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5 Rules for Learning English

July 22nd, 2013

When learning a second language, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and rules that you are expected to learn. Often times, you don’t know which language aspect is more important to focus on and which isn’t. The problem is, nobody instructs you on what is more important because educators are supposed to give a well-rounded sense of learning to their students and advocate for the idea that ‘every aspect of language learning is just as important as every other aspect’. This, however, is not completely true. From the perspective of a native-English speaker with a Master’s degree in teaching English and years of experience with non-native English speakers, I will share my insight concerning important aspects of English language learning and on what you should focus your attention based on common mistakes made by English learners.


1. He/she/it Verbs


In the present tense, the he/she/it form of a verb is the only form that ends with an –s. Because this is true, non-native English speakers tend to carelessly drop the –s so as to not take the time to conjugate the verb properly. Truth be told, “she walk” and “she walks” share the same level of comprehension but not the same level of intellect. I choose to mention this grammar point specifically because it is often overlooked by English learners from all parts of the globe. However, it is not a difficult grammar point in English and should be focused on to ensure correct grammar. When the third-person, singular, present tense is used, English learners must remember the –s. This is the only irregular part of present tense verbs and it is easy to remember. Language learning is difficult, but you can only achieve intellectual communication when you speak the simple tenses correctly.


2. Non-gender pronoun – “they”


In most cultures, the history of language originates from patriarchal societies in which women held a lesser status than men and were not considered as important of a societal figure. Also, religious practices factored greatly into the evolution of language, especially in holy texts where men played a dominant role. Due to this history of language, including English, gender pronouns, even when not speaking of a man, often skew to favor the masculine form. For example, in Spanish, if you want to talk about a group of women, you use the feminine form of “them”. However, if one singular male steps into the group, the form of the pronoun changes to the masculine. This practice is not very different from many other languages, especially in languages which have a strong religious influence. In English, however, a non-gender pronoun has evolved to include the possibility of a person being a man or woman. For example, if I say “I went to the movie with my friend last night,” you would not know if my friend is a female or male. Two options arise: 1) you can ask the person speaking if the friend is a male or female, or 2) you can use the non-gender pronoun they to talk about the friend. I know, “they” usually means many people. However, in English, the word “they” can mean many people OR one person with a non-specific gender. Here is an example.

“If a student makes a mistake, they must correct it immediately.”

Notice, we are only talking about one person, “a student”. We know that a student can be a female or male person. Technically, it would be incorrect to say “if a student makes a mistake, he must correct it immediately” because we know that there not only male students in the world. Remember, when trying this non-gender form, it can be used as a subject, “they”, object “them”, and possessive pronoun “their”.


3. The name of America


Surprisingly, a vast majority of English language learners do not say the name of this country correctly. We have a few names, which is different from most other countries. However, English language learners often forget one important word in the name of the country: the. The correct name for this country, other than America, is THE United States. It is incorrect to say “United States” and it also sounds strange to native-English speakers. An incorrect example would be: “In United States, do you eat a lot of fast food?” Though the mistake seems minor, it is not the correct name of the country and could thereby be offensive to some Americans. The correct way to say that sentence would be: “In the United States, do you eat a lot of fast food?”


4. Watch movies in English


Some English learners throughout the last 50 years have learned English entirely from watching television and movies in English. The reason this is even possible is because movies and TV are entertaining and will hold the focus of the viewer, even if that person doesn’t understand every word that is said. Some language learning through videos is involuntary and is retained simply by being exposed to the language on a regular basis. Other retention is based on note-taking or rewinding and watching the same section again and again until the person fully understands what is being said. Either way, watching TV and movies in English can be very helpful. To simultaneously improve your English reading skills, turn on the English subtitles and your comprehension will improve, as well.


5. Change your technology’s default language to English


When learning a second language like English, the method of full-immersion is widely believed to be the most effective. In full-immersion, the language learner talks to native English speakers, goes to restaurants to order in English, takes classes in English, and even reads books in English. However, something that English-learners omit when in full-immersion mode is their various forms of technology. For example, Facebook can be set in any language. It’s a good idea to change your Facebook language to English to give yourself the chance to be exposed to words you may not have known before like “profile” or “privacy”. Cell phones have multilingual settings. Try changing your cell phone’s language to English to force yourself to navigate through something you look at multiple times a day. Computers can be set in any language. Change the default language of your computer to English, even if you do type in your native language occasionally. Having the settings in English will help force you to learn essential words to have success in your technological endeavors.


Hopefully, if you apply these five rules to your English learning, your rate of learning will be accelerated and your immersion in English-speaking culture will be more enjoyable!