LEARNING ENGLISH CONVERSATION THROUGH READING
(EXTENSIVELY) AS IF HEARING WHAT OTHERS ARE TALKING
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The most important thing is to be able to catch correctly what the other party
--A baby can learn to speak its mother tongue after it listens repeatedly to what its
mom or other surrounding people are talking about or addressing to it. It must be
inputting those words that it hears to its memory. What are we, grownups, to do to
learn to speak other than their mother tongue, English in our case? Are we to wait
until we hear what others address to us? No, we have to do something by ourselves
to hear English. We sit in front of radios, TVs, tape recorders, or teachers at English
conversation schools and listen to what those gadgets or teachers emit English, being
respective programs or tapes intended for English study. Now we've got necessary
input of fundamental English. We are now able to talk on the level of the infants, able
to greet and express laboriously the daily life necessities with a faltering manner.
Those who consider that the level they hope to get can be like the one mentioned as
above can ignore and please leave from this forum. But those who wish to be able to
convey his or her thought fully and in a manner fairly good to be heard by native
speakers or by the foreigners who speak English as his or her second language are to
Japanese youngsters, study English in junior and senior high schools, the former as
one of the courses for compulsory education and the latter the education optional but
taken by most of them. Recently even fairly big percentage of them go up to universities
or colleges and learn English. Total period for learning English amounts to 6 to 10
years. But, alas! Most of them hardly speak even moderately good English. Why? Because
they try to convey their ideas before they can hardly catch what the other parties are
driving at. Failing to be able to do so, they usually have no way but to give up studying
I, myself, was about to give up. I stopped, however, to give a little bit of thought
about the reasons of my being unable to catch what other parties, especially natives,
were driving at. I would be able to convey what I intend to by gestures and by writing
in the last method to be taken which would enable me to continue to carry conversation
anyway, wouldn't I? If only could I catch what he or she spoke!! Then I gave my next
thought to; if it was because of my poor vocabulary, if it was because of my inability to
distinguish their pronunciation or if it was because of both, that I could not catch what
he or she spoke.
It appeared to me that, if the second should be the case, it would be very difficult
to overcome the hurdle. I would have to rely on the radio, the TV, the tapes or the
teachers of some English conversation schools. It would be a long, long way to
follow, painstaking and costly. I might even have to go to some country in which
the English is spoken, which would have been next to impossible considering the
fact that I had a job then to take care of. The goal was hardly visible in my mind
eyes in the terms of period, expenses and the circumstances.
Then I took up the first problem, i.e. the reason for my poor ability to catch what
other parties were driving at might be my scarce vocabulary. What would it be like if
I could have acquired plausible complete vocabulary? And if I could not still catch
what other parties were driving at. Then the reason would evidently be the other
one: "poor ability to distinguish pronunciation". The point is that I would be able to
concentrate my effort on distinguishing pronunciation when other parties are
speaking. It could reduce my effort by half. In that way, it could be a lot easier to
follow what other parties are talking about, which sounded to my ears as fast as the
flashes of lightning, then.
Then, we would move to how to develop our vocabulary. First I
would have to point
out that it would be of little use to memorize words separately cut out from the
sentences as far as they are to be used in conversation. Only those words that are
memorized (input) together with the sentences in which they are included could be
emitted (output) in the conversation.
Then, how are you to memorize words together with sentences? You would have to
read a lot of sentences, any sentences would do. It would apparently be painstaking.
You might consider it as by far too much. But, as the proverb goes, "There is no royal
road." You've got to do it if you wish to be a good speaker of English. You may rest
assured, however, that another saying goes, "Where there is a will, there is a way."
I would like to draw your attention to the plausible best way for you to take for
reading sentences. Please forget the way you learned in junior and senior highs,
colleges and universities. You would have probably learned to read in a manner that
you give heed to a word by word, a sentence by sentence and a paragragh by paragragh.
It was good for you to have learned that way, because you have learned the basics of
English in so doing. But, you ought to read in quite another way from now on. You are
to read sentences so that they are input firmly in your memory to be drawn out (output)
smoothly in the conversation in future. You ought to read any English sentences as
rapidly as possible roughly grasping their meaning. Why? Because you ought to grasp
the meanings of what other parties are driving at in conversations.
