The Basics

The great benefit of studying a language that is used frequently in everyday life is that it is very easy to improve your basic skills as a part of your day-to-day activities. Improving your vocabulary, for instance, can be done by reading or viewing more complex texts (which you might even find enjoyable!), using new and unusual words in conversation and in your writing, and generally exposing yourself to interesting language as often as possible. Whenever you don’t know how to spell a word or don’t know what a word means, find out! Making an effort and not avoiding difficult
language is the first step to a great vocabulary. The same thing can be done for other aspects of English too.

The big thing to remember about studying English is that we are not only concerned with getting an appreciation for the language, but also with understanding how it can be used by others to manipulate us and by us to manipulate others. All texts are written for a purpose, and it is very important to figure out what this purpose is in order to truly understand a text.

Prose Texts (your basic written texts like novels or short stories) can be easy to understand on a surface level, but always remember that writers rarely come out and tell the reader exactly what they are trying to communicate. It is important to read between the lines, look past the surface and try to figure out what the true message of a story is. Always ask yourself why an author would write a given story, as all stories are written for a purpose. When doing this, don’t stop with “to entertain people”, as there is generally much more to stories than this. For example, the ancient Myths on which we base much of our storytelling were originally used to explain why the world worked the way it did.

First and most importantly, don’t give up on a poem just because it seems confusing! Just like song lyrics, poetry relies upon the rhythm and sound of words and upon symbolism and imagery to get its message across. Objects in poems very frequently symbolise something else, and once you realise what that is, the poem will make much more sense. However, sometimes a spade is just a spade. Use your best judgement and remember that, like with all art-forms, it is entirely possible for
multiple interpretations of the same poem to be equally valid.

When studying a play in written form (otherwise known as a script), always remember that plays are made to be performed rather than read. In order to get the most out of a written play, try to imagine what it might look like on stage and what it sounds like as you read.

Visual Texts
Although they appear to be very different, visual texts rely upon many of the same conventions that written texts do, with the main difference being that the viewer can see exactly what the film-maker intends them to see, rather than having to imagine it as with a written text. Always remember that even subtle elements like colour, sound, lighting etc. all work together to provoke certain reactions from the viewer, so never dismiss anything that appears in a film as unimportant without thinking about it first. As I have said many times, everything in a text has a purpose.