It’s good to stop and take stock of where we are with our language skills development now and again. I like to call this an audit. Like any audit we need to be thorough and honest with ourselves. How do we feel things are progressing, or maybe they’re not! Have we taken any steps to improve of late or are we happy just coasting along. This is fine and sometimes we simply haven’t got the time or we may feel that we’re happy with the status quo.
It pays to drill down into each area:
Speaking – have I been speaking much, am I better than I was last month, last year etc.. what evidence do I have of this?
Listening– outside of the people I have conversations with, have I stretched my listening skills using the radio, TV, songs etc.. (see this article on the value of listening for language learning)
Reading – what was the last thing I read, how did I get on? Do I need to find more challenging things, or do I need to spend more time on what I am reading now.
Writing – how are my emails, facebook pieces or twitter postings – are they error free, natural, grammatical. Do I need to improve any other areas of writing? How will I do this?
Vocabulary – can I honestly say that my vocabulary is good or even good enough? Where would I like to be ? Should I be more flexible in my use of words and how can I find the words that would help me in the areas of my language that are important – such as that used for work or study?
Pronunciation – do I ever do anything about this? How could I improve (listen more carefully and imitate, articulate words in the mirror, sing as if you were native speaker – speak to the dog with perfect pronunciation!)
My mistakes – come on you know the ones that you always get wrong, always forget! You’ll most likely find them in the Elementary course book as it’s the old chestnuts that come up again and again at all levels.
Here’s a short list of the most common mistakes I see:
- articles – omitting them, using the wrong one, using one when it isn’t required – a tricky area but worth checking out
- ‘s’ on the 3rd person – (He likes) often omitted
- verb-subject agreement – a very common mistake and one to check easily in writing and think about in speaking
- it’s vs its – it is has the apostrophe
- your vs you’re – pronoun or 2nd person +verb to be?
- use of present perfect – also tricky so worth making sure you know how and when to use it
- In speaking don’t rush many students use the following formula when speaking
It isn’t true, native speakers don’t always speak quickly, give yourself time to think!
- Don’t rely on the spell check – use some common sense.
- Don’t make your sentences too long – you’ll get lost
So you’ve done your audit what next?
Use it to pinpoint the areas you need to study further and as a mental check list for writing and speaking.
This is not to say don’t try things! I’m a great believer in jumping in and having a go – but don’t do it when the stakes are high or you’ll throw marks to the examiner or make a fool of yourself.