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3．Strategies to improve your spoken English. --我的一点总结
3．Strategies to improve your spoken English.|
On April 21st, 2004, Prof. Wang Tong hosted a VOB program entitled “My Best Friend -- Spoken English”. To my memory, the total number of participants at that night stood at a handsome 160, breaking a new record in the history of VOB. Undoubtedly, it also reflects the learners’ strong desires to speak good English. In the program, Prof. Wang raised the typical problems of spoken English, i.e. ①Grammatically wrong; ②Poor pronunciation and intonation; ③ Chinese English (Chinglish); ④ Lack of vocabulary; ⑤ Lack of fluency. Of cause, she also gave detailed solutions for each problem.
Alternatively, I also want to show you one point made by Prof. Cao Wen. She said, “Practice doesn’t always make perfect! Rapid progress lies in quality practice, active listening and guided speaking instead of quantity practice, passive listening and free speaking.”
Overall, I tend to use Prof. Cao’s theory as a principle or foundation, and Prof. Wang’s detailed solutions as the weapons to equip myself, and then, make some achievements in spoken English.
1) Quality practice instead of Quantity practice
2) Active listening instead of Passive listening
3) Guided speaking instead of Free speaking
Do you suffer from this? -- “I believe that practice makes perfect. I do a great deal of listening and speaking practice everyday. Listening to or watching English programs on the radio or TV, talking to myself in English whenever possible. How come I don’t see much improvement in my listening and speaking abilities on the course? What should I do?” (Cao Wen) Well, that’s the result of “Quantity” practice “Passive” listening as well as “Free” speaking.
In my class, some of my classmates read English every morning and watch CCTV-9 or listen to VOA radio broadcast programs whenever possible. Seemingly, the “exposure” is enough. Indeed, they do have made some progress, but I don’t think their extremely hard work only deserve such slow progress. The point is we should regard practice an approach, not the aim. It is the effect to which it is put that determines its value to us. If one approach has little effect on your progress, think the bottom cause over and, drop it without hesitation. Take my classmates as an example again, I find their problem in spoken English is not with pronunciation or intonation, nor is the lack of grammar usages or vocabulary. They obviously have stored lots of English in their heads. However, they form a bad habit of doing all these studies in a passive way. Hardly the sort of active interactions are applied in their study process. That is the bottom cause. In addition, “input” can’t finally turns out “output” without using them in daily interactions; hence I encouraged them to form a small chat group and try to select a specific topic to talk about. Alternatively, participating in the VOB programs using the strategies I recommended above is also effective. The most important thing is not to force themselves to try practicing everything one go. Let the feeling of fluency and accuracy sink in bit by bit.
2. Symptoms and solutions
1) Grammatically wrong
“Grammar, you have not mastered the basic grammatical knowledge of English, that's why when you speak English, you feel that you always get stuck, you feel that grammar keeps you from going on, you have to concentrate on grammar. That is one typical problem for most BeiwaiOnline students. Especially, if you speak English with a lot of grammatical mistakes, a foreigner will treat you as a poorly educated person, so I highly recommend all of you to watch for grammatical mistakes in your oral English. Grammatical mistakes are unpardonable.” (Wang Tong)
Solutions: “When you are speaking English, do you feel a little person in your mind who keeps telling you that, 'you should speak in this way, and you should speak in that way. That is the right word.' For those students who haven't such a feeling, it means that, maybe; you are in two situations, 1. You need to brush-up your English grammar; 2. Your English grammar is too good, is more than good. We call the little person in your mind a 'monitor'. Especially when you are learning English at the very beginning, that monitor should keep telling you that, 'Oh! You're using ‘he’ as a subject, you should add ‘s’ or ‘es’ after the verb.' If your English grammar is not adequate, the monitor is not born yet. That's why you need to brush-up your English grammar. Or, probably your English grammar is already very good, and then, you can speak and think very fast, so that you don't feel that monitor. But usually, you need to have a little monitor in your mind. Take me for example; I usually have a little person in mind when I speak English, telling me that, 'Oh! Just now you made a grammatical mistake, and now you should speak in this way, this is the right word.' Although you don't feel the existence of that person, he should be there!” (Wang Tong)
Well, as Francis Bacon put it, “Reading maketh a full man; conference, a ready man and writing an exact man. “ Personally, I find writing a practical way to refine the English that we have already possessed in our heads. Do you have an English – English Dictionary ready while you are writing? If not, you must get one and you might consult it whenever necessary. The purpose is the accuracy or correctness of your language. For instance, if your son and his younger brother are playing together, and suddenly, they begin to quarrel and even fight with each other. What is the elder boy supposed to do is to “humor” the younger one a bit. Here, the word ‘humor’ means ‘to do what someone wants or to pretend to agree with them so that they do not become upset’ (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English 4th Edition). You see, that is what you can learn about accuracy from the dictionary.
