In European countries and around the world, a majority of students who finish their secondary education know a foreign language, but if you ask most of these students whether they feel comfortable using it, the answer is no.
Does this sound like you with English? We could talk all day about why this happens, but that wouldn’t help you improve your English TODAY.
Instead, we are going to discuss 5 steps you can start taking NOW to go from knowing English to using English.
STEP 1: Stop putting the main focus on grammar.
If you have received traditional English instruction in school, you have probably learnt enough grammar already. Any English course will focus on grammar a bit, but at this point if you want to really move from knowing English to using English, the first important step is to realize that a language is more than a set of rules.
But ‘What if I speak incorrectly?’
Once you start really using English, you will continue learning grammar as you go along. I promise.
STEP 2: Focus on Communication
Now that you have decided to stop worrying so much about correct grammar, you’ll have time to focus on communication. This means paying attention to real-life interactions between English speakers in your personal life, at work, or even on TV. Try learning set phrases for interacting with English speakers, such as phrases for giving opinions, disagreeing, etc.
STEP 3: Watch films
Understanding spoken English is a big challenge and films can help immensely. I don’t mean simply put on an English movie and watch. Make films part of your study plan for learning to use your English. This means watching and listening actively. Pause the film when you encounter a phrase you did not understand, rewind and listen again.
Keep a notebook beside you to write down phrases or structures that you learn while you are watching. After you are finished, try to remember what context of the film that phrase was used in, or which character used it.
If your listening comprehension is at a lower level, watch the film with the English subtitles on. By watching films actively, you will continue on your way to using English.
STEP 4: Find a language partner
If you live in a big city, like Barcelona, it can be easy to find a native English language speaker who wants to exchange their English for your Spanish or Catalan. This is one of the absolute best ways to go from knowing a language to using a language.
No native speakers near you?
That’s ok too! A native speaker is not the only person that you can improve your English with. Ideally, your language partner should have the same level, or higher than you. You will still learn a lot from each other.
STEP 5: Go abroad
If you’ve taken the first 4 steps, there is only one thing left to do, and that is take your English and test it abroad!
If you want to maximize the experience, leave your Spanish/Catalan-speaking friends behind and try to go for more than a few days. The U.K. and Ireland are nearby, and flights are cheap if you buy them in advance! The immersion experience you will have will boost your self-confidence, and you’ll prove to yourself that you have made the transition from just knowing English, to really using it.
Aimee Enders es nativa de EE.UU. y tiene un Máster Oficial en Lingüística Aplicada de la Universidad de Barcelona. Trabaja como profesora de inglés desde el 2007. Ha vivido en Sevilla, Buenos Aires, Ciudad Ho Chi Minh, y Barcelona. Puedes seguirla en Twitter or leer más en su blog TEFL Adventures.