In its linguistic chronicle “The Future of English,” The British Council, a U.K.-based government institution promoting English culture, noted that nearly 400 million people around the world were native English speakers – and that an additional 250 million to 1 billion had Shakespeare’s language as second or foreign language. (These numbers were as of the year 2000.)
If you are part of that lucky 1 billion, taking specific steps to hone your English proficiency can go a long way toward improving your accent and increasing your academic chances.
Remember that dream of attending a top-notch university in the U.S. or Canada., or that personal promise of a better-paying job you want to happen?
Well, with a good command of the English language, you can boost your chances of being accepted into your dream college, advance professionally and expand your professional network. For what it’s worth, you can also finally take that long-awaited trip to see Buckingham Palace, the British Royal Family’s official residence in London.
Excelling at English takes time, consistency and preparation, but much of that work does not require a full college education or graduate-level training. You can make notable progress even if you haven’t yet graduated from high school, or are currently working.
The Grammar and Vocabulary Game
Excellent grammar is the cornerstone of any language. If you’re an English as Second Language (ESL) student, pay attention to your grammar, making sure the subject-verb-complement rule is always followed. When writing or speaking, emphasize shorter, well-constructed sentences. Start small, and before you know it, your grammar will improve noticeably. As your syntax gains polish, you can venture into more complex prose, trying longer-than-average sentences.
Vocabulary is another salient point to watch when attempting to improve your aptitude in the English language. Linguists define a person’s vocabulary as a collection of words within a language that are familiar to that person. So your vocabulary today may not have the same scope – that is, depth and breath – of your vocabulary tomorrow. Let’s change the “may” in that last sentence to “should,” because your ultimate goal as you journey through the English language is to ultimately increase the number of words you use.
Making progress in matters of syntax and terminology is no easy feat and will not happen tomorrow. But progressively building on your glossary of personal words will help jump-start your linguistic ability – if not in the short term, certainly in the long run.
Read, Read, and Read
Have you ever heard the story of a man who wanted his son to read and become an illustrious writer, only to find that reading and everything cerebral was never his son’s strong suit? To draw his son’s attention to literary pursuits, he promised to excuse the youngster from chores and other household initiatives he knew his son did not like.
Unable to resist the lure of a chore- and homework-free existence, the son quickly accepted his father’s offer and started reading one book a day – every day. He started perusing children’s books, gradually progressed to the genre of young-adult literature, and before he could realize it, made a leap into the realm of adult genre – delving headlong into a hodgepodge of specialties, such as romance, nonfiction, fiction and drama.
If you’re an ESL student, reading is the key that would open your mind’s doors to linguistic freedom, shaping your brain to appreciate the syntactic subtleties of Shakespeare’s language.
Set a periodic regimen for reading – be it on a daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. The more you read, the higher your linguistic skill is likely to become and the more confident you get. Set a higher reading frequency – say, everyday – rather than a longer interval. That way, your brain sets in motion the myriad neural processes that are needed to retain, remember and use the words you’ve read before. This part is important because decoding words and linking them to sentences is an essential process that children use to improve verbal communication.
Verbal communication: that’s the key.
After traversing several pages in your favorite book or magazine, you must be able to use some of the terms learned and effectively communicate – verbally. Several studies on language and communication emphasize the fact that an oral exchange is imperative to building a good framework for effective conversation later on.
In fact, linguists and other professionals well-versed in the nuances of language and communication think that reading is a means of language acquisition and of communication, which in turns plants the seed for a better sharing of ideas and information. Linguists also contend that various factors transform the interaction between the reader and the text, including the reader’s experiences, attitude, cultural background, prior knowledge and intellectual proclivity.
This university jargon may sound hermetic to you, but it just means that reading opens new intellectual doors to the reader, and that it essentially depends on the reader’s objective and what his or her prior experience is.
All that talk about books and reading and concentration and vocabulary and grammar is all good. But how does it affect you?
Being a book lover does not mean grabbing 1,000-page biology or anthropology tomes and trying to study them back to back in, say, one month. (Unless an intellectual curiosity in the disciplines mentioned above is something you relish).
It also doesn’t mean adhering to a strict schedule of neuronal exercises every day.
What it means – and that’s the beauty of reading – is to explore subjects that are near and dear to your heart, to journey into the unknown, even if that unknown calls for drama, pizzazz, joy, pain, romance.
Pick your topic, and make sure to read, read, and read again!
