I have talked about how to learn English independently. I think it’s time to publish the second part of the topic.I believe if a high school graduate who has not taken any English course beyond the class room had follow the steps in the first part properly, he/she should be able to actively use English in a social context and very limited professional context. (it worked for me, I think I got myself a 540 TOEFL after learning English that way, not much, but I got that number without paying any English course or TOEFL course or whatever course, saves me a lot of money)
Since this post is for those who have completed the 1st part, I will conduct this post in English.
Successful completion of the second part allowed my TOEFL to reach 640. And yes, there’s a third part, after the third part, TOEFL is not the issue, third part is about polishing your English to be as good as and even better than most natives (excluding the honorable Maureen Dowd from the New York Times and the likes of her).
Let’s begin part II
We want to be fluent in the 4 components of language, but where in the first part we have been focusing on the passive skills (reading and listening), here we want to significantly broaden our vocabulary (through extensive reading) and sharpen our active skills (speaking and writing). More self discipline is required in this 2nd part.
On the first part, we have use children’s book or comics, local newspaper that are printed in English, and simple novels (Harry Potter, chick lits) as a tool to develop confidence and comfort with the language.
We will expand our reading skill through these venues:
1. Expand your novel selection. Start with old English novels. Start from Agatha Christie, her novel use a rather quaint English, but this specific challenge requires you to look the dictionary (use online dictionary if you don’t have a paper one) and it introduces with past meaning of words, allowing a bit of humor into the study process, “Oh, that’s where hogwash comes from”.
Language evolve, reading a novel that comes from a century ago allows you to take a glimpse of what the language looks like in the past, this develop an understanding that even the English and American are still developing their English. While you’re reading Agatha Christie, also read Arthur Conan Doyle’s books (Sherlock Holmes). Reading so many British books will introduce you to the flair and style of British English, unlike the crude and functional English the barbarians across the Atlantic use. I also enjoy “Count the Monte Cristo”, very recommendable.
By the way, I don’t read classics often (try “classic novels” at Google), I find them a bit boring, so, if you find the Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes boring, try to read other classics, it might be interesting for you. But what important here is to introduce yourself to novels from long past, helps to build vocabulary and to build confidence in the language, that even the natives are still developing their language.
Click this link for a selection of good novels (http://www.colchsfc.ac.uk/library/Readinglistenglish.htm).
Also this link for Random House’s selection of good novels (http://www.randomhouse.com/modernlibrary/100bestnovels.html)
2. Expand your selection even more: Read novels on subject you’re not familiar with.
Read novels on law and lawyer (John Grisham is popular), novels on different culture or Era (“Shogun” and other works by James Clavell are very good reads), ridiculously entertaining science fiction (Douglas Adam’s), Science Fiction (Michael Crichton’s are highly recommendable), Thrillers (James Patterson’s works), Medical Thriller (“Hot Zone” and other works of Richard Preston), novels on military conflicts (early Tom Clancy), novels on hawkish republican wetdreams (late Tom Clancy), snake oil seller posing as financial expert (Robert Kiyosaki), even books that try to propose a belief system (The Celestine Prophecy).
Reading fiction like these again expands your vocabulary; expand it in the real sense, requiring you to learn the vocabulary of diverse fields in an relaxed setting a fiction work provides.
But please, please, not Danielle Steele, those books are good for entertainment, but the topic is so popular, reading them won’t advance your English any further than what the previous post on learning English can provide.
3. Read the New York Times. If you’ve read the Jakarta Post and can say that you can read that newspaper without looking at the dictionary every 5 minutes, it’s time to move on to The New York Times. If you cannot read the Jakarta Post without dictionary? Then go back to first part and execute all the listed steps properly, don’t return here until you finished first part proper.
Why New York Times? a. The content is free, b. it has a good mix of current news and evergreen features. c. It has diverse topics, very good to develop your vocabulary. d. The English is very well kept, not perfect, but very well kept. e. It has Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman
4. Read light non-fiction. No, not textbooks, non-fiction doesn’t necessarily opening a 1,000 page book that drooones on a single topic. But we are stepping our game here, this reads are not fiction read, they are knowledge, and since they are being sold as knowledge, there is a certain rigor being place in developing the knowledge contained in the book. Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, “Freakonomics”, “Tuesday With Morrie”.
Explore Award Annal’s Pulitzer List, check the General Non-fiction link (http://www.awardannals.com/wiki/Pulitzer_Prize)
I personally like biographies, I find biographies to combine both the chance to expand your vocabulary AND learn something about life.
5. Other resources on finding good reads.
Check New York Times best sellers index (http://www.nytimes.com/pages/books/bestseller/index.html)
About.com’s reading recommendation (http://bestsellers.about.com/od/readingrecommendations/Reading_Lists_Recommendations.htm)
Wikipedia’s bestselling novels (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_bestselling_novels_in_the_United_States)
Wikipedia’s category on British Book Awards
6. Learn Idioms.
Idioms are the bane of non-native speakers. How snobbish of the native speaker to expect us, non-native speaker to understand at first try their combination of words to convey a non-literal meaning of those words, but alas, they do expect us to master idioms.
