Tips For Learning English
Learning English As A Second Language
Teaching English online for the past 2 years has taught me why I failed at my own studies in other languages. When a student decides to learn a language they are looking at 30,000 words for native speakers, grammar rules, culture, slang, expressions, online terminology, pronunciation, vernacular language, vernacular pronunciation, and all the fun ways people play with language. It is overwhelming, even for myself, to keep up with current trends and uses of words. Some of the English, my students find, my own friends and family wouldn't understand. For example, a word like "doggo" is often used in the online world to describe a cute or good dog. This isn't too difficult to comprehend, but it is something non-internet savvy native speakers may have never even heard. How can an entry level student begin to understand the evolving language?
Grammar And Word Count
In any language, how many times has someone studied the grammar only to find a situation when the rule doesn't apply? Often students will ask "why" when learning a new rule or concept and to have that rule change under certain circumstances. There is no magic method for learning grammar outside of repetition. People who are more logical in nature may prefer to learn the rules first, and then try more examples. I personally find learning phrases will help you accidentally learn the rules. A student may not know why a sentence is wrong, but they just know it is. I prefer to learn grammar this way. Even many native speakers of English don't understand the grammar of their own language. I am sure I make mistakes myself! The rules are complex and sometimes change with time.
Outside of grammar, I evaluate students by word count.
Most of my students will state that they are "bad at English" but speak well over 4000 words. Learning 4000 words is something to be very proud of. The intermediate level should allow students to say anything they want to, even if they don't know the right word. Often students will get stuck describing something, but instead of giving them the word I will ask them to find a way to describe the word they wish to say. The truth is, once anyone is in a real moment of language exchange, they may not have the time to look up the word they need. Using body language and non-verbal communication, like a game of charades, can often communicate just as well as using the actual word. The difference is the student will remember the word after having to embarrassingly describe the word they were looking for. Associating an embarrassing or insecure moment with finding the correct word will stay in your memory much longer than just looking up the word. Don't be afraid to be embarrassed or say the wrong thing.
Students with a vocabulary of 8000 to 10000 words will hit a terrible curse in English language study. This level is very advanced but is almost impossible to improve on. The reason is, at this level any word heard outside of the common 10,000 is going to be a rare word a student hears only once every few months. The key to improvement here is immersion. Reading an English article daily is a good way to improve at this level or better yet, read a book in English. This is also the point where students still sometimes feel inadequate because they still don't understand some things in T.V. shows and movies. When I ask my students what they don't understand it most likely a phrasal verb or some expression. Phrasal verbs are a language within a language and can only be understood through use. This is probably the biggest weakness for my advanced students.
Where Should New Students Start?
With the overwhelming amount of topics to pick when starting, I would recommend a few things. Don't worry about pronunciation. English pronunciation is very different across the globe and even within across state lines in the U.S.A. Listening to someone speak from Boston vs Chicago or hearing the word "laboratory" from U.S.A. speakers vs British speakers will confuse you. Pronunciation is very flexible if a student has no need for a specific dialect of English.
Focus on the quality of words and not the quantity. How can someone say the word "large"? Giant, huge, gigantic, colossal, great, sizable, grand. A beginner student needs only one way to express the word "large". Imagine a vocabulary of 4,000 unique words or 4,000 words, with many, that just say the same thing. Understanding a language is easier than speaking one. Beginner students will not have as much trouble figuring out the meaning of words they don't know when placed in a sentence by a native speaker. The student can assume that the native speaker has spoken correctly and it is much easier to find the answer.
A good starting place for beginner students to find quality words would come from a word frequency list. This will help students see what words are the most common in the English language. Any word is wonderful to learn, but this may help put a value on the word. Learning basic phrases will naturally lead to an understanding of grammar as well.
Intermediate students should be perfecting grammar and looking for new ways to use old words. This is the point where the word "large" could be replaced with "grand" or other synonyms. Quantity starts having an equal value to quality. This will help students better describe what they want to say. I find at this level students worry about the best answer. For example, should they say " a lot" or "many" when describing something? Some online examples can be found throughout various websites and tests to assist students.
Advanced students should focus on advanced vocabulary, but more importantly, phrasal verbs. Expressions and idioms are nice but I find that most lists of expressions are old and rarely used today. It is better to learn expressions as they come and from more modern sources such as T.V. shows, movies, and music.
Whatever your level of English ability is, there will always be changes in trends and expressions. I describe many of my students as being fluent. They are often shocked when I describe them that way and they proclaim that they don't know enough, but if a speaker can accurately understand and describe anything they wish then they are most likely at the 10000-word level. Even if those words are basic. It's an honor to meet people who wish to learn my home language. Feel free to comment below on any resources that have helped you improve your language ability.