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May 7, 2000 - Learning English, Part 2 - 2002-02-16

INTRO: This week, VOA Wordmasters Avi Arditti and Rosanne Skirble offer some do's and don'ts for learning English.

MUSIC - "Speak English or Die"/S.O.D

AA: No, that's not our advice. Our advice comes from a specialist in the field. Anthea Tillyer at City University of New York has taught all levels of English as a Second Language.

RS: She also runs an electronic discussion group for teachers of English as a second language.

Through the Internet it links almost 30- thousand members in 157 countries. So what's her suggestion about where to begin when it comes to learning English?


"First, I would say read as much as possible, but things you like. Second, when you are reading, focus on the words that you do understand, not on what you don't understand.

Anything that is tripping you up (preventing you from understanding), then you can look that up, but only if it's tripping up your understanding."

AA: With reading comes writing. Anthea Tillyer advises her students to write as much as they can in English -- and, again, not to worry about getting every word correct.


"Something that has worked very well with my students, and they enjoy it a lot, is free writing, just sitting down anytime, anywhere with a little notebook and writing every day for 10 minutes without stopping - in English.

Nobody's going to read it, but it frees you up from fear, and it frees you from constantly translating all the time. If you just write and don't stop in English, don't look anything up, don't worry about anything. (If you make)

mistakes, no problem. Students find that they really begin to feel very friendly towards the language and close to it and engaged in it.

And that becomes a steppingstone to learning a language well, when you begin to feel comfortable in it; when it's not something outside you. It becomes something that can come from you also."

AA: Now for some entries on Anthea Tillyer's list of what NOT to do when learning English.

RS: She starts with a rule that might sound shocking: Never study grammar.


"I like to say it like that because it's dramatic. But actually what I mean is, don't ever believe that you can learn a language by studying grammar."

AA: "Meaning the rules."

TILLYER: "The rules."

RS: "The structure."

TILLYER: "The structure. Of course that's important, but what you're really looking for is meaning, getting and giving. Grammar is one of the ways to do that, but it's not the most important way. I think a lot of people think that if they study grammar books they'll learn the language, and that is just simply false."

"Another don't: don't use books written about the English language in your own language. In other words, don't read books in your first language that try to analyze or dissect English as a language because you're just reading about an abstraction. In your own language you're not being exposed to [English]. There's not really much point in doing that, unless you want to study theoretical linguistics, and (then) that's fine."

AA: "You're saying just immerse yourself in English."

TILLYER: "In English." My next don't is, don't make bilingual lists of words. You know, your language on one side, English on the other."

RS: "It's not in context."

TILLYER: "It's not in context, and you'll forget them. You'll remember that they were in a certain place on a page, but you won't remember what the meaning was. If someone wants to remember vocabulary and they really want to have it written down in a notebook, and some people do and that's fine, a list is not the way to go. Copy down sentences with the word in use from an authentic piece of text, and then review those every now and again. Just the fact of writing it down in a sentence will help anyway. And finally, I'm a big believer in picture dictionaries, as opposed to bilingual dictionaries, for lower- level people."

RS: "And you can make your own."

TILLYER: "You can make your own, but if someone else has already done it for you and done it well, there's not really much point."

AA: Anthea Tillyer spoke to us from the VOA studios in New York. With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.

MUSIC: "An English Teacher"/Bye-Bye Birdie