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Real Advice for Getting a Job

Job interviews are difficult even when you have to do them in your native language. The idea of having to do a job interview in English takes this stress to another level. Additionally, the hiring process can be different than what you are used to in English-speaking countries like the USA, Canada or the UK.

To find out what employers are really thinking when they are hiring and to give you the best advice, I decided to call my friend Greg who has a lot of experience hiring people for his own business and has many job interview tips. He has hired dozens of English teachers for the private Skype lessons they provide at Online Language Academy.

In this article, you will learn the typical mistakes people make while applying, how to act during the interview and tips for feeling less nervous!

 

Quick Links:

This is a long article so I have created some links that will help you find the information you are most interested in. Don’t forget to watch the video with Greg and Amy discussing our best job interview tips!

job interview tips

How to Get a Job Interview

You might be surprised to find out that you have been making several mistakes while applying for jobs that are causing you to have fewer interviews than you are expecting. These mistakes aren’t obvious until they are mentioned to you or if you think about the process from an employer’s perspective.

 

Job Application Tip #1 – Think like an Employer

Imagine that you are an employer. You are someone who is very busy all the time trying to run your business. When you realize that you need to hire someone new, it’s another task that you need to fit into your day.  When you are reviewing applications… you don’t have a lot of time.

As a job applicant, what can you do to make sure that your resume stands out? What does your resume need to have to make sure that even the busiest business person pays attention to your job application?

 

Job Application Tip #2 – Resumes Aren’t Reviewed in Detail

Even though you have spent a lot of time carefully preparing your resume (or CV), it is very unlikely that the person receiving your resume is going to read every single detail. The problem is that most employers receive hundreds of resumes when they post an ad with a job opportunity.

At this stage, employers are looking for reasons to eliminate applications because they simply do not have time to review every application in detail. Spelling mistakes and resumes that look boring or hard to read are immediately eliminated, even if you are the perfect candidate for the job position.

 

Applying for Jobs Tip #3 – You Have to Stand Out

Now you can see why it is REALLY important that your resume and application stands out from the rest.

If you are applying by email, try to use the name of the person receiving the application and mention the most important details that you think will make you stand out.

For example, including a link to a short video you created specifically for the job application introducing yourself or providing a link to a personal website you created can make your application different than everyone else.

Job Application Tip #4 – Don’t Send a Plain Document

No one likes to read plain text documents that feel like they are crammed with too much information. It makes it difficult to scan for relevant information. A boring black and white text document is not something that is appealing to read and it is not competitive with a more visually appealing resume.

Be sure that you use nice headings that make it easy to read and find the information they are looking for and include some color to try to bring some life to your resume and make it more interesting.

Job Tip #5 – Digital Resumes Have Changed the Game

As technology continues to improve, it is also allowing people to create beautiful digital resumes. If you are sending your applications by email, a visually appealing digital resume will help to make sure that it is read from start to finish.

In the next few years, having a digital resume, a personal website and links to everything will be expected. For now, having a beautiful digital resume will help you to stand out.

job interview tips

 Job Application Tip #6 – Your resume can show you care

When you put some extra effort into creating your resume and making sure that you have modified each resume for the specific job you are applying for, it will show the employer you really care about getting the job and you took the time to personalize it for that specific company.

 

Applying for a Job Tip #7 – Create a Personal Website

It might seem like a lot of work to create a website about you and your work experience, but there are some really nice advantages to doing this.

On your website, you can explain your experience using more detail than you can on a one or two-page resume. Additionally, you can add pictures and make it an interactive experience.

Applying for a Job Tip #8 – Create a Short Video about You

Creating a video is something you can do for free and it can really help to make you stand out and make a good first impression. Using your computer webcam or even a cell phone, you can create a short video introducing yourself and talking about some of your skills. 1 to 2 minutes is usually the perfect length.

Be sure to appear professional, show your personality, record in a quiet room and have good lighting so that the video looks and sounds good. If you are using a cell phone, be sure that someone else is recording you and that the camera is still. A shaky video will not appear professional.

Getting an Interview Tip #9 – Pay Attention to the Application Requirements

Each employer will ask you to submit certain information when applying for a job. If they ask you to submit a cover letter, send a voicemail or an email… be sure to do everything they have asked.

If you don’t send all the information that they have asked you to send, it shows them that you cannot follow instructions and you will definitely not be called for an interview. Remember, they are looking for reasons to eliminate applicants wherever they can.

Job Application Tip #10 – How to Make an Impression Before the Interview

Surprise the employer by creating a video for the specific job position that you apply for to introduce yourself and greet them. You should mention a bit about the company, the job position and the one or two points that show you are a good candidate.

An employer will see that you took the time to create a video just for them. It shows you are serious about the job and willing to go beyond what is expected.

This is a great way to make a good first impression and they can see who you are. This detail alone can help you to get a job interview. You can’t make the same impression with a resume or a text document as you can with a personalized video.

job interview tips

Job Application Tip # 11 – Personalize Your Resume to Each Company

Most resumes start with an objective or a statement about their purpose for submitting the application. This is the first thing the employer will read. It is important that you change this short statement for the specific job you are applying for and to include the company name.

If you do not modify this statement, it will appear as if you are applying to many different companies and that you are too lazy to update it for the specific job you are applying for.

 

Job Application Advice # 12 – Don’t send an Empty Email

Take the time to write a short greeting when you send an email with your attached resume. You can explain a few important points, provide links to your personal website or the short video you recorded and mention the attached resume too.

 

Job Application Advice #13 – Don’t Bulk Send Emails

There is nothing worse than receiving a job application email that has been sent to your company and… you can see the exact same email application was sent to 20 other companies!

This shows the employer that you don’t care who you work for. You are simply sending out as many job applications as you can. You have no interest in working specifically for them.

Top Advice and Job Interview Tips

You have finally been called in for a job interview thanks to all those awesome strategies you used during the application process. Now, you can be better prepared to perform well in the interview by practicing and thinking about these job interview tips by knowing exactly what the employer is thinking.

Job Interview Tip #14 – Show Your Personality

Employers want to see your personality to help them decide if they think you will be a good fit with their other employees and the job position that you are being hired for.

I know it can be hard to ‘be yourself’ when you are nervous in a job interview, but it is important to let your personality show. If you are behaving in a different way than you normally do, the employer might feel like you are hiding something or that they cannot determine if you will be the right person for the job.

Online Job Interview Tip #15: Always Appear Professional

Treat an interview that you have online (through Skype for example) the same way that you would treat an interview in person.

Dress nicely, style your hair and choose a professional looking background that looks clean and tidy. Make sure that you use a microphone or headset to ensure you will be heard clearly, test your microphone and headphones before the call too.

Online Job Interview Tip #16 – Remove Distractions

Someone walking around in the background of your video is unprofessional and distracting. Be sure to tell other people to stay out of the room during your interview.

If you have pets be sure to put them in another room so they do not cause any interruptions either.

Job Interview Advice #17 – Be prepared and Organized

Think about everything that you might need to have during your interview and have it ready to access.

For example, if you need to drive to an interview, make sure you have gas in the car and change for the parking meter. If your interview is online, you should plug in your laptop and have your microphone and headphones ready to use.

job interview questions

Tips for Your Interview #18 – Questions that Reveal More than you Think

Employers choose their questions carefully to see the reactions and answer of the interview candidate. There can be hundreds of different responses to one question.

You might hear a simple question in a job interview that seems too easy to answer. Try to consider why they are asking you the question. They might be giving you an opportunity to explain more about yourself or to talk about your experience.

 

Job Interview Questions #19 – The Most Important Questions

The first question and the last question are the most important questions in the interview. The first question allows you to make a good first impression. The last question will be what the interviewer will remember the most.

