Learning another language is hard work for anyone. It takes years to perfect another language, and for those who need it to improve their situation, they can be under a lot of pressure to learn it quickly and correctly. English is the most widely spoken language in the world, and for those born in an English-speaking country, life is pretty easy when it comes to having to communicate with others. But if you're from a country that's not native English speaking, and you want to have more opportunities in your life, then you may discover at some point that it's necessary to learn English. Learning English can be extremely difficult, but luckily, there are many resources out there that exist in order for people to improve their English proficiency and be able to speak the language with ease in no time.

What Is English Proficiency?

English proficiency is defined as a person's ability to communicate in English effectively, whether that's through speaking, writing or listening comprehension. There are different tests a person can take to prove their English proficiency. There are also tests a person can take to improve their English proficiency, if you're they are not quite ready for the exams.

Typically, at least in academic settings, being able to prove your English proficiency is necessary if you want to study in an English-speaking country. This can be done either by taking one of the tests, being able to prove that you speak English as a native language or showing proof that you have completed a degree at a school in a country where English was the language of instruction. Of course, all universities and countries have different requirements so make sure you know what the specific requirements are for you.

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The Difference Between Fluency and Proficiency

You may have heard the terms "English fluency" or "language fluency" used interchangeably with "English proficiency" and "language proficiency," but the two are not the same, even though they do share some similarities. Whereas proficiency defines a person who is able to communicate in English, they typically do so in a more formal manner and not in the natural or casual way of a person who is fluent in English. Proficiency also describes someone very advanced in the language, while fluency is someone who speaks easily and accurately, without needing to put in the effort. Therefore, you don't necessarily need to be fluent in order to be proficient in English.

Why is English Proficiency Important?

Proficiency in any language is a natural way to have more opportunities in life because it allows you to communicate with a whole other group of people that you wouldn't have otherwise been able to communicate with before. But English proficiency is actually essential for any person who wants to live in an English-speaking country, travel to another country in general and potentially have more, higher-paying work opportunities in the future. Because English is the Lingua Franca, there are many times where a person will be required to know English if they want to go down the road of success. While it's certainly possible to be successful in your own country without being proficient in English, learning this language can only help increase the number of possibilities out there.

The Five Ways to Improve Proficiency in English

There are many ways for a person to improve their proficiency in English or in any language. Some strategies will work better for others, but they are all worth trying at some point. After all, no person can know what they are capable of until they try! Though there are various ways to improve proficiency in English, the main techniques can generally fall into five different categories:

  1. Listening
  2. Comprehension
  3. Speaking
  4. Writing
  5. Reading

When you first begin learning a language, you might find it's easier to achieve success in certain areas before you succeed in others. For instance, some people have an easier time with reading and writing than they do with speaking. Other times, a person may find it easier to understand the language than speaking it themselves. The important thing to understand is that everyone learns differently and at a different pace than others. All that being said, never stop finding opportunities to practice and improve your English proficiency in the areas you're struggling with (as well as the areas you're already doing well in).

Improve Proficiency by Listening

One of the first steps in ultimately becoming proficient in English is by listening to the language. At the beginning of your journey with English, it's possible that you may not have even understood what the language sounded like. But now that you really have experience with English, you're probably quite keen to hear it as much as possible. Sit in lectures by English speakers, go to language exchanges, watch TV series or download apps that can help you with your listening skills, like Duolingo.

Improve Proficiency by Comprehension

There's quite a difference between listening and comprehension. You may hear what people are saying as you pick up the words in their sentences, but that doesn't necessarily mean you know what they're talking about. In English, things like phrasal verbs, idioms and other figures of speech, can get in the way of comprehension. One of the best ways to improve comprehension across all other aspects of English is through watching TV shows, seeing movies in English with subtitles in your native language and not being afraid to ask questions if you're unsure of what something means. Parts of language, like slang, can be hard to pick up at first, but if you can somehow situate yourself in the English-speaking culture, you can learn it quickly.

