– Improve Your English With These Simple Tips
‘English is weird. It can be understood through tough, thorough thought, though.’
– David Burge, blogger
Learning English as a second language (ESL) can be a tricky and daunting process. It has a huge vocabulary – hundreds of thousands of words. Many of the rules make almost no logical sense, the pronunciation can be mind-boggling (see above), and some of the grammar points can feel impossible to master.
However, it’s not all bad news. English is spoken all over the world, so wherever you are there are probably some opportunities to practice. Plus, there are tonnes of incentives to improve, as strong English skills can lead to better career opportunities, simpler travel, and easier use of media.
What’s more, learning English as a second language is easier than other languages as it has a relatively straightforward grammar system, without a heavy reliance on cases and genders, and almost anyone can pick up a basic command of the language pretty easily.
Still, learning any language is a challenge, so below is a list of some things you can do to make the process that little bit easier and more rewarding.
Don’t Be Afraid To Speak
Of all my students, the ones who make the quickest progress in learning English as a second language always have one thing in common – they aren’t afraid to speak English. It might seem obvious, but holding back due to fear of making a mistake can really limit your progress.
Speaking is arguably the most important part of English, as it’s the skill you’ll probably use more than any other. Don’t worry about having perfect grammar or a flawless accent, these are small things that can be tweaked later and will improve naturally with time and practice. If you get comfortable speaking and can be understood by other people, half the battle is over.
Practice speaking as much as possible, and don’t be afraid to mess up every now and then. It happens to everyone, and it’s all part of the process!
Recap, Recap, Recap
It’s often tempting to think ‘I know all this’ about a certain topic, and never revisit it. However, studies show that the learning process (of anything) becomes much easier when the original topic is refreshed several times. Check out the curve of forgetting:
This handy graphic shows how our retention of knowledge decreases over time. If, however, we return and recap what we learned, the amount remembered becomes much larger. It’s the same with languages – you’ll hold on to things for much longer if you regularly recap them.
This doesn’t have to take long; spending just a few minutes every day looking back at previous areas and revising them will bring huge benefits. Flashcards are a common way to refresh knowledge, but a more interesting way might be to watch a video related to the relevant subject, or write something about it.
This one might be a little tricky, but it’s without doubt the quickest way to reach a high level in English. Basically, you need to enter a situation where you can speak only English. And the best way to do this, of course, is to move to an English-speaking country.
Now, this requires a fair amount of time, money, and dedication, and it’s not for everyone. Being surrounded by English speakers and using the language constantly will do wonders for your progress, however, and it’s the motivating factor for many exchange students and expats who work on mastering their ESL.
Fortunately, English is a widely spoken language, so you may not even have to leave your home country to practice using it. If you live in a tourist hotspot, it’s likely that the staff in restaurants, bars, and cafés all speak English, and will probably be more than happy to let you practice. The same applies, of course, to the tourists themselves.
Find a (Good) ESL Teacher
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but many ESL students actually stop lessons after reaching a certain level, believing they have nothing left to learn. This is a mistake; even advanced learners can benefit from regular lessons with a native speaker, as he or she will be able to recognise their mistakes and suggest ways to improve. Also, the structure of lessons is a great way to stay motivated and focused on learning, and keep up that all-important refreshment of knowledge mentioned above.
ESL teachers are easy to find in most major cities. I should know – I am one. A good place to start is by looking for language schools in your area online. It’s normally possible to find a private teacher (one not connected to a school) for a lower cost, by searching on social media or University message boards. Your teacher will also be able to point you to the best ESL books.
If you’re lucky, your employer might be prepared to offer English lessons as a benefit. If English is required to do your job well, or further your career, it’s definitely worth asking about this possibility.
Learning English as a second or foreign language doesn’t have to be a chore. There are thousands of movies, TV shows, books, and songs out there in English, and these are a great way to practice reading and listening skills in your downtime. Listening to a wide range of English accents is a useful exercise, as few people in real life speak using the clear, slow pronunciation of textbook listening clips.
If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you could change the language settings on your phone or computer to English, forcing yourself to deal with everyday tasks in the language. There are also several apps available to assist with language learning, perhaps the most well-known being DuoLingo. This handy program comes with a range of learning exercises, tailored to your proficiency level and designed to be done in bite-sized chunks every day.
Get Out There!
You can spend countless hours behind a screen, reading about the best ways to study English as a second language and taking part in online activities. In the end, though, there’s really no substitute for getting your hands dirty in the real world.
English is a tough language to master (a lot of native speakers never seem to manage it), but it’s also a highly rewarding one, and the only way to conquer it is by getting out there and using it.
About the Author: Louis Moran is an ESL teacher currently living in Prague, Czech Republic