A while ago some of my students asked me what I thought was the most important part of learning English. They thought pronunciation was important and they focused on that above everything else. At the time, I told them that I felt structure, or grammar, was more important than pronunciation. However, the more I thought about it, the more my opinion changed.
Learning a language is more than just remembering facts. It also involves learning to use your muscles and vocal cords differently. Developing strength in a language is similar to developing strength in a sport. More than anything else, the most important part of learning English is constant effort. Self-study is crucial. Only practicing during class isn’t enough to fully develop your ability. It may even be better to think of self-study as exercise.
Like with sports, you should plan your exercise. There are four major categories in language: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Your exercise should include development in each of these areas, but you don’t need to include them all for every activity. What kinds of exercises can you do? There are lots of options.
For starters, see if you can find an interesting English book at your library; it should be a little challenging. I recommend short stories over novels to start. If you want to practice speaking, you can read parts out loud. Try watching movies or TV shows in English to develop your listening skills. Several of my students sing English songs when they do karaoke, which lets them practice reading and speaking. If you have young children who are also studying English, try reading them a bedtime story in English. A few students write sentences about their day and bring them to class to share. What’s most important is that your exercises become something you can include in your daily life, preferably as something fun.
Below are some suggestions on websites, music, and authors for you to try. These may not be fun for everyone, but I hope at least one is interesting for you.
- Flash Fiction Online (www.flashfictiononline.com) is a collection of very short stories. Some are even narrated so you can listen and read along. Look under “podcasts” on the web page.
- Soundzine (www.soundzine.net) is an online poetry and fiction journal where the authors record their own readings of the stories. You can practice reading along with the author to practice your pronunciation.
- National Public Radio (www.npr.org) is an American public radio station. You can read or listen to news, stories, and discussions about current events.