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:
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
+ 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.
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.
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.
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
-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
Here, meanimplies 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
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.
many uses || Mean is a versatile word.
a violent, dangerous, or cruel manner || a dog that barks viciously
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
suggest or express in an indirect way || meanimplies an intention
often, especially of opinion || humans can be fickle
at ease: comfortable
or relaxed || we want to put our listener at
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
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
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
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
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
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
interpret, understand:: Some words may be too fast to decipher by ear…
comedies :: English-language television, especially sitcoms, can be a great way to keep your comprehension abilities
brimming with: full
of, overflowing with :: they are absolutely brimming with cultural information
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…
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
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
So, what’s holding you back?
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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…
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
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
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.
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
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
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. .