Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Studying English in New York: my language learning tips

This week is my last studying English at International House New York; though it is necessary to move on to something else – job searching maybe? – , I am very sad about it.

During my full time English learning journey – which will continue part time forever – I found so many useful resources to help me improve that I thought it would be appropriate to dedicate a post to this topic.

Some people might say that a complete immersion in an English environment should be enough to learn the language but I don’t agree. Of course, getting to talk and hear it on a daily basis is the key of success; but here are other tips that I think can make an immersion a lot more effective.

 Reading, reading, reading
This may sound boring but reading is a really good way – if not the best - to improve vocabulary and syntax. I began by reading teenager’s novels and gradually progressed – thanks to my wonderful teachers at International House who pushed me – to more difficult and challenging readings.

Living in New York, I personally find that New York Times’ and New York Observer’s articles represent a great option to stay informed about what is happening in the City while progressing to more complex reads. Free newspapers, for instance Metro New York and AM New York, are also interesting sources: they offer short and easy articles that fits perfectly with my morning subway ride.

Let me give you an important piece of advice: don’t get discouraged if it takes you two hours to read some articles that are rich in information: apparently, even native English speakers sometimes struggle with New York Times content!

The “new words” notebook
A thing with English – and probably with most languages – is that you can become functional very quickly, but you can also easily take the habit of always using the same words.

A few months ago, I started keeping a notebook with all the new words I learned; I find that it helps me remember and use them in my writing and everyday conversations. Also, this practice is encouraging as it makes me realize that I am learning a lot!

Listen, but listen to the right things 

This is not a secret: watching television in a foreign language is helpful but listening to the radio is even more beneficial.

But listen to what? Among my favorites are the daily Brian Lehrer show at WNYC and the weekly program This American life broadcasted on New York Public Radio. The first, which is always subdivided into short interviews with authors, politicians, teachers or other specialists, is an interesting way to learn about city, state or global issues while learning how to build questions and answers – which is of course very useful for someone who works in public relations like me. The second is even better entertainment: during one hour, the host brings you to discover an “American” topic through various stories from people all across the country. These stories are a useful way to getting used to past tenses and learning to use them properly.

The journal, the blog, or anything that allows you to write
This is where this wonderful blog comes from. When you write, you have to learn the right way to use the different tenses and words. A small mistake can easily be unnoticed when you are talking, but it will surely be spotted on a piece of paper or a blog post and you’ll have to correct it and improve yourself.

I also find that writing helps me with reading and speaking because I constantly pronounce the words in my head while composing. On top of that, it teaches me to think in English; which is priceless…

What are your tips to learning a new language ?

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