So you have reached a university-level of English and undoubtedly you’ve spent the better part of 2 decades studying grammar and spelling to get here. Well, I have some good news and bad news for you. The good is that there really isn’t that much more grammar you need to learn in order to grasp 98% of what is being said or written in English. The bad is that there is an enormous amount of vocabulary which you have barely scraped the surface of. Contrary to the belief of some, English, or any language in my opinion, cannot be mastered in 1000 words. So how can you improve?
Follow these simple guidelines to maintain a positive learning curve:
Although there is certainly a lot of amazing literature in English, the vast majority of what is sold to the English language learners’ market is watered-down “beach” novels. While these are great for the beach or disconnecting a bit, I am not convinced they are the best to push the envelope and force you to improve. They often regurgitate vocabulary and remove the more colourful parts of a novel (which often includes the new vocabulary you are looking for).
However, non-fiction is factual and can also be written with flair and colour. I am not suggesting the newspaper rather biographies, historical accounts, psychology, philosophy, sociology, sports, engineering, politics, the story of inventions or industries (automotive, aerial, space, naval, fabrics, plastics, architecture, or pyrotechnics). There really is a virtually unlimited array of topics to be explored. Starting at the beginning you get introduced the jargon of the topic and little by little you can increase the difficulty by digging deeper and deeper into the topic.
I think that my reasoning for non-fiction reading over fiction applies as well to movies and TV series. The latter are great for tuning out and consuming easy to digest material but they don’t really go beyond that. In order to get new vocabulary and jargon, I find that documentaries are an excellent resource. They don’t tend to use slang which very often goes over the learner’s head but they do use jargon and academic vocabulary to dive into some very interesting and complex issues.
Get a hobby you only do in English.
Everyone needs a hobby. I am a firm believer in this and not only for people who want to learn another language. Challenging yourself and learning about the world and life is essential to a healthy and strong mind. Learning English can be an extremely useful vehicle to a lot of information on almost any topic in the world.
Let’s make one thing very clear about hobbies. Pastimes are not necessarily hobbies. Going to the cinema isn’t a hobby. Listening to music isn’t a hobby. Going to the beach isn’t a hobby. However, “the cinema” is indeed a hobby if you love the history, art, movements, and development of the motion picture industry. “Music” is a hobby if you dive into and learn about artists, history, movements, implications, and immerse yourself in the culture of music. A hobby of music is NOT sitting on your bed and simply listening to songs. If you travel the world exploring beaches and loving beaches for their diversity and differences, then you have a hobby. If you go to the beach in your hometown to get a tan on Saturdays, this is not a hobby.
Hobbies are an active activity in which the participant goes out of their way to explore and learn more. Pastimes are passive and help us to switch our brains off and relax. Reading a trashy novel, laying on the beach, enjoying a Vin Diesel movie are all great pastimes. Improving your photography skills, learning to make wine, or immersing yourself in train culture and building model trains are all great hobbies.
Now, I know not everyone will agree with me but I think that if you follow these three small guidelines, you will certainly see your vocabulary and general knowledge increase. Putting your English to use is why, after all, you learned the language in the first place. So after you finish the latest Dan Brown novel, get your teeth into something a bit more meaty and challenge yourself with non-fiction