Grammar Perfection

A recurring problem that I experience with students I teach is a reluctance to speak if their grammar isn’t perfect. I have also heard this same complaint from some of my students online.

Working together and not worrying about grammar. Have fun!

This problem of grammar perfection is much worse with higher level students. They understand more of the English grammar and how it all works together in a sentence, and they are scared to death to make a grammar mistake.

Listen to me! Speak more and don’t worry about your possible mistakes! Everyone makes grammar mistakes while speaking, even me.

Conversational English

Speaking conversational English is the goal of so many students, and they also want to be fluent in the language. But you simply cannot let the fear of making a little mistake get in the way of your speaking. Conversational English is all about communicating. If you understand my questions and I can understand your responses, then we are communicating. In English!

Working together, and talking, to look at the clues and solve the mystery

We Learn From Our Mistakes

Many students don’t wish to speak out loud in class because they are afraid of making a mistake. They don’t want to pronounce a word wrong. But I ask this question…if you don’t try, how will you ever be sure of how to make it better? How do you correct an error if you don’t let someone know how you might say it? I often tell my students that they may know the answer and need a slight adjustment of pronunciation or meaning. But I won’t know how or what they’re thinking if it just stays inside of their head. I have to hear it or see it to possibly help them correct it.

Most of the time, conversation is just basic communicating between people sharing the same language. Your knowledge of grammar doesn’t make you any more qualified to tell me what you just ate for dinner. Will you make a mistake? Maybe. But I will still understand what you are saying to me. And if you feel comfortable with me as your teacher, or your friend, then ask if you made a mistake. Asking for corrections makes your conversation partner feel more at ease to share possible improvements. You must have those converations, as many as possible. Get talking!

Focus on learning how to engage in basic conversation, and then increase the difficulty of the language and the topics to challenge yourself. Once you are more at ease with speaking aloud in English, then slowly pay attention to the grammar to possibly make it smoother and more grammatically correct. Start with the basics and then progress from there, slowly and steadily with plenty of practice.

Remember, written and spoken English are often very different. We will discuss the specifics needed in written English, and academic English, in another blog post very soon.

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Improve Your TOEFL Listening Skills Part 1

Tips for the TOEFL Exam

Beats headphones on a bright blue background with a white pencil.
Always be ready to listen.

Listening is one of the four parts of the TOEFL exam and is considered an integrated skill. This means that after you listen to a passage on the exam, you must then read and answer questions, write an answer, or speak an answer or opinion out loud. The skill to improving your listening abilities is to practice often and to use the integrated actions.

The listening section tests your understanding of spoken English in an academic setting, which includes university lectures and conversations. The TOEFL Guide Book states that listening is done for basic comprehension, for practical understanding, and for connecting and synthesizing information. That means you listen to see how all the information is related and understanding the meaning.

The test provides academic lectures and longer conversations in which the speech is at a natural speed. The exam usually offers 4-6 lectures, each about 3-5 minutes long, and 2-3 short conversations. The academic lectures usually include a professor speaking, a lecture and then a professor and student speaking, and then conversations between people in a college setting. These conversations deal with a typical student issue, such as course requirements, grades, registering for a class, or dealing with campus life. Notes can be taken during the lectures or conversations, but they are collected at the end of the exam and destroyed.

Four Question Formats

There are four question types in the Listening section.
 
1. multiple choice (there is only 1 correct answer)
2. multiple choice with more than one answer (1 and 2, or 1, 2, and 4)
3. place events or steps in order
4. matching objects or text with categories in a chart

The multiple choice questions require you to listen for tone of voice and other cues to try and determine how the speaker feels about the specific topic. Some questions replay a portion of the discussion, and then you answer the question after hearing it repeated.

Listening to English frequently, especially academic materials, is the best way to improve your listening skills for the TOEFL exam. Remember, the speech is at a normal speed. 

Some ways to improve your listening ability is to:
–watch movies or television, both with and then without subtitles
–listen to the radio or other English music you have downloaded
–download a podcast on your phone to listen while commuting 
–just listen to English conversations around you
These simple tips will all help you get better at this important skill of listening for comprehension.

Visit a bookstore or your library to find CDs and other audio of lectures and college level presentations. You can also search the internet for listening materials. Some good resources are:
1. www.npr.org
2. www.bbc.co.uk/radio
3. www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish
4. www.ets.org/toeflpractice (from the TOEFL creators)

More information and tips coming in a future post. Stay tuned!