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How can I learn English (especially the spoken form)

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I have just come back from India having spent three weeks there. One thing that I constantly got asked about was how could one learn or improve English so that they can converse in English. This is a loaded question. The obvious answer is usually wrong. Growing up I had a very similar issue. Looking back I could have said that I have listened to BBC on shortwave all the time (for a number of years) and read English newspapers regularly and have a dictionary at hand. But my gut feeling is that may not work for everybody. Although it helped me down the line, I don't think it helped me to speak in English.

I don't think there are any short answers for this. I have looked around the web, thinking, perhaps people or institutions have created websites to help with this. I have seen the BBC site for learning English. Although commendable, it is too busy for a learner's pallette. It is also geared towards absolute beginers, starting at learning the alphabet. What I am looking for is a site for are learners that already have a fairly decent background in English but not able to break through. Few other sites I have looked at, seem too commercial and with too much noise, making it very difficult to judge their effectiveness.

What I will try to do here is to set a basic Agenda so that an eager learner can walk through this process and refine it for their needs. The process is purely based on common sense and my experience.

Are you engaged with the language for your day to day work

Learning any thing for learning sake is extreemely difficult and you will forget very quickly, including your mother tongue and not just a foreign language. That means, what ever you want to learn you have to make it part of your day to day activity. If you want to be a better reader of English then you have to make it a practice to read an "English daily" regularly and depend on it for your news. If you want to be good at spoken English, then you have to have a need for it. With out the need you won't get it. So, in short learning English means adjusting your life around English.

Own an English to English dictionary

Get a small portable English to English dictionary that is comprehensive enough for most of the daily words. Preferably get a paper-back so that it is light to carry between your desk, home, or bed. If you are lucky enough look for a "Franklin" electronic dictionary that can give you the pronunciation of the word verbally. It is available in US, but I am not sure of the cost and availability in India. But it is not a must to have. Remember "need" is the most important thing to learn.

Understand the phonetic symbols of the English language

In your dictionary you will have phonetic keys along with the words to tell you how to pronounce them. Have someone explain to you the sounds of those keys so that you can use them as a key.

Read an English Daily

Reading is essentialy for any form of English. Make it a point to allocate 30 minutes of your time in a day to read some thing in an English daily. Get a couple of new words. Look them up. Write them down. So on and so forth. Make sure you don't spend more than 30 minutes as that would be a waste of time as you cannot ram a language down the throat. As the saying goes, "Slow and steady wins the race".

Get a portable radio

Growing up, my Shortwave Radio Station to learn English was the BBC world news and the plays that BBC used to broadcast. If you have an option of an intrnet radio at home, listen to "Car talk" from the US NPR. I am almost certain it has the best format for the spoken paradigm.

I did not learn from watching Films

People advise all the time to watch American films or TV to learn English. I am sorry to say that this did not work for me very well. First is the availability. It may be different now with TV being readily available. But I am skeptical. I still think Radio is a better vehicle.

Write more

Next up, improve your written English. Write lot of email to friends and family. Write regular letters. Participate in online technical chats. Just write more. Get your communication corrected once in a while.


Check once a week how your set program is working for you. Make changes if you have to suit your personal taste. Make sure you are communicating constantly. That is the key for any language.

Change your daily routines to build English into them

Read an English news paper in place of your local news. Or read CNN online. Write an email in the day. Call up someone that you can talk to only in English. Or online chat.

Help from US

If you have relations or friends in US have them call you for 15 minutes every couple of days. This ought to be very effective when you have no other language to communicate between yourselves. You can do the same with chat. Record the chat convesations. Have them corrected in your daily allocated 15 or 30 min session. Go over them again once a month or so.

I would like to hear from you

If any of you found a better way to approach this I would like to hear from you. Please use the feedback button to give your experiences on the subject.

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