This week it’s Campus Week at Get Great English. I know the term hasn’t started yet but think of it as a little time to prepare before packing bags, unpacking, moving into halls of residence or a flat.
When you are at university you need to take lecture notes. This is something you can practise online with video lectures (about your field of study or some elective courses you might take) so you develop the skills you need before you start university.
When you need to check that you understand what someone said it is useful to paraphrase them. There are several ways to do it and I’ll provide some examples that are simple enough for you to try next time you speak English.
I know that the books are no longer new but there are still ways that Harry Potter can help your English study. You can learn new words and get familiar with different styles of English.
Speaking speed is one of the things most students feel nervous about at one stage or another. What is the right speaking speed? How do you get it? What do we talk about when we talk about speaking speed? I think I have all of your worries covered.
A lot of advice about how to get better at English listening says that students need to understand almost everything in their independent study materials. I disagree with it because this is a useful guideline but it is not a rule; it is useful for a lot of people, but not everyone.
Think about this: young children do not understand television programmes for adults but often want to watch them. This is because they want to be like adults. You want to be like a native-English-speaking adult therefore your exposure to English should include media for native-English-speaking adults.
Some people will disagree with me. They think getting students who are not ready to listen to advanced materials to listen to media above their level will turn them off English, leading them to give up or be stuck in level. I do not believe this. I believe that if you want to improve your language skills, you will try advanced materials that you are interested in, which is the important thing to remember, and then either succeed the first time, persevere and then succeed or give up and try again in the future.
If you study with materials that a teacher thinks are good you are not studying based on your own interests so your motivation to continue is not high enough to keep learning, especially new, difficult things.
Choose podcasts at random. Try some videos on YouTube or from your local video shop. Watch lectures about things you want to know about.
Think about vocabulary you know about the topic of the material. Think about the purpose of the material and who it is for. Write down new words you hear and what you think they mean. Check your dictionary later. Can you summarise the media? Do you agree with the opinion of the speaker or speakers?
Take notes if you have time or have space. Repeat your materials as many (or as few) times as you like. Listen to anything and everything that interests you. Most importantly, don’t forget that it’s OK to leave something behind when it’s too difficult now or too boring. Anything that is truly important will be engaging enough to build knowledge about quickly, even if you can’t understand some of the material immediately.
Download a listening sheet to help you when you listen to English next time.
Understanding some native accents and dialects and also foreign accents takes effort and time. Find out how you can build up your skills to understand a wider range of people and their English.
When you listen to people speaking it is easy to misunderstand if you are not aware of homophones (words that sound the same). This is especially true in standardised tests like TOEIC, TOEFL and IELTS but also in everyday situations as well.
Some common homophones and near homophones are:
Here’s a video that shows just how confusing homophones can be.
Stop sign – Wikipedia.org
So many of my students, mainly college students, keep reaching for dictionaries. Every time they see a word they don’t understand or get into a situation where they don’t know the perfect word in English like they do in their first language out comes their smartphone for the dictionary or their Casio Ex-Words.
Every language learner needs a good monolingual dictionary. I usually recommend the Longman English Learner’s Dictionary. However, it’s a reference book, not a best friend.
You need to guess words sometimes
If you check the dictionary every time you see a new word you lose the chance to learn how to guess the meaning from context. Checking it in a monolingual dictionary is one thing; bilingual dictionaries are for beginners. They are your last resort.
You are going to cause a communication breakdown
If you are in the middle of a conversation and someone says a word you don’t understand, are you really going to reach for your dictionary? I hope not. You ask questions or ask, “Did you mean ~?” You are a non-native so don’t be afraid of this question because even natives need to ask it sometimes.
You need to be comfortable with being ‘basically right’ rather than ‘exactly right’
If you develop your language by guessing and using your feelings as a guide while you read and listen, you’ll find your vocabulary choices get so much better. Rather than learning a list of words from the dictionary, learning words by context is much more rewarding. You also learn the different ways a word can be used as you develop your language and need to use words in different situations.
If you use a bilingual dictionary you reject other correct meanings
What usually happens when students use bilingual dictionaries is that they learn an English word with only a single word in their first language. However, not all languages translate easily from and from English, especially Japanese. Why not use pictures to learn meaning, or actual sentences? Use Google Images and Pinterest to find and keep pictures or search Twitter for short sentences with new words. You can even do this with word cards.
I hope this helps you get the confidence to put your dictionary away for a day or two. Let me know how you go in the comments.
I love running and maybe some of you do to. Here are some links to some websites about running in English.
Competitor Is about running and covers training, nutrition and shoes and equipment.
Running Times is the website of a popular running magazine. There are stories about running as well as tips.
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 is a story of Adrian Mole, a young boy in England in the 1980s.