1. I want to enlarge my vocabulary, but once I saw so many new words, I was discouraged. Are there any good ways?
If you’re a regular reader of this column, you will have read a lot of advice about increasing your vocabulary. Remember, your receptive vocabulary (= what you understand when you listen to English or read English) is far greater than your active vocabulary (= the language you use with confidence when you speak or write). There’s nothing better than listening to English and reading English as much as you can if you want to expand your vocabulary, but don’t attempt to do this if the level is too high for you. Read books which are below your present level. Additionally, there are numerous vocabulary practice books on the market which are quite suitable for self-study purposes. These can be useful in helping you to expand your vocabulary. Look up publishers English Language Teaching catalogues for suitable titles.
2. Is it a good method to write down each new word in a special notebook to strengthen the memory while learning English?
If it helps you, do it! We all have our own individual ways of learning. A lot of learners like to ‘see’ as well as ‘hear’ new words, so it helps to write them down in a notebook.
3. I met many new words while I was reading. Which ones should I look up in the dictionary and remember?
Look up and remember only those words which prevent you from understanding the essential meaning of what you are reading. Try to guess from the context the meaning of other less essential words. It is impossible to remember the meaning of every single word you encounter and if you try to do this you will rapidly become discouraged. So be selective.
4. As dictionaries are important in my English studies, how can I use them more effectively?
People tend to think that dictionaries just explain meanings and are rarely aware of the ‘range of services’ they provide. It’s desirable to own more than one good monolingual dictionary if at all possible, since together, different dictionaries give you a more rounded picture. However, the most important thing to do with a dictionary is really to use it, above all when you are reading. Use it till you truly know your way round it and enjoy what it offers you. Modern monolingual dictionaries provide some or all of the following services:
—British and American English variations
—structural information (for example, whether a verb is transitive or intransitive, whether it is followed by to or -ing; whether a noun is countable or uncountable, etc.)
—meaning (beginning with the most widely-used meaning)
—level of formality
—citations that a) bring out the meaning of the word b) are drawn from real use
—cross-references to other relevant entries
To get the most out of a dictionary, you need to extend your awareness of what it can do. There are also a number of extremely interesting variations on the standard dictionary, such as The Longman Language Activator which help you to choose the right word or phrase to express your ideas.
当然，要想充分利用词典，你必须明白它能做些什么。标准的词典中有很多有趣的英语变体，比如The Longman Language Activator就是这样的词典，它可以帮助你选择有助于表达自己的思想的正确的词或短语。
5. How can I learn so many idioms by heart?
You can’t, and you will be pleased to hear, you don’t need to. It’s a total waste of time to learn lists of idioms by heart. And even if you do, this will not improve your English at all. What is an idiom, anyway? When people are asked for examples of idioms, they often quote fixed phrases like: It’s raining cats and dogs, the pot calling the kettle black, to add insult to injury, and so on. If you’re interested in collections like this, consult specialized dictionaries like The Longman Dictionary of English Idioms (first published 1979). Even if you learnt this dictionary by heart, your English wouldn’t be much better. The dictionary is for you to consult when you hear someone use this kind of idiom and you fail to understand it. What you should be aiming at is not learning ‘idioms’, but acquiring a command of idiomatic English, which is a completely different matter. This means sounding as much as possible like a native speaker of English when you speak, rather than sounding like someone who is constantly translating from Chinese. To improve your command of idiomatic English, you need to remember that English is a word-order language: that is, the basic order is Subject ｜ Verb ｜ Object ｜ Manner ｜ Place ｜ Time. Any departure from this order makes your English sound unidiomatic and ‘foreign’. If, for example, you say ‘I speak well English’ instead of ‘I speak English well’, you will be breaking a fundamental rule in the English language. Another thing to remember is that English prefers phrasal verbs to ordinary verbs. We tend to say ‘Come in!’ when someone knocks at the door, rather than ‘Enter!’; we tend to say ‘Put out the fire/Put the fire out’ rather than ‘Extinguish the fire’. Phrasal verbs often have idiomatic uses, as well as literal uses: ‘Put the cat out’ is a literal use (= put it out of the house); ‘Put the fire out’ is an idiomatic use (= extinguish). You have to learn phrasal verbs as you encounter them in context. Towards the end of my Essential English Grammar, I list fifteen basic grammar rules. A command of these will ensure that your English sounds idiomatic. You will also see that this has nothing at all to do with learning fixed-phrase idioms by heart.
