By Michele Pagan, Class 2A instructor
One of the most surprising things that a student once asked me was, “What else can I do to improve my English?”
That was hugely surprising to me, because I was thinking that they are immersed in English, just by living here. They are living a total-immersion course – an opportunity that I myself never had. Yet, here was this person asking me what else they could do to increase the content of English in their daily lives.
I now have the answer for anyone wanting to make serious progress in their understanding of English:
Have you heard about the new LENDING LIBRARY at the WASHINGTON ENGLISH CENTER?
The library is set up in the room opposite the Volunteer Lounge, and students may borrow books on the Honor System: all they need to do is write down their name and the name of the book they have borrowed. They can read the book any time they want to, bringing the book to class to ask their instructors for help when they just can’t get past a particularly difficult passage.
How do I know this activity helps to improve an understanding of English? It’s because I learned that myself, when I was studying French. I had only studied French for 3 years in high school, but as an adult living in Washington DC many years later, I began taking classes at the USDA Graduate School, in the evenings. One day, while visiting some French friends at their home, I picked up a copy of The DaVinci Code which was lying on a table, and “Voila!”, I was able to read the first page! Then, I was able to read the 2nd page! It wasn’t totally error free, but I was able to understand about 90% of the content that I read, needing only to look up a few words in each paragraph.
After that experience at my friends’ house, I returned home and ordered myself a copy of this book from Amazon.com, in French, of course. From that, I began to listen to French radio at the same time that I sat down to read my French copy of the DaVinci Code. With one hand on a BiLingual Dictionary, the other hand holding my novel, and my ears hearing both French voices on the radio, and my own voice speaking French aloud, I made huge advances in my French language abilities.
I now tell my students that this is the absolutely BEST way to improve their English: sit down to read your English novel, turn on any talk-radio program on the radio, and read aloud to themselves. It’s like being in English class, at any time of the day or evening. This practice creates a multi-sensory way to learn English: your ears are hearing English conversation on the radio, your ears also hear you speaking English, your eyes are reading English, and your mouth is developing the muscles to speak English correctly. Best of all, your brain is tying all these sensory experiences together, to help you understand and speak better English. Your brain really needs to hear you speaking correct English, and it will!
Try it, you’ll like it, and you will amazed at how much your English improves. I tell my students that improvement won’t happen immediately, but they will definitely see a huge improvement over time.