As an English teacher with over 10 years of experience, I have had hundreds of students ask me the same question repeatedly: How can I be proficient in English like a native speaker? They want to know the secret weapon; the secret sauce if you will.
While I may not possess the secret sauce, I do have the secret word: Immersion. “What does that mean?” my perplexed students ask. Immersion means surrounding yourself with the language you want to learn. To increase the level of English proficiency, you should routinely practice the four basic macro skills — listening, speaking, writing, and reading.
Here’s how you can make English a part of your daily life.
Listening is key to fast and continuous improvement in English. Do it whenever you can. Make it a regular daily task. Audio books are great, so are English songs, movies, news and talk shows. It is important to listen with and without lyrics or subtitles. Do both several times whenever possible. Do not just listen to one form of speech. Listen to informal and formal, academic and non-academic, listen to the language of debating, persuading, influencing, selling, motivating, joking etc. Listen to discussions on a variety of topics such as economy, finance, culture, cookery, arts, communication, politics etc.
Want to improve your fluency quickly? Well, there are several ways to do that, but you’re going to have to get out of your comfort zone and create opportunities for meeting and starting out conversations with new people. Join English speaking clubs or voice chats. You may feel shy at the beginning, but you can have fun while building relationships and making new friends. Surround yourself with like-minded people who are open to an idea of practicing together — playing games, having a meal or just chatting. Use Google or Facebook to find speaking clubs in your city. None available? Find an online chat room to join. Just install an app, choose the preferred speaking partner, and start chatting using audio messages.
This may sound awkward but set aside a few minutes each day for standing in front of the mirror and speaking. Choose a topic you like, set a timer for about 3 minutes and discuss it with your imaginary speaking partner. Do not get stuck on a word or phrase that you can’t translate from your native language. The more you stammer, the less confident you sound. So, try not to stop. There are many ways to express a thought or an idea. Work on your pronunciation. Observe and analyze your body language especially the movement of your lips. There is a strong connection between our hand gestures and speech intonation, rhythm and stress. Watch your face muscles including your chin movement and jaw opening when pronouncing certain sounds. Record yourself. You may sound funny, but it will help you hear your mistakes and then fix them.
Reading improves your vocabulary dramatically. Here are some activities to help you improve it:
Make special time for reading. Be disciplined about it. Make it a daily routine. Make sure you have got your pen, notebook and dictionary handy. Spend 20-30 minutes every day on reading English texts. Reading about something you are interested in. Do not read more than a couple of pages at a time to allow yourself to focus on understanding the grammatical structures of the text and your brain to remember the new words that it is trying to absorb. Do not allow yourself to be distracted by TV or phone while reading. Remember. Discipline is critical for effective reading.
What to read? books, magazines and articles online. There is a range of online resources that you can use to find recommendations for books. Here are some of them:
Jellybooks lets you discover new books. Besides, they provide all readers with samples. Therefore, you can read almost 10% of the book and decide whether it is worthy of your attention or not.
Listopia on Goodreads gives you access to a variety of lists such as “Books that everyone should read at least once”.
Your Next Read helps you search for books that are like the ones you have read before.
Change the language on your phone to English.
Changing the language of your device to English is an easy and helpful way of improving your vocabulary. Your mind will memorize new words by associating a word with a function on your phone, tab or computer.
While reading improves vocabulary (and grammar) enormously, writing is a very powerful tool to improve your grammar. You do not have to write essays and novels at the beginning, but simple sentences or short paragraphs to express a certain thought or describe a picture or an event.
Create your vocabulary list. Remember the new words you have learned from your short reading session and written on your notebook? Now it’s the perfect time to use them. It is no secret that repetition is key to successful language learning. The more you use and reuse what you have already read and written, the better writer you will become.
Write comments in blogs and forums. You do not have to be an expert to express your opinion about the blog post. Just go ahead and give it a go. While writing a comment or an opinion in a forum, if you are not sure about your grammar, now it’s a great time to run a little search on Google, find a simple explanation of a grammar rule and even complete an online activity to test your understanding of it.
No one said it was going to be easy! But everyone knows it’s worth it.