Set a Plan – and Stick to It
As an ESL pupil, you should forge a plan to improve your linguistic fitness in the long run. Formulating a blueprint for English mastery doesn’t mean dabbling in complicated goal-setting templates or seeking the guidance of expert project managers.
You can start with a basic plan, but the most important thing is to stick to it. For example, you would want to achieve proficiency in basic reading in three to six months, intermediate reading in one year, advanced reading in 24 months, and graduate-level reading in 36 months. Adopt a plan with a clear timeline, replete with targets and sub-targets. Project managers often use the term “milestone” to describe a target, and it is an apt portrayal because a milestone indicates how far you’ve traveled in your ESL journey and how long you still have to go to reach linguistic excellence.
Don’t formulate an unrealistic plan or one that paints a narcissistic, overly positive view of you as a genius and fast learner (even though that was true), because you might find it difficult to implement such a program and be forced to bang your head against ESL learning concrete.
In business and strategic management, companies that have a better chance of outmatching their rivals and succeeding in the long term are those that implement S.M.A.R.T. plans.
SMART is shorthand for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.
Set a S.M.A.R.T. plan, not one that frustrates or praises your intellectual ability.
A specific plan, for example, would be to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). The measurable facet of the blueprint would be to receive, say, a score of 100 on the Internet-based TOEFL. (The TOEFL evaluates students’ skills in reading, listening, speaking and writing.) An attainable goal depends on a collection of factors, most of which come from you. Put differently, it mostly depends on you whether a score of 100 on the Internet-based TOEFL is within grasp. Think about your academic level, prior experience taking the test, and how long it would take to prepare for the test. Don’t forget the intellectual energy and material resources that would be needed to rake in success on the TOEFL. All these factors ultimately would determine whether you can reach your objective or whether the goal falls under the category of “Non Achievable; Please Readjust” goals.
The fourth element in an effective ESL plan is relevance. This means your plan must boost specific aspects of your life, career, academic pursuit, or an existential facet that is sync with your primary goal of passing the test.
Relevance drives motivation; so, if the goal is not relevant to an important part of your life, you are less likely to be motivated and poised to deploy the kind of cerebral and physical energy necessary to clinch the top prize: passing the Internet-based TOEFL exam with a score of 100 or higher.
The last point in a S.M.A.R.T. ESL program is timing. Setting a chronological limit helps you focus on the task at hand, giving you the latitude to prioritize your work and radically eliminate duties that don’t add much relevance to your primary goal.
Chat with Like-Minded Folk
So you’ve (finally) decided to learn English, improve your linguistic aptitude and finally leave the ranks of ESL students. You think it’s the right decision to make, considering your future goals – be they to go to school, to travel around the world, or to jump-start your career in a different direction. Whatever the aim, make sure to befriend and network with like-minded people.
The last thing you want is to learn English while spending most of your time speaking your native tongue – although there’s nothing wrong with that. Here the key point is to develop a smart (remember S.M.A.R.T.?) blueprint to interact more frequently with folks who share the same linguistic vision, professional aspiration or academic ambition, to name a few. By associating with like-minded people, you would find ways to improve your own skills, receive constant feedback from others, and adjust your aspirations accordingly. That collective wisdom can be beneficial in the long term, because it will give you a solid intellectual foundation to build your career and improve your language skills.
To expand your professional or personal network, use all available outlets. Depending on your personal circumstances, things like social networks, school connections, community groups and family ties can be linguistically advantageous. For example, you can create profiles on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, making sure the respective accounts reflect the goal you’re pursuing. Then reach out to friends and relatives, as well as acquaintances and strangers who also harbor the same educational aspiration. You can even create an ESL club or forum on each social-networking platform, thus expanding the membership to hundreds, if not thousands.
Social networks often are an underused bounty in the online world, because most users think the networks are only useful for informal interrelations, water-cooler chit-chat or celebrity gossip. Not true.
Reading every now and then, improving your grammar, polishing your vocabulary, and establishing a S.M.A.R.T. success plan are all good initiatives. But you should assess progress periodically to ensure that you’re on track towards linguistic excellence, or to determine whether you are falling by the intellectual wayside and will need help to succeed.
Evaluating your English improvement is no easy feat, and you may not be able to do it by yourself because you might be more prone to being overly optimistic and stretch the truth about how good your English level really is.
Seek the examining eye of another person or organization. One of the most effective ways to gauge progress in your learning journey is to take tests, be they at your local college or university, or at an institution specialized in the implementation of ESL tests. Besides the TOEFL, exams such as English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and International Students Admission Test (ISAT) gauge students’ written and verbal abilities in English, among things.