For all of us there are times in our careers when we drive forward into unfamiliar territory, seek change and transform, and there are other periods when we we can, let’s face it, start to cruise, enjoying our familiar surroundings. You know which times you remember!
By learning and mastering English as a second language (ESL), we are consistently invited into unfamiliar but stimulating territory, and rewarded for our efforts. Reflecting on our progress and setting new goals are two ways to stay motivated, and a second language will always “keep you on your toes”.
So, what could you do today to challenge yourself in English? Test your skills on your computer! Here’s a simple and entertaining technique to practice speaking and pronunciation, but that’s not all, you’ll even hone your listening and writing abilities:
• Locate the ‘start dictation’ option on whatever writing programme you use. On Word, it is under the Edit tab. A quick google will give you other dictation software options.
• Choose a topic you would like to discuss. This could be plans for next summer, something you may want to chat about with English speaking clients at work or your latest Netflix binge…
• Prepare some ideas in note form on a pad and have a practice with the software. Then you are ready to roll!
• Dictate your ideas to the computer. When you are discussing your prepared notes, speak slower than normal and concentrate on your pronunciation. The more clearly you speak, the more the computer will get correct. Keep going until you have two or three paragraphs.
The text is likely to be full of errors, but that is OK. This is a perfect opportunity to analyse your own language and make your own corrections. This is what drives improvement. The spell checker will identify some errors, but it won’t do all the work for you.
Especially if you’re preparing for an exam like IELTS, regularly practising this exercise will truly help. Make the necessary corrections and keep going, looking to expand your answers where possible, and adopt synonyms for repeated words that you notice. See if you can even paraphrase some of points you have made and make them more concise.
Whatever happens, you’ll be on unfamiliar and memorable ground, and you’ll see by yourself how you can improve and for a bonus activity, record yourself during your speech. Playing the audio back is incredibly useful to improve pronunciation, grammar and even listening skills.
The idea is to actually enjoy ESL and have fun whilst learning English. If you're not having fun, you're not doing it correctly!