The Big Question

Hi, pupils!

Today I wanted to tell you about a concern that was raised for the umpteenth time. It turns out that last week I took in a new student who must sit for the oral exam to obtain her B2 certificate in English. At the academy where she studied she passed all of the other aspects, except for this one.

We talked a little and I understood why she had failed. And the fact is that when she speaks, she definitely does not have a B2 level: she makes grammar mistakes (You has), she doesn’t have enough vocabulary and therefore repeats words incessantly, she lacks some coherence in her speech: lack of linking words, and she fails to pronounce some words, sometimes because she doesn’t know how to pronounce them correctly or because she confuses some of the sounds (She’s Spanish and confuses the / s / sound, as in sewer with that of / ʃ / , as in sugar, among other things).

After doing this analysis together, she asked me the same question that many students have asked before. “But, why no one explained this to me before?” The point is that many of you have learned languages ​​at academies, institutes or at school. Studying in an organized institution has its advantages. There is a group of experienced teachers who have a vast knowledge of the language and how to teach it. They have a great structure and a magnificent library full of material with which to work all aspects of the language. They have equipped rooms prepared with all the necessary so that the student won’t have any worries when arriving in class. And of course, a lot of specialized staff to handle all aspects of the business.

But there’s a downside to these institutions which is that they must meet certain goals. By the end of the year, students must have acquired a certain amount of grammar and vocabulary, and must have seen a certain amount of textbook units. So the production aspect, both written and oral, is a bit relegated, because there is simply no time to work it as much as necessary.

In my experience, the production aspect is the most difficult for the student. “But how is it possible if we study and acquire so much vocabulary and grammar? How is it possible that we can understand when we read and listen to material in other languages ​​?” Well the answer is simple. The human being has what is known a passive knowledge and an active knowledge. The passive knowledge refers to the one that is acquired. It is true: you know a lot! You understand when you read or hear something in the new language. But, for different reasons: fear, embarrassment, insecurity, lack of practice, you fail to produce as you would want to.

This is why we must activate all this knowledge. And this is why both, written and oral production exercises are so important and necessary. This activity which requires so much from us, is undoubtedly the most productive and important. Because, in fact, why do we learn languages? To speak, to send mails, to have conversations, to communicate.

It is true that sometimes textbooks have topics that can be boring and difficult for us to get involved with. But these are the topics we will usually use with people we’ve just met (small talk) and with whom we do not want to share personal details or heated debates about politics or religion. These units will give us the necessary material that will allow us to speak more naturally and properly:

  • Idioms
  • Specific vocabulary
  • Collocations
  • Phrasal verbs

But, just as there are boring topics, so there are some that are fun or interesting. How to determine, after all, what is interesting for some, or boring for others, right? So, why not prepare ourselves in all possible topics, since who knows that from an informal talk can arise a new job opportunity, or a new relationship. Is it not better to be prepared when that opportunity comes?

In another post I will tell you about the other topics that we discussed with this student, because what arises from each class, each new student is very rich. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

In the meantime, I’ll leave 3 idioms about opportunity to grow your vocabulary:

  • Window of opportunity: Fig. a brief time period in which an opportunity exists.
    This afternoon, I had a brief window of opportunity when I could discuss this with the boss, but he wasn’t receptive.
  • Golden opportunity: Fig. an excellent opportunity that is not likely to be repeated.
    When I failed to finish college, I missed my Golden opportunity to prepare myself for a good job.
  • Opportunity knocks but once: Prov. You will only have one chance to do something important or profitable.

 Some synonyms:

  • Occasion
  • Opening
  • Chance
  • Break

And Collocations:

  • An opportunity for/ to do something

They must regard it as an opportunity for a genuine new start.
They don’t even give them the opportunity to become better.

  • to miss one’s opportunity 
  • to seize the/one’s opportunity 
  • to have the/an opportunity

  And last but not least, some Proverbs 

  • When one door shuts, another door opens. 
  • There is not time like the present.
  • He who hesitates is lost.