Having lived in the United States for three years in elementary school, I do not face as much difficulties communicating in English as other Korean students who have never lived abroad. However, when I say so, many people only focus on the “three years,” blinding themselves of my more recent past living in Korea for over ten years. Rationalizing their fears of English by only seeing what they want to believe in, to be reassured and feel better, while I too had tried hard to keep my proficiency in English.
But if one truly wants to be good at English, the first step would be to confront their fears. People cannot improve their English by procrastinating learning more. I too had dreaded the thought of forgetting how to speak or write English, sometimes having nightmares where I would be muted and go deaf in front of a foreigner babbling English while I stand there confused. So I advise others to try out some of the methods I used to develop and enhance my English skills after coming back to Korea.
As I teach TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), I meet a lot of students asking only about informal know-hows to receive higher scores in a short period of time. Although I sympathize with their desperate situations, it is a fact that these tricks will wear off in the end with nothing knowledgeable left inside. Then I always say, “practice makes perfect.”
Good English listening skills cannot be acquired in just a few days. It took me six months to finish off the ESL (English as a Second Language) program and be fluent in English from scratch when I was eight years old. There is no doubt it will take longer for adults to achieve that level.
To save myself from forgetting English, ever since I came back from the United States, I listened to classic novels recorded in cassette tapes as I went to sleep. The audio book allows the unconscious learning of correct usage of phrases and words in the precise context. This is very similar to that in which young, ambitious mothers turn on English channels every morning as a part of early education for their kids. Once it becomes a habit, every alphabet will be audible without much effort.
Reading is also another part that many non-English speakers feel difficulties in. For this, I recommend mastering a vocabulary book. Pick out an appropriate level vocabulary book and start memorizing one chapter at a time. Accumulate what you have learned each day by going from one chapter at a time to five chapters, ten chapters, 20 chapters, and going all the way to the end. Repeat until you are confident that you know all the words. Then, any passage in English will be readily comprehensible.
Speaking and writing, these are up to you. How much effort and practice you put in are the major determinants of overcoming the two main pillars of the English language. Try to have English speaking friends near you and interact frequently in English. Write in English: Keeping a journal or jotting down your thoughts on diverse topics is just fine, and try to formulate your own writing style. Then, you can juggle around the ideas that you have incorporated to your writing format.
The tips on how to improve English skills listed above all seem to be quite obvious. But when I look back on the most apparent advices like go to sleep early, always eat breakfast, and exercise are not so easy to put into practice. Thus, as the saying “well begun is half done” goes, it is best to start late than never.