I’ve taught English in one form or another for going on thirty years now. Who knew that taking a summer English teaching job back in my junior year would have such a big impact on my life? Funny how life is.
Over the years, I’ve been asked many of the same questions over and over again. The most common question being, “How can I improve my English?” The answer is quite simple – practice.
For most Eikaiwa students, that means attending class once a week. While that’s a good start, serious students might want to push themselves a little more. For those who want to improve more quickly, here are four ways to improve your English at home.
Writing is a great way to improve our English as gives us the time to think things through. We can try using new vocabulary we’ve learned and test out grammar structures we might not usually use in daily conversation.
I recommend writing about things you like at first. That could be your favorite restaurant, a good movie you saw, or something interesting that happened to you that week. Take your time and really express what you want to say.
How long should it be? Forget about the length, and just try writing for 30 minutes. It’s the sweet spot. Not too short, not too long.
TV is a great tool for learning. I used it with my own son to great effect since he was young. They are perfect for listening practice as we get to hear the same characters over and over again. Moreover, they are generally shorter than movies making great for those commuting to work by train.
What are some shows I’d recommend? That’s really up to you. A few students at Hirakata surprisingly love The Walking Dead. Not my cup of tea, but it’s easy to understand.
One piece of advice – stay away from hospital and lawyer shows. The vocabulary can be quite tough. Comedy can also be tough. Personally, I’d stick with drama or action-related shows to begin with.
What about subtitles? Good question. Here’s what one student did. She would her favorite series over and over again. The first time with Japanese subtitles so she could understand it clearly. The second and third time, she’d watch it with English subtitles. After that, she would remove the subtitles completely. Her listening improved rapidly using this technique.
Movies are another great source of entertaining listening material. However, unlike TV shows, each movie requires us to learn the characters anew. We must also spend more focus on understanding what’s going on as each movie has its own unique storyline.
Here are a few easy movies to start with:
- The Bodyguard
- Jurassic Park
- Notting Hill
- Toy Story
- Harry Potter
- Cast Away
- Forrest Gump
Songs might not the best to way to learn conversational English, but they do challenge us to move our mouths quickly. When I first started learning Japanese, songs really helped me improve my own speaking speed. Carpenters and The Beatles are a great place to start, but like every other thing on this list, the most important thing is you enjoy it.