It must be, as a matter of course, difficult to read when you don't know the basic
words.You would have to look up with the dictionary too often. Is there any idea for
solving that problem? Yes, there sure is!! You've probably had an experience of
memorizing words in your earlier school days. You must have had a nightmare going
through a lot of examinations with the quizzes to test your memory for vocabulary
among other items as the grammar. And you may have forgotten most of the words you
have memorized no sooner than the examinations were over. So it would have to be
quite different way for memorizing basic words here.
Please open your English Japanese dictionary. You will find many meanings to some
basic words. It would be next to impossible to memorize all of those meanings now.
Please try to memorize one, two main meanings that are typed in bold letters. You
would know other meanings when you are well advanced in reading and speaking.
Please use the small dictionaries called "mametan" which contain basic words, as you
know well. Please go through one or some of them repeatedly (I myself went through
various of them more than ten times) and rapidly so that the words are to be input
firmly in your brains.
Most of those basic words may have already been put in your memory unnoticed
with your earlier study of basic English. So most of the things you have to do now may
be to put that memory in order. For instance, please put in your memory in the right
places distinctly for the confusing words as "conscience" and "conscious". And, try to
use your left part of brain imagining objects as "vase" or scenes as "cliff". At the same
time, try to learn correct pronunciation when you go through the dictionary according
to the phonetic symbols or preferably by the help of the tapes in which the words are
put in by a native speaker or the teacher who is well versed in pronunciation.
Now that the basic words are input in your memory, it will be lot easier to read
English newspapers, English books and magazines. Please try to read whatever draws
your interest to. However, as for the English newspapers, please avoid reading
editorials written by Japanese editors and translated into English, because they are
Japanese English. You ought to acquire genuine English. As for the English books,
please read those that draw your interest to. The paperbacks, the covers of which
feature interesting stories, will do. However, once you have started to read one, please
do not stop reading it for such reasons as you find it not so interesting as you
expected it to be or too difficult for you to keep reading it, because it would cause you
to acquire a habit of stopping to read on the way. On the contrary, if you continue to
read even such books with labor and read them through to the end, it would give you
certain amount of confidence and satisfaction, the volume of which would increase
in due course.
In the beginning, it would be fine for you to understand the contents of the books
only at 20-30 percent. The important thing is to get ahead in acquiring proficiency in
English conversation, but not to understand the contents. You had better to choose
those books that carry as many dialogues as possible. The detective stories are good in
that respect and they are also good because you could follow the story more easily
than other type of books, pursuing the thrilling plots which are usually involved in that
type of books as their intrinsic nature. Agatha Christie's novels are especially good as
recommended in the "how-to" book named "A book showing how to become friends with
English" written by ChikakoTakahashi published by Shobunsha. I myself read the novels
of Agatha in the beginning of my English study for about ten volumes of them. They all
have been very interesting and I remember that it did not take so much time before I
came to understand their contents for 50-70 percent each.
Many of you must have seen the film named "Gone with the wind". The original book
for that film carries many dialogues, for which reason it is very good for study of
English conversation. Besides, the story is very long and consequently the book is
very bulky which will give you great feeling of satisfaction when you finish reading it.
The feeling of satisfaction in accomplishment is one of the merits when you take up
English books as the materials for the study of English conversation. The more you
find English books that you have read on your bookshelves, the more satisfaction
you would feel, resulting to give you so much confidence.
Such book as "Lady Chatterley's lover" written by D.H.Laurence has caused a lot
of sensation for sensual depiction in the past Japan, but it may not be so sensational
now even among young ladies here. I read the novel with a lot of enthusiasm at the
age of about 24, 40 years ago, with so much ease. I also read the novel called "Old
man and the sea" written by Hemmingway and the other called "The East of Eden"
written by Steinbeck. Those are the novels that have been dramatized into the films.
You would be able to follow the stories relatively easily after having enjoyed the films.
Moreover, you would be able to learn a lot with those great literatures of the world at
the same time you learn English conversation. It was a great experience to me who
was only a graduate of senior high school. Those who study literature in a college or
in a university could not have equally great experience as I had.
I would reiterate that the purpose for reading English novels is to learn English
conversation, but not to enjoy their contents. Therefore, please don't try to read
back even if you do not understand their contents to the full. Only 20-30 percent
understanding would do in the beginning. Try also to guess the meanings of unknown
words by judging from the plots of the stories. When you meet the same unknown
words several times, however, they may well be important words. Please check
them with your dictionary. The words memorized in such way would hardly be lost in
2. Next, Let's try to get correct pronunciation. You may well use radios, TVs, and tapes
for that purpose, or you may well go to some English conversation schools and get the
training from the natives or the teachers who are well versed in correct pronunciation.
