English Learning: Challenges in Interpretation - Foundry Travel

Many English courses are designed for beginners seeking to develop four areas of language skill: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. These are the ways in which messages are sent and received using the language. They are critical to picking up the more nuanced aspects of the language. Learning to read, write, listen and speak basic sentences and phrases sets the foundation for more advanced English learning in the future. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the challenges of reading and listening.

Receiving Messages

Reading and listening are ways that the speakers can receive and then interpret verbal communication. When developing these skills, it is useful to learn strategies to effectively absorb as much information as possible from the source.

One way to optimize reception of messages is to develop a strong ability to read context. Often for people new to the English language, individual words or phrases within a broader message are foreign. However, given the ability to break down a sentence into different parts and put them into context, the learner can often decipher the meaning of a message without understanding every syllable that is spoken. This can be applied to both written and spoken English.

Accents and Dialects

Another challenging aspect of listening for beginners is the wide variety of accents and/or dialects in the English-speaking world. Not only are there large differences in the syntax and pronunciation (and even spelling) between American, British, Australian, Irish, South African and Scottish speakers – there are also differences within the people of a nation as well! Take America as an example. There are very detectable differences in the dialects of people from the southeast, the west coast (like California), and the northeast (like New York). This can present a challenge even for seasoned native speakers — it can seem nearly insurmountable for non-native learners.

Related to the dialect issue, slang and/or colloquialisms (expressions) can present another challenge for understanding a speaker. These words and phrases can vary widely.

Interpreting metaphorical, non-literal folk sayings can be difficult as well. Phrases like “got the cat by the tail” or “a bird in hand is worth two in the bush” express larger meanings by way of example. When someone says these phrases, they rarely mean the actually have a cat by the tail or are hunting for birds.

These are just a few of the (metaphorical) monkey wrenches in English learning that can derail the process. However, with practice and contextualization, these can be overcome.

Joe Stevens