How Your English Improves by Telling Stories

Typewriter

In my previous blog post, I talked about the benefits of personal storytelling in terms of self-discovery and emotional connections. But what about language learning? How can personal storytelling help you improve your English? This is the question I’m going to answer today.

By telling a story you practice and use multiple skills

Telling a story is a complex task, especially if you’re doing it in a language that isn’t your native language. It might require you to:

  • plan what to say.
  • write.
  • speak.
  • use vocabulary.
  • use grammatical structures.
  • pronounce words and sentences.
  • connect words and sentences.
  • spell words.
  • narrate.
  • research or translate words to use.
  • develop and express ideas.
  • use punctuation.
  • read what you’ve written to check if it looks good.
  • listen to what you’ve said to check if it sounds good.
  • draft, edit, correct and rewrite (or retell).

It’s a challenging task that allows you to use language to communicate a message and can give you the chance to develop several areas of your English. Telling a story is an awesome way to personalise and practice the English that you’ve already acquired. 

It’s all about producing language, rather than ‘receiving’ language. Practice helps you develop language skills (speaking and writing in our case) as well as build fluency and confidence. You can download my free guide here if you want to learn how to do this.

Telling a story helps you grow your vocabulary 

In my guide, I explain how you can develop accuracy and make fewer mistakes through storytelling but, although I strongly believe that you don’t have to study with a teacher to learn a language, a teacher can point out your mistakes, give you feedback on how you use English in your story and suggests action points for you to improve. 

A teacher can be your language coach (this is my main role in the latest language program I created).

But if you aren’t studying with a teacher, I think the main area that benefits from telling a story is vocabulary because you can learn new words autonomously as well as consolidate knowledge of words that you already know or kind of know.

Look at the words I learned while writing some of my stories in my podcast (yes, English teachers, both native and non-native, have still got words to learn!):

Episode 7 – Sasho and Emma
  • Glovebox: I had always thought this word was spelt as two words. After checking in the dictionary, I learned that I was wrong.
  • A big no-no: I’d always heard this expression in spoken English but I’d never really known how to use it. I used a dictionary to check its meaning and it’s now clear to me.
Episode 8 – Road trip
  • A desolate place: I thought this adjective to describe a place was desolated. I checked in the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary and discovered that the right one was actually desolate.
  • To be at the mercy of somebody or something: This is an idiomatic expression. I knew what I wanted to say in Italian (essere in balia di qualcuno/qualcosa) but I didn’t know the English equivalent. I used Reverso Context, checked in an English dictionary and learned this expression. 
Episode 9 – Susy
  • A double whammy: I used this expression but wasn’t sure I used it correctly. I asked a colleague and she confirmed I used it in the right way. I’m now confident I’ll keep using it correctly.

I could give you other examples, but I guess you got the point: you’ll learn new words by checking meanings, translating, checking the translations in a monolingual English dictionary and asking for feedback (your teacher, friend, Google, etc.). You learn by and while doing.

What you learn is more memorable

In a story you might:

  • describe a situation, person, place, feeling, idea or thing.
  • describe a series of events in chronological order.
  • give your opinion about something.
  • write dialogues between two or more people (e.g. ‘He comes up to me and says, ‘Fabio, what are you doing?!’, and I reply, ‘Mind your own business, man!’)
  • do a million other things.

So, you never really know what words you’re going to learn before writing or telling a story. But I believe that what you’ll learn might be very much easier to remember and assimilate than what you study in lists or vocabulary books.

You can learn the vocabulary you need to express what you have in mind. You’ll need to look for information about it, translate it (I’m in favour of translation), write it and/or speak it, and use it in a personalised context. By doing this your brain will process it multiple times, so it’s likely that you’ll remember it more easily.  

I wrote a 30-second personal story about a Spanish word I’ll never forget here.

Also, to prepare a story, you need to use your creative skills. You produce language. You think about language. You practice and discover language. All this, I believe, is more memorable, fun, and motivating than this:

Taken from Destination B2 by J. Taylore-Knowles and Steve Taylor-Knowles

And that’s why I think it’s a great task to improve your English.

Any thoughts? Send them to me. I reply to every comment

Fabio Cerpelloni is a qualified English teacher, photography and storytelling lover who believes that telling personal stories is the most effective, productive, and meaningful language practice activity you could ever do to improve your English. 

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