I believe I have some special gifts in languages. My major in college is Chinese, I’m always one of the best students in English class, and my Japanese friends say my Japanese pronouciation is impressive.
But, I’ll never forget the tough time I had having English conversations either in phone calls and in person. I always remember how I felt extremely nervous and spent twice as much time figuring out what I just heard and searching for words I need to say, when answering phone calls from a interviewer who comes from Italy, lives in Germany and speaks English.
Hence, I’ve spent quite some time learning English in the past two years. Today, my English skills is still far from being native or even close to bi-lingual. But I’ve reached to a point where speaking English is nothing different from speaking my mother tongue, in terms of how I see English as just a tool for communication.
Seeing many my friends trying hard to master the language but ending up making no or slow progress, I decided to share my experience: my best way to learn English.
Let’s start with some common misconceptions.
Misconception #1: I don’t speak good English because I don’t know many words
This is the biggest mistake people make in learning a foreign language. The truth is, it’s not ture. At all.
Now recall your childhood. Did you learn your language starting from vocabularies? Did you sit there all day long tying to remember words, before talking to anyone? I guess you didn’t. Then why do it now?
Look at kids around you. A 5-year girl may not know the word “vocabulary” but speaks perfect language. She probably doesn’t know any “big words”, but she forms the language using simple words, naturally and almost effortlessly.
So don’t spend all your time on vocabularies. It definitely helps, but not much.
Misconception #2: I need to make my English perfect before going to a English corner
Let me get this straight: you never will.
Do you realize how many mistakes you (and everyone else, of course) make a day, even if it is your mother tongue? People make mistakes. That’s life. Smart people learn from mistakes. That’s actually how we grow. So face it, accept it, and go to English corners / clubs.
Misconception #3: People make fun of me because of my pronounciation or accent
In reality, nobody cares. As long as you can talk, people focus on what you say, not the language itself.
I once worked at a small but quite international company. Colleagues are from every corner of the planet. When we have meetings, it’s like the U.N. But no one ever cares about the wired pronounciation. Trust me. Adults are simply too busy to ever think about it.
Well, then, how to learn English? My answer is: don’t learn English, use English. Pretend to be an American (or other English-speaking countries of your choice).
To be more specific, this is how I do.
Every morning, the first thing I do is listen to BBC World News, NPR News, Australia All Over (a talk show), or This Is American Life. By doing this, I follow up the news, and practice my listening skills. One stone, two birds.
The podcast programs are completely free. I purchased an app called Pocket Casts to subscribe them. You don’t have to.
2. Your computer, phones, tablets etc.
My phone is in English, as well as my laptop, my Facebook account, Twitter…you name it. If you can’t read long articles yet, start read the short lines around you.
That means, whenever you are googling something, use English keywords. At least in the world I live, 99% of the best knowledge online is in English.
I spend hours a week on Reddit (my favorite subreddit is AskReddit), Long Reads, Long Form, among others.
If you don’t know where to start, Reddit is your best friend. Or, use Zite. I used to be a heavy Zite user because of its intelligent recommendations. Well, I stopped using Zite for the same reason. But that’s another story.
Besides, reading books can be challenging but fun. I recommend you start with the books you already know what they’re about. For instance, I personally like Peter Hessler’s trilogy about China. There’s no culture barriers so it’s relatively easy to dive into.
Anyway, reading is essential. Keep doing it.
I take any chance to speak English. I go to every English corner I find interesting, and whenever I do I speak as much as possible.
Oh, as someone who has been attending English corners for years, and even founded and run a once pretty popular English corner, I tell you, that talking to Chinese does help. If you are reading this, chances are you don’t really need native speakers. It’s practice that makes you perfect, not foreigners.
Alright, you get it? The key is use the language wherever you can, make yourself immersed in English, and keep doing it.
That’s it. I have given you the whole nine yards. Now it’s time to start to use English. Good luck.