Teaching natural English: helping learners communicate more effectively and confidently

Grant Trew

Traditionally second language classrooms have focused on teaching the building blocks of language, mainly grammar and vocabulary. Unfortunately these elements did not give the complete picture of what language learners need to function effectively in the real world.

Many students who do well in the classroom are not able to comfortably and confidently use English while traveling or in the workplace. Often they know enough words to express basic meaning, but can only do so in a way that sounds unnatural or inappropriate. This can cause them to be either misunderstood or even worse, create a negative impression with their listener. Also, lack of familiarity with natural English may inhibit their listening comprehension, even though they may actually know all the words being spoken.

This workshop will focus on two major aspects of natural English.

In the first section we will look at the issue of using language appropriately. This includes how to handle such common speech acts as requests, offers, and complaints in a way which is not only understandable, but also in a way that sounds natural and polite. This section will look not only at the phrases and expressions native speakers use, but also the way they organize their speech to create a favorable impression

The second part of the workshop will focus on the problems posed by the sound of natural English. Rhythm, stress and features of connected speech not only pose a problem for learners who want to sound natural, they also have a dramatic impact on their ability to comprehend natural spoken English.

This workshop will use examples of actual student conversation to illustrate the problems learners commonly face, and will demonstrate practical techniques teachers can use in the classroom to help their students to both understand, and use English more appropriately and confidently.