What is the best way to improve your spoken and written English? Well, whatever you do, you need to find ways to speak and write as much as possible with language partners, teachers and native speakers. That way your passive knowledge (ability to understand what you read and hear) can be transformed into active knowledge – ability to express yourself. How wonderful it is to be able to express yourself in a new language. I recently had a French conversation lesson and for me that was one of the most exciting hours of my life! Being able to express and share your thoughts in a language you once did not even understand is an incredible feeling.

Napoleon’s Homework

Expressing yourself is not reserved for speaking alone. Let’s not forget about writing. Nowadays, when so much of our communication is done via the various social networks and text messaging, writing has become an essential communication tool even for informal chatting. With some languages that can be a particularly daunting challenge. Whatever the language, writing initially causes a lot of anxiety for the learner. Perhaps this is because the limits of your knowledge are more obvious when they are written down. You feel like your mistakes are staring back at you from the page. I know this feeling but I am asking you not to let it discourage you. Write whatever, whenever and I promise you that the more you do it, the easier it will get. What are some things you could write about? At the end of the day, write down what happened to you during the day. In the morning, write down your plans for the day. Find a pen pal here on iTalki. Write, write, and write. Depending on your level, you can even attempt tasks that are more challenging. If you keep a diary, why not try to write a portion of it in English? Write reviews of films you have seen, books you have read, restaurants you have visited. If you have a teacher, perhaps you could ask them if it would be ok to write to them and have them check your writing in the next lesson. Teachers are able to give you valuable feedback on your writing. But remember, before you send the text to your teacher, take a look at it yourself. Perhaps you can immediately spot some simple mistakes and correct them, this way you can play the role of your own teacher and pre-edit your text.

Do not expect your writing to be immediately perfect. Get comfortable with getting it wrong. If that is hard, just think of Napoleon. He was one of the greatest figures in history. He dominated Europe for over a decade .And yet he too was a language learner just like you and struggled to get it right in English. As the article on BBC NEWS website says, when Napoleon was captured by the British and forced to spend the last six years of his life on the island of Saint Helena, he decided it was time he learned English. He worked hard and had lessons every day because he wished to understand what the English people around him were saying. As soon as he felt more confident in his written English, he started writing short letters to his teacher.

 Hopefully, your reasons for learning English are not so grim but it is still important to have the zeal and persistence to keep practicing daily. Whatever you do – do not be embarrassed about making mistakes! If you are too shy and think that your English is not good enough, take a look at one of Napoleon’s letters to his teacher. His English has so much room for improvement. In fact, only his teacher Emmanuel, the Comte de las Cases, can fully understand what he meant to say. Can you?


“Count Las Case. It is two o’clock after midnight, I have enow [enough] sleep, I go then finish the night into to cause with you,  
 He shall land above seven day, a ship from Europe that we shall give account from anything who this shall have been even to day of first January thousand eight hundred sixteen.
You shall have for this ocurens a letter from Lady Las Case that shall you learn what himself could carry well if she had conceive the your occurens. But I tire myself and you shall have of the ado at conceive my.”

Despite the lack of clarity and the many grammar mistakes, this letter was sold to the French Museum of Letters and Manuscripts for 325,000 EUR at an auction in France. So, you see, it really is OK to make mistakes, what is important is to learn from your mistakes and move on to making new and different ones. Mistakes mean you are trying out new things. So be proud!

Good luck with all your efforts, practice as often as you can. Find a way to use English every day – italki is a great place to start. Perhaps you can share your views about this article and the story of Napoleon. Do you find it inspiring? What will you do to improve your writing skills in English?


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