ENGLISCH/729: Questions to Mrs. Gobbledygook (111) - Improving (SB)


111. How to improve one's English

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

...I am doing a teacher's training course at the moment. If I pass my exam I will look for a job as a German teacher in your country.

I always studied English at school, because it's one of the compulsory subjects in Germany, but I think my language skills are not sufficient enough and it's quite a while since I studied a language at school. So I think I ought to learn more of the language before I come to your country. I bought myself a "Teach yourself" book on advanced English but I was wondering if you had any other suggestions which could help me. I'd also be really grateful for some general tips on learning a language. ...

Dagmar Schmidt (Duesseldorf, Germany)


Dear Ms Schmidt,

I was pleased about your letter because the question "how to improve one's English" is fairly commonly asked. You mentioned that you've already started learning English and I hope you're making good progress. You'll find that there are a lot of similar words in English and German so you can often guess the meanings, which helps. But watch out, there are a lot of false friends too.

So, learning new vocabulary is important. If you do something as a hobby like bird watching, or if you are interested in a special subject e.g. horse riding, motor cars, sailing, fashion or music, buy yourself a monthly magazine on that topic in English and read some of it every day. Also, you can read English newspapers and articles on the internet. Look up five new words a day, record them in short phrases or sentences and test yourself later on. Guess unknown words as you read them and look them up later.

You will need some pronunciation practice as well. The best thing is listening to native speakers of English on the radio or TV. If you make records of English programmes you can listen to a few sentences, then stop, and repeat what has been said so far by yourself. It is more fun if you do this with a couple of friends who are also interested in the language. There are some English speaking clubs in Germany, where people meet once a month, or you could organize some kind of "English evening" yourself. You could watch English films, listen to English broadcasts, cook English food and, of course, try to speak English all the time.

If you practise like that, you will improve a lot. Besides, it is great fun. Do you know anybody near your place who is interested in learning English?

If you have some time left after you passed your exams, a simple holiday in England would also be very helpful. You could travel round, see places and speak with native speakers of English. This way you would get a feeling for the language before you actually start working.

I'm sure you will be a great teacher. Let me know if I can help, and write again how you are getting on.

Mrs Gobbledygook

10 April 2007