Using Natural English – by James Cort

Hello and welcome to the instructor blog! I’m James Cort and I teach TOEFL Speaking and Pronunciation and Fluency (発音矯正) at Agos.

The year is finally coming to an end, and the winter holidays will soon be upon us. Many of us are looking forward to some time off work or school, some may be travelling overseas and others preparing for important examinations. Whatever your plans, before we forget the year at the next忘年会 (end-of-year party), let’s reflect on our academic progress and consider how to make next year even more successful.

“Well… I can understand you, but it doesn’t sound natural.” Have you ever heard this from a native English speaking friend, colleague or instructor? You might then note down the corrected sentence that your teacher offers. However, you may not understand where you went wrong or how to sound more natural in the future. Today I’m going to talk about naturalness: What is natural English? Why is it important for the TOEFL and IELTS tests? How can you learn to use it?

What is natural English?

Natural English simply means the English that native speakers actually use. This can be quite different from the English you find in many textbooks, and drastically different from English directly translated from Japanese.

Unnatural English is often caused by several types of errors. Have a look at the examples below.

Error Example Natural English
Inappropriate vocabulary choice ‘My friends and I gathered at the bar.’ ‘My friends and I met up at the bar.’
Word order ‘I went to a Japanese traditional restaurant.’ ‘I went to a traditional Japanese restaurant.’
Register (formality/context) ‘There were many people at my birthday party. Moreover, it was very enjoyable.’ ‘There were loads of people at my birthday party and we had a good time.
Direct translation ‘I entered university in 2010.’ ‘I started university in 2010.’
‘Textbook’ English For the first time, I ate dinner at Cici’s some days ago. It was so-so.’ I tried Cici’s the other day – it wasn’t great.’
‘Japanese’ English ‘I went to the hot spring to refresh my mind.’ ‘I went to the hot spring to unwind.’
Wrong collocation (collocations are words that go together) ‘The temples in Kyoto are very amazing.’ ‘The temples in Kyoto are absolutely amazing.’

If you’re told that your English sounds unnatural, then it’s likely that it contains at least one of these errors.

 

Why is natural English important for the TOEFL and IELTS tests?

The ability to use natural English is vital for both TOEFL and IELTS. This is especially true for the speaking sections, where you have limited time to think about and plan your response. TOEFL speaking is graded holistically, which means the grader gives you a score based on their overall impression of your response. Of course, more natural speech will make a better impression, so you’ll get a higher score. The IELTS speaking examiners use very clear and detailed grading criteria, and producing more accurate and natural speech will help you to reach the higher bands.

How can you learn to use natural English?

So, how do you improve? Memorising the corrections your teacher gives you is vital, but this can be a slow process. Here are three important steps you can take to speak more naturally.

  1. Increase your exposure to natural English

The first step is to expose yourself to a lot of natural English material. Tedtalks, Youtube and online radio are great free resources. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon video are useful paid resources. Most of these have English subtitles available that can help you with new language. After listening or watching, make a note of new language, practice shadowing, make your own sentences and say then say them aloud. The material doesn’t have to be difficult. The important thing is to expose yourself regularly to natural English, and try to copy how the native speakers use the language.

  1. Consider the Context

Whenever you hear new words or phrases, think about the setting. What is natural in one context may sound very unnatural in another. Ask yourself: ‘Was the setting formal or informal? Was it at work, home or school? Was the topic serious or light-hearted? What’s relationship between the speakers? What’s the emotional state of the speaker and listener? How is the speaker using intonation? Etc.’ Questions like this will give you clues as to when and where you can use this language.

  1. Get out of your comfort zone

It’s easy and safe to use what you learnt in high school. But if you act in the same way, you’ll always get the same results, you won’t make progress and your TOEFL or IELTS scores won’t improve. Get out of your comfort zone and try out what you’ve learned in the real world. Use the new language with friends, with co-workers, in class, for homework and eventually on your TOEFL and IELTS tests!

 

Try these tips and see if you can start sounding more natural in 2017, and improve your TOEFL or IELTS speaking scores!

 

スピーキング・テストの大きな誤解 — by 柳沢洋美

皆さん、こんにちは。TOEFL/IELTS講師の柳澤です。

TOEFL/IELTSのスピーキング・セクションは、日本人にとって立ちはだかる壁ですね。でも、これはすべてのノン・ネーティブ受験者(つまり非英語圏の人々)にとって悩みの種です。実際に私がニューヨークで英語を教えていたときも、スピーキングの点数が上がらないという悩みは、南米や中国、ロシアから来ていた生徒からも相談を受けました。さて、ここで1つ!スピーキングのスコアアップのためのコツとして、「ネーティブのように話そう」と思わない!ということです。

受験者の中にはネーティブっぽく話したい、話せれば23点越えるのになあ~と思っている方も多くいらっしゃいます。具体的に言えば、「スピーディーに、Rの音をカッコよく…」。実はこれが高得点を狙えない原因の一つです。

まず、日本人によくあるのが巻き舌です。よくある巻き舌単語?がbecause(なぜなら)です。巻き舌の方は「ビコォーrズ」と発音されます。スペルにすると、becauRseです。あるいはso(だから)がsoR「ソォーr」。こういう方は、いたるところにrが混ざってしまいます。これも採点官にとっては非常に聞きにくい英語になります。巻き舌を直すのは時間がかかります。でも直せます。ご自分の英語を音声として録音して、聞いてみて下さい。あるいは人に聞いてもらってみて下さい。ちなみにアゴスには発音矯正のクラスがあります(あ、宣伝になってしまったJ LOL )。自分ではなかなか直すことは難しいときはプロの力を借りましょう!

さて「スピーディーに話せばいい」と考えている生徒さんもいらっしゃいます。もちろん、「ペラペ~ラ」と話せるなら苦労しません!ただし、私たちはノンネーティブですから、悪く言えば、英語に難があるわけです。難のある英語を早く話せばどうなるか?難を隠すどころか、さらに難は露出します。スピーキング採点官は「この生徒は何を話しているのだろう?」となるのです。これの手っ取り早い解決策は、ゆっくり話すこと。といっても一語一語ゆっくり話すのではなく(英語のリズムがなくなります)フレーズの切れ目(カタマリごと(chunking))で0.5秒くらいあけるつもりで話します。以下の文章を音読しましょう。そのとき、スラッシュのところを0.5~1秒あけます。

Traveling is something / I really enjoy doing. / I travel / whenever I have the chance. / Yes, / traveling is expensive / so I cannot take trips all the time. / But every month / I try to take a short trip / somewhere new in Tokyo.

もちろん帰国子女の方、あるいは何年か海外に住んでいましたという方なら、ある程度のスピードがあってもいいでしょう。でも、そういう生徒さんにも、「ゆっくり、威厳を持って、自信のある話し方をしてください」と私はお話しします。母国語でも、相手に伝えたい、分かってもらいたいと思えば、自然とスピードを落として話しませんか?

TOEFL/IELTSのスピーキングテストでは、皆さんが「英語圏の大学・大学院のネーティブのクラスメートと一緒にやっていける」かどうかを測るテストだと思ってください。分かりづらい発音や、メッセージが伝わりづらいと判断されないように、しっかり対策をしましょう!!