Improve Your Spoken English: 

Every college student in China seems to be studying English. I see them listening to radio programs on their dormitory bed, studying the dictionary in the back of the classroom, and completing grammar exercises in the cafeteria; “This article Written by F.J. Noonan“. Now start how to Improve Your Spoken English by him.

These same students come and ask the same question to teacher:

“Teacher . . . my spoken English is very poor. How to improve my spoken English?”

This short book is my answer to their question. This book will reference modern research, but it is not a book for scholars. This book will contain information that will benefit English teachers, but it is not a book for teachers. This is a book for you, the student.

In my reading, much of the literature concerning language acquisition theory and research are designed for teachers. This is great for teachers. And I’m sure many students have benefited from this if their teachers have read them. However, I believe students should not be dependent solely on the ability of the teacher. I desire to give knowledge to the students themselves so that you will be empowered to take charge of your own learning.

This knowledge is not given so that you can criticize your teachers. No matter who your teacher is; no matter what he does in the classroom, you can learn from him. My hope is that you will eagerly learn from whatever type of instruction you receive in the classroom, and then use this knowledge to guide your self-study efforts outside of the classroom.

Improve Your Aptitude:

First, let me be frank. There is no magic formula to becoming a fluent speaker of any language. One of the reasons this is so is that each individual is unique. Students learn differently. Moreover, just as some students are better at basketball or math than other students, some students are better at studying foreign languages than other students. One’s natural ability to learn another language is called language aptitude. The higher your language aptitude; the easier it will be for you to learn a foreign language. The lower your language aptitude; the harder it will be. However, no matter what your language aptitude, everyone is able to make progress.

Improve Your Motivation:

Motivation. The reason why we study. Though researchers describe numerous subtleties, two types of motivation reoccur throughout the literature: instrumental and integrative motivation. Instrumental motivation is one in which the learner desires to use the language as a tool to achieve some desirable ends. In contrast, an integrative motivation is one in which “learners may choose to learn a particular L2 because they are interested in the people and culture represented by the target-language group” (Ellis, 1997, p75). In various contexts, both motivations have proved important. Of course, students can have both types of motivation at the same time.

Many students in China have a weak instrumental motivation for studying English. They just want to pass the CET-4 so they can get their bachelor’s degree. Others have a strong instrumental motivation. They study because they want to acquire a good job or study abroad. Some study English for integrative reasons. They simply enjoy it and want to make new friends. I recently conducted a survey among 33 successful and 33 non-successful English language learners in China. It produced the following results:

Question: What best describes your motivation for learning English? Weak Instrumental (pass test) Strong  Instrumental (get job, study abroad) Integrative (make new friends, enjoyment)
Successful Learners 9.09 % 24.24 % 54.54 %
Non-successful Learners 42.42 % 39.39 % 6.06 %

[12.12% of both successful and non-successful learners claimed they studied for “no reason”.]

Debate surrounds the question of whether success is the result of one’s motivation or one’s motivation is the result of success. Nevertheless, these results are suggestive. Students who study only for the sake of passing a test are highly unlikely to be successful. Strong instrumental motivations are better. In this study, however, it appears that students with an integrative motivation are most likely to be successful.

As one student responded, “If you learn English but cannot speak it fluently, you are like a blind being on the street. You [will] lose many precious opportunities to enjoy the beauty of this world. You are kept inside a dark box. But if you speak [English] well, you will learn about culture, people, and life. You feel your life colorful and meaningful. You are not isolated.”

Before you finish the rest of this book, you ought to ask yourself, “Why am I learning English?” If you are only learning so that you can pass some test, you might as well stop here. First, you must realize that English is a key that unlocks doors to opportunities. Opportunities for jobs, travel, new friends, and much more!

Improve Your More Than Diligence:

Everyone believes that one must be diligent to learn English well. However, in my research, I found that the diligence of the student is not as great a factor as one would expect. In fact, there was little difference between the diligence (according to their own perceptions) of successful and non-successful English students, as shown in the following chart.

QuestionHow would you describe your diligence in studying English?  A: Extremely diligent – I followed my a study plans all of the time. B: Very Diligent – I followed my a study plan most of the time. C: Sometimes diligent – I  followed my study plans sometimes, but often I was too busy with other things. D: Not Diligent – I only studied when I wanted to and wasn’t busy with something else.
Successful Learners 9.09 % 33.33 % 42.42 % 15.15 %
Non-successful Learners 6.06 % 30.30 % 51.51 % 15.38 %

Possibly many of the successful learners actually were more diligent than the non-successful learners. But this at least shows that whether or not learners feel they are diligent or not is of little consequence to the success of their English study. 36.36 % of the non-successful learners feel they have studied extremely or very diligently for two years or more but still speak English poorly. In contrast, 57.58 % of successful learners described themselves as only sometimes diligent or not diligent at all, yet they speak English very well. Why do some very diligent students speak English poorly, while other un-diligent students speak English well?

Perhaps the story of Yu Gong, the foolish old man who moved the mountain, illustrates the point. English is your mountain. If you want to learn English well, you should have Yu Gong spirit, diligence. But there is another side to this story. According to the story, an angel has mercy on Yu Gong and moves the mountain for him. How we all wish an English angel would come down and give us the gift of English fluency!

However, this is just a fable. Left to his own method, Yu Gong would not have lived to see his mountain moved. His children’s children would have had to work continually to reach the goal. It simply would have taken too long. Though Yu Gong possessed diligence, he lacked wisdom. If he had simply moved his house, he would have accomplished his goal much sooner and spared his family a lot of unnecessary hardship.

The same is true for learning English. It is not sufficient simply to study a lot, one must study the right way. If one wants to learn English well, he must have the Foolish Man’s spirit, but the Wise Man’s method.

The rest of this book will help you develop a wise man’s method. I suggest that you will acquire language best when you study in such a way that you; 1. listen to large amounts of comprehensible input, 2. have opportunities to use the target language to communicate with others, and 3. support your learning with some grammatical learning (focused on making input comprehensible and developing awareness).

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