Tasfia Azim does not mind when others call her a workaholic person. She takes it as a compliment.
Since her first year at university, she worked as a freelancer, did various part-time jobs, and was also an English language instructor.
From the very onset, she had a plan to build up an English practise club. But unlike other English language courses, she had a slightly different plan.
According to her, the traditional spoken courses are very structured and have hard and fast rules.
These courses work perfectly well for competitive exams, but our students usually do not learn to speak English in a natural environment.
Her plan was somewhat like this: A group of people would meet in a coffee shop or a place with books and tea arrangements; and they would talk in English for hours.
Tasfia was grooming this idea long before Covid-19 struck. However, it was not getting enough momentum as she was busy with her Master's and job at the same time.
During the early days of the pandemic, when she had some leisure time to ponder, she thought of giving it a try in a new way.
"I was actually searching for a place where people would come and have coffee or tea and could talk or chat over various things. At the most basic level, it was meant to be a place of 'adda' with just one rule, the language medium would be English," she said.
Keeping this concept in mind, Tasfia co-founded the SpeakEasy Society with the help of her friend Rubaiya Chowdhury. They began formally in July 2020.
Tasfia said, "We had zero investment. Our first target was letting people know about us. There were some free sessions/open classroom sessions to gain people's attention."
Within a few months, they got good feedback.
"The first few sessions became hits. Many students as well as professionals from different backgrounds joined the first batches. It was very difficult to popularise a 'practise course' because they are mostly interested in spoken courses and materials. Those who completed the first batch, they then talked about this with their friends or colleagues. That is how our popularity rose. Our motive in the first year was to just survive and let people know what we do", she explained.
What is their selling point, we asked her. "It is not a traditional course per se, rather it is a practise club. I would say it is your cosy corner for learning English," Tasfia replied.
According to her, their motto is thinking and speaking in English loud and proud without any hesitation or fear of mistake.
SpeakEasy Society is primarily an English speaking and leadership club that will help you learn how to speak in English in public with confidence and how to use your voice, gestures, and speech structure in a way that keeps an audience engaged.
"We promise to provide a safe and engaging platform for you to be able to think and communicate better in English. Our club aims to provide individuals coaching in various public speaking formats and also help them develop oratorical proficiency in English while cultivating a healthier thought process, sharper analytical ability, and robust presentation and interviewing skills," she added.
How does it work?
In a group of about 10-15 people, they talk and discuss certain topics. There exists a moderator or instructor who gives constant feedback.
There are three sessions per week and the duration of each session is 1.5 hour. These are open for all, but usually last year university students or people who are at the early phase of their careers get admitted to them.
The sessions are divided into various parts such as practice interview questions, story making, cue card sessions, basic grammar guidance etc.
What is different from other similar types of ventures is that there are no hard and fast rules.
From the very beginning, Tasfia Azim wanted to make this a cosy environment for others.
They have also specialised different sessions for soon to be IELTS takers.
They try to keep the number of practitioners limited so that the instructors can monitor each and every one very closely and evaluate them appropriately.
Many of their instructors are freelance based. "We currently have three dedicated instructors who take care of the IELTS spoken section. All of them have a score of 8.5 in IELTS," Tasfia informed us.
But what happened to the original idea of 'Chatting over Cha'?
"I still have it in my mind but I do not know if it would be a pragmatic choice to implement right now," said Tasfia, adding, "I think Covid-19 has taught us a lot, it helped us to quickly get adapted to new technology. It kind of worked for the better. If we were just doing this offline, many people would not have been able to do it. As it is online, anyone from anywhere in the country can join us."
Although their activities are online, it does not mean that in future Tasfia will not work to bring out the original plan into reality.
"When the pandemic ends, we might try it out on a small scale and see how far it goes. But the positive side of an online session is that people from various places can join and they
can talk about various topics. And this has been very effective," said Tasfia.
Tasfia is currently doing her Master's in Early Childhood Development (ECD) from Brac University. Previously she finished her Bachelor's in CSE from Premier University.
Five easy ways to brush up your English
Stop taking English as a burden
There are many learners who do not treat English as a language. Rather they treat it as a subject or any academic discipline, just like mathematics or biology. And the learners follow the same strategy they use for these subjects.
Here is an example of how English becomes a burden. For example, someone has a presentation a week later and s/he is probably thinking: "I am so weak in English! How would I give a five minutes presentation!"
Thus, the person is more worried about the language rather than the presentation topic.
When you take it as a course, you only learn and practise it before an examination (well most students do so!). The problem with this is that you cannot learn English from studying the night before an exam.
So what can you do to save yourself the desperation when an exam is near?
Practise it every day. Think and make up sentences with the language. Whenever something is happening, describe and analyse it in your head in English. Moreover, you could keep a diary and write it every day.
Record your voice and reflect
Suppose you have an IELTS speaking examination, viva, or interview within a short stint. But you are not confident enough about your pronunciation, accent, fluency, and accuracy.
A smart tip would be to record your voice. Well, the idea is not something novel, but it will make things easier for you.
You can use your phone to record your mock answers to the viva or interview questions. You can select topics from a pack of flashcards and talk over those for one to three minutes.
If you have a tripod, you can make a video too.
When you will go over the recorded audio or video, you will be able to judge yourself. And that is reflection.
Traditionally many prefer talking in front of a mirror. There is a drawback to using a mirror, that is you cannot reflect.
You can thus easily find out where you lack, it could be accuracy, or pronunciation. Furthermore, you can work out your gestures and facial expression by analysing the video.
Learn vocabulary and phrases
For vocabulary, if you do not have to sit for an exam, you do not have to peek at the dictionary for meaning.
This does not mean you should not consult a dictionary, it means that if you do that constantly, your flow of reading will be hampered.
Secondly, if you learn 10 words a day but do not use any of them the whole day, you may not remember a single one the next day.
That is why it is better to learn two or three new words a day and use them in different situations/sentences.
Phrases work better than vocabulary. Even if you have the necessary vocabulary, you might not be able to describe a situation unless you have learnt the phrases.
Phrases will help you to understand grammar, sentence structure, and how particular words are used.
Listen to podcasts and watch sitcoms
Listening to conversations in English is one of the most effective ways to build your vocabulary and speaking skills.
A good option can be podcasts. Podcasts of different sorts are available all over the internet. Whenever you are stuck in traffic, you can listen to them.
When you have some free time or when you are doing your household chores you can listen to them too.
But mostly listen to the things that interest you. Some might like listening to BBC or Al-Jazeera whereas some others might like listening to simple conversations.
Light-hearted sitcoms like Friends, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory etc are easy to comprehend. The plots are simple and there is no twist or suspension.
When you will like watching the sitcoms and listening to the dialogues, only then you will be able to concentrate on the nuances of the language.
There is no loss of ego if you have to watch with subtitles on. In fact, you will learn better that way.
Practise speaking with a partner or join a club
If you want to practice speaking, one suggestion is to find a partner to practice with. Study partners can help each other understand different topics, talk through questions, and practice English skills.
You can encourage your friends to join you or try to find like-minded people who can cooperate with you.
But if you fail to manage a partner and pursue your friends, you can always join a club like SpeakEasy Society or take up some spoken courses.