Lingua East

People should hear your ideas, not your accent.

Improving Your Vocabulary with Synonyms

One of the most frustrating aspects of speaking a second language is when in your mind you know exactly what you want to say, but you just don’t have the right words to communicate your idea. The words just don’t come; not in the second language, anyway. Growing your vocabulary is critical if you want to minimize those frustrating situations.

I have written before about the importance of reading to grow a vocabulary. Aside from reading, there are several other methods you can use to learn new words. These methods have been proven to work; they are based off neuroscience and research about how people learn new information.

One of these methods is to take a common word and learn several of its synonyms. (Synonyms are different words with the same meaning.) For example, the word thing is used all the time, often when we can’t thing of the specific name of the thing we’re referring to. (See? I just used the word thing.) Here are some of the synonyms for thing:

  • object
  • item
  • device
  • apparatus
  • element
  • article
  • mechan ism
  • subject
  • matter
  • gadget

The words listed above will not all work as substitutes for thing in every instance, because each word has a meaning that is slightly more detailed than the general thing. Look up each word to see some examples, and compare the word’s definition with that of thing and other words on the list.

You can use this method with words you use often. In fact, it is most useful with the words that are most frequently used in English (or any language). This method works because it builds upon information you already have stored in your brain.

Do you need help improving your vocabulary in English as a second language? Our speech trainer can help. Not only do we help clients pronounce American English clearly, we help them grow their vocabulary so they can be ready for that next big meeting at work or that unexpected conversation at a party. Our services are individualized, so no matter where you use English or what you need to say, we can help you learn what you need for success. We now offer evening and weekend appointments so you can fit Lingua East speech training into your busy schedule. Sign up for a free consultation today.

Don’t Judge Others Based on Their Speech

We shouldn’t judge the way others talk. We don’t want others to judge the way we talk.

Everyone has their own style. Sometimes we say one thing and the person we’re speaking with hears something else. It isn‘t until later in the conversation when they say something that clues us in to the misunderstanding that we identify what happened.

Our job as communicators is twofold: 1) We have to communicate in the way that is most appropriate for the situation. Automatically, we take into account several factors of the other person, and we adjust our communication style to best convey our message to them. For example, if we note they are hard of hearing, we might – without thinking too much about it – speak a bit louder, to make it easier for them to hear us. If we’re talking to a child we might use different vocabulary than if we were having a discussion with a university professor or another adult.

2) The second part of our job as communicators is to listen with the intent to understand. That does not mean making a lot of assumptions about what the other person is saying, but consider the information they give you before connecting it in intricate ways to what you already know and believe. In other words, when we listen with the intent to understand, we are open to the ideas and opinions of others.

Part of being not just a good communicator, but a good person, is to reserve your judgement of a person. Do not judge people for the way they talk. Don’t judge them based on the language they speak, their dialect, their accent, or the vocabulary they use.

Just because you hold a belief does not mean that everyone holds the same belief of you. That belief may be a positive force in your life; it might work for you. But that does not mean it will work for everyone.

If you believe that it is wrong to swear, good for you. However, not everyone holds that belief. (In fact, studies have linked swearing to longer lives, ability to withstand greater levels of pain, and lower levels of stress). If you meet someone who in casual conversation, uses a swear word or two, reserve your judgement of that person. Rather than focusing on the words they use that you do not like, focus on the message they are trying to convey. Be open to their ideas.

If you meet someone who speaks your native language with an accent, do not assume they are less intelligent. Many people who speak with an accent know two or more languages – an impressive feat of learning! The sound system and intonation patterns of their first language influence their pronunciation of their second language. Speech training can help people communicate more clearly in a second language.

Half of speaking is listening. No two people share exactly the same language history, vocabulary, and speaking style. That is even more reason to listen to others. You might be surprised about what you learn.

