“Teacher, how do I improve my English?”
In one form or another I have heard this question many times since I began teaching at this university back in 2009. Unfortunately, there is no magic answer that is right for every student. Each student has their own blend of strengths, weaknesses, interest, time, and goals when it comes to English. Over the years I have settled on some advice that I try to give to students who genuinely want to become stronger, more confident, and more accurate with their language.
Read. Read. Read. Read.
It seems simple right? Just pick up a book and read it. Read for the understanding of the story, not for the analysis of the grammar structure or the target vocabulary. Read for pleasure. I always recommend fiction books targeted to middle school aged native speakers, such as the Harry Potter series etc. Most of the students at Gachon University have between 10-12 years of English language education. For those students who are sincerely interested in developing their skills, reading and understanding the stories contained in these books are well within their ability.
The benefit of this type of work is not an immediate improvement in any measurable skill, however. When you read your brain is translating thousands of examples of accurate grammar structures and the correct way to use vocabulary in context to paint a mental picture. It is the volume of English that a student is exposed to, and the cognitive effort that reading requires, that will begin to condition their own understanding and use of the language along those patterns and structures. Reading for pleasure is an aspect of language education that is not focused on much in a classroom, but in my opinion it is the difference maker in language acquisition.
The problem with this advice is that most of my students are too interested in outcome-oriented effort. By this I mean that they only want to read or study something that they will be tested on. There is no such thing as reading for pleasure. I understand that there are a number of reasons for this approach to studying, one of them simply being a matter of efficiency. Korean students are overworked. They do not have the time or energy to read something purely for enjoyment. The solution to this problem that I offer my students is to synergize their learning. By synergize, I mean combining two things to improve its effect.
Nearly every subject that a student studies in school has some form of scholarship written about it in English. Often the most recent and authoritative theories and principles in any field have been written in English, if not originally, then in translation. If a student does not feel that they are able to read for pleasure due to time, they can supplement their understanding of their major or even their hobby, by reading about it in English as well. This way, a student is able to focus their language acquisition on a field that they have an intrinsic interest in. This type of work has the same benefits of exposing a student to thousands of examples of accurate grammar and vocabulary use, as well as expanding their knowledge in their field of interest, and preparing them to be able to articulate their thoughts and opinions in that field to an international audience.
So, although I would say that there is no perfect answer for every student, when it comes to improving their English, I truly believe that you just can’t go wrong with reading. Pick up a book, and just enjoy it for the trip it can take you on in your mind. You might be surprised what you can pick up on the way~
< Copyright © The Gachon Herald All rights reserved >
Joseph E. Tetrick