English: a language of business, movies and travel – and a real headache for some of its students!
As a teacher of English as a second language I have joined many students from different backgrounds and nationalities on their journeys in acquiring the language and seen first-hand the challenges they face. In addition, as a student of French I can wholeheartedly sympathise with the problems language learning presents. From businessmen to fashion students, mastering a second language offers a plethora of benefits and English is a common choice, but issues such as knowing which grammar books to buy (if any!) and who to listen to for advice on language matters can be daunting.
So, here are my top tips to maximise your learning potential and hopefully make learning James Bond’s mother tongue more of a pleasure than a chore. After all learning English is fun – honest!
1. Get inspired with resources that speak to you
I’ve been scratching my head over what should be first in our list, as so many things contribute to language learning. And though other factors play an important role, I think one of the key reasons for continued improvement is a learner’s choice of material – find something that interests you. Motivating yourself will be 100 times easier if you WANT to practise. For me it was reading Harry Potter books in French (I’m not ashamed, it was for educational purposes!) and for many of my students it is watching American TV shows (How I Met Your Mother, House, Game of Thrones – to name a few). Find where your interests lie and practising English on a regular basis will become a habit.
2. Don’t see exams as the be-all and end-all
While exams such as the TOEIC and TOEFL are often important milestones in business and study, they don’t always give a reflection of a learner’s abilities in all areas of English. Usually those who do well in these exams have worked on improving in all areas of their language acquisition, not just those specifically required for passing the exam. This being said, learning specific techniques to answer different question types never hurt!
3. Set achievable, personal goals
You are in charge of your own learning, so deciding exactly what you want to achieve early on is important. Setting goals can also be good for motivation, if you can see your progress you will be driven to make more. Remember, ‘fluent’ is a very broad term. Do you want to participate in complex philosophical conversations in English or order in a restaurant? Set your goals and strive for them.
4. Practice makes perfect
Nobody ever became a competent English speaker without putting in some effort. Comprehension is often the first thing that develops when learning a new language, but this comes with frequent practice. Use resources like BBC Learning English. Even if you don’t have much time their “Six minute English” is great.
As for speaking, participate as actively as you can. Lessons and language exchanges, even via Skype, can be great for facilitating all those grammar points you’ve been powering through! Some useful sites are Language Exchange and Couch Surfing.
5. Mix it up
English is a very widely spoken language with speakers across the globe, many of whom have different accents and dialects. On one hand this makes it enjoyable and interesting to learn, but this also presents challenges with comprehension and vocabulary. If you vary the materials you read and listen to, your comprehension and vocabulary base can only benefit – the perfect excuse to read trashy magazines or watch independent films!
6. Sometimes “it’s just like that”
Sometimes English can be frustrating with its exceptions and oddities, but generally the rules that govern grammar and pronunciation are logical. It can be annoying learning all of the verbs that change their spelling in the Past Simple Tense, but stick at it. It’s also important to bear in mind that in most languages there are exceptions which seem illogical and in these cases we have to accept “it’s just like that.”
7. Bad habits
It’s easy to develop habits in any language, native speakers and learners alike. All speakers try to buy time to think in everyday conversations, but when every sentence starts with the same expression (“in fact” is one example I’ve witnessed) speech becomes to sound less natural. This goes for grammar too, trying to bend English to match the forms found in your native language is common, but doesn’t make for good fluency. If you’re worried about this try recording yourself to listen for errors; get past cringing at listening to your own voice because it works well.
8. It’s all about the confidence!
By far my students who have made the most impressive progress are those who aren’t afraid to give speaking English a try. As soon as you accept that you will make mistakes, but that it’s absolutely fine, improvements will come far more quickly no matter what your level. As someone who is a natural chatterbox in my native tongue I would become close to mute in any situations where I was required to speak French, but as soon as I let go and stopped worrying about my errors I soon saw the benefits. Don’t be embarrassed to make mistakes in class; this is the perfect environment to make them, as the teacher can correct you easily. And remember – say anything with confidence and that’s half the battle!
If you have any questions about learning English or if you’re stuck on a particular grammar or vocabulary question then send it to Generation Y on Facebook or Twitter and we’ll ask Emma to help you out!