While the way one learns a language is based on one’s preferences and, often, available time, I am nevertheless convinced that there is real value attached to personalising the many pieces of language (words, phrases and collocations) we meet when in contact with English.
Firstly, I believe that learners may be almost too satisfied when they have learned an English word; that is, when they can recall the direct English translation from their first language.
What about the many useful collocations which contain the target English word? What about working with teachers to write a short sentence or two which contains the target word? What about customizing this sentence so it holds real personal value, so that you can read it every day and be able to easily retrieve it during a future conversation?
Learners can use Microsoft Word to store their personalized language items. This method has helped me immensely with my quest to become fluent in Serbian.
Here is a hypothetical example for Serbian learners of English, with the target word ‘interesting’:
- the most interesting destination
* I'm interested IN photography.
What can you learn from this example to help you expand and personalize your language?
1. Write the target word ('interesting') at the top of the box
2. For all collocations or useful phrases, you can mark these with a hyphen (-). These useful collocations and phrases often reveal a great deal of information about English grammar - here a superlative form (in this example, “the most” interesting). If you pay attention to these forms every day (instead of doing boring grammar exercises) you are far more likely to retain the form and use it in other situations.
3. Do not worry about changing the form of the target word - such as ‘interested’. It's ok. ‘Interesting’ is obviously closely related to ‘interested’.
4. For personalised sentences, you can use an asterisk (*).
5. It is useful to highlight or capitalise prepositions (in this example, “IN”) as they are notoriously difficult for learners of English. Now that the sentence is personalized, you can use the same construction for other things (besides photography) that you may be interested in.
6. It is useful to mark the stressed syllables in some of the longer words, as I have marked by making the stressed syllable bold and underlined - why not train your pronunciation at the same time?
Perhaps at the beginning, it is necessary to revise your list every day. I like to use the phrase “swimming in your brain” - these personalised collocations and sentences will be in your mind and ready for use during future conversations if they are revised regularly.
Once I had compiled around 400-500 words in Serbian, I found that going through the list every 4-5 days was sufficient. It can become time-consuming. Not only do I recommend storing the words on Microsoft Word, but also on word cards.
So, on the first side of the card (in the top right hand corner), you should make sure that you write the same number as on your list, and your native language word in the middle of the card. It is essential the numbers correspond as it will be easier to change and items on the list and cards when you need to.
Will I really become fluent in English using these methods?
Fluency is a very loose word, but I certainly think that being ORGANISED and ready to PERSONALISE will help you in your quest to become fluent. Organisation is just as important as speaking in English and doing grammar and vocabulary exercises. I constantly stress to students the need to be organized, tidy and to repeat items.
With regard to my learning of Serbian, I feel very comfortable when speaking the language - after only six months of learning! My understanding of the language is also excellent because, I believe, I have become accustomed to hearing many of the common phrases, collocations and variants of the sentences which appear on my list, and now I recognize them time and time again.
For me, communicating a message should always be more important than stumbling and stopping mid-sentence because of concerns about saying something accurately.
However, this method also encourages accuracy because you will become very familiar with the way sentences and grammatical items are constructed when constantly revising such a huge stock of sentences and collocations.
All in all - good luck with personalising your language items!
For further English language development: