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Helping a Chinese speaker improve her English fluency

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I'm doing a language exchange and am looking for ideas. She seems to struggle most with (in decreasing order):

- including articles (a, an, the)

- verb tenses

- vocabulary/slang/set phrases

- pronunciation

Frankly, if my Chinese was as good as her English I'd stop studying.

Things I've tried:

- Lots of dialogue/correcting mistakes I notice

- Created a braindead Python script to strip most articles out of a text file

- Giving her a grammar book and an exercise book

- Pointing out web resources

How would you help someone who is 85%+ fluent?

Do you know of a good book of English exercises, something with lots of example sentences to correct, not quizzes such as "put these verbs into the pluperfect subjunctive"?


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I'm not an ESL expert, but it sounds like she could do with a lot of exposure to listening/reading material aimed at native speakers. She'll probably be able to understand most of it and it'll help her develop a feel for the language. Perhaps you could recommend something she would be interested in and then discuss it afterwards, answering any questions she might have about the linguistic aspects of the texts, but also focussing on the content?

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How about focusing on one thing at a time, like articles for example or maybe just "the". Try to find different ways to bring her attention to how they are used in sentences. Find some examples of English that you think she would understand and circle all the articles to make her aware of them. After looking at the examples you might come up will some different ways to have her make sentences with articles in them and give her a chance to see the mistakes she is making. Pay careful attention to the types of mistakes she is making, it might give you a clue about why she is making it and how to bring it into focus.

I think it is impossible to try and fix everything at once, but if you focus on one thing at a time maybe she has a fighting chance of learning it well enough to come off naturally.

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The best English grammar I've seen is the "Grammar in Use" series from Cambridge University. They are available in China from online stores like dangdang.com and amazon.cn at a much reduced price. Maybe you can recommend them to your friend. If your friend's English is decent, I would recommend that he/she get the English version rather than the translated Chinese version. I don't know about the quality of the translation, and reading a badly translated book can be more confusing than the original. Both versions are available on dangdang.com and amazon.cn. The dangdang links below are to the English version. The English version doesn't list a translator, whereas the Chinese version does. There should be three levels: basic, intermediate and advanced.

You can see some sample pages ("Look Inside" link) and read some reviews of the series on amazon.com.






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The Collins Cobuild series is also very good - includes both grammar and dictionaries. The phrasal verb dictionary is a gem.

Haven't done anything like this for ages, but what I'd be inclined to do is . . .

Start off with the 'language exchange' part where you're basically just talking about whatever your topic of the day is. At this point you want to be somewhat subtly taking notes on errors she's making. Have a sheet of A4 with three columns - pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary - and when a mistake crops up make a quick note in the corresponding one. Obviously you want to be doing that without being too obtrusive, but she'll get used to you jotting away as you talk.

Once you've done say twenty minutes of a thirty minute 'session' start going through the errors. Don't be specific about what they are, and you don't have to give back the exact mistake - just say something needs corrected. So you might have stuff like "I have been living in Shanghai from 2001 to 2003' or whatever. If a correction isn't forthcoming give hints - 'what about the grammar?' - 'is that the right tense?' - etc . . .if she just can't get something then explain it, but chances are that won't be necessary most of the time.

Over time you'll notice habitual mistakes that she really shouldn't be making. This are worth pulling up 'live' - develop some kind of 'you just made a disappointing mistake you should correct very quickly' signal such as a cough or raised eyebrow. Don't do that for anything that might require an explanation though - you'll break the flow of conversation. Save those for later.

If you find errors are a bit scarce you can note items for improvement. 'Collect photos' could become 'pick up photos', an anecdote delivered in nice neat sentences might sound a lot more natural strung together with so's and and then's and anyway's.

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