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As with all of us, we want to somehow impress people. It sounds phoney but it’s true, in one way or another we know that first impressions are very important, and what we say or how we speak can be a really engaging point or a real turn off. So too for the ESL student who wants to speak, but my suggestion is to speak the English that you know first and let the rest just come.
Even in most curriculums you will see that the first conversations that are learned are a beginning to end set of lines that will clearly get the job done, and finish off nicely and politely. Students are to learn these lines off by heart and that will give them the first level of confidence that they can speak in some kind of fluent and natural way. Then they hit a wall!
So comes the next level. By the second stage (of about 12-15 stages!) there are a few new set of conversations that can be rattled off perfectly with an additional phrase here and there to make sure you sound like you know what you are talking about, but within this first and second stage the student is learning many different contexts in which to speak and how to speak and new vocabulary for commonly used words and questions. These are like ‘one-off’ type chunks of words or phrases that can be thrown in to make the person understood. This is where the person starts to both have some confidence that they are able to ask for what they want, but also are not sure if they can communicate it perfectly. From this point on is where students his that ‘danger zone’. Are they going to be understood or not?
As the vocabulary grows and the confidence grows, so does the ability to communicate, but still not necessarily clearly. The person has to insist that they are being understood and this is where they can hit another wall.
The most important advice I would give in this situation is for the student to stick with the conversations, phrases and vocabulary they know well and deliver naturally, first, rather than try to put in the new words to impress the person that they know what they are talking about. This can backfire incredibly if the words you use are inappropriate or worse still impolite or rude.
The key in learning a language is to try to ‘naturalise’ what you learn as early as possible, so if worst comes to the worst you can always slip back into the language that comes naturally to you. The fear for many students is that they worry that they won’t progress, but don’t worry, the more you speak and the more situations you put yourself into will alone help you to push through your barriers.