 

Job Interview Question Tip #20 – Research the Company

Most interviewers will ask you: What you know about this company?

Do some research before the interview and make sure that you know some specific information and what makes them special. If it is a small company, it can be helpful to know about the person that is doing the interview as well especially if it is the owner.

If you do not know any details about the company it will show that you have not taken the time to look at their website, learn about their company and that you are not very interested in this particular job.

On the contrary, if took the time to research the website, their social media sites and some recent blog posts, it shows you care.

Interview Questions Tip #21 – Do you have any questions?

This is another sneaky question that can seem simple. This is actually an opportunity for you to ask a question that can allow you to explain something special that you can offer or contribute to the company.

For example, if you have had experience with social media marketing but you are applying for a sales position, you can ask them if they are using social media to attract new leads. Once they finish answering your question, you can tell a story about how you helped a previous employer to increase sales through the work you did.

Interview Questions Tip #22 – What type of person are they looking for?

At the end of the interview you might hear, “Do you have any questions?”

You can respond with, “What type of person are you hoping to hire for this position?”

The employer will describe the qualities and skills they are looking for and you can verify you are the candidate they are looking for based on their answer.

 

Job Interview Advice #23 – You want to work for THEM specifically

Try to make the employer feel like you are interested in working for them specifically, not just anybody that will hire you. Give this impression on your resume, the personalized video you create and also during the interview.

Job Interview Tip #24 – Send a Thank You Email

Taking the time to send a ‘thank you’ email will really show that you have good manners and you appreciated the time and the opportunity to meet with the interviewer.

 

How to Be Less Nervous in Your Interview

This section will give you some advice to help you prepare for your job interview in English to feel less nervous when the interview happens.

job interview practice

Job Interview Tip #25 – The First question

You will feel the most nervous within the first 2 or 3 minutes of the job interview. Luckily, the first questions that you have to answer are very predictable and you can practice answering them ahead of time. By the time you are finished answering the first question, you will already be starting to feel more relaxed.

Job Interview Question Tip #26 – Tell me about yourself

The first two questions that you are likely to hear are:

  1. Tell me a little bit about yourself
  2. What do you know about our company

Be sure to practice how you are going to explain this to the employer several times so that it is easy for you to say even if you are nervous. By the time you are finished answering these questions, you will feel less nervous.

 

Job Interview Advice #27 – Review your resume

It is important to know exactly what is on your resume so that you are ready to answer any questions related to it. Take a few minutes to review your resume in detail.

 

Job Interview Tip #28 – Practice Explaining Your Experience

Resumes only have a small amount of detail related to your past job experience. You should expect to be asked about certain job positions and the type of experience you have.

Practice explaining each item of your resume in more detail so that you can expand on your experience confidently during the real interview.

 

Job Interview Advice #29 – Connecting Your Past Experience

Before the interview, think about how each item that you have listed on your resume can be related or helpful to the position you are applying for.

Everything that you have done has taught you something or given you some sort of experience. Think of some stories that help connect that experience as a skill that could be helpful to this job. Practice saying this answer out loud or try this speaking practice technique.

When you tell stories you will feel more relaxed and it will allow you to make a personal connection with the person doing the interview.

Interview Questions Advice #30 – End Every Answer Positively

Be sure to end each of your answers on a positive note. Using your past experience as an asset to keep the answer positive.

 

Practicing for Your Interview in English

There are some really great ways to practice answering questions for your job interview to really help you feel more confident during the real thing. The first one is my favorite tip!

job interview practice

Interview Preparation Tip #31: Who Makes You Uncomfortable?

When you are in a job interview, it is uncomfortable and stressful. To replicate this uncomfortable feeling, it can help to practice job interview questions with someone that you think will make you feel uncomfortable.

For example, practice some interview questions with a roommate or a neighbor that you don’t know very well.

By the time you have your real interview, you will already have experience practicing your answers in a situation that was much worse!

Interview Preparation Advice #32: Private Lessons to Practice Interviews

There are many English teachers that can help you to prepare for your interview and help you to practice answering job interview questions. The teachers at Online Language Academy are experts in helping you to provide better answers in your job interview and give you the confidence you need to answer the most common questions.

Interview Preparation Tip # 33: Different Accents or Ways of Speaking

Each person has a different way of speaking and you will have no idea what type of accent they speak with. It can be very helpful to practice speaking with native speakers that have different accents. Additionally, each person will speak in a different way.

Try one of these English lessons via Skype with different English teachers that have different accents to prepare your English listening skills.

Summary for this Job Interview Advice

These tips really are some of the best advice to help you stand out from the rest of the applicants and to be called for an interview.

As you can see, applying for the job is almost more important than the actual job interview. If you don’t apply for the job correctly, you won’t be called for any interviews!

Don’t be afraid to use technology as a tool to make you look better than the rest and to personalize your job application to really be something special that can’t be ignored by any employer.

Share this article with someone you know that is looking for a job. The advice here is helpful for ESL job applicants but also native speakers.

Leave us a comment below if you found this helpful 🙂

Be More ‘Interesting’ in Every English Conversation You Have

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The English Conversation Skills You Are Missing

Making friends in a foreign language seems easy at first…

But you can always feel how your speaking delays, missing words and the weird ways you have to explain things continue to make you feel like an outsider in a crowd that you want to fit in with.

It took some time for me to figure out exactly what is missing from our conversation abilities but I’ve got an answer. I’ve also included a speaking practice activity that you can add to your study sessions to get one step closer to having better English conversation experiences so that native speakers will want to spend more time with you! 🙂


More speaking advice and tips here

english conversation

Stop thinking like an English Learner

When you get together with your friends, it’s a lot of fun. At the end of the night you know that you had a good time but… what exactly did you talked about for all those hours?

It’s small talk.

You tell stories. Talk about random stuff that you’ve seen recently. Anything that has been Interesting or something that has happened to you.  Really, anything that is mildly entertaining and worth mentioning.

It’s about sharing your experiences and telling it like a really interesting story. As if your friends were there with you.

english conversation

It seems like it takes years of studying English just to be able to have a simple English conversation. The idea of hanging out with a group of native speakers laughing and joking like you do with your friends and family feels like a distant dream.

When you finally get the basics down to hold a conversation, the focus changes to effective communication. If you can just understand other people and have them understand you, everything should be good.

Once you are finally able to communicate, it seems like everything else should happen easily. There is another stage where you need to learning the art of casual English conversation.

Even if ‘sounding like a native speaker’ has always been your goal, this is the time where you really start to grow towards that natural way of communicating. To react naturally reaction to a joke with a witty comment or blurt out phrases while you play a game.

english conversation

Start Telling More Stories

Stories should be descriptive, interesting and above all… entertaining. Good storytellers sound interesting when they tell the stories. You have to speak like you want people to listen to you. Using tone, passion, suspenseful pauses and enthusiasm at the right times, the same way that you would in your native language.

This takes practice, just like any other aspect of English. The good news is that there is no shortage of experiences you can talk about to practice your ‘storytelling’.

This is what our student Abushanib said about the speaking practice activity I am about to recommend to you:

(Hint: This is why you need to DO the activity, not just read about it :))

“Dear Amy. You’re right about this!
I applied what you’ve said about repeating it three times and I realize there was a great deal of improvement.
I highly appreciate your beautiful work. Thanks a lot.
Abushanib

Medical Student , Iraq

Speaking Practice Activity

Think about a story you would probably tell your friend or a family member. Something interesting that happened recently. Someone you’ve seen, somewhere you went, something you watched recently… whatever. Just think of some experience that is worth talking about. Something that is interesting to you.

Practice talking about it in English the way you would in an everyday conversation with your friends or a co-worker during your break. You don’t need anyone to speak with either. Explain it to yourself. Practice telling the story knowing that nobody is listening or judging you while you think and figure things out.

