New year, new language skills


I’ve been living in Germany now for 18 months and my German language skills are OK. I can understand about 80 per cent of what’s being said, both on TV and in real life.  However, when I open my mouth to speak, the vocabulary and grammar rules in my head seem to disappear.  Don’t get me wrong – people definitely understand me.  But just being understood is not enough.

Sound familiar?

New-Year_s-ResolutionsBefore moving to Frankfurt, I took German at a language school in London twice a week for over a year.  During that time, I saw real progress.  I was told that once I got to Germany, I would probably be fluent in six to eight months. But the reality is that I haven’t improved much since we arrived.  I did a self-assessment in December and knew exactly what I needed: I needed to go back to language classes.   I found one nearby that was perfect – 90 minutes, twice a week.

But guess what?  I’m still not going to become fluent in three hours a week – even with the best teacher.  I will need to engage with the language every day to make it count. Since I live in Germany, that will be easy.  But what do you do if you are studying English and don’t live in an English-speaking country?  Here are some ideas:

Read an English language newspaper, magazine, or blog.  You don’t need to understand every word to get the idea of what the article is about, and you don’t need to read an entire article.  A couple paragraphs will do.

lingvotsentrWatch English language TV or movies.  Believe it or not, my listening comprehension went up very quickly when I started watching German television.  Don’t try to translate, just watch and listen.  Soon you will begin to understand what is being said.  That’s what happened to me.  The more I watched, the better my listening became.  Watching with English subtitles is OK.  But never watch the programme in English and read the subtitles in your own language.  It’s too much for the brain to process.

Listen to an English-language podcast.  There is a podcast for nearly every hobby, interest, or profession.  Find something that interests you and listen while you are driving, on the train, or at the gym.

Online practice and apps.    Duolingo, British Council, Busuu, Babbel are just some of the free practice sites available online.  Most are also available as apps.  Although most don’t give in-depth grammar explanations, they are a great way to practice and reinforce what you learn in class.  Also, check with your teacher or language school – many have online resources to use at home.

Flashcards.  If you don’t want to carry around a stack of paper cards, use an app like TinyCards, AnkiApp, or Brainscape.  This allows you to review new vocabulary whenever and wherever you have a few minutes.

vector-people-talking-illustrationFind colleagues who are also learning English.  They are probably looking for a way to practice outside of the classroom, too.  Set aside 10 minutes each day to converse over lunch, a coffee, or in the course of normal business.  Or, if you to want to make new friends, find a Meetup group near you.

Keep a notebook of new words.  When you hear a new word or phrase – write it down.  Take a look at the list once or twice a day.

And finally, if you are assigned homework, do it!  Old fashioned homework is a great way to reinforce what you just learned. And don’t wait until 10 minutes before class to do it.  Instead, do a few questions each day, remembering to review what you did the day before.

Of course, you are welcome to put as much time into these activities as you want – but you don’t need to spend hours each day.  Believe it or not, 10 minutes every day is all you need for you to see an improvement.

Laura MarshallsayThanks for dropping by this week.  Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments, or if you’d like to speak to me about you or your organisation’s training needs.  I am available for lessons both in Frankfurt and via Skype.

Marshallsay English – Connecting your world through language.



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