English for business professionals. This article first appeared on italki.com. The Four Elements Of English.
If you are trying to advance your ability to English communication skills, you need to consider that there are really four aspects that you need to work on at the same time:
- Reading (input)
- Writing (output)
- Listening (input)
- Speaking (output)
Too many learners get too focused on advancing just one of these aspects, most often reading, and they forget about the other elements. And yet, their goal is usually to speak fluently. This means you may be able to read the most advanced English literature, but you will likely still face some difficulty when it comes to voicing your thoughts in English, listening to an English speaker, or even writing English content.
It’s very important that your practice encompasses all four of the elements so that you can work on them together, rather than thinking about first reading, then writing, then listening, and then speaking. They all function in harmony to make you a fluent English communicator, so you need to practise them all together as well.
How To Do It
Here is a practical example: reading is the first element to work on so you can advance your English skills. It’s best to start with a book that has an audiobook accompaniment. Go to www.audible.com, open an account and buy an audiobook. Then go to www.amazon.com and buy the companion ebook. Amazon owns both brands and frequently you can buy a written + audiobook bundle. This means you can read the book and listen to the audiobook. The real advantage to your learning will be when you write a summary report about the book and speak about your report aloud and discuss it with a native English speaker.
This strategy would be perfectly implemented in a book club setting, but assuming that you do not have access to one, don’t worry: there are many other ways that you can implement these four elements into your practice.
Read English news, books, websites, literature, and wherever you find written content. Listening can also come in the form of news and you can watch movies and English entertainment to help you learn more about the language and advance your listening skills.
Writing is challenging, it’s ideal to have someone give you feedback and correct you. If you do not have someone fluent enough in English to do so, there are online forums you can join devoted to helping language learners advance their skills. You can also find websites where you can pair up and be a language learning buddy, my suggestion is that you go to www.italki.com where you will help someone learn your native language and they help you learn theirs.
Websites like this are also a good source for speaking English aloud with a native speaker, with many users being able to pair up for Skype calls. However, if this is not an option. You can start by speaking English aloud on your own. Try it! Record yourself, listen to it later, compare your pronunciation and structure to that of a native English speaker. It’s embarrassing at first but you’ll get over it.
Another way is to repeat native English speakers’ pronunciation and techniques. Children learn by imitating. You should too. Go to www.youtube.com and watch short 1-2 minute English videos. You will often find the transcripts on the page so can read along and copy the pronunciation.
These are just some of the methods through which you can make sure to implement all four elements of the language into your practice. The important thing is that you realize that there is absolutely no excuse to not be practising all four elements. Also, although you may be wanting to improve your ability to speak English, realise that you will achieve this faster if you integrate other inputs and outputs. If you choose not to focus on one, you’re only slowing down your progress.
Before we delve into some specific techniques, here are some final learning tips that will always apply:
Choose Diverse Materials
The number one tip you can follow with any technique you use is to choose a diverse range of learning materials. This means that if you’re going to practise your reading, do not limit yourself to reading textbooks or the local paper. Instead, read some famous novels, some short stories, websites, and lots of different kinds of content. If you are going to practise listening, watch a variety of TV shows, tune into the news, and watch all sorts of documentaries and movies to broaden your understanding. When you find a resource that you enjoy, return to it!
Enthusiasm to learn is key to making progress. Listening, in particular, can prove very difficult. Unless you believe that you can hear and understand what people are saying, you are never going to make any progress. As humans we have the ability to shut out noise using our thoughts. Be optimistic and believe in your abilities. Be conscious of your listening ability, then listen. If you are having trouble with something, like listening, focus on being present in the moment that you’re trying to learn.
Stop mid-way through a session and ask yourself, “What is next?” Asking and answering this question will help you check your understanding of what is going on. For example, if you are reading a book, at the end of each chapter, stop to ponder what may happen in the upcoming pages. This shows that you are actively reading and really beginning to understand the story.
Focus On The Big Idea
Many times, language learners get caught up in trying to catch every little detail. This is very difficult and it will leave you feeling lost and out-of-place. Rather than trying to understand all the small things in a conversation, focus on the big idea. Maybe you won’t understand every word being said to you, but you should be able to understand the general topic of the conversation to keep things moving forward.
Imagine you are listening to a presentation by a famous speaker. If he announces: “I am going to speak about three reasons supporting …” you should be listening for phrases like “first of all”, “moving on to”, and “in summary” so that you can better understand which part of the lecture you’re in and what big ideas (main points) the lecturer is trying to communicate. Communication is what the listener does. Until the listener (or reader) has accepted your communication and understood it, it’s up to you to make the improvements. Improve the way you understand, improve the way you write and the way you speak.
Worry About The Details Later
After you have focused on the bigger picture, you can begin looking for specific details. These will help you understand the material better. Ignore anything that does not seem relevant to the big idea. This will allow you to zoom into the details you really need to understand in order to comprehend the message.
For instance, if you are interested in knowing how old someone is, pay attention to words like “old“, “years“, or “born” as they will help you figure out the answer. The best way to learn how to listen for such small details is to simply decide what kind of detailed information you’d like to listen for, then find materials for you to practice with. For example, if you want to start understanding the weather better, you can begin listening to the weather report where you’ll wait for the names of cities and their temperatures (“degrees”).
You can also learn to focus on tones so that you can better understand the emotional picture of a topic even if you do not know all the details. In tonal languages like Chinese, the tone that is used creates a different meaning. In English and Latin languages, the tone conveys a mood. This is the emotional picture that sets a context and helps you understand better.
Listen & Repeat
The elements of this technique cover:
Many people who are trying to advance their English share the same difficulty: they do not enjoy speaking aloud. If you struggle to speak the language, you will have difficulty communicating. The trick is to start speaking aloud as soon as possible, without any delay.
This simple method gets learners listening and speaking the English language with minimal effort, and it all begins with watching movies and TV.
How It Works
The first step is to go to YouTube or another media source and find an English show that you think you might enjoy watching. Start by selecting a segment of that show.
Watch the segment you have chosen, pick a character and repeat all of the character’s lines word for word. The purpose is to match their pronunciation, their speed, the tone, and even their accent. Even if you misunderstand a word, repeat everything.
The key to this method’s success is to just keep talking in English. You will eventually be working towards making your output sound identical to the native actors you’re copying. Keep in mind, however, this is about more than just parroting what they’re saying. You are training to speak like them, so do what they do for now.
- Repeat the spoken language properly
- Match the speed and delivery
- Match the tones and inflection
These will give you a better understanding of the inflection and tone native speakers use in various situations. This learning method also allows you to get a glimpse into the culture too.
Take this method a step further, use an audio recorder. The purpose is to listen back to your delivery of the lines and compare them with the delivery of a native speaker. This is invaluable insight. You know what your voice should sound like but you don’t know what your voice sounds like. Think about it for a moment.
Recording your English will also allow you to know where your strengths and weaknesses are. Knowing this will help you improve your own practice and help you advance faster.
Of course, you may be disappointed the first time you listen back to your English practice. You’ll probably be surprised too. Many learners think they sound more native than they really do, and hearing themselves repeat the language can be discouraging. The important thing is to keep performing the exercise. Keep your first attempt on file. In a few weeks, go back and compare your progress. You will be amazed.