When learning a new language, right in the beginning of the process we have to learn vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation. It’s also important to learn something about the culture of the native speakers of the language, so we can better understand the way they express their ideas, and therefore be able to speak this new language well. But there’s more to learning a language than just learning and practicing its structure and vocabulary.
Sometimes what we need is just training, not language training. We need to train those skills we naturally have when using our mother tongue, but that need to be developed when applied to a second or third language. And this is necessary especially in those moments when we feel like we should be able to communicate better than we actually do. For example, when you know – and your teacher tells you – you have a good range of vocabulary, but the words seem to disappear whenever you need them. Or when you can understand most of a movie you watch at home, but find it hard to grasp a listening exercise in class. In these moments, what seems to be missing is just training, more than English training, to boost your confidence and prove to yourself that you are able to use all the language you’ve already learnt to your own advantage.
Let me suggest some training activities to help you enhance your communication skills:
1) Background listening
This activitity aims at improving your listening skills in general, without aiming at any particular vocabulary or topic. Leave the TV on on an English speaking channel, such as CNN or BBC, or even the Discovery Channel or a movie, and go do something else. Stay close enough to the TV set that you can hear it as background ‘noise’. If something you hear happens to catch your attention, by all means, move closer and listen more intently. Don’t try to learn anything, just try to make it part of your routine to listen to English being spoken. This way you’re telling your brain that it’s just as natural for you to hear someone speak English as your own language, and maybe those listening exercises won’t seem so daunting after a while.
This activity may seem too hard in the beginning, but stick to it, the results are worth it. Its goal is to show your brain there’s always a way out, that means, there’s always another way to say the same thing, or to express the same idea. Get a short, simple text and tell someone (or the mirror!) the exact same information that is in it, but try to make an effort not to use the same words. For example, the sentence “Airlines normally ask you to be at the airport no less than two hours before departure time” may become “Air transport companies usually require that you arrive at the airport at least two hours before take-off “. It’s not so important to find the ‘perfect’ words, or to learn a lot of new vocabulary, for that matter. Just keep doing it, and hopefully you won’t blank so often when faced with a real challenge, like a test or an interview, because your brain will feel more comfortable looking for alternative words or alternative ways to express the same idea.
Sometimes we feel funny when we hear our own voice speaking a foreign language. We may feel silly or shy, and end up not communicating as well as we need professionally or even when we travel. This activity’s objective is to desensitize you and make you feel more at ease with the idea of speaking English, and therefore improve your fluency and assertiveness. Record yourself reading a short text in English. Don’t worry about pronouncing the words correctly, focus more on using your intonation and your voice to convey the general idea of the text. You could also just record your feelings, or your plans for the day. Don’t listen to the recording immediately, save it for a few days later. It will definitely sound strange in the beginning, but after some time you will get used to hearing yourself in English – you may even find that you don’t sound bad at all!
Well, I hope these tips will help you feel more confident in your ability to communicate in English.
If you have any other suggestions, let me know!