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Three main challenges with the English language

Paul Baxter
Articles, prepositions, fixed pairs and phrasal verbs: Those are among the most difficult things for a student to learn fluently. Because there are so many variants in each area, it is also difficult for the instructor to teach every word or phrase.
For example, it is correct to say, “husband and wife” but not “wife and husband”; ”bread and butter” but not “butter and bread”; “fish and chips” but not “chips and fish”. It is common in English for words to be used in a fixed order. But at times, this does not matter and they can be swapped. You may say, “pepper and salt” or “salt and pepper” and both will sound totally normal.
Another example is the use of the correct synonym, especially in a business context. Some synonyms for “shop” are “kiosk” and “store”. They are basically the same word and all can be used to mean the same thing in the vast majority of cases. But at times only one of the words may be used in an idiomatic phrase or with certain other words. We say, “talk shop” to mean to talk about business, normally in a social setting. But it is totally incorrect to say “talk store” or “talk kiosk”.
A fixed way of saying something is crucial if a student wants to communicate at a native-speaker level. The use of the words in the reverse order might still make grammatical and even logical sense. However, to many native speakers it would be like someone saying to you, “Square Red” instead of “Red Square”: understandable, but incorrect.
Russian students are normally masters of grammar. In fact, it is said in many teacher training courses that Russians love grammar more than any other nationality learning English as a second language. But grammar is not enough by itself; there is more to English than a set of rules that can be learned by heart while at school.
All of these difficult parts of the English language can be learned over time. Of course, the best method is to go live in a native English-speaking country for a year or two. But that is not always possible as it is often required to know these parts of English before you could get a job in one of these countries.
The next best solution is to read, and read and read more. This is, by far, the easiest and most productive method. Be sure to read something that is enjoyable. You must remember why you are reading. It is not to replace your Russian reading; it is to supplement it, to be part of your overall reading. Don’t suddenly start with your favorite book in English. Don’t go and get the latest autobiography of some politician or musician. You are reading to learn how English flows and what words go with what words. It is to see articles and prepositions used over and over again. It is to find the occasional phrasal verb.
So, choose your books wisely. It is necessary to get a book you can relax with. This reading is not to be suffered like homework that “must” be done. It is to be done because you are enjoying it and want to do it. Read a simple book, a simple topic that won’t become complicated to follow and include specialized English.
Consider either a Harry Potter book or The Chronicals of Narnia. They are available in Moscow, in English. Although these are fantasy books for younger people, the language used is everyday, natural English. These books can be easily read, yet with enough new vocabulary to keep you learning new words. Most importantly, you will be exposed to thousands of articles and prepositions, as well as hundreds of fixed pairs and phrasal verbs. The same uses will be repeated throughout the book.
By reading a book a week, or even a book every two weeks, you will be exposed many times to the same types of written language. You will see what preposition goes with what verb so many times that it will sound unusual for you to hear something else.
You must choose a book that is simple to read but also interesting.  Of course there will be other books you could choose from as well. But the main thing is to choose one that can be read comfortably. You want to be able to read the book without stopping every 5 minutes to check a word in the dictionary. You need to get into the story as you do a Russian book. Your sub-conscious will do the studying for you. It will see the repeated word combinations and remember them in time.
Apart from reading, you can also watch DVDs in English. The best are short documentary films of no more than 45 minutes. These are interesting and the speaking is controlled for maximum understanding. Documentaries are made to teach people about a subject, whether it be about the oceans, animals or space. For this reason the narrator makes comments and often stops speaking for long periods. If you must use subtitles, choose English ones, not Russian. Another method is to watch the film in Russian first so you get an understanding of the topic, then watch it again in English.
Another great way to learn is by doing crosswords in English. These can be challenging but with patience they will improve your knowledge of vocabulary.
And finally, be sure to speak English as often as you can.
Good luck with your studies!

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