Learning English in school and actually communicating well with native speakers are two different pairs of shoes. School gives you all the basics, teaches you about the correct grammar and proper vocabulary to use in common situations. It’s enough to get by while traveling, but it’s not enough to hit the ground running after you entered the United States to actually live here. You’ll have to talk with people speaking in all kinds of different accents while getting settled in your country of choice. Time to dust off your skills and put an American spin on it. It’ll make your life and the people who you’re trying to communicate with a lot easier. Best of all, your own accent will be a great conversation starter, but you need to make sure your English is well enough for Americans to understand. Otherwise it’ll be a one-time conversation.
Here are a few tips that helped me to jump start my school English right before I migrated to America.
My favorite: Learn English by watching TV
I enjoyed nothing more than watching my favorite movies and TV shows in English to learn how people actually speak, what words they used compared to what I’ve learned in school, which was very British English heavy. The advantage of watching stuff that you’ve already seen, is that you’ll know what the actors are talking about and you can even follow the dialogs by reading along the subtitles. Make sure to watch it in English with English subtitles. This way you memorize the correct spelling as well. Later on when you get better, turn off the subtitles and concentrate on the pronunciation. It’s a lot more fun to listen to the original voices of actors anyway.
Listen to Podcasts
Podcasts are great and you’ll get to pick whatever suits you best. Educational, entertaining or informative podcasts – there are thousands. As long as the podcast’s host is easy to listen to and it’s in English, you’re all set. I would maybe make sure that you’re listening to an American podcast, if you’re trying to prepare for the US. Just put it on your mp3 player and listen to them everywhere: during a walk outside, while vacuum cleaning or mowing the lawn, on your way to work. The car is actually a great place to listen to podcasts, because you spend a lot of time driving to work and to see places. Why not make your car a mobile university?
Books & Magazines
Pick up an English book of an American writer or buy a magazine of an American publisher and start reading. Airports and major train stations are usually a good source for English language literature or online at www.betterworldbooks.com. They offer free shipping world wide. And if paper is not an option, you can always buy an ebook or magazine online. In the beginning I used to have my note pad next to me and I would stop and write down every word that didn’t look familiar or that I did not know the exact meaning of. Then I either looked them up in the dictionary right away or waited after I was done with a chapter. It’s important to actually write these words down and look at them over and over again to memorize the spelling.
Apps & Programs
I used to feed my vocabulary software a lot and tested myself in random order until I memorized most of the words and expressions. Today there are all these cool apps that make it a lot more fun to learn a language and you can take them anywhere, testing yourself whenever you have a second. Just check out the Apple Store for a variety of free and paid English learning apps.
English Internet Forums and Chats
Enough time spent listening to native speakers, now get out there (virtually) and try out your conversation skills on the internet. There a so many forums and chats out there, so it’ll be easy to find something that you’re interested in. Join into a conversation or start asking questions and see how people respond and how they’re saying it. It’ll be a good test to see if other people understand what you’re saying right away or if they always have follow up questions, because they just didn’t get what you’re trying to say.
Read this blog
You’ve already taken the first step to dust off your English by reading this blog. And even though I’m far from being a fluent English speaker, I picked up one or the other American expression during the years and try to write my articles as American as I possibly can. You’re also get to learn about certain vocabulary that you’ll need during the process of getting started in the US like how to get a SSN or work permit.
Listening to native speakers or reading their books will teach you a lot about how people actually talk, what expressions they use for common things like ordering take out in a restaurant or dealing with banks. It not only helps you learn the language, it prepares you for all the conversations that you’re about to have and teaches you to say the right things right away. It’ll give you confidence and will help you respond faster.
For more tips on how to practise your English, please like my Facebook page. I’ll post all kinds of tips and interesting facts on a daily basis.
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