So, do learn idioms, to help you get started, I enclosed a list of simple and frequently used idioms. Use google to understand their meaning.
All ears Ants in your pants
Arm and a leg At the end of your rope
Axe to grind Back to the drawing board
Barking up the wrong tree Between the lines
Blood out of a stone Blow your stack
Bone to pick Bull in a China shop
By the skin of your teeth Can of worms
Cold feet Crash a party
Cry your eyes out Don’t wash your dirty laundry in public
Down in the dumps Eagle eyes
Elephant in the room Feeling Blue
Fifth wheel Fish out of water
Go round in circles Grab the bull by its horns
Head is in the clouds Heart of gold
Hook, line, and sinker Horse of a different color
In the doghouse It cost an arm and a leg
Jump the gun Like a fish needs a bicycle
Make waves Money talks
Opening a can of worms Out on a limb
Piece of cake Pull someone’s leg
Pull your weight Rock the boat
See the light Stick out like a sore thumb
Tall story Thin-skinned
Thrilled to bits Walk on eggshells
Written all over your face You can say that again
I also list several resources that you can use to learn idioms.
Dictionary of English Idioms (http://www.usingenglish.com/reference/idioms/)
Idioms by categories (http://www.idiomconnection.com/)
Another category based by Learn English Today (http://www.learn-english-today.com/idioms/idioms_proverbs.html)
An online book on idioms (http://www.english-idioms.net/wm/main.cgi)
On the previous post, we used songs and movies with English subtitles to develop our listening skills. Let’s move on to the next step.
1. Go to https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com, look for articles that has an audio file accompanying the article.
You need to register, but many of its content is free. Finding articles with an audio file allows you to listen to business English while reading a transcript of the audio you’re listening to.
Why McKinsey Quarterly?
a. It’s content is business related, a very good way to expand your vocabulary and familiarity in business English (as I mentioned in the first part, we learn English so that we can compete in the business world with native speaker, not just for show offs or fun).
b. The quality of the content (the idea being presented) and delivery (the grammar and vocabulary) is mostly excellent. These guys are obsessed with their brand, you can be certain that they will do rigorous quality control over their published materials.
2. Go watch movie without subtitles.
Start with the movies you’ve watch in the first part, the movies you watch with the English subtitle. Now, watch the same movies without the subtitle. Watch and watch until you can clearly understand what those mumbling idiots are saying.
That was easy; now, watch movies you never watch before without subtitles. New movies, no subtitle. Watch and watch and watch until you understand what those mumblings idiot are saying so well that you can write the subtitle. This one, is real work ladies and gentlemen.
If you do this proper, I promise you, you can watch English language movie as easy as you watch Bahasa Indonesia movie.
III. Active skill: Writing
Now, we reach the really hard part. This part requires significant investment in time. Passing this active skill makes the difference between being a kere seumur hidup di negeri orang asal bisa bilang “kerja di luar negeri” dan males balik karena malu ama tetangga or being a real contender in the international field.
Please stop being the first type of person, Indonesia has too many of such gutless dudes. If you want to continue reading, I hope you have the heart to be the second type of person and reap some real benefit from your English.
On the first part of writing, we write our notes in English to introduce ourselves with the concept of writing in English. Now we are going to move to some real writing.
1. Write Business School Essays.
Go to top business schools website (Harvard Business School, Kellog, Wharton, Chicago GSB, London Business School, INSEAD).
Look for their full time MBA application essay.
Download those essays (copy them if they are available immediately, register if you need to, just get them)
Fill those essays
I need to explain a bit about this. Top Business Schools allows young people like me to get high paying job at an early age. Nice right? Now, these top business schools know their value proposition and thus they are very selective of who they will admit to their school.
They use Essays as a main tool to weed out applicants (I hope you understand that I put an idiom there), answering these essays properly (I will not discuss what proper is here, since that is not our focus) will increase your odd of getting in to the school.
These Essays ask difficult questions, questions where taking the time on what and how to answer makes real difference.
If you want to bring your writing skills to the next level, you will get the Essay questions, and answer them.
You will do so with multiple schools, 5 minimum, 10 better, to develop your English writing skill (duh). By answering the similar questions from different schools, you will find yourself struggling to find better words to answer a particular question (if you are not struggling to find better words, then I don’t think you have any passion to be better at English and I kindly suggest you to stop reading this post).
After looking at the similar questions 5 times or more, you will want to elaborate your answers; you want to express yourself more clearly, at this time, a word processor’s Thesaurus/Synonym feature come in handy.
No, there’s no shortcut on this. Writing essays is the third best way to develop your writing skill (the second best way is to write elaborate blogs, and the best way is to write a book, both are much more difficult than answering a set of predetermined questions). I told you this need significant investment, everything that makes a difference does.
Go here for a list of top business schools
Go and hunt for their essays
2. Write scholarship essays
Bored after 10 business school essays? Let’s change it to scholarship essays or for a bit of variation.
