Have you reached a plateau with your fluency?
My students explain that they reach a certain level with their fluency. However, they can’t get to the point where they sound like a native speaker. They read for hours in English, do listening activities, and do grammar exercises. Nonetheless, when they speak, they don’t sound as well-educated and polished as they do in their own native language. They feel frustrated and upset when people don’t understand them in English. They can’t express themselves freely. The method I have designed is a highly effective approach that takes students from an upper-intermediate level to an advanced level. In fact, I am going to highlight the story of how I helped one of my students reach this high level of fluency. Without a doubt, this method transformed her life and her career. Now, she speaks English like a rock star.
What is the Write Speak/ Speak Right Method?
This unique method involves working with a coach to help you express yourself clearly, efficiently, and properly in English. It is an approach that will help you internalize new vocabulary words and sentence structures. In this post, I will highlight my work with one of my students, Lena. She will share her perspective and talk about how she perceived the method. She will explain how this method helped her improve her speaking and writing skills in English.
5 STEP APPROACH TO SPEAKING PROPER ENGLISH
- Write your ideas down
- Read your written work aloud to your coach
- Analyze the sentence structure and word choice to align with what you want to express
- Make the necessary changes to the writing
- Use the newly- learned structures and words when you speak English
Where did this Method Come From?
I use this method with my students because it worked so well for me. When I had writer’s block and struggled to finish writing my dissertation, I went to the writing center at the University of Madison-Wisconsin and worked with my coach, Leah, to help me generate ideas, communicate clearly, and enhance my writing skills. I met with Leah once a week for over a year and oftentimes we would focus on one sentence or one paragraph during the entire hour meeting. We would deeply analyze the text first, talk about what I wanted to express, brainstorm more ideas, tweak the structure, add more, and then polish the writing. Leah’s purpose was to help me develop skills that I could transfer to become a better writer independently. The method transformed me completely, motivated me tremendously, and helped me finish my dissertation much faster than if I had tried to do it alone.
Leah and I presented our collaboration at a writing conference in Chicago and shared our experience with other writing coaches. Her help changed my life forever and enhanced my communication skills. I was the first female in my family to graduate with a PhD. I was able to achieve that accomplishment because of the effectiveness of this method.
Years later, I thought to myself…could this method work for second language learners? The answer is YES! I adapted the method to use it with my ESL students. I am going to talk about how well it worked with my student, Lena and how you should try it too.
Ideas Flow through Speaking
This method is based on the idea that the student can elaborate their ideas through talking about them. Also, your audience may not be able to understand what you’ve written. So, you can explain what you’ve written to your coach and through conversation, determine if you have in fact communicated your message clearly and efficiently.
My student, Lena, would bring a paragraph to our English class. She would read it out loud first. Why should the student read the writing out loud? First of all, it is a great way to practice pronunciation, but the main purpose is for the student to re-discover the words on the page and verify that they are expressing what they are hoping to express. Most coaches and teachers correct students’ work outside of class and review the corrections, however, this doesn’t allow the student to notice their own mistakes and become an independent learner. Do you want to catch fish for your students or teach them to fish on their own?
My student, Lena, began by reading the paragraph aloud and then we would talk about what she wanted to say. She brought up key points that she hadn’t written down, she expanded her ideas, and I sometimes tried to take a few notes and write down her thoughts. Many times, what she wanted to communicate wasn’t clearly expressed in words. So, by talking about it, we generated even more ideas and came up with a more solid foundation. Then, we transferred those ideas to the page.
Tweaking Sentence Structure for Greater Fluidity
Sentences in English are often tricky for second language learners, especially when they try to translate directly from their native language. Sometimes the word order, the grammatical structure can be hard to understand if you aren’t a native speaker. In fact, it is hard for native speakers, too. Lena and I spent considerable time on each sentence and we sometimes moved the last part of the sentence to the front of the sentence to emphasize the main idea. In addition, we added commas and transition words. I notice that second-language learners often make their sentences either too short or too long. In Spanish and Portuguese, the sentences are generally much longer than in English.
