this is for Tom and every successful english learner

Ben   Thursday, September 16, 2004, 17:24 GMT
I read your article about how you are not supposed to make any mistakes when you write or speak in english language. And that you need a large amount of input so that you could speak or write with only a few mistakes, but here's the thing, even though i read books in english and even go an english speaking university ( I'm from THailand ) my english has only improved very little.

I can understand most of the english conversation in the movies or whenever i talk to a native speaker but i dont respond quickly enough and it usually takes time for me to even think of a more complex sentence ( other than some general stituational conversations which i find myself repeating daily) so it gets really annoyying for me when that happens. And i can usually tell when i make mistakes or the way i say things in English that doesnt sound right but i dont have anyone to tell me how to say it correctly. Every body's got their own thing to do and i dont think they want to bother.

I'm part of a group in our senior class and we have many discussions concerning our project, and half the time i need to speak in English and the other half i have to explain everything in Thai for those who dont speak English ( alot of us here understand english but are too afraid to say it, so i've officially become a translator for all of us ) .

During the discussion, if i have anything to say, very often, it would have been easier to say it in my native language but when it gets very technical, like when i need to explain to them how stuff work or how things are being done it takes twice as much time for me to say it in English and i tend to make a lot of mistakes.

i even looked for books in english that pertained to our topic of discussion and prepared myself before we started, and it works some times but then again I was always way behind my other friends who speak better english than me.

I know that inputs are important but then i need to be a little more specific on what kind of books should i read to improve my speaking skill, especially while i'm still in school and how would i know how should i say it when i make a mistake.
Steve K   Thursday, September 16, 2004, 19:19 GMT
First of all do not be too impatient with yourself. Language impovement is often gradual and therefore imperceptible.

Secondly you should concentrate on English content that is either enjoyable or meaningful to you, or both. Even if you are in science, read and listen to some novels. You should read and try to find audio versions of the same content(or ask someone to record it for repetitive listening). When reading you need to observe key phrases that can help you express youself more naturally. You also need to grow your vocabulary. Often the inablity to express one's thoughts succinctly in a new language comes from an inadequate understanding of the meaning of words and how to use them.

You should have your writing corrected regularly and study the kinds of mistakes you make. Then you need to look for phrases in your reading and listening that offer solutions to these problem areas.

At the risk of offending some here, I really recommend that you visit Some of our most satisfied users are advanced learners.
Maya l'abeille   Thursday, September 16, 2004, 19:51 GMT
As Tom said, you should read special books for English learners - Penguin Readers collection for example. In those books, the text is always simplified, which is a big advantage. It means you can focus on sentences whithout having to look up the words you don't understand in a dictionary all the time - and being interrupted.
I believe that seing correct and typical English sentences helps a lot to learn how to use English properly. It is also important to read and read again every structure that is new to you, so that you can remember them. If you only read the book whitout taking any pause to think carefully about the "new" sentences, you will hardly remember any of them.
I've read all Harry Potter books straight myself, and when I opened them again, I realised I had viewed loads and loads of useful structures whithout remembering them - which was such a shame!
I'm reading The Full Monty (Penguin Readers collection) using the "pause and think" method at present. Now after a few days of daily reading, when I take a look at an English text, many structures are familiar to me - "hey, I remember reading this one in The Full Monty!".
Therefore, I believe this method is efficient and I would advise it to all learners.
Sometimes, we don't realise how wealthy a single book can be - loads to learn just in one of them.
Good luck!
Mxsmanic   Friday, September 17, 2004, 17:59 GMT
Ben, you sound like you spend a lot of time mentally translating, which is a bad habit to get into. The only way to "think about constructing complex sentences" in English is to think about doing so in _another_ language, so you are clearly translating everything you say. This is extremely time-consuming and error-prone. You must try to think in English. It _is_ possible. In fact, it's inevitable beyond a certain point. However, if you deliberately try to encourage it you can make faster progress. On the other hand, if you persist in translating beyond the point at which you should be thinking in English, you tremendously handicap yourself.

