Teacher Diaries: Ms. Grace – Love Speaking

As a child, I was lucky enough to be brought up in an English-speaking country, which made communicating with native English speakers an everyday thing for me. Naturally enough, I was able to pick up difficult English sounds like the “-ct” sound in “act” and the “-lt” in “felt” (you’re probably trying to pronounce these words as you read this, and maybe you didn’t realize how difficult it is to pronounce them accurately until now!) and practice them as I talked to my native English-speaking friends. Similarly with vocabulary, it was quite easy to pick up new words through reading at school, talking to people around me, and watching TV. But being born in a Chinese family also meant that I always spoke Cantonese at home with my parents and siblings, so being bilingual or speaking more than one language didn’t occur to me as being anything special or especially challenging, until I started to learn other new languages like German, Spanish, and Korean in University.

I’m sure you’ve had the experience of going completely blank when you suddenly forget a certain English word when you’re in the middle of an English conversation, and all you can think of is the Chinese translation of it. The harder you think, the more you panic, and the more you stammer. This happened to me almost every time I had to speak to my Spanish and Korean teacher while I was in university, and when I had oral exams in my foreign language classes. They were painful and humiliating experiences, but they also proved the importance of practice.

I began to listen to songs and watch YouTube videos in the languages that I was learning. I would look at the subtitles and read after them. I would look up the words that I didn’t understand. Then I would try to use the new words that I learned while speaking to my friends and classmates, and I would look out for any products with labels in any of those languages when I go out, to see if I could read any of them. And I had the motivation to do it because they were songs and programmes that I enjoyed listening to and watching, and I could use what I learned to communicate with people whom I enjoy spending time with. I still stammer quite a bit when I speak in those languages now, but every time I finish a conversation, I would feel a great sense of achievement!

So my only advice on second language learning is, learn it in a way that you enjoy it. Listen to music, watch movies, play games, read books and most importantly, TALK TO PEOPLE! You will be surprised how much quicker you will improve once you start actively speaking to people in the language you want to learn!

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