How to speak English without thinking in Italian
Last May we did our first event in my school, IELO, that is based in Florence, Italy. The idea was to promote a workshop where students could meet each other, speak in English and exchange experiences.
Before the workshop though, I did some brainstorming with Francesca (the Chief Translator) to find out the best topic, regardless of the language level of each student. Something that besides being interesting, could be also useful to improve their language skills. At first this seemed something difficult, as our students ranged from A1 to C1 level. However, the answer came to us quite fast.
We first focused on the similarities of our students. What is the easiest thing about learning English? We were not sure about this approach because students with different levels might have different strengths. Then, we decided to change the stream of our mindset and focus on the students’ weaknesses. What is the most difficult skill for a student when he or she starts learning a language? From my experience, speaking and listening. Speaking is what all my students highlight as the hardest skill to master in their first interview. Therefore, we thought that the best topic for our Workshop would be How to improve students speaking skills. Nevertheless, we concluded that before speaking, there is the thinking. We must think before we speak. Most of the times we have to think, but how do we stop thinking in our own language? How can we help our students to make English more natural to them? That was the topic of our workshop.
During the development of the Workshop material, we found different professionals that would say the same thing. Therefore, we decided to add those teachers’ experiences to our own one. This would have made the content more real, giving to our students a sense of empathy. Finally, we divided the workshop in three parts: a short introduction, the 5 techniques to speak English without thinking in Italian and final tips.
The Introduction to the workshop
The introduction to our workshop consisted in explaining how important it is to break the paradigm. Italian, Portuguese and Spanish students are not used to listen and therefore speak an Anglo-Saxon language. In those languages, the phonemes are pretty much the same while in English there is a variety of sounds unknown to Latin speaking students. That is the main paradigm. So, what should the students do to break the paradigm? Understanding is the answer. Understand that English is not a Latin language. Learning the grammar helps to understand the logic of the language. By doing so, speaking will make more sense. English is a quite simple language. Ask to an English mother tongue to learn Italian and that is going to be more difficult than for Italian speakers to learn a Latin language. English is very direct, while Latin languages tend to make more roundabouts.
Make it simple and make it fast
Use the vocabulary you know and continue the conversation. It’s also important to make students understand that this is a learning process. Mistakes are part of the game, and they are extremely relevant to improve the language skills. The moto is: embrace your mistakes. Love them until you’re able to let them go. If all those steps are followed from the beginning, for sure frustration will be avoided or more manageable.
The 5 techniques to improve your english fast
1). Put English in your life and think small
How to use English everywhere when there is no English around?
- Set up your cell phone in English
- Talk to yourself out loud in English
- Talk to your pet in English
- Listen to music and TV shows in English
- Sing your favorite songs
- Watch movies with English subtitles
2). Guess and Plan what you are going to say
Prepare your brain for future situations:
- Conversation – Create your own conversations mentally
- Presentation – The 3 bullets technique: everything you say must have an Introduction, a Development and a Conclusion
- Job interviews – Tell your own story
REMEMBER: the more prepared you are, the more successful you will be
3). Understand the context and stop translating through translation
Dictionary is not always at reach. Being prepared to any situations requires observation. Listen and observe. Context will give you lots of answers.
4). Organize your thoughts and label everything
Sticky notes are your best friends. Put them everywhere. You have to change every day. You have to eat every day. If you open your wardrobe or fridge and there is a post it in front of you, you will immediately look at it. No escape. 100% sure you will memorize those words in one-week time.
5). Relax, drink and talk
- Don’t worry, even native speakers don’t understand 100% of what is said. Stick to 60% to 80%
- Love your accent!
- Be humble and ask your native or your bilingual friends to correct your mistakes
- Relax and talk
Last but not least, the final tips are:
- Find a motivation!
- Stop using bilingual dictionaries
- Listen to English in a daily basis through apps: Spotify, youtube, Tedx talks
- Follow English Learning profiles on Facebook or Instagram
- Create playlists on youtube of your favorite teachers
- Find a friend to speak in English by Whastapp
- Repetition: do a little bit every day
That was pretty much the literal content of the workshop which I very much would like to share. IELO thinks that knowledge is something that must be shared and these tips are not based on science but on experience. This is the core of what we believe.
Learning by experience!