2) Poor pronunciation and intonation
“Chinese students' English speaking don't sound like English, because of the tone, because of the pronunciation and intonation.” (Wang Tong)
Solutions: “Some students said that fluency should come first, fluency is crucial in oral English, but you cannot speak fluently wrong English, you cannot afford to speak fluently wrong English. The solution to solve the problem of pronunciation and intonation is: listen (choose an appropriate type of listening materials) first, imitate (a tape, a teacher, a native speaker) as closely as possible (you might use a tape recorder to record your voice, and then, imitate and compare), and then you need to have sufficient amount of practice. At last, you need to use these skills or principles you’ve learnt. Learn them by heart! ” (Wang Tong)
In her talk, Prof. Wang stated that it might be a torture for the students to practice the pronunciation and intonation, but, the process is worth going through. Personally, I benefited a lot from “The Phonetics” written by Prof. Tu Pei. In that book, a detailed learning guide is shown and we can literally grasp the main features of English pronunciation and intonation step-by-step. I also hold the belief that one must master the pronunciation of every single phonetic symbol first. Only after that, he/she would be qualified to learn the rhythm and word/sentence stress.
3) Chinese English (Chinglish)
“When students speak English, they first translate English in their head, in their mind and then, speak. I know that, most English learners do need to go through the painful process of translation, 'mind-translation', you translate in your mind, and then you speak. All of the Chinese students, including me, have gone through such long process. However, we need to end the process as soon as possible.” (Wang Tong)
Solutions: “This is a very typical and a very serious problem for most Chinese learners. Why? Because we are learning a foreign language which has its own idiomatic expressions, and its own language rules and regulations. That's why we can't create things, we cannot create expressions. What we can do is just to follow, to use their idiomatic expressions, not to create our own. For instance, "Are you hot?" is the accurate way to ask the other person’s feeling; we can't use "Are you feeling hot?" The latter one is the Chinese translation. We Chinese people need to keep both eyes open, for idiomatic expressions and make use of them.” (Wang Tong)
I have already made a little progress in terms of “think in English”.
Basically, while talking or writing, I seldom translate my ideas from Chinese to English, I just use English to express myself. The feeling, in a word, is “natural”. Personally I have got a lot of good suggestions from my friends online, and I regard one of them, Martin, as my mentor. He tells me his way of learning English, “I simply forced myself to read and read a lot, anything and everything. The most important thing is not to force yourself to memorize everything one go. Let it sink in bit by bit. Throw away the dictionary. Listen a lot of radio broadcasts and watch English TV programs and movies. “ You might be stunned by his remarks, but he really points out that “Reading” is the best way for us to pick up the idiomatic way of English. “Reading helps broaden the mind and complements, in a positive way, both speaking and writing. READING IS GOOD FOR YOUR LANGUAGE HEALTH!” (Bruce Michael, 2003) Be patient please, practice more and more, you'll achieve natural oral English without realizing it.