How do I practice my English so my level stays the same after my course has ended?
Once a student has completed either an IELTS and/or TOEFL exam (the most well-known international academic English exams), the certificates are only valid for 2 years. The reason for this is because someone’s proficiency in the language can change over time. Some students will get better, but others may get a bit rusty if they have not been practicing English. As teacher Alex reminds us: “You don’t use it, you lose it.” The idea here is that if you don’t practice and use your English regularly, it will slowly sink deeper into the back chambers of your mind, making it difficult to easily activate it again when you need to.
This also applies to students who may have attended one of our English courses and ended at a particular CEFR level such as Intermediate, Upper Intermediate or Advanced. Just as with riding a bicycle, if you have not done it for a while you will be very wobbly in the beginning and it will take a few practice runs to get back to the same level of ability you were before you stopped.
So, what are some of the things you can do to try and maintain your level of English for as long as possible, or even improve, if you are not living in an English speaking country, attending an English institution of learning or working predominantly in English?
1. READ, READ and READ some more in English!
Read whatever you can, whenever you can. There are many reasons why reading is so important in being able to assist in learning/ maintaining language skills, and one of these is because a language is not only about words and grammar. Learning a dictionary off by heart is not going to maintain your level of the language as a whole, neither will making your way through a grammar book. It may greatly improve your vocabulary and you may be able to understand more words when reading something. But languages are so much more than words strung together. There are expressions, metaphors, collocations and ‘sayings’. You don’t need to understand every single word you are reading, but it’s a good idea to read things that are graded at your level. A good and easy way to stay in the loop is to simply read world news every day in English. There are so many sites to choose from online.
2. Watch movies, television, series, documentaries, etc. in English.
This is a good exercise because you will be listening to natural speech and will be able to listen to the pronunciation, intonation and speed of the language. You will also pick up expressions and become familiar with how they are used in a natural context. In addition, you will hear the slang of the language (which can differ from country to country, or even region to region), but don’t forget that this is a very important component of an English speakers’ language. If you think it would help, watch with subtitles, but this can be difficult if you are trying to actually watch and enjoy the movie – lots of multitasking with watching, listening and reading!
3. SPEAK, SPEAK, SPEAK at every opportunity you can get!
If you are presented with any opportunity to use the language – then don’t be shy – use it! These chances you get may be few and far between, and you may find your language is rusty when you start to use it at the beginning, but the more you use it, the easier it will become.
4. PRACTICE ONLINE!
There are so many different websites where you can access free grammar, reading, listening, writing, speaking and pronunciation activities. You can even follow YouTube channels and watch free lessons and continue your learning in an informal way. Obviously, nothing like this will be able to replace the real classroom or the immersion in an English speaking environment, but it will definitely assist in keeping the language fresh and top of mind, ready for use when you need it.
We wish you all good luck in your quest to retain your level and maintain what you have learned. Remember that nothing worth having is ever really easy, and you will have to work hard for it. But, you can always come back to the UCT English Language Centre for a few weeks to get that level right back up to where it used to be – and even better if you continue to make progress alone at home by using some, or all of the tips above.