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Wednesday, March 3, 2004

I feel my English level is the same as before... 

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"Dear Ai, I have been Vancouver for more than 7 months. I have improved my English a lot since I came here, but I feel my English level is the same as before. I usually use the same structure and same vocabulary when talking with friends. I do not have any idea how to improve my English not only in speaking but also reading. Do you think I should memorize vocabulary as much as I can? What I can do to improve my English? Thanks for your help - Penny from Taiwan

A: Hi Penny, thank you very much for your question. This is a very good one and in fact, many students asked me that. When people learn a new language, they often reach a plateau (a level where there is little or no change). You feel you are not improving, even though you are actually continuing to improve. Once you pass the first plateau, you will be surprised at how much you have actually learned.

You already know what your weaknesses are. Most students do not know their weaknesses. These types of students usually ask me "How can I improve my English?" It is very difficult to give specific advice. In your e-mail you said, "I usually use the same structure and same vocabulary." There is nothing wrong with using the same sentence pattern as long as the sentence is correct. But it is more fun if you know other ways of expressing yourself. Ask your Canadian friends and teachers for another way to say something. Try reading different types of magazines or watching a variety of movies, TV shows and local news. If you do not understand sentences or idioms, make sure you ask someone to explain.

What are your goals? Are you studying English for university or college, to improve your conversation skills or for business purposes? Knowing your goals will help you to decide what kind of vocabulary you need to focus on.

My roommate and I try to eat something new once a week. That is how I learned about "dragon fruit", "starfuit" and "Horchata". Enjoy expanding your vocabulary: it will help you to reach the next plateau."

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