We’ve all heard that immersion is one of the best ways to be fluent in a language. That’s one of the reasons so many of us chose to study in the U.S. But, what do you do when you get stuck?
That feeling is not necessarily because you’re at the best level of English since there’s always something else you can learn. I think it’s more because you’ve gotten used to your level and you’re fluent enough that everyone can understand you without issues, even if it’s not perfect. It’s because everyone can understand you that even when you hear your own mistakes, you unintentionally stop correcting yourself. You let it go because there’s less pressure.
Also, once you’re living in a place, you kind of expect experience to be your teacher. But, what are some ways that you can actively “practice” without having to sit down in a grammar class? More than that, what are some ways that are fun and will keep you up to date with American pop culture?
If most of your free time is dedicated to movies, YouTube videos, fiction books, or music, I’m sure sometimes you start thinking, “Wow, I really should do something more productive.” Don’t worry, that’s me about ninety percent of the time, too. But, it can one hundred percent be productive as well, and I’m not just saying this to make myself feel better. From expanding your vocabulary to perfecting slang, you can hit all the points with these hobbies if you really think about it.
1. Watching TV Shows with Subtitles
You know that K-Pop group everyone is talking about nowadays: BTS (방탄소년던)? Well, the leader of that group is called RM and when he was on Ellen he confessed that he became fluent in English by watching Friends. Yes, you read that right. He watched the whole series first, with Korean subtitles. The second time, with English subtitles. The third time, no subtitles were needed. Now, I’m sure he had other ways of practicing but I also have a theory that watching a lot of TV shows and listening well to conversations will help you copy accents as well as expand your vocabulary.
I did a similar thing watching a BBC show called Merlin when I was in high school. I was at a point where I was practicing watching series with absolutely no subtitles, and I would sometimes repeat phrases or words I hadn’t heard before. Of course, this also led to me saying a few words in a British accent in America, risking sounding like I was trying too hard, but actually, it was just that I learned that specific word in that accent. Similarly, How I Met Your Mother, because of its short, fun episodes, became a fun way of “practicing.”
I mean, before How I Met Your Mother, I never knew I could use the word “intervention” so often.
2. Book to Movie Adaptations
We’re at a (great!) time right now in the world of book-to-movie adaptations. Even just thinking about the ones that came out this year such as Love, Simon and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, you know this one is a fun one.
Do you ever finish watching a movie and just love it so much that you would do anything to find out more details about these characters, this world, or just what happened in their lives in between scenes?
I know, the answer is yes, all the time.
Well, in case you didn’t realize, those two movies everyone has been talking about are based on books. Love, Simon is based off a book called Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is based off a book of the same name by Jenny Han.
Even if you’re not much of a reader, both of these are fun, easy-reads. As someone who doesn’t even read romance novels, these were pretty freaking cute books. I read both of them in one sitting. And if you don’t trust me on this, my friend Angel hates books so much that she gets dizzy in bookstores, but even she said she plans to read Simon now.
The best part about these two is that they are both in first person point of view, meaning you get to experience everything from the main character’s perspective. Overall, this will help you get better at finding ways to express your own thoughts and emotions more eloquently as well as just have a fun time in someone else’s head.
It works similarly the other way around—you can look for books that you know will be getting a movie adaptation soon and read them before the movie comes out. That way, when you watch the movie, even if your English isn’t perfect it will be easier to follow along.
3. YouTube Videos
I’m not saying you need to look up educational videos on YouTube to practice; I think we’ve established in the previous two points that that’s not necessary. But, if you love stories but simply can’t commit to hours of content, or following along season after season, why don’t you try out web-series?
These are a little less known, but they’re getting increasingly more popular. Similarly to how books are adapted into movies, some people decide to adapt them into short series with five-minute episodes. Two examples of extremely successful ones are The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved, both based on Jane Austen’s novels Pride and Prejudice and Emma respectively. The twist is that they are both modernized, so the main characters narrate their lives through a series of video-diaries in the 21st century. The YouTube channel that uploaded both of these series is called Pemberley Digital, and I’m sure once you start them they will go by so fast it will be hard to stop.
This might even be a good way to start getting into classics, which is an interesting way to challenge yourself if you think contemporary novels are too easy to understand.
This is the easiest one because whatever you are doing, whether it’s cooking, doing your laundry, or going for a walk, you can put on your earphones and start listening to music. Create your own playlist, share playlists with friends, read and learn lyrics, sing-along... I think music is already a part of all of our lives, even in the background. If you just pay a little more attention to it or purposefully look for songs that are slow enough that you can pay attention to the lyrics, you can practice this way too.
It’s hard to take “Oh, learning can be fun!” seriously, but that’s the whole point. It doesn’t have to be serious. Even now, some of the classes I remember the most from school were ones where we had to complete the lyrics of a song after listening to it once or playing jeopardy with vocabulary words. The best way to practice and learn is by getting a little creative, so don’t worry. You can be productive and have fun. When the slower songs get too easy, just switch to rap. If you think of it this way, you’ll never get stuck again.