You will quickly see that you are missing some words or you don’t like how you are explaining things. There’s a struggle to fill the gaps when you are thinking.

Stop and look up these words or phrases when you get stuck… and try again! Repeat your sentences when your are not satisfied with how fluently you explained it. Above all, practice explaining it with the same detail and the same way that you talk about things in your native language.

Not only is this is a fun way to practice speaking, it’s going to help your social skills in English as well. This really is the secret to being an interesting person to talk with. Tell stories that are interesting and people will want to talk to you more. This is the first step to long-lasting friends (with native speakers)!

Do you think this idea could be your secret weapon to speaking ‘casually’ and in a more interesting way? I’d love to hear your opinion! Leave a comment below. 

Never Feeling ‘Good Enough’ – Building Confidence in English

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Never Satisfied with Your Language Skills?

Ever since I started learning another language, I’ve always had a feeling of never being ‘good enough’ at it.

I’m sure I’m not alone.

It’s a feeling of never being satisfied with my skills or abilities to communicate exactly the way want to. As learners, we are hard on ourselves. We are our own biggest critics. Always, focusing on all of our mistakes.

The focus is on trying to fill the gap between where you are now and this dream of speaking perfectly A time and a place where you know exactly what to say at the right time. With no hesitation, no doubt.

Or rather, we won’t be satisfied until we speak this new language the way we speak in our native language.

More speaking advice and tips here

Focusing on the Wrong Things

When I listen to native speakers talking, I think… “Wow, I have a lot to learn. I cannot speak like that.”

Why am I comparing myself to a native speaker?

I realized that this doubt that I have in my own skills comes from this: Native speakers know who to say things 1000 different ways. I only know how to say it a few different ways.

Think about that for a minute. It makes a lot of sense about where this feeling of ‘doubt’ comes from…

When I say something. I feel like I am not very good because I haven’t mastered every possible way I could say the sentence in the language yet. I feel restricted to the 2 or 3 ways I can express the thought.

My ‘version’ of the sentence feels like a translation from my native language more than a way a native speaker would say the same thing. My version is 100% correct and a native speaker will tell me that I don’t have any errors. The native speaker could have chosen to say the sentence in the same way I did…

english conversation

Why am I doubting my skills??

The REAL purpose of learning a language, is to be able to communicate. Connecting and talking with other people. I am certainly able to do that. Right now, I am living in a country that speaks the language I am learning.

Frequently, I hear native speakers complimenting me by saying, “Your Spanish is really good!” My answer, “Thanks, but I still have a lot to learn.”

What a way to respond to a compliment! That’s horrible.

This could have been a positive thing for my confidence AND the person giving the compliment if I said the truth: “Thanks. I’ve actually been working at it pretty hard for a long time.”

Focusing on the Progress You’ve Made

I know my skills aren’t that bad, really. Especially when I think about how far I’ve come in the language.

Looking back at the first conversation I ever had… what a disaster. I felt like I couldn’t use the words and grammar I had learned. It also felt like I had to test every word to see if it made sense to the native speaker.

My listening skills used to be horrible! It was so frustrating not being able to understand a person speaking. I hated getting caught when I didn’t understand someone because I didn’t hear what they said. It was really embarrassing.

After applying some techniques and working to improve my listening, I can now enjoy watching movies without subtitles and I understand people when they are talking to me almost perfectly.

english conversation

I used to struggle to read a newspaper article, now I can understand it very well without a dictionary. There are still words I don’t know, but I can now figure things out because I understand enough of the context.

When I think about these situations, I realize that I shouldn’t feel like I am ‘not good enough’ yet. It gives me a sense of pride with the skills that I have developed.

Instead of giving ourselves the recognition we deserve for learning a foreign language and enjoying how much we have learned in the language; we focus on how much more we have to learn in order to be a master of the language. That sounds like a mindset that will result in failure.

And it is.

The Real Struggle

My self-confidence towards my skills in the language I’m learning could use a bit of attention. Lately, I’ve been feeling frustrated that I can’t say things (in Spanish) the exact way that I want to.

Instead of focusing on how I can’t say everything with the same ease I can in English… and feeling disappointed.

I am going to focus on the fact that I can say what I want to say and the other person knows what I am trying to say. That is an accomplishment and anyone learning a language should be proud that they have learned enough to be able to communicate successfully.

There are always going to be new things to learn about this language. There’s no doubt that this will be the case.

Heck, I am still learning things about English, my native language. I learn new things about grammar, new vocabulary and new slang terms that are evolving constantly.

Being proud of what you have learned already will not stop you from continuing your journey to be better and better every day. Having the confidence to use what you know in the best way you can to communicate is the goal, not perfection.

Leave a comment for me below about this article. Do you have this struggle as well?

Please share 🙂

Listen Deeper to Improve Your English Listening Skills

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Advice for How to Improve Your English Listening Skills

A surprising amount of people have problems with their English listening skills… or any language that they are learning.

I am definitely one of them.

For me, listening did not come naturally and I didn’t realize that I had a problem until I had reached an intermediate level in my target language. I want to share with you the biggest mistake I think you might be making when it comes to progressing your listening skills faster to be able to finally start enjoying the American English movies, television series or even native speakers in an everyday English conversation.

You’ve Gotta Go Deeper!

If you’ve been to our website, you will know that we have a very popular podcast that features casual English conversations about different topics. Great for listening practice, right?

Our listeners are making one serious mistake with their good intentions of improving their English listening skills… they just aren’t going deep enough to really make a difference in their listening skills. I know that most English learners like to listen to an audio once or twice, then they move on to something else that is new and exciting.

The fact is… you won’t see significant improvement with your English listening skills by consuming new content all the time.

Your ears still can’t hear the words and phrases it didn’t recognize the first time and you still don’t know the words you couldn’t hear. Your listening skills are going to improve at a snail’s pace (very slow) if this is your plan of action to improve your listening.

Trust me, there is a faster way and you don’t need to listen to the SAME audio 100 times to see a huge results.

subtitles-for-english-listening

A Bit of Training to Improving Your Listening Skills

Being dependent on subtitles and transcripts reminds me of a deaf person watching a movie. The difference is that you CAN hear and you have to ability to understand the movie without subtitles with a bit of training, where as the deaf person will continue to need the subtitles. You have a choice to change your listening problem is my point.

With a bit of work and focus you can improve your listening skills to the point where you can truly enjoy English audio without the scripts EVEN IF you need them for now. Reading while you are listening is twice as much work and half as much fun. 

When you have weak listening skills, transcripts are a key part of your listening training. Especially if you don’t have a native speaker handy to tell you every 2nd word you can’t hear…

The fact is that you cannot hear the words. Speaking from personal experience, listening to the same audio clip 100 times doesn’t help me. If anything, my brain gets more confused trying to guess what in the heck I am listening to!

This is where transcriptions are essential and where I will explain the need to go deeper with your English listening skill development and get the most out of each piece of audio you take the time to listen to and study.

 

Take Your Listening Deeper

Let’s pretend you are listening to an English conversation and you can only understand 50% the first time. It is going to seem like you have a general idea about the topic but you doubt your understanding and are a little hesitant to explain what the conversation is about to another person. You might have a difficult time remembering what you just heard as well.

After listening a second time, you feel like you know about 60 or 70%. Which is great, you seen some improvement without a transcript!

But… why is that other 30% not important to you? You’ve already listened to the audio twice and you only seen a small improvement. Each time you listen without the tools you need you will see less improvement each time.

