People often ask me: What is the best way to learn English? It seems that they want an easy answer, but unfortunately, the answer is not so easy. In the first place, people have different learning styles, and the way a person who learns best by listening as opposed to someone who is visually oriented is different. However, in my long career, I have found that there are some things that all learners can do to improve their English skills.
The most important goal is to learn vocabulary. If you don’t have an adequate vocabulary base, you will have difficulty reading and listening to what people are trying to say. Also, you won’t be able to express yourself adequately, if you don’t have sufficient knowledge of English words. The lack of vocabulary can lead to major frustration in trying to communicate with others or trying to read articles in newspapers or magazines or in trying to read books. Thus, the most important thing you can do is study vocabulary.
There are a lot of ways to study vocabulary, and many of them are dull. However, one good way to do so is to watch TED.com presentations. The reason why I recommend TED.com is because the lectures, for the most part, are extremely interesting and well done. There is also a transcript provided for you to refer to, and this is where the vocabulary learning comes in. Read the transcript, and underline and look up the words you don’t know.
There are two ways to look up the words: use an English to English dictionary like Dictionary.com or use a thesaurus such as Thesarus.com. Don’t use an English to Japanese dictionary, because learning the word in Japanese doesn’t teach you all the possible definitions of a word. Personally, I recommend a thesaurus, because it gives you synonyms of the word you are looking up, and by reading the synonyms, you will get a general idea of the meaning of the target word. Thus, you will be able to develop a kind of vocabulary web in which all the words you learn have other words connected to them like in a spider web. If you still don’t understand the original word, then use and English to English dictionary. Also, make sure you write the words down and look them over once every day or two to keep them fresh in your mind until you acquire them.
Now back to TED. After you have read the script and done the vocabulary work, watch the video. Try to understand it without referring to the script. Do not use the subtitles. Once you have finished watching the video, read back through the script. Watch the video again, but this time turn on the subtitles in English and read along as you listen. This will help you to hear the word boundaries as well as give you reading practice. Now watch the video again without the script and without the subtitles. You should be able to understand almost all of what the speaker is saying. Watch the video again the next day with no script. If you cannot understand, then re-read the script and watch it again. Watch the video once per day for about a week, referring to your script as necessary.
Using TED videos is a great way to improve your listening, reading, and most importantly your vocabulary acquisition. One last point of advice. TED allows you to choose the length of the videos you watch. In the beginning, try to watch very short videos of 3-4 minutes or less. If you watch longer videos, it will become too much work and you will quickly lose your motivation. Don’t spend too much time studying one facet of English in a day. It leads to boredom and lack of motivation. Break your study up into ten minute chunks and take a break every ten minutes to clear your mind and improve your concentration.
TED.com can be a great way to study English, and it has the added bonus of having many different topics, and you will be able to find topics that interest you and which are presented by experts in the field who have passion for the topic just like you do.