Ｉ often ask my students some questions on the first day of my English conversation class.
The first question is usually plain and simple: Why did you join this program? To add a
little difficulty, the second question is: Can you share one tip on how to improve your
English conversation skill? As expected, most student's answer to the first question is to
improve their English. The second question is a bit tricky. More than 50% of the students
think practicing speaking can improve their English. Other students think watching
English movies, listening to English radio, and even writing more can help them.
There is no correct answer to the questions, but I do challenge my students on their
answers. We all know practice makes perfect, but how do you practice? Do you really
practice English "conversation"?
Take one commonly incorrect sentence as an example: I very like to eat noodles. It is
translated directly from Chinese. The correct sentence is: I like to eat noodles very much.
If you have to think in Chinese, translate to English, and then output in English, it limits
your improvement. If translation was the solution, an interpreting machine would have
been invented by now in this technologically advanced era. Many words, phrases, and
sentences simply can't be translated directly.
How can you practice English "conversation" correctly? First and foremost, block out
Chinese. For students whose English level is higher than basic, it is essential to think in
English, and speak English. How to do it? Start from asking the question. Do not ask: How
do you say 早餐 in English? Try to use English to ask questions: How do you say the meal
you eat in the morning? I often remind my students that the class is English conversation,
not a Chinese conversation class. Please don't use Chinese in class.
The English-speaking environment provides a "situation" that helps students to speak
English naturally. I highly doubt that any students need to translate 謝謝 from Chinese to
English and say it. Why do you say "Thank you" without thinking? You must have seen
movies, TV, or even practiced too many times in the situation of expressing gratitude;
it has become a natural reaction. In my English conversation class, I adopt lots of
"situations", so students can respond in English naturally in a similar situation. I truly believe
that's how practice makes perfect.