music was American but the radio was BBC shortwave. And after I started working with them, I started using the textbook American Streamline series and every week they’d say – ” oh, your English has improved a lot.” Even though I couldn’t think of anything I’d done to improve except teaching a few classes the past week.

And even today, after spending a few months in Ireland, people in America will say – “oh some words sound Irish”, but the moment I arrive at the immigration point at Shannon Airport the officer tells me – “you’ve got an American accent”. There! Don’t try to please everybody. Just be happy with what you’ve accomplished. You’ve come a long way and enjoy being a citizen of the world.

So, get those lazy ears of yours working and make that tongue positively productive.

Cheers

Mo on-language

 

Reflections on Language Learning – 3 steps to break the language barrier

Every new year many people make a resolution to learn a foreign language moved by guilt for not succeeding at that in the previous year or just in search for the cure of their hangover (or other more respectable reasons). You, dear reader, may fill in the blanks.

Many go to the language-learning sections at their local bookstore (yes, there are still some of those left around)  in search for the book with a mixture of miraculous and magical strategies to enable them to speak English, French, Spanish or Mandarin overnight.

By the following week many will realize that no matter how many books and language courses they buy on CD, DVD or online they will sit around gathering dust in a darker corner of their homes and offices before the end of the month.

Those failed attempts can be fixed or prevented, though.

How?  Speaking and listening is the keyimg_7544

Surround yourself with LIVING language material:  Listening resources play a major part of learning – be they videos, or radio, or podcasts.

Even without understanding – it’s passive learning – it will help you identify the “music” of your target language. But it will take time.

Let me tell you the example of my “niece-in-law”, Ingrid. As many Brazilians she basically knows the verb to be (present tense) in English. However, after her first child was born 2 months ago she decided that she would help her boy learn English and she would do whatever necessary in the process. I’d advised her to play children’s stories in English for the baby to get familiar with the sounds of the English language and she started listening to them as well. I believe that exclusive audio sources would be better than the TV with so many visual distractions. Conclusion: 2 months later she’s speaking some English with great fluency and her ears have become better trained to identify the sounds and reproduce them. And her 2-month-old baby, João Paulo, is already crying in English – no more “buááá” but “waaaahhhhh” – Just kidding, sort of).

Another strong point is that Ingrid is not afraid of trying to speak and now she is moving towards a pre-intermediate level, without having opened a “language course book”.

So to get your feet wet in your target language remembers:

1. When listening – echo practice – repeat phrases and words you hear, mimic them / parrot them. Be a “fool” on purpose.

2. Establish a regular time to practice – Saturday morning when making coffee and preparing your breakfast, laundry, or whatever. If you have to go shopping make your shopping list in English / play with language / mess around in a creative way. Explore the language. Try to listen to authentic material at least 5 times a week.

Different folks different strokes

3. How would you answer to the questions / interact / comment to what you’re listening whether a podcast, or radio, or YouTube?  Talk to yourself in your target language – create an inner monologue

Other people learn best when they’re reading, but that’s a theme for another blog post. 

Special thanks to Luke’s English Podcast – episode 407 – Reflections on Language Learning http://teacherluke.co.uk/2016/12/07/407-reflections-on-language-learning-working-as-a-translator-interview-with-kristina-from-russia-winner-of-the-lep-anecdote-competition-2016/

Happy New Year and Happy Language Learning in 2017

Cheers,

Mo

10 Top Tips for Learning English (or any other language)

Every new year comes with many resolutions:

“This year I’ll go on a diet and lose 20 pounds.”

“This year I’ll stop smoking”

“This year I’ll get a boyfriend/girlfriend/ pet”

“This year I’ll learn (…. – fill in the blanks)”.

But the problem with making resolutions is that they don’t tend to stick. They slip away and melt as if under the tropical sun.

