Friday, December 23, 2005

Other students speak English badly, like me!

This is reason why students complain number 2. If you are studying English in a group, your teacher will often ask you to work with a partner or in a smaller groups to discuss or plan something. "What's the use of that?" you may say. "If I practise speaking English with someone who makes the same mistakes as me, how will I make any progress?"

Well, there are several reasons why talking to another student is often better than the whole group trying to talk with the teacher. First, if there are ten people or more in your group, then the time you spend talking directly to your teacher is going to be very limited (about 10%). Talking one to one with the person sitting next to you means that you are speaking 50% of the time, thereby giving you much more practice time.

Second, in real life, there won't be a qualified English teacher carefully listening and taking notes ready to correct your every mistake. In the big wide world where people of all nationalities use English to communicate, you are going to have get by all by yourself. And making yourself understood is much more important than using the correct preposition, for example.

Yesterday in class I had one student who did not speak a word of French. Why she comes to English classes when she desperately needs to learn French, I don't know. That's not my problem. But for me, her presence in the class was a fantastic help. Why? Because the typical monolingual group tends to forget why they are attending class and do all their exercises in their mother tongue. Stupid? You bet it is. And yet I see this every week. Students get all worked up or excited about the task given so they speak about it in French! I once felt obliged to tell a group that I wasn't actually interested in their opinions, the purpose of the exercise was so they could practise English, which they seemed to have forgotten.

Anyway, having someone in the class that doesn't speak your mother tongue forces you to speak English, and if you can't find the words you wave your arms, pull funny faces, draw pictures, point at things, do anything to make them understand! That's life. I once stayed for a month with someone who didn't speak any English, and I didn't speak any French, but we got on famously, and had some very funny "conversations".

The point is, it doesn't matter if your partner in class makes the same mistakes as you. If you can make him understand, you will make anyone understand. Try to learn by heart as many correct sentences as you can before coming to class, and you will be able to build on your knowledge.
Go to my learning techniques page to see ways of improving your grammar and vocabulary before starting conversation classes.

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