Tag Archives: Idioms

Speaking Journals: A Step-by-Step Guide

9 Dec

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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!
  8. 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!

5 Hints on Learning to Use Idioms Properly

10 Jul

If your lips are sealed, I’ll share some of my no-brainer hints on learning to use idioms in everyday conversation.

Idioms are fun to use, often quirky and can seem so strange to a non-native English speaker that they are often hard to forget.  For ESL learners, learning idiomatic expressions presents a challenge, but using them successfully in the right way, in the right conversations is a step closer to fluency.

Hint 1: Practice using idioms in everyday conversation.

Native English speakers don’t realize how many idioms they use in daily conversation.  Speaking with an English learner who uses idioms often makes us feel more comfortable and more understood.

Hint 2:  Use an idiom in the proper context.

In Korea, there are some idioms that Koreans have adopted and use quite often.  I always love hearing them and find I introduce one or two each conversation class and encourage my students to try to squeeze them into the conversation until they learn the context properly.

Hint 3: ‘Stick to‘ commonly used idioms.

Even for those who use idioms well and incorporate them into conversation, there is a tendency for the expressions to be out-dated or not commonly used.  For example, I had one student say to me, “Don’t you want to have kittens when you forget your bus card?”   While he used the context well, (have kittens means to feel very upset or angry), I can’t say I’ve ever heard that expression used in pop culture.

Hint 4: Idioms are often cultural.

Idiomatic expressions representative of the culture they come from making it difficult for those from different cultures to understand, they can be down right confusing!  Even in the English-speaking world, there are different idioms in common use.  While it’s difficult for an ESL learner to know if an idiom would be more popular in America than in England, being aware that some people from some countries may not understand your use of an idiom.  That’s okay, keep trying!

Hint 5:  Group idioms together to learn faster.

Try learning idioms that are similar, such as those having to do with body parts first.  Learn as many as you can before switching to another category and you’ll soon be head over heels in love with idioms! ^^

For an extensive list of idioms and phrases to get your juices flowing, click here.

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