Five ways to improve your  speaking skills

Five ways to improve your speaking skills

If you (or your child) are facing GCSE or A Level exams in languages this academic year, then you (or they) may well be looking for tips on how to improve your speaking skills. 

Here are five tips to help:

1.     Speak as often as possible! It sounds really obvious, but if you are not living in the relevant country then it can be harder than it looks. Take any opportunity you have to speak to others in your target language – that could be a fellow student, an informal language exchange with someone who wants to improve their English, or just talking to yourself!

2.    Practise using your good grammar skills. When you are looking at a particular grammar topic, try repeating several sentences out loud, using that grammar point. Try to include it in the next few language classes you have, or your next few speaking opportunities (see above).

3.    Take a topic and try to talk about it for 30 seconds in your target language. Start off with any topic you like (clothes, weather, food) and then build it up to include the curriculum topics (environment issues, immigration, literature). Increase to one minute, and then to two if you can.

4.    If you are having to talk to yourself (because you couldn’t find a talk buddy) then try recording yourself. Many smartphones have voice recording technology. We all hate listening to our own voices, but you can concentrate on whether you hear correct word order, good grammar, and flowing speech and then try to improve.

5.    Listen to as much of your target language as you can. This will help you to get used to the natural flow of the language and then you can try to imitate that, rather than using English speech patterns.

If you would like more help, then I would be delighted to assist you! I am a private language trainer with 14 years tutoring experience, helping to prepare students for GCSE and A Level exams. 

www.language-learners.com

E-mail: teri@language-learners.com

Good Learning Habits for Great Results!

Good Learning Habits for Great Results!

Now that the schools are back, many young people are having their first introductions to a foreign language.  Whether your son or daughter is starting out with a friendly, fun-based after-school club; or a more formal secondary school classroom setting, there are a few things that you can do to help your child get to grips with this new challenge and learn more effectively.

Firstly, no matter what you thought of language lessons at school, PLEASE do not tell your child that you were rubbish at languages, or that you don’t see the point of learning them.  Even if both thing are true.  If your child is in secondary school then they have several years of compulsory language-learning ahead of them, so it would be far better to encourage them to have a good try and see what they think for themselves.

At least to start with, learning a new language seems to consist mostly of lists of new words that you have to learn.  Colours, numbers, parts of the body… the lists seem to go on and on.  Many children seem to learn the words just well enough to get through this week, or the test at the end of the module, and the cheerfully forget them again.  As you may guess, this is a very short-term strategy that can easily come back to bite them if they continue the language to GCSE and beyond.  Help your child to start a vocabulary book and encourage them to keep it up, so that they can refer back to it when needed.  Give them little mini-tests or challenges throughout the year to keep the information fresh.  Why not do a treasure hunt using clues written (at least partially) in the key language?  Or play hangman?

At some point in the learning journey (probably fairly quickly) the subject of grammar will rear its ugly head.  Many adults recoil in horror at this point, especially those who were educated in the 1970s and 1980s when there was not such an emphasis on grammar learning in some sectors.  It is important to note that grammar does not need to be scary, or even hard to learn, as long as it is something you get a handle on earlier rather than later.  Indeed, it can be rather like being given the decoder so that you can decipher spy messages.  At least, that’s what I tell my children!  However, it can be a real chore to have to go back through old schoolbooks from several years ago in order to find a grammar explanation and revise the details.  It is a good idea to set up a grammar folder (just an A4 folder, in any colour you like, with dividers) and to write up each new concept on a sheet of paper to go in the folder.  This is a great way of revising as well as providing material to revise from in the future.

Homework – were you the type who saved all your homework until the last day before the deadline and then panicked to get it all done in time?  Or did you prefer to work methodically, tackling one or two pieces each night so you were never overwhelmed?  Well, learning a language can be a bit like that.  Of course it is possible to dash off the worksheets and exercises quickly at the last moment, but if you want the information to stick, especially for vocabulary, then you need to have a bit more method. 

If you try to learn all your new words in one mammoth session, then it is quite likely that you will forget them all very quickly.  Three smaller sessions of, say, 10 minutes each week, are much more likely to be effective. Essentially, “little and often” is best, as each time we practice a new task we get better at doing it.  Try to persuade your children to do their vocabulary learning in regular, bite-sized chunks.  You could help by testing them, or even just by reminding them.

It may be a bit of an effort to help your child to set these habits at the beginning of their language learning time, but it will almost certainly save time later on and hopefully help to streamline the learning process for them.

