Student tips: Practicing between lessons

Riding a bicycle, playing tennis, learning to cook, learning a language: the development of any skill requires practice. For languages, there are many ways to practice. Today I’ll talk about a few that every student can do, and should do. And as with anything, “practice makes perfect” – the more you practice, the faster your skills will develop!

First, allocate some time in your daily schedule to devote to practicing your language. I’ll talk more about this in a future post, but it’s very important to dedicate some specific time every day to this skill and not to allow anything interfere with it or distract from it.

Start by reviewing and rereading the material from the lesson. If you have a textbook or received some photocopies, read the pages that were covered in your last lesson. (Don’t hesitate to look at previous lessons, too.) Also reread your notes. This should be done immediately after the lesson, to ensure that everything you wrote down makes sense to you, and will continue to make sense to you when you go back and read it later. Keep a list of anything you don’t understand, and ask your teacher about it at the beginning of the next lesson. (I always start lessons by asking the student if he has any questions; this is your chance!)

Next, take the information covered in the pages and notes you just read, and reproduce it. If, for example, the lesson explored using conditional structures (e.g. “If I won the lottery, I would buy a big house”), then write some sentences using that structure. The important thing here is to make those sentences relevant to your own life. Connecting grammatical structures or vocabulary words to your own personal experiences will help you to retain them better and recall them more quickly when you speak or write.

Finally, practice your speaking. A great way to do this is to read aloud. I usually recommend 15 to 30 minutes per day for language students, and at least 60 minutes per day for diction students. It doesn’t matter what you read: news articles, plays, history books, novels…anything. Just read. And again, keep a list of anything you don’t understand, and ask your teacher about it.

Go to “Follow AD” at the bottom of this page for more tips on how to be a good student!

Jeremy Coffman, English teacher & diction coach, Paris

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The importance of proofreading

Today I’m speaking not only to language learners, but also to native speakers: please proofread when you write. This means read your text again, look for errors, and correct them. If possible, ask someone else to proofread your text, too. A well-written paper shows you have good ideas; a correctly written paper shows you understand complex situations.

When reading texts written by native speakers of the text’s language, I often see mistakes in mechanics, and occasionally in spelling and grammar as well. The reasons for this may be the writer’s lack of understanding of the rules and practices of writing, carelessness on the part of the writer, or sometimes, his apathy toward the idea of writing with proper style.

But whatever the reason, the result is the same: these errors make it difficult for me to take the text seriously or to believe what the writer is telling me. And unfortunately, this happens a lot. I don’t just see it in text messages or on Facebook, but in professionally written and/or published texts, in news and business-related magazines, and even (regretfully) in some language-learning materials I’ve used in the past.

If you’re writing a text and you get stuck, and you’re not sure what the rule is for your situation, please ask someone or look it up. You can ask me; I know a lot about these things, but I admit I sometimes have to look things up, too.

If you’re reading a text and you find mistakes, please inform the author or publisher if a medium for such communication is available to you. (Of course this includes me! I would like to think my English is quite good, though we all make mistakes, but I know my French is far from perfect!) More often than not, the writer will be grateful you’ve pointed out an error, that you’ve helped him to look more professional, and that you’ve made the content of his writing more easily accessible.

Scroll down to “Follow AD” at the bottom of this page to get all of my posts, which, hopefully, I will have proofread carefully before posting. Also, feel free to leave a comment about an error you’ve seen, how you felt when you saw it, and what result came of it.

 Jeremy Coffman, English teacher & diction coach, Paris

The phonemic alphabet: Why is it used?

English is a language with many ancestors, and many of its words have been derived, borrowed, or even lifted directly from hundreds of other languages.

Most of the time, these new words carry their original pronunciation, or a close approximation of it, with them when they enter the English language. This is the reason for the numerous apparent inconsistencies in the relationship of spelled words to their pronunciation. For example, the combination “ea” is pronounced differently in “great” [greĭt], “treat” [trit], and “threat” [θret]; the letter “g” has a different sound in “give” [gɪv] than in “gist” [dʒɪst]; and so on.

Some differences are easy to hear, but others are more subtle. Phonemic symbols connect the sounds to a consistent system of written representation that can be used for all spoken languages.

Go to “Follow AD” at the bottom of this page to learn more about phonemic symbols!

Jeremy Coffman, English teacher & diction coach, Paris

Student tips: Learning how you learn

Different people learn in different ways, some teaching methods are more effective with certain people than with others, and each student has his own way of understanding, retaining, and organizing information. One of the most important questions a student can answer is, how do I learn most effectively?

As a language teacher, I have explored a number of different methods and had mixed results with each. A key part of my job is finding the right method to go with each student, and to adapt the method if necessary to fit each individual’s most effective way of learning. It’s also important for you, the student, to understand this about yourself; knowing your strengths can help you to define your needs more clearly. For example, if you learn best by seeing a word written before hearing it said, then you should start by writing new words in a notebook. However, balance is a key part of the student’s job: after writing the word in your notebook, say it several times; write some sentences using the word, and then read them aloud several times. This helps to balance your written/visual skills with your oral/aural skills, so you can both write and speak the language successfully.

More student tips to come! Go to “Follow AD” at the bottom of this page to get all posts!

Jeremy Coffman, English teacher & diction coach, Paris