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After graduation with basic English knowledge, working several years with practical skills, I wonder how I can improve my English to a higher level, which is my second language. I've noticed vocabulary comes first, although I am capable to explain in more words, this may cause time loss in conf-interpreting; collocation is the second,after I read some blogs in aiic blog, I notice the gap.

I ever thought, should I turn to textbook of Master Degree, or read English classic works, to study specific website, such as or what other materials to take? My target is: clear, graceful, specific, authentic English. Thanks in advance.

asked 23 Aug '12, 22:39

Paris%20Si%20de%20Chine's gravatar image

Paris Si de ...

edited 24 Aug '12, 04:21

Nacho's gravatar image

Nacho ♦

Dear Paris:

I assume you're referring to English mostly as a B language. There are already some questions that tackle this o similar issues:

  1. Improve your working languages
  2. B language proficiency
  3. Add a C language

You may also look in for the following tags: english, b-language, c-language and language-acquisition.

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answered 24 Aug '12, 04:36

Nacho's gravatar image

Nacho ♦

edited 24 Aug '12, 04:38

Dear Nacho:

Thanks for your great answer and care. And the links you provided are very helpful, I love them. Thanks again.

Best regards


(24 Aug '12, 07:00) Paris Si de ...

If you are interested in learning vocabulary, you might also take a look at various resources in linguistics explaining vocabulary acquisition. My very short summary of this is that you need to read a lot, and listen a lot, to materials that challenge you. In particular, look for materials that you can understand but that contain substantial new vocabulary. There seems to be an agreement in linguistics that if you understand 98% of the words, your understanding will be adequate. The material needs to be not too easy, yet be understandable. I haven't read in this field in a while, so you should look around for the latest research. Just reading this will improve your vocabulary in linguistics.

Another resource you can look at is the BYU English vocabulary corpus located at A related site at presents this data in spreadsheet form; in BYU or the "genres" spreadsheet, you will be able to see word frequency by genre. You can also look up words and phrases at BYU. A noteworthy pattern in the data is that virtually any word known by a typical English "A" will appear in the main genre categories (spoken, fiction, literature, academic, newspaper). But some will appear only very rarely in some and very commonly in others.

More noteworthy is that some words appear across all genres, but dominantly appear in one sub-category, and virtually every subcategory has at least a few words that it uses very frequently, and hardly occur anywhere else (but still occur). A native speaker would know these words, though may hardly ever encounter them. In particular, it would be hard to learn a lot of the sports terms in English without reading the sports pages. One surprising facet of this is that quite a lot of terms only really occur in pop culture items - sci fi novels, fantasy novels, the sports pages, even in movies - and as you can expect, a lot of terms dominantly occur in academic texts. ("airlock" occurs mostly in sci-fi; "centripetal" mostly in academia, but both terms describe features of possible space station designs) You should also make note that a large part of the vocabulary is very difficult to acquire if you do not read serious fiction.

There are two takeaways from this. First, you could reach native proficiency without specifically working on it simply by living in a country for a vast period of time. Or, you could read materials in genres where you need to build your vocabulary, which would be much faster.

In particular, this is what I'd recommend: regularly read a good newspaper. I like The Economist; NYTimes is good too. Read a high-brow magazine like The Atlantic, Harper's, etc., as well. Read some science, but don't go overboard; science periodicals aimed at the general audience contain science vocabulary, and at high frequency. Read the sports, health, and better homes and gardens type sections and magazines until you feel comfortable with the content. You might find there's a large vocabulary to pick up, but it's a very shallow pool. That can make up for not growing up in America. Read fiction. A lot of it. Pick a list of 20 classic books; start with a lot of contemporary stuff. Once you've mastered that, read older classics from the 19th Century all the way back to Shakespeare and the King James Bible. It's good for vocabulary exposure as well. For example, The KJB and Shakespeare is full of archaic vocabulary that has survived on as legalese.

