London is arguably the best place in the world for you, if your goal is to learn or improve your English.
In this city you’ll be following in the footsteps of literary greats from Shakespeare and Dickens to Oscar Wilde.
Londoners may speak fast dropping their H’s and splashing their T’s all over the place, but they’re a friendly bunch with infectious energy and a work hard play hard attitude that will sweep you along with it.
It’s five o’clock somewhere
London is a city that takes the working week seriously, yet understands the importance of knocking off for a pint.
To speak a language you must have some grasp of the culture that goes with it.
Nowhere are the British more open, unguarded and honest that in the national institution that is the public house.
Pull up one of those high stools and sit along the bar, (this is where all the best conversation happens). An added bonus of being so near to the bar is that you’ll be in the thick of it and closer to the conversation – very handy if you’re at that level where background noise cuts comprehension.
Londoners can be lovely by nature. That said they inhabit a fast-paced city and you’d do well to take onboard that there are times to strike up conversation with them, and other times when it’s really best avoided, (in the tube, on the street).
The pub however is the perfect setting for idle conversation with strangers: Whiling away hours, setting the world to rights, laying out your own personal and political manifestos and making drinking buddies for life.
You will never feel more at home abroad, or easily accepted by Englishmen than in the right type of old pub.
Join a conversation exchange group
A brilliant way to progress quickly in terms of conversational fluency and pronunciation is to join a linguistic exchange group.
You’ll probably be able to find one of these fairly easily. If you’re over on Erasmus or even in your twenties or early thirties, a quick search of your Facebook friends’ networks should turn up the goods. Another likely site for these language skills swaps is Meet-up.
Take a Tour
Not only will you find out loads about the History of London. The bonas is you’ll be doing it all in your target language.
The tour guides, who often have acting as well as presenting experience, understand clear pronunciation and throwing their voices to make themselves heard. They are used to international visitors and tourists from all over the world who speak English as a second or third language. There are no silly questions.
Here are some of my favourite London walking tours.
Take a class
The advantage here is getting the basics explained. I wouldn’t recommend this option if you’re intermediate or above, as you’ll just meet other foreigners and may end up speaking your own language outside class. But for advanced beginners still perplexed by prepositions and commonly used tenses, this will bolster your learning no end.
There are a confusing amount of EFL options. The British Council is probably a safe place to start to point you in the right direction.
This one’s a simple tip:
- Buy a pretty small notebook with lined pages.
- Write down every new word you learn in there.
- Look over these when your on public transport or before you go to sleep at night.
4. The End.
This is a rogue tactic, but one many of my contemporaries in jeune fille au pair days.
Essentially the thinking goes like this: If you make whopping mistakes in a foreign language as an intermediate speaker few adults will correct you. After all, they are not your teachers, you could be easily offended and it’s much easier to simply brush these clangers under the carpet and continue on with conversation.
Kids on the other hand are all about the condescending correction. You see, they feel puffed up and important that they know how to say it properly. They can’t help themselves but share this with you in the most direct of ways.
“It’s not ‘going at Tesco’! You say ‘going to Tesco’, Silly!”
I challenge you to take on a few after school babysitting gigs and not improve your English accuracy.
Reading aloud with kids is another great way to get a sort of free pronunciation clinic. Try mispronouncing classic fairy tale words in front of any self-respecting five year old and you’ll have swift correction coming your way.
Children, under the age of about nine, are not concerned by your potential embarrassment. They don’t think twice about hurting your feelings. Thus they are gold in terms of bringing your English on in leaps and bounds with constant correction.
Note, the clever thing is here is that you will be getting paid to improve your English. As long as you are basically responsible and enjoy working with children from time to time, you’re onto a winner!
Volunteering is a clever way to practice a language lots.
In London there are a wealth of community projects. In general people are friendly and will simply be pleased as punch you turned up and happy to chat.
Community Garden projects and Guerilla Gardening are great places to start. There’s a ‘get stick in’ attitude that lends itself to banter and striking up conversation.
You could also volunteer at any other cause that takes your fancy: a soup kitchen, an animal shelter.
Added bonus, you can feel great about your good deeds, whilst chatting away with your new native speaker friends.
Have fun with it
I think this is a crucial; when learning a language you should try and enjoy it as much as possible. That’s to say, enjoy the process.
Yes, there will be a time when you speak English far better than you speak it today, but what’s the rush? What will that end goal look like and what will it mean for you if you didn’t take the time to revel in every small, accumulated victory along the way?
You will make mistakes. It’s impossible not to when learning. Sometimes they’ll be funny though, really funny. A friend of mine was teaching a yoga class in her intermediate Spanish and told them to send the love from their meditation out into the University, rather than the universe…
If you know how to laugh along, learn and then pick yourself back up, dust off and keep moving forward, you will be a fluent speaker in no time at all. Mark my words!