I often find that a lot of my clients want to get better at speaking English, but “they just don’t have any time,” and if only they “had more time in their daily lives” they would be a lot better.
I certainly get it. We are all busy. All of us. We live in a busy world with families and jobs and friends, annoying commutes, immediate deadlines, and all sorts of things that make it almost impossible to find time to sit down and study. That being said, why do you need to sit down and study for an hour? Why not break up your study time into smaller chunks? The best thing to do is to practice everyday, no matter how long that practice is. Start small; reach a minimum of five minutes or more every day whether you are stuck in traffic, riding the bus, at a lunch break, or even riding the elevator to your office. Get the study in wherever you can.
So then, what can you do to maximize your five minutes in the most effective way possible? Here are a few methods that I have found work really well:
- The “What Don’t I Know” method – I started doing this one when studying Korean. I would often wait for a client in our main atrium and escort them into my office. If they were late, I might have a few minutes to practice my Korean and learn some words that I don’t know. The idea here is that while you are waiting for someone or something, write down everything you see in you in English. Start simple; if you are on the bus, try to write down words like “chair, person, driver, etc.”. Depending on your level, maybe you can get more complicated; “the angry driver, the small chair, the excited person, etc.”. When you see a word you don’t know or have forgotten, write it down in your native language. Once you write it down, look it up in a dictionary or ask a teacher. That way, you can find gaps in your language ability and figure out what words you need to practice or refresh your memory
- The “Shower Conversation” method – this is an idea I found in a Tedx talk with Sid Efromovich, who has a great idea to practice your language in a short amount of time. His idea is the “shower conversation,” and the idea here is that you give yourself two to five minutes to speak only in English or your target language, and you give yourself a situation where you need to use your English. Maybe you need to order a Starbucks coffee. Maybe you need to book tickets to a concert of your favorite band. Whatever it is, try talking to yourself about that given topic; try haggling the price down, try asking for more milk in your coffee. Whatever you need to do, do it for two minutes while you have free time. Sure, you might look like a crazy person. You will also look like a crazy person if you can’t order a cup of coffee at a Starbucks and everyone is waiting for you to order. Point being, you can get more comfortable in speaking English because you can hear how you speak and answer, and you can find gaps in your ability that you can improve on.
- The “Narrator method” – this one is similar to the “shower conversation” method, but is slightly different. Instead of giving yourself a situation, try explaining or narrating what you are doing at this exact second. I would often do this with my German; I would talk about how I am cleaning my apartment and how I first need to clean the dishes but oh man the dishes are dirty and gross, so maybe I should sweep first, so where did I put the cleaning liquid…? At first it might seem a little bit awkward or forced to use your English in this way. However, once you get a hang of it, things will start to flow naturally and eventually you will start to think in English. And this is important. I often find students (and myself) trying to force their target language into our own native language, which leads to lots of confusion and awkward phrasing. In order to avoid this, you need to practice speaking English whenever you can, and get used to practicing English word order and verb tenses and all that not-fun-stuff that is difficult to learn. Using this narrator method, you will be able to try and get used to that pattern of English while also trying to accomplish something on your busy schedule. I would recommend using this with tasks that don’t need a lot of thinking, like preparing dinner or cleaning your home.
These are just a few ways you can maximize your English practice, and you might find a few others that are equally helpful. If you have other techniques that help you improve your English, write them below in our comments section. I’d love to hear what you have to say.
Chunk – (n.) an amount of something
To maximize – (v.) to increase the greatest amount possible
Atrium – (n.) a main or central room of a building or office
To haggle – (v.) to negotiate a price down
To narrate – (v.) to give a spoken commentary or account of something
To get a hang of it – (v.) to learn or to get used to doing something.