Tips on learning english on your own

How and why to learn the english language

Learning languages | Choosing your language | Francois Micheloud

English Indo-European:Germanic ––
If you understand these lines, congratulations. You master the most successful language today, simpler than latin was and yet more widespread. So why this page? Some people may need your advice in choosing a language and it never hurts to read the review of a restaurant where you already ate.

Click for the pop-up window "10 reasons to learn English"

Introduction - ©www.micheloud.com

Usefulness
Definition

This is the most useful language in the world, no questions asked. Anyone having anything to do with other countries, be it in science, tourism, trade, finance or culture, will be extremely well rewarded if he masters the language decently. Most books are published in english, and most are translated in english. The best selling movies are american, and translation is a pain-in-the-ear. English, even bad,  is the standard language of scientific publications, aviation, tourism, finance, and diplomacy. Anyway, if you're reading this, you are already sold to the language, so why insist?
Beauty
What's that?
Although this is not the primary attraction of this language, it is easy to fall in love with its colorful expressions, alliterative riddles, easygoing approach toward word creation or importation. My personal reference for prose is The Economist, a conservative british weekly with main circulation in the USA.
Chic factor
What's that?
Almost everybody claims to speak english, so I wonder where people can find any chic at all in this language. And yet. Some Germans are especially disconcerting when they show off their english and look back at their fellow Germans with a satisfied grin.
Speakers
What's that?
Total number of speakers is more than 600mio, but this figure must be qualified by the fact that most people you will meet when travelling or meeting people from other countries will speak english. Early in the next century, more people will speak english as a second language than those who learned it from their mother.
Countries
What's that?
USA, Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Belize and some other ex-british colonies.
Regional variations
What's that?
The reference accent seems to be that ot the american TV and movies, for the beter or worse. The heaviest variations from this "standard english" occur, as always, in backward areas. Rural USA is already something but try Northern England, especially among lower classe people to get a real cultural lag. Accent notwhistanding, there are some funny differences like flat/apartment or lift/elevator that you can master in one afternoon if you find the right list.
Travel
What's that?
Unless you have a very specific area in mind, this is THE traveller's language, earning you at list understanding if not sympathy almost everywhere in the world.
Culture
What's that?
Excellent movies, pitiful TV, a lots of excellent litterature, both contemporary and older, and the best thing-books you can find. On almost any topic the best books are available in english, even if they have been translated. And they are cheaper too. Pop music has its fans and some singers deserve your understanding their lyrics.

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Difficulty - ©www.micheloud.com
Phonemes
What's that?
English uses some difficult sounds, like those in thing or soothe. These sounds are, in my opinion, impossible to master perfectly unless you have lived in an english-speaking environment before you turned 16-18.
Syntax
What's that?
Pretty logical and not very difficult to master. Adjectives do not vary, conjugation is almost esperanto-like, but orthograph is tricky. The problem is that with such a weak verbal system and such easy rules to turn adjectives into verbs, the beginner may be puzzled by some phrases. Another difficulty is that of the verbs that use a separate particle like to set off or to pop out. I advise the learner to review lists of common verbs to save time, because they are especially tricky to look in the dictionary.
Vocabulary
What's that?
The english language has one of the most extensive vocabulary around, with more than than 460'000 different words in the Webster Dictionary alone. This comes from the french/german origin, and means that you often have at least two words with almost exactly the same meaning. However, most of the dictionary only lives in litterature and scientific publications.
Overall difficulty
What's that?
I rate this language as ––, that is, quite easy to learn, because of its ubiquity, and grammar. Almost everyone will tolerate a bad english if they still understand you, and anyway they will have heard so much of it by the time you talk to them that they won't mind. In most parts of the world, you only have to go to the cinema, open the TV or buy newspapers to have the language imposed on you so there's really no excuse for not speaking it at least decently.
Time needed
What's that?
The big question, I think that two years of moderate study should be sufficient for all but the most lazy people, and you can definitely learn it in 6 months. As to the number of hours, I think that 250 hours is a safe estimation.

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Learning material - ©www.micheloud.com
Books and tapes
What's that?
I must confess my lack of experience here, because I learned this language sur le tas. Anyway, this is the biggest language learning market so I assume there are good books available. Try Pimsleur English for spanish speakers, which does not exist for french speakers.
Schools
What's that?
I would go to Canada or the USA, or in an middle or upper class english family (others have terrible accents). There are tons of schools competing, and all I can offer here is my Advice on going abroad to learn a language.
Links
Most of the internet is written in english, so you don't need me here. Nonetheless, I cannot help but suggest this page about newspapers on the internet.

 

Learning languages | Choosing your language | Francois Micheloud