Meet Rose from the US, she is a popular online tutor and in this interview we talk about preparing for the IELTS exam. We discuss speaking strategies, how to learn a language, and common challenges learners of English encounter.
This interview is especially useful if you are an IELTS tutor or if you are preparing for the IELTS speaking with fellow friends.
Have a listen and let me know what you think, post a comment below.
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Listen to the interview here:
Hello there, podcast listeners. On this episode I have Rose from the United States and she’s an expert in adult learning. And she’s going to share tons of valuable advice regarding learning the English language, and how best to approach it and share lots of tips as well which hopefully you’ll be able to incorporate into your IELTS preparation. But I think this is a more general approach to building a good solid foundation with regarding your English skills. And then moving forward after that and finding more specific IELTS skills in another podcast. This is basically just to get a good foundation and optimize your learning strategy.
Ben: So welcome to the podcast, Rose.
Rose: Thank you. It’s nice to be here.
Ben: You’re welcome. Alright, let’s get started. So how you prepare a student who had an exam in mind but later down the road. How would you start off with that?
Rose: Well usually students who come to me with an exam like IELTS or TOEFL online down the road, they’re just looking to really improve their English, their general English abilities. Usually, speaking. Most students have opportunities to practice their grammar, their writing, their reading, things like that.
But speaking is usually the issue that they have when they come to me. So when I work with a student I try to provide as many opportunities as possible for them to speak. So in my lessons, usually we focus the lesson around a theme. For example travel, or memories, or dreams, or something like that. And during the lesson we just watch a short video, maybe one to three minutes about that topic.
Then we discuss a little bit. I ask a question and see if they have understood. Things like that. And then there’s usually a short article. So one to three paragraphs of reading. While they’re reading I check pronunciation because test examiners usually listen for pronunciation as well. So students like to focus on that. So during the reading I listen and I make notes. And then when they’re finished reading I go over the specific pronunciation errors. We practice those.
Then I ask them for some general ideas that they had about the article. And then we discuss it in general terms. As they’re speaking, I’m focusing on errors that they’re making. I’m listening to what they’re saying and at the same time I’m writing. So I make notes of different grammar mistakes. The persistent grammar mistakes. Not every single mistake. So for example if they have problems with the “ed” ending, I make note of that. If some students have problems with one particular grammar thing or another, and I just write those down. I make notes of pronunciation things, vocabulary…
And then after their conversation (we usually talk for five minutes or so) and then I bring out these errors and we talk about them a little bit (not more than twenty seconds) and then go back to the conversation. So most of the class period are spent speaking. They have some really focused error correction but most of it is speaking.
Ben: Excellent. While I was listening, I remember at the beginning you said that they watch a video. A video about a certain topic. And this give you a good idea of two students who’ve been practicing for the IELTS. What they could do is watch topic about a certain IELTS for example. I don’t know. Employment or study or education, whatever, and then ask each other about the video. And while they’re watching it, formulate questions as well. So that would be one way to practice. And while you’re doing this, you’re watching the video, you’re asking some specific questions about it. And do you try to elicit from the students specific vocabulary related to that topic?
Rose: Well not specifically like that. I find that spending 45 minutes or an hour discussing one topic usually can cover us a pretty broad range of vocabulary in that area. But I always have specific questions related to all the material that I use. I find that just watching the video isn’t useful in a class that I teach. Of course students can do that on their own and they don’t need me to sit there and watch it with them. They can watch it on their own.
That’s why I provide specific questions. My questions are geared toward making sure that the students understand what they’re watching and getting them to disclose their opinions about it which I find is a great way to make students talk, because students are shy, they don’t want to talk. They’re afraid to talk and make mistakes. But if you ask for their opinion, usually they’ll open up a little bit and start talking.
Ben: Excellent. That’s a good point. Now as well when we were speaking before, you said you do some reading, you check the pronunciation and then you give an example. Like say, they’ve got a problem with the “ed” endings. How would you go about solving a problem like that?
