Speaking Academically

Recently I was asked if I would lead an English discussion group for humanities graduate students at Vytautas Magnus University.  Most students have studied English for several (and often many) years, but they don’t have many opportunities to practice speaking English.  After emphasizing that I am not trained to teach English, I was assured that they want an opportunity to practice speaking about their research topics.  Since I am qualified to talk about academic research and I am a native speaker of English, I agreed to facilitate the group.  There is a saying that if you want to learn a subject, teach it — and after two sessions, I can say that teaching English really makes me think carefully about English grammar and vocabulary.

At each meeting, several students give short presentations about their research topics.  Other students ask questions and we have a discussion.  My primary goal is to help them become more comfortable speaking.  I’ve found that my speaking ability in Lithuanian improves the more that I actually speak, so I’m implementing that approach for the group.  After focusing on discussing content, we go through grammar and vocabulary.  I make notes during the presentations of topics to cover and they always have a lot of questions.  Sometimes the questions are easy to answer; sometimes I have to go home and look up grammar rules.

The hardest questions are often about the shades of meaning between similar words.  Today we discussed the differences between “emigres,” “immigrants,” “refugees” and “diaspora.”  We then moved to “region,” “district” and “area.”

And, of course, there are all the irregular verbs and irregular forms and exceptions to all the rules.  Don’t even get me started on the erratic pronunciation — why is “gh” pronounced “ff” like in “rough”?  “Ch” can be hard like “church” or soft like “chaise” or even a “k” like “chaos.”  I am realizing that English is a difficult language to learn as a foreign language!


About amanda

Creating academic and public environments for the humanities to flourish Researching Soviet and Eastern European history Engaging people and ideas as a writer and interviewer Traveling as much as possible View all posts by amanda

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