Beyond intensive ESL classes
Most non-native speakers dream of rapidly improving their English vocabulary and grammar but don’t have the time or money for intensive ESL classes. Is there a solution? Is there an effective way to study English on your own?
Yes, there is!
Grammar and vocabulary are learned through exposure–the more we hear a word or structure, the more natural it begins to feel. Our brain is built to recognize and memorize patterns. We can master almost anything with practice–whether a professional skill, an art form, a hobby, or a language. Languages are patterns of words, put together in a specific way, to convey a particular meaning. We need to learn the words along with the way the words are grouped together, including what form the words take when they are placed in particular parts of a phrase or sentence. Two huge challenges, however, are that there are so many words and grammar rules and a nearly infinite combination of how the words can be put together.
There are two ways to go about learning these words and patterns. First you can take a formal class and be guided by a combination of native-speaking Trainers, books, and other resources. inlingua Washington DC has an excellent range of English classes for beginners, intermediate, high-intermediate, and low-advanced learners, with morning and evening ESL class schedules for both part-time and full-time students. The huge advantage of a formal group class is that your Trainer can correct your errors and can help you understand grammar, culture, idioms, and how to write and speak fluently. Plus, this could be a great way to obtain a student visa and come for an immersive experience in the nation’s capital. We would love to have you join one of our English classes and learn English in Washington DC!
In the meantime, there is another way to accelerate your English learning, whether you are enrolled in a class yet or not: read out loud. Try it. Just look back at the previous paragraph and read each word clearly in your own voice. This is a form of virtual immersion–you don’t have to be in an English-speaking country to create a multi-sensory English experience.
Why does reading out loud help you learn English faster?
There are a few reasons why reading audibly in your own voice is such a great learning tool:
1) When reading out loud, you see the words, speak the words, and hear the words. This combination of senses and skills is powerful and intensifies the experience of using the language. You would be surprised how much you miss when reading silently.
2) This method forces you to make practical decisions about how to pronounce each word. By saying the word out loud, you perform the word with your own voice and can hear whether it sounds natural–like a native speaker–or not. If it’s hard to say, then you know you need to practice it more. Plus, it forces you to focus on the actual form of the word, not just the general idea (for example, inform, information, informing, informed, informational, informative, and so forth, all come from the same root but have slightly different forms and meanings).
3) This approach shifts your attention from just the main idea of each sentence or paragraph to the actual grammatical structure. You can begin to notice introductory or relative clauses, adjectives and adverbs, active and passive verbs, smaller particles and endings, and so on. When reading silently, our mind tends to ignore all of that rich detail and structure while just skipping from one keyword to the next.
4) Finally, reading out loud gives you the chance to use your tone of voice and strategic pauses to group words together, emphasize certain phrases, and convey nuances of meaning that are missed when skimming keywords silently.
Techniques for reading English out loud for ESL
Here are a few simple strategies or techniques you can use to make your efforts most effective:
1) Read for at least 5 minutes a day. You will be surprised that even 5 minutes of steady reading out loud will feel like forever but will be very challenging and a little tiring. However, the key is to do this consistently every day. You probably haven’t read out loud at all in the past 30 days. So, start today and continue every day. Consistancy is the key!
2) Think about the structure of what you’re reading. Don’t let your mind shift to thinking about the general idea. Instead, focus on the details. Notice the verb form–is it active or passive, present or past, single or plural. Divide the sentence up into the main part and any secondary clauses and pay attention to the words used to connect these parts. Think consciously about what role each part plays in creating the specific meaning.
3) Imagine a range of synonyms for each word, including how a slightly different word would change the meaning of the sentence. For example, think about each adjective and each adverb and then contemplate how that small word shifts or clarifies the meaning of the phrase.
4) Perform the text like an actor. Add emotion and drama to your voice to clarify and emphasize the author’s meaning. Doing this will often show you that you aren’t yet feeling the real meaning but are just speaking the individual words, one by one. Adding some drama and emotion requires a deeper understanding.
5) Try to look away from the text from time to time as you speak. If you are going to begin to speak like a native speaker, you will need to be able to anticipate the words and the grammar that flow naturally from what has already been said. Looking up from the printed words forces your brain to guess what’s coming next and strengthens your instincts for the langauge.
So, try it out for yourself. Maybe start by scrolling back to the beginning of this article and reading it out loud, practicing the 5 principles presented. (This article might take you about 10 minutes to read out loud.) Then, read it again, attempting to look up from the screen and towards an imaginary audience.
As this form of practice becomes more natural, your brain will begin recognizing and repeating patterns: guessing verb forms more accurately, choosing correct prepositions, including or excluding articles appropriately, forming more complex and advanced sentences. In short, you will learn English by immersing yourself in the language. We would love to have you study English at our ESL school… But, most of all, we want you to learn as quickly as possible!