The Basics Matter

Sometimes we have to go back to the beginning in order to progress. This is true of any skill. If you want to truly master a skill, you cannot breeze through the beginning and start working on it where it gets hard. You have to master its basic parts first. Once you have mastered the basics of a skill, then it will be easier to master the more challenging parts.

Any great musician understands the importance of playing scales. Being able to produce the correct notes at the right pitch with good quality is not as easy as it looks. But once a musician masters a scale, they are much more prepared for a complicated composition.

The same is true of pronunciation.

It is remarkable how just a single sound, produced slightly less than perfectly, can result in production of a word or a sentence with a completely different meaning from the one intended by the speaker. We have all experienced funny situations in which one word sounded like another, changing the speaker’s message.

The Lingua East method of speech training divides speech into several levels, beginning with the basics and advancing to the complex. Many speakers are able to communicate with native listeners using complex language, but a few small deficiencies in the more basic levels reduce the effectiveness of their message.

We are able to target individual basic skills that need strengthening in order to maximize the effectiveness of the speaker’s message. This can be frustrating, because it feels like we are working on something we learned years ago. And that is true. But mastering the basics is an important part of communicating well in a second language.

If you are ready to be a better speaker of English as a second language, then sign up for a free consultation to see if speech training is right for you. The consultation can be in person in our Charlotte location or over the web using Zoom. There we will listen to your goals for English communication, and make some helpful suggestions for getting started.

The Two L Sounds

Did you know that in English words, there are two ways that L can sound? Sometimes the two pronunciations are referred to as dark and light Ls, but I prefer to think of them as schwa (ǝ) + L and regular L.

Schwa + L – Tongue Placement: Back of Mouth

Sometimes L makes its own syllable. This tends to occur when words end in an /l/ sound like incredible, careful or magical. In these syllables (-le, -al, and -el), there is a vowel sound produced before the /l/. This vowel is an unstressed schwa, ǝ. When L makes an appearance in this syllabic form, it is produced as efficiently as possible after the previous consonant. For this /l/ sound, the tongue is raised in the back of the mouth.

There happens to be another time the /l/ sound can be produced with the tongue placement in the back of the mouth. This occurs when the L is in the middle of words such as in although, mistletoe, and albeit. This does not mean that every time there is an L in the middle of a word it is produced at the back of the mouth; there are exceptions to every rule, and the syllable structure of the word matters.

Regular L – Tongue Placement: Front of Mouth

The regular L sound occurs when the L is included in a syllable with other sounds, such as in the words language, cantaloupe, and love. In this context, the /l/ sound is formed just as in the above case of the schwa + L, but it can be paired with consonants to make a blend, or it can be paired with any vowel – either before or after the /l/.

Typically, the /l/ sound is produced with the tongue raised and its tip flattened against the bony shelf behind the top front teeth. With the tongue in the front /l/ position, there should be some space on the sides of the tongue where the air – and sound – can flow through. This tongue placement for the /l/ sound is most commonly found at the beginning of words (love, little, and lose) and in some words that have an /l/ sound in the middle (allow, yellow, and xylophone).

This kind of L can be in stressed syllables (like in the word language). In fact, a word that might typically have a schwa + L (magical) can be pronounced like a regular L, with the tongue raised in the front of the mouth, when it is stressed or emphasized in a sentence.

Do You Have Trouble Pronouncing Your Ls Clearly?

Our speech trainer helps clients improve their pronunciation of American English so they can communicate effectively at work and in the community. With easy-to-understand explanations, visuals, and technology, our clients are guided to excellent pronunciation of English that native speakers understand. Sign up for a free consultation below to see if speech training is for you. With evening and weekend hours, we can accommodate any schedule, whether in-person at our Charlotte headquarters or online.

What Do You Mean (To Do)?

Mean is a versatile word.

As an adjective, it can be used to describe a person who is unkind and unpleasant toward others, or a dog that barks viciously and chases people. It is the opposite of nice.