Overall, books do not improve speaking skill very much--only speaking does that. The more you speak, the better you get at speaking. Nothing else can really replace it, although there are many aspects of a language that you can learn not only by speaking but also in other ways (as from a book). You can even learn pronuncation from a book to a very great extent, but at some point speaking becomes an unavoidable necessity in order to get past certain plateaus of competency.
Maya l'abeille   Saturday, September 18, 2004, 08:28 GMT
That's right, Mxsmanic. However, when you're speaking, you can make a lot of mistakes without realising it. And nobody can correct them. Therefore, input is the only way of learning proper phrases and taking good habits.
Only, simplified books only teach you standard English, not casual speech. That's why I don't only read, I also tune in BBC London when I've got time. Hearing helps you improve your pronunciation and understanding. (Duh!)
As you said, thinking in English - immersion - is very important.

But still, there are very few ways of improving your speaking skills. Unless if you're in an English speaking country, what can you do? You may get a good standard English by learning at home, but how to learn to speak naturally?

Je crois savoir que tu parles Français aussi bien qu'Anglais, Mxsmanic. Peut-être que tu connais une bonne méthode pour apprendre à bien s'exprimer à l'oral dans une langue? ;)
Ben   Saturday, September 18, 2004, 14:56 GMT
Thank you for all the replies from you guys, i guess every one was right, i actually mentally translate from my native language to English but i also think it is because i live in a coutry where people dont really use english other than THai, therefore, a lot of times i find it difficult to be able to automatically come up with the right sentences in English in the conversations.

By the way, Mr. Steve i think there's a problem to you web address i couldnt get to it. Do i also have to pay to become a member? But anyway, i was thinking about creating a learning environment , you know, since most of us learners do not live in an english speaking country. Are there possible ways to keep ourselves motivated to learn?

i have this funny thoery of mine which i think could really work, i have been observing a friend of mine, he's half american, but his american father left him since he was very young. Right around the time his father left he also had to change school due to the financial crisis, his next school was also international ( american based curriculum ) but the majority of the students were thai and they speak really weird english. So i asked him out of curiosity on how did he maintain his english speaking ability, he said that he wacthed TV and all that stuff and that he also learned how to express himself in english and american culture ( noted: since his american father left when he was only around 10 years old, he then had to speak thai to his mother eversince, i doubted it if it had been that long how come his english only got better? )

And he took pride in that he was american and everything, he still only speaks english to his sisters and hang out with only english speaking friends. he did everything he thought american people would do, it literally surprises me that he knows so much about american people than most half american thais who were born and raised here in thailand.

Well my point of telling you all of this is that if you think the language alone doesnt have any relationship with other contexts such as attitude or way of life of people who use it as their first language, i think you might as well imitate or change your life stlye in a way that would encourage you to learn better. On some levels, i think i have subconciously changed my life stlye when i started to use English language, i think i have become a lot more like my friend, although i dont go around telling people i've become fully westernized, but it certainly motivates on some levels to learn.
Mxsmanic   Saturday, September 18, 2004, 15:56 GMT
One of the weird things I noticed on my first visits to a real French-speaking country (France) was that I actually was better at speaking French than at understanding spoken French. See, speaking is little more than just saying aloud what you would normally write on paper. If you study pronunciation carefully—even without listening materials—and you practice carefully, you can eventually speak a language quite well even if you live on a desert island. Speaking a language isn't magic; if you follow a learning plan carefully you can learn to speak, even in isolation.

Anyway, I spoke all the time to myself, and I had studied French phonology and phonetics in order to minimize my accent. It turned out that this actually works; people who spoke to me in France remarked that I had only a light accent … which is saying a lot for someone who had never been outside the United States. However, my listening skills were abysmal. I couldn't understand anything. People had to talk very slowly and carefully in order for me to absorb what they were saying. This was due, obviously, to a lack of listening practice. It put me in a strange position, because people would assume that I understood as well as I spoke, and would become frustrated and bewildered when they spoke to me as I spoke to them and yet I would not understand. It was a long time before I got my listening and speaking skills to roughly the same level.

I wouldn't worry too much about making mistakes if you speak without correction. If you can write correctly, you can speak correctly, by simply saying the same thing out loud. You won't make any more mistakes in speech that you make in writing, especially as you get more used to speaking. It's true that you may not hear your pronunciation mistakes, but if you are being careful and diligent in your book study of pronunciation, there's an excellent chance that you won't be making any serious pronunciation mistakes to begin with.

