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“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Paraphrasing matters in conversation too ― especially when learning a new language!
Experienced English teachers know that students must learn paraphrasing skills to complete academic writing assignments. Likewise, paraphrasing remains a vital skill for classroom participation, everyday conversations, and commercial transactions.
The ability to re-phrase and re-state, usually called paraphrasing, allows English students to confirm and accurately convey information while avoiding plagiarism when writing papers. As a result, paraphrasing is usually emphasized in English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) writing classes. Classes and teachers focusing on oral skills from academic presentations to simple conversations should also devote some attention to paraphrasing too.
English language students, whether young or old, university or adult, must learn to confirm information by asking clarifying questions. This critical skill increases their ability to collect information, avoids costly mistakes and reduces their everyday stress level. It’s also impossible to accurately paraphrase a conversation if one is confused about the meaning. Some useful phrases for a listener to ask include:
- Are you saying…?
- Do you mean?
- What are you getting at?
- If I understand you correctly, you are saying …
- So you are saying… Right?
- Did I get that right?
Speakers can also check to see if their group members and classmates understand their directions.
- Are you with me?
- Can you understand me?
- Was I going too fast?
- Should I rephrase that?
- Do you follow?
- Is that clear?
- Should I repeat the directions?
- Do you want me to repeat that?
- Would it be better for me to repeat that?
- Can I answer any questions?
- Is anybody lost?
Asking advanced English students to repeat directions in different words can also be an effective group activity. The directions can be to a physical location (home, campus building, museum) or for a simple task like finding a definition or sending an email. You can extend the assignment by requesting detailed directions on a complicated procedure such as getting a driver’s license, applying for a visa, or choosing a new laptop.
Using Authentic Materials
Furthermore, you can ask students to share an autobiographical story. Student A tells a story, and Student B retells that story with different words to Student C. This paraphrasing exercise also helps build a larger, more practical vocabulary.
Another technique that I have found useful is asking students to paraphrase proverbs and quotations. This exercise, done in groups of two, often finishes with asking if students agree or disagree with the specific proverb or quotation. Of course, students have to give a reason and/or an example to support their answers. ESL tutors and English teachers lucky to have small classes can elaborate on this technique to match student interests.
If English students can accurately paraphrase a reading, a radio segment, or a verbal statement, they can actively participate in common conversations and classroom discussions. Many English teachers underestimate the importance of this skill, and assume students understand it more than they might. Verbal paraphrasing activities allow both students and teachers to assess listening comprehension skills in a natural, authentic manner.
Therefore, verbal paraphrasing deserves more attention in speaking activities, especially in high intermediate and advanced levels! Don’t you agree?