Improve Your English Communication Skills

Work on improving your general English skills

Just because people may have passed courses in intermediate or even upper intermediate English; doesn’t mean that the courses gave them a good foundation in general communication skills. Many English courses aren’t well structured. If you are finding that people have trouble understanding you in English and you yourself sometimes struggle to speak English, then start investing 10 minutes a day just to build your general vocabulary and syntax skills. Remembering and practicing basic grammatical structures that are easy for you happens by figuring out how you could say something in English better- then writing it down and repeating. This is more effective than trying to stress yourself out with thick English textbooks which can have complicated and overwhelming grammar rules and conversation exercises.

Don’t expect to be an expert straight away- start small then improve

Just because you can speak to your teacher or to your fellow students doesn’t mean that everyday English communication will come naturally to you. You may feel overwhelmed listening to different varieties of English and different accents. I always recommend that students research the country of origin of the speakers they wish to communicate with (even if that country is not a native-speaking country). Listen to say Russian people speaking English if you are a Chinese English speaker going to visit Russia.

Eavesdrop

Eavesdropping is a great, free way to improve not only your listening skills but also to help prepare you for how to say things in different English speaking situations. If you go and sit down in a cafe or restaurant, particularly in a tourist area you will be exposed to many different English speakers and naturally get good ideas, just by eavesdropping (listening to other people in the background).

If you can find someone to practice with, then do

If you are lucky enough to have someone to practice English with, then great. Online friendship groups can be a good start. However, not everyone is so lucky. It can be difficult to find someone to speak English with and it is frustrating to be suggested to speak English with a native speaker if you live somewhere where there aren’t many native speakers. Furthermore, speaking English with just another native speaker won’t fully prepare you because the percentage of non-native English speakers outweighs the percentage of native English speakers.

If you can’t find someone to practice with, then imagine

This is where you speak English to a friend or family member even if they can’t speak English. To assist in this process you can write out a certain number of conversation topics e.g. “sport”, “weather”, “meeting someone new”… onto cards. Get your friend or family member to choose a card and then practice talking about these topics for 2 minutes at a time.

Be an English speaking tourist in your own country

You have to be strict with yourself so that you DON’T speak your countries main language, and you must FORCE yourself to use English. This can be really fun, especially if you take a friend with you. If done properly, this is a fantastic exercise to increase your confidence.

Have 30 minutes a day living like how you expect another English speaker would

If you’re going to be speaking English with Japanese speakers, then why not try to read Japanese newspapers or magazines which have been written in English? When I travel I try to observe local customs, not just tourist things. Even though I risk feeling embarrassed, most locals are more than happy to chat with me and explain their customs to me in English and let me participate to some degree.

Try describing things about your own culture in English, so that another English speaker will be able to understand more about you and your life

Communication is about making people feel comfortable. In order to make people feel comfortable, not only do you need to understand and be receptive towards hearing about other cultures; but you also need to be able to share information about yourself. If you don’t get the right balance of sharing and receiving information, then you risk making people feel uncomfortable. Share, listen, share, listen… and don’t forget to observe local customs and paralinguistic features such as tone of voice, body language, power hierarchies and gender roles.

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Five of the Most Irritating Words in the American English Language

It seems we Americans say quite a few quick, handy words to express good and bad situations. We’ve all heard them much too often. I’m particularly tired of five words.

When we say “awesome,” we should be responding to something that commands respect and reverence: The universe is awesome. God is awesome. Saying “awesome” is a lazy, convenient word just to say great or wonderful: Everything that is great is awesome: “You brought home pizza. -Awesome!” “Justin Bieber is so awesome!” He is?

Let’s face a fact here, “awesome” is probably the most used word in American English. A few decades ago, I remember hearing: “Groovy”, “Cool”, “Far out!”, “Dig it!” I miss those expressions! So, it might be time to consider other words, such as: astonishing, overwhelming, wonderful, superb, magnificent, impressive, incredible and even, dreadful.

When a person is fed up and angry with what someone says, it’s “Whatever!” I usually hear this word spoken when I have said something that is irritating to another person. It means, “I don’t care what you said!” The word is the verbal equivalent to scraping nails across a blackboard; it’s probably the rudest thing you can say in polite conversation. Saying “Okay” or even, “Fine!” are more polite interjections.

“Hey dude?”, “Dude!” “Whatup, dude?” We hear this all the time when a male teen gets the attention of another male teen. It’s such a common way to get another guy’s attention that it seems every guy’s name is “Dude.” Some guys even call their girlfriends “Dude.” Shouldn’t they be “Dudettes?” When I was young, I said, “Hey, man!” “Man” used to be a more popular word and still is to a degree. I was so hung up on it I even said it when I talked with my mom. “I’m not ‘man,'” she replied.

“I totally agree with you that ‘totally’ is an overused word.” “Totally” means completely, exactly or absolutely. Do you understand these three meanings? -Totally!

“S’up?” is the abbreviated macho form of “What’s up?” that tough guys ask themselves. You can still say the long version: “What’s happening?” or “What’s going on?”

Overused words are not just rampant in conversation; the way we communicate on the Internet, particularly through Twitter or Facebook is by cutting words down to abbreviations or initials: LOL and OMG, among many others. I’m not used to a lot of jam-packed digital dialogue, especially on Twitter.

Awesome, whatever, dude, totally, s’up? I think if we could dust off our old thesauri, we could find other words to replace those I’ve collected. There are many others. Some are not so nice. Otherwise, we will continue using words that will forever be boring to hear.

Grammar and Language Learning: Do We Need to Study Grammar?

Now we get to talk about everybody’s favorite (not) subject: grammar! For many a would-be language learner, grammar has been the one thing that has absolutely paralyzed them. Do you remember your high school days when you were forced to take Spanish, French, or German? I remember taking three years of Spanish in high school. And guess what? After three years, I couldn’t say a thing in Spanish, and I certainly couldn’t understand it if someone else spoke it.

So what was the problem?

The problem is that we focused only on grammar. If you’ve had a similar experience, then there’s no need to fear. You don’t have to spend endless hours pouring over conjugation tables, lists of irregular verbs, or the like. I’m going to show you a better way.

Grammar isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. For example, when you speak English, do you think in your head “Okay, now I’m using a plural noun, so I have to make sure the verb agrees with that. Oh, and I’m using the subjunctive mood, so I must use ‘were’ instead of ‘was,’ etc, etc.” NO! You just speak naturally and fluently without thinking about it too much.

So what’s the use of grammar? Let’s break it down:

It can help you to learn a language quicker. This way, you can actually learn a second language faster than you did your first language. It does this by giving you hints on how to use words, what order they should be learned in, etc. For example, I could listen to a lot of Spanish and eventually figure out that the adjective must agree with the noun, or I could read a 5 second explanation.

Here’s what you don’t want to do:

Memorize a big conjugation chart. If a language has a lot of conjugations, you don’t want to spend hours memorizing it, do you? Unless you like suffering, right? Instead, find an example sentence that uses said conjugation, understand the meaning of the sentence, not necessarily how to conjugate the verb/noun, etc., and then add that to your Spaced Repetition Software, such as Anki. There, painless, wasn’t it? Seek to understand meaning, not “I have to drop the ‘s’, change the ‘y’ to ‘I’, and add ‘oasdjfsdkhfkls.'” That’s just too painful.

Eventually you will pick up the how by seeing enough examples. Also, learning from example sentences will help you to learn the exceptions, which every language has in one form or another.

The most important take away from all this is: input! If you receive lots of input from the language, eventually you’ll be able to output it correctly.