Monday, August 26, 2013

How to Improve Your English



I was born and raised in Malaysia. I speak Malay for the majority of my life; I speak Malay with my family and with my friends. Many of you asked how I acquired my English speaking skills so allow me to share with you my (not-so-secret) secret about how I learned English speaking and how I continue to improve it.

The secret composed of two parts: exposure and practice.

What do I mean by exposure?

Before a baby learns how to speak, the baby has to be exposed to the language. The idea is to familiarize the ears with the language (in this case: English).

Keep in mind that when you are exposing yourself to a language, you can’t escape from exposing yourself to the culture that comes with the language. This is true with any language, not just English. Culture is embedded in the language. Our job is to filter out all the bad culture and to take in all the good culture.

I got exposed to the English language through English songs, English movies, English TV shows, English cartoons, and English teachers. I was exposed to the language through English books but I was not an avid reader. Recently I've started to develop the habit of reading books and it does help with my mastery of the language.

While exposing yourself to the language, you have to practice it as well. It goes hand in hand.

Yes, you have to practice. If you’re looking for a short cut to learn English, then I can’t help you. We want many things but are we willing to put in the hard work to achieve them?

You have to put in your effort.

The main focus in practicing English is to pronounce each words properly. Listen closely to how each word is pronounced and try to copy how the word is pronounced. Another focus to keep in mind when practicing is how those words are used in sentences and in different contexts.

While practicing, you will make mistakes and that’s okay. You learn from mistakes and move on. Mistakes are good; they are your friends. Of course I am not suggesting that you deliberately make mistakes. Try your best to avoid mistakes but when you do make mistakes, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Mistakes are only bad if you don’t learn from them.

How did I practice English speaking?

Back in the day, I participated in a few English competitions in school like choral speaking, story-telling, and scrabble. With scrabble, I didn’t do much speaking but it does help with my vocabulary which I can use in my speaking. My point is: grab any opportunity that is available to you. If there is an opportunity for you to practice English speaking, seize that opportunity before it goes away.

Having said all that, I think the best way to practice English (or any language) is to actually talk to someone and have a conversation. Just by using English in my daily conversations, I noticed a significant improvement in my English speaking skills – the kind of improvement that I don’t see in any other practice methods.

Other than that, I practice English by singing English songs to myself. In a way, it’s kind of like speaking English because you are saying all the words and try to pronounce them properly. So, it does help.

I know that a lot of people out there who are trying to practice speaking in English are having a hard time with being ridiculed by friends (and sometimes by family members too).

If life has taught me anything, it is this: you can’t shut people up.

In life, you will encounter people who will throw hurtful words at you. That is the reality that we are currently living in. it’s unfortunate, but that is the reality. However, that doesn't mean that you sit quietly and do nothing.

You still have control over at least two things: your words and your mind.

First, your words. You might not be able to control what they say but you can control what you say. Advise them nicely and encourage them to stop doing it.

Second, your mind. You have the ability to control how you perceive the situation and how you accept their bad words. Their words can only hurt you if you allow them to.

If we peel all the layers surrounding this issue, I think at the core of it is this: it’s mind over matter – if you don’t mind, they don’t matter.

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To learn more about how to improve your English and how to improve your confidence, do join us for our upcoming SPEAK UP! English Speaking Seminar.

Details can be found here.