But if you follow these steps (not in any necessary order and at least some of them) you will make progress and then you will feel you can continue to learn English (or any other language for that matter)

  1. Watch movies and TV in your target language (the internet makes it accessible) – even if you don’t understand what’s going on  you’ll get familiar to the sounds of that language. (I particularly love commercials)
  2. Read a book you know well. Preferably a book you liked reading in your mother tongue. When my wife was learning French she bought a copy of the Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) so she could enjoy the book and learn in her new language.language
  3. Keep a notebook – scribble down new words you learn – especially creating word collocation and usage sections. Revisit the notebook once a week.
  4. Use mnemonic devices. It won’t work for everyone but it does work. When learning about the coordinating conjunctions, for instance, you can use the word FANBOYS to help remember the list. Can you name them? I’m pretty sure you can, because of FANBOYS (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So). That is a mnemonic device. Creating a funny mental picture that you’ll remember is another way to use a mnemonic device. The sillier the picture is, the better it will stick in your head.
  5. Listen to podcasts – not only about English learning – but podcasts of other subjects of your interest produced in English or target language.
  6. Get a grammar book and do the exercises. Need I say more?
  7. Be mindful. Notice language. How it’s used. How it sounds.Create a routine, Stick to it.
  8. Read aloud – small texts and paragraphs but that will improve your pronunciation, intonation and fluency.
  9. Test yourself – after a month – review the points you’ve learned and test your progress.
  10. Enjoy your learning

foreign-language-can-be-fascinating-experience-and-gives-clipart-2lr7f9-clipart

Have fun.

 

Cheers,

Mo

Pronunciation via Siri

A difficult task is to help students improve their pronunciation not only of words but sentences as well. I’m not talking about accents but how intelligible the student is when speaking. Considering that all my students have smartphones and quite a few use iPhones, a simple activity that they could do by themselves over and over again is asking Siri questions.img_6974

Example: Can you tell me where the nearest bank is?

where can I find an Italian restaurant around here/ in this neighbourhood?

What English course do you recommend? ( many students will pronounce it as “curse”) getting hilarious results.

Eat / it – they’ll say: “I love skating – where can I do it?” They’ll say “eat” – and get tips on restaurants.

Chances are Siri won’t understand them at first and it will give crazy results or simply say I don’t understand.

So students will have to learn to enunciate well the words, intonation and not just isolated sounds. Some students resist this idea and won’t do it but those who are willing to give it a try  will develop a much better speech, after the initial challenges and frustrations.

Cheers,

Mo

You don’t understand…Accent Reduction

This week I was watching a lecture (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkQ7lwEWeGA) by a professor at the University of South Carolina’s Center for Teaching Excellence (not Evolution  as I had tried to guess by the abbreviation CTE) and for more than 90 minutes she talked about one thing that grabbed my attention:

Accent Reduction, which is bound to ruffle some feathers – there are those in favor and those against, while claiming that the accent reduction approach humiliates language learners or makes them feel less than second class citizens, while companies just want toaccent reduction 2 make money out of their easy prey.

But … Language learners quite often want to reduce their foreignness by trying to speak more like American or British or whatever local language is predominant in their area. Reasons can range from feeling more like one of us, instead of an outsider; being better understood in the workplace,  etc.

A language learner can feel that a clearer accent  might help people to better understand him. You don’t need to be ashamed of speaking with an accent as long as it doesn’t get in the way of being understood. Sergey may be a very proud Russian  man and speak with a “wery” shtrong accent. Question: will it prevent people from understanding him? Or will people just see that suspicious-looking Russian man and not hear what he has to say? accent reduction

Silvia is a proud Brazilian who loves finishing every word with a “y”  sound – I thinky we shouldy talky more abouty culturey” – but when that charming accent gets in the way of being understood or getting things done she would be wise to try to reduce her Brazilian voice and raise her American voice.

So students must be coached by their teachers to improve their pronunciation, intonation, rhythm in order to achieve better understanding and intelligibility.

But why do students have poor pronunciation?

  1. It’s usually never taught – as the student gets used to understanding what the teacher says, the teacher can  also get used to the students’ linguistic somersaults and not even realize pronunciation / accent problems.
  2. students need to learn to listen to different sounds – th/s/t  b- v   Z-S etc before producing them. Sounds which might not even exist in their L1.
  3. pronunciation requires not only knowledge but skill – which means loads of practice.
  4. English spelling causes confusion – being literate can interfere with your hearing. I’ve corrected many students so many times for their mispronunciation of words because the words they read tend to sound “different” from the way they’re spelled. – example:
    en·tre·pre·neur

    / ˌäntrəprəˈnər/

    lis·ten
    /ˈlis(ə)n/

So what factors will influence their success?