你做不到这点，也没有这个必要。这么说你可能会很高兴。费尽心思死记英语习语表简直是浪费时间。即使你做到了，它们对你的英语学习也无济于事。什么是习语呢?当人们被问起有关习语的例子时，他们总是引用一些固定短语，例如：It’s raining cats and dogs, the pot calling the kettle black, to add insult to injury，等等。如果你对此感兴趣，你可以查一些专门词典，如The Longman Dictionary of English Idioms(1979年第一版)。即使你背下了这本词典，你的英语也不见得长进多大。这本词典是在你听到不能理解的习语时供你查找用的。你现在的任务不是学习这些习语，而是掌握地道的英语，这与学习习语是完全不同的事。这就是说，所说的英语听起来要尽可能像以英语为母语的人所说的那样，而不是在不断翻译汉语。因此，要想学好地道的英语，你就应当记住英语是一种词序语言：即它的基本结构是主语+动词+宾语+方式+地点+时间。如果偏离了这种格式，那么你所说的英语就不是那么地道了，甚至有点儿像“舶来品”。例如，如果你把“我的英语说得很好”说成I speak well English，而不是I speak English well，那么你就违背了英语的一个最基本的规则。另一点值得我们注意的是：在英语中短语动词比普通的动词用得更普遍。当某人敲门时，我们更倾向于说Come in!，而不说Enter!我们倾向说Put out the fire/Put the fire out，而不说Extinguish the fire.短语动词通常有习语的用法，也有按字面意义上理解的用法：Put the cat out 就是字面用法(=把它放在房屋外);Put the fire out是一个习语用法(=使熄灭)。你必须掌握这些短语动词，因为在文中你会经常遇见它们。在我所著的Essential English Grammar的最后，我列举了15条最基本的英语语法规则。掌握了这些就可以使你的英语听起来更地道。你也会发现这与死记固定的英语习语毫不相关。
6. Is it necessary to study slang?
No, it is not. In fact it’s quite a dangerous thing to do. When we’re learning a foreign language, we like to know exactly what native speakers say and we like to know all the rude words in the language. Slang is usually rude and impolite, but if you are a learner you don’t know just how rude or impolite. If you use slang or swear words when speaking to native speakers they might be quite shocked by what you say. Modern dictionaries clearly label certain words and expressions as ‘taboo’ to show that their use is rude or offensive in polite society. It’s fine to understand such words and phrases, but always avoid using them in case you give offence.
7. I often have some ideas and want to write them down. But I cannot express my meaning well. How can I improve my writing?
While we’re at school or university, most of our writing tasks are set by others. Because of this, we often find it difficult to know what to say. In real life, however, we write for a purpose. We may have to write reports, letters, etc. Writing for a purpose gives us something to say and is highly motivating. However, we have to learn how to write. The essence of writing is the ability to join ideas. To do this in English, we have to master simple sentences (that is, sentences with one main verb); compound sentences (that is, sentences joined by and, but, both ... and, etc.) and complex sentences (that is, sentences joined by when, as soon as, while, although, even if, participles (Finding that ...), to infinitives, etc.) In order to write well, we have to master sentence structure, so look for textbooks that provide you with this kind of practice. And remember: the more you read, the better you will write. When you read, you have a constant writing model in front of you. Writing a summary of something you have read is excellent practice. You can compare what you have written with the original.
我们在上中学或大学时，大多数的写作作业是由别人布置的。因此，我们会很难知道该说些什么。然而在现实生活中，我们却是有目的地练习写作。我们可能得写报告、信件，等等。有目的的写作能给我们提供想表达思想的素材，因此，它具有很强的主动性。尽管如此，我们还是必须学会如何写作。写作的要旨就是把思想联系起来的能力。想要用英语做到这一切，我们必须掌握简单句(即只含一个主要动词的句子)；并列句(即用and, but, both...and等连接的句子)；复合句(即用when, as soon as, while, although, even if，分词〈finding that...〉，to不定式等连接的句子)。要写好文章，我们必须掌握句子结构，所以你可以查找一些能够为你提供这方面练习的教材。请记住：你读得越多，你写得也就越好。当你读书的时候，你的眼前就会有一个范文。给你读的文章写摘要是一种很好的训练。你可以把你写的摘要与原文作个比较。
8. If I keep a diary, will this help me gradually to improve my English?
Keeping a diary is an excellent way of improving your written English for the following reasons:
1) It is constant practice. Even the dullest days will always give you something to write about. The big problem is maintaining the discipline needed to write, so you don’t skip days.
2) You are writing about true experiences, so your subject matter is ready-made. A lot of people have difficulty writing because they don-t know what to write about.
3) Writing a diary gives you constant practice in three writing styles: narration, description and reflection. You need narration (and therefore plenty of practice in using the past tense) to say what happened during each day. You need description to record your impressions of people and places. You need a reflective style to say what you think about people and events.
4) Finally, don’t be too ambitious. It’s better to write briefly and within your command of English. So don’t try to write at length, or to use words and structures taken from a bilingual dictionary. After all, you don’t want to practise mistakes!
9. It’s not difficult for me to understand a written sentence, but I’ve no idea how to choose the right word to make such a sentence.
The more you read, the better you will write. A simple way of improving your writing skills is to concentrate on a short text in English. Read it carefully, then write (say) five questions about it. Then answer these questions with complete sentences which you write yourself. The answers to your questions will form a summary of the piece you have just read. You will be able to compare the sentences you have written with the sentences in the text. The essence of writing is to learn how to join ideas. If you practise in the way I am suggesting, you will come to master the words we use to connect ideas: words like and and but which we use to write compound sentences; words like when, since, although which we use to write complex sentences.