It is definitely helpful to have a native speaker coach you in this phase of the process in order to see different ways of eloquently arranging nouns, adjectives, and verbs, and prepositions on the page. A collaborative approach between the coach and student can help the learner develop important skills to structure the sentence to make it more readable. You might find the Writer’s Handbook useful from the UW-Madison writing center.
Word Choice to Maximize Eloquence
As writers, it is easy to repeat the same word multiple times. However, we want to avoid redundancy in our writing. Lena and I worked hard to search for synonyms and to find the correct word that fit the context. Her writing became much clearer, but at the same time extremely convincing. She truly expressed what she desired to say to her audience. She told me later that she found herself using these more advanced vocabulary words in her everyday conversations in English.
During our classes, she would often say things like, I would have never been able to say it that well before I started taking these classes. Honestly, over the weeks and months, her writing and speaking jumped to a whole new level. She found herself becoming the fluent English speaker she’d always dreamed of becoming, deeply transforming her communication skills. Now, she can communicate with her audience with a sense of freedom and confidence she didn’t have before.
Here are some advanced vocabulary exercises you can do on your own to improve your word choice and to start using more complex words in your writing.
Collaborate to Gain Confidence
The ultimate goal of the Write Speak/ Speak Right method is to help you communicate more confidently. The role of the coach is to help guide you to implement these effective strategies on your own. You will find yourself speaking English more like a native speaker, using idioms, collocations and more complex sentence structures with more ease.
Lena’s review of this method:
“Anne’s method of teaching English worked amazingly well for me. Anne and I decided to try it when I needed to prepare for a very important workshop that I would have to teach in English. For that workshop, I needed to write a lot of educational materials. When I first started thinking about doing that I was terrified, so I reached out to Anne to ask her if she would agree to proof-read my writings. Fortunately, she agreed, but she insisted that we needed to do it together. She said that I would have to read my writings to her out loud and we would correct them together, making sure that everything I wanted to communicate to my students was clear. I happily agreed without realizing the greatness of the impact this practice would have on my life.
Transitions Words Create Flow
So, the first part of the process was me waking up every morning and writing down my thoughts about a particular topic that I wanted to explain to my students. I tried to be as clear as possible, but at first, I simply didn’t know some very important words and expressions that could help me make my explanations clearer and more concise. So, I just used the words and expressions that I knew at the moment, knowing that Anne would help me find the right words during the class.
When Anne and I met for a class, I would start reading my writings aloud, sentence by sentence. At the beginning, we needed to review and correct every sentence. We would stop on a sentence and start to discuss what I wanted to express. Anne would help me with the sentence structure and with finding the right words. She, of course, always pointed out to my mistakes and I corrected them in the text immediately.
When we finished a paragraph I would read the entire paragraph for us to make sure that the big idea was communicated clearly. Sometimes, we felt that there was a need for transitions between different sentences, so we would continue to work on that paragraph until we both were happy with it.
Anne also always corrected me when I mispronounced worlds. It was extremely helpful for improving my speech.
We kept working like this for three or four months, meeting three times a week every week.
After the first month, I realized that I started making fewer mistakes in my writings. I noticed that I was using the words and expressions that I hadn’t used before. I also started to notice that I struggled less with speaking English and that my pronunciation improved.
Fluency in English is Transformational both Personally and Professionally
Now, after having worked with Anne for several months, I am a different person. My writing and speech improved dramatically. I am much more confident when I talk to my English speaking students. The coolest thing is that I don’t need to translate words in my head anymore, instead I think in English now! I even dream in English at night! I have never lived in an English speaking country. Not only that, I haven’t had a chance to practice English in my day-to-day life, so the classes with Anne have been a very valuable experience for me.
I have never met such an enthusiastic and always ready to help teacher. These classes have changed my life and me as a person. I can’t recommend them high enough. I think working with Anne and using her fantastic method is the best way to accelerate your learning and perfect your English. I’ve finally reached the level of fluency that I’ve always dreamed of.