  1. Motivation and concern for good pronunciation
  2. Exposure – amount of time spent in practice. Tons of listening and speaking – in that order. Quality, not just quantity, is important.
  3. Learner’s natural ability – some students tend to get a better pronunciation than others – however, hard work will get them far.
  4. Sense of identity. The fact they are speaking more American, British, or whatever other accent will not destroy their own self.

So keep your ears pricked and your mouths moving.

Cheers,

Mo

Could you say that again, please? 15 Podcasts for every learner of English (Updated)

Dear students,

A year ago I listed some of the podcasts I think students should be using to practice their English and language skills. With the ebb and flow of technology  and projects new podcasts have come up with new ideas and new presenters, so here’s an updated list of the podcasts and tested and seen commitment by their producers.

Please, remember:

  1. Download the podcasts you enjoy
  2. LISTEN TO THEM. Dammit!

So… without much ado, here’s my (not comprehensive – but a good start) list of English Learning Podcasts:

1.  6 Minute English podcast – produced by the BBC with 2 hosts always asking some challenging questions found in the news. It always presents some new vocabulary and context for its use.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/general/sixminute/

2. All Ears English podcast – 2 chicks always teaching some cultural and language point in the English spoken in the US. Beware: one of them slurs and speakstoofastasifshecouldntbotherwhethershesunderstoodornot.
http://allearsenglish.com/

3. Aprende Inglés con la Mansión del Inglés – 2 dudes (one from Belfast and another from London) host the show with good humor and focus on a teaching point. Emphasis on Spanish speakers http://www.inglespodcast.com

4. Edward’s ESL Edge – a show devoted to bringing interesting content to #ESL learners

https://www.facebook.com/edwardESLedge/

5. English Across the Pond – it’s an interesting approach for language learners – Dan and Jennifer, UK and US residents teaching English as a second or foreign language in a conversational style including cultural and linguistic differences between the 2 Englishes.

https://www.englishacrossthepond.com

6. English Harmony Podcast – prepared by Robby, a non-native English speaker with tips on how to learn English more effectively.
http://englishharmony.com/english-harmony-podcast/

7. English Experts Podcast – Produced by non-native English speakers focuses on the common needs of Brazilian English learners.
https://archive.org/details/EnglishExperts-Podcast

8. ESL Podcast – The host for the podcast is Dr. Jeff McQuillan, directly from sunny Los Angeles, and he helps read the scripts and provides explanations for them.

https://www.eslpod.com/website/

9. Inglés en la oficina -it’s a podcast series produced in Spain by Sandra and Colby with situations related to the office and work world. https://www.acast.com/inglsenlaoficina/english-podcast-36-problem-pairs

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/ingles-en-la-oficina/id1074690749?mt=2

10.  Inglês Online Podcast – a podcast produced and hosted by Ana Luiza Bergamini, a Brazilian now living in London, with tips of idioms and phrasal verbs for Brazilian English learners – intermediate to advanced.

http://www.inglesonline.com.br/category/podcast-inglesonline/

11. Inglês Todos os Dias – it’s a podcast produced by an American family based in Brazil.  Tim and Tammy produce weekly short mini-podcasts with expressions and idioms that his students frequently confuse or ask about.

http://www.domineingles.com.br

12. Luke’s English Podcast – produced and hosted by Luke from England – it’s a very good way to expose yourself to British English. But it requires a little patience usually no shorter than 45 minutes.
http://teacherluke.co.uk/

13. Real Life English Podcast – Founded by three young passionate, world traveling, native speaking English teachers, RealLife is a community based learning portal whose mission is to inspire, empower, and connect the world through English, both online and in-person.  Oh Yeah!

http://reallifeglobal.com/radio-podcast/

14. Richard Vaughan Live podcast – controversial Texas-born Richard Vaughan has painstakingly been trying to teach English to Spaniards. His ramblings are quite entertaining. I love the episodes when he loses his temper with some of his on-air students.

http://www.ivoox.com/podcast-richard-vaughan-live_sq_f180769_1.html

15. VOA’s Learning English Podcast –
dating back to their shortwave transmissions even before the Internet, VOA has been my companion with good quality of listening content on American history, words and news.

http://learningenglish.voanews.com/podcast/0.html

podcast

Happy New Year and Happy Listening.

Mo