I was sitting at a cafe with my friend having a cup of coffee, and she was telling me about her frustration with English.
She felt like she could talk to me- easily. And she could, and we did. And she said the problem for her is whe nshe has to talk to a client at work and use some sort of more effective English. Fancier English. And she wanted to know how she could practice doing that.
So we had a little lesson. We had a great lesson. The lesson was great because my student was telling me what she wanted to learn. She showed me what she could say already and we found ways to say it better.
The first thing we did was to listen to her. We listened to very carefully to exactly what she said. We recorded what she said so that we could check our listening. She said:
I, I like coffee is taste in is good.
When we see it written out many mistakes are obvious to us and easy to change. This is true for native speakers too. We speak the same way with many of the same kinds of mistakes and have to practice and learn to become better speakers.
We got rid of extra words; there was an extra I, some unnecessary ‘in’s’. We. fixed the subject verb agreement, coffee tastes. And talked about and agreed on why it might be better to use ‘because’.
I like coffee, it tastes good. vs. I like coffee because it tastes good.
In the video I don’t share much of the choosing and explaining but it is important to know that we do do this and that we do ti together.
The student goes first. When they hear ‘I, I like coffee is taste in is good’ it might sound ok to them because it is ok. It is understandable and when we are listening to each other it is easy for our brains to skip ahead and keep the conversation going. Writing it down helps us stop and listen with our eyes. Seeing ‘I, I like coffee is taste in is in good’ my student knew right away many of the changes to make on her own.
We recorded the revised version of the sentence so she could listen again and hear the difference. It is important for her to hear the difference in her own voice. If I correct her and she hears me say the revised sentence, ‘I like coffee because it tastes good’. Her brain just throws that away. Oh, wow! Peter speaks English so well. I want to speak English like peter one day.
When she hears the improved sentence in her own voice, her brain knows this is real. Oh, wow! I speak English so well. I can speak English like this every day.
My student is doing all the work. I really am a coach offering reassurance and little tips on technique- ‘try it with because and see what you think’.
Now I have to up my teacher game a little. I am a little more sensitive to the quality of language. I may know some words and ways of speaking that are more effective. But no telling. Asking and looking together. Asking perhaps with some leading questions.
‘I like coffee because it tastes good’ is correct, even perfect, English. It is also boring English. It is certainly not persuasive and my student wants to be persuasive.
Anybody can say ‘I like coffee because it tastes good.’ Everybody says they like things ‘because it tastes good’. We need to be more specific.
Together we will craft her sentence and turn it into a piece of art. We’ll look for specifics. Why does the coffee taste good?
She says it is because of the smell and because she feels cool when she drink the coffee.
Are you paying attention? ‘smells good’ and ‘feel cool’ are not about taste. Are you really paying attention? She wants to describe how good the coffee is. ‘Taste’ is something we all say reflexively- meaninglessly ‘It’s delicious’. We are finding something better now. What is really important to her about the coffee. I don’t want to interrupt her and talk about taste, I want to find out what she really wants to say which is about the smell and feeling cool.
Smell isn’t a very beautiful word in English, so we are going to have a little lesson on synonyms. Looking for other words for smell, for good smells, in English. We came up with ‘aroma’ and ‘scent’. Aroma pairs smoothly with coffee, it is a warmer word than scent.
Feeling cool is about your image and I wanted to help her find out what about the coffee made her feel cool. This is something she can sell her clients, the coffee has this thing that will make you feel cool. We came up with ‘soothing’. The coffee is soothing, it will relax you and let you chill and you will be cool.
My student knew the words ‘aroma’ and ‘scent’ but is still developing a sense of when to use them. ‘Soothing’ was new to her, but fit perfectly with what she was trying to say and that relevance made it easy to learn.
She also knows the word ‘this’, I emphasised the power of using it in now to show how special her coffee is. She wants to use English to sell coffee. Not just any coffee, her coffee. So we need to find the words to distinguish her coffee from ‘delicious’ to make it stand out. ‘This’ also makes the coffee special. It is not any coffee it is this coffee. This coffee here which I am presenting to you. ‘This’ helps her listeners focus.
We had our new sentence: I like this coffee for its aroma and soothing effect. And yes, we recorded it and listened to it again so she could hear it for real in her own voice.
We listened to each of the sentences again. And I pointed out each of he changes we made.
We started with her idea, how to describe her coffee.
We listened to the way she said it and found ways to clean up her language.
We looked at the quality of her English and found ways to make it more powerful and persuasive.
We finished by recording and listening to the results of our careful listening and hard work.