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Preparing to speak

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How to get yourself started with speaking a language

I was standing in line in a coffee shop the other day, ordering some food and drinks for my wife and son. Now, I am not a coffee-drinker. I can’t stand the stuff. It tastes like old, burnt bark. It’s just not for me. But my wife loves it and has very strict ideas about how her coffee should be. So that’s how I found myself standing in a queue in my first language repeating my order over and over in my head.

Over and over, I thought, “Hi, can I get three toasted ham and cheese sandwiches, a kids smoothie, a cup of tea and a medium caramel frappuccino with whipped cream but no caramel sauce.”

It struck me that even in my first language, I think about what I’m going to say before I say it. While others are ordering food at my table in a restaurant, I’ll be preparing exactly what I’ll say and what answers I’ll give to any follow-up questions the waiter might have. On the way to meet someone for a drink, I’ll think about what stories I have to tell them, what questions I’m going to ask them if the conversation dies a little. In the week before a job interview, as I go about my life, I’ll be planning what questions they might ask me and how I could answer them. For me, planning to speak is the road to success.

The same is even more true in a second language. I remember when I was learning Spanish in Valencia, Spain. I met up with someone I’d met online for a language exchange. We met in a pub and I began with “hola…” and then realized I had nothing else to say. I had left the whole responsibility for the conversation on this person and I merely replied. I swore I’d never do it again and the next time I set up a language exchange with him, I made sure I had prepared some questions, some stories and some language that I wanted to try to use. I’ll never forget what he said to me when it came time for us to speak in English. He said, “Wow, you’re Spanish has really improved. Last week you were a total beginner but this week we could have a conversation.”

The reality was that my Spanish had not improved at all but I had planned to speak and I’d prepared for success. So, if you know you’re going to be in a situation where you will need to speak English, before you go, consider:

  • What do I expect people to ask me? How will I answer those questions?
  • What stories do I want to tell? What language would I like to try out in these stories?
  • What questions do I want to ask these people? What do I think they will say back?

You’ll find that when you prepare to speak, you are infinitely more successful. You’re giving yourself the best chance at success. At EC, our teachers will encourage you to consider what language from your lessons you could use outside the classroom and how you might do so. They’ll help you to consider what a successful story involves and how to successfully navigate various social and transactional situations. So when it comes time for you to plan to speak, you’re ready.

I should mention, when I got to the counter and said, “Hi, can I get three toasted ham and cheese sandwiches, a kids smoothie, a cup of tea and a medium caramel frappuccino with whipped cream but no caramel sauce.” The barista replied, “Do you want that made with coffee or caramel?”. Even when we think we’ve planned everything, there will always be surprises but at least we’ve given ourselves the best chance for success. I guessed caramel, turns out I guessed wrong. Ah well, we live and learn.

If you are ready to explore the world through education, and English is on your list, come see us at one of our English schools which are all beautifully located around the world. We have an English course that will suit your needs.

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