One of the English teachers at our university got into a taxi one day, and as she talked with the driver, she noticed that he had very good spoken English, better, in fact, than that of some of her students! "Where did you learn your English?" she asked. "Oh," he replied, "I never went to secondary school. I drive a taxi every day, but while I'm driving around, I listen to the English radio stations. And if an English - speaking passenger gets in, I try to start a conversation with them. That's how I learn my English!"
There are many things which contribute to good spoken English, but an important question for you is this: to what extent are your attitudes similar to those of the taxi driver? Are you willing to try to start a conversation with an English speaker? Or do you feel as if "the cat did get your tongue"? - that whenever you try to speak in English, your tongue won't behave itself and you can hardly make a sound?
How then can you improve your spoken English? How can you try to put your resolution to improve into practice? I, we have given some important advice about your attitude towards language learning and towards making a plan for improvement. Here we will suggest some concrete things you can do on your own (for little or no money) to improve your English - spoken English in particular.
- Listen to the radio. You could get up five minutes earlier and listen to the news in English.
- Watch the TVB - Pearl and ATV - World to improve your listening skills. Try watching the news in English instead of Chinese. If you watch a movie and it has subtitles, try taping a paper over them. Listening to others talk is a good preparation for talking yourself.
- Invite your English teacher to lunch! Find a friend who also wants to improve his or her English and have lunch or dinner together - speaking English of course.
- Check out books, records, cassette tapes, and other materials in English from your local library. Look especially for books which have lots of dialogue in them. Read plays. When you go to see English films, try not to read the Chinese subtitles.
- Join some of the afternoon activities of the International Club at CUHK.
- Watch for notices of English activities and join in whenever you can.
- Seek out lectures in English at CU on topics of interest to you. Try to take notes - just for your own use.
- Learn the words to some popular songs (warning: don't depend on texts provided on Chinese channels or in Chinese magazines!).
- Find books-on-tape in your local library. Listen while you are relaxing at home or while commuting if you have a walkman.
- Watch for plays or dramatic performances given in English on the CU campus - or get the student ticket for the public performances.
- Exchange taped messages with a classmate. Record a few minutes and then ask your classmate to respond later on the same tape.
- Choose a famous person whose accent you admire, and if you can get recordings of him or her, imitate the way he or she speaks.
- Practice situations when you are alone, perhaps in front of a mirror. Imagine introducing yourself, disagreeing with someone's ideas, being interviewed or asking for information. If you can get someone to help, assign parts and do role - playing.
- Make friends with the exchange students on our campus - they are here because they want cross - cultural communication. Communicate with them!
- Take part in a play in English - start out with a small part if you feel shy.
- Find a friend or two and agree to speak English at certain regular times - after a class together, at dinner every Tuesday, or riding home on the train.
- Practice reading aloud - get someone to check your pronunciation and intonation, or record yourself on tape and analyze your own speech. Set goals of specific things you can work on improving - for example, differences between words that contain "l" and "n" or "w" and "v". (e.g. There is no light at night at Wheatly University".) Keep notes of words you often mispronounce and practice them.
- If you have a chance to travel, take advantage of the opportunities to use English - airlines and immigration personnel, hotel and restaurant staff, fellow travelers and passengers. Visit a former English teacher either from secondary school or from a course you took at university. Teachers like to hear how their students are doing.
Everyone knows that the only really effective way to improve on language skills is to use the language. In reality, however, we know that there are many reasons why people don't want to speak in another language - they are afraid of making mistakes, they can't express their real meaning easily, they are shy, they are afraid people will laugh at them. We all feel this way some of the time, but if you really want to improve your spoken English, try some of the suggestions we have made here. Once you try putting some of these ideas and principles into practice, the cat will have a very hard time getting your tongue!