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Jakarta Post
The Jakarta Post
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Comics, music can boost your English

  • HW Ismanthono

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Sat, February 22, 2014 | 01:12 pm

According to a recent report in the United States, up to 10 percent of businesses'€™ annual sales, or some US$75 billion, are lost due to miscommunication, including unclear instructional manuals, hard-to-understand annual reports and poorly written web copy, all of which create a poor impression for a business.

The digital age has made good writing more important than ever, since so much of our writing is done via email, and a web presence makes good writing more transparent to customers.

Indeed, 70 percent of small- to medium-sized businesses have reported that ineffective communication was their primary problem.

We do a better job at any task when we are motivated to do so. There'€™s that warm fuzzy feeling that comes with not only enjoying what you do, but knowing it will benefit you for years to come. Newspaper reading appears to be one of those things.

Studies have shown that reading a newspaper not only makes you a more informed person, it also improves your language ability '€” if you are reading news in your target language.

What'€™s more, extensive reading in the target language is found to not only be more enjoyable but also more effective for language acquisition than lessons in grammar.

If children are any indication, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that those who are encouraged to read and share '€” storybooks in this case '€” learn their target language more quickly.

Here are some more great reasons for improving your target language, including the English language, as suggested by modern linguists.

See examples of phrases in use: Newspapers provide great examples of how members of the target language and associated cultures use the language.

Close study of grammar: News articles usually use '€œcorrect'€ language with proper grammatical structure. This is less true when people speak, even on TV news shows, for example.

Study good examples of contemporary language styles: Newspapers are printed fresh each day, ensuring the most up-to-date language. Articles also provide means of expression that can be easily applied in spoken or written communication.

Learn current vocabulary in context: News articles contain useful common words '€” without needing a dictionary '€” because you can pick up the meaning based on the context.

Easy-to-digest news for average folks: While snubbed by higher echelons in society, tabloids may be the most accessible type of newspaper for learning.

This is because the language used is often close to the spoken language heard on the street or on television.

Read as much as you can in your target language: Get used to grammatical patterns and vocabulary.

Many learners jump into texts that are beyond their abilities. This is a painfully long and ineffective method. Start with simple articles and columns, blogs and comics. You can then move up to novels aimed at young adults or specialized websites and eventually classic literature or professional content.

Take advantage of your addiction to technology by changing your cell phone and/or computer default language to your target language '€” especially if you also need to master a new alphabet.

Even if you don'€™t understand all the commands, your brain will get used to new letters and words. You will automatically start reading sentences instead of reading letter by letter.

Habituate your eyes to new vocabulary: Use post-it notes to put up words that you'€™re learning around your living and work space.

The more you see a word, the better the chance you'€™ll remember it. Try adding drawings next to the meanings and use different colors/shapes of post-it notes for verbs/nouns/adjectives; the more you '€œspice things up'€, the faster your brain will pick things up.

Listen to music and watch music videos, films and TV programs in your target language. Find music similar to that you already like, be it pop, folk, rap or rock.

When watching films and TV series, choose ones with subtitles, especially in the beginning.

 This will allow you to get used to specific tones, sounds and accents used in the language, and you won'€™t get frustrated because you can'€™t understand everything.

It'€™s harder to understand dialogue in a drama than to understand an actual person you'€™re talking to, as body language plays a huge role in our ability to understand.

Take every opportunity to talk with people that speak your target language: Search for potential partners on specific websites or post ads at universities/language schools. Meeting face-to-face is the most effective and most enjoyable way, and it is usually possible in larger cities due to the greater number of foreigners.

If this is not possible, there are plenty of services where you can easily find pen pals and exchange partners via email and/or Skype.

Moreover, being a native speaker does not necessarily mean one is a good teacher of the language. Be patient and look for a person who will be patient and will help you speak the language comfortably. Fight the temptation to become discouraged and '€” again '€” just start talking. Don'€™t be afraid to make mistakes or speak slowly.

While learning English, I lived in England, the United States, Japan, China and South Korea. Regardless of whether I met people from Africa, Malaysia, Bangladesh, China, Brunei, Nepal or Thailand, they all had different pronunciations, stress patterns and speech styles.

However, it worked really well for me. Anyone can learn a language quickly if they seek out a fun, stimulating environment.

The writer is founder and owner of Gazebo ELT Resources and is a lecturer in economics at Atma Jaya Catholic University in Jakarta.