Here is the good news. If you study hard for many years, take a lot of classes, and live abroad for a few months, you can learn to speak and write English very well.
Here is the bad news. Even if you do all of these things, your English will never be perfect. Actually, this is not really bad news. It is just a fact. English is a very complicated language, with a thousand year history. Perfect English is not possible, even for native English speakers.
"Is learning English a lifelong process?" Many students want to believe that if they study hard, they will become "masters" of English, and then they can stop studying. They are disappointed when I tell them that this is impossible. Then they are shocked when I tell them that I am still learning English, too.
"But you're a native English speaker," they argue. "How can you still be learning English?"
Of course, the misunderstanding here is about what learning a language means. Korean students of English usually say they want to speak "like a native speaker." My question to these students is, "Which native speaker?"
Studies show that the average native English speaker today has a vocabulary of 2,000 to 4,000 words. Some great English writers have a vocabulary of up to 7,000 words. The great poet, John Milton, used around 8,000 different words. But the champion of English vocabulary was William Shakespeare. He used more than 21,000 words! In fact, his ideas were so extraordinary and varied that standard English was not enough for him. He also invented at least 1,700 new words, to say things that no one else had ever said.
And this is just vocabulary. Knowing a lot of words is great, but speaking and writing are also creative. You use old words to say new things. That means that you must find interesting new ways to combine words to suggest complicated new meanings. Lazy people say only basic things, because they think only basic thoughts. But if you really want to communicate beyond the basic level, you not only need to learn as much vocabulary and grammar as possible; you also need to find interesting new ways to put words together. This means that as long as your thoughts are developing, your language skills must also develop, in order to communicate your developing thoughts.
So, if your language goals are very low, you can probably learn "enough" English, and then stop studying. But if you really want to communicate well in English (or any language), then you must always be trying to improve your skills. Discover new words. Find or create new expressions to express your ideas as clearly as possible. This is true for native English speakers, just as for Korean students.
Think about how frustrated you feel when you want to say something important in English, but you can't find the right words to say it. Every English speaker feels this way sometimes, too. Even the greatest masters of English feel this way sometimes. Why did Shakespeare invent 1,700 words? He did it because he too felt frustrated when he could not communicate his meaning properly. He had to create new ways to speak English in order to say everything he was thinking.
If learning English was a lifelong process even for Shakespeare, then it must be for everyone, native or non-native. Learning never ends. That's not bad news. It means you can always be a better person tomorrow than you are today. Fighting!
Daren Jonescu -
<저작권자 © The Campus Journal, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>