How to Learn English – 3 Lessons from English Vinglish Suman February 12, 2015

How to Learn English – 3 Lessons from English Vinglish

English Vinglish, to me, is not just a comeback film of Sridevi. It is the triumph of a woman’s perseverance to gain confidence and salvage her self respect. Shashi goes to the US for a family wedding. Constantly belittled by her family for not speaking in English, she finds and seizes the opportunity to learn the language. She has a pretty strong reason to let it pass since she has a more important task at hand. But she so badly wants to do it, that she not just enrolls in it but sees through it. Well, most of it.

Since the film is about someone who learns English, as a language trainer, I find valuable lessons in it for anyone who wants to master the language. One thing I wouldn’t want to include in my list is passion. Which Shashi has in abundance. I think no matter what the skill or craft you want to master, wanting to do it badly is the first trait to have. If it doesn’t drive you enough or doesn’t mean much to you, you are not likely to follow it up till the end. So even before you begin to look at how to build a skill, you should stop for a minute and explore the within the conviction for doing it. If you find it, read on.

So given the passion that you have for gaining command over the language, here are my top 3 lessons from the film:

1. Be open: Shashi is a keen student of the language. Her passion for it shows in her readiness to learn. She identifies every source that can help her learn new words, acquire new knowledge. Entrepreneur seems like a pretty big word. But she immediately commits that to memory and it stays with her. We learn a language through imitation. As children, we heard people around us and tried to speak. And gradually got better at it. As an adult, you’ve got to find time to explore all the sources available to you to learn what correct English is all about.


Language learning is an active process   Photo credit

2. Engage: Active involvement in the skill you want to learn is a must. Shashi uses all sources available to her in the best possible way. She reads, albeit haltingly initially, headlines on TV and newspapers. She makes notes in class. She watches English films and finds out meanings of words she doesn’t know. And listening helps her understand the emotions behind the spoken words. Judgmental is a word that befuddles her. She finds out the meaning to understand it better in the context of the film. It is important to understand and remember what you read/listen to be able to use it later. And that’s how we will be able to gain comfort with a new language.

3. Practice: You can never be a great cook or an excellent driver by just reading cookery books or driving manuals. You have to use those skills in real life situations. Shashi makes sure that she reinforces the concepts, uses them actively in different contexts to the extent that she is able to order correctly at the restaurant even when she is upset. That is the level of expertise practice can take you to – from being consciously incompetent to unconsciously competent.

In the light of the above, there are the few things that you can do in your daily life to improve your language skills.

4 tips to improve your language skills

Most Indians have English as a second langauge in school. This is an important reason why English language skills remain weak. The rush to catch up on one’s job doesn’t help. But since the language is important in our day to day corporate life, it’s worth the effort to learn it and use it well. Be it meeting clients or writing emails and reports, good English skills have no substitute. Here are 4 tried and tested things which can help you gradually add to your language resources.

1. Read: The best resource to learn a new language is to read – at your pace and convenience. You can take your own time to understand the mechanics of language, the syntax and sentence structure. You can also make note of words you don’t know the meanings of. Look up meanings later and add to your word power.

Here are 6 reasons why a good vocabulary is important

And you can read 4 steps to build your vocabulary here

2. Listen: Also, our first mode of learning language as kids, listening helps reinforce what you read. It also adds emotion to words in the form of intonation. It helps pronunciation and learn voice modulation. Listen to news, debates, conversations to know how language sounds. Try to imitate that in the next step.

You can read about benefits of effective listening here

3. Speak: Apply what you have learnt since you can’t become an expert cook by reading recipes. You make mistakes, you learn. If you never practice, you will never learn to walk. So you will fumble, stumble but with persistence be able to walk and run at great speeds gradually.

4. Write: Writing helps further reinforce what you have learnt. You need not start an online blog for the world to see. Or may be you could when you feel confident enough. Till then you could write a journal of your daily schedule and feelings. Check how you are able to express yourself and your growing comfort with the language. When certain words and expressions come easily to you in private, you will find it easy to use it in real life.

In conclusion, learning English is not as Herculean as it seems. Just one strong step at a time and you will make it to the expert level. The tips discussed in this post can be your guiding path to sure shot success.

Suggested activity: Find a book to start reading towards this endeavour. Choose something that you find easy to read rather than hard. Also, decide on a slot of time you can set apart everyday to put these tips into practice.