What is the Best Way of Improving the Second Language?

As translators or language educators, we are almost proficient in our second (or more) languages. I am sure you are often asked: “How can I improve my English?” “What should I do to be able to speak more fluently?” What’s more, even your parents or relatives ask “Can you teach me English?” J I am sure you are familiar with at least one or two of these questions. I want this article to be guide to those who want to improve their second language. With this aim, I want your contributions and comments because there are always other ways to learn a language.

Let it be English or another language, learning techniques are more or less the same. We can count the ways roughly as follow:

1. Reading newspapers in your second language

Preferable original ones, not the translations. For example, in Turkey, we have “Turkish Daily News” but it is not an original newspaper. Well, it is in English but probably some Turkish translator translates the Turkish news into English daily. As translators, of course we aim to sound as natural as possible but sometimes the logic of our mother tongue fails us and we may translate thinking in our native language. Instead of such newspapers, you should prefer the original English sources like New York Times or The Guardian. In a newspaper, you find many articles about any topic. In this way, you learn many words and concepts.

2. Listening songs in your second language

This is still helping me a lot. Firstly, you get familiar with the real spoken languages. The lyrics of many songs help you understand how easily people can play with the language and how flexible a language is. You should definitely add some English (or other) songs to playlist.

3. Watching movies with English (or other) subtitles

After some time, you will realize that you understand your second language more easily. You read what you hear and you learn the exact pronunciations.

4. Making foreign friends

When I was in primary school, I used to have a pen pal J. She was in UK and one or two times a month, I wrote two pages of letter in English. We are still friend but on Facebook J Anyway… What I’m trying to say is such kind of friendship forces you to write pages of English texts. If you talk online, it forces you to find quick answers. If you go Skype, it forces more but it also helps more. Once you see that you can communicate with native English (or other) speakers, you will be more confident. Just do not be shy J

I suppose that’s all I can say. I want to hear your ways to learn a second language!

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19 responses to this post.

  1. Aim,
    Those are all quite valid ways and I just want to add another one: Fall in love!
    Check file “I fell in love when I was ten years old – and Shakespeare in the bush.pdf” downloadable from DropBox: http://db.tt/kwxUIW05


  2. Posted by Irina on December 18, 2011 at 21:48

    I think it was Mona Baker (but I maybe mistaken) whose advice is ‘never marry into your own nationality’.


  3. I would also add:
    – short trips to the foreign country – whenever it’s possible and affordable;
    – watching not only movies (or yourfavourite series) but also TV programs and listening to the radio (which can’t be stopped and re-reproduced) is quite challenging. Internet could help you a lot with online streaming channels or websites
    -books, books and short-stories…I know it’s quite obvious..but sometimes newspapers can be boring 😉
    -online portals with language exercises and games
    – cooking …based on a foreign language recipes book


  4. Posted by Bora Baysal on December 19, 2011 at 10:30

    Yes I fully agree , books , newspapers and journals are the best way for improving your language skills. Besides my native language I learned 3 foreign languages applying this methodology. So you can trust me :))


  5. I would say… gradable reading, reading books and than listening the same books in audio format… and at the end, writing the same materials from audio formats.
    The last one is a sort of transcription done with the purpose of learning until you reach a certain level of foreign language… after that you may quit and continue only reading. It is boring but it works.

    As for the songs… it doesn’t work most of the time, for to many reasons.


  6. graded reading I mean


  7. Posted by Basima on December 19, 2011 at 22:20

    Watch and listen to news reports from correspondents who speak the second language. Journalists are usually very proficient in their mother tongue and journalistic language usually uses lots of idiomatic language which expands your use of those culturally bound expressions that can only be learnt when you grow into adulthood using the first a language.


    • Posted by Amal on December 28, 2011 at 12:38

      This is a very valid way; I lived in the UK for 23 years and this is one of the ways to learn what they call ( Oxford English)


  8. Posted by Ioanna Daskalopoulou on December 19, 2011 at 22:24

    All the aforementioned ways are great to enhance your skills in the second language.
    Reading, listening music and watching the news and movies (without subtitles) are fine, but also if you have the chance to live in the country where your language is spoken you would have the chance to learn about culture too.


  9. Posted by Basima Rabie on December 19, 2011 at 22:35

    Watch and listen to news reports from news correspondents around the world in the language you need to improve. Journalistic language tends to utilise a great deal of idiomatic language which is not easy to learn in context (which helps you to determine meaning in your first languag on your own) otherwise.


  10. Posted by Zeynep Yedierler on December 20, 2011 at 09:55

    Be curious! Particulary if you live in a country where English is a foreign language and you do not hear it much. Be curious and when you hear/read something in L1 (in the street, on TV, in class, on twitter or facebook) ask yourself: ‘how do we say this in English?’ and loook it up immeadiately! Do not postpone it, do it right away. Keep them in a small notebook of ‘useful expressions’
    Last but not least, being fluent also means ‘apropriateness’ and believe me this helps a lot.


  11. Posted by Belgin on December 20, 2011 at 20:11

    First of all, be alert! Always carry a notebook to write what you learn and, try to translate what you say, hear or read. Try to say what you think in target language. Don’t postpone it. Do it immediately!


  12. Posted by Svein Hartwig Djaerff on December 22, 2011 at 07:41

    All good advices, but nothing can replace being in the foreign country, working/studying and living there, communicating ONLY in the foreign language for a period of time (even one month will boost your skills immensely). But still, to really be proficient, you probably need to have lived in that country the first 5 years of your life;)


    • Posted by Amal on December 28, 2011 at 12:47

      I fully agree, one does not only improve the language, one also live and feel the language; one can edit the work by reading it loud if it sound right or wrong!!


  13. We learn a second language the same way we learn a first language. Immersion and practice. And yet, “today let’s practice our English so we can practice our English” is often too boring to be effective. Find something you and your students want to communicate about, and do it in English. I don’t care if it’s my class teaching me the NBA rules because I’m an NFL junkie, or discussing a movie, or live election coverage provided by a dorm mate texting on a cell phone. Or, um, something in a textbook? Okay, that too. The learners must be interested, and it helps if the teacher is too. Then immerse everybody in that, in English, and see what happens.


  14. As is pretty clear from most of the comments above, falling in love really has a lot to recommend it…. if you can find the right person. (When younger, I deliberatly tended to go for one of the instructors. At my age now, it’s a non-option, so i can preach instead)

    You get motivation. Intensive and meaningful exposure. Feedback (as mentioned, you have to find the right person for this). A broader circle of friends who speak the language and can include you in their daily activities and conversations.
    But most of all, you start to belong to the language community.

    Now, this isn’t an option for everyone, and I certainly don’t advocate splitting up happy relationships in order to learn more English/French/whatever. But there are some points that we as teachers can note: the importance of motivation and personal involvement, of context, and of varied exposure to the language and culture. Good luck!


  15. Posted by anita smulovitz on July 6, 2012 at 07:43

    study or at least take some courses in your second language. The level of my Hebrew is a result of going to college/university in Israel. In addition, if there are courses or lectures in a subject– that is great too. I don’t let my being a native English speaker stop me from continuously learning.


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