Tips to Learn English (and Some for Surviving Life…)

So the other day, in the midst of frustration and fatigue of end-of-semester grading, I decided to channel some of it in Facebook by creating a compilation of evilish thoughts that teachers of my department feel sometimes against students tips of surviving college education in my faculty (that is Faculty of Language and Literature, Satya Wacana Christian University, Salatiga, Indonesia, where my students learn to be an English teacher or any jobs related to English). It ended up being liked, shared, commented by alumni and students, and will maybe included in the material for new students orientation for the coming academic year. Wow, I’m flattered! Thanks so much to y’all!

Anyway, let’s cut the chase short. Here are the 24 tips (so far) that I wrote. They’re true for those who are familiar with my department/faculty, but it includes some tips that may be true for other walks of life. Will you share yours too?

1/ Google translate your sentences will not make them sound English. It is a machine, and machines are stupid. Use your brain to check the translation again. Brain is God’s greatest creation and it is not as stupid as the machine as long as you use it regularly.

2/ MS Word has a spelling and grammar checking. Use it. Press F8. However, always see No. 1.

3/ Bad handwriting is a total turn off for a teacher, after all teachers are human beings with likes and dislikes. Make sure yours is intelligible.

4/ The first week of the semester is not for distributing syllabuses only. Lecture and discussion will start on the first day of class, and next week you have an assignment already!

5/ You heard that Teacher A is so and so and so. Don’t believe it until you take his/her class. And spreading rumors about a teacher without actually experiencing engagement with him/her is like deciding not to date someone before you actually know them. You don’t know what you lose!

6/ The last week of the semester is the busiest time for your teachers. Don’t push them. You may end up being killed. Like, seriously.

7/ Do your homework and only after you have explored all possibilities and can’t find the answers, ask your teachers. Your teachers can’t do your assignments for you. This is especially applied in Thesis writing.

8/ Sleeping is overrated! Weekends are too. Be ready with coffees and some music when you do your assignments. They help.

9/ People out of the faculty will judge you as snobs for talking English everywhere. Relax. If they can’t speak English, it’s their problem, not yours. They’re probably just jealous.

10/ Your teachers are your partners in studying, but they are not your buddies. Remember that each teacher has rules and preferences, and s/he may not bend them, just because they seem to be real nice when talking to you in F plaza or Rindang Cafe.

11/ Join some students’ activities. They help you socializing, gaining some soft skills, and earning you credits for graduation. Just don’t overdo it and forget that you still have lesson plans to make for Teaching Practicum.

12/ Grades are not everything. Being the best of yourself is. Nobody in your future job will care if your GPA is 4.00. They care more about how well you do your job and how you behave toward them.

13/ Having a dictionary and a thesaurus helps. Paper-based ones. Preferably Echols-Shadily one for Indonesian-English, or Oxford, Longman or Merriam-Webster one. Definitely not some cheap 5000 words English-Indonesian dictionaries!

14/ Referring to No. 1 that machines are stupid, don’t feel so sure that you have saved your assignments in your laptop. Teachers will not accept your excuse of not submitting yours because your laptop is broken or viruses attack your laptop. Save it to flashdisks (2 or 3), save it in your dad’s laptop, your mom’s laptop, your boy/girlfriend’s laptop, and most importantly email it to yourself. There is something called ‘cloud storage’ that will definitely save you from crying and attempting to commit suicide when you lose all the data for your thesis (or assignments, whichever the case is).

15/ When your teacher (or supervisor) is a grammar nazi and loves giving very, very critical (and cruel) comments to your work, and is OCD for crossing, underlining, putting multiple exclamation and question marks in red inks, do not quickly assume that s/he is a devil sent from hell to torture your peaceful life on earth. In fact, be thankful for their criticism because that shows how much s/he cares about your work and your progress. So, cry for 30 minutes max, wipe those tears, and start revising. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.

16/ Manners don’t kill. Say ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘sorry’ whenever necessary. And always wait until everybody is out from the elevator before you enter. And blocking people’s way by sitting on the stairs or monopolizing the road/alley is inconsiderate.

17/ (Almost) everybody agrees that Siasat (our course registration system) sucks, but believe me, everybody in the faculty and in the university tries to help you and make it a better system. Swearing in your Facebook status will not get you anywhere. Talking to your students’ representatives and the faculty/department management is way more productive and may get you to solutions.

18/ When you start dreaming in English or can’t find an equivalent word in Indonesian, good! That means your brain is now in English mode. Congratulate yourself. Your hard work (and the endless tortures from your teachers) has started to show some fruits.

19/ You want your English to be excellent? Then use it. Speak it, listen to it, read in it, write in it. Surround yourself in it. Immerse yourself in it. Practice makes perfect. Laziness doesn’t work. It’s like swimming. You don’t read a book about swimming and instantly be good in it. This also applies to your brain.

20/ Email is an electronic mail. Mail, Everyone, is a letter. It starts with salutations, explains your points, and ends with a greeting. Sending a blank email only with an attachment is super annoying. Not writing the subject of you email makes it difficult for the receiver to decide its priority. Oh, and it’s not a text message where you can abbreviate your words with some uncommon alay terms (x for ‘nya’?? Q for ‘aku’?? What the heck!). You can write a 4 pages of email and it will cost you nothing. It will be even better because your points will be clearer.

21/ And text messages! Where should I start? You text your teacher, for God’s sake. Manners don’t kill. Use formal, polite style. Don’t abbreviate (again) with some alay terms. You can send long texts, and your service provider will even make your next text free.

22/ From student’s view: please join the group assignment activities, once you start to avoid or ignore it, you will not learn anything. Teacher gives the group work, it doesn’t mean that they are lazy to give the individual grade! Through the discussion, we can learn something from each students in the group. If you feel that you don’t do it anything, it is not something good! (by SangHun Lee) We go to college to learn something together, and group works make sure that we will achieve that skills in our life. Group works are meant to be done together as a group, “together” (by Venny Christayani)

23/ You will find that the teachers are very creative with assignments. Multiple choice tests are way boring. Online tests through F-Learn, Schoology, Edmondo are totally in. Essays (ranging from half page to 5 pages) are common. Presentations? It’s a routine. Portfolio? Checked! Projects are regular diet in our faculty menu. Creating scripts. Enacting the script into a drama. Making audio visual aids. Lesson plans. Creating materials for teaching. Teaching your classmates. Journal article reviews. Interview. Reports. Research. Did I forget to mention other creative ways your teachers assess you? If your teachers are this creative, surely you will beat the assignments and nail them creatively, won’t you? And prepare to have all these kinds of assessments in any given semester. Three to five types per course every semester. The teachers will make sure that you are adept in all these types of assessments.

24/ It seems perfectly clear to you to save your assignment file with the name of the course or the assignment. Imagine if you’re in the teacher’s position, and you receive files from 35 students in a class for the assignment, all with the same file names. Errkk, not fun! Not to mention that the files contain no identification whatsoever, not even a name and a student name in the pages of the assignment in the file. No wonder that your teacher is sometimes as sensitive as a woman in her PMS in replying your email.

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