How to improve your speaking and writing skills with texts and stories
Several years ago, I started to learn Hungarian and eventually lived in Budapest for a while. Back then, I had a low intermediate level and was able to survive in Hungary speaking almost only Hungarian. Then, I moved to Latin America and forgot about Hungarian. One year ago, I decided to get back to it and booked a speaking practice lesson on italki. It was a disaster. I wasn’t able to say much more than “My name is ….” and “I come from ….” Really embarrassing. The teacher suggested to start learning from scratch. Really? I had dedicated two years of my life to studying Hungarian intensively. I still knew the grammar rules, could read simple texts and understood people when they spoke slowly with me. Just my active knowledge was gone.
Then, I discovered the Easy Hungarian website, started to read the texts, became a patron and purchased the reader. Some weeks ago, I booked another lesson and it went much better. I hear you, you will say that I already knew the language and had even lived in the country. That’s correct and that helped indeed. However, I know many people who study on their own, have got a lot of grammar and vocabulary under their belt but still can’t speak or write. If you took a lot of lessons, this would certainly change but what if you don’t have the budget or the time to do this? Well, if you are an avid reader, you can improve your speaking and writing skills by reading interesting texts and novels and then go the extra mile. How? Let me explain.
1. Correct kind of comprehension questions are key
Many texts and graded readers for language learners come with comprehension questions. However, they are often right/wrong questions or multiple choice questions. When I started to write books for German learners, I included the same kind of questions or I added questions with easy and totally clear answers like “Was macht Carla gerne?” and the student could basically find the exact answer in the text. Yes, that’s helpful for text comprehension but it doesn’t improve a student’s active language skills. I knew this and therefore, each chapter of my A1 book “Carla will nach Deutschland” ends with a section “Talk about yourself”. However, when I wrote these questions, I thought that students could work through them with the help of a teacher but that’s not even necessary.
2. How to answer open comprehension questions
If you would like to see results, you need to follow some rules.
If you want to improve your speaking skills, it’s key that you speak aloud. If possible, record what you’re saying and listening to it again two or three days later. Just formulating a sentence in your mind is not enough. Say it. Avoid looking at the text. Make sure that you read the text carefully and understood everything well before you answer the questions. If you totally can’t remember the information you need to answer the question, look for it in the text but then turn away from the text again. Reading a sentence from the text as your answer is a no-go. Do not do it. Speak slowly but with a certain fluency. Don’t try to make complicated sentences when you’re still a beginner. Use the grammar and vocabulary you know. You can learn new words in a natural way by writing down a short list of no more than ten words from the text and use them when you speak.
When you want to write something, you have more time and can use more complicated grammar. You are also welcome to translate single words or expressions with the help of Google Translate or another dictionary. However, don’t fall into the trap and let Google translate complete sentences for you. You may do this once you’ve written your own sentence and then compare, though. If you’re unsure about a verb conjugation, you can use verbix.com, for example. Tables with declension endings can easily be found online. Pay special attention to the position of the verb when you write. If you train yourself to use a correct sentence structure when you write in German, you will automatically adopt this to your spoken German. Once you have finished writing your text, read it aloud and record it if possible.
3. What if my text/book of choice doesn't have comprehension questions?
This is exactly the problem I encountered with many of the Hungarian texts I used to improve my speaking skills. Sometimes, there were comprehension questions but not necessarily the open ones I needed. Well, I simply made them up myself. Sometimes in Hungarian which is actually a good task, too because asking questions is also an art that needs to be practiced. Sometimes, I just scribbled down some questions in German while reading the text and answered them in Hungarian later on.
4. Summarize the text
Some of my books come with short summaries under each chapter. I did this to make it easier for students to check quickly what a certain chapter was about. Your summary should be much more comprehensive. How much do you remember? What happened? What do you know about the people who were mentioned in the text/story? Try to be as detailed as possible and follow the rules I mentioned above no matter whether you are practicing your speaking or writing skills.
5. Additional tasK: What would you have done?
Imagine you’re one of the persons mentioned in the text or story. What would you have done differently? This task is a great way to practice conditional clauses if you’ve already learnt them. If you’re a beginner, don’t worry about it. Use the present tense or the present perfect. It doesn’t matter if it sounds a bit weird. It’s more important that you stick to the tense of your choice and use it consistently.
6. But who will correct my mistakes?
Making mistakes is okay. When you do a speaking practice lesson on itaki, no teacher will correct ALL your mistakes, either. Go back to your recordings or written texts some days later and you will discover a lot of mistakes yourself. Using books to improve your speaking and writing skills doesn’t mean that you will stop using other resources. I suggest using duolingo regularly to polish your grammar and learn new words. If you think that you’re constantly struggling with the declension endings of adjectives, use Google to find a table and save it on your computer or print it. Look at it next time you’re having problems. Learn smart not hard.
Would you like to give it a try? I prepared a text with instructions, vocabulary, open comprehension questions and follow-up questions for you. The text itself is suitable for beginners but you can also work with it as an intermediate student. Download the PDF file by clicking on the button below.
Is this strategy useful for complete beginners?
I believe that it also works for beginners as it can be combined well with duolingo. We all do duolingo, don’t we? You probably haven’t tried the Hungarian duolingo, have you? Should I ever meet the people who wrote/invented the Hungarian sentences, I will ask them why the heck there are constantly flying kindergarten teachers and why the sentences are often so damn long and incredibly boring. Fortunately, that’s not the case with the other languages I’ve tried. Hopefully not with German, either.
Well, I started to learn Russian in July 2021 in a very traditional way by taking lessons with a professional teacher on italki. However, I already had it on my mind that I’d like to try the book method I used with Hungarian with Russian, too. So I focused on learning grammar and vocabulary with duolingo but also bought a book with Russian short stories for beginners. It didn’t have the kind of comprehension questions I needed so I had to make them up myself but it’s working really well.
As a beginner, you need to get the most important basic grammar under your belt and the duolingo grammar notes totally do their job.
As far as German is concerned, I plan to develop a program to help you improve your speaking and writing skills by using texts and stories. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter by filling in the form below if you haven’t done so already. That way, you won’t miss any news and will regularly receive freebies that are not available to the general public.