Practice makes perfect

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 June, 2004, 12:00am

There is an English proverb that says 'practice makes perfect'. Any musician will tell you how true it is. Leading musicians often say that it has taken them about 10,000 hours of practice to reach the top of their profession. Work out how many hours a day that takes.

The same principle applies when learning a language. There are no shortcuts. You need to find opportunities to use the language. Here are some possibilities.

Watch television

Most young people are constantly told by their parents not to watch television. I am telling you that it is a good idea - but only if you watch the English channels. You can improve your English when you hear native speakers use the language in different contexts and situations.

You will find it easier to start by watching dramas and films. The action and plot will help you to understand what is going on. You can then progress to watching the news. You can first watch the Chinese version. You will then be able to follow the English news more easily. The news teaches you a more formal kind of English, while dramas and films introduce you to regional accents and different social backgrounds. You will find it fun too.

Listen to the radio

It is harder to listen to English on the radio because you cannot see the facial expressions of the speakers. You have to work out the meaning by listening carefully to the words. It is more of a challenge but you can rise to it.

Try watching the news on television and then listen to the radio on the same day. You will find it easier to understand because you already have a good idea of what it is all about.

Talk with friends

Try to get your friends to help one another practise English. Arrange special times when you can talk only in English. You could have competitions. The one who speaks in English for the longest period wins a prize. The one who slips into Cantonese has to treat everyone else to a Coke.

Read newspapers and magazines

The fact that you are reading this article shows that you already know the value of newspapers and magazines. These give you the chance to read quality English. Concentrate on the shorter articles so that you can follow them easily. They also cover a wide range of topics so that you are bound to find something that interests you.

You can share the cost of a newspaper or magazine among friends and you can pass it around once you have read it. Remember that libraries also have a big selection of newspapers and magazines that you can read for free.

Surf the net

All sorts of English reading material are available to you on the internet. Type in key words on your favourite topics and see what articles come up. The beauty of the Net is that you can skim through various pages until you find ones that interest you.

Read novels

Novels can be a big challenge. The trick is to find a book that is not too long and that has a good story. Make sure the language is about the right standard for you.

Speak up in class

Don't be afraid to speak up in class. Answer at least one question every lesson. Don't worry about making mistakes. Teachers expect that. That is how you learn.

Get a pen-friend

Find a pen-friend in another country. Writing regularly to another person is a great way of using the language. E-mail may be your best option.

Go public

Finally, tell everyone in your family what you are doing. Tell them when you need to watch English programmes. Tell them that you are going to read English novels for 10 minutes before going to sleep every night. Their encouragement is crucial in achieving your goals.