The English classroom provides the perfect controlled environment to learn English, and your teacher guides you in your learning experience. If you have a question, you can immediately ask your teacher or classmates, and you will get an answer. You are covering a topic in class and will learn vocabulary, grammar, speaking and a whole range of things in connection with this topic and at the same time practice your skills (writing, listening, speaking and reading). But, what happens when class is finished? Does this mean you can sit back and relax and only meet with friends who speak your language, or go to places where they speak your language?
NO! If you want to maximise your English learning experience you need to capitalise on every single opportunity to use the language outside the classroom, where you are forced to practice what you know and what you are learning in the class. But, how exactly can you do this?
There are many ways, and here are just some;
- Watch movies, television (news, series, documentaries, adverts – everything), in English. Watch as much as you can and try covering different genres and types of media because this will show you how the language is used in different ways. Think about a Hollywood film versus British news. The English is going to be very different and this will expose you to variants of the same language which will help you tune into the language. Yes, it will feel strange and and annoying in the beginning, but you will get used to it! And to be honest, don’t you think it’s better to listen to all those Hollywood stars original voices, no?
- Read, read, read English! This provides you with an opportunity to practice the language, very often, at your own pace. You can also adjust the intensity with which you tackle reading in English by either skimming and aiming for understanding the gist (what it’s about), but not necessarily the details. Think about a newspaper and the cover story – you can skim over the story to understand what has happened, who it has happened to, where it has happened, etc. You do not absolutely need to understand things like people’s job titles, or smaller details. But, if you read a restaurant takeaway menu at home and are deciding what to order, you can take a bit of time to translate the words and understand all the meanings (the last thing you want is to order a pizza with pineapple when you hate pineapple on pizzas!). Also, use sub-titles in films to help you understand and fill in some of the gaps when you miss something through listening.
- Go out and speak the language. Go to places like restaurants where you will have to order in English, visit museums and take the guided tours, go to free talks at book stores and libraries (be the one who asks the questions), take the chance to speak to shop assistants in stores and ask things like ‘how much does this cost?’, ‘do you have this in size 7?’, or ‘Can I get the blue one instead of the red one?’. Take every opportunity to talk: ‘Do you accept Visa or Mastercard?’, ‘What is the difference between a Green tour and a Red tour?’, ‘What time does the film start?’…Go on tours of the city, read brochures and ask those tour guides questions!
- How about trying to encourage your friends to speak English with you, even if they all speak your language, and it may seem strange at first but it does get easier and it will become more normal.
- Don’t be intimidated by other students of English who speak the language better than you. Remember, they were once at the same level as you and their improvement also came through trial and error, practice and more practice. Ask them to help you, ask them questions, and speak to them as much as you can! Join them at every opportunity to socialise. The perfect opportunity for this is to join in the school’s social programme activities. Take advantage of these situations that provide maximum exposure and opportunity to practice, but without the classroom and teacher setting.
- Change your social media, computer settings, phone settings, email settings – everything – into English. This is obviously for someone who is slightly more advanced but this will give you enormous exposure to the language of technology and words/actions people use all the time.
- Listen to the radio in English! If you drive, or when you are sitting at home then just make sure you listen to English radio. There are some great talk radio stations which address topical issues and you can really start to tune into the language of politics, the environment, human rights, law, and so on and so forth. Plus, it gives you the opportunity to listen to interviews, which is a great way to learn how to ask questions, and the distinct language used in more serious interviews, versus light-hearted ones.
- If you are at a more Advanced level, go to the theatre, live comedy shows, or lectures/seminars by visiting professionals/lecturers, etc. Cape Town offers an enormous range of open talks and free workshops. Café’s, restaurants, churches, mosques and other charity organisations regularly host free events such as these.
- Keep a small journal or diary of your time in Cape Town and your experience. Not only would this be a really lovely keep-sake to reflect on many years down the line, but you will be able to practice your writing in English. Set yourself goals for the week, try to achieve them and then write about them. Write what you did that week, and if you had any frustrations. Talk about your classmates, teacher, the tour guide you met on the city tour, or the stupid politician you watched give an interview on television.
- While you do all this, remember that sometimes you focus on accuracy and sometimes it’s just about fluency. Sometimes it’s not about how perfect your grammar is (when ordering your pizza over the phone, for example) but it’s more important to get your message across/be understood (no pineapple on my pizza, please), or just understand the general information. If you go on a tour of Robben Island, for example, you may not need to know the exact name for the rocks that the prisoners were forced to cut through and chip away day after day, but only the fact that this is what they had to do and that these rocks were so damaging to the prisoners’ health.
We are sure that if you put all your effort into making the most of your English learning experience outside of the classroom, you will quickly progress in your learning and your entire experience will be better off. The ways you can extend your learning experience are endless, and limited only by you! Don’t be shy, don’t be intimidated, don’t be wary – be bold, brave and determined and this will pay off for you! Good luck!