30% that you are ignoring or you cannot hear is:

  • New vocabulary
  • Unfamiliar sounds your brain is still filtering out as ‘unimportant’
  • Grammar you can’t understand at the speed of speech
  • And an adjustment to the new accent of the person you are listening to

The thing that you don’t realize is that everything you learn from one audio will be transferred over to other audio you hear. Once you train your ears to understand the most common words, you will hear them again and again in new audio… which helps you to understand the next audio better. The same is true for comprehending grammar and building your recognition for new accents.

 

english listening skills

How Vocabulary Affects Listening

If you don’t know a word, you won’t know means when you hear it. 

Lack in vocabulary can be a major reason why you aren’t understanding what you hear. Of course, you should be focusing on the most common words that are used in everyday speaking. Where do you think you are going to find the most common words in spoken English?? Well, probably in everyday conversations

To figure out if you have a problem with vocabulary all you need to do is read a transcript without the audio. If you feel that you know most of the words but you don’t understand the audio without a transcript perfectly, you likely have a problem with your brain filtering out ‘new’ and ‘foreign’ sounds.

The Filter Between the Brain and Your Ears

Ohhhh, the filter. If you have never heard this before, let me explain it to you.

listening filter coffeeYour ears are constantly hearing sounds around you but your brain is usually very good at telling you which ones are important. For example, if you hear the doorbell, you will instantly be alert and know you need to go to the door right away because someone is there waiting for you. On the other hand, the dog barking outside is just background noise that you only hear for a moment of two throughout the day.

The filter kind of works the same with languages. Your brain recognizes the sounds from your native language and allows these sounds to be registered as important. Once the sounds are recognized, the brain can move onto connecting the sounds to make words and finally, a complete idea.

Foreign sounds in a new language can be filtered by your brain as ‘unimportant’ just like the barking dog outside or the fan blowing in the background. Even though you are trying really hard to hear these English sounds… your brain is literally ignoring them which is why you probably have a hard time repeating something you didn’t hear very well.

Train Your Ears to Learn the New Sounds when Listening to English

Get some audio and a transcript. It’s time to get to work. You can download a full English conversation on our website.

Listen to a short section of audio. If you cannot understand what you hear, read the transcript and listen again. If it is still hard, slow down the audio and make sure you can hear every single sound. Here’s a video about how to slow down audio using two popular audio players.

Don’t feel stupid if you need to listen again and again to a section of audio that only has 5 or 10 words. Sometimes native speakers are talking quickly and it takes longer for your brain to process the sounds when they are really fast. The more you listen to the same audio (with the transcript as your assistant), the audio will become clearer and clearer.

man-909049_1280A secret tip: Listen to the same audio the next day.

I have found that I can understand audio that I have studied much better the next day.  My brain automatically understands words I was struggling to hear the day before without any extra effort. I think overnight while you sleep, your brain processes the new things that you were telling it to pay attention to. Then, the next time you hear those sounds, your brain is not ignoring them!

Comprehending Fast Audio and Complicated Grammar

Processing the audio that you hear at a normal speed is a different listening skill altogether. In the same way that you use transcriptions to assist you with recognizing new words and sounds, you can use them to assist in listening comprehension.

Close your eyes and listen to the audio. When there is a part that you do not understand very well, look at the transcript and try to figure out what it means. Pay attention to the grammar and sentence order too. You should be able to hear and be processing all these little details while you are listening.

I recommend focusing on your listening comprehension separately as an independent activity with the goal of having a deep understanding of what you are hearing.  

 

burn the english transcript

Throw Away that Transcript!

The moment that you can stop using the transcript, you need to stop using it. Once you feel like you have mastered a section of audio or you have improved your listening as much as you can, it is time to only listen to the audio.

The purpose of having a transcript is only for understanding what your ears cannot recognize on their own. This is the absolute key with using transcriptions and subtitles!

If you are depending on the subtitles, you need to be rewinding that section of the movie again and again until you can hear what the actors are saying without using the subtitles.

Stop being lazy when you are listening and you will start seeing results! In a very short period of time you will notice you hear more and more of everything you listen to. Go deeper with your listening and do activities that are going to make a difference when you are trying to improve it.

Please leave me a comment below to tell me what you thought about this article. Have I convinced you to go deeper with your English listening to get to your goals faster?

 

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Vocabulary Building is Easy When You Focus on the Newest Words

Vocabulary Building FasterWho has time to study a list of 100’s of words!

How big is your list of words that you ‘should’ be studying regularly? Does it have 500, 600 or even 1000 words?

It is easy to build a big list of words very quickly, but it can be difficult to find the time to study them as often as you need to remember them. Let’s talk about the best way to get better at vocabulary building, and this is to stop reviewing ‘old’ vocabulary in your list.

Context is the Key to Quick Vocabulary Building

It is much easier to understand the meaning of a word when you see it or hear it being used in real life, in context. You can understand what the word means because of the situation it is being used in.

For this reason, I always recommend that you study interesting videos, articles, books or audio tracks so that you can connect the new word to the situation where you first seen it. If possible, use the original sentence where you saw the word being used as an example sentence with the new word. This process helps you connect an ‘unknown’ word to an idea that you remember where the word is being used.

Faster Vocabulary Building

In my experience, it is easier to remember new words when I review them for the first time within 1 day of learning them. When I review the new words 2 or 3 times within 1 week, I usually know them well enough to feel I have learned them successfully.

15 minutes per week should be all the time you need to spend studying to remember the words that are really going to stick in your mind long-term. The key, is to see or hear the words 3 or 4 times within that first week.

The best way to review the new words and successfully do vocabulary building is to watch the video or read the article again where you originally seen the new words. You are getting a review of context and seeing the words at the same time.

Why You Should Stop Studying ‘Old’ Wordsold vs new words for vocabulary building

If a word is used often, you will see it shortly after learning it. Therefore, if you forget a new word, it is probably not used very often. Why should you try to remember a word you are never going to use? The idea of vocabulary building is to find words that will be used often.

Also, once you have learned new words (after reviewing them for a week or so), you will probably recognize it if you hear it in audio or see it in writing for several weeks. At this point, you will either remember it when you need it for speaking or you won’t. Keep studying and exposing yourself to the language, to have the best chance of hearing, reading or experiencing the language and vocabulary as much as possible.

When Your Brain is Ready, You will Remember it.

Sometimes you find words that are difficult to remember because you haven’t learned other words that are similar to it. As your English vocabulary grows, it will become easier to remember more advanced vocabulary and strange words because you will be able to connect them to other words that seem similar in English.

If you can’t remember a word, no matter how hard you try… Stop studying it. You are not ready to learn that new word or phrase yet. If it is an important phrase or word, you will see it used often and it will become more familiar each time.

Leave a comment below if you have been studying ‘old words’ and you see the importance of using your study time to find new words instead!

If you are looking for a flash card app to use, I recommend using this one: Brainscape. You can read post here about how to use flashcards to learn words faster.  

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Learning to Speak English – Knowledge vs. Skills

Have you ever learned a new sport? When you speak English, it kind of feels the same…

how to speak english betterLearning a language is a really interesting process and sometimes it can help to think about something from a different perspective. I wanted to share a comparison between learning English and learning a new sport to try to explain how speaking uses a different part of the brain, which is why it feels so difficult to speak English in the beginning.

More speaking advice and tips here

Let’s Learn How to Ski!!

I am Canadian, so I am going to talk about a very popular sport that we enjoy doing in the mountains during the winter. If you decided you wanted to learn how to ski, the best advice would be to get a lesson so you have some knowledge about what you need to do with your body to successfully ski down a hill.

Knowledge or Facts You Need to Ski: The instructor wants to make sure you know how to turn and stop. So, he tells you to put more pressure on your right leg to start turning as soon as you start to go down the hill.

