by Kenneth Beare
Learning a new language like English can be a challenge, but with regular study it can be done. Classes are important, but so is disciplined practice. It can even be fun. Here are some guidelines to help you improve your reading and comprehension skills and become a better English student.
Study Every Day
Learning any new language is a time-consuming process, more than 300 hours by some estimates. Rather than try and cram a few hours of review in once or twice a week, most experts say short, regular study sessions are more effective. As little as 30 minutes a day can help you improve your English skills over time.
Keep Things Fresh
Instead of focusing on one single task for the entire study session, try mixing things up. Study a little grammar, then do a short listening exercise, then perhaps read an article on the same topic. Don’t do too much, 20 minutes on three different exercises is plenty. The variety will keep you engaged and make studying more fun.
Read, Watch, and Listen. A lot.
Reading English-language newspapers and books, listening to music, or watching TV can also help you improve your written and verbal comprehension skills. By doing so repeatedly, you’ll begin to unconsciously absorb things like pronunciation, speech patterns, accents, and grammar. (Scientists call this phenomenon “indirect” learning). Keep pen and paper handy and write down words you read or hear that are unfamiliar. Then, do some research to learn what those new words mean. Use them the next time you are role-playing dialogue in class.
Learn the Sounds Separately
Non-native English speakers sometimes struggle with certain word pronunciations because they do not have similar sounds in their native tongue. Likewise, two words may be spelled very similarly, yet be pronounced quite different (for instance, “tough” and “though”). Or you may encounter combinations of letters where one of them is silent (for example, the K in “knife”). You can find plenty of English pronunciation videos on YouTube, such as this one on using words that begin with L and R.
Watch Out for Homophones
Homophones are words that are pronounced the same way, but are spelled differently and/or have different meanings. There are a number of homophones in the English language, which is one of the reasons why it can so challenging to learn. Consider this sentence: “Pack your clothes, then close the suitcase.” Both “clothes” and “close” sound the same, but they are spelled differently and have different meanings.
Practice Your Prepositions
Even advanced students of English can struggle to learn prepositions, which are used to describe duration, position, direction, and relationships between objects. There are literally dozens of prepositions in the English language (some of the most common include “of,” “on,” and “for”) and few hard rules for when to use them. Instead, experts say, the best way to learn prepositions to memorize them and practice using them in sentences. Study lists such as this one are a good place to begin.
Play Vocabulary and Grammar Games
You can also improve your English skills by playing vocabulary games that are related to what you’re studying in class. For example, if you are going to study English on topics that focus on vacations, take a moment to think about your last trip and what you did. Make a list of all the words you might use to describe your activities.
You can play a similar game with grammar reviews. For example, if you are going to study conjugating verbs in the past tense, stop to think about what you did last weekend. Make a list of the verbs you use and review the various tenses. Don’t be afraid to consult reference materials if you get stuck. These two exercises will help you prepare for class by making you think critically about vocabulary and usage.
Write It Down
Repetition is key as you’re learning English, and writing exercises are a great way to practice. Take 30 minutes at the end of class or study to write down what happened during your day. It doesn’t matter whether you use a computer or pen and paper. By making a habit of writing, you’ll find your reading and comprehension skills improve over time.
Once you’re comfortable writing about your day, challenge yourself and have some fun with creative writing exercises. Choose a photo from a book or magazine and describe it in a short paragraph, or write a short story or poem about someone you know well. You can also practice your letter-writing skills. You’ll have fun and become a better English student. You may even discover you’ve got a talent for writing.