If English isn’t your first language, you might find you need to take an English language proficiency exam such as the IELTS or the TOEFL as part of your application to study abroad. These tests may seem straightforward, but learning to write and speak in a sophisticated and eloquent manner in a new language doesn’t come easily. In order to succeed, you’ll need to put a lot of continuous effort into learning a new language, but there are some quick fixes that can help to boost your test performance at short notice.
If the exam is just a few weeks away, here are some ways to quickly improve your English language skills.
Watch movies in English
Watching series on Netflix might not exactly improve your debating skills or formal register, but it helps you to understand the language better, get used to colloquial, conversational forms of English and implicitly get a feeling for the language. Also, you could try to pick out words that sound highly informal and look up their more scholarly counterparts. Of course, there is also a plethora of documentaries (try anything by David Attenborough to start you off) to be found online as well. Being exposed to a language for the length of a movie might help you to actually start thinking in English.
Immerse yourself in English language news
Try to sample a broad range of English Language newspapers, including broadsheets as well as magazines and tabloids. As well as helping you keep up to date with current affairs, this range of news sources will also expand your vocabulary. Another advantage is that you will also become more comfortable with how words are spelt and the contexts in which they are used.
Start a vocabulary book of useful words
Either in a notebook or on your computer, start making a list of useful words and phrases. Every time you hear or see a word you’re not familiar with, note it down. Don’t only focus on the word itself, but search for synonyms and phrases in which it’s used. After all, you might understand what words such as “precedence” or “tantalizing” mean, but do you know how to use them accurately?
Have conversations in English
As helpful as listening and reading tasks may be, you also need to use English interactively and practice your own speaking skills. If you’re lucky, you’ll be friends with a few native speakers who can help you out, but if not then try to meet up with someone else studying English. Another option is to talk to yourself in the mirror or record yourself. Listening to the sound of your own voice might be a little bit awkward at first, but you will be able to hear mistakes of which you weren’t previously aware.
Practice, practice, practice
Let’s face it, academic phrases won’t just fall from heaven and straight into your brain. Even if your English is already quite good, don’t be complacent and underestimate stressful factors such as the time pressure in an exam. You still have to practice, no matter how much time you have left before your big day. Try coming up with a word of the day, and then try to employ it as often as possible. If you do this, don’t waste time on extremely specific words you will never actually use. Instead, focus on conversational English which is likely to be relevant in the exam.
Curiosity doesn’t always kill the cat
In order to improve rapidly, you should ask a lot of questions and resolve them. Don’t just read phrases. Ask why they are used in a particular way, whether other constructions are possible as well and don’t trust everything you read online. Of course, it is tempting to be content with the first answer that pops up on Google, but you’ll find more rewards if you show a bit of curiosity.
Don’t forget to have fun while you learn
If studying the English language only feels like a burden, it will seem tedious and you won’t perform as well. This is why it’s important to stay motivated and enjoy the experience of learning a new language. Find ways to add entertainment into your studies, such as playing word games with friends that will boost your critical thinking skills.
Obviously, learning a new language is a long-term project and you can’t start from zero and write an academic paper a week later. But, when building on a decent foundation, you can achieve great results quickly if you devote yourself intensely. Especially for exams like the IELTS, you should really know what questions will be asked, what the formats look like and how to deal with the respective tasks. Try to stay focused and improve certain parts, rather than frantically trying to catch up with everything at once.
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