Web Links for Language Skills
The Internet is a great place to develop your English. To get an idea of the possibilities, just go to the Google home page and type "learn English" in the search prompt.
Here are a few links to get you started:
Learn English This site has pretty much everything you could ask for - conversation, quizzes, games, grammar...
British Council One of the oldest established organs for English-teaching worldwide.
Guide to Grammar and Writing A useful set of links for help with the written language.
These are just a few of the many, many sites available, and you can use them to make tremendous progress with your English.
Good as such language-learning websites are, the time comes when it is better to get away from English as a classroom exercise and experience the "real world" of English!
The first step is to switch your browser to English. Google is the browser of the English-speaking world, so the first thing to do is to go there and (if necessary) change the setting from your local setting by clicking on "Google.com in English" (just below the search field). If that doesn't work, use the following URL: http://www.google.com/ncr. Make sure to save this setting on your home computer, so you can get to Google in English easily.
The second step is to build up a list of "bookmarks" or "favourites". I recommend the following to begin with:
1. The BBC and CNN websites. These websites give you opportunities to read the news in English and watch videos of events around the world. You can also find online newspapers, etc. Just enter the newspaper title in the Google search prompt!
2. YouTube. There is a huge amount of listening material here. If you log in and become a member (which costs nothing!) you can build up a list of your personal favourites, which could be anything from President Obama's Grant Park speech to Millie Small singing "My Boy Lollipop"! It's also worth noting that you can find online transcripts for many of these things. All you need to do is go to Google Advanced Search and enter a few words from the speech or song in the "exact wording or phrase" field. You can also enter the person's name in the "all these words" field and put words like "transcript" or "lyrics" in the "one or more of these words" field. Of course, you need to spell everything correctly! If you do it properly, though, you should get results like these:
3. Wikipedia. This is the place most people go to first when they want general background information about a topic. It's not a suitable reference for academic papers (see my page on research skills for more details about this), but it's very useful for basic information about any topic, with entries on everything from...well, from President Obama to Millie Small!
4. Facebook. There are other online social networking sites, of course, such as MySpace, but personally I find Facebook is the one that works best. The main thing is to change the language setting from your language to English! You can still post messages in other languages, of course, but it's important to use an English-language interface and to post in English as much as possible. Even if you don't have any English-speaking friends, there will very likely be friends of friends who are English-speaking, and in the end you will probably find many opportunities to communicate with people in English.
5. Google Groups. One of the easiest ways to communicate with people in English is by posting to a special interest discussion group. There are thousands of these, and all you need to do is find one that covers an area that you are interested in. It's best to spend a few days just reading what other people say, before posting your own comments, and you have to be careful, in some groups, of "trolls" (people who just say stupid things for fun) and "flame wars" (people getting angry and insulting each other). These can be very upsetting - especially if a "cyberbully" picks on you, but if you think you can handle a group of this kind you will surely learn a lot and make virtual friends online.
However, you can easily avoid the risk of trolls and flame wars by joining a moderated group. Postings to these groups are checked by a group moderator and rude or inappropriate postings are not accepted.
There are many other websites that will help you to develop your English and be in touch with the world through English; just add them to your bookmarks/favourite list as you find them!
Most people don't like the sound of their own voice. I understand - sometimes I don't like the sight of my face in the mirror, especially first thing in the morning! But I look in the mirror anyway. It's the only way to check if there's sleep in my eyes, or toothpaste on my lips.
It's the same with voice recording. We may not like it much, but it is the surest way to find out what we are doing wrong when we speak. When you listen you may think, "Is that really what I sound like?" and the answer is YES! That is exactly what you sound like!
The good news is that you can change it. You can slow down, or speed up, make your voice deeper or higher, louder or more quiet. You can also change all those pronunciation mistakes you never really realised you were making. Actually hearing yourself is much better than being told by a teacher. A teacher can tell you a thousand times that you are pronouncing something wrong, and for a lot of people it still won't make much difference. But listening to yourself just once can make you realise immediately what you are doing wrong.
The first thing you need to do is download voice recording software. If you're using an Apple computer all the software and hardware will be built in. Most other computers will at least have audio output and a built-in microphone or are sold with a plug-in microphone. If you don't have these, the best thing is to go to a computer store and buy a headphone/microphone set. It doesn't cost much.
Voice recording techniques
Once you've got all the hardware and software you're ready to begin. There are several different techniques you can use. One technique is simply to read stuff. You can record yourself reading from a book, or reading something from the internet. You can combine reading with listening, and record (for example) a speech by President Obama, listening to him speaking on YouTube, pausing, and then reading the same passage from a transcript. Afterwards, you can compare your reading with his original speech.
It's probably quite useful, though, to move away from reading and just listen and repeat. You can play a phrase or expression from a speech on YouTube, pause the video and record yourself repeating the same phrase. Try to use the same intonation and voice pattern as the original.
Another useful technique is "shadowing". Listen to the speech without pausing and try to repeat phrases and expressions just after they have been said.
These techniques are good for pronunciation, but they don't give you a chance to express yourself; you're always just repeating what someone else has said. To develop your fluency, take a video on YouTube that has a lot of action and not much talking. I find Mister Bean is very suitable for this exercise, but you can use action movies, or anything that is mainly visual and active. Turn the volume down and watch the video silently. While you are watching, start to record yourself describing what is happening. You may not understand everything, but it doesn't matter; just say what you think is happening. Afterwards, you can listen to your recording and notice your mistakes (for example, you might say "Mister Bean go", instead of Mister Bean goes"). You can edit your mistakes until you are satisfied that the recording is as good as you can make it. And, of course, you can watch the video with the sound turned up and enjoy it properly!
These are just some of the things you can do to help you develop your language ability. There are many others. The important thing is to find stuff you enjoy and make the language-learning experience fun. It's better to sing "My Boy Lollipop" with pleasure than to struggle with a speech by President Obama! On the other hand, if you find President Obama's speech moving or interesting, then study that. Whether it's Shakespeare or Lady Gaga, the main thing is that it means something to you personally.
Good luck! Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments about any of this.
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