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Practising English outside School

Josef Essberger

When you are learning English, it is very important to use and practise your English as often as possible. If you are studying in a school, you have some good opportunities to practise. But what can you do after school, or if you are studying alone, to continue practising?

In fact there are many things that you can do outside school to improve your English. Let us consider the 4 skills that you need to develop to use a language well:

  1. LISTENING
  2. SPEAKING
  3. READING
  4. WRITING

Here are some of the ways you can improve these skills outside school:

LISTENING

Listening to English is one of the most important things you can do to improve your English. Do not try too hard to understand everything. Just listen and you will soon understand. You have several possibilities:

Cassettes and CDs

Listening to songs (on cassette or compact disc) can be useful in helping you to "feel" the language. It does not matter if you do not understand everything.

Television

On television, you have a big choice of programmes: films, chat shows, documentaries, news. In many parts of the world you can watch English-language television, for example:

  • BBC
  • CNN

Many television stations have Internet sites which give details of frequencies.

Radio

This is another excellent way to practise your English. Here are 2 stations that you can listen to world-wide:

  • BBC World Service
  • Voice of America

Films

You can watch films in English on video at home. In some countries, you can watch films in English at the cinema. Watching with video is a very good method because you can replay parts that you do not understand. If you watch a video with English sub-titles, you can cover the sub-titles with paper. Then, if there are some words that you really do not understand, you can remove the paper and look at the sub-title. But be careful! The sub-titles are not always an exact translation.

SPEAKING

Speaking English is one thing that you cannot do alone!

You can listen to English alone.
You can read English alone.
You can write English alone.

But, you run a serious risk if you speak to yourself in English! That is why you should speak as much as possible at school where there are people to speak to.

How can you speak English outside school?

That depends on where you are. But you should make a big effort to find somebody for conversation practice. In a large city, it should not be difficult to find people who speak good English. You can put an advertisement in a local newspaper. There may even be some English or American pubs or clubs where people speak English. You may find an English person, for example, who wants to practise your language. Then you can do a conversation exchange. Outside the big cities, you need to be more imaginative. Perhaps you can use the telephone. Or even the Internet, if you are equipped with an Internet phone.

READING

Reading is an excellent way to learn new vocabulary. But you need to read the right level of English. If it is too difficult, you may become discouraged. If it is too easy, you will make no progress. Try to read something that is slightly above your level. Try to understand the meaning of a new word from the context. If you really cannot understand, use a dictionary and record the word.

What can you read? Well, there is no shortage of reading material: books, poetry, newspapers, magazines, Internet.

There are so many books - fact or fiction - that it should not be difficult to find something suitable. Perhaps you already have some books in English. Or take a look in a library or bookshop. In many cities you can use the library of the British Council.

Some publishers produce 'simple' books for beginners. They are short, simplified stories. Usually they have notes and explanations.

We also have some short stories and classic texts in English Club English Reading with notes to help you.

Newspapers

You can learn a lot of new vocabulary from a newspaper. You can find British or American newspapers in all the big cities of the world. Some countries publish special English-language papers: the 'Bangkok Post' in Thailand or the 'Straits Times' in Singapore, for example.

Here are some British and American newspapers. They are available at news-stands in big cities and at airports and main railway stations.

British:

  • The Times
  • The Telegraph
  • The Financial Times (especially for business)
  • The European (weekly - especially about Europe)
  • 'The Sunday Times' (weekly)

American:

  • International Herald Tribune
  • Washington Post

Magazines

Try reading a magazine regularly. You can subscribe to a magazine and have it delivered anywhere in the world.

  • Time (general interest)
  • Newsweek (news)
  • The Economist (business)
  • Cosmopolitan (fashion, leisure)

WRITING

Practise your English by writing letters to a pen friend. Today, with the Internet, this is very easy. You can exchange letters by email. To find a pen friend from anywhere in the world, check out English Club ESL Forums.

© 1998 Josef Essberger

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