Learning the English Language : Road to Proficiency

I want to start off by saying that English is not my first language, and not being able to express myself in English fluently has always been my insecurity.

Next year, I’m planning to take the IELTS (International English Language Testing System). The test assesses a non-native speaker’s proficiency in English, and I am hoping to get a minimum overall band score of 6.0. To be honest, I’m kind of nervous!

Despite using English as a medium of instruction at school and at work, I never seem to get it. It takes me ages to construct a sentence and I feel anxious talking and writing in English. Having those issues and plans, I am determined to reach proficiency as soon as possible.

There are tons of materials online on how to learn English effectively and efficiently. Desperate to improve, I gave a ton of them a shot. Some have been helpful while others are not so much.

After all the trials and errors, I have identified practices that added much value on my English proficiency. I listed all four (4) below:

1. Conversing with other people

Before, every time I am asked to speak in English, I rehearse what I am about to say in my head first. Then, everything I practiced will simply be flushed on the toilet when it’s my time to speak. I feel so anxious that I will embarrass myself, that I end up doing just like that.

However, when I overcome my insecurities and started speaking more with people, I saw drastic improvement on my conversational skills.

The more I speak with people, the easier for me to coin words together as I get familiar with how they (other people) construct their sentences. An added plus is that this practice also helped me polish my accent.

2. Practicing tongue twisters

Tongue twisters are a great way to improve vocal clarity. I learned this from an app called Elevate. Isn’t it delightful learning something valuable in an unexpected place? Well in this case, a brain training app.

By practicing tongue twisters daily, you stretch and strengthen the muscles you use for speaking. It also aids with pronunciation!

Here are 3 of my favorite tongue twisters:

  • The keen king gave the queen a prink and a green ring
  • Gwen grew green grapes and glorious guava in her grand garden
  • The sun was shining on Sharon Street where I saw Shane and Sarah sitting near the shoe shop.

3. Finding my way into the language

One of the advice I heard is to read newspapers and watch documentaries to learn great vocabularies. However, great as they are, I am not enthused to doing those activities. Regardless, I still read the newspapers that are full of tragic events and gossips, and watched numerous documentaries. They probably helped improved my skill, but these feel like chores.

But when I started reading a book I like, and watched series I enjoy, English language doesn’t seem to be intimidating. I have proved that it is easier to learn when you enjoy what you are doing. 

4. Deliberately using English badly

I have noticed that the more I worry about doing poorly, the harder it is for me to express in English. Deliberately using English badly helped me neutralise the shame I feel whenever I make mistakes. This method is also surprisingly effective in helping me correct those mistakes.

It is unfortunate that I’m not able to show my IELTS scores, since I am yet to take the exam. However, one thing is for sure: doing these practices gave me confidence when using English language.


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