Learning English should be fun, not stressful. This is a free online tutorial you should never overlook. Here are several useful tips for you to improve your English faster.

ESL or English as a Second Language is somewhat tricky to improve for many students. You may wonder why Asians, such as Koreans, Chinese, Taiwanese, and Japanese find it difficult to master their English skills. I did some research about the reasons behind this problem.

As an online ESL tutor, I had the opportunity to interview Asian students about their schools’ methodology in teaching them the English language. I have also observed their attitude toward speaking the language. No, it’s not about the English language alone.

I’m going to classify the reasons in two categories mainly 1) the system and 2) the culture.

The System

In their schools, they start by learning how to read the English alphabet and simple words such as “apple”. There’s no question about it. The only problem is when they tend to focus on teaching younger students to read but not using proper enunciation and accent. The result is that the student would imitate how the word was pronounced by the teacher using their local accent. Another problem is they read with the only purpose of pronouncing the words correctly without understanding the meaning of it or they are not encouraged to speak using the language itself. To make up for that, they require students to memorize lots of vocabulary words or gauge them by spelling exams. They would also require them to memorize poems, or get involved with “scripted” oral discussions and debates.

Grammar is not an exemption either. They study grammar rules most of the times to the extent that they have to memorize a lot of them for the sole purpose of getting high exam scores. To most students, this would make the impression that English language is too technical, difficult to understand, and it’s terrible to commit grammatical errors. For them, studying English is just a tool to have high grades or to have well paying jobs in the future.

The Culture

“Do you have a relative or friend whom you can speak with in English?” I often ask my new students.

Most of the times, their answer is “none”. And I would follow up my question with “Why? Don’t they know how to speak English?”

The usual response is, “Yes, they know but, it feels strange to speak with my friends in English.”

Now this becomes the problem, although they can speak limited English, they have no chance of using it in their daily conversations at all.

Nowadays, this is also happening here in the Philippines. When you commit pronunciation or grammatical error, many would laugh at you. One of my instructors before told us that he is more confident giving English talk to Americans than giving one in front of Filipino audience. It feels like as if it is a mortal sin when you make a mistake. The only advantage if you’re living in the Philippines is that you get to speak with a lot of people who are willing to speak English too.

Where to Start?

First, you need to know what is holding you back from improving. Consider this. Your parents didn’t bother teaching you how to read before you could say the first ever word from your mouth. We did not even learn grammar rules nor memorized vocabulary words when we were learning our first language – our mother tongue. We became accustomed to that language simply by listening to our parents. We tried to mimic the way they speak slowly but surely. This pattern, I think, should also be followed in order for us to learn another language more quickly.

In my case, English is already my third language. Iloko (Ilocano) is my native language, Filipino (Tagalog) is the second, and I can speak two more languages namely Hiligaynon (Ilonggo) and Itneg (a dialect in Abra). The process is the same; learning the language by listening and speaking it.

Now here’s a good example to explain further. I definitely did not become fluent in Filipino (my second language) just because I learned it from school. No. I became fluent because I listen when everyone speaks the language. I usually use it every time I speak with my friends and relatives from the city. I wasn’t that fluent in Filipino when I was little but now I can give a 30 minute talk purely in this language. What’s the secret? Listening and speaking. I use it regularly. Mostly, the shows in local Philippine TV and movies are in Filipino. This was the primary language we used in school when I was in grade school. The books I read, the music I listened to are mostly in Filipino. So, isn’t it obvious that the main reason behind my fluency in Filipino is merely because of my exposure to the language?

The same is true with English. My parents weren’t college graduates. They are not fluent in English. They can only understand the basic words. So basically, I don’t have someone to talk with in English since I was a child. I learned English in school. I felt, however, that the learning process was a little bit slow. When I finished high school, my English wasn’t very good. Somehow, studying in college helped me a bit to improve it.

What Really Helped Me in Speaking English?

After I graduated in college, I applied as a part-time teacher at the school I graduated in high school. I was surprised when the administrator entrusted me the English subject for the freshmen. I wasn’t that good in speaking the language back then. Of course I had to use English books to teach to them. However, what really helped me were the conversations in English I had with my students. I had to speak with them in English everyday in class.  After several months, I noticed some improvements with my oral communication skills. After a year, I had the opportunity to be the emcee of the school’s graduation ceremony. It’s not the fluency; it was the confidence to speak. I didn’t mind committing errors.

Steps to Improve Your English Now

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Enrolling to online English tutorials, of course, will help you improve your oral communication skills. But there are essential things you need to do to improve faster.

  1. Talk as often as you can to people who can speak in English. Speak English everyday! The longer, the better. If you can’t find someone to talk with, use the “Mirror Conversation” or “Shower Conversation” techniques. A mirror or shower conversation with yourself for at least 5 minutes on a daily basis would definitely help you to develop your spoken English. You need to feel comfortable in speaking English. You need to get used hearing yourself speaking the language. Mimic the expressions of native speakers (except bad words of course). Imitate how they express themselves in different kinds of situations.
  2. Listen carefully to English conversations in movies. Search for the words you don’t understand. Listen to English songs. Watch informative videos on youtube in English. Listen and imitate. Use dictionary.cambridge.org, or other dictionaries for that matter, to check the proper pronunciation of a certain word based on the accent you would like to learn.
  3. Be open to corrections. Mind you, my English is not perfect. It’s not my native language after all. As long as we can express ourselves freely in this language, never mind the mistakes. Other online teachers usually say it’s okay to commit many mistakes. For me, not really. Of course, we need to accept the reality that we can’t speak English with a flawless grammar or perfect pronunciation. Nevertheless, we should try our best to minimize the errors or at least make the mistakes barely noticeable. It shouldn’t be that obvious. On the other hand, do not become a perfectionist. When you try to make your grammar perfect all the time, you may fall into what we call “perfection paralysis”. This means that before you  speak, you are trying to make sure that your sentence or phrases are grammatically correct. It often leads to the expressions “uhmm”, “ahh”, “errrr” and much worse – complete silence!
  4. Positive mindset. Be patient with yourself. There’s definitely no short cut to this. Learning at least 1 new vocabulary word a day and being able to use it in your own sentence is already an achievement. Speaking English every day is practically the same as improving your spoken English every day.
  5. Familiarize yourself with the proper usage of a word or phrase. You need to know the differences between two commonly confused words. For example, will vs would, think vs thought, can vs could etc. Again, familiarize, DO NOT memorize.
  6. Have the right goal. What are your goals in learning this language? To pass an exam? To have a better job position? These purposes are fine but, the main goal should be to communicate well in English with confidence. That’s it.

Of course, there are other several ways you can do to improve your English. However, the points mentioned above are essential if you are really serious in learning the language.

How about you? What other techniques or tricks you’ve used in learning a new language? Feel free to share your ideas by commenting below.

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