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Don't Look Foolish Speaking English

Popularity 1Viewed 695 times 2017-2-24 02:34 |Personal category:English|System category:Life| exercises, teacher, English, nothing, because

English is like most other languages when it comes to pronunciation. I see a lot of so-called, 'pronunciation experts' trying to teach English pronunciation who are nothing more than someone who wants to be esteemed as a teacher and get your money. They have Chinese students doing a lot of silly exercises by telling them things like 'curl your tongue' or 'purse you lips' or 'open your mouth wide'. They are in fact making you look and act very foolishly. I've even seen some students practicing this way. I feel very sorry and sad for them because the so-called teacher is deceiving them by pretending to be an expert.

 A Chinese English teacher came to visit me who was enrolled in an online class for learning English fluency. Her name is Jennifer. She is a very serious teacher and student of English. (Any professional teacher knows that they will forever be a student of the subject that they wish to completely master. A teacher who claims to have already mastered their subject is a teacher who will likely teach you wrong.) Jennifer had been learning pronunciation from one of these self-proclaimed WeChat English pronunciation 'experts' (teachers). It broke my heart when I saw her making all of these silly facial expressions that he had taught her to do. If she had gone to America doing that, she would look very silly and would lose face quickly.

I helped her relax and learn naturally so that she wouldn't wouldn't embarrass herself when she finally visits a native English speaking country.

What can be said of English can also be said of nearly any other language. Especially when it comes to pronunciation. There is only one way to effectively learn pronunciation of any language. That way is naturally, through imitation. You not only need to hear someone who can give you perfect pronunciation, but, you need to 'see' them as well. You learn ways to hold your mouth, move your tongue, open your mouth, through imitation. Not through some silly exercises.

How do I know this and what gives me the right to say this?

Well, first of all, my good friend, Ken Xiao became nearly fluent in English in just 3 months. I know Ken personally. He is very famous in the West as a fluency expert and professional. I chat with him often and we share ideas and concepts about pronunciation and fluency. He knows and respects my work in China. Ken is, without doubt, the number one Chinese English expert in the world today. He has written numerous books that are best sellers on Amazon.com and bookstores throughout the world. Most of his books have been translated into several different languages in order to help people whose native languages are Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, German, French, Russia, Italian, Japanese and others.

Ken teaches students several key principles in learning pronunciation and English fluency.

First, he teaches that you should find a native speaker of a language in order to learn that language. No matter what language you want to learn, find a native speaker or someone who has lived in a country where your target language is their first language. He says that the person should have lived in and spoken that language with native speakers every day for at least 5 years. In Ken's case, he lives in America and has been there for more than 15 years.

Ken went to America after having studied English for 13 years in schools in China. When he got to America, he suddenly realized that although he had spent more than a decade learning English, he couldn't communicate with native speakers. Out of his frustration, he sought out the secrets he needed to learn in order to become fluent in English. As most people do who come from being very unskilled at something, and then, gaining a passion for mastering the skills, he finally became a leading authority on English pronunciation and fluency. He has now become a best selling author teaching nothing but pronunciation and how to become fluent in English.

Another one of Ken's principles in learning English pronunciation and fluency is, 'imitate what you hear and see in the native speaker or experienced teacher.' When I've chatted with Ken, we both agree on one very important part of learning pronunciation and fluency. That is, 'learn the natural way because, it is the easiest and fastest way.' And, it is the only sure way of learning a language.

What is the natural way of learning a language?

To understand the answer to this question, you need to consider how a child learns a language. If you speak Chinese, how did you learn it? Did you learn it by doing a lot of silly exercises that someone who is not a native speaker and has never lived in an English speaking country, told you to do? No. You did it by watching your mother pronounce words for you. Do you have to hold your mouth a certain way or position your tongue a certain way to learn good pronunciation? Yes. Of course you do. In fact, you will. However, watching and listening to a native speaker do it naturally is the only effective way to learn these things.

