Anyone who wants to learn a new language has their work cut out for them.
It is no easy task to master the grammar and pronunciation of a foreign language and building a vocabulary suitable for everyday communication and dealing with official matters is the work of a lifetime.
That is exactly the challenge that every ESL learner sets their cap to when they start learning English.
To be sure, there are moments of great joy, like when they discover that they have mastered that difficult ‘th’ sound few other languages have and more than a bit of laughter… but, overall, as their language lessons progress, a sort of grimness sets in.
One might define the stages of learning English as exciting and challenging for beginners – those learners for whom advanced-level fluency seems improbably far into their future.
And then, there’s the intermediate level, a stage of learning that most ESL students find… boring.
The intermediate level is when learners knuckle down. New material comes almost faster than it can be learned – certainly before it can be mastered, and yet, there are longer word lists, more complex grammar rules, harder spelling tests…
Still, after the flush of excitement that flavours the beginner stage of any learning venture, most people learning English as a second language can’t wait to reach the next stage, to finally have proof of their progress in English language learning.
Your Superprof wants to give you a roadmap so you can find your way to the intermediate level as quickly as possible.
How to Maximise Your Vocabulary
If you already live in the UK or any other English-speaking country, consider yourself lucky; you are already in an immersion learning situation.
English is all around you: on the radio and the telly, on the streets and in the shops.
If you live in a country where your native language is spoken – or one where other non-native languages besides English are spoken, you will have to work a bit harder to pick up new English words.
You will likely rely on your English lessons for chances to speak English and pick up language skills but that doesn’t mean you can’t pick up new words outside of class.
Whether you live in an English-speaking country or your home country, your English dictionary is your best friend.
Words come in many forms: verbs and nouns, adjectives and adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions… all of which can be found in alphabetic order, in a dictionary.
The best part of making your dictionary your go-to study tool is that, at a glance, you can see all of the forms a word can take and get examples on how to use them.
We’ll use the word ‘read’ as an example.
- Read (verb): to receive and understand the sense of printed words; to lecture at university
- Read (noun): something that is read;
- Read (adjective): informed or instructed through reading
- She is well-read in history
- Read (related words):
- reader (n) – someone who reads or something that is read
- misread (v) – something read incorrectly
- readable (adj) – something possible to read
- unread (adj) – not yet read
- well-read (adj) – a highly educated person
You can get so much information – and so many new words just from ‘read’!
You can use either an online dictionary or a traditional one but we think the book-type of dictionary will be more helpful because all of the words are in alphabetical order and you can save your place so you know where you left off when you read the next day.
To learn more English vocabulary, many English learners read their dictionaries. If you are just beginning to learn how to speak English, reading only half of a page each day will be enough to grow a decent vocabulary in a short while.
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How to Improve your English Speaking Fluency
Good Morning, Mr Tree – Tristam Tao
Studying a language is fascinating: how did it come to be? Why does ‘spoon’ mean something you eat soup with and how come some words have so many different meanings? Where did all of those words come from?
It’s a toss-up whether English language learners ponder such questions when their focus is likely on learning how to speak English fluently, for business reasons or to get good marks on their IELTS exam so they can study abroad.
Strangely enough, although many English learners want to learn this language, they are not happy to speak English in front of anyone, not even their classmates or teachers.
When it comes to speaking skills, the only way to do better is to speak. Even if you’re a shy person, you can do as our friend Tristam did: talk to a tree.
While he was taking English lessons, Tristam woke up 30 minutes earlier than usual, went outside with his English book and talked to the tree in his yard.
He first greeted his Mr Tree, and then he told the tree how he was feeling and what he ate for dinner and, if he had a dream the night before, he told the tree about it. He then opened his book and read to the tree.
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All of his hard work paid off. Tristam is now an executive in an international company, after having been an international student at a fine UK university for three years.
You might feel silly talking to a tree – Tristam certainly did, but if you want to improve your English fluency, take every chance to speak English.
How to Boost Your Reading Comprehension in English
Reading is an important part of learning English but the act of reading is so much more than saying a series of written words.
To be good at reading, you have to know what the words mean, of course, but you also have to understand the picture they paint. That is a much harder task.
Simple sentences are easy to understand. 'The cat is sleeping' leaves no room for doubt about this sentence’s meaning but what ideas are you supposed to get from a sentence like:
Mona averted her eyes and a sudden silence fell over the room.
To understand what you read, you have to have a large vocabulary; one that informs you about more advanced words like ‘to avert’, which means ‘to turn away from, to hide’. But a large vocabulary cannot tell you what that sentence truly means.
Are Mona’s turned-away eyes and the silence in the room caused by something bad that she did or is it bad news that Mona doesn’t want to face?
What if it’s not bad news at all; what if Mona’s partner is giving her a wedding ring and everyone is quiet so they can hear her say yes, they will marry? And how does a silence fall?
That single sentence shows that context – the whole story is not all there is to reading comprehension. With so many pictures drawn by one sentence, you have to be able to see everything it could represent before finding what it means.
Writers use English words and phrases to create vivid pictures in the minds of their readers, almost like watching a movie in your head while you read.
To get good at reading comprehension, you should study some of the ways that native speakers use words to create pictures.
How to Get Writing Practice
In most English classes for non-native speakers, students confide that they prefer reading and writing exercises to speaking and listening in English.
If you also feel that way, you already have the right mindset to get good at writing in English. How can you get started?
If you only know a few words of English – maybe you just started taking classes, you could practise writing in English by copying from an English textbook or another book; magazines would work well too.
As you add new words to your vocabulary, you might write about your experiences with learning English. The verbs ‘to journal’ or ‘journaling’ are used to describe writing about experiences or your daily life.
Many people like keeping a journal, which is also called a diary. You can buy a special notebook with a small lock on it to keep your writing private, if you wish.
If shyness keeps you from speaking out comfortably in class or speaking English with friends, you can feel safe with your writing practice locked up for the night.
How to Practise English Listening Every Day
If you live in the UK or any other English-speaking country, you already have the perfect conditions to immerse yourself into English speaking.
Even if you’re in your flat, you can have the telly or the radio on in the background while you cook or do laundry. This is a form of passive learning; you’re not focusing on what you’re listening to.
Active learning is a far better way to gain listening skills. You will remember more of what you hear and be able to understand what you listen to much sooner than those who only keep the telly on in the background.
To practise active listening, you should pick a specific time – maybe you will listen to a radio programme from 10:00 until 10:30 in the morning. As you listen, have a notebook and pencil handy so you can write down words you know.
During your listening time, you should not do anything but listen and write. Focusing only on the voice from your radio or television will give you the brainpower to pick out words you know and phrases that repeat.
You might also pick up on the speaker’s accent – North American, British, Australian or South African, and the tone and inflexion of their speech.
What if you don’t live in an English-speaking country?
If you have access to the internet at home, you can find many podcasts, radio channels and even videos in English. Podcasts would be ideal for you to gain listening skills with because you can download them and play them over and over again.
If you do not have an internet connection at home, you might catch Radio BBC programmes or VOA – Voice of America broadcasts. You can also listen to songs sung in English too; feel free to sing along, if you’d like!
Listening skills are often overlooked in English classes. It is often thought that students will train their ear on their own so using these ways to get some listening practice is a really good idea.
Good luck and happy learning!