In its verb form, mean is used to describe, explain, or define something. It is related to the noun meaning. Therefore, when you ask someone, “What do you mean?” You get a response that describes the intended meaning of something they said.

But there is another use of the word mean. This use occurs far more often than we would like. The word mean is used in its verb form with another verb, in its infinitive form, added to it.

-He has been meaning to read more.

-I was meaning to call you.

-They meant to fix the car.

When mean is used with another verb, as in the examples above, the verb tense is usually present perfect progressive (has been meaning), past progressive (was meaning), or past tense (meant). While this use of mean can appear in the present tense, due to the nature of what mean to communicates, it is most frequently used in one of the three verb tenses listed above.

Here, mean implies an intention. The phrase that follows mean indicates something the subject – he, I, and they in the examples above – intends to happen (to read more, to call you, to fix the car). You might be able to substitute the word want for mean in sentences like these.

But not necessarily.

When you say you mean to do something, you might truly want to do that thing, intend to do that thing, and eventually you will do that thing. That is the strongest interpretation of a mean to sentence. But we as humans can be fickle. We often say we will do things but never do them, either because we are lazy, we forget, or we want to put our listener at ease.

Most of the time when we say we have been meaning to do something, we never do that thing. But that is no reason not to try the things that we have been wanting to do. When I found myself telling others that I have been meaning to run more, I made a mental note. Then, I laced up my sneakers and hit the pavement. So far, I have no regrets.

What is on the list of things you have been meaning to do? If speech training is on your list, then you’ll need a plan. Send us a message and we’ll be happy to help.

Glossary

versatile: having many uses || Mean is a versatile word.

viciously: in a violent, dangerous, or cruel manner || a dog that barks viciously

intend: to plan or want to do something, to have in mind as a purpose or goal || a response that describes the intended meaning of something they said

imply: to suggest or express in an indirect way || mean implies an intention

fickle: changing often, especially of opinion || humans can be fickle

at ease: comfortable or relaxed || we want to put our listener at ease

mental note: to pay attention so you can remember a piece of information later || I made a mental note

hit the pavement: to walk or run on the streets; to go out in search of something || I laced up my sneakers and hit the pavement

Don’t Lose Your Second Language

Listen to the audio as you follow along.

Here in Charlotte, I meet a lot of people who live their lives in their first language, using English as a second language only rarely. It can be a struggle to keep a second language in your brain when you don’t use it every day. However, you don’t have to use a language every day to remember it. There are many ways to keep your language skills fresh and to keep learning, so that when you do need to use your second language, it will be at the tip of your tongue.

Explore the Community

One of the most common pieces of advice I give to clients is to get out in the English-speaking community. Step out of your comfort zone on a regular basis and put yourself in situations where English is the only choice. Maybe that means shopping at a different store, trying out a new restaurant, or making conversation with a stranger on the street. These are all great ways to work on your speaking and listening skills in English, and you might even encounter something new that you never knew you liked.

Read a Book

I’ve written before about the benefits of reading. Reading a book in a second language is a great way to keep the grammar and vocabulary in your mind. Different authors have different ways of communicating, so reading can be an excellent way to grow your verbal skills while you learn new words. Plus, during ten-minute moments of boredom, you can accomplish much more by reading a book than by perusing social media.

Listen to Music

There is a special connection between music and language. You can take advantage of this connection by listening to English language musicians. Listen to the lyrics of different tunes and choose artists who sing in a way that you can hear most of the words clearly. Some words may be too fast to decipher by ear; in this case, look up the lyrics online. The more you hear the song knowing what the lyrics are, the more words of the song you will remember. Sing along – I like to do this while driving – and practice your pronunciation.

