An advanced ESL student asked me this week about how she can polish her speaking (and listening) skills while studying solo. Her goal is near fluency, and I think it’s quite achievable for her – and quite formidable since she’s only ever lived in Seoul.
Already, she listens to American dramas and reviews the content with a script she’s purchased. She also plugs into English radio while she’s working or studying, keeping a notepad handy for any new words or phrases. Yet, she wants more practice speaking! The few hours a week we have together is fantastic, she admits, but eagerly wants more chance to talk.
What are my suggestions? I wanted to pinpoint ways she can speak outside of our lesson time, and learn from it – by using a speaking journal.
A SPEAKING JOURNAL – This is great for smartphone users, who already have (or can download easily) an app for voice recording. I suggested for her that instead of writing a journal, which she has done extensively in the past, she should “speak a journal.” And to keep it interesting – don’t just make it about what you’ve done today or plan to do tomorrow, even though that is very great practice. Because of her advanced English functioning, I suggested she change the topics – which focuses vocabulary, expressions, context, tone and so forth.
Here’s a step-by-step plan to get started with an ESL Speaking Journal:
- Find the app on your smartphone, or get one – iphone or android. I have an android phone which came with a voice recorder, but you may want find one with more functionality.
- Try recording a small clip – introduce yourself – and see if you can email it to yourself. The voice files should be able to be sent using a variety of social media popular in your country. In South Korea, my students and I send and receive voice recorded files using email, SMS, and KakaoTalk.
- Now, prepare to speak! Daily. I recommend 5 minutes of continuous talking with only minor pauses in speech. Pushing yourself to speak without stopping is a great way to strive for ESL fluency. Think fast! 🙂 For the first time, talk about whatever comes to mind – about your day, what you’re doing, plans for dinner, etc. Try to flow from the past to the future, which ensures you use at least a few verb tenses.
- Grab a companion journal (or a few pages from your current ESL Writing Journal^^) to write in. In this journal, start a list of potential topics to discuss, so that you can refer to it on days when you don’t know what to talk about. This is also a great place to add new vocabulary and expressions that comes up with this activity.
- Day 2 – First, speak about a topic that interests you, for 5 minutes continuously, little pause in speech. For example, I love tea, so I could talk about tea for 5 minutes. In a second language that may be difficult because there is a lot of topic-specific vocabulary. Great! Along with speaking practice, “rounding out” your ESL repertoire is what you’re striving for.
- Day 2 – Second, listen to yesterday’s speaking journal recording. By reviewing each recording a day later, it gives you some time to separate from what you’ve talked about so you can listen with a more objective ear. With pen and companion journal in hand: Listen for errors in grammar; Look up vocabulary words that would have been good to use; Write down expressions you liked using or would have liked to say; Think of, or look up, some idiomatic expressions on the topic that you could have used.
- Once you’ve been actively keeping a journal for a week, ask your ESL Teacher if you can send her a file for a listen. She or he may be able to give a listen and offer some advice!
- And most importantly, have fun. Learning a language is difficult, takes time, and there is no point in time where you can say “I made it!” Keep ESL a learning adventure and you’re bound to enjoy yourself.
If you have been keeping a Speaking journal, have tried it in the past or are eager to give it a whorl – please leave your advice and comments below!