Mohammed attended school in Syria until year 11 when he and his family members were displaced to Egypt due to the war. In school in Syria, he started studying English around year five or six but since it wasn’t his favourite subject, he made slow progress. Although he would have liked to improve his language skills, he never imagined he would need to speak English every day.
In 2020 Mohammed had been in the UK for one year and was able to speak English fluently, despite arriving only months before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. So how did Mohammed go from speaking only a bit of English to fluency in one year? This resource covers Mohammed’s top tips for staying motivated, getting creative and remaining focused to improve language skills. There is also an Arabic version available to download.
Tip #1: Find what motivates you!
Mohammed focused on how English would help him to support his family in different ways. One of his family members was very ill when they lived in Egypt and he wanted to be able to help them at appointments in the UK like he did there. He knew that understanding and speaking English would give him the tools to provide the support they needed to understand the UK healthcare system and get the care they needed.
Also, according to Mohammed, as an Arab man he feels it’s important to work to support his family and he has been working from a young age. Even in high school in Syria, he worked in his uncle’s restaurant and when living in Egypt, he worked seven days a week, rarely taking a day off. Now in the UK, he still feels the importance of earning money to support his family and knows that he won’t be able to do this without strong English skills.
So, help the family you support identify what motivates them! This could be finding a job, getting a driving license or being able to keep up with their children’s school work.
Tip #2: Make the most of technology
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, Mohammed found that learning online on his own allowed him to learn in whichever way suited him best. Some of his favourite ways to use technology to learn are:
- Download the Google Assistant app to your phone and verbally ask it questions about grammar and spelling. You can speak to it in your native language or English and ask the app to spell certain words, pronounce different sounds or even ask grammatical questions like- what’s the difference between few and some?
- Use the eJOY English app to add subtitles to videos you watch on YouTube and streaming services. It allows you to save vocabulary you learn while watching and can even quiz you on words in the videos you watch.
- If you are self-motivated, studying at home, watching ESOL videos on YouTube can be a great way to concentrate on areas where you need the most practice. Especially in the beginning when you might be shy about making mistakes, you can practice by repeating what you hear in a video until you’re comfortable and spend more time on grammar you find difficult.
- Download YouTube videos on a subject that interests you as MP3s and listening to them around the house or when you go out so you always have someone speaking English in your head. If it’s something you already know about, even better, as you already understand the subject and you’ll be able to focus on vocabulary.
Tip #3: Focus on what you’re interested in
Over the past year, Mohammed has found that he improves his vocabulary and learns much faster when he focuses on what he’s interested in.
If you’re interested in sports, watch sports news and read about your favourite teams or follow matches in English instead of your native language. If you like politics make an effort to listen to or watch the news in English. If poetry is something you’re passionate about, find your favourite poems in English. And if you’re religious, try reading suplications in English as well. You can download the Quaran in English and Arabic and read them side by side as a way to learn new words.
Tip #4: Build a strong foundation
For Mohammed, he found that starting with basics was the best way to build a strong foundation to build his language skills on. If you skip the basics, you won’t advance in your learning as quickly!
You can approach learning English like a child, starting with basic letter combinations and how they are pronounced. In English, different words with the same letters can be pronounced completely differently, which is confusing since English has roots in many different languages so it doesn’t follow any uniform rule. For this reason, it’s important to understand how to pronounce the different letter combinations (ing, ish, ist, sh- for example).
Tip #5: Decide the reason why you want to learn English
This is going to help you focus on what to learn and how to learn. Other than being able to communicate with other members of your community, do you want to learn English to continue your studies or just to get a job?
If you want to work, focus more on speaking and listening. Grammar and writing will be important to an extent however, for most jobs you apply for, the most important thing will be to be able to communicate effectively.
If you want to continue with education, focus on grammar and go back to basics like you did as a child. Make sure your foundation for the language is solid and build it from there. This will help you with your writing which is so important for continuing your education. Your listening and speaking skills will build from there.