Nowadays, learning two or more languages is more and more common, especially when it comes to tech companies. In my experience as a teacher, I've come across many professionals that don’t master the English language and have a lot of problems finding a job, including very skilled developers. How can we solve this?
I’ve been working as an advanced English trainer for adults since I was 22. It all started as a hobby, and now it’s my profession. Throughout the years, I have encountered many students with different profiles such as doctors, engineers of all types, pharmacists, business administrators, business owners, developers, and even priests! But, what do they all have in common? They all lack English communication skills to interact with peers, or they need to excel in English in order to find a better-paying job.
How come? In the majority of cases, many of my students have told me that this is mainly because they never had an interest in learning properly—it was never in their agenda—and the rest stated that even though they were in a Spanish-speaking country, companies these days prefer bilingual workers because of globalization. That being said, learning English as an adult can be kind of challenging, and sometimes we don't have any idea where to start or what are the best tips to master it.
I’m going to focus on one specific sector: the IT sector. As an engineer myself, ever since I started university, I noticed that the majority of manuals and textbooks were in English. Not only that, all software and documentation is written in English, and almost every programming language one can think of uses some form of English semantics. So, basically, if you’re in the IT sector, probably you have the basic-intermediate knowledge of English as your second language—technical communication to be more exact.
However, having basic knowledge of English is not sufficient at present. Now, having advanced speaking and listening skills is a must, apart from writing and reading. Due to the high rate of globalization, and the new era of working from home, it is very easy for tech companies to hire new talents worldwide.
Therefore, this world forces companies to have the standardized and globally known language and to become the primary language of communication between colleagues; and this is where many get scared. In order to be able to communicate in meetings, for instance, we have to make the effort to express ourselves as clearly as possible and clarify everyone else's understanding.
In my journey through English teaching, finding better ways to improve my classes and making them more engaging, I came across one method that really caught my eye, and it was the chunking method.
The word ‘chunk’ is a term that linguists would call these syntagmas in honor of the syntactic analysis of sentences learning whole expressions and bites of language in context. Lukas Van Vyve is a great friend of mine, a linguist, writer, and creator of the Conversation Based Chunking™ method for learning chunks. He describes this method as word combinations with a specific meaning that are always, or very often, used together and that you don’t even think about as separate words. These chunks get stored in your brain as certain patterns, and then they will roll off your tongue once you reinforce them as much as you can—all of this without thinking about grammar.
In order to be successful using this method, there’s a road map that everyone should follow to have an effortless conversation. Taken by the book called the Effortless Conversations Book and written by Lukas himself, there are four main steps:
Basically what this road map suggests is that first, and most importantly, you need as much input in your target language as you can. Listening to natives speak is the best way to improve your speaking skills, so while you listen to plenty of dialogues, you will have more access to a lot of slang, idioms, and real interaction.
Secondly, you have to identify those chunks—those word combinations that natives use. For instance, you’re in a line at a café, and you are listening to two friends talking, you might hear something like this:
Patricia: By the way, did you call your mom? Remember that she wants you to return her call.
Richard: Oh yeah, I totally forgot about it. I’ll give her a ring after I pay for my coffee.
So, in this short dialogue, you can identify the following word combinations:
Now that you have identified them, you can go ahead to step three, imprint the chunks in your brain. In this step, you imprint them in your brain using memory techniques, so when it comes to talking, you can use them instantly rather than using isolated words and building the entire sentence with grammar rules in your head.
This last part is the fourth rule: to implement the chunk in real-life conversations. You will see how easy this will be. If you think about it, it’s just like when we learn our mother tongue, right? You listen to many phrases that our mother tells us, and after listening to it many times, it gets imprinted in our brains, and then we start saying them as well as we can, and eventually, we start talking.
Going back to the previous dialogue, after I identified the possible chunks, I can now use them to create a new sentence of my own related to my work field.
Silvia: By the way Amelia, were you able to read the report that I sent you this morning?
Amelia: Oh, yeah! I will give you a ring later this afternoon, so we can discuss it.
See what I did there?
After knowing the basics behind chunking, what can I recommend to my English students and English learners? Have a lot of input. Yes, the more input you get, the better the outcome you will have.
There are plenty of resources out there. Search for podcasts on Spotify depending on your levels of English like Espresso English or my personal favorite, Culip’s English podcast, which talks about all different kinds of topics like making reservations at a restaurant, checking in for a flight, booking a hotel room, and even topics like marriage and skincare… you name it! But if your goal is to improve your technical vocabulary, you can check out these popular podcasts for IT and tech professionals:
Or learn more about Conversation Based Chunking here.
A lot of times, I have students coming up to me and asking: “Do you really think that I can still learn at my age and advance in my career?” The answer is yes. English can open a lot of doors and opportunities in any line of work, so with enough discipline, everyone can learn a new language easily.
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