I’ve seen that many people obtain knowledge from our English training sessions (and other types of training as well) but not all integrate what was learned. The missing piece is making it your own!
How to integrate what you learn into your daily communication
To learn a skill, we need to first understand and then do exercises and practice. We’ve all heard: “practice makes perfect” and “practice, practice, practice.” But practicing an exercise will allow us to learn how to do the exercise, not how to apply it in real life. Our “Make it Your Own” process takes practicing several steps further. It involves using the brain to creatively apply to the life experience of the client what is being learned in the training sessions.
For example, doing a grammar exercise allows us to methodically repeat a pattern, often on paper. This is the skill being practiced. We need to move on to applying this structure to our life experience. Whether the practice be oral or written, it needs to tap into our brain, associate the structure with a need to express our reality, and be practiced in this way. It needs to meld with our thinking, gradually becoming part of our thoughts, splitting our attention between what we want to say and how to say it correctly. Paper exercises have their place but they are only the first step.
When we write, we have time to think and review. But when we speak, we can easily get confused and lose our train of thought if we are also focusing on the correct structure, the correct pronunciation, the most effective word or phrase, if we haven’t integrated it yet.
How to practice a grammatical structure
Here’s an example of a grammatical structure – the past conditional – which is commonly avoided or misused at the very advanced level, in both speech and writing. After learning the structure and what it can be used for, doing written exercises and answering written questions that require its use, start to drill it orally. It needs to be something that is real, not fictional. Even though this structure deals with imaginary situations, the practice must be based in reality in order to imprint itself on the brain. This practice needs to be drilled – repeated a lot, first in class and then at home while practicing.
In this particular case, when we have verb phrases, it is important to understand that native English speakers think in grammatical blocks. For example, native speakers nearly always say “would have” as “wuduv,” (could have = cuduv, should have = shuduv,) as if the two words were one. Condensing a complicated series of words into blocks makes it easier to remember and use correctly.
Take this sentence, for example: I would have gone to your place if I had had more time.
If I block some of the verb phrases, it looks and sound like this: I wuduv gone to your place if ayt-had more time.
“Wuduv” gone, “wuduv” been, “wuduv said,” etc. are blocks I can drill in relation to my life:
- I wuduv gone to your place…
- I wuduv been on time…
- I wuduv said more…
And then I can gradually expand the ideas, complete the structure, lengthen the sentences, explore optional actions or reasons, etc. Have a conversation with yourself or a friend.
Q: How was the party??
A: It was fun. I saw a friend I hadn’t seen in five years.
Q: What if you hadn’t gone to the party?
A: Well, I wouldn’t have seen him which would have been sad.
Q: What else might you have done if you hadn’t gone?
A: I probably would have stayed home and watched Netflix. Etc.
Even the phrase “might you have” is generally condensed into “my-chav.”
How to practice a pronunciation point
Another way you can use this approach is when learning how to pronounce a particular sound. The first step is to learn the sound on its own, then practice it in individual words, at the beginning, middle and end. Sometimes clients have difficulty pronouncing certain sounds only at the beginning of a word, for example. It is important for the client to pay attention to isolate where they are having more difficulty. Then the sound is used in short phrases and sentences. Moving between different sounds and remembering aspects such as stress, phrasing and intonation, etc., is a big step.
At this point you are still reading, stimulated by the visual and not connected emotionally to the content. Making it your own involves practicing using words and phrases creatively, relating them to your life experience.
Here’s an example of a commonly unclear consonant cluster – RL at the end of a syllable. In English we make R and L in a way that is not so common in other languages. Most importantly, we release the R before moving into the L.
Let’s look at how we might practice these words – girl, world and pearl – once we have the technical skill and have practiced it by reading words, phrases and sentences. This is an example of oral practice which is supposedly coming from your imagination as you combine ideas using each word. Perhaps you have a friend called Joan who just had a new baby girl.
- A cute girl.
- Four girls and a boy.
- Joan now has four girls and a boy.
- I have one girl.
- Girls are easier to raise than boys, in my opinion.
- Pearl earrings.
- A pearl necklace.
- I inherited a pearl necklace.
- Some companies import pearls to Canada.
- Pearls can be very expensive.
- A worldly person.
- Travel the world.
- I’d love to travel the world.
- We sell our products world-wide.
The idea is to eventually get up to normal speed, not slowing down on the difficult word or when you are thinking.
How to practice new vocabulary
This approach is also very useful for integrating new vocabulary, including lexical structures (words that commonly go together) and different forms of a particular word.
Let’s say the structure being learned comes from the idiom “pass the buck.” After understanding the idiom, the client and coach brainstorm other possibilities using “pass the…” while exploring the different meanings of the word “pass” and any idioms that arise, such as “pass the car,” “pass the test,” “pass the salt,” etc. This activity can continue into exploring the different forms of the verb pass (passes, passing, passed vs past, etc.) and related vocabulary and phrasal verbs (passersby, passing, pass out, pass away, etc.) After drilling key vocabulary in random contexts, it is then practiced in conversation with the coach and by the client outside of class in either or both writing and speech.
- My uncle passed away last year.
- I passed by his house a few days before.
- He had passed out several times over the previous weeks.
- He did some medical tests, most of which he passed.
- But he didn’t pass the angiogram.
- My aunt passed through a very difficult time after he died. Etc.
In this way, the “Make it Your Own” process draws on our neurology, allowing the learning to integrate into our unconscious bit by bit. It allows us to split our focus between using the structure or making the sound correctly while thinking about our experience, ideas, opinions, etc. And it allows us to make associations between vocabulary, expressions, structures and sounds. Daily practice and repetition are key in this process, as is creativity and focus.
If you want support in any of these areas, please contact us for more information.