Developing the Skills: The first time you try to do this, you start putting pressure on your leg, but the ski does not turn very much and you fall down to stop. However, after trying to do the same thing several times, you learn how to turn to do a turn and stop!

learning to speak english is like a sport

Comparing Skiing to English Speaking

In order to speak English you need to start with some basic cactus studying englishknowledge (which you already have), such as basic pronunciation, some vocabulary and a few grammar rules like how to conjugate a verb.

The ‘knowledge’ of the words and how to put them together in a sentence is information that is stored in one part of the brain. However, when you try to speak English you are trying to do an ‘action’ based on the knowledge you have. You are refering to your English knowledge, one piece at a time, while you try to speak out loud.

Every time that you use a new word or grammar structure while speaking, you are developing your speaking ‘skills’. Skills are developed when you use ‘knowledge’ with ‘action’. At first, speaking is slow and uncomfortable, but the more often that you use the most common words and grammar structures, it becomes easier!

Ski Lesson #2 – Advancing your Skills 

Once you have learned how to turn and stop, you need to learn how to connect your turns without stopping. Your instructor will give you more of the ‘knowledge’ that you will need to attempt that activity. As you try to connect the turns, you are thinking about how you are supposed to do the activity until you develop the skills to just do it.

Speaking With Having to ‘Think’

group speaking englishThe first time you learn a new skill skiing, you have to think about every single movement because you are trying to apply the knowledge that your instructor gave you to develop a certain skill.

When you first start trying to speak English you will also need to think about every word you use and how to correctly use the grammar until you are comfortable with using those words.

The cool thing is that after you use the same words and verbs over and over again… you don’t have to think about them as much. If you practice speaking enough, you will be able to respond most of the time without thinking about vocabulary or grammar.

 

Active Vocabulary vs. Passive Vocabulary

Have you ever noticed that when you try to speak, very often you cannot remember a certain word? But, when you hear that same word or you see it while reading, you recognize it. That is the difference between active vocabulary and passive vocabulary.

Active vocabulary is the set of words that you can instantly recall when speaking. You don’t need to stop and remember what the word is before saying it. Having active vocabulary shows that you have practiced speaking and have developed speaking ‘skills’.

Passive vocabulary is the type of vocabulary that you have stored in the ‘knowledge’ department of your brain. You might be able to remember it eventually, but you have to stop your speaking in order to remember it.

activate your english vocabularyPassive vocabulary is basically useless when you are speaking. It is like reading about ‘how to ski’ compared to trying to ski down a hill. The facts you learned about skiing, do not make you a good skier.  You need to train your body how to react without thinking.

Once your brain has used vocabulary or grammar it is easier to recall for the next time it is needed. You have started to activate the vocabulary which makes it easier to use every time you need it.

 

The Fastest Way to ‘Activating’ Your English Knowledge

Trying to speak English is the fastest way to use vocabulary in an active way. The good news is that you can practice speaking about anything and you don’t even need a practice partner. Look up the words you do not know or cannot remember and immediately use them in several sentences.

Easy Activities

Start by trying to talk about what you are doing now, what are your plans for later in the week or what you did yesterday.

More Challenging Topics

Watch a video, listen to some audio or read about something. Try to explain what the topic was about. Start with a general summary of 2 or 3 sentences, later try to give as much detail as possible.

When you start to recognize the difference between ‘knowing’ English and ‘using’ English, it can help you understand why it feels so difficult. Keep in mind the comparison to learning a new sport and you should have more patience with the process of developing your speaking skills.

Do you think speaking in English is like a sport? What did you think about this article? Leave a comment below.

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How to Make an English Study Plan for Learning Outside of the Classroom

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Which Skills Do You Need to Improve

When you decide to start studying English on your own, it can be very challenging to know what to focus on to help you to continue to improve. This guide will help you create a study plan to organize and prioritize the skills you want to improve so that you can learn faster than learning in a classroom!

It can be overwhelming to try to improve all of your skills at the same time. With this plan you are only going to focus on 3 skills so that you will see improvement after a month of completing your study plan. Start by deciding on 3 skills you want to improve the most.

Here’s a list of ideas:

  • Speaking
  • Listening
  • Vocabulary
  • Writing
  • Pronunciation
  • Speaking Fluency
  • Speaking Faster
  • Comprehending Fast English
  • Sounding More ‘Native’ or Natural when speaking

customer service agent speak fluently

Real Life Example:

Sara wants to feel more confident communicating in English for her
job. She has to talk to clients over the phone and some of them are English speaking.

The 3 skills Sara is going to focus on this month for her study plan are:

  1. Speaking Fluency
  2. Listening Comprehension
  3. Using New Vocabulary

Get a Copy of Sara's Study Plan

See the study plan that Sara will use to improve: download the study plan template

  • speaking fluency
  • listening comprehension
  • vocabulary

Get the Study Plan

Finding techniques and resources

Now that you know which skills you want to improve, you need to find techniques and resources that will help you to use and develop the skills. Be creative with ideas to practice using each skill. We will continue using the example with Sara:

Skill #1: Speaking Fluency Strategy and Activity

Sara needs to find a technique or activity to practice her speaking fluency. She is able to write well, but she is not happy with her ability to speak without pausing to think.

She decides to try a speaking fluency technique that she found on our website at Real English Conversations. The activity suggests that you find a story, video or audio to study then you try speaking out loud about it. The fluency key, is repeating your answer at least 3 times. You can read the full article that explains the speaking fluency exercise here.

Sara likes to watch videos on you tube so she finds an interesting channel with ‘Top 10’ videos like the one below.  She will pause the video after each segment and try to explain what the video was talking about 3 times. She will also use the speaking practice questions that are part of the Premium Membership on our website.

Skill #2: Listening Comprehension ActivityEnglish listening skills thumb

To practice listening comprehension, she needs to have transcriptions with audio or videos with subtitles. She will use the transcriptions from the conversations we have available. Every time she cannot understand the audio perfectly, she will rewind it and listen again. Sara identified her problems with listening in this article about how to improve listening skills.

 

Skill #3: Vocabulary Building

Sara took English classes for many years and she knows that the vocabulary she learned is different than what American English speakers use in everyday life. She will be studying the transcriptions from our Real English Conversation lesson to find everyday vocabulary and to look for phrases that are used to pause while thinking.

 

Measure your starting level

In order to know if you have improved, it is important to take note of your current ability with each skill. This is also helpful to keep you motivated

Do an activity or a lesson that uses each skill that you will be trying to improve. Do the activity and make notes about what was difficult for you and where you would like to improve.

If your goal is to improve your speaking fluency, you can record a 2-5 minute audio or video recording of yourself trying to explain something, perhaps the reason why you need to improve your speaking fluency.

Get Your Copy of the Study Plan Template

Being organized will help you to stay focused on the skills you want to improve. download the study plan template

  • A Study Schedule Template
  • Progress Tracker
  • Goal Setting Worksheet

Get the Study Plan

Make a weekly plan to do the work you need to do

scheudle for your study plan

Now you know the skills you will be focusing on and which activities you can do to improve the skills. Next, you need to prioritize the skills. Choose the skill that needs to improve the most out of the 3 skills, then choose the second most important skill to improve. Of course, the 3rd skill is the lower priority.

If you have very little time to study each week, less than 3 hours, I recommend only focusing on 2 skills. Whenever possible, do activities that use both skills in the practice activities.

Think about your schedule and how many hours per week you can commit to studying and practicing English. Fill out a weekly schedule to follow which activity you will practice on each day.

This is how you should split your time in the study plan:

  • 40% on the main skill to improve
  • 30% on the second skill
  • 20% on the third skill
  • 10% on grammar

Enter the activities into your calendar with the activities  and the time you will spend doing each activity into the calendar. Obviously, you should schedule more activities that focus on the main skill you want to improve. If possible do activities that use multiple skills at the same time. Get the worksheet you can use to make your own schedule here

Only study one grammar point per week. Learning grammar in small parts will not help with speaking and listening fluency but it is important to slowly learn new grammar tips to help you speak properly.

