Having a client which uses learning technologies to teach English (goFLUENT) has prompted Bob Little Press & PR to do some research into language learning. This research has revealed that those who really want to master English – as opposed to just being fluent in English as a second language – need to take account of five key things:
Tip No. 1: Understand what they mean, not what they say.
You are told: ‘I am afraid Mr Smith is not in his office at the moment’. Non-native English speakers wonder: ‘What is s/he afraid of?’ Of course, it’s mere politeness: taking the trouble to prepare you for disappointing news. The only way to understand both the words and the sense of what is being said is to always observe – and try to remember typical reactions.
Tip No. 2: Decipher the clues and be aware of understatement.
Many languages merely express things as they are. If I agree, I simply agree; if I don’t agree, I simply don’t agree. Following this idea in English can make native speakers uncomfortable. So, if you agree, say: ‘I quite agree’. The English hear that you ‘fully agree’. When you need to disagree, use some typical English understatement – along the lines of: ‘I don’t quite see it that way.’ The English ‘hear’ that you disagree and feel it important to register that disagreement, so they reason that you must feel strongly about it.
The key to success here is not to try to understand the ‘words and phrases’ in their literal meanings: there is semantic meaning which takes over. Be aware that ignoring this tip can, unintentionally, upset the native English speakers you encounter.
Tip No. 3: Watch for – and practice – ‘context’.
When studying a foreign language, people typically try to master as much vocabulary as possible. However, individual words devoid of their context will not help people to speak English fluently. So, if you come across a new noun, find a suitable verb that goes with it. If you learn a new verb, try to combine it with a noun or with an adverb.
The well-known techniques of mind-mapping, developed by Tony Buzan, may help learners register these collocations in a colourful ‘curved’ and, thus, memorable way. In addition, mind-mapping software programmes can make the job easier and more enjoyable.
Tip No. 4: Use the power of synonyms.
The best way to sound more eloquent in English is to develop your vocabulary. There are many synonyms for every English word and you can adapt your learning programme with the aim of developing your knowledge by trying to substitute the ‘old word’ you know by its synonym which is new to you. Online applications can help – ranging from simple ones, like www.synonym.com, to professional ones, like www.merriam-webster.com There are also online dictionaries which can show you sample sentences, such as www.yourdictionary.com
Tip No. 5: Don’t lose the accent
Non-native English speakers speak English with a particular accent, determined by the sounds in their native language. Since English speakers are highly conscious of others’ regional (via accent) and class (via the words they use) differences, they should be able to identify at least your country of origin. Since native English speakers are more ‘judgmental’ about fellow native English speakers’ origins (which are betrayed by the way they speak and the words they use), it’s probably better to keep your ‘foreign’ accent.