Talking in Your Community

As a non-native English speaker, you likely have a community and a family that you speak with in your native language.  However, there are many opportunities to speak English throughout your day. Moreover, the benefits of chatting with people you encounter during your day are limitless.

“Where can I talk with people?” you ask. Family errands are a fantastic opportunity to experience authentic English. Whether you are in the grocery store, dry cleaners, gas station, flea market, coffee shop, mall, or the library, there are people who will talk with you and be glad for a little friendly conversation in their day.  Seniors, especially, can be lonely and grateful for someone to pay attention to them.

So now you’re wondering, “What do I say to people that I don’t know?” There are a number of “safe” topics that create opportunities for a positive conversation and are sure not to offend anyone. Topics that are sure to engage almost any Canadian include the weather, road conditions, the tasks and busyness related to upcoming holidays, sports scores and news, positive comments on children, and comments on the surrounding location.  For example, if you are in the grocery store, try a comment like: “They always put the chocolate bars at the check out counter to tempt us, don’t they.”  These conversations don’t have to be lengthy to be beneficial.

How can I engage people in a conversation? You might be concerned that your English isn’t good enough or you don’t know enough about Canadian culture, or perhaps, you just don’t know what to say.  The trick is to become very skilled at asking questions.  The questions should be related to the safe topics listed above, and you should not ever ask personal questions. Begin with a small comment (about the chocolate bars being a temptation) to measure how talkative the individual is. Then you might say, “My favourite chocolate bar is Hershey’s Almond”. Then they may tell you what their favourite chocolate bar is. And the two of you may enjoy a laugh together. Otherwise, just relax and enjoy the interactions, remembering to smile and make eye contact. You will meet people who are not overly friendly, but those who are friendly will enrich not only your English but also your day.

Besides improving your confidence in speaking English, you may learn many interesting tidbits of information:

  • about the products the store sells
  • fascinating opinions about Canadian values
  • how to save money
  • how stores and industries operate
  • gossip about famous people (magazines are also placed at the check out counters)
  • and much, much more!

Watch Television with Closed Captions On

Do you enjoy television? Sometimes the programs on television can be difficult to comprehend, and turning on the closed captions can improve comprehension. Utilizing the closed captions can aid in understanding when you have misunderstood an expression or even a joke. The ability to see the words can also clarify the conversation parts that were spoken too quickly. In addition, closed captions will enhance your understanding if the speaker has an accent that is challenging to understand. Finally, watching television with closed captions can be a relaxing method of enjoying television programming in which technical vocabulary or colloquial expressions create barriers to understanding. These opportunities to enhance our comprehension allow us to enjoy a broader range of programming.

There are numerous situations where closed captions are useful for non-native English speakers and English speakers alike. First, closed captions offer opportunities to watch videos for research or enjoyment in a library or other quiet areas. Second, in a noisy environment, such as on an airplane, where you cannot hear the audio well, closed captions are often the only way to understand the speakers. Third, closed captions are becoming more common on social media, allowing viewers to scroll and continue to receive the video message without sound.

More specifically, utilizing closed captions can help you to improve your English.  First and foremost, the captions will allow you to focus on the most difficult grammar structures –  those elusive prepositions and articles. This reinforcement of English grammar structures will improve your spoken and written English over time.  Secondly, paying close attention to these challenging aspects of English grammar will also improve your listening comprehension because you will start to understand the rhythm and stress of the language. Third, of course, you will begin to acquire new vocabulary and idiomatic expressions.  In my mind, this is one of the better ways to learn authentic, native English conversation skills.

Television content is often the focus of small talk and helps to build relationships with people in your personal and your work life. These conversation topics, enjoyed with other people in your life, give you another opportunity to open up your life to deeper connections.

Listen to Audio Books

If you do not enjoy reading books, there is always the option of Audio Books. These save you the hassle of turning the pages, and you can listen to them while doing chores like washing dishes, or folding laundry. Even with Audio Books, I recommend that you read the best quality available. By listening to Audio Books, it will help reinforce your vocabulary, and thus will help with dictation and enunciation. This also gives a better understanding of where and when to use certain prepositions.

Audio Books are highly entertaining, and very fun to listen to. Most of the Audio Books you’ll find are done by actors who make the story more alive than it was on paper. Listening to an Audio Book helps focus on retaining, remembering and understanding the contents of the story, without focusing too much on the enunciation of the words. This builds confidence in your daily life, knowing how to phonetically sound a word without wondering if it’s proper. The best part about an Audio Book is the ability to read faster, making reading more enjoyable by removing the time it takes to read the words and to decipher them. By hearing the story as a whole, this increases your comprehension of the story, and easily creates an image of what the story is about.

Just like a book, Audio Books are also available at Libraries, and you can also find Audio Books available for download(you can also find some for free). Audio books are also available for your Kindle and Kobo devices, so if you have one of these devices, you can look at exploring the world of audio books using them! Downloading an Audio Book can be very convenient, as it can be stored on your phone, and listened to on your way home, or when you have some free time. Another way to enjoy Audio Books is turn one on during a road trip. By listening to the same story, and sharing the words the same way, the book would be more fun, and it would give you something to discuss when finished. Try an Audio Book today!

10 Reasons Why Reading Everyday is Good for You!

Read Every Day!

Whatever you enjoy reading is fine; however, read the best quality available.  For example, if you enjoy reading the newspaper, I recommend The Globe and Mail or The Calgary Herald to reinforce business vocabulary, idioms, and the mindset for achievement. If you enjoy fiction, classic novels are available in a variety of English levels through Usborne Books and Scholastic.  And if you enjoy, nonfiction, be sure to read literature outside of your profession in order to broaden your vocabulary. I would recommend comics only if your English is very advanced and your goal is to broaden your idiomatic and colloquial English.

Here are ten reasons why Reading is beneficial:

  1. Mental Stimulation

The brain is like any other muscle, requiring exercise to keep it strong and healthy.

  1. Stress Reduction

Reading a well-written novel can make you relax as you focus on the story, and forget about your stress of work, personal relationships, or other issues.

  1. Knowledge

Reading will always supply you with new information and will make conversations much easier when you have more knowledge about the topic you are discussing.

  1. Vocabulary Expansion

By reading a variety of books, you gain exposure to words used in context, which will help define when and where to use the word and also expand your vocabulary.

  1. Memory Improvement

Reading a book requires that you remember an assortment of characters, their backgrounds, and their personalities. You also have to remember the subplots and various arcs, as well as how it affects the rest of the story.

  1. Stronger Analytical Thinking Skills

You can analyze and critique how the plot of a book will play out by noticing the details provided and taking note of the development of the story.

  1. Improved Focus and Concentration

Reading a book focuses all your attention on the topic and improves your focus and concentration on one task.

  1. Better Writing Skills

Exposure to well-written books influences your own writing, as you start to use the writing styles that you have observed and enjoyed.

  1. Tranquility

Depending on the subject you read, books can bring you a sense of inner peace and tranquility, for example, reading spiritual texts can lower blood pressure and bring about an immense sense of calm.

  1. Conversational skills

Reading the news, and staying up to date on current events can provide an opportunity to join conversations with other friends and colleagues.

Consistent reading is the most efficient and effective strategy to develop vocabulary and writing skills, as well as the confidence to express yourself during small talk. The ability to express yourself on a wide range of topics allows you to build relationships and express your ideas both on work teams and in social situations. Read a book today!


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