How to Improve My English?

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Sometimes, people ask me this question – ‘How do I improve my English?’. That makes me think how I improved my own English. Did I grow up in a school where students always spoke English? No. Was I good in English from the beginning? No.

English, to me, was one more subject to study. One significant event happened when I was studying in 8-9th Std – NCERT (CBSE) syllabus changed dramatically and it became impossible to memorize answers to score marks in English. Most of the questions asked in the exams required an understanding of the material and my own writing skills, to answer.

I thought I was clean bowled. On the contrary, I actually scored better than earlier. That’s because our English teacher gave us solid advice –

“If you want to score well in English, read story books. Memorizing from the text book will not work any longer”

A few of us took this advice to heart and started reading story books. The books were so interesting that I got engrossed in the stories, transported to a totally different world, enjoyed the mysterious and adventurous situations, loved the characters, and what not…

In short: Reading a good story book not only offers entertainment, but it improves our English vocabulary/sentence formation skills, automatically.

Some objections I receive – 

“When I don’t know the language, how can I read and understand an entire story book?”

Don’t tell me you don’t know the language at all. Being in India, you are exposed to English in many situations. Most of your lessons are taught in English. The sign boards are in English. Your Facebook updates are in English. This background is enough to start, even if you have studied in local-medium language schools.

“I don’t have time for reading story books”

You can always make time for anything, if you want to. On the contrary, once you start reading books, you’ll postpone every other leisure activity (including watching TV and going out) because you’ll simply not be able to put the book down. Some stories are so interesting that I continued to read even while eating food!

“I don’t have any books and I don’t want to waste money buying them”

You don’t have to buy them. Just sign up with a Lending library/Government library – every place has at least one – and borrow books. You can borrow books from friends. Children’s non-detailed text books have good stories. Think and you’ll get more ideas.

“I don’t know what book to read”

If you are young (below 15), start with any book written by Enid Blyton (Famous Five, Secret Seven, etc). If you are over 15, try reading any book written by Michael Creighton, Sidney Sheldon, Arthur Hailey, Jeffery Archer, etc.

These books are simple, easy to understand and have so many dialogues. They can improve your reading, writing and speaking skills subconsciously – you don’t need to make any conscious efforts to improve your language, it will happen automatically. I am sure you have read books in your local language – I am sure they were as interesting as movies, if not better.

One tip: If you don’t understand some words, just assume their meaning based on the context and move on. You’ll automatically figure the meaning of unknown words as they reappear. Don’t keep referring to the dictionary – that interrupts the experience.

Destination Infinity

Over to Readers: What tip would you give when someone asks, ‘How do I improve my English?’

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11 Replies to “How to Improve My English?”

  1. Reading story books is a good idea in general. But I have a question. Improve English means what? Understanding the language or able to write without any grammatical mistake or speak fluently?

    1. Writing without grammatical mistakes is very difficult – I can’t do it even now. I hope I’ll improve soon and I feel reading more can help me achieve it.

      In this article, I was talking about basic sentence formation, comprehending the material we read, writing (emails, etc.), being able to speak/reply in English and other simple (but essential) activities in our daily life that is dependent on English.

      Destination Infinity

  2. This reminded me of an uncle of mine who was bent on improving his English. He was not much of a reader of fiction so he subscribed to Readers Digest, which was very popular about 25 years ago. He read the magazine from cover to cover and he said it improved his English.

    1. I feel that reading any properly written & carefully edited material (even online) will improve our language. I have read a few issues of RD and it was good. I guess reading newspapers and magazines can also be added to the list, but some people find them boring. That’s why I suggest story books, instead.

      Destination Infinity

    1. Yes, starting at an early age helps a lot, but I have seen many people pick up good communications skills in English, later on, as well. Listening to others speaking and speaking to others regularly are critical points, and that is the next stage.

      To a smaller extent, watching English movies and English TV shows also increases our English knowledge. But the issue is, all these movies are dubbed into the local language, on the local TVs here!

      Destination Infinity

  3. Reading books is a very good idea and if it is inculcated in childhood, it is all the better. I was lucky that I was hooked by books from an early age. Even now, if I am unable to read for a few days (due to work pressure) I get grumpy.

    1. When we are young, unless we start reading the first book, we think that other activities (like video games) are more exciting! That’s where the role of parents is critical: They should somehow entice the kid to read the first book. Then, the books will take over…

      Destination Infinity

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