Similar to business schools, scholarships at times use Essays to filter applicants. To get some variety, try to look for different type of scholarship, there are scholarship that pays you to go to school, scholarship that requires you to show leadership potential, scholarship that seek people interested in policy making, scholarship that seek people interested in social or non profit cause. Use Google, find the different type of scholarship. Get their essay, answer those essays.
No shortcut. I met so many people who says “I don’t have enough money to pay for English course that’s why my English is not improving.” Hogwash, there’s a way to improve your English without paying for courses, this is the way, it’s not easy, but please don’t use money as an excuse.
IV. Active skill: Speaking
This part is genuinely difficult, since it present both internal challenges (self discipline to practice) and external (lack of qualified sparring partner). But a lack of native speaker to talk with shouldn’t stop you from developing your speaking skills.
1. Translate all internal communication to English.
On the first part of learning English independently, we tried to use some English in our internal communication, after thinking “mo makan apa yah hari ini?”, we then think, “bahasa inggrisnya apa yah?”, then we think “what should I eat today”.
We want to raise the bar. Now, there’s no more “bahasa inggrisnya apa yah?”, it’s “how should I say that in English?”. Every, every internal speak that you have, in English.
“This traffic sucks”, “that man is so dodgy”, “I’m soooo late”, “Where did I put my wallet”, “have I lost my handphone?”, “there’s not much to do today”, “4 more hours to lunch”, “do I wanna go to lunch with her?”, “It seems I’m not gonna be home by seven”, “tomorrow is the same routine all over again”
Sounds easy? Not at all, it requires you to be fully aware of the fact that you are thinking something; you need to translate that thought to English, and actually think about the same thought in English.
Some people think mastery of a language is like having a secondary language processor, with a single master processor in place. That you will forever translate the ideas from you brain to the secondary language processor (English).
Mastery of a foreign language is like building a new master processor in your head. It’s an entirely different way to perceive, to respond, and to think. It’s a new processor that put its processing capability on data that travels from the outside world to your brain and vice versa.
And since you’re constructing a new master processor in your head, you need to be aware of the fact that you are thinking, understand what you are thinking, build the same thought in a different language, and thus building the master processor based on that different language.
The British and the American has an entirely different way of looking at the world compared to Indonesians. Understanding their history and the development of their culture will help you to understand why they think in such a manner. But if you really master the language and understand their social context, you can emulate the same thought pattern. The language becomes more than a communication tool (a language processor), it becomes a way to perceive, respond, and think (a master processor). But I’m moving to fast, the kind of mastery I just mentioned is for part III of learning English independently.
But why? Why do you want to have two master processor? Why do you want to master a language so good, it become a tool to create thought, not just words?
Because, by having two master processors, you have advantage over those who has only one (Indonesians who can wield English as a communication tools, those poor American who don’t took foreign language lesson seriously). As the one master processor dudes is bound by their own cultural context and cannot even understand that they are lock in their own context, you can be aware of the existence of other contexts, you can even move from one context to the other. You have extreme empathy with the other party whose language you master. (at this point, the one master processor dude will scratch his head and ask “what is this gibberish about context?”)
So the training for this part is:
Be aware that you are thinking
Be aware that you want to think the same thought in English
Think the same thought in English
2. Practice with your friends who has the same interest in English
This is the only step that is totally dependent on the existence of another person to help you with your English.
I hope you have friend(s) who are as interested as you are in developing their English.
If you do, confide to them your interest to practice your English speaking skill.
Practice speaking English when both of you are the only participants of the communication. Nobody else (unless those who also interested in speaking English and had specifically state their interest to practice with the both of you) should listen to you both practicing your English.
Why? Due to the nature of the Indonesian people, unfortunately I have to say this, this is a fact, they will ridicule anyone who tries to be better at something, especially if that something is important, difficult to achieve, and internal in nature.
Your fellow Indonesian will not ridicule you heavily if you seek wealth, they will do so until you actually get wealthy, upon which, by showing how wealthy you are, they will stop their ridicule. But not so if you seek knowledge, the ridicule will not stop even if you have the knowledge, since, well, even applying the knowledge will get you labeled as a show-off.
Trust me, I have seen my sparring partners, who come to me and say “help me with my English”, make the mistake of speaking English with me in the presence of other people, ridiculed by the other people, when they insist the ridicule escalated to insults, and this responses by others make them (these guys who really really wanna practice English) withdraw from practicing.
Me? Why am I not perturbed by the ridicule and insult? Being me, I generally don’t care when other people say bad things about me. Plus, most of it is just hogwash brandished by insecure people trying to tie everyone else to the same pit that they’re inhabiting.
This concludes part II.
Remember, the active part, writing and speaking skill will take significant investment of time. I assure you, the investment is really hard, really big, but it’s worth it.
You are successful with part II if:
1. You can read any non text book material in English without looking at your dictionary
2. You can watch English speaking movie and feel that subtitles is a waste of space
3. You have minimal problem in finding exact words to state your mind in writing
4. You can approach a bule and the thought of “what am I going to say” don’t even cross your mind, you just speak.
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