This blog post I wrote earlier gives some other great tips to help you learn your new language more easily: https://language-learners.com/seven-tips-to-help-you-learn-a-new-language/

7 Tips for choosing a good tutor – for a child.

7 Tips for choosing a good tutor – for a child.

Whether you are choosing a language tutor for a child, for an adult or for a group, there are several considerations that you may want to bear in mind when it comes to finding the right person for you.  Here are some ideas for you if you are looking for someone to tutor a child:

1.     If you need a tutor for someone under the age of 18 then do ask for their DBS check if you will be leaving your child alone with them.  The DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check is the certificate which shows if they have any criminal convictions of relevance to working with children. 

2.     Consider carefully whether you would be better to have lessons at your home or at the tutor’s premises.  Most professional tutors will be unwilling to be left alone with a child in the child’s own home.  At Language Learners we insist on an adult being present in the home for any child under the age of 14.

3.     Match your tutor to your needs.  If you would like your 8-year-old to have a little booster then you may be fine with a University student.  However, if your child has specific additional learning needs or is studying for an exam then it may be a good idea to pay extra for someone who has experience of those particular requirements.  

4.     The GCSE curriculum and exam methods have changed in the last three years – so University students DID NOT sit the same exam that your child will be taking.  If you need to be boosting grades then ask your tutor questions about how they have kept their knowledge up-to-date.

5.     Have reasonable expectations of what you will be paying.  Remember that the minimum wage for someone over 25 is £8.21 per hour at the time of writing.  With a good tutor you are not just paying for the one hour of the class, but also for the time they spend planning and marking homework.  It can take quite some time to plan a student-specific scheme of work to boost that particular student’s grades in the time available and I am sure it is the same for other subjects/tutors too.  As a rough guide, prepare for the cost of the tutor to be similar to the cost of a 1:1 session with a physiotherapist or personal trainer at the gym.

6.     If your tutor is just going over the same material that was covered in school, using the same books and worksheets, then it is time for another tutor.  They should be adding value by bringing different/more resources.  Not that you necessarily want lots of different explanations (that’s confusing) but a range of new exercises and challenges will really help to consolidate the information.

7.     Personality.  Ensuring that your child gets on well with the tutor and will work nicely for them is a key element.  Sometimes two people just don’t get on well, without it being anyone’s fault – so be prepared to review the situation after two or three classes to make sure that both sides are happy.

 

Teri Fleetwood is the owner of Language Learners and has been providing French and German tutoring to children from age 5 upwards for more than 12 years.  Her students consistently exceed expectations at GCSE and A Level through a careful mixture of topic and grammar work as well as a keen attention to exam technique.  Language Learners operates mostly in the Woking and Guildford areas of Surrey.

5 Useful French Grammar Constructions

5 Useful French Grammar Constructions

French grammar constructions?  How dull, I hear you cry!  However, that grammar does have its uses, especially if you are trying to make your language more interesting – whether you are looking to impress your friends with some fancy phrases, or you are keen to get some of those extra exam marks for “complex grammar constructions”. 

Here are a few useful ways of saying things which should help to widen your vocabulary.  Many of these constructions can be used in a range of tenses, so I have given a couple of examples in each case.

 1.     Être en train de + infinitive – to be in the middle of doing something.

  • Je suis en train d’écrire un blog – I am in the middle of writing a blog. 
  • J’étais en train d’écrire un blog, quand j’ai vu un chat – I was in the middle of writing a blog when I saw a cat.

2.     Au lieu de + infinitive – instead of doing….

  • Au lieu d’écrire un blog, il faut faire mes devoirs – Instead of writing a blog, I must do my homework.
  • Au lieu de faire mes devoirs, j’ai regardé la télé – Instead of doing my homework I watched TV.

3.     Après avoir/être + past participle – after having done something. WATCH OUT!  Just like the present perfect tense, you need to take care of the être verbs…

  • Après avoir écrit mon blog, je vais prendre un thé – After having written my blog I am going to have a cup of tea.
  • Après être allée en ville, j’écrirai encore un blog ! – After having gone to town I will write another blog!

4.     Avant de + infinitive – before doing something

  • Avant de boire mon thé, je vais finir le blog – Before drinking my tea I am going to finish the blog.
  • Avant de finir le blog, je cherche d’autres exemples – Before finishing the blog, I look for other examples.

5.     Venir de + infinitive – to have just done something

  • Je venais de trouver un exemple, quand la téléphone a sonné – I had just found an example when the phone rang.
  • Je viens de finir mon blog. Youpi ! – I have just finished my blog.  Hurrah!

 

The author is a Surrey-based language tutor specialising in French, German and English as a Foreign Language.  She has many years of experience of trying to sound more interesting in French, especially with a view to boosting exam grades (whether for herself or others!).