Imagine speaking a foreign language fluently. You can go to the local shops or a restaurant when on holiday, confident in your ability to order whatever you need successfully. You can have a wider social circle of people from all over the world. Or perhaps you would like to grow your business internationally?
People in China (or anywhere else in the world) wish to learn English for a variety of reasons:
I currently work in Shenzhen in China as an English teacher. Students often ask one simple question:
“What is the best way to learn to speak better English?”
I don’t believe there is one best way, so here is a list, in no particular order, of ten ways to improve your English. You can download and print this list in pdf format here if you like:
These tips and suggestions are just as relevant and useful if you are trying to learn any other foreign language.
Find a teacher or mentor. Go to English class often. Once a week is good, twice a week is better. You need regular input to improve. An occasional class once a month will not help you improve at all.
Buy a magazine from the book store that has articles in both English and Chinese. Try to read and understand in English, then check with the Chinese text for anything you don’t understand.
Any radio station in English is good. One of the best for lots of talking on interesting subjects is BBC Radio 4.
BBC Radio 2 is good for chat and music.
Get used to the patterns of English speech. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand it all, just listen to A LOT of English.
BBC Radio 4:
BBC Radio 2:
Many books in English are available in audio format. Listen to as much English as you can each day. If you struggle to understand, then buy a digital or print copy of the book too, so you can follow along with the text. This can be a big help.
Audio books are usually read in a very clear manner, so are great for practicing your listening skills.
Arrange to hang out with one of your classmates after lessons to practice the English you have just learned in that lesson. If you use the vocabulary and grammar you have learned you will remember it.
Level 2 students: offer to buy an Level 3 student a cup of coffee and speak to them in English for half an hour. Try not to use any Chinese. Offer to buy an Level 4 or Level 5 student a meal and do the same.
Level 3 students: find an Level 4 student to chat to over coffee, or an Level 5 student to spend a little longer with.
Level 4 students: buy a teacher a cup of coffee!! (Mine: Americano, black, hot, two sugars !!)
Higher students: if someone offers to buy you a coffee or meal, accept and help them. You will benefit greatly by trying to explain your understanding of English. You will also discover what you don’t know and be able to decide what you need to study in order to improve yourself.
This is my #1 tip for developing your listening skills. Watch a movie FOUR times:
a) with subtitles in Chinese – just enjoy the movie
b) with subtitles in both English and Chinese – pause to compare the two languages and look up any words you don’t understand
c) with just English subtitles – again pause if you need to in order to understand what is being said. Don’t try to remember all the vocabulary or understand all the grammar, but enough so you can follow the conversation
d) with no subtitles – listen carefully. Watch the character’s mouths as they speak. The way people talk in movies is usually very natural, so you will quickly develop great listening skills
Read some English text out loud every day. Find out which sounds you struggle with and practice those regularly. Ask your teacher or mentor for some pronunciation tips. Highlight the sounds you struggle with in a document and pay special attention to those as you read.
Read aloud for five minutes every day. Your pronunciation with improve greatly.
Go to Sea World and go into a coffee shop. Start a conversation with a Westerner. Say something like “Hi there, which country do you come from? Oh, I’m really interested in (that country). Would you mind if I asked you a couple of questions?”
Ask why they are in China, what job they do, do they speak any Chinese, what do they like about Shenzhen.
The confidence you will gain by doing this will boost your desire to use English, as you will see that you are able to communicate effectively with foreigners.
To improve in any language you really need to approach from many angles. The more you can immerse yourself in the language, the faster you will improve. Good luck with your studies… and remember to enjoy the learning process. It is meant to be fun!
What language are you currently studying, and why do you want to learn it? Comments below.