If I was given ₩1,000 for every time I was asked, “How can I improve my English skills and abilities?” I would be a very wealthy person.
English is actually my native language although I come from Canada where English and French are
recognized as the two official languages. I grew up in a small bilingual town in Northern Ontario; Elliot Lake, Ontario. Back when I was in kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school, parents had the choice of having their children educated in either English or French, but not both. My parents chose the English option for my education and my best friend at the time was sent to the French school. After I graduated from high school, the education system changed and students were offered French or English immersion classes as an option although I was never afforded that choice for my education.
I remember my high school days and being required (forced) to take a French class for 4-5 hours per week for four years (Grades 9-12), as I needed the French credits to graduate. I recall my French teachers speaking in French and forbidding any use of the English language during the class. In addition, my French education was focused on rote learning: memorizing vocabulary and grammatical structures, and remembering and regurgitating this information for quizzes and tests. We never really used French in sentences or in conversation. I was not learning to speak, write or communicate in French at school. I was merely doing the textbook exercises and assigned homework and jumping through the hoops with the sole purpose of achieving a grade and graduating so I could go on to university. I was able to achieve a high grade in French although I failed when it came to demonstrating fluency and command of the French language. Hence, upon graduating from high school, I knew French vocabulary and grammar but could not string two French words together and could not communicate in French if I went to a French speaking province, country or community.
What was my reason for taking French classes? I had no choice. I was not motivated to learn the language. I saw it as a requirement to graduate and did not think it would be useful for my future. I guess I was stubborn and blocked my ability to learn another language based upon my thinking at the time and being influenced by my surroundings. I was wrong. It would have been easy for me to communicate with my French-speaking friends if I would have stepped outside my comfort zone, had the confidence, wasn’t shy or afraid to make mistakes and not be so bullheaded. My best friend at the time was French Canadian. I had plenty of opportunity to speak and practice French and learn from them although I chose to speak English.
At this point you are probably asking yourself what the point of this article is. The point is, if you want to improve your ability and better your English skills you need to first determine whether you are happy with your current learning practices. If you are happy, keep doing whatever you are doing. If you are unhappy, make the necessary changes and adjustments that will help you improve.
If you are not happy with your current progress, you need to ask yourself what your reason or motivation for learning English is. Is it to graduate? Is it to travel abroad? Is it to make foreign friends? Is it to get a job in a foreign company? Is it to immigrate to an English speaking country? You are the only person who can answer this question honestly.
Secondly, there are countless websites on the Internet with suggestions on how to learn or improve language learning. A simple Google search shows 693,000,000+ results about “How to learn English faster.” One particular site or blog that comes up lists 10 tips on how you can learn English quickly:
Step outside your comfort zone. Read everything and anything in English. All too often we read what we like, what we know and are comfortable with or what interests us. Politics may seem boring but it offers a wealth of information. Use Papago for translation purposes for better understanding.
Tip 2: Take notes!
Write down new words or expressions in a notebook or on your phone so you will be able to understand context and meaning. Take the time to reinforce your learning.
3. Communicate with other human beings
Face-to-face communication is essential. Using social media such as KakaoTalk, WhatsApp, WeChat and so forth is fun but real-time physical face-to-face communication will help develop your confidence, interpersonal skills and improve your language ability. Seeking out native English speakers for an informal language exchange, enrolling in an English only course, or taking English only classes online are great ways to help you improve your abilities, but remember to step outside your comfort zone and speak with a Korean friend in English. It may seem awkward at first, but it should help you learn from each other and breakdown your comfort level barriers. A native English speaker may not be available so take advantage of your existing resources around you. Again, step outside your comfort zone and remember that what other people think of you is none of your business.
4. Watch English dramas or YouTube videos with subtitles
The Internet is a wealth of information and a simple Google search can help you find something that you are interested in or even something that you are not interested in but may offer a different learning experience. At first, you might find the native accents difficult to understand, but you’ll be able to train your hearing and soon start to understand. Watch programs with the English subtitles. Watch them again without the subtitles to test your understanding. English is a global language although even as a native speaker I sometimes struggle to understand different English accents or certain vocabulary or phrases that are regional to certain speakers.
5. Travel or study abroad!
This sounds easy. Immersing yourself in an English speaking country and being surrounded by English speakers might help you improve your English if and only if you are willing to give it your all and make the most of your experience. Often times, students do not have the financial resources or opportunities to travel or study abroad. If you do go abroad, meeting other Koreans and making new Korean friends is great but you should remember the reason you wanted to go abroad in the first place. If you are not there to learn, practice and improve your English ability, save your time and money and stay in Korea.
6. Ask questions!
There is no such thing as a dumb question. Asking questions clarifies something you heard, read or saw. Again, step outside your comfort zone and push yourself to be more active and involved.
Constantly ask yourself the reason or purpose you are studying or learning English.
8. Don’t beat yourself up!
Self-doubt can be hazardous to your overall well-being. Be confident! Believe in Yourself! Believe that you can do it! Take your so called failures and turn them into positive learning experiences. Remember to not compare yourself to other learners. Make the necessary adjustments and focus on your learning and your abilities.
Frankly speaking, learning English, any other foreign language or any new skill is not easy but it seems that as human beings and creatures of habit, we are always searching for a magical pill or an easy way to learn. Before asking yourself, “What can I do to learn or improve my English skills?” you should be asking yourself “What is my reason or motivation for learning English?” Once you have established your purpose for learning, you may be a little more motivated to put in the time and effort.
Finally, if you do not use the knowledge that you have acquired on a regular basis, you will eventually lose that ability and forget. Do I speak French? No! I’ve lost a lot of my French communication due to the fact that I haven’t kept up with my learning and using French. I’m sure if I immersed myself in a French culture I would quickly remember what I learned when I was younger although I will also struggle to remember. This is all part of the learning process.
As a university English instructor, most of my students require much more practice and need to be self-motivated to continue with their learning. I can only be of assistance to them on a weekly basis during the semester. Always remember that learning, information sharing and communication at any age is a two-way street. I tell my students every semester: “I hope I can learn from my students and I hope that my students can learn from me.” The opinions expressed in this article are strictly my own.
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▲ Dept of.
Prof. Darren G. Yakey