1) Play with it.
As you can see in the title, I think playing with language is a great way to improve your language skills. Using alternative writing forms like “yr” instead of “your” is an example of ‘real life’ English often used in informal emails, SMS messages, Kakao-talk messages, and Tweets. It does not replace learning formal English, rather it is an example of how English use is always changing. There are many examples of short forms and acronyms that I could list, but I think it’s more fun to discover them for yourself. Just for fun, try typing ‘text talk’ into Google to find interesting and creative ways that people communicate these days. As long as the receiver of the message agrees to the tone and meaning of the communication, it is OK. So, try sending a message in English to your friends and see if they reply in English. You both benefit from the English practice, and you have a new reason to stay in touch! Have fun!
2) Explore with it.
This is an extension of playing with language. Exploring topics that interest you is a great way to discover new uses for English in your life. As an example of what I mean, I’d like to tell you about what I do whenever I move to a new part of Korea. After I get moved in, I unpack my bicycle and bicycle helmet, grab a bottle of water, and my fully charged smart-phone. Then I ride! I actually try to get lost, and I always succeed. In this way, I explore the neighborhood and learn the landmarks, street names, and the places where I’d like to shop later. I get practice asking directions, asking for clarification, and eventually, I learn how to get home. These are all good things to learn quickly when you first arrive in a new place. I tell you about my exploring to encourage you to try exploring English in a similar fashion. Go explore it! Get lost in it! Enjoy getting lost in it and finding your way around. For example, go to google.com and look up a favorite topic like fashion trends, or some sports related websites. After you surf the web for a while, you could try to find your way back to where you started from. You can use the history tab in your browser if you need a little help. You may be surprised at how much information and knowledge you pick up that you weren’t even looking for. So, have fun and explore!
3) Use it
The other day I asked my Korean friend Young Ah about her job as an editor and proofreader for a Korean company. Before she was hired she took the TOEIC test and got a score of 725. Other employees that she worked with had similar TOEIC scores but did not have the same experience living abroad as she did. She believes that living with and communicating with English speakers on a regular basis made the difference between her and the other newly hired people. While the other employees had the same TOEIC score as she did, they often asked her to check their work. Sadly, she found many errors. The others also lacked the confidence to communicate effectively over the phone – a key requirement in many companies dealing with international customers. I tell you this story because many people believe that a good TOEIC score is the key to their success. It is true that a good TOEIC score is needed for getting a job interview and possibly getting a first job, but in a competitive job market it is the person with the ability to effectively communicate in English who will get the job, keep the job, and get promoted. Using English in the real world is nothing like a multiple-choice test. Using English, just like your first language, is a matter of being able to communicate effectively in as many different situations and environments as possible.
If you understand that your education must be grounded in your personal development and growth as a person, not just getting a better test score, then your intellectual achievements will naturally increase and you will be better prepared to contribute to society, both locally and globally. Doing well on tests is important in school, but if you only measure success by test scores, you risk being just another number. My advice is to take the long view, make a goal to enjoy English, explore it, and discover ways to use it every day. Record yourself speaking English on your smartphone, send Kakaotalk messages in English, say, ‘Good morning’ to a stranger, watch and listen to topics that interest you on TED.com,--- do everything you can to play, explore and use English every day, and each day you will be one step closer to finding success. I promise!
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|-Gregory S. Lewis