Conversation Skills or the Art of Conversation
Students often ask what they can do outside class in order to continue practicing and improving. As a teacher and student myself, I think it is important to put the theory and grammar into action as much as you can, through listening and speaking, in a more personally productive way. It is one thing to read and repeat what is written on a printed page in front of you, but it is all together a much different ability to produce spoken language by yourself. For students with a lower A1 or A2 level it is more important to build a strong grammatical and lexical base with some short sporadic practice of listening and speaking. However, once you are past the A2 stage, you need to step away a little from the more passive elements of language acquisition and learn to keep a conversation moving on a range of themes. This not only requires knowledge of the language but also imagination and creative thinking or in other words “conversation skills” both for examinations but also in your day to day life.
It is thought that nowadays, due to an over reliance on mobile phone messaging and social networks, that people are losing this fundamental ability of thinking on their toes, not only when speaking a foreign language but even in their native tongue. In a messaging conversation, you have several minutes or hours to think, before answering a message, whereas in an exam and in real life you need to be able to answer on the spot! By not exercising this vital skill, students tend to get even more nervous when speaking in groups and even more so in an exam situation. With some encouragement from your teacher and personal initiative, you need to adopt the philosophy of “you can’t make an omelet, without breaking a few eggs”.
Attending a conversation class is one way in which you can overcome this fear and grab the bull by the horns. Once you have a high A2 level, you should be exercising this skill at least twice a week. You shouldn’t worry initially about a lack of participation during your first few lessons as you will always be practicing your listening skills to begin with and learning linkers and vocabulary from both your teacher and fellow classmates. The one thing you should worry the least about is making errors, as your main objective should be simply to increase participation and improve your listening in a live conversational situation. You also need to be open minded and be prepared to talk on a variety of themes by looking for the advantage and disadvantage on each of these. You will be using the same set of skills during any examination or conversation. You can practice this at home by simply brainstorming the pros and cons of any issue by making a short list of bullet points. It can be in assessing anything from such generic themes like the weather “winter and summer” or “homemade food and fast food” to slightly more in depth conversations on “consumerism” or “sexism”. You are always working the same basic skills of linkers, to create contrast in your opinions and weigh up the pros and cons of that topic. In addition to expressing your opinions, the other objective is to keep the conversation moving forward, just as you would do in any other aspect of your life such as having coffee with a friend. You should gradually try to step up your interjections as you gain confidence. Usually I will step in, if I feel you aren’t participating enough. Remember that everyone in the class makes the same kind of errors as you and that everyone has the same purpose, to improve real time fluency.
With all this in mind I look forward to seeing you at my next conversation class at clases de ingles en valencia