Learning the right words for communicating in English

准教授 アンドリュー メロウ

アンドリュー メロウ
  • Knowing your personal vocabulary Knowing your personal vocabulary

    Knowing your personal vocabulary

At OIT, there are many opportunities to study abroad or participate in International PBLs. If you decide to join one of these programs, you may wonder how you can brush up your communication skills beforehand. You have already studied a lot of English at junior high and high school but perhaps you are not confident about communicating in English. That is to be expected because most junior high and high school English study isn't aimed at communication but rather preparing for important tests. The English required for communication can be quite different to English you studied at school. The good news is that a little preparation can really help you communicate well and also feel a lot more confident about using English.

Vocabulary is a very important part of your knowledge of English. When I am on the train, I often see high school students studying English and I am often surprised by some of the difficult vocabulary they are learning. However, this vocabulary that is useful for high school tests is not always the most useful vocabulary for communication. So what vocabulary is useful for communication? The answer is that it depends on you.

I have often visited junior high and high school English classes in Japan. I am always impressed by the dedication of the teachers and the students' enthusiasm for English. On one trip to a junior high school, I was impressed by the students' command of a lesson on talking about jobs using patterns such as:

What does he/she do?
She's a (doctor). He's a (nurse).

At the end of the class, I was invited to ask the students some questions. I asked them about their own family members using the same pattern. However, very few students were able to use what they had learned to talk about their own family because they didn't know the English vocabulary for the jobs of their family members. In the end, I was able to help them make some meaningful sentences about their own family such as:

My mother works part-time in a supermarket.
My father works for the government.
My brother works in IT.

You may have had a similar experience of understanding English and wanting to respond but not knowing the most important words. This vocabulary you need you may not have learned at school but is important for you. You will find there is a lot of this vocabulary that is important for you. This is your own personal important vocabulary. Because everyone is different, each person needs their own personal vocabulary. Only you can know which words are important for you. These are the words you need to learn.

The vocabulary you need to brush up on may depend a lot on what you expect to do. For example, are you going to stay with a host family? Are you hoping to make friends? Are you going to be talking about your research? By thinking about what you will talk about, you can predict a lot of the vocabulary you will need. Staying with a host family probably means you will be talking about you and your family in Japan. If you are planning to make friends, you will probably be talking about your interests. Once you know what you want to talk about, you can identify the gaps in your vocabulary knowledge and learn the words to fill those gaps.

Once you are happy with this and you can talk about yourself, you may want to consider the other person in the conversation. It is easy to overlook what the people you meet will want to talk about. In particular, many of them may be interested in Japan or foreign countries in general. Many people around the world are interested in Japanese culture, for example. Some people may be interested in news stories related to Japan. Talking to recently returning students, the Fukushima disaster of 2011 is still a popular topic of discussion. Many students returning from overseas say they were embarrassed because they couldn't respond to questions about Japan.

Communicating in English isn't as difficult as you think. If you think about your plans and do a little preparation, you can learn some very useful vocabulary and this will make you feel more confident about communicating in English. To become better at communicating in English, you need to take control of your learning. Learning English up to high school was about learning the English your teacher gave you. Learning English from now depends on you deciding what you want and need to learn and asking your teacher to help you.