Let me tell you a story about two colleagues of mine who were native speakers of English living in Italy.
Jenny spoke fluent Italian but was constantly mocked and imitated because of her unmistakable and laughable English accent. What most people didn’t know when they sniggered, was that Jenny had been an editor for an Italian/English dictionary! Her knowledge of Italian grammar and vocabulary were second to none.
David, the second colleague, spoke perfect Italian and his impeccable intonation and pronunciation was constantly admired and he was always complimented and nobody ever mocked him either! But I can tell you that his knowledge of grammar and vocabulary came nowhere near Jenny’s. Both colleagues actually spoke excellent Italian but Jenny was stigmatized because of her accent.
So, you don’t have to talk like a native speaker. Just concentrate on communicating effectively when you are learning English or any other language for that matter. Here are 8 ways you can do that.
1. Start talking.
Even if you are not living in the US or in Britain, you can use Skype to start talking. You will have to develop fluency and the best way to do that is by talking. Get on forums and online chat rooms to make contact. You can try out My Language Exchange or Interpals and see how you get on. That is much cheaper than flying to London for a full immersion weekend! Stop worrying too much about accuracy. That can come later. Don’t think; just talk!
2. Now listen.
I taught English for many years and the students’ main problem was that their listening skills were never properly developed. You can listen to English anywhere and everywhere now. Podcasts, YouTube, news broadcasts, audio books, TV, films, and radio. You name it, there are multiple channels where you can really polish up your listening skills. TED talks are an excellent resource. If you are learning another language, these talks have been translated into over 40 languages!
3. Learn the 300 basic words you need.
Tim Ferris, of the 4 hour work week fame, claims that you can learn any language in 3 months. One essential takeaway from his post is that 65% of all written material in English uses only 300 words! Check out the post as they are listed here. Start using them. Here are some apps to help you gain mastery of even more vocabulary. Get the Anki app because this uses a SRS (spaced repetition system). This means that you never see the list of words repeated in the same order but at strategically spaced intervals so that you do not forget them.
4. Get cheap lessons.
Maybe you need a few lessons but you do not want to pay a high price for one-on-one lessons with a native speaker. You can hone your conversation skills at any level just by getting really cheap lessons from the italki.com site. Where else can you get lessons for $5 an hour! This is where Skype comes into its own.
5. Go for more vocabulary instead of more grammar.
Once you have your 300 words, you cannot stop there! What are your goals and what words do you need? This should always take preference over learning grammatical rules, although you do need to be able to distinguish the past tense from the future. It makes communication less problematic.
The word renowned linguist, Stephen Krashen, also favored meaningful interaction over anything else. Vocabulary is the heart of any language, not knowledge of grammatical rules.
“Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill.”
6. Never stop reading.
Reading is a great way of improving your English. You can read anything you can get your hands on such as cartoons and kids’ books if you want a good laugh and to relax. You can buy graded readers of all the classics and then move on to the real thing. I always tell my students that there should be no books in their native language on their bedside table as they will never be tested on that. Been there, done that! Having a pen handy to underline words is also great.
“Never read a book without a pen in your hand.”
7. Leave your comfort zone
Experts always tell you not to worry about making mistakes. Just do it! Here is a task to do. You want to find out essential information from a museum/art gallery in London. You can choose a hotel or airline if you wish. Phone them up and ask for a lot of information. Prepare your questions beforehand. Then check what you have understood by looking at their site in your own language. Talk to English or American tourists when you spot them in your area.
8. Never quit
“Have no fear of perfection—you’ll never reach it.”
When we talk about accents, it really is a very superficial aspect of speaking English. After all, many regional accents in the UK exist. Add in all the accents of Ireland, India, America, and Australia. Then, think about all the foreign speakers of English you will come into contact with on your travels and your business trips. Now, who is judging who on their accent? Communication, the desire to constantly improve plus the determination never to give up are the keys to success.
“Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.”
Featured photo credit: Learning English/freestocks.org via flickr.com