Rose: Well the “ed” ending is a really really common mistake for many English language learners. Even advanced learners sometimes make this mistake. Because in English we have the past simple tense has an “ed” ending in the regular verbs. For example “walk,” “walked’ has an “ed” ending but it sounds like a “t” so usually I just…
The first time that I correct this mistake with a student, I go through the rule for the grammar, which is “Okay, there is the ‘ed’ ending but there are three ways of pronouncing it.” So if you have (and I write this all down in the chat box so they can see it and refer to it later). So for “ed” ending if the sound before the “ed” is a voiced sound, for example an “n” or an “l” or and “m” or some other letter that has a voiced sound, then the “ed” ending will sound like just “d.” If the sound before is voiceless, for example a “k” sound or something like that, then the “ed” sounds like a “t” just “t” like that. And then if it ends with a “t” or a “d” the “ed” ending sounds like “ed.”
But what most students do is make it sound like “ed” for every “ed” ending. So they choose the ending that is the least common (the “ed”) sound and they use it for all of them. So I try to focus their attention on the differences. And then some of them feel overwhelmed by this.
So I say “You know what? Just forget it. 80% of this ‘ed’ ending sounds like a plain ‘d’ sound. So if you don’t know, just say ‘d.’ Don’t say ‘ed’ don’t say ‘t’ just say ‘d.'” And then they say “Oh, okay.” And then that usually corrects a lot of the problem but of course students keep making the same mistake sometimes for quite a while. So I just mention it again and I say, “Okay, you know I noticed you say ‘walked.’ How can you say that?” And then they say “Oh, walked.” So they start correcting themselves after a while.
Ben: Great advice. I remember you’re going through the rules as well, teaching the students. And it is a serious problem because “walked” or “talked” doesn’t really make any sense. And in a full sentence it can throw off a native English listener, or even worse a non-native English listener. It can throw them off and it’s extremely common problem.
But I like your solution. It’s very practical especially if a student has to prepare for an exam pretty quickly and they know that this is a problem area. Knowing that 80% finish with that “d” sound is a valuable advice. So thanks for that. That’s a good tip.
Now my next question was: Do you have a technique for gaining confidence with the speaking. Or specifically gaining confidence in the exam?
Rose: Oh gaining confidence in speaking is just a matter of practicing speaking and getting some positive feedback from your teacher. So if a student comes to me… I see this all the time. They come to me wanting lessons and they’re terrified of speaking. They feel like if they make a mistake, it’s the end of the world and they don’t know what they’re going to do, and so they just don’t talk.
And my method is to instill as much confidence in them as possible from the first lesson. And I do that by starting my lessons with easy questions. I don’t ask them something really complicated right off. I ask them something that’s below their level, get them to answer, I don’t focus on their mistakes right away in the first few minutes. I let them talk a little bit and then I respond to what they’re trying to say rather than responding to what their mistakes are in their speech.
And then as they see that “Oh, she’s not going to yell at me for getting it wrong.” Then they start to feel a little more confident and they’re able to accept a little bit of correction. So I feel that trying to correct a student immediately and pointing out all their mistakes is counter-productive.
If a student is not confident they need to gain some confidence by being able to have some success in speaking before you attack their problem areas.
Ben: Awesome advice. So just a quick summary there. Start off easy, get the ball rolling, get some momentum, get some confidence. The aim of the conversation this couple of minutes is just to get some fluency, get things flowing, and then later start help them with what they’re trying to say about the actual errors. And later on in the conversation, focus on the errors.
Rose: Exactly. The other thing is that there are two parts of the conversation practice. There’s fluency and then there’s accuracy. And the fluency comes in when they’re trying to answer a question or they’re trying to read the article aloud, or something like that, you don’t interrupt the student when they’re reading or trying to formulate their sentence.
The time for correction is after they have said what they’re trying to say. And then you can say “Oh, that’s a great idea.” Say something about what they said and then say “Okay. By the way, this one little thing right here…” and then focus on their error.
Ben: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. I found when I was teaching that if I explained clearly at the beginning and say “This is a fluency exercise. I’m not going to correct you. Later, we’re going to look at the other part and I will correct you.” Because what would happen is if I didn’t explain it clearly at the beginning, the student would stop mid-sentence and say “Did I say that correctly?” and it kind of just ruins the activity. And then we’ve got to get back into that sentence.
Yeah, I was explaining at the beginning and it just basically almost gives the student a license just to push on through and get constructing those sentences, those whole thoughts, and start communicating.
So IELTS students, if you are practicing with each other, I would divide your practice session into one focusing on fluency. And then the second one focusing on accuracy. And then maybe even a third doing a reading exercise like Rose suggested, focusing on the pronunciation as well.
Alright then. Now my next question is: What would you recommend to a student who is studying alone with no academy or formal classroom and they’re in a non-English speaking country?
Rose: Well for a student who is studying on their own without formal classes and living in a country that doesn’t speak English as a first language. That gets a little bit difficult but that’s where I come in. They can always find a teacher… Not even a teacher. It might be just a language study partner on a website like italki.com. So they can go there, they can find language partners. They can find a teacher if they want to take a class. Or they can study with a language partner who wants to do an exchange.
So I have several language partners in Russia, in Ukraine, in Turkey. I’m studying various different languages and it’s great because I can go there, I can practice speaking, and I get the benefit of learning my language and they get the benefit of learning the language that they want… which I have… which is English.
Otherwise, I would say a student who is studying on their own and doesn’t have time, or can’t find a language partner for some reason, the best thing that they can do is immerse themselves in the language as much as possible by listening to English. They can watch English T.V. with subtitles if they need them. They can listen to the radio, they can watch news broadcasts. They can read if they want to. There’s tons and tons of information and websites in English. So there’s lots of practice for reading.
And as far as speaking, I would recommend making a video. Think of a topic. Practice speaking with somebody else who’s trying to study for the IELTS exam, for example. And then create maybe one or two-minute video talking about some aspect about that topic. Post it on YouTube and listen for responses from YouTube viewers.
Ben: That just reminded me of a friend who’s came up with another friend. So she took a video in the bar and she’s put in on YouTube and now she’s talking about his privacy and stuff. If you do do that, make sure you have the explicit permission of your friend. That they’re comfortable of doing that. And also, be prepared to get a whole range of comments as well.
Rose: That’s true. Yes.
Ben: Yeah, that’s the problem. But I think it’s definitely good because you’ll hear yourself and you’ll be able to… With the luxury of being able to pause, go back a few seconds, listen to it as many times as you want, you will be able to identify the errors. And if you wanted to say a certain word and if you find out that it didn’t sound exactly like you wanted it to, you can go also (while you’re online) check the correct pronunciation. So that’s a good advice there, Rose.
Now then, my final question has to do with learning. Not just a language but effective learning regarding… Yeah, effective learning in general especially for adults. Are there any strategies a student should employ, just regarding learning in general? And then regarding learning a language?
Rose: Well as far as learning in general, I don’t know what I could say about that. Learning a language requires a lot of time. Some students hope that they can skate by with half an hour of study per week or something, and that just doesn’t work. If you are dedicated to learning the language you must spend at least one hour, at least three times a week studying the language. And that’s bare minimum. If you really want to improve, obviously the more time you spend on it the better.
Use as many different methods as possible. Don’t just read. Don’t just practice grammar. Practice all the skills: reading, writing, listening, speaking, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, everything. Look for websites that are helpful for listening, specifically. There’s tons of websites like Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab. They have lots and lots of listening things and little quizzes that go with them. So you can notice if your listening is okay or not.
Just don’t stick to one method, basically. Do as many different things as possible.
Ben: Yeah. Over here in Spain, I was surprised when I came over from the U.K. and I started teaching here. And everybody had amazing grammar and amazing writing abilities but very poor speaking and listening abilities. And it’s not because of the Spanish language. It’s basically because the education system over here. But what the English teachers called it was textbook English. That’s what they’ve learned. And it was useful as far as emailing and written correspondence. But after that, it was terrible. In fact, in some cases it actually held the student back and hindered the progress with the listening and the speaking.
Rose: That is such a common problem. That’s the most common problem in English language learning abroad, I think.
Ben: Yeah. Definitely. And it’s almost sort of like, to stay in the comfort zone as well. Rather than to step out and risk looking a little bit silly by pronouncing a word, or getting online and doing some… like finding a speaking partner or whatever… it’s almost more comfortable just to stay at home, open the textbook, and you get rid of the guilt by doing 3 hours of solid grammar study. And afterwards you feel okay but in the long run it’s not going to be very beneficial.
Rose: Yes, unfortunately that’s the case. Studying grammar is great but it’s not going to help you with your speaking. Speaking, you get that by speaking.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. That’s what they need. That’s what Benny, the Irish poly, got set in his Ted Talk as well.
And now that you’re learning other languages, was it Russian? And what was the other languages?
Rose: Yeah, I’m learning Russian right now, kind of slowly actually. I said you should spend at least three hours a week. Well, I haven’t been spending three hours a week on it. But yes. I also speak Turkish. I speak Turkish at the advanced level and Spanish at the advanced level. But now, it’s Russian and I’m a bare-bones beginner on Russian.
Ben: Yeah. I just wanted to see what strategies from learning other language if you’re applying to Russian. But I guess it depends as well, whereabouts you are in the learning process. And whereabouts you are regarding your personal life. If you’ve got enough time to dedicate and all the rest of it.
Rose: That’s the thing for me. But actually time is not really that important. If you have five minutes to review grammar… or not grammar… vocabulary, while you’re standing in line at the bus stop, having an app on your phone, or having some flash cards, or having an article. You can study in a five-minute block while you’re waiting for the bus, or waiting for the dentist, or whatever. And it’s useful and it adds up. So yes, I do do that. And it makes it go a lot faster.
Ben: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. I’ve must have said it a million times now. I call it like “dead time.” Just making use of that dead time. And I read a message on your profile about making use of down time. And it just goes back to productivity and determination. And actually having the willingness and the effort to do it.
I mean, you’ve got two options. You can either sit down and listen to some music, sit down and get listening a podcast. One tutor said that music is chewing gum for the ears.
Rose: Kind of like that. Although if you’re dead tired from working Ben: 3 hours that day and you just can’t focus, listening some music in English is not going to hurt you. So if you must listen to music in your dead time, listen to English music.
Ben: Yeah. Yeah. That’s true. That’s true. But just before we finish, I remember I was teaching one student and he used to drive me crazy. Because I would ask him and say “Hey, have you done any studying this week?” And he’ll be like “Yeah, yeah.” And I’ll be like “Oh, that’s awesome! Fantastic. What did you do?” He like “Oh, yeah. I’ve been doing lots of listening.” I was like “Cool. What were you listening to?” He was like “Oh, yeah. I was listening to Shakira.” And I was like “What?” “Wakka wakka yeah yeah.” And I was like “What?”
Rose: Not going to help you on your test, I’m sure.
Ben: Exactly. And he was like “Yeah, yeah. When the radio comes on I try to pay attention to the songs.” And I was like “Jesus Christ.” I was like “You call this studying? Preparing for the exam? Listening to Shakira and any random English tune?” Yeah. I wanted to tell him to get out but…
Rose: There definitely are some more productive ways to spend your time than that.
Ben: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. So okay, Rose. We’ll have to finish there. We’re coming towards the end of the interview. Big thank you for taking the time to doing this.
Rose: Thanks for having me.
Ben: It’s been a pleasure. It’s been awesome. What I’ll do is I’ll post the links to your profile, to the website, and yeah. Hopefully you’ll get lots of students come in and book in some classes with you.
Rose: Alright. That’s awesome. Thank you so much.
Ben: Thanks for everything.
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