How to Use Sticky Notes to Improve Spoken English

You’ve been working hard to improve your spoken English, hoping that soon you will speak with more of an American accent. But there is so much to remember — pronunciation patterns, word stress, intonation, grammar — it’s enough to make you want to give up!

But don’t despair! There are some simple tips and tricks you can use to boost your memory and build your new English speaking habits more quickly.

In last Monday’s post, we talked about using our senses to help us create new habits, and today we will focus on the sense of sight.

Have you ever made a list of tasks you needed to complete? Did you find that just looking at the list helped you remember to get those things done? That was using your sense of sight to remind yourself to do something different — to finish a task on the list rather than whatever else came to mind at the moment.

Have you ever used a sticky note to write yourself a message, and then stuck it somewhere that you knew you would see it? That was using your sense of sight to remind yourself to take action on whatever was written on the sticky note.

But how can that help me with my American accent, you may be thinking. You can’t improve spoken English just by looking at a sticky note — or can you?

No, if you write on one sticky note “speak with an American accent” and stick it on your desk, it probably won’t have a great impact. But, remember when I mentioned last week about focusing on one sound or goal at a time?

Let’s suppose you are working on the th sound, as in think or thank you. I want you to take at least 10 brightly colored sticky notes and write on each of them one word or picture that makes you think of the th sound. You might write think on all 10, or 10 different words that start with th, or a picture of a thumbprint. It doesn’t really matter what you choose, as long as it reminds you to say the th sound correctly.

Now, I want you to put those sticky notes all over your house where you will see them as you go through your daily routines. Put one on the bathroom mirror, one on the bedroom door, one on the refrigerator, one near the TV, one in your office, and so on. There is no magic place to put them; the best places are the ones you visit most frequently. Every time you see that sticky note, it will trigger a response in your brain of “Oh yeah, I need to remember to say th.”

If you have the freedom at work to put several notes up around your office, that is even better.

The more times you look at them in a day and practice, the more quickly the new sound will become part of your everyday speech. After a couple of weeks, if you find that the notes are blending into the background but you don’t feel like you’ve completely mastered the sound yet, then get a different color of sticky note, make them again, and put them in slightly different places. That will trigger in your brain the response that something is different and once again, you will pay attention to the notes and they will be a reminder to improve your spoken English.

If you find that this technique works for you, then you can repeat it every few weeks with a new sound or grammar point. Of course, you can use this sticky note technique for any new habit you want to establish, even if it has nothing to do with speaking English. You could even make a family game of it, with each family member having a different colored sticky note and a different habit. Challenge each other daily to remember to use your new skills!

Maybe you are one of those people who just doesn’t see visual details, and you could walk right past a flashing neon sign without seeing it. If that is you, I still want you to give this a try. Be sure to get the neon, brightly colored sticky notes and not the pale yellow ones. If you can still walk past them without seeing them, maybe visual cues are not the best way for you to remember new things. And that’s okay, because we are all created differently and I’m going to teach you several other ways to remind yourself of your new skills.

Check back next Monday to learn how some people can use listening to bells and alarms to improve spoken English.


5/25/2010 8:48 AM Linda Pucci wrote:
This is a great suggestion! I knew someone who did this and put the postit notes in interesting places–on the milk carton in the refrigerator, on the toilet seat, on the ceiling above their bed–and it kept the whole family interested in finding them!

5/25/2010 1:25 PM Lisa Scott wrote:
What a great way to keep the kids engaged; I love the creativity!