Improve Proficiency by Speaking

Speaking is one of the most difficult parts to master in any language, especially in English. Because of the pronunciation required as well as the intonation, mispronunciation of a single word can result in the breakdown of the entire sentence. To improve this, it helps to actually listen to recordings of native English speakers pronouncing certain words, and try to repeat those out loud to yourself as much as possible. This also goes for accent reduction. While it's okay to have an accent when speaking English and still be proficient, some students might want to work on reducing their accent whenever they have the chance.

Improve Proficiency by Writing

Another area to improve your English proficiency is through writing. If you're asking, "how can I improve my writing skills?" or "how can I improve my sentence structure?" then practice more. For some people, writing is easier than speaking because you can take the time you need to think about what you want to write, which you obviously cannot do when you're speaking and trying to hold a conversation. That being said, writing can also be difficult because of the challenging spelling and punctuation rules in English. To improve your writing, you can get writing workbooks, take classes, work with a tutor who can correct your writing, and keep a journal to make sure you're maintaining these skills as often as you can. With any proficiency exams you may take, writing is a huge part of it. Therefore, this is something you'll really want to work on even if it's difficult.

Improve Proficiency by Reading

There are many things you can do to improve your English proficiency in reading. Of course, the first thing you should do is practice reading as much as possible. Pick up newspapers, magazines, books or even read through social media posts. Circle any words that you don't know and save them for later to check in your dictionary. Another good idea is to take a book that you've read many times in your native language and get the English version of that book. Because you're already so familiar with the content, it should be fairly easy for you to get through.

How Can I Better My Grammar?

English grammar plays into every aspect of proficiency. It doesn't matter whether you're writing or speaking, as you'll need to have proficiency in grammar in order to be able to convey what you want to say. While grammatical points may not be as crucial to the meaning in some languages, having the wrong grammar can make a difference as to whether or not the listener or the reader can understand you.

Immerse Yourself in English

The best way to become proficient in English is by fully immersing yourself in the language. Plenty of people learn English, and they have never met an English-speaking person in their life. That's because these days, there are many resources available online in order to help with language acquisition. But if you do have the opportunity to mingle with English speakers by traveling to an English-speaking country or going to exchange groups in your city, that's a great way to achieve English proficiency in a timely manner.

How to Help Someone Learning English

If you're a native-English speaker or someone who is already proficient in English, then you can try to help others whenever you get a chance. There are many people around the world trying to learn English every day, and just like learning any other language, it can be an uncomfortable and frustrating process. Therefore, if you know someone who is attempting to learn English, there are a few things you should note. For one, never put the person on the spot or force them into a situation where they don't feel comfortable speaking. This will only leave them to associate negative feelings with English, and they may be hesitant to try again. That being said, you should, of course, politely encourage them to practice their English as often as possible, and assure them that you can be there if they need help. You could also work as a tutor or an ESL teacher if teaching English is something really important to you.

Additionally, it's never polite to tease someone who is learning English, whether they make a mistake or have a funny accent. Even if the person is your friend, this can also discourage them. Of course, if the person tells you that they want to be corrected, then you should do that, but at least give them some space to make mistakes in the first place. Give them compliments and constructive criticism as long as they are welcome to it.

Things to Remember

Learning a language is no easy feat, but for many people, knowing English is the only way for a person to improve their situation, whatever that may be. If a person is proficient in English, they can apply for jobs at big companies, or even get a visa to move abroad to an English-speaking country. English is necessary for certain jobs because you need to be able to communicate with people in a common language. All this being said, English is, of course, a very desirable language to learn. However, remember that it takes some time to become proficient in a language, so don't get discouraged if it's taking longer than you had initially hoped. Just continue practicing and utilizing those five ways to improve proficiency in English.

About the Author

Hana LaRock is a freelance content writer from New York, currently living in Mexico. Before becoming a writer, Hana worked as a teacher for several years in the U.S. and around the world. She has her teaching certification in Elementary Education and Special Education, as well as a TESOL certification. Please visit her website, www.hanalarockwriting.com, to learn more.