Recently, one of my learners asked me, “How can I express myself better in English?” I’ve noticed that some people are very good at communicating, whether it’s in everyday conversation or in an essay. I read somewhere that you have to read a lot to be able to talk well. I think that if I could express myself well, I would feel very confident. I’m not that bad right now, but I feel like I have a lot to learn. “Please tell me what I can do to improve my English and speak more clearly and with confidence.”
This is not the usual kind of question (go, went, ____?) I get it, but the whole point of using English well is to be able to write clearly and eloquently. A grammar mistake is not a big deal, except that it takes attention away from what you want to say.
My student was right: you need to read as much as you can and find the best writers. When you read a good writer, you let that person into your mind. He or she is thinking for you by giving you words, sentences, and ideas. When you read Shakespeare, you think the same thoughts that Shakespeare did. When you read a book by Charles Dickens, you go back to England in the 1800s and see what Dickens saw. When you read Emily Dickinson or Dorothy Parker, you’re thinking like an amazing woman.
You don’t have to read books written by well-known writers. A good article in a newspaper or blog can help you learn new words and ways to write. You learned to talk by listening to your parents and other people in the house when you were a baby. As we get older, it gets harder to learn a language, but we can still get better if we pay attention. It’s hard, of course. A few years ago, I started teaching myself to read Arabic. I didn’t want to understand it, I just wanted to know how to read the letters. A teacher of Arabic heard me read a short sentence. I felt like I had been lifting weights when I was done.
Your brain needs more blood when it has to learn something new. It’s doing a lot of work and even making new links between nerve cells. So you’ll soon feel very tired when you read or listen to good English. Don’t be afraid. Your English skills will get better as you make new brain cells and as the old ones make new connections. It will get easier.
When you first learned to drive a car, it was hard. You had to think about everything: starting the car, looking in the rearview mirror, turning the wheel, pressing the gas pedal, pressing the brake, and watching the traffic. Every class was hard work. After a few weeks, though, you didn’t even remember it. No one would have thought you were a new driver because you did everything so well.
It’s the same when you try to say something in English. Read lots of books and write a lot. Listen to English being spoken and use it whenever you can, even if you have to read Shakespeare or Emily Dickinson aloud. You won’t always know what they really mean, but you’ll know how good English should sound.
And at some point, when you speak or write in English, other people will be surprised. They’ll say, “What an interesting idea!” or “Well said!” They won’t say, “How grammatical!” or “What good punctuation!” They won’t even notice your grammar and punctuation because your English will convey what you really want to say.
As we come to the end of this blog, now you may let me know in the comment section in what situations you find difficult to express better in English, and I will get you the best tips to overcome it.
– Dr. Azhar Ahmed