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Many learners of English think their English is “very bad.” What can you do about it?

Recently I received an email that went like this:

“Dear Sir,

Sorry, but my English is very Bad. Please help.”

First of all it made me smile. If you want to be polite, please address me with Dear Madam, because I’m a woman!

I get many emails that address me with Dear Sir. But I receive even more emails apologizing that the writer’s English is “very bad.”

My reply is usually that they should keep practising on the website, and if they have special requests I add some more information that I hope will help them.

In some cases the English of the person who writes to me really isn’t something to write home about. However, we all start out small, and with some practice, your English will soon go from poor to quite good. It takes only a few months for your English to rise to the next level!

I have to say that in the majority of cases the person who writes to me doesn’t have bad English at all. He or she just thinks it’s bad.

 

So let’s come to the point. What should you do when your English is “very bad?”

 

1 It’s all in your head

 

When you think your English is terrible, it will always be terrible. The first thing you should change is your attitude. Don’t think: “I’m never going to have good English that native people can understand.” That just makes you depressed. Instead think: “I’m going to get better English every day, and we’ll just see how far I can go.” As a teacher I can tell you that I’ve seen students with poor English reach an advanced level in which they can talk eloquently* about any subject with confidence, and just make a few small mistakes now and then.

*eloquently = fluently, using many different words

 

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2 Stop worrying about mistakes

 

Some people worry so much about mistakes, they’re afraid to speak. I hear such stories frequently: people tell me they avoid being in a meeting with an English-speaking person at work, they give their English emails to a native English speaker in the company, and when they travel abroad they let their partner do the talking. Well, that’s very nice, but how is that ever going to get you good English? It’s impossible to get good English without practise. In order to get better English, you have to start speaking and writing. It’s hard at first, but it will get better soon.

 

3 Don’t be hard on yourself

 

If your English is at beginner level, don’t try to build sentences that are 50 words long. Keep it simple. Ten words is enough for a sentence. You will make fewer mistakes, and your conversation partners will love you, because they don’t like long sentences either. You don’t have to use difficult words; maybe you’re not sure whether this word can be used in the kind of sentence that you’re making. Instead, use easy words that you are sure of. If you know more difficult words, first look them up in a dictionary to check they really mean what you think they mean, or ask about them in an English class that you’re taking.

 

4 Don’t expect native English speakers to correct your grammar or other mistakes

 

Of course, some people are super helpful and they will point it out to you when you’re making a mistake in the language. But on the whole, English speakers are not your English teacher. If you speak with somebody who has English as their mother tongue, don’t think they’re going to correct your mistakes when you’re speaking. They may not feel like doing so, or they simply don’t know how to do it. The only thing you can expect when talking to a native is that when they answer you and seem to understand you, your English isn’t half bad*!

*not half bad = not so bad

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