What is the difference between effective and efficient? Let's say you had to travel from Rome to Paris; what means of transportation would you use? You could walk, run, ride a bike, drive a car, use a motorcycle, take a train, or fly (by plane). All of these methods of transportation are effective, they work; you will get there. But, which methods require the least amount of energy and accomplish the job in the shortest period of time? These methods are the most efficient. I am sure you would agree that traveling by plane is more efficient than riding a bike although Lance Armstrong might not agree.
Learning English can be broken down into two areas: input and output. Input consists of reading and listening while output consists of writing and speaking. Clearly, in order to have good quality output, you must have a lot of good quality input. Think of how long a child listens before beginning to speak. As adults, we are not going to wait two years before attempting to speak, but the more input we get, the more output we can produce. The same applies for reading and writing. The more you read, the better you write. I can even say that the more you read, write and listen, the better you speak.
My advice to all serious English learners is to approach your goal with a sense of urgency. That means you need to work effectively, but more importantly, you need to work efficiently. Based on my years of teaching and studying foreign languages, I have put together what I consider to be the most effective and efficient ways to develop each area of language.
Learn at least five new vocabulary words every day. My suggestion is to use index cards with the word on one side and the definition on the other. Keep the cards in a box and review them frequently by saying the word and trying to give the definition. Keep the definitions as short and concise as possible. Five to seven words is best. If you learn five words a day, that’s 1,825 words per year. Considering that the average high school student probably has a vocabulary of 5,000 to 6,000 words, in a few years your vocabulary should be sufficient enough to understand nearly everything written in English.
Time commitment: 30 minutes.
Listen to talk radio. The objective of listening to English is to hear as many words as possible in as short a period as possible. The more times you hear a word, the better you will be able to use that word. There is no more efficient way to do this than talk radio. The vocabulary is very diverse and there are no periods of silence because unlike television, visuals cannot be used to keep an audiences attention. The key is to listen as often as possible. Maximize your time by listening to talk radio when doing other activities such as driving, walking, cooking, eating, getting dressed. If you can, try keeping the radio on while you go to sleep so it's the last thing you hear while falling asleep and the first thing you hear as you wake up.
Time commitment: 0.
Keep a journal and write at least 500 words per day. By writing every day you will be reinforcing everything you have learned. It will also force you to question the accuracy of what you are writing. This process of intense concentration will help organize the vast array of information you have in your subconscious mind. Write about whatever you want, but be sure to challenge yourself with new vocabulary and various grammar structures.
Time commitment: 30 minutes.
Read aloud. Reading aloud allows you to practice perfectly. Remember that it is perfect practice that makes perfect. By reading aloud you are speaking grammatically perfect English. If you have a typical conversation, errors will be made. Not just for English learners, but for native speakers as well. If errors are repeated continually, it becomes increasingly more difficult to correct those errors. Also, you will be using vocabulary words that you would not normally use. In a typical one hour conversation, you might speak for 30 minutes with a number of errors, but if you read aloud, you can speak for one hour without any grammar mistakes using new vocabulary words.
Time commitment: 1-2 hours minimum.
Do these four things each day for one month and I promise you that you will be amazed at your improvement. There are no secrets to language acquisition, just a lot of hard work to accomplish something that will enhance your life forever.
Successful people do the things that unsuccessful people are unwilling to do!
I wish you all the best on your journey!
Thomas Williams is a teacher at EC San Diego English School