Watch Some TV

English-language television, especially sitcoms, are one of the best ways to keep your comprehension abilities sharp. Sitcoms are an excellent source of English grammar and vocabulary, and they are absolutely brimming with cultural information. In fact, many sitcoms, such as The Office, Friends, and Seinfeld became so popular, they are often referred to in conversation among native speakers. By watching sitcoms, you can learn new idioms, slang, and cultural rules for interactions. Try to keep the captions turned off if you can. If you must use captions, then be sure they are in English, rather than your first language.

Google In English

Almost every internet search you perform during the day is part of an inner monologue, the conversation you have with yourself in your mind. In order to ensure that you are still thinking in English part of the time, make a point to perform some of your internet searches in English. Just by asking that question in English and considering the possible answers in English, that entire train of thought can occur in English, rather than your first language.

If you are motivated to become more self-sufficient with your English, then sign up for a free consultation to find out if speech training is for you. Our valuable services can provide you with the key information that no one tells you about speaking English as a second language. Our services are available in person at our office in Charlotte or via the web wherever you are.

Glossary

at the tip of your tongue: in your mind, ready for you to say :: when you do need to use your second language, it will be at the tip of your tongue

encounter: find :: you might even encounter something new

perusing: looking at, looking through :: you can accomplish much more reading a book than by perusing social media

tunes: songs :: Listen to the lyrics of different tunes

lyrics: the words in a song :: Listen to the lyrics of different tunes

decipher: decode, interpret, understand:: Some words may be too fast to decipher by ear…

sitcoms: situation comedies :: English-language television, especially sitcoms, can be a great way to keep your comprehension abilities sharp

brimming with: full of, overflowing with :: they are absolutely brimming with cultural information

monologue: a speech or conversation where only one person is talking :: Almost every internet search you perform during the day is part of an inner monologue

train of thought: a line of reasoning, how someone thinks through something to reach a conclusion :: …that entire train of thought can occur in English…

What’s Holding You Back?

Listen to the audio while you read.

When there is an impediment to getting something done, people say that it is holding them back. A lot of times these impediments are real, but many times, it is all in the mind. Sometimes the former can be changed, and real obstacles to what we want can be removed. The latter can always be changed… but it isn’t always easy.

Sometimes a situation can truly hold you back from doing something. Consider the case of the music lover who wants to drive across the country to see their favorite musician perform. If they do not own or have access to a car, then that holds them back from making it to the show. If they can buy, borrow, or rent a car, then they can get to the concert.

Every once in a while, I’ll meet someone who will say, “I can’t learn a language. I tried in school and I was terrible!” Well, school is not the be-all and end-all of learning. Just because you were unable to learn something in school does not mean that you will never be able to learn that thing. As the great American writer and humorist Mark Twain famously quipped, “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.”

The human brain is hardwired for many things. Among them, learning and communicating. What better way to use your brain that by learning a new language? No matter what sort of experiences you had in school with language learning, other attempts at learning a language can have very different outcomes. Outside of school you are free to learn on your own terms, in a way that works for you.

Don’t let your past experiences hold you back from speaking a second language fluently, with ease. You can do it. With patient, consistent practice, you will do it. Sometimes all it takes to convince your mind that you can do it is to start small. Small successes in the beginning can grow into larger successes, snowballing until you are able to have a basic conversation in a second language.

When you think about those things that you find yourself telling others time and again that you want to do, what are they? Are you doing them? If not, why? What are the things that are holding you back from doing what you want? When it comes to working on a second language, we’ve already covered the common excuses.

So, what’s holding you back?

Glossary

impediment: obstacle, something that prevents or limits success :: When there is an impediment to getting something done

the former: the first of a list of two or more items :: Sometimes the former can be changed

the latter: the last of a list of two or more items :: The latter can always be changed

to make it to: to go, to arrive :: that holds them back from making it to the show

be-all and end-all: something that is essential or of great importance, the ultimate part of something :: school is not the be-all and end-all of learning

to quip: to make a clever remark or funny observation :: Mark Twain famously quipped, “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.”

on one’s own terms: in one’s own way :: outside of school you are free to learn on your own terms

to snowball: to increase and grow at a rapidly increasing rate :: Small successes in the beginning can grow into larger successes, snowballing until you are able to have a basic conversation in a second language

time and again: frequently, repeatedly :: those things that you find yourself telling others time and again that you want to do

Want to be understood? Listen more.

