Dive into English! Why “immersion” works for English learning…

My post today is about how to improve your English in as short as time as possible. I am often asked by students “How can I learn English fast”? This is of course, an interesting question, and one which poses more questions in turn. For instance, why does it have to be “learned” quickly, and how do we define “learned”? If by “learned” we mean to know everything about a language then that is not realistic in any case, many “natives” don’t know nearly as much about English as they should. Essentially, the learning process never ends, how many of us can say we have “learned” English, that is to say we know everything we need to know and the learning process is finished and complete. I certainly don’t know everything about English, I know quite a lot, but everything ? I don’t think so.

But what does this mean in relation to the IELTS? Well, a common problem for many of you, (for instance but not exclusively by any means, in China), is that you don’t have a lot of “input” or “exposure” to English, and therefore find it difficult to develop the skills you need to get the band score you want. In other words, you don’t have access to native speakers to listen and talk to, nor do you have a good effective study plan to help you improve your reading and writing skills also.

A good way, although impractical for many of you, to improve your English “fast” is to “immerse” yourself into English. This is based upon Stephen Krashen’s language acquistion learning hypothesis where he argues that a certain amount of “comprehensible input” is necessary for learners to make progress and the best way to acquire this input is to “immerse” yourself into a society where English is spoken and use the target language (English) as much as possible. For those who can afford it, the answer is to go spend some time in an English speaking country and become “immersed” in English. For those who cannot there is another option, using the internet and all it’s many resources to create your own personalised immersive environment for learning English.

What you need to do is to basically use English as much possible and try to work English into your daily life, to make it part of your routine. As I know, many of you are short on time, but the fact remains that if you want to make progress you have to put in the hours, just like you would with any skill, playing the piano, learning to drive, etc. English is no different.

 How can you do this? A simple first step I tell people is to change the language on their devices (phone, tablet, browser, etc) into English. If you think of the number of times the average person spends looking at their phone then you can appreciate the significant “input” in English this represents.

A second step is to use the time it takes most of you to get to work, by  bus, metro, tram, car, etc, to get in some listening practice in English. To help to “tune” your ears into the sounds of English. What some people do is to download some podcasts to their phone/player and listen to those while they travel. You can download some podcasts, audiobooks, and any kind of audio material for this purpose. My favourite for this is the BBC World Service site, they have many great podcasts for you on many subjects and the good thing is you can download the transcript as well if you have trouble with the audio. If you want more, google “English Podcasts” and you will see many free websites that you will be spoiled for choice ( I will post a separate post about these at a later date). You can also download some great audiobooks as well if you like listening to stories, just google away and you will see.

Next up, it cannot be argued that the number one way to improve your vocabulary is by reading, especially “authentic” materials (written by natives for natives as opposed to coursebook English) you will pick up many new words, idioms, metaphors, slang, etc. I direct my students towards the UK papers such as The Guardian, although any online newspapers or journals will do. Again, you can read these at anytime, on your phone or tablet when you have some time. Of course, you need to make a note of new vocabulary but in general terms any reading is good practice. Reading novels and other books is also a good option.

Writing is important too, for example try joining an English chatroom  website and type in chat speak. Or you can be old-fashioned and find a pen-pal on these sites and write an email instead. There are many sites, for example,  Conversation Exchange,  amongst many others. These sites are very good for finding people, you create a profile and can then search for a partner/s by language or country. You offer to teach them your language and they teach you theirs in exchange.

If you prefer to speak instead of chat, once you have found a partner then you can arrange a Skype call or Google Hangout and get some speaking practice.

If you want to practice your English in person in an informal social setting then that is definitely possible by making use of your number one resource, the internet. A good site for meeting people is Couchsurfing, which is an international project designed to help people move around the world and meet new people. You can read all about it here. One thing that Couchsurfers do is to organise social events in their cities, these are great because you always get a lot of internationals whose common language is English. The events are usually held in some pub or bar so you go, have a drink, and talk, in English!  Meetup.com is another very good site for meeting people, it works the same way as Couchsurfing, you create a profile then search for whatever interests you in your city. If you can’t find anything then you can create your own event and meet people that way.

There are many groups on Facebook of course, using keywords such as English Events you should find lots of events to attend!

 To conclude, if you want to create your own immersive English learning environment. it is perfectly possible to find and access free materials as well as people to help you reach your goals with the help of the internet ! I will write more about this in future posts…..

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