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Letters to the editor

Do write to us with your views about the English language and any questions you may have.

Dear Sirs

I am about to begin an English language course. The reason for this is that, in the near future, I shall be using English more frequently in my job. I studied English at school (I left school 15 years ago) but have practised very little since then. I write an occasional business letter in English but I rarely get the opportunity to speak. I know that my writing ability and knowledge of English grammar are quite good but I think that I shall find conversation very difficult. I am also rather nervous about attending a language course at my age. When I was at school, we had a lot of grammar, but not much speaking or listening. I imagine that teaching methods have changed quite a lot since then. What happens now in a language class and can you give me any advice?

Joachim Schmidt

The Editor's reply

The most important advice I can give you is "don't worry, and don't be afraid of making mistakes". As you say, your written English is good and you realise that what you need is to be able to communicate.

When you learnt English at school, the teacher probably did most of the talking, maybe using your first language for much of the time. On your new course, you will find that the teacher uses English for all of the time. This means that you will not rely on your own language for translation and that you will become used to listening to English.

The teacher will also provide you with many opportunities to practise speaking. On modern language courses, the students have to be active, (not only the teacher)! If you are learning in a group, you will probably be asked to take part in "pair work" with a partner or in small group work. On a one-to-one course, you will be speaking to the teacher for much of the time in the lessons.

If you worry too much about making mistakes, you will not want to speak. The only mistakes which are really important are those which cause misunderstanding - the teacher will point those out to you. You should not be too concerned about speaking perfectly - most native speakers also make mistakes!

I advise you to spend as much time as you can, outside the classroom, going over what you have learnt and doing some homework or self study if you have time. If you can also listen to the language (on the radio, on television or on cassettes), this will be very helpful.

Good luck with your course - I hope you enjoy it!



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