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Noobie's avatar

How can I improve my English?

Asked by Noobie (72 points ) March 7th, 2009

I came to the States as a student and have been here for several years. My English is not too bad, but I am not really happy with the way it is. (It can always improve, you know.) I am specially interested in improving my ability of speaking. How would I improve my speaking abilities? To be more specific, how can I learn more idioms, new words and their usage? I understand that probably I won’t ever be able to speak like a native speaker, especially when it comes to pronunciation, but I would like to somehow be able to improve my level of communication. Any advice would be appreciated.

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23 Answers

toomuchcoffee911's avatar

What is your first language?

hearkat's avatar

My mother came to the US in 1960, after learning English in England. As such, her English is better than most Americans, but she still speaks with an accent.

If you want to work on accent reduction, there are Speech Therapists who work on that. When I was a student clinician, I even worked with an African-American woman who was in the corporate world, and wanted her diction to be more like Standard American English than Ebonics. This would not be covered by health insurance, since it is not a medical problem.

I have always felt that reading was the best way to improve vocabulary and spelling. As for learning idioms, I suppose you’d learn those through TV, and movies, or hanging out at the mall on a Friday night.

A good Speech/Language Pathologist can help you with idioms, as well as articulation. ASHA.org should be the website for the American Speech/Language and Hearing Association, and there is a link to Find a Professional near you.

eponymoushipster's avatar

First off, thinking you won’t ever sound like a native will make you never sound like a native – you need to have a positive attitude about your language studies!

Practice practice practice!! as @toomuchcoffee911 said, i don’t know your first language, but there are MANY books on idioms for students of English. try to find one that works for you. if you live near a Barnes & Noble bookstore, there should be at least a few in the ESL section.

Another thing that has worked for me in the past (and some of my students) is finding a good source and mimic that source. Whether it’s a person on TV, or some good spoken word tapes/CDs – listen to them, repeat and repeat. Try to copy 100% what and how they speak.

Something else that I did to improve my vocabulary is this: I would sit somewhere, and think about how I would describe the room, situation or circumstances in the language I was studying. Oftentimes, aside from vocab, it would help with my grammar, too, since I had to be able to explain it fully. Words/structures that I didn’t know I would write down and look up as soon as possible, while my brain was still “looking” for them – and I would recall them faster later on.

I also personally belive the Pimsleur audio language learning programs are excellent for improving pronunciation and grammatical structure.

gailcalled's avatar

When I was working on improving my french, I happened to be in France and simply spoke it all the time. I waa 17, and I found that flirting was useful as a language tool. I kept a notebook and wrote down every new word and idiom I heard.

Read English newspapers, listen to songs sung in English (where the singer articulates rather than mumbles), ask questions. It is a slow process..step after step. The toughest part for me was computing. I always had to revert to English when doing even the simplest math, like a telephone number.

Repeating toomuch coffee’s question; What is your first language? And remember. a a little accent cam be charming.

My paternal grandfather arrived here from the Ukraine around 1900. He spoke
Russian, YIddish, Ukrainian, German and read Hebrew. He learned his elegant English from reading The New York Times.

(Since you asked, you would say “my ability to speak.” Don’t ask me why. I have no idea.

hearkat's avatar

Other helpful information you could offer would be your age, your profession (for industry-specific jargon), and what region of the US you are in.

Noobie's avatar

@toomuchcoffee911 Persian.

@hearkat Thanks for your advice. I am 30 and an engineering grad student. I live close to New York.

@eponymoushipster Thank you. I guess you’re right. One my problems is lack of self-confidence when it comes to learning English.

@gallicalled Thank you.

hearkat's avatar

@Noobie: To keep the cost down, you could see if there is a Speech/Language Pathology program at your university, or at another nearby school. The student clinicians are monitored by their professors, and being students themselves, they’re likely to be up on the popular culture and its lingo.

I live about 60 miles south of NY City, and there are so many accents in the area! Not only are there people from virtually every country and culture living there, but the different areas have their own accents… Some can tell if a person is from Brooklyn, Staten Island, Bronx, or Long Island based on their accent. So don’t be so self-conscious about it.

As @eponymoushipster indicated, believing in yourself is crucial. And @gailcalled pointed out that many find an accent attractive.

I like @eponymoushipster‘s idea to choose someone to mimic. Most news announcers are trained in Standard American English, so they have little to no regional accent. Record them speaking, and record yourself mimicing them. When you are doing that listen to the sounds of the words, and avoid thinking of the words themselves. When we speak, we don’t say one word at a time. Thewordsruntogether, so the pronunciation of a word will change, based on the words around it, and also the speakers emotion and meaning.

It is said that English is the most difficult language to learn, and I believe it. Good luck!

rowenaz's avatar

If you want to work on your idioms and phrasal verbs, there are also plenty of work books available. Afterward, you should endeavor to DROP them into everyday speech and see if it is appropriate. Idioms and phrasal verbs are hard, and there are so many of them.

LanceVance's avatar

Just out of curiosity, have you been in the States only for your post-graduate education or have you also got your bachelor’s degree there?

