An Undulating Network of Nuance
Learning English as a foreign language is no easy task, and mastery of fluency and comprehension can be a particularly daunting goal for many. One of the most nuanced and exception-ridden of all Western languages, navigating English’s networks of complicated grammatical constructs and vowel pronunciation rules can feel like navigating a minefield. Yet the core elements of improving English language skills to a significant extent are by no means complicated, nebulous, or impractical. Let’s take a look at some steps that English learners and teachers alike can take in order to improve one’s comprehension and communication skills in English.
The Key to English Fluency
The first and most fundamental of all language development skills is what the TEFL industry refers to as contact with the target language . This in more straightforward terms is direct, intimate experience of the English language in the real English-speaking world. Textbooks and grammar exercises can be invaluable resources up to a certain extent, yet those students of English who really seek to flourish in their subject need to take heed of the importance of truly throwing themselves heard first into Anglo-American culture and of course into the language itself.
First-hand experience of living in an English-speaking country really has no rival in terms of its potential to improve one’s fluency. Students will find that every hour of every day becomes a new and exciting task when spending time abroad, and the opportunity to learn and improve should be seized everywhere from the grocery store checkout to the local bar. As students meet new people and practice their spoken English even further, their confidence will no doubt grow exponentially.
The Key to English Comprehension
One need not fork out phenomenal amounts of cash in order to gain this precious contact time with the English language. Indeed, modern online facilities such as YouTube allow students to immerse themselves without even leaving the living room. The benefits of seemingly inane gestures such as watching episodes of American television online or reading American newspapers online is often played down by corporations promoting expensive English language courses.
The reality is that an enormous amount of progress in terms of breadth of vocabulary and listening skills can be gained for free via these resources. The wealth of music on websites such as YouTube is also a great resource waiting to be tapped. Teachers of English in particular will find that gap-filling exercises of song lyrics can be a fun way to pick up some new vocabulary.
Younger students of English, teenagers in particular, may well be attracted to the idea of improving English language reading comprehension skills through the medium of comic books or popular novels. Titles such as Spider Man or Harry Potter are light on technical unfamiliar or irrelevant words yet are perfect for helping to build one’s bank of day-to-day or more general vocabulary. Young students should underline unfamiliar words that they come across in those materials and look them up in the dictionary of their native language. Of course, the advantage of using comic books in this way is that one can often infer the meaning of a word or phrase from the image, and this can make the reference element of this kind of practice far less tedious.
But why restrict one’s engagement with English to these mediums? If students are not already doing so, perhaps they should consider setting the language of their Facebook account to English. Another unknown yet equally beneficial way to improve such comprehension skills that will no doubt prove popular among teenagers is to play video games in English. Of course, games dominated by action will not do, but games that are heavy on dialogue such as role-playing games can be another fun, engaging, and interesting way to interact with the target language.
It is indeed a great shame that these seemingly superfluous methods of improving English language comprehension are often overlooked. Improving one's English skills should be a fun and engaging process as opposed to a chore, and pouring over textbooks until the small hours of the morning is not the only way to gain significant improvements in terms of fluency and comprehension.
The difficultly in improving these two vital skills is getting the balance just right. Those who focus solely upon their fluency of spoken English will probably suffer in terms of their grammatical accuracy, thus hindering their ability to be understood in written form. By the same token, those buried in books or films of the target language will no doubt greatly succeed in improving English language comprehension yet will lack the crucial ability to communicate verbally in a fluent manner. For the best results, students should combine as much time as possible speaking to American natives in addition to gorging themselves upon the vast amounts of resources both on- and offline.
- ELT Career Portal; http://www.tefl.com/home/firsttime.html