Ideally you should speak in conversation with someone, in order to keep your listening and speaking skills in sync (see my story above of what happens when you don't). But if that's not possible, listen to whatever you can, and speak whenever you can, even if it's only to yourself in an empty room. It still makes a big difference.
Steve K   Saturday, September 18, 2004, 16:34 GMT

First of all your English is very natural. Just a few things to work on. Second, yes, when you learn a new language you imitate certain behaviours of that language group (the language to start with). I have done it for cultures as different as Chinese and French.It is possible to do without giving up your original personality. You just add new dimensions to yourself as a human being.

As usual I find myself in agreement with Mxsmanic. If you are deliberate about working on your skills of expression, like pronunciation, writing (and having the writing corrected) and speaking when you have the opportunity (or to yourself) your speaking can become quite proficient.

This needs to be accompanied by a lot of listening, because understanding the language as spoken quickly by natives is often more difficult. There are very few people who can understand everything that is said and yet have trouble speaking. Listening practice is key! Get an MP3 player and download the masses of content that can be found on the Internet - NPR, BBC, VOA and many more sources. Listen to audio books and read the same books.Focus on acquiring correct phrases. But always do this with content that you find interesting. Try not to do it as a duty or chore, but as something you enjoy doing.

If you want to acces a variety of authentic content, systematically increase your vocabulary of words and phrases, have your writing corrected and regularly analyzed and join voice chat sessions come to Yes our site requires a monthly fee as stated on the site. I have to be careful about advertizing the site here, although I believe it can be very helpful. Try logging in for free using the following "coupon number" PRSZ3LVK.

CalifJim   Sunday, September 19, 2004, 04:42 GMT

<<One of the weird things I noticed on my first visits to a real French-speaking country (France) was that I actually was better at speaking French than at understanding spoken French.>>

Hoo-wee!!! So it's not just me! When you describe your experiences with French, I keep thinking it's a description of mine! Fascinating.

Tom   Monday, September 20, 2004, 13:54 GMT
I agree with Maya l'abeille about the "pause and think" method. I would actually recommend the "pause - think - imagine you're saying it" method which I recently described in this article about sentence items in SuperMemo:
(see the "How to repeat" section)

It's possible to read a book in two ways. One is "reading for content" -- when you read quickly because you want to know what happened next. If you read in this way, you can read 300 pages and learn very little grammar, because you don't need to pay attention to tenses, articles or prepositions in order to understand a sentence.

The other way is "reading for form" -- when you also pay a lot of attention to the grammar and vocabulary contained in the book.

If possible, try to choose books which have a lot of dialogue. They will give you plenty of patterns that you can reuse in your own sentence. Of course listening is also a good idea.

Writing a lot is a good way to learn to speak fluently. Ideally, you should write e-mail messages or forum posts, where you are likely to practice the same type of sentences that you use in speech.

I think you're going to have difficulty understanding native speakers no matter what you do. I spent hours watching news and movies in English, but it didn't prevent me from having problems understanding people in the US the first time I visited the country. Newscasters and actors simply speak much more clearly than regular people.
Maya l'abeille   Monday, September 20, 2004, 22:09 GMT
>> Writing a lot is a good way to learn to speak fluently. Ideally, you should write e-mail messages or forum posts, where you are likely to practice the same type of sentences that you use in speech<<


One problem though. You will necessarily make mistakes without being aware of them, even if you only use types of sentences you are familiar with. You can never be too sure of what you can or can't say — and Google is not exhaustive about correct English sentences.

And nobody's going to correct every English learners' mistake — and I understand that, they would have there time cut out.
Mxsmanic   Tuesday, September 21, 2004, 03:19 GMT
You're still better off writing and speaking with mistakes than not writing and speaking at all.
Steve K   Tuesday, September 21, 2004, 04:59 GMT

I have created a website on the assumption that if you provide learners with content of interest to choose from in audio and text format, make it easy for them to select words and phrases for study and translation, let them write and have their writing corrected and analyzed, plus other useful functions, motivated learners will learn.

Is this practical? Can such a system work for independent learners? What percentage of learners are sufficiently motivated to stay with a system like this? Can it work in conjunction with a more structured program?

I would be very interested in the comments of the learned members of this forum.
access coupon number PRSZ3LVK
Mxsmanic   Tuesday, September 21, 2004, 06:05 GMT
When your site becomes free, let me know.
Mi5 Mick   Tuesday, September 21, 2004, 07:16 GMT
I'm sure you guys can exchange each other's sites freely :)

hehe LOL!