It’s just a matter of time before my English students bring up the following frustration: “When I’m watching TV I hardly understand a thing! I think I speak English pretty well but I just don’t understand what they’re saying. I think they’re speaking too fast.” I love these sorts of comments because I know I can shed some light on the matter and help my students understand why most English learners have exactly the same difficulties they do in understanding native English speakers in the various types of media... or in person.
Here’s why I believe it’s so difficult to understand native speakers talking the way they usually do every day: Not only is it the speed at which people speak – but a big part of it is that we don’t recognize phrases as a whole. Phrases may have a totally different meaning to the individual component words. I’m sure you’ve heard many language learners the world over saying “I can’t distinguish individual words. They all blend into one.” So how do we tackle this difficulty? What can we actually do about it?
I believe that a huge key aspect consists in learning phrasal verbs and idiomatic expressions. Any English student knows how tricky phrasal verbs can be to identify and then use in the correct context. On top of that we need to deal with idiomatic expressions – whole chunks of language which don’t necessarily have a direct or literal translation into our first language. When we consider both phrasal verbs and idiomatic expressions together - which native English speakers use so naturally and freely in their everyday language - it seems like a compound problem, especially when there are thousands to learn. It seems like such an enormous task!
It’s absolutely essential to learn as many expressions and phrasal verbs in context as we can, if we are to reach our goal. So where do we start? As with anything in life, we start with one small step, and each day we take one more. We need to find a way, a method or a routine that will help us to learn them progressively. Let me give you 2 basic tips to keep up with consistent day to day learning:
- If you want to learn to speak like a native English speaker, you will definitely need to read, listen to and watch material that native speakers read, listen to and watch.
- You also need to find a fun and dynamic way to learn them so that you don’t lose interest but rather stay motivated.
I’ve always had a huge focus on teaching phrases – and the incredible thing is that before long my students come to class really excited: “Frank, I was watching a TV series/ CNN last night and I heard that phrasal verb/ idiomatic expression… I understood it!”
If you have discovered any other fun ways to learn Idiomatic expressions and phrasal verbs, please share it with us on this post.
This is a guest post by Frank Degenaar. Frank is a private English teacher in Fortaleza, Brazil. Visit his blog “Natively Speaking Comics” to start learning hundreds of new expressions.
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