To Speak or Not to Speak?
Frances, the Director of St Giles Vancouver shares some language tips on the culture of speaking English and how practise makes perfect!
The CULTURE of Speaking English
Speaking English is not a science. A new language is a new culture, a new behavior, a new way of thinking as well as new rules and new sounds. Sometimes it is harder to learn a new behavior than a new sound.
People around you, including other students, will feel uncomfortable if you do not speak at all. We speak (or sometimes just make a noise, or nod) to each other to make people comfortable, to show that we are willing to be friendly or open to doing business. If you do not respond to a question, or comment, we will think there is something terribly wrong.
Outside of the classroom, we actually don’t care if your grammar is bad, or your accent is strong (in general situations). We care more that you are making an effort and you are willing to make a connection with us. Everyone knows that you are a language student – that means that we already admire you for that. Most of us will be patient and supportive of your efforts to communicate. However, we will be confused and frustrated if you don’t try to share your opinion or tell us your needs. We will think you are unhappy and don’t want to speak to us.
Let’s look at a common situation inside a classroom. The teacher provides a discussion topic, perhaps leads the discussion and then lets students continue to discuss the topic in the group. Some students in the group shout out their ideas quickly, but some students think they should be polite and not speak until everyone else is finished.
If you wait until everyone is finished speaking, you will not only miss a good chance at practicing the language, but you will have missed a chance to connect with the other students. The discussion will be finished without your input. They do not see your behavior as polite because right now you are here to practice a language. It’s not the same situation as having a conversation with your own friends or family or business colleagues. The only way to improve your communication skills in your new language is to practice, to use it, to experiment with it. It is impossible to progress without doing this. That’s the nature of language learning.
Try to have fun, experiment, act differently if you have to. You NEED to make mistakes! In a classroom and even on the street, mistakes are much better than silence. Be brave and have fun practicing your new language.