If you’re studying English in the U.S. or pursuing a university degree in an American city, you might be wondering why your English speaking or writing skills aren’t getting much better.
It’s probably a combination of factors, and there are some great general tips you can follow to improve your speaking and communication skills. Here’s a good list from the myenglishteacher blog.
However, without realizing it, students often pick up bad habits when they’re studying English overseas. These habits are understandable because they help ameliorate the feeling of being in an unfamiliar country, but in reality, they’re hurting your English study efforts.
Here are the 5 main mistakes students make while learning English in the US :
1) Speaking your native language too much. This is the big one. If you spend more than two hours a day speaking your native language instead of English, it’s like eating a steady diet of super burritos, cheeseburgers and Oreos while saying you want to lose weight. It’s just not going to happen. It doesn’t matter how much time you spend studying. If you don’t practice your English A LOT, it’s never going to get better.
2) Living in your country’s culture even when you’re here. This follows up on the first point. Yes, you get homesick. You miss the food and the TV shows, and you like hearing song lyrics that you can easily understand. You don’t feel comfortable with ‘foreigners’. But if your free time here is spent watching shows from your country, and hanging out with students from the same language and cultural background as you, you’re basically just taking a fancy vacation…that’s fun and everything, but it’s not going to help your English skills.
3) Avoiding situations that force you to speak English. This sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many students studying in the U.S. go out of their way to avoid practicing the language. It doesn’t have to be with native speakers. In most of the major cities, there are lots of other international students. It’s a great opportunity to improve your skills to the point where you can then talk with ‘real Americans’.
4) Not reading in English. Reading books and magazines (or online materials) in English will dramatically improve your knowledge of the structure of the language, which will come in handy when you’re speaking and writing. It will also improve your passive and active vocabulary. And if you read widely, you’re going to learn more about the politics or culture of the country you’re living in. (Assuming you want that!)
This site provides interactive reading materials with a nice variety of topics and levels: https://www.er-central.com/library/
5) Only watching TV dramas or sitcoms in English. I don’t want to harp on this too much because if you’re watching TV in English at all, that’s great, and students should do it more. As I said above, a lot of students only watch TV in their own language, which isn’t helpful. On the other hand, the kind of dialogue that goes on in most American shows is extremely hard to follow (even for me…!). There’s a lot of slang, and the subjects change too quickly. It’s exhausting. Instead, try watching TED TALKS or late night interview-style programs such as Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon. If that’s too difficult, try watching children’s programs until your listening skills improve.