你读得越多，写得就越好。提高你英语写作技巧的一种简单方式就是集中研究一段英语短文。先仔细阅读，然后写下(说出)关于文章的五个问题。然后再用完整的句子回答这些问题，那么你所回答的问题就成了一篇文章摘要。你可以把你所写下的句子与文中的句子作番比较。写作的要旨是为了能够学习如何串连思想。如果你按照我的建议去做，你就会掌握我们用来连接文章思想的词汇：如我们写并列句所用的and和but等以及我们写复合句所用的when, since, although等。
10. Our English teachers once told us to ‘write in simple sentences’, as it is easy to write in such a way, and we won’t make many mistakes. But I now feel that is not enough. How can I improve my writing?
What is a simple sentence? In grammatical terms, a simple sentence has only one finite verb. Here are a few simple sentences: I opened the door. I went into the room. I walked towards the window. I opened the window. I looked out. There were children in the street. They were playing. I watched them for a long time.
Your teacher was right. You can reduce the number of mistakes you might make by writing in this way, but as your English improves, you will want to express yourself in more complex ways. This means:
writing compound sentences, using and, but, not only ... but, or, etc.: I opened the door and went into the room. I walked towards the window and opened it. Then I looked out. etc.
writing complex sentences, using conjunctions like after, as soon as, when, etc: After I opened the door, I went into the room. It was dark inside the room, so I walked towards the window and opened it. I saw children who were playing in the street and watched them for a long time.
writing complex sentences, using participle constructions and infinitive constructions: After opening the door, I went into the room. It was dark inside the room, so I opened a window to let in some light. I saw children playing in the street, and stood at the window, watching them for a long time.
In the above examples, you can see how simple sentences can be re-expressed in more complex ways. The ideas are basically the same, but the way they are connected can vary in relation to your command of English. Use a book that approaches composition through texts. Avoid practice books that only practise single sentence examples.
什么是简单句呢?从语法意义上说，一个简单句只有一个限定动词。这里列举一些简单句：I opened the door. I went into the room. I walked towards the window. I opened the window. I looked out. There were children in the street. They were playing. I watched them for a long time.
使用and, but, not only...but, or等连词写并列句：I opened the door and went into the room. I walked towards the window and opened it. Then I looked out.等等。
使用诸如after, as soon as, when等连词写复合句：
After I opened the door, I went into the room. It was dark inside the room, so I walked towards the window and opened it. I saw children who were playing in the street and watched them for a long time.
用分词结构或不定式结构写复合句：After opening the door, I went into the room. It was dark inside the room, so I opened a window to let in some light. I saw children playing in the street, and stood at the window, watching them for a long time.
11．I have been studying English almost for ten years. I’m interested in English. But I always have some troubles in writing. Could you tell me how to improve my writing?
There are two basic things you have to do to write good English:
1) You have to understand that English is ‘a word-order language’. This means that word order is essential to the meaning of everything we say and write. The word order of an English sentence is fairly inflexible. With just a few variations, it follows this pattern:
Subject ｜ Verb ｜ Object ｜ Manner ｜ Place ｜ Time
In inflected languages (that is, languages in which the form of a noun tells us whether the noun is subject or object) the word order is unimportant. This is not the case in English. If we write ‘The policeman arrested the thief’, the meaning is very different from ‘The thief arrested the policeman.’
Changing the nouns round radically alters the meaning. In an inflected language, this change in word order would not have this effect. So you have to train yourself to follow the sequence S/V/O/M/P/T when you write.
2) To write good English sentences, you have to master sentence structure. Sentence structure is the way we show the relationship between ideas and events. This means you have to learn how to control three different types of sentence:
a) the simple sentence, which contains a subject and a verb: The taxi has arrived. My sister answered the phone. etc.
b) the compound sentence, where two or more simple sentences are joined by conjunctions like and, but, or, etc.: I phoned a number of times. No one answered. → I phoned a number of times, but no one answered.
c) the complex sentence, where two or more simple sentences are joined by conjunctions like since, when, as soon as, etc.: We realized that something had gone wrong. We saw him run towards us.→ We realized that something had gone wrong as soon as we saw him run towards us. Of course, there are other ways of making complex sentences as well. For example, we can use the -ing form: Seeing him run towards us made us realize that something had gone wrong. But the mastery of the written language depends on how well you can control its sentence structure.
在词形变化语言中(即在这类语言中，名词的形式可以显示该名词是主语还是宾语)，词序不重要。在英语中不是这样。如果我们写出The policeman arrested the thief，意思与The thief arrested the policeman迥然不同。
a) 简单句，包括一个主语和一个动词：The taxi has arrived. My sister answered the phone.等等。
b) 复合句，由两个或两个以上的简单句通过and, but, or等连词组成：I phoned a number of times. No one answered.→I phoned a number of times ,but no one answered.
c)复杂句，由两个或两个以上的简单句通过since, when, as soon as 等连词组成：We realized that something had gone wrong. We saw him run towards us.→We realized that something had gone wrong as soon as we saw him run towards us.当然还有其他的复杂句组成方式，例如，我们可以用-ing方式：Seeing him run towards us made us realize that something had gone wrong.掌握一门语言的写作要看你对句子结构的掌握程度。