Most of the language one learns from literature is not used in daily conversations, but can be quite useful for essays, giving presentation and such. I read a lot of English publications, web sites, news papers, if only I can get hands on them. My English has improved, although not to the stage where I could go and take SAT and get the same score as a native speaker.

toomuchcoffee911's avatar

You could try watching television; also, do you think your English could improve where grammar is concerned, or your accent is too heavy people can’t understand you? Because it seems as though your writing is very good.

Noobie's avatar

I definitely think I can improve my grammar but I think it is not one of the main issues I am concerned about. We study a lot of grammar at high school, but we never really use them in practice.

Thanks for all the good suggestions everybody. Sorry @gailcalled for misspelling your name in my previous post.

P.S. No I don’t think my accent is “too heavy” but sometimes I am not understandable. Especially when it comes to using a “stress” for a word. I am usually putting the “stress” in a wrong place. :) I guess it’s because we hardly have any “stress” in Persian language.

Fell free to correct me if you see any mistakes. :)

aprilsimnel's avatar

You could put an ad on Craigslist asking for people to have coffee with you and have conversations in English. I see ads like that all the time for French and Mandarin and whatnot. I’m sure plenty of people would be glad to help and you can make a new friend or two.

If there are activities, hobbies, issues or other interests that engage you, try to find out where those are as well, and participate. You’ll have to talk. Just let them know that you’re also trying to improve your English.

augustlan's avatar

I have nothing to add to the fine advice you’ve already received, but wanted to wish you luck. Also, welcome to Fluther!

hearkat's avatar

@Noobie: I have found that the “stress” issue is common for people from the Middle East and Southeast Asia—those are called the prosodic features of speech, and the best way to learn is by mimicry and with a speech therapist or diction coach. I work in health care, and have dealt with Physicians from all over the world. When their accent is strong, I usually have to pause and “replay” what they said in my mind before I respond. Sadly, many people don’t have the patience to do this in casual situations.

Adding to what @aprilsimnel suggested, you could also try Meetup.com to search for groups of others from your area or other non-native English speakers. You can also find groups of people who share similar interests, which would provide you with opportunities to interact with people and practice your developing skills.

rowenaz's avatar

what an awesome site @hearkat! Lurve to you!

La_chica_gomela's avatar

There is also software that can help you with correct pronunciation. It is called ”Tell Me More”. It comes in many languages including English, and I’ve used it to help me with pronunciation of several other languages.

The way it works is you hear a phrase said in a native accent, and you repeat the phrase into the microphone. The computer compares the way the native speaker said it to the way you said it, and tells you how close you are. It even shows you graphs of the sound patterns. It helped me improve my Italian accent a lot, and made it much easier to communicate. I didn’t have to repeat myself as much all the time. You can set it to easy phrases or hard ones (some of them are like tongue twisters), or even just one word at the time. And it has a lot of other activities to practice your language, but I don’t think the other features are as cool as that one.

Noobie's avatar

Thank you all. Will look into all of your suggestions. You rock. :-)

marauder76's avatar

Read, read, and read some more.

Read challenging texts (novels, newspapers, essays) on topics that interest you.

Circle any words you do not know, and look them up in the dictionary. Write out a list of the words you learn and make a point of using some of them every day in conversation.

Any unfamiliar idioms can be looked up in idiom dictionaries, which are widely available both online and in print.

But above all, keep reading!

jackfright's avatar

stay away from your persian peers and friends.

i’m serious. If you have a large circle of persian friends (who have persian accents) who you interact with regularly, it will be incredibly difficult for you to rid yourself of your accent. make it a point to surround yourself with americans and you will adapt subconsciously and naturally.

training wont help you if you go hang out with other persians (with accents) immediately afterwards.

if, however, you barely interact with anyone else with persian accents but you still haven’t adapted, then by all means, seek professional training.

Zen_Again's avatar

@hearkat If you think English is difficult – try Persian! @Noobie Your (written) English is excellent – even if you had to spellcheck your question and answers. The grasp is very good.

For tips in confidence and pronunciation (they go hand in hand – like phrasal verbs and idioms to improve your speech) – PM me, if you’d like.

I teach both ESL and TOEFL.

ZEN OUT

:-)

strange1's avatar

come to england for a while! youll have a geat time and plenty of english to learn here lol:)

snowberry's avatar

I teach English as a second language. There are free programs and pay programs for English as a second language in most large cities, and even some small ones. Call your public library and see what they tell you. Where I live, the public library houses the books we give our students (I am in a free no charge program). If your librarian does not know about English as a second language, he should be able to tell you where to look. Other places to check for programs like this might be your local school district, colleges, community centers, and foreign language houses of worship.

I have an English as a second language student who has a similar problem to yours. Since she is so isolated, it is very difficult for her to find anyone to practice English with her. One of the things we have agreed to do is call each other on the phone so she can practice her English with me.

Private singing lessons might also help you learn to speak properly. As you learn to sing, you are also coached on how to properly pronounce each word in a song. In time, this should improve your speech.

If you send me a private message and tell me your city and state, I can help you find services like the one I work with in your area. Let me know if I can help you.
Blessings!

Yetanotheruser's avatar

When I moved to Texas, my so-called “Yankee” accent (actually Midwestern, from Illinois) made me stick out like a sore thumb. I had much more success picking up regional accents and pronunciations when I sang them than I did just speaking. I don’t know if I can attribute that to the different parts of the brain used in speaking and singing, or to the “persona” I would adopt to tell the story of the song.

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