ESL South Korea

Speaking Comprehensible English

If you’re a new arrival to Korea, or any other non-English country for that matter, and you speak English at the same speed and intonation as you did back you, people will not understand you.  There’s nothing like a blank look or a discontented frown from a listener to stretch an awkward silence and make you feel stupid.

So it’s well worth the effort to invest time in learning to speak English comprehensibly and understanding that non-native speakers might not understand your jargon, slang, mumbles and pronounced accent.

This is of course especially true if you are a foreign language teacher.  Your students are supposed to not only learn from you, but UNDERSTAND you!  So here are a few of the basic elements needed to aid non-native hearers with comprehension:

New or inexperienced foreign language teachers often underestimate the importance of speaking comprehensible English.  This page has some ideas to help make sure your students understand what you’re saying.
1.  Clear and Dramatic Intonation

As young kids, we’ve all been enthralled with stories told by teachers or grandparents.  The reason a narrative seems to captivate us usually has a lot to do with dramatisation.  By using dramatic presentation, you will enable listeners to predict and guess the intention of what you’re saying.  It also means you’re not boring to listen to.  Koreans themselves use of very flat and predictable intonation when they speak and rarely use hand signals and facial expressions.  But as a foreign language teacher you’ll have to do the opposite to aid in enhancing comprehension.
2.  Emphasis

Students often feel they have to understand every single word prefix and article in a sentence to make out what you’re trying to say.  But teaching them to listen for focus words will ease their nerves.
In these examples, capital letters indicate where the stress should be:  “HOW was your WEEKend?’, “I’d like some COFFee.”, “I’d like some CHEEse please.”
You can use rising intonation, loudness and stressing to place emphasis on focus words.  Stressing different words by itself can change the entire meaning of a sentence (“THANK you” vs. “Thank YOU”).  So use stress correctly by placing it on the focus words, i.e. the most important ones in the sentence, that will help students with understanding what you’re trying to say.

3.  Speaking slowly

This needs to be said again and again and again to foreign language teachers, especially those with little experience as educators.  If you speak too fast, students will simply miss just about everything you’re trying to say.  It may sound silly at first, but by speaking slowly and clearly you’ll make life a lot easier for your students.

4.  Simple Vocabulary

Learners need time to process the target language you’re directing at them.  Long sentences with too many difficult words in them complicate things unnecessarily for students.  Get a good idea of what level of vocabulary your students are comfortable with by studying their textbook or having simple conversations with them.

5.  Visual Cues

Use non-verbal communication to the maximum.  Gestures, facial expressions, signs and props will give your students hints and clues that they can follow to obtain meaning of what you’re saying.

6.  Articulation

The large amount of English borrowed words into Korean, means students will often misunderstand you, even if you use perfect English articulation.  They’ll think you’re talking about coffee when you’re referring to a copy machine (The Korean word for coffee is pronounced “Kopee” or “Kopi”).  This does not mean you shouldn’t use careful pronunciation.

In fact, the only place most Korean students will ever hear proper English articulation, is from your lips!  With younger students it’s especially important to focus on the different pronunciations of the /l/,/r/ and /v/, /p/ sounds.  Even Koreans with years of English experience will still refer to the colour in English as “led“.  So model and encourage correct articulation and pronunciation.