Wednesday, 24 August 2016

9 tips to improve your English

Let's be honest, the way English is taught in France is kinda crap. The best way to learn a language is to speak it, however, the emphasis is mostly put on grammar and written work. Now, put your hand up if you're still traumatised by the list of irregular verbs you had to learn by heart. I know countless people who hated English at school because it wasn't taught in an interesting way, so they gave up before they had a chance to appreciate the language. Now they're in Ireland (or any other English speaking country), trying to learn again because they've realised that speaking English is almost compulsory when trying to find a job. Even in France. Here are a few (and maybe some unusual) tips to improve your English during your short or long-term stay in Ireland.

1. Ditch the dictionary when you're having a conversation

I know it might sound weird, but there's nothing more frustrating for both interlocutors than being interrupted mid-way through a conversation. If you don't know a word, try to work around it and explain yourself with the vocabulary you have. It might take longer, you might have to use sign language, but in the end, it will make your brain work more and help the words flow easier.

2. If you don't understand, say it (or fake it)

I used to nod and smile when I didn't understand someone (it got me into strange situations but that's another story). And when I started to work with Irish people and couldn't understand them on the phone (bear in mind I was working with truck drivers who had strong Irish accents), I pretended the line was bad so they could repeat their question. Once I got to know them and was more comfortable, I didn't hesitate to tell them when I didn't understand. If you're having a conversation with friends, ask them to repeat. If you're at work and you don't understand the instructions, ASK (you don't want to get fired on your first week, do you?!). Nobody will take it against you, after all, you're here to learn. And if you're tired, don't want to make an effort (it does happen sometimes), just say "Yes", smile and as the Irish say, you'll be grand (most of the time!). And if like me, it lands you into a tricky situation, take it as a lesson.

3. Take up a hobby

I used to do drama in France, so I joined a drama society here. I was the only foreigner so I didn't have a choice but speak English. If you had an activity back home, try to find the same in your new country to practice the language. You'll more than likely meet natives and it will greatly improve your conversational skills. And you'll make friends as well.

4. Have a drink

I'm not joking. When you drink alcohol (always in moderation of course), you become less self-conscious. You won't care about making mistakes and trust me, people you're with, they won't care either. It's a win-win situation (except for the next day hangover).

5. Read the news and watch TV

Watch series and movies in original version with English subtitles for a start. When you're more confident,  watch without subtitles. Try your luck at Irish programs and movies to hear the local accent as well. Read Irish news, it will give you an insight into the country and its people. You'll learn new words and expressions (you are allowed to use your dictionary of course!).

6. Listen

Listen to people at any occasion: when you're queuing at the supermarket till, in the bus, at work, in the street... When you're talking to someone, listen to the way they put their sentences together, what idiomatic language they use. It will help you later in a different context.

7. Make foreign and local friends

Try not to stick to much to your own kind. I know it's good sometimes to speak your own language. You don't have to think and it comes naturally, but keep it to a minimum. If you work with people from your own country (I did it for four years!), live with people from Ireland or other countries. In short, give yourself a chance to improve. Don't spoil it by speaking your native language all day every day and then complain you didn't improve. I might be harsh, but I heard that speech from former colleagues. Their year in Ireland was a waste, language wise.

8. Don't be afraid to make mistakes and accept criticism

I've been here 14 years and I still make mistakes. My accent is not perfect and sometimes I still don't understand everything I'm told. But I'd rather have someone tell me I said something wrong than let me make mistakes for years. And trust me, it happened. But this is the only way to improve.

9. Don't be discouraged

I know, easier said than done, but it will be rewarding in the long term. I used to come home after work and cry because my brain was fried with hearing English all day long. I was frustrated because my oral skills were very good, but I couldn't understand everything I was told. Then it passed, I started to understand my colleagues and the drivers' thick North Dublin accent. And when I struggled with my Donegal or Cork colleagues, my co-workers laughed, saying they couldn't understand them either. Then I started using slang, swear, and use typical Irish expressions. You WILL get better.

Do you have any other tips to help improve your English? Let me know in the comments!