Remember this. "Practice does NOT make perfect. Only PERFECT PRACTICE makes perfect." In learning Chinese, I don't want an American teaching me even if they have lived in China for 20 years or more. I understand Ken's principles, but, I want the best teacher teaching me Chinese. I'd never consider anyone to help me learn any language who is not a native speaker of that language. But, that's not all. I also want a native speaker who has taught foreigners, like me. I want them to have thousands of hours of experience in teaching someone like me. It only takes a teacher who has taught something 4-5 years to have that kind of experience. Another thing that I require is, I want a teacher who understands the natural process of learning a language. In fact, they would not be a teacher in a traditional way, but, a guide to direct me in doing things the right way.

In the West, you will often hear college language professors and other language experts say, "Language is caught and not taught." Imitation of a qualified native speaking person is the fastest and easiest way to learn. If you get someone who isn't qualified to teach you, they will almost always teach you wrong things. Your 'practice' of their silly methods will make you 'perfect' in looking silly and doing wrong things. Like Jennifer, you will look and sound foolish and surely embarrass yourself in front of native speakers someday.

If you want my help in learning to speak English better from an experienced, native speaking English teacher, then, join me on WeChat. In 2013, I came to China. I've lived in China for 5 years and have several thousand hours teaching English to Chinese students and teachers. I'll give you free daily lessons. I have paid lessons as well. However, I'll never pressure anyone to take my paid classes. I keep the price very low, but, if you want to only get the free lessons, that's great. I want to help you.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Reply Report Gayle 2017-3-10 10:54
"To understand the answer to this question, you need to consider how a child learns a language. If you speak Chinese, how did you learn it? Did you learn it by doing a lot of silly exercises that someone who is not a native speaker and has never lived in an English speaking country, told you to do? No. You did it by watching your mother pronounce words for you. Do you have to hold your mouth a certain way or position your tongue a certain way to learn good pronunciation? Yes. Of course you do. In fact, you will. However, watching and listening to a native speaker do it naturally is the only effective way to learn these things."

Exactly!  You have to put yourself in the mindset of a child learning to speak FOR THE FIRST TIME!  Adults notoriously find it much more difficult to learn a second language, while children learn multiple languages easily.  That is because for an adult, their first language gets in the way.  But it doesn't have to.  It may not be easy to put yourself in the mindset of a child learning to speak, when you are an adult.  But some people can do it, and I think perhaps all adults may have the potential to do it.   I am sure that that was the secret of your friend Ken -- he put himself in the mindset of a child.

A parallel with English speakers who study Chinese.  So many claim that they cannot hear or use tones.  But if you ask them to echo exactly what they hear, if they can hear and repeat like a child without mental barriers, they can get it.  

I also agree with what you say that learning from someone whose pronunciation is not good (who just reinforces your own foreign accent) can do more harm than good.  I experienced this when I learned Portuguese from Americans who had learned it in Brazil.  I soon could understand American-accented Portuguese very well and I soon could speak Portuguese very well with an atrocious American accent (that I didn't realize I had, since I spoke exactly like my teachers).  But I could not understand Brazilians speaking Portuguese and I didn't pronounce Portuguese like the Brazilians.  It has taken me quite a bit of time to correct the bad accent that I originally acquired.  

So I agree with you that learning from a native speaker is by far the best idea.  However, I don't think most Chinese people have that opportunity.  The next best thing is probably to use TV shows and movies, but in that case, please don't mix different accents or you may confuse yourself more.  If you want to learn British English, stick to British movies and shows, ones whose characters are of the educated upper class.  If you want to learn American English, stick to American shows (again, best to choose shows whose characters are educated).  If you want to learn Australian English, watch "Crocodile Hunter."  :)  (I don't know any other Australian TV shows.)  If you are lucky enough to find a native English speaker to teach you, then stick to learning the accent of your teacher, don't mix it with other accents of English.  That's all I would add.  Good blog!

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MichaelM

Michael is the author of the transformational book, Powerful Attitudes. He is a professional educator, an educational consultant, an author. He lives in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. He enjoys playing guitar and writing poetry. He loves China.

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