How many hours of contact do you have with English every year?
If you think about countries in Europe that have a high proportion of inhabitants who speak English as a foreign language you will probably think of the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark as three examples where the standard is very high. If you are travelling in these countries and do not speak their native language it is generally very easy to find people who speak English and speak English fluently in almost any situation. The level of fluency is very high, so much so that if you ask someone in the street if they speak English often they look at you surprised that you may doubt it!
We almost take it for granted that we will find English speakers in airports, hotels and tourist information offices. But in many countries it is more difficult to find English speakers at bus stations, as taxi drivers, in small shops, in small restaurants and in the street. Not so in Sweden, Holland and Denmark.
So what is so fantastic about these three countries that has so many good English speakers?
Well they have good teachers with an excellent level of English, but that is not the real explanation.
They know that their languages are minority languages in world terms. Very few people who are not native Swedish, Danish or Dutch speakers learn these languages. Many university and other specialised books written by Dutch academics are written in English because it wouldn’t be economically feasible with such a small market to produce them in Dutch.
It is true that these countries have, for many years, adopted a positive encouraging attitude to language learning which has enabled them to develop their commercial and political links with the rest of the world.
But probably the most influential matter that has led to the high level of English language acquisition and acceptance in these countries is television. TV programmes and films that are produced in English are not dubbed into Dutch, Swedish or Danish but are shown in their original English version with subtitles in the local language. These means that from their infancy Dutch, Swedish and Danish children are usually exposed to the English language on a regular basis and both they and their parents treat the English language as a normal part of life.
– The attitude to learning English is very positive.
– They are exposed to the English language many hours of every week. This is extremely important for people to assimilate correctly how English is used.
So, if you don’t live in countries like Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, things are probably a bit more difficult. But do not despair! You can adopt a similar attitude to English language learning in your house and family. To become a fluent speaker of the English language you have to be a fluent listener of the English language. If you are also an avid reader it helps as well.
- Find every opportunity possible to be in contact with English
- Find English language TV stations. At first it might be a little difficult to follow, but please don’t give up! Remember babies spend 2 – 3 years listening to their mother tongue before they start speaking.
- Download podcasts from the BBC and other sites. Listen to the same section of dialogue two or three times a day for at least a week.
- If you go to classes and have a textbook, find the CD for all the dialogues in the book. If the student’s book doesn’t include them all, ask your local bookshop to get you the Teacher’s CD. Listen to the unit you are doing, the one before and the one after, two or three times a day. It’s not necessary to listen very hard, you can just have it playing in the background whilst you are driving or eating
- Find English blogs, messenger etc where the communication is in English
the most important thing to remember is:
Only you can learn a new language for you. Nobody can do it for you
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