How do I meet native speakers?
To improve your spoken English and get used to a variety of accents, it can be really helpful to meet some native English speakers. In many big towns and most cities, groups already exist to facilitate the task.
The idea of conversing with native speakers may appear quite daunting to many language-learners. “What do I do if I don’t understand?” “What about if they don’t understand what I’m saying?” “I’m sure that my accent is awful”. My answer to all this is “Don’t worry!” It’s all part of the speaking process to explore ways to communicate effectively. If you’re having difficulty, it may be as simple as asking your conversation partner to speak more slowly or to repeat what they said. If they are unwilling or unable to do so, just move on to someone else!
In general, people attending such meetings are pretty open-minded, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. So what groups am I talking about?
Certainly in the area where I live and work, a multitude of language-based groups have sprung up in recent years. I myself organise “language cafés” in Strasbourg (France) and in Kehl and Baden-Baden (Germany). Search for local groups that may have names based around the terms English café, language exchange, language meeting, English speakers, English meetup, even those based on the speed-dating concept. For “meetups”, visit meetup.com and enter the name of your town or city to find all the groups organised there; there’s bound to be one for English speakers among them!
There are also the expat groups, but beginners beware, you’ll probably be expected to understand the jokes too! For some of the above you will be expected to speak your native language in return (“tandem”) during part of the meeting.
If you can’t find anything on the Internet and you have an Irish pub nearby, check that out too. Some of the local groups are also part of international initiatives, such as InterNations or the English Speaking Union and you may have to pay a membership or entrance fee.
Is learning English via webcam effective?
A webcam makes live one-to-one conversations across countries and continents feasible for English learners, but is the method really effective?
Let’s look at some of the advantages and disadvantages.
- The trainer can be located almost anywhere in the world (subject to time differences!), so native speakers should be easy to find.
- It’s ideal for intensive speaking practice.
- It is cheaper than onsite training for learners and companies.
- There is less “wasted” time – travelling, parking, arriving early to set up equipment etc.
- Session times can be kept to a minimum (I recommend 30-60 minutes).
- The software can be free (e.g. Microsoft’s “Skype”).
- Many learners simply prefer not to use this form of learning.
- A reliable, fast Internet infrastructure is required; poor quality pictures and sound will have a detrimental effect on the whole experience.
- Companies may not allow the software to be installed on their networks – the IT manager needs to be on board.
- Trainees need to have basic proficiency already (A2) or else it will be very difficult to maintain a conversation for a substantial time.
- Some technical knowledge is required to install the microphone, webcam and software and troubleshoot problems.
- I find that it best works with one to one; I would not recommend it for groups or multiple learners in different locations.
- Listening and writing practice is limited. There is the ability to type words and sentences and some software includes a virtual whiteboard.
I have personally trained English learners of all ages using solely a webcam, even tech savvy teenagers! For enhanced speaking practice, I find it can be really effective and it is not as intrusive or time-consuming as turning up at a learner’s place of residence. For companies, combining it with other forms of learning may be a cost-effective and more varied solution than the classic tuition model.
Which countries have the best English speakers?
A worldwide survey of adults who speak English as a foreign language reveals the cities, regions and countries that perform the best – and the worst.
It’s probably not a surprise to learn that Scandinavian countries figured among those at the top of the latest EF English Proficiency Index of November 2014. The survey was conducted by examining English test results from adults in 63 countries; the latter are assigned to one of five broad categories from very high proficiency to very low proficiency.
Denmark topped the list while Germany was placed 10th, France 29th. Some countries are further divided into cities and regions. In Germany, Frankfurt has the most proficient English speakers; in France, Alsace and Ile-de-France are the areas with the best scores.
EF also conduct a survey of proficiency in companies, the first (and only) dating back to 2012. Let’s see if it’s updated anytime soon.
Consult the survey here: http://www.ef.com/epi/
What’s the best way to learn English? (ESOL)
Face to face, blended learning, videoconferencing, telephone, self-study, e-learning, mp3s, films, individual, group, intensive, occasional, language study abroad….
The choices for learners of English as a second or other language are mind-boggling. So what’s the best way to learn? Well, the best way is the one that works for you (and your budget!). My approach is to start with speaking, a lot of speaking, even if the communication is difficult at first, it will come with practice. Then, once you have built up confidence in speaking, the other skills (listening, reading, writing) should fall into place.
To really improve your English, you have to go out there and meet people, not just take formal lessons. The lessons will give you the basis and the opportunity to learn within the safe training room environment, but what really will boost your speaking is managing the unpredictability of everyday exchanges. It’s also really important not to be afraid of making mistakes. Making mistakes when we speak is perfectly natural; feeling blocked or inhibited by grammatical constraints weakens your confidence and hampers communication, so just go for it!