Listen to this article while you read.

We all want to be understood. We humans are a social species, and being able to understand one another has its benefits. One of the struggles of learning a new language is being sure that native speakers of that language understand you. The more pressing our message, the more important it is that our listeners comprehend our speech.

Careful listening allows us to pick up on cues from a conversation partner about a couple of things. By listening closely to the other speaker, we can glean information about what is important to them. In some cases, we can find out about what they may or may not know. If you listen extra carefully, words and phrases the other speaker uses to refer to the things you are both talking about can be quite informative.

It can be difficult to correct someone’s speech. When the conversation is flowing, it can be distracting and downright annoying to have someone interrupt you to say that you used the wrong word. Consequently, most people try to use subtle corrections, if any at all. A subtle correction may be the same phrase you just said, repeated back to you with a word change, or just a single word.

Listen carefully to the words that people use. Are they the same words that you are using in the conversation? If this is the case, then you and your conversation partner are probably on the same page. However, if the other person is using different vocabulary, then take note. It could be that the words they use are more appropriate than the words you are using in the conversation. Or, the words used by your conversation partner may give you insight into their thoughts and feelings about the topic of conversation.

You can convey the same idea in different tones, depending on the way you say it. For example, when discussing a shared project, there are several ways to talk about taking away components of the project.

Saying you want to cut a component out is a fairly neutral way of saying you want to take it away. Using the phrase pare down indicates a desire to take something away in order to minimize, or simplify the work. A stronger way to communicate the same idea but with greater intensity is to eliminate something, or to rip it out. If someone uses either of these phrases, it is likely they feel strongly about the subtraction of the component being discussed.

Good listening skills are not something that you can acquire overnight. Like most communication skills, listening takes practice. The best way to practice listening in a second language is to talk to people. Having a real-life conversation not only gives us the opportunity to get to know someone, it is also a great source of feedback for our speech. Even if your partner in the conversation does not explicitly correct your speech, by listening carefully to what they say and how they say it, you can learn a lot.

Glossary

pressing: urgent, important, critical :: The more pressing our message, the more important it is that our listeners comprehend our speech

to pick up on: to notice or recognize something :: listening allows us to pick up on cues from a conversation partner

glean: to get, to find out :: we can glean information

downright: absolutely :: it can be distracting and downright annoying to have someone interrupt you

subtle: hard to notice, not obvious  :: most people try to use subtle corrections

on the same page: having a shared understanding, agreeing about something :: you and your conversation partner are probably on the same page

take note: pay attention :: if the other person is using different vocabulary, then take note

insight: intuitive understanding :: the words used by your conversation partner may give you insight into their thoughts and feelings about the topic

to depend on: to be decided by, to be determined by :: You can convey the same idea in different tones, depending on the way you say it

acquire: get, develop :: something that you can acquire overnight

Facebook Won’t Improve Your English

You can listen to the audio of this article while you read. Words in bold are defined in the glossary below.

People log in to Facebook all over the world to see what their friends are up to, to see what strangers are doing, to skim articles on topics such as thirty ways to use rubber bands or heroic hedghogs, and to participate in various pages and groups. There are countless pages on the site devoted to learning English. But simply visiting those pages will not improve your English.

Sure, you might learn a new word or two, but scrolling through post after post of brief content is no way to learn. Learning takes concentration and work, and social media sites are designed to thwart both those activities. When you are exposed to new information while you are distracted, that information will go in one ear and out the other. And it is impossible not to be distracted while on a social media site. The sites were designed to keep you distracted, with variable rewards (notifications that have the same affect on humans as the levers that dispense food in the classic rat experiments from psychology) and multiple things in your line of vision that serve to pull your attention in multiple directions at once.