Measure your resultsprogress with the study plan

After one month of doing the exercises and activities to help you improve certain skills, it is time to measure your results.

Do the same lesson or activities that you did at the beginning of the month to test your starting level. If you recorded a video or audio to measure you speaking fluency, you need to record another audio or video talking about the same topic.

Think about each activity and if it felt easier or harder. Compare your speaking to see if you think you have improved.

 

Make your plan for the next month

You should be able to see some progress with your skills. Now you will know which activities you like and which ones you don’t. More importantly, you will know which activities were the most helpful versus the ones that did not seem to improve your language skills.

Follow the steps in this plan again, where you decide which skills you want to improve and do it again. After one or two months, the skill you feel you need to improve the most might be better than another skill. As you make progress in the language, you can expect that the skills you need to improve will change and the activities you need to do will become harder or will require a more detailed answer.

Leave me a comment below to say which 3 skills you want to improve this month! If you need some ideas about what to study, I will respond to your comment. Please share this article if you think it will help someone else 🙂

English Listening Skills: Solutions to Fix Poor Listening Comprehension

english listening skills

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In a conversation, English listening skills are just as important as speaking. The fact is that you cannot respond to someone if you do not hear them well. What’s worse, you could give an incorrect response because you had to guess what was said to you.

Students tend to focus on speaking as a problem because they find it difficult to put together entire sentences properly. Listening seems easier in the beginning because you can guess what a message means with hearing as little as 30 or 40%. For this reason, many students reach an intermediate or even an advanced level before they realize they need to focus on improving their listening skills.

In this article, I’ll explain the different stages of listening in a way that will help you understand exactly where your ears need help. Plus you will learn the techniques I used to improve my English listening skills to be able to start learning new vocabulary and phrases, with only my ears.

If you ignore poor English listening skills

I wonder if you can relate to my experience…

As I started to reach an intermediate level (with my second language), I had learned enough vocabulary that I could finally understand basic audio conversations. Even though I couldn’t hear every word, I understood enough of the audio to create a story in my head that made sense when I thought about the context of the situation.

At this stage, you get excited that you can finally understand something in this language you have been studying for a really long time and you say to yourself, “I just need to learn more words and verbs then I’ll be able to understand more.”

My listening skills had always been weak, I was only able to recognize words that I knew really well or if a person spoke really slowly and separated all the words. Because of this, I became developed with the skill of guessing what I was hearing based on the few words I could hear.

Very often in a real conversation, I just pretended I knew what the other person was talking about and agreed until I was asked a question. This is when you realize you have no idea what they just asked you which is super embarrassing!

This type of situation is completely acceptable and normal at an intermediate level. It starts to become a problem if you aren’t trying to improve your English listening skills. You will strengthen the habit of only hearing words you know and your ears will continue to ignore all the little words in between. Fully understanding movies, conversations and other audio (without context) will continue to be impossible!

The worst part is you are missing out on the opportunity to learn grammar, vocabulary, and expressions while you are listening to English. It is very rewarding when you realize your listening skills are improving and you can finally understand movies and TV shows without subtitles!

 

‘Listening’ is NOT Just One Skill

You may be surprised to know there are several steps that happen when you first hear something. Once you identify the stage where your listening is ‘broken’, the solution to fix it is easy!

Let’s take a moment to look at all the processes of listening:

  1. Hearing sounds
  2. Recognizing the sounds are parts of a word
  3. Connecting the word to its meaning
  4. Remembering what each word means
  5. Understanding the concept of all of the words together

 

Testing Your English Listening Skills

The easiest way to know if your listening skills need some attention is to listen to a new piece of audio with the intention of recognizing the areas you CAN’T hear or understand perfectly.

Listen for each word you do not recognize, take note of it by counting with your fingers or using a piece of paper to draw a dot or a line each time you aren’t 100% certain you are hearing and understanding everything.

English listening skills conversation

Listen to some audio to test your English listening skills!

Take 5 minutes to recognize how much your listening can improve with one of our conversations. Do not use a transcription while you are testing your listening.

Identifying Your Problems with Listening

Now that you have identified that there are still some areas you can improve your listening skills, let’s go into more detail about which skill needs practice and the solutions to become an expert listener 🙂

 

1. Hearing Sounds

Being able to hear sound is the first stage of listening. If you can hear sounds like the dog barking outside, humming of the fridge… then you have nothing to worry about here.

There are some people that can’t hear very well or they have a hearing disability. If you have problems listening and hearing sounds in your native language, it will be a bigger challenge to have excellent English listening skills too.

 

2. Recognizing the Sounds as Words

Without a doubt, this is the most common problem for students that are having problems improving their English listening skills. Many websites suggest listening to a lot of English audio to overcome your listening problems but in fact, that is terrible advice! This section of the article will explain why you cannot hear certain words or sounds and EXACTLY what you need to do to fix that.

I know a lot about improving listening skills because this was my biggest problem when I was learning another language. It took me a long time to recognized it but once I did, my listening started to improve rapidly. 

English sounds and syllables are ‘foreign’ to your ears compared to the sounds in your native language. Your brain is choosing to ignore these sounds and treating them like they are not important. It is ignoring those sounds in the same way that it can ignore the annoying dog barking outside all day.

The solution is to train your ears to recognize the sounds it is ignoring. It takes a bit of patience to do the exercises to correct the problem but you will hear the first results after only a few hours of training 🙂

Watch this interesting clip from Chris Lonsdale, an expert in language acquisition. He speaks exactly about the ‘sound filters’ which are your ears. You only need to watch seconds of the video now, but I highly recommend you watch the whole video later.

How to Fix this Listening Skill

Listen to audio that is appropriate for your level, not too difficult or too easy. If the audio is too fast, use a software like Audacity to slow it down. This video I recorded shows you exactly how to use it in this way:

English Listening Training

You need to train your ears to pay attention to these new sounds so they are recognized as something that has a meaning and needs to be recognized and heard.

Start by listening to a small section of audio with a word or a phrase you cannot understand very well. Sometimes, I need to listen to a very short audio clip (1 second long) as many as 20 or 30 times with the audio slowed down until my ears were recognizing the individual words and sounds. After I can identify the words with slow audio, I listen 15 or 20 more times at a normal speed audio.

It takes a while to understand 2 or 3 words that are said very quickly and blended together.  Using a transcription is very important in listening training. Read the words as you listen once or twice, then try to listen without the transcript. Continue using the transcript to help you identify the sounds and words with the goal of work toward being able to hear the audio perfectly without the transcription.

Two words can sound like they are joined together when the sound of the last word is similar to the sound of the next word while you are doing this activity as well. It takes practice to train your brain to recognize these special patterns that are used in connected speech

For example: Go away sounds like ‘gohway’ when it is said by a native speaker.

A listening training secret I have discovered is that your brain needs time to digest the new sounds. The first time that you try to understand a new audio perfectly, you might feel like you can’t and that you will never develop good listening skills. Try listening to the same audio the next day. You will be surprised how much easier it is to understand. You might not even need a transcription! You will be able to hear more than the first time you tried to understand it because your brain has had time to process the new sounds.

Your brain needs a bit of time to learn and process the new sounds that you were exposing it to during your study session. For this reason, it is best to study the same audio one or two days later once your brain has started to realize those sounds are important to listen for and they have a meaning.

Another listening technique to try is focusing on the syllable of the words that you hear without trying to hear the words or think about the meaning. Your brain will hear and understand the words it knows instantly. By focusing on the syllables you are hearing in the audio you focusing on hearing the sounds of the language more than the meaning. Surprisingly, you might feel like you understand more, even though you weren’t trying to.

