For Students: How can I improve my English?
As a foreigner abroad who, sadly, doesn't speak a foreign language, all my communication is done in English. Even my landlord, who is a charming man, only speaks survival English, but that doesn't stop us from communicating and understanding each other. On a daily basis I speak to many different people, from different backgrounds with different levels of English. When we get onto the topic of English, without a doubt I'll be asked ' What do you think of my English ? ' How can I improve my English? ' and I'd like to look at these two questions.
Note: This is written with Ukrainian and Russian speakers of English in mind.
What do you think of my English?
Two ways of looking at your English are fluency – the ability to speak without pausing, hesitating, or thinking too much – and accuracy – the ability to produce coherent communication using the correct language. Most people I speak to have very good fluency, but lack accuracy. Is that a problem? I don't think so, if what you are trying to say is easily understood, even though you make a few mistakes when saying it, then it's fine. If on the other hand, it does confuse the person you are speaking to or they interpret something completely different from what you meant, then this is a problem. For those fluent speakers, just be a little more aware of what you're saying and have be sure you haven't got into bad habits when using certain language that can be corrected. For the accurate speakers who lack fluency, it's your job to get speaking, speaking, and then speaking some more. Your fluency will come with speaking time. One noticeable thing that is too frequent is use of formal words creeping into informal conversations. It does sound weird, and when learning a new word you should be aware of its register – is it formal or informal.
How can I improve my English?
There is no magic answer to this question as everyone is different and prefers to study in their own way, but let's look at the four key skills along with vocabulary and accent and see what you can do to improve in this area.
Reading: The more reading you do the more language and vocabulary you will come across. Of course, it's great to get in the habit of not stopping and using a translator for every unknown word you see, but to try and guess the meaning by the context, and then noting down the word and checking it later. It's really important to find something you enjoy reading about, so if you love to read about celebrity gossip, find a website for this. Simply Google, in English ' Celebrity News ' and you'll be sure to find some English websites that write about this topic. Following pages of interest, in English, on FB that are constantly sharing articles will also help as these will come up on your feed and give you the opportunity to read regularly. One tip I would highly recommend, is to avoid using Google translate for unknown words and start using an online dictionary area like this one
Listening: YouTube is great for listening with its endless library of videos. Again, like reading find topics of interest. Vlogs – of subjects you like. Interviews with famous people whose work you enjoy. Try and expose yourself to different accents and dialects. It seems to me Friends is a favourite among students and it's not the world's most challenging. Try to avoid subtitles if you can and then watch again with them to see how well you understood everything. Why not test yourself with an episode of EastEnders (South of England) or Coronation Street (North of England) shows and soaps like these will give you exposure to natural language and the many uses of connected speech. Wod-ja-get-up-ta last night? = what did you get up to last night? But you don't just have to listen to native English speakers. If you're going to Sweden for example, try and find video's of Swedes speaking English. It will help your ear get accustomed to the accent, speed, and dialect before you arrive or have to communicate with that type of speaker.
Writing: This skill is often neglected, but it can be practised on a daily basis using these: Twitter, WhatsApp, Viber, Messenger, Forums. While I'm not a fan of txt speech, it still gets the writer thinking about what they are going to write. Join forums or pages where people's posts are more than 5 sentences long. Look at the language, and the structure they use in their writing. Think why, and how I can use it in my next writing.A recent activity I came across the other day was writing 50-word-stories. I think is excellent, creative, and will give you practise in using narrative tenses.
Speaking: Sure, you need to find someone to do this with. You can't have a conversation on your own.... well, you can. It's not as crazy as it sounds. Talking to yourself out loud still practises your speaking skills and even recording it and listening to it back will allow you to spot your mistakes. But, you don't want people to think you're crazy, right? Well, with the many speaking clubs that are in Lviv you can always go and practise with a human. If you're not from Lviv, then a Google search will help to find a club near you, or if you don't have one, why not start one. If you want to speak to someone from another country – because it's more interesting – you can join an international student group on FB and post how you'd like to practise speaking with someone on Skype once or twice a week. Be sure to mention your level, and I'm 99.9% certain you will find like-minded people from around the world also looking for someone to practise with.
Vocabulary: I think it's a good to have a little book to record vocabulary and to record words not in isolation. By this I mean if I see a word I don't know, like spare – extra - then I would note this down in my book as. A spare pen / a spare tyre / a spare piece of paper / a spare plug – this way I can then actually use this word and not just say it or just be aware of it. For the artistic students, drawing pictures is a a great way to accompany new language. I knew a girl who had a vocabulary book and she had all these amazing pictures next to her words and sentences.
Accent: On a final note, i'll keep this brief. I feel a little sad when a student comes to me and says they want a British accent, or even sadder when they want an American accent ;) I personally think accent is something to be proud of. It's identity, and it's something you should embrace. It's not uncommon to meet foreigners with North American accents. Obviously this is great.... for them, most people with one will say 'it just happened' but 8/10 will have spent some time in the US. It is much rarer to meet people with a British accent. Even though those who do have one, after spending years in the country, they still have that noticeable foreign-British accent. Again, embrace your own accent and be very wary when someone says they can give you an American or British accent.