The question people always ask me is, 'How do I improve my English?' Unfortunately, it's so general that any in-the-moment answer is never going to be particularly insightful. So, I thought deeply about it, gazed toward the horizon, smoked a pipe, and even put on my 1970s vintage roll-neck sweater. I feel confident, now, to answer the question. Read on, friends! Oh, and make sure to check out the corresponding video--there's a bonus tip!
1. Confidence is Key
A lot of people have a good foundation of English, but no confidence to speak. Practice is the key to improving confidence. How can you do something well unless you do it? The more you practice, the more comfortable you will be when you need to speak. It’s like how a diver learns to be comfortable doing flips in the air. Over time, with more and more practice, it becomes like breathing.
2. An English Lifestyle
Learning English needs to become a lifestyle. You’ve got to learn more than just words and grammar. Language involves culture and ways of thinking which are different from your own. This is one reason people say that immersion is important. Dive into it. Swim around. Get interested in something. Build it into your routine.
3. Laziness is Bad, Struggle is Good
Laziness is your own fault. It takes hard work to master anything, so you’ve got to have gumption. Don’t sit around waiting for someone to tell you what to do. Sit up. Stop waiting. Start learning. Even 20 minutes a day adds up. Zero minutes doesn't add up to anything. If everything is easy, nothing will stick. Watch movies without subtitles, for example. Force yourself outside your comfort zone, which is where learning happens. When you learn a new word, struggle to get the meaning. If you really want to get serious, use an all-English dictionary.
Throw your Chinese-English dictionary into the Pacific Ocean (don't worry, paper is biodegradable). Get an all-English dictionary, or use an all-English dictionary website, like vocabulary.com.
4. Context, Context, Context!
If you learn words and phrases without context, you’ll probably have no idea how to then use them. Most words and phrases require example usage. They cannot be used in all situations equally. That’s why reading can be a great way to learn new words and phrases. TV shows and movies are too, as well as having conversations, or listening to your teacher talk about something. At the very least, when you learn a new word or phrase, make sure you look at a few sentences which include it. Otherwise, do you really know it?
5. Think in English
Very simply—fluency cannot happen when you have to translate one language into another. When you think about an idea or thing, you are directly linking the word that comes out of your mouth to the meaning of that word. However, when you are thinking in your native language and speaking in another, the meaning passes through your language, then turns into English. Bad! You need to start thinking in English when you speak. It's as simple as that.