Surprise; English is my second language. Okay, maybe not a surprise. I still make mistakes and even though I speak English fluently, I still have to work hard to broaden my vocabulary and improve my language skills.
During high school, I followed English, French, and German as foreign languages. I sucked at them, not going to lie. I’d never expected to do something with languages as a degree or career later on in life, but here we are… I dropped French and German as soon as I could but I stuck with English, it is compulsory and the only language I actually enjoyed. Still I got bad grades on vocabulary tests and my speaking wasn’t great either.
After high school, it somehow became a lot easier for me to learn English. Maybe because of the pressure of “having” to learn it was gone or maybe my interests developed. I focused on it more and suddenly I become pretty good at it. I felt good enough to move to England and study an English and Creative Writing degree at an English university. Well, I didn’t feel ready, but I don’t think anyone ever feels ready to make such big life changes. I’m nowhere near perfect but my university course is going great, I know my weaknesses and I work on them to improve them every single day.
If you, like me, struggle with learning a new language, here are some of the tips that helped me get to the level I am at now:
1. Read a lot
Even though I never enjoyed reading during high school, I did fell in love with it when I started reading more in English. I started reading because I wanted to expand my vocabulary, but ended up enjoying the stories so much that I am now following a literature degree. Why reading is so important for language learning? Because you learn new words in a context rather than loose words in a list. It makes it easier to understand and remember.
(While reading doesn’t try to google translate every single word you’re not familiar with straight away as it will take away the fun in reading. Underline these words or write them down on a separate piece of paper to look them up after a page or two, three.)
2. Keep a vocabulary journal
I have a specific notebook filled with English words and their meaning (sometimes with Dutch translation when I struggle to remember them properly). Every time I stumble across a new word I write it down. It’s a good way to keep all your new vocabulary together but it’s also a way of tracking down your own improvement over time. I look back at the first half of my notebook now and can’t imagine not knowing the meaning of these words. It shows that I’ve broadened my vocabulary a lot since I started using it.
Yes, yes, yes, this comes from the girl with a blog who studies creative writing, but it really does help! You don’t have to write novel long masterpieces but start a dairy in English, write about your day, talk to online friends who speak English. Anything that will help you to develop your feeling for sentence structure. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but doing so will help you get closer to perfection.
4. Allow people to correct you
I struggled with this a lot. I didn’t want to show people around me that I wasn’t capable of speaking English and got upset when people corrected me. Now I have learned that making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn. If people don’t correct your mistakes, you will continue making the same mistake. My boyfriend, who is a native speaker, always corrects my mistakes and I’m sure it has improved my English more than my English high school classes have.
5. Immerse yourself in English
You don’t have to hop on a plane and move to England as I did, but surrounding yourself with English is necessary. Listen to English radio, watch English YouTube videos or films, read English magazines, English blogs, English newspapers and speak to native speakers.
If you want to take this a step further, you can always choose to follow an English language course in England for a few weeks. I followed a six-week course in Manchester before I officially moved in order to get my Cambridge Diploma. You can read about my experience doing a language course here and read about my tips for finding the best language course for you here. You can also become an au pair in England. I have a friend in the Netherlands who lived near London for a year while she was an au pair and one of my friends at work, who is originally from Spain, did the same thing.
Immersing yourself into a new language can be scary but it will change your view on a lot of things that are related to learning the language. It will boost your fluency so quickly!
Remember that learning a new language takes time and effort but in my own experience; Learning English has opened so many doors for me, it’s given me a completely new view on the world and I have met the most amazing people through it who I would never have met otherwise.
If you have any more questions, please let me know!
Good luck and see you soon!