You ought, however, to ask them to get you in the class with the level a little bit higher
than your actual level. You don't have to be able to speak out. All you have to do is to
try to listen to the teacher and the classmates whose pronunciation may be better
than you and get correct pronunciation as well as to grasp what they are talking
about. The given time to speak out is usually insufficient in those schools, so it's
quite reasonable to concentrate on hearing practice there.
Those who learn English now in junior or senior high schools should train themselves
on going over their text books for reading practices, reading aloud several times every
day the whole items learned from the beginning of the text book through what they
have learned until that day. In that way they could learn by heart the basic sentence
patterns as well. Please continue that practice for at least one month. The result
would be great, I assure you, honestly!
3. Now, here we are for the training for speaking.
You can learn memorizing the words, inputting the sentences and learning
pronunciation by yourself if you so desire. But, you can hardly learn speaking by
yourselves. All right you could do so by talking to yourselves about the things you see
in the rooms or passing through the streets, but it has certain limitation. It's dull.
You had better learn to speak in as actual circumstances as possible, which would be
interesting and effective. The English conversation school would be the one, sure, but
it costs you a lot and, except the private lessons which is by far the most expensive,
there exists difference of levels of proficiency among the students. It would cause
either insufficient opportunity to speak out when one's level is lower than the other
students in the class, or when one's level is higher, the contents of topics on which
the class is talking would be too trifling and so not good for his or her improvement of
The best way is to participate in circle activities where participants talk in English
on various subjects. You can choose the circle best suited to your level that you
would surely find among the inter-net web sites. In those circle activities you would
be able to train yourselves by speaking out as much as possible. The circle I
participated was called "Kansai Eigo Doojo". The activities of it have been held since
about 40 years ago, originally at American culture center located in front of
Osaka station and recently at Osaka Roodo Kaikan located near Tenma station of
Keihan Line. Its activities have been held Saturday afternoons and participated mostly
by young office workers and students. After the activities we used to go to a cafe
nearby and some guys continue their practice talking in English over some cups of
coffee and the others just chat pleasantly. You can continue to do something pains-
taking when it is done in pleasant atmosphere.
4. Finally, I would like to add as follows:
I stated as above one of the best way, I believe so from my experience, to learn
English conversation, but it is up to the individuals to decide which way is the best
and effective for him or for her. I would like to point out, however, that you shouldn't
think light of studying English conversation, saying like" It's merely a conversation".
Don't think that you can learn it "in three weeks" or you can learn to speak "merely
by listening to certain tapes" as some "how-to" books or some giant sized pieces of
advertisement in the newspapers advocate.
On the other hand, please do not get discouraged and give up trying to study English
conversation thinking that you may not have either such academic background or
enthusiasm as those authors of "how-to" books or those advocates who have so far
set up their internet home pages for advancement of English studies have. I myself
am only a graduate of senior high. I entered a certain company after graduation but,
finding that I was not suited for the kind of work which the company featured, I
decided to try to change my occupation so that I would be able to make the most of
my talent, if I had had one, which was English that I had liked studying best all through
the junior to senior high schools' years. I started desperately to learn the English
conversation and passed the examination for English interpreter for tourists three
Whether you have a strong will has great significance in accomplishing something, I
believe. You may become good at English conversation in three to five years to some
extent, if you give it a try with such strong will as I had.
I have long since wished to convey my message herein stated with strong proofs. One
of them has been gotten by my experience in studying and accomplishing certain
proficiency in French conversation (probably 3rd. grade in Step exam., not officially
approved though) while I remained with the above mentioned company. As for the other,
I have been studying Spanish conversation now in the same way as I studied English
and French conversation. I promise that I will report to you here as soon as I acquire its
proficiency to the similar extent as I acquired with the French.
I would like to add further that, as for the grammar, the fundamental part of it will
surely get revived in your memory, which has probably been accumulated in your
junior to senior high school days, in the course of study carried out as above and the
advanced one will be acquired in the same course of study whenever you meet such
grammatical problems, referring to the reference books or seeking advices from the
teachers and ones who are well versed in such matters. As for the writing, you would
be able to write fairly good English when you have accomplished proficiency in its
conversation as I, whose sentences you are seeing here. It's not so bad, is it?
are kindly invited to give me any comment or advice, for which I thank you in
advance. Toshio Hamaya, e-mail address:email@example.com