 

3. Connecting a word to a meaningstudying and improving listening skills

Reading a word is completely different than recognizing a word in audio or a conversation. It is 100% normal to not recognize a word when you hear it for the first time, even if you ‘know’ the word well from reading it or using it in writing.

You have probably noticed that there are some words that you can hear in any audio, conversation or movie. It feels effortless to understand the words that you know really well and you already have an audio connection to.

Words you have learned recently or words that you have never heard before do not have a strong connection in your mind to the meaning of the word. It takes you a moment to recognize and remember the meaning of the word the first time you hear it.

How to improve your English Listening:

This activity helps you build a connection between the words you ‘know’ to be able to recognize them when you hear them. It also lets you practice new vocabulary without studying a list of words!

  1. Start by listening to some audio that is not too hard to understand (but not too easy)
  2. Stop the audio the moment you don’t know or can’t remember the meaning of a word you heard.
  3. Look up the meaning or read the transcription to see what is being said.
  4. Listen to the audio again trying to hear the new words.
  5. Work toward being able to listen to the audio without needing the transcription.
  6. Listen to the audio a day or two later to review the new vocabulary you learned and to build the audio connection to that word.

This practice technique is to help you build your connection to the words you already know when you are studying alone to improve your English listening skills. If you are still having a difficult time understanding the new words, you might be listening to an audio that is too difficult or there are too many new words. Be sure that you can understand the context of the audio very well and let that help you to remember the meaning of the new vocabulary.

During a conversation, you cannot stop to think to remember a word or look up the meaning. The best advice is to pay attention to the speaker and not to let yourself stop to think about the meaning of a word. You either know the meaning of the word really well or you don’t. Focus on the words you can understand and guess what they are saying. This is a survival skill until you have developed a stronger connection to vocabulary and have improved your listening skills.

Stopping to think about the meaning of one word during a conversation can stop you from hearing several sentences while you are thinking. 20, 30 or even 40 words can pass by while you are trying to remember one word. Remember, the words you know well will feel easy to hear.

 

4. Remembering What You Just Heard

At first, it seems like this step should happen without effort and be a skill that transfers from your native language. It doesn’t take long to fix this important English listening skill.

You will know you have this problem if you feel like you recognize every word you are hearing while you are listening to audio… but the moment the audio stops, you can’t clearly remember the details. If someone asked you what the audio was about, you won’t be confident to explain the audio in detail.

This activity below is great for anyone student to try even if you do not think you have this listening problem.

How to fix this: 
Listen to one sentence of an audio track that you can understand well. Not too easy, but you can understand every word.
Try to repeat the sentence. If you can repeat the sentence after two attempts, great!

If you can only remember the last few words, it’s okay. You will improve. Continue to listen to the next few words in the audio and try to repeat as much as you can. The objective is not to repeat the sentence because it is memorized, it is to ‘remember’ what you just heard.

A tip to stay focused while you are listening to audio is to tell yourself that you have to explain what you are listening to the moment it is finished. In fact, you can turn this into a speaking exercise by stopping to explain the audio every 2 or 3 minutes with this speaking practice technique in this article.

5. Understanding the Concept (Listening comprehension)

Understanding what you hear, otherwise known as listening comprehension, is something that will affect most listeners when the audio they are listening to is challenging. Perhaps the audio contains a lot of new vocabulary, fancier words or a complex grammar structure that you aren’t used to seeing or hearing.

How to fix this:

Again I will say, using a transcription while you are listening allows you to use your eyes to assist your brain in understanding better. Your mind needs practice processing information (and all the little details) at the speed of someone speaking. Slowing down the audio is a great way to give you more time to understand. Gradually, increase the speed of the audio, then stop using the transcription. You should be able to understand the concept perfectly as your English listening skill develop.

Slowing down the audio is a great way to give you brain more time to think about what it is hearing. Try listening to the audio a few times at a slower speed. Once you feel comfortable understanding everything, try listening without the transcription.

Next, increase the speed of the audio to its regular speed. You may need to use the transcript again. It’s okay to use a transcription, with more listening training you won’t need them! Use it to help you feel like you are understanding everything perfectly.  After you are confident with the regular speed audio, stop using the transcription. You should be able to understand everything perfectly, at a normal speed.

As an advanced student, it is easy to overlook the 10% of an audio that you don’t understand or comprehend. It’s really important to comprehend all of the little grammar pieces and words that may change the meaning. For example, a tiny word like ‘will’ can change the verb tense to the future. Or hearing the difference between ‘the man is on the car’ versus ‘the man in the car’. With one letter changing in the proposition from ‘on’ to ‘in’, the meaning changes completely.

I hope this article has helped you to identify where your English ‘listening’ skills have been getting stuck. Be patient with your ears and realize that you need to take the time to focus on specific activities to help you overcome the small stages in the process.

Which one of these English listening skills do you think is your biggest problems?

Leave us a comment below 🙂

Speaking Fluency Tip: 3 Steps to Having Better Speaking Flow Today

speaking fluency tip

Speaking Fluency Activity: 3 Steps to Having Better Speaking Flow

Being a fluent speaker is every language learner’s dream. Fluency is defined in different ways depending on who you ask, it definitely has a connection to the word ‘flow’. For me, I believe speaking fluency is the ability to link you thoughts together using connective words and phrases the way native speakers do. This allows you time to think about grammar rules or words while you are still ‘speaking’. Fluency is about being able to connect spontaneous thoughts together in a way that ‘flows’ and it’s not as difficult as it sounds to achieve that.

More speaking advice and tips here

Believe me, this activity will help you to speak better and you can complete it within the next 30 minutes. I’m going to show you how you can achieve better speaking fluency today or at least a better speaking flow than you have ever felt before.

This speaking exercise is very effective in helping you to develop your speaking skills. It’s a perfect exercise if you do not have much time or if you need to improve quickly.

Often the activities to help you improve quickly can feel hard in the beginning and it takes a certain amount of discipline to choose to do these types of challenging activities. It’s normal that most students prefer to do things that are easy and comfortable… but those students don’t want to improve their English as bad as you do, right?

 

You want to be better at speaking English?

But you hate doing speaking exercises….

Can´t talk in English

The fact is that most students would rather read, write, study grammar, review vocabulary…. Or do anything else they can think of to avoid speaking. Speaking is hard, it is uncomfortable at the beginning and it doesn’t get any easier until you start speaking more often.

The good news is that this technique I am going to share with you can be practiced in the privacy of your own home. You can practice giving your opinion, doing a summary or telling a story with no one around to hear your horrible speaking efforts.

I’m sure your speaking isn’t as horrible as you think it is BUT it can be really uncomfortable talking with someone you don’t know and having a difficult time expressing your thoughts when you are not used to speaking.

 

Speak, Learn & Repeat: Say it 3 Times

Speaking fluency activityChoose a topic that you can talk about for a few minutes. I like to use an interesting article or news story I have read, a television show, a movie or even a podcast that you listened to.

If you are at an intermediate level, you are going to have a shorter answer than an advanced learner. Even beginners can do this activity using the materials that are appropriate for their level. The great thing is that this activity can be done until you reach your speaking fluency goals. As you advance you start talking about the more advanced topics you are studying and using more advanced vocabulary.

Step 1: Start trying to explain what the topic is about. Tell the story as if it is something interesting that you are explaining to someone in a conversation.

Step 2: Write down the words or phrases that you do not know as you are trying to speak. Look up these new words you recognize that you need to know in order to tell the story.

Step 3: Repeat step 1 and 2 until you feel confident with your ability to express your idea clearly and with a good speaking flow.