The phrase fear of missing out is frequently used to describe the thing that keeps people glued to social media. People often describe their urge to spend vast stretches of time on Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and whatever else folks are using these days with, “I’m afraid I might miss something.” In reality, those people are missing out on real life while they are staring at their screens.

Learning English or any other language is a process that requires you to focus your attention on one thing at a time. If you are focusing for 20 seconds, then click over to quickly wish your cousin’s best friend a happy birthday, then you are not really focusing. For real learning to take place, you have to cut out the distractions.

Everyone has their own learning styles. You may find it worth it to take some time to think about how you learn best. Personally, I prefer pen and paper, but maybe you learn better with a keyboard, or repeating the new information out loud. Usually, the more methods of reproducing the information you are trying to learn, the better, because it gives your brain multiple representations of the same piece of information. If you are working on your pronunciation, then getting a native speaker to give you feedback can be helpful. Facebook can’t do that.

If you are serious about improving in a second language, then don’t make social media a part of your learning plan. It will only bombard you with information and muddle your attention. If you truly want to work on your English, then make a plan, find a speech trainer, and concentrate on learning the skills you need to improve.

After that, feel free to log in to your favorite social media site and let them hear your ideas.

Glossary

up to: doing, engaged in :: People log in to Facebook all over the world to see what their friends are up to

skim: to read quickly:: … to skim articles…

thwart: to prevent, to cause to fail :: …social media sites are designed to thwart both those activities

in one ear and out the other: to be heard but not attended to, when someone does not pay attention :: …that information will go in one ear and out the other

vast: very large or very wide :: …to spend vast stretches of time…

cut out: eliminate::…you have to cut out the distractions

worth it: worth doing, worth the time/effort::You may find it worth it to take some time to think…

the more [X] the better [Y]: when there is more of X, the result Y will be better :: …the more methods of reproducing the information you are trying to learn, the better

bombard: to attack something or someone by directing a stream of objects at them :: It will only bombard you with information…

muddle: to mix up, to confuse :: …muddle your attention

Improve Your Second Language in 15 Minutes Every Day

If you’re like most people who speak a second language, then the thought of working to improve your skills in that language can feel like standing at the bottom of an enormous mountain, wanting to get to the summit. Unfortunately, we can’t fly, so if we want to get to the top of that mountain, we have to start walking, putting one foot in front of the other, until we arrive. If we want to improve our communication in a second language, then we have to start. After a while, just few minutes of study each day adds up. Consistency is key.

Step by step, it all adds up. Consistency is key.

Make working on your second language skills a part of your daily routine. Think about what time during the day your brain is most active, and schedule your language work accordingly. Many people prefer to work on their language skills either in the morning or at night. It doesn’t matter when you get your practice in. The only thing that matters is that you do it every day.

Our lives are busy. Maybe it is out of the question to try to fit in an entire hour of language study every day, but it is entirely possible to fit fifteen minutes of study into each day. Fifteen minutes may not sound like much, but in a week, it adds up to over an hour. In a month: seven hours. And in a year: three entire days. The added bonus of working just a few minutes every day on your second language is that this slow and steady method helps your brain take in, practice, and learn new information more efficiently.

When learning things like languages, it is better to work with smaller chunks of information over a period of time. A lot of information all at once can overwhelm us and distract us from the main concepts that our brains use to organize information. Therefore, if you spend the first three days of the year working on all the language skills you want to learn that year and then you don’t study until December, all that information you tried to learn back in January probably won’t still be in your brain. However, breaking the same amount of information into 365 15-minute chunks (one for every day of the year) will make it easier for your brain to learn and retain that information.

Before you know it, you’re at the top of the mountain. Looking across the valley, you see the next mountain. Now you know: the only way to get there is to start walking, putting one foot in front of the other. .

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