ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE
We have huge experience teaching English to Bulgarian, German, French, Greek, Russian and Japanese people.
Irrespective of their linguistic backgrounds, most learners of English encounter similar problems.
Spelling is a nightmare, pronunciation is tricky, grammar seems to be both treacherously simple and challenging.
After years of learning, or using the language many people still have problems speaking, as well as writing e-mails, reports or presentations. They feel that something is wrong.
On the one hand, learning English is easy because you barely have to learn rules, but, on the other, it is difficult exactly because there are few rules. You rather have choices. And there is certain logic behind these choices.
Learning English is actually mostly about understanding its logic. The rest is learning words, and practicing.
I am not being pedantic. And it is not about being perfect. Nobody is perfect, not even native speakers. But believe me, if you don’t know what exactly you are saying, the others won’t know either.
In English correctness does not necessarily mean perfectness. In English it is all about understanding and being understood. This is generally what communication is about.
As a non-native speaker of English, if you are able to get your message across, and understand what the others mean, you are fine.
The question is how to do this.
My professional view is that anybody can gain confidence while learning English if they are taught to understand accept and apply the underlying principles of the English language.
Communicating successfully is about making the right decisions as opposed to parrot repetition.
Learning by heart would bring you nowhere.
Learning to speak English is like driving in an unknown city. You may not know the whole city very well, but you know the right direction, you know the high-way code, and the traffic rules and you watch them. And you have a map. This will certainly get you from A to B.
And the other way round, not understanding the logic of the language is like driving a car without knowing how to make a turn, or where to make it. You don’t want that, and the rest of us don’t, either.
While you are driving you want to be able to enjoy the confidence to start and stop at your wish, to turn, speed, slow down, shift gear, etc. This is not about freedom, this is about survival.
Speaking English as a non-native speaker is also a little like skiing. When you are up the on the slopes you want to get down safely. If you can do it with style, so much the better, you will make the best impression, and you will have great fun while doing it. But you put safety first. So correctness comes before speed and style.
While skiing you don’t want to break a leg. While speaking you don’t want to break communication.
When you are speaking English you want to be able to start a sentence, finish a sentence, convey your idea through it and still have the attention of the listener. And then, in your turn, you need to be able to decode his/her message.
Language is a code. Communication is about encoding and decoding.
You need to be equipped with the necessary tools and to know how to use them.
This will give the confidence that you are on the right track, the comfort that you are understood and the satisfactory feeling that you are in control of your linguistic situation, rather than your linguistic situation being in control of you.
This is where you start working towards fluency. Don’t underestimate practice. No practice, no fluency!
If you don’t practice while learning English you will find yourself in the situation of somebody who is learning to swim not in the swimming pool but on the slippery tiles around it.
A few years ago a French woman, who had brought her son to have English language classes with us, when trying to show appreciation of our work, pointed at a textbook sitting on a desk next to her, frowned and said: “This is school”. Then she pointed around at my office and said: “And this here is life!”
With all due respect to all textbooks in the world I would say that the French lady was right!
Learning to speak English does not necessarily have to be difficult.
In English they say: “It is more easily said than done.”
And the Irish say: “A good start is half the work.”