Steven Smith of OISE Oxford shares his views on how to make the most of your time in England, while studying the language.

• Choose to stay with a host family. It may be a little less comfortable than a hotel, but it will give you a chance to practise your spoken English.

• If you have a television in your room, watch the news every day. (Newsreaders speak particularly clearly.) Alternatively, watch with your host family, or on your computer. (International news is, of course, easier to understand than the details of British politics).

• Don’t panic if you do not understand much at first, and don’t try to understand every word. English-speakers stress the key words in a sentence and tend to swallow the others. (Ask your teacher about weak forms and elision.) Listen for words you recognise, and gradually you will understand more and more.

• If you have one-to-one lessons, show your teacher(s) the type of emails, reports, etc. that you have to write, and explain what type of presentations, phone calls, etc. you need to make, so that you can practise these specific skills.

• Keep a notebook to note down new vocabulary and expressions. Note the pronunciation of new words. (It is easy to learn the International Phonetic Alphabet – fortunately, as English spelling is so unpredictable.) For single words, it may be enough to write down a literal translation, but for anything more complex than “engine” or “invoice” it is a good idea to write a sentence or sentences illustrating its use(s).

• Learn collocations – words which go naturally together – and common functional expressions – for requesting, thanking, asking for clarification, agreeing, disagreeing, etc. (including those you may need in your professional life). These are far more important than what some people call “idiom” – i.e. rarely used expressions such as “It’s raining cats and dogs” or proverbs such as “look before your leap.”

• A very common type of idiom in English is the phrasal verb (get on with, look forward to, make up, etc.) As these can be confusing, the student should aim at a passive knowledge of these (after the meaning will be clear in context), plus an active use of the most common ones.

• Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The important thing is to communicate. Most students find that they gain confidence in speaking after a few days, and are able in this way to activate their passive knowledge of the language.

• If you are held back by points of uncertainty about grammar, for example, ask your teacher(s) to explain them. Frequently, things which have been a mystery for decades can become clear in twenty minutes. Of course, there is a difference between understanding the correct form and always using it, but practice makes perfect.

• Naturally, constant revision is important, both during the course (with the help of homework exercises) and when students return home. Re-read notes, and take every opportunity to speak, read and listen to English. “Use it or lose it”, as they say. Even twenty minutes a day is vastly better than nothing.

Russian translation of the above article

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