How do I express myself better in English?
One of my students asked me this question recently:
“I would like to know, how do I express myself better in English? I notice that some people are very good at expressing themselves well, for example day to day conversation or even writing an essay. I read somewhere that you need to be a well-read person to express yourself well. To me expressing myself well would probably give me lots of confidence. I’m not that bad right now but I feel I have a lot to improve. Please let me know of any way that I could improve my English usage and express myself more clearly and confidently.”
This is not the usual kind of question (come, came, come?) I get here, but the whole point of good English usage is to be able to write clearly and eloquently. An error in grammar is not really serious—except that it distracts readers from what you’re trying to say.My student was right—you need to read as much as you can, and to find the best writers. When you read a good writer, you let that writer into your mind. He or she is thinking for you, putting words and sentences and ideas into your head.When you read Shakespeare, you are thinking Shakespeare’s thoughts. When you read Charles Dickens, you travel in time to 19th-century England, and you see what Dickens saw. When you read Emily Dickinson or Dorothy Parker, you are thinking like an amazing woman.
You don’t have to read just the famous authors. A good newspaper story or blog post can teach you new words and new ways to write. That’s how you learned to speak when you were a baby, listening to your parents and other people in the house. It’s difficult to learn language as we grow older, but we can still improve—if we pay attention.Of course it’s hard. A few years ago, I started to teach myself to read Arabic—not understand it, just recognize the letters. I read a short sentence to an Arabic teacher. When I was through, I felt as if I’d been lifting weights! When your brain has to do something new, it needs more blood. It’s working hard, and even making new connections between nerve cells.So when you’re reading or listening to good English, you’ll soon feel very tired. Don’t worry. As you grow new brain cells, and the old cells make new connections, your skill in English will improve. It will get easier.
If you drive a car, you remember how hard it was at first. You had to think about everything: Starting the car, checking the rear-view mirror, turning the wheel, pressing the accelerator pedal, pressing the brake, watching the traffic. Every lesson was exhausting.But after a few weeks you didn’t even think about it. You did everything smoothly, and no one would imagine that you were still a new driver.
It’s the same with expressing yourself in English. Read a lot, and write a lot. Listen to spoken English, and speak it every chance you get—even if you have to read Shakespeare or Emily Dickinson out loud. You won’t always understand what they really mean, but you’ll understand how words should flow in good English.
And at some point, when you speak or write in English, other people will be surprised. They’ll say: “What an interesting idea!” or “Well said!” They won’t say: “How grammatical!” or “What good punctuation!” They won’t even notice your grammar and punctuation, because your English will convey what you really want to say.
Azhar Ahmed (Director-Training)