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How to improve My Language Skills?

PKELVIN writes : I have been taking lot of efforts for last two years particularly reading newspapers and looking dictionary. Even though my vocabulary has improved a lot, my spoken English level is same as it was two years back. I didn't get fluency by reading newspapers.

My sympathies to Kelvin and to many like him who are trying on their own to improve their English. It is a difficult job and not easily accomplished even over a length of time without proper guidance.

The first mistake is to think that one can improve one's English by concentrating on vocabulary-in the sense of noting word meanings. Knowing the meaning of a word does not, in most cases, help you to use it correctly. A word not only expresses an idea (it has a meaning). It has also an associated grammar, which has to be mastered. Take the word
look. In no sense do you look a dictionary.

You may look at a dictionary, if you want (but that won't help you much).

What you do is to look up a word in a dictionary (preferably a British English dictionary!).

You will also find that it is not
for last two years.

It is
for the last two years.

And, I’m sorry for driving this so hard, you don't
take efforts. You take trouble and make an effort. In this case Kelvin has apparently taken a lot of trouble. Too bad. Results have not been very encouraging. A very good command over English will not give you Language Skills.

If you must speak of
spoken English level, in your case, Kelvin, they have remained the same as what they were two years ago. What you need is not word power. But Language Skills.

The moral of the story is : words have not only meanings but grammatical properties. A dictionary which just gives word meanings is useless. There are quite a few excellent dictionaries to choose from: the Advanced learner’s Dictionary, Collin's Cobuild English language Dictionary, Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. These are among the best. The Concise Oxford Dictionary is not for learners.

Now back to Kelvin. Is it effort or trouble? In this case either word may be used. But in other contexts they are not interchangeable. Don't bother to take the trouble (not to make the effort.) Where the meanings are closer than here one has to make sure that the correct word is chosen.

Example : inquire / enquire.

All this is at the word level. But sentences are not just words, no matter how carefully chosen. They have a structure, both at the phrase level and at the sentence level. My column is mainly concerned with this structure.

A good knowledge of English grammar and Language Skills are indispensable. But the very thought of grammar puts people off. Actually the study of grammar can be quite stimulating and intellectually challenging. That my column, English for You, has been going on for so many years is proof of this.

I wrote some time ago about a point of pronoun usage in our wedding invitations. Here is another point in the same area worth noting. Briefly, who are the persons awaiting and welcoming you in a wedding?

In some cases a few prominent names from both the families (the groom's and the bride's) appear. Others get over the problem by using the phrase: From Friends and Relatives. Yet another style, which is what I am now concerned with is : from Nears and Dears.

The expression is impossible in Standard English. Near is usually an adverb. The ball fell near the window. It can be an adjective: a near accident. And a preposition: the tree near my house. But it can't be a noun as in Nears. Dear can be a noun as in My dear. More usually it is an adjective as in My dear young lady. But the noun is confined to the phrase My dear.

Apart from giving a few prominent names from both sides, a convenient form is : From the Shekar and Rajesh families.

NOTE : This is written by Mr. K.S. Yadurajan : An ELT resource person. Thanks to him.

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