Finally, reading academic texts is also a great way to build vocabulary, though you'll have to use your judgment here in finding suitable materials in the ocean of academic writing. Coursera and the MOOCs are a golden resource in this age. You might profit more from reading academic journals in fields you are familiar with, instead of reading more basic-level textbooks. Reading entire 1,000-page textbooks would probably be overkill. An interesting feature of the BYU data is that it apparently doesn't take vast reading in any one particular academic field to learn the terms a typical native speaker in that field would know, though it does take a large amount of exposure overall to get there - but this exposure is over a large range of fields in addition to reading newspapers, novels, and magazines.

However, I would recommend reading a good academic survey of American and European history, not only for the rich vocabulary, but also to understand this crucial feature of American tradition and culture.

But above all, read (and listen to) diverse materials and seek out challenge. If you read just newspapers to build English, you will hit a wall where you know 99.8%+ of the words and can't progress much past it. For example, "plutocracy" was used by the NYTimes just 12 times this past year, "matrilineal" just 3 times -- out of tens of millions of words. And there are tens of thousands of words in the Times that are used just a handful of times. But if you read the right material, you will find you can acquire new vocabulary more quickly.

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answered 15 Sep '15, 22:46

Adrian%20Lee%20Dunbar's gravatar image

Adrian Lee D...

Imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Find a native speaker or speakers you think are a good match with your personality and style. Analyze how they speak and channel them in your interpretation. Listen to a lot of good quality programs and youtube videos. For American English I recommend to read the Atlantic magazine. You must know newspaper language but do not speak like a journalist unless you are interpreting one.

For professional vocabulary use Random House Word Menu. Excellent starter book. Then oyu can explore each of these topics in more detail.

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answered 11 May '16, 23:22

Cyril%20Flerov's gravatar image

Cyril Flerov

Hello! This was probably already answered in the questions that Nacho referenced above, but to reiterate and expand a bit: there are some texts here, specifically on B Languages and how to build them, on shadowing, and on practicing in general. I'd like to describe here the three main exercises from the B language text that have helped me the most in building my own B into one that can be used in international organizations and in high-level meetings.

First of all is shadowing. You may get a good description of why and how in the text at the site I mentioned above. I found it gave me a facility in speaking, and allowed me to follow and learn native intonation patterns.

Secondly is memorizing a sentence a day. This actually works well for improving an A or a B language, and is one that has been used successfully by students who had to work on their A languages to pass their interpreting exams, as well as by experienced interpreters looking to increase their knowledge of a B language. The technique is as follows:

- pick a well-written speech in your target language.  If you are working in English, make sure to choose the English you wish to develop, either US or UK.  I personally recommend that if you choose US, you take one of the State of the Union addresses by the President.  It would be written well, usually delivered well, it will be easy to find a text and a video of the speech, and it touches on all of the important subjects of the day.

 - memorize the first sentence.  Make sure you are memorizing it correctly.  Use the video/audio input so that you may also memorize emphasis, stress, pronunciation, accent, and intonation.  Say it 10 times and then write it down, making sure that it is correct.

 - Once you are absolutely certain you know it well, repeat the correct sentence 200 times throughout the day.  It will take a couple of hours, but you can do it while you are gardening, walking to the bus, getting dressed, cooking...

- The next day, do the next sentence.  Do not try and remember the first sentence.

At the end of a month, you will have dug into your brain 30 sentences worth of the correct use of articles, prepositions, and verbal collocations. This works better than learning a single expression, because it raises the general level of your language, not just separate expressions. Keep on going as long as you are able!

Thirdly is an exercise in multiple formulations. Once you are fluent enough in a language, and this can be used to help your A language as well, try sight translating a text, giving as many different variations of each sentence or paragraph as possible. Turn verbs into nouns, actives to passives, cut up sentences, turn them on their heads, and make the entire sentence as compact as possible, all while making sure that the meaning always remains the same.

I learned these exercises from my teachers, in particular Ine-Marie van Dam at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and Elena Sladkovskaia during the Cambridge Conference Interpretation Course, and they have improved my work immensely. They are time consuming, and can be tiring, but they work well!

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answered 12 May '16, 11:13

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question asked: 23 Aug '12, 22:39

question was seen: 6,092 times

last updated: 12 May '16, 11:13 is a community-driven website open to anyone with questions and/or answers about interpreting, i.e. spoken language translation

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