Be sure to read the next section where I explain what ‘conversational connectors’ are and how they are essential to speaking fluency.

Let me tell you a story about how I know this technique works…

This story will explain to you how I use this technique. You will also see the quality of the techniques we share on the website. I only share the best and most effective exercises that really helped me to overcome problems with my speaking and listening skills.

One day I decided that I was going to tell my language partner that I was practicing with regularly, about the book I was reading in Spanish. I wanted to be able to explain what the book was about based on what I had read.

amy real english conversations

This is a picture of me, Amy from Real English Conversations, the person writing the article. I just wanted you to be able to see a picture of me so you could imagine me driving down the road and struggling to speak in a foreign language 🙂

So, as I was driving around in my car, I decided to try to explain it to myself using the words I knew. Let me tell you, the first version was a disaster. I had NO speaking flow, I was lacking basic verbs and I didn’t know how to connect the sentences well. I did not feel very good about being able to explain the story line of the book to my language partner in just a few hours…

I wrote down the words I needed to learn and realized I also need to know the ‘conversational connector words’. Examples of simple conversational connectors are: so, then, and, now, but, you know, anyways, after, later, etc. However; when these words are used, they sound extended. The word ‘so’ sounds like ‘soooooooooo’. Or ‘and’ is said like aaaaaaannnnnnnd.

If you listen to a conversation, you will hear how often these words are used and how they ‘buy time’ for the speaker to organize their thoughts. Conversational English is different from written English in the way it is communicated. These words make you sound like you are telling a story to a real person, rather than reading something that is written.

Now that I knew the words I needed and they were fresh in my mind, I tried to explain the story again. It was easier this time but I changed how I was explaining it a bit. This changed the verb tenses I was using, gave me new ‘grammar structures’ to think about and of course, new words. What was happening was I was describing things in greater detail. I looked up any new words and phrases I discovered that I didn’t know.

On the third attempt, I felt like a champion! The words seemed like they were flowing out of my mouth, the grammar was already organized in my head and I was able to remember the new vocabulary.

The next day, I tried the summary again. To my surprise, I was able to remember the new words even though I had not studied them AND I was able to explain the story in even more detail with the best speaking flow I have ever experienced.

 

Try this Activity… Right Now!

Okay, so now you have a choice. You can either close this article and only think about doing this activity. Or you can try to do it.

Once you do this activity, you will see the way you are using English and how it feels different in your mind than other activities. Below are a few ideas that you can use to practice this exercise right now without needing to leave this page.

  1. What is the technique discussed in this article and how do you do it?
  2. Why did you decide to learn English?
  3. When you are able to speak English fluently, how will it change your life?
  4. What was the last television show you watched about?
  5. What is the plot of your favorite movie?
  6. How do you cook your favorite recipe?
  7. What makes you love your favorite sport?
  8. Tell me what your favorite song is about, what the idea is behind the lyrics.
  9. Describe in as much detail as you can in a story, what you do for work or what your responsibilities are as a student.
  10. What is your favorite season of the year and how that affects the type of activities you do?

As you can see, you can talk about anything using this technique. Your speaking is going to improve REALLY FAST, if you do activities that put all the English skills you have into action. Start using the words that are in your study lists, the grammar you have spent so much time learning and start using the language.

As a premium member on our website, we have 200+ questions that are designed for this exercise or you can use one of our free conversations.

I hope you found this article useful. Please share it on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ if you found it helpful. Click on the icons below.

Leave a comment below to tell me if this is a new technique for you and if it has been useful!

Improve your English Accent | Speaking Practice Exercise: Accent Reduction

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Be Understood Easily with a Better English Accent

Often students have a goal to be fluent like a native speaker and to have a perfect accent. It is not impossible to achieve this goal but perhaps putting more focus on developing the ability to mimic the tones and rhythm of English will be more effective to helping you be better understood.

In this article, I am going to share a speaking activity that you can add to your study routine to reduce your foreign accent and be understood easier by native speakers. Also, there will be some useful links to help you find the type of accent you want to study and where to find more audio with a specific accent.

For more speaking advice, don’t forget to join our email list here.

Your Accent isn’t the Problem! Let’s listen to Patty’s Explanation

Rather than trying to explain the concepts in this awesome video, you can just let Patty Kennedy explain her theory on why your ‘accent’ isn’t the problem. Many famous people with a foreign accent have had great success in the United States such as Jackie Chan or Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Accent Reduction Practice Techniques

An activity called ‘Shadowing’ is an awesome technique. Basically, this technique is mimicking a native speaker. Be aware that this activity requires a lot of patience and it may surprise you how many times you need to attempt to repeat the phrase before you can say it well.

For me, I find it too difficult to do this activity with full speed audio. I feel like my tongue and mouth cannot move as fast as the audio and I miss syllables and tend to have poor pronunciation. What I do is use a website like Audacity to slow down the audio by 30-40%. After a bit of practice, I can usually change the audio speed to only being 20% slower while maintaining good pronunciation.

I need to improve my English accent

He is trying to say: What is wrong with me?

 

Don’t feel like a failure if you need to try to repeat the audio 50 times! It is very rewarding when you finally can repeat it the same way. You will see that it is possible to have a better accent by doing this activity regularly.

I like to use my phone or an audio recorder to record myself shadowing (or mimicking) the audio so that I can hear which words I am struggling to say correctly or words that I am saying with a bad accent. Spend time pronouncing those words over and over again until they come out of your mouth with no problems.

The idea is that you become so good at repeating the audio, you actually feel like you are the person saying it. This gives you the sensation of truly speaking like a native speaker.

Finding audio that has the English accent you want to study

Podcasts: You can find podcasts that feature the accent you are interested in. Of course, if you want to learn the American English accent, you can use the conversations we have available on the website. If you cannot hear every single word, start by signing up as a free member so you can get a couple of full conversations and transcripts to practice with. We recently wrote a blog that features 10 Awesome American English Podcasts for Intermediate Students.

News Stations and Radio Shows: You can find news clips or radio stations from regions you are interested in developing an accent for. Pick a large city in the region you are interested in, then do a Google search for: city name + video OR city name + radio station. Example: Los Angeles News videos / Los Angeles Talk radio stations.

Movie Clips or TV Shows: Find movie clips or TV shows. Search in Wikipedia to find out where the television show is filmed or where the actors are from originally to determine the accents being used. I like the You Tube channel: Subtitled Trailers that features trailers from movies with English subtitles. Movie trailers are short which is perfect for this exercise but they sometimes jump around from scene to scene. Just make sure you are selecting one that you understand well. It makes a difference when you are repeating audio you understand.

If you find a video clip you are interested in practicing, but you are unsure which American accent it is, leave a link to the audio or video in the comments below, we will try to figure it out for you!

Here’s a movie trailer with a neutral American accent. It is easy to mimic because the phrases are spaced out.

Did you know there is more than one American English accent?

canadian accent vs. usa accentThe people that live in both the United States and Canada have an “American accent” and they speak American English. With that being said, the accent changes significantly from one side of this enormous continent to the other. Which one do you learn and how do you learn it?

In my opinion, I think the accent spoken in the West is the most clear and neutral. I base this opinion on the fact that 100´s of listeners from our podcast have told us how easily they understand our accent and manner of speaking compared to other regions of North America. Another reason why I believe it would be a good one to focus on is because approximately half of the continent has this type of accent. The East coast of the continent and in the central southern states is where the American accent has a noticeable difference.

However, you need to choose the accent you are interested in, it’s your language learning adventure! If you want to learn a New York accent, go for it! Maybe you are planning on living, working or traveling in New York and you want to fit in. Check out these videos to see samples of different types of American accents to help you determine which one you like the best.

Western North America Accent 

New York Accent:

Southern Accent: