Topic 51 13 July 2018   How well should you speak English?

Here is some political news: "Migrants could face primary school-level English test, says Turnbull" l

1. How long did it take you to reach a conversational level in English?

2. What is the hardest stage of learning a language in your opinion: beginner, intermediate or advanced?

3. What level do you need to reach before you can actually use the language with other people (e.g. language exchange partners)?

4. Language level tests like IELTS are really designed for university students. More than half of Australian native English speaking TAFE students "fail" to reach 'native speaker standard' on IELTS. What level of English do you think immigrants should have before they get PR (permanent residence) visas in Australia, and/or full citizenship?

5. My experience teaching IELTS students (in China and South Korea) was that many students with reasonable conversational English failed hopelessly when they had to use systematic, logical technical English (e.g. to describe a process or explain a graph). This is not just a vocabulary problem. What do you think the solution is?

6. What part of language learning did you find hardest from speaking, listening, reading and writing? Why was there a difference for you?

7. Many students ask me how to write in English. I always ask them how much they write (originally, not just copy or repeat) in their first language. Usually they write very little in their first language. Can you really learn to write well in English if you are not a good writer in your first language?

8. When English speakers in English speaking countries enrol in foreign language courses, over 95% of them never learn enough for the new language to be useful. Most courses can't get enrolments past stage 1. How do you think this problem can be fixed?

9. English now has thousands of dialects. Many dialects are influenced by other local languages. For example I have trouble understanding fast Singapore English, and when I went to Chennai (India) in 2016, I could not understand Chennai English (spoken with Tamil intonation) though they could understand me. Do you think it is enough to learn just standard British English? When would you try to learn other dialects too? Are you 'bi-dialectal' (speak two dialects) in any language? [Note: a dialect is different from a language. Basically, you will not understand another language, but you will understand another dialect, though it might be difficult]

10. Linguistics is the science of analysing languages as systems. That is different from speaking a language. For example, I am good at linguistics but not very good at language learning. As a university lecturer in linguistics, I found that many (most) language teachers and good language learners really hated linguistics and were bad at it. This is a bit of a mystery. Why do you think being good at linguistics and being good at language learning are so different?


51 How well should you speak English?. ©Thor May 2018