i‑Learner Education Centre

Steps to Success » Stretching Ourselves

English is Everywhere

When I ask my students what they’ve read recently, they often say they’re too busy to read for fun. They can only tell me about the textbooks or comprehension passages they skim for school. However, we live in an international metropolis, and English is everywhere around us, waiting to help us learn in new and interesting ways.

If my students say they’re too busy to read, I ask them to keep an eye out for English in their daily lives. They’ll quickly spot a leaflet about recycling, a take-away menu, or the instructions on a hand-sanitiser dispenser. Then I ask the students what words they recognise from the text they’ve found. There will be a mix of new and familiar words, with many of them being vocabulary from daily life. Sometimes the students think reading this simple language isn’t helpful, especially if it comes with a Chinese translation that makes understanding it easy. However, engaging with familiar words in new contexts is vital to building our reading skills and understanding the full nuances of a language.

We like to blame a busy schedule or even the limitations of our environment for ourselves not reading. But if we are determined to find English to read and learn, there’s little excuse. Every road sign is an opportunity to learn the synonym of a paved passage: lane, path, street, road, avenue, expressway, etc. And likewise the myriad vocabulary on menus is staggering. Of course, there will be badly translated phrases or incorrect grammar, but doesn’t part of our daily exercise include proofreading? So look, turn over stuff, do a double take on an usual sign, and spot the English in every everyday situation. If we can deal with the language that leaps out at us all around, we can surely succeed in exam settings, and perhaps we’ll even be tempted to make time for a book or two as well.