Article by Lisa Springer
O, this learning, what a thing it is! - Shakespeare
When you travel to the USA—particularly New York City—to study English, you will encounter many surprising things. On arrival, you are likely to hear English being spoken with a wide variety of different accents. The Pakistani taxi driver, the Hispanic customs official, and the Haitian security officer will all be conversing in the English language you have studied, but they may not sound like your CDs back home. This is the joy of studying English in most U.S. communities. It is mixed with the subtle nuances and the cultural interpretations of every ethnic group, so you can speak English here without fear.
The USA may be one of the most tolerant places in the world for differences –including your accent and your occasional grammar error. Greenwich Village, NY, one of three locations of the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies (NYU-SCPS) American Language Institute, is historically one of the most open places in New York City, and perhaps the world. People feel free to express themselves culturally, socially, politically, and linguistically. So, you can feel comfortable in experimenting with English—and New Yorkers will be supportive, and may even compliment you.
How do you perfect your English-language skills in this wonderfully tolerant city of many accents and in this remarkably diverse country? The American Language Institute has been in the business of helping students to do this for more than 60 years. Our faculty members are highly trained professionals who understand how to help you to navigate the complexities of mastering a second language. I recently asked them for some tips. And these were their suggestions.
ADJUSTING YOUR ATTITUDE
“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” This quote from Winston Churchill is how I start my classes. Learning a language is often frustrating because you sometimes feel as if you are making the same mistake again and again. It can be hard to imagine the future—a time when you will not make that same mistake. But with a sense of humor and with a desire to try again and again, you will succeed. My tip is to find the strength to laugh at your errors and to persevere.
-Priscilla Karant, Master Teacher
LISTENING TO PUBLIC RADIO STATIONS
You’re almost ready to engage native speakers in conversation, but not just yet. What if they speak too fast, or use unfamiliar words? What if you lose the thread of the conversation? What if you’re a shy person who has a hard time talking to people even in your own language, and just thinking about speaking in English makes you nervous? No need to worry. You can still develop your ability to understand native speech without leaving your own room. Choose a public radio station that has interviews and conversations with people about current events. You can find stations and programs online at www.npr.org. Tune in and make these programs your best English-speaking friends. When you do engage with a native English speaker, you’ll have so much to talk about!
-Barbara O’Hara, Language Lecturer
READING AND LISTENING PRACTICE
Improve your English by letting your stronger skill support your weaker skill. Try using both your reading and your listening skills at the same time at https://librivox.org/or http://www.americanrhetoric.com/. These websites let you download audio recordings of thousands of public-domain books and speeches for free. Click the link that says “online text” and you will be able to download the text of the books and speeches. Now you can listen to audio recordings while reading along. If your listening is stronger than your reading, this will help you to associate what you hear with how it looks in writing. If your reading is stronger, you will see the written form of the words you hear. Your stronger skill will help improve your weaker skill, and you’ll get to read a great book or hear a moving speech.
- Linda Ciano, Language Lecturer
STARTING SOMETHING NEW
In some ways, learning a new language is like finding a new part of your personality. Why not try taking up a new hobby, or learning something new—in your new language? Find a guitar and learn a few chords from a teacher or from an English-language video on YouTube. Master a new cuisine with the help of some recipes from a cookbook or a local newspaper. There are lots of new activities to try, and by learning them in your new language, your English will gain depth and sophistication.
- Philip Herter, Language Lecturer
PURSUING YOUR INTERESTS
Improve your English by using your strengths and pursuing your interests. You might be a visual person—an artist. Visit a museum and use an English audio guide, read an art magazine in English, or watch a film about a great artist or an art movement in English. Leave the subtitles out and relax. It’s fine if you don’t understand every word. Enjoy doing what you love while using English!
- Robyn Vaccara, Language Lecturer and Associate Director for Academic and Faculty Affairs
TAKE AN ONLINE COURSE
Improve your English by taking a free online course in any subject that interests you. Whether the course is in business or biology, economics or English literature, as long as it is taught in English, you will improve your fluency and expand your vocabulary while studying a subject that you love.
- Linda Ciano, Language Lecturer
DOING A CROSSWORD PUZZLE
Solving crossword puzzles in English is an enjoyable way to increase your vocabulary, improve your spelling, check your understanding of English grammar, and build your critical thinking skills. Solving crossword puzzles requires specific strategies that help the mind remain sharp. You can find crossword puzzles in newspapers, in books, and on websites where you can download puzzles or create your own.
- John Dumicich, Language Lecturer
READING FOR PLEASURE
Read for pleasure. It’s okay not to understand every word, as long as you can follow the story. Try to guess the meaning of the words you don’t know by noting the context in which they are used. If you’ve read any English books in translation, try reading them again in the original English version. Read as much and as often as you can. You’ll find yourself enjoying English more and improving your language skills at the same time.
- Tara Tarpey, Language Lecturer
Watch movies in English. Try to find a review of the movie in a newspaper or magazine. While watching English-language films at home, put on the English captions (subtitles) to help you to understand the basic story. You can then watch the movie again without the captions. Many American movies have scripts available on line for free. Check out www.simplyscripts.com
- Debbie Un, Language Lecturer
RECORDING YOUR SPEECH
Listen to speakers online and try to imitate their rhythm and pronunciation. Record your speaking just a few minutes every day. Listen to how you sound.
- Deborah Smith, Language Lecturer and Intensive English Program Coordinator
GAINING A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF THE LANGUAGE
“Eat” (consume) as much English as possible every day: read English and listen to English —on TV, in the movies or on the street. Subscribe to “Word of the Day” on www.merriam-webster.com./You will be e-mailed a new word each day, along with its definition and a few examples of how it is used. Practice those words until they become yours.
Keep a journal in English. Write something every day, even if it’s just a paragraph. Volunteer at a charity, or join a club or gym where English is spoken. Pat yourself on the back for taking on this endeavor!
- Dr. Christine Trotter, Language Lecturer and Evening and Special Programs Coordinator
READING AND ANALYZING WRITTEN MATERIALS
Choose a novel, a memoir or a work of non-fiction in English that looks interesting to you. Read the first line. Browse the bookstore. If you can, join a book group. Many Americans meet regularly to discuss books they choose to read together. These are called book groups or book clubs.
Keep a reading journal. Use your journal to comment on the sentences that moved you, excited you, or reminded you of something or someone from your past. Ask questions, make observations, and analyze the plot. A good way to keep a reading journal is to copy down sentences on the left side of the page and make comments on the right. Allow time to free write and delve into your thoughts about the sentence.
Reading should not be hard work; it should be relaxing and fun. If you are finding it hard, choose an easier book. Don't give up. Reading increases fluency, builds vocabulary, and connects you to the English language in an engaging way. Enjoy!
- Maxine Steinhaus, Language Lecturer and Special Activities Coordinator
The faculty members at the American Language Institute are delighted to share these tips on learning English with you. Learn even more by enrolling in a program at ALI or other language institutes across the USA. We wish you luck and success in all of your English-language endeavors!
by Lisa Springer, Assistant Dean and Clinical Professor, American Language Institute, School of Continuing and Professional Studies, New York University