TEFL Skill: Expressing Your Ideas Simply

I think that I’m lucky that so many people want (or need) to learn my language; it means I have a job. It also means that, aside from learning what I can of the local language of whatever country I travel in, I already know the language I’m most likely to need for international communication. There are many of course advantages that come along with happening to have been born in a country where English is spoken.

One of the interesting disadvantages I’ve heard though is that often native English speakers miss out on some important skills specifically because they don’t have the experience of learning – and really needing to use – a foreign language. Learning and using a foreign language very often gives a person practice expressing or communicating their ideas simply. They need to know the words they use and, if they are to communicate effectively, their conversation partner needs to know the words they use, and the best way to do that is to explain their ideas simply.

I’ve had the experience of interacting with people – both English language learners and native English speakers – to whom this ability does not seem to come naturally. The learners will have a harder time “with English” simply because they want to speak in a foreign language exactly the way they speak in their own language, and this just takes time. A lot of time. Realizing that you need to express your ideas simply will help anyone learning a foreign language – but if they don’t see it, or don’t want to do it, it’s hard to convince them to try.

Native English speakers who lack this ability will be able to converse with other native English speakers, obviously, albeit less effectively than those who can express themselves consicely. But they will have trouble with non-native English speakers – who may just not understand them. In a one-to-one setting, the non-native speaker will probably feel inadequate, but in a group setting, where the native speaker is the only native speaker, the conversation may just proceed without that person, who no one can understand.

Expression your own ideas simply or succinctly is a skill that EFL teachers tend to pick up, and despite the fact that I may not be demonstrating that ability here, it is in fact one I notice in myself, in speech anyway. I’m more likely to use it with non-native speakers, but it means that, for most things, I’m not concerned if people don’t speak much English. I feel like I can communicate anyway. Sure, I don’t want to go to the doctor and be reliant on facial expressions and sketch, but as long as I feel confident that people will put up with me long enough to listen to me, I don’t really worry about communication.

What you can take from this for the classroom: it’s useful for learners to consider this too – “being good” at English is not just about knowing or remembering a lot of words; it’s about communicating your ideas simply too.