Some people prefer to learn English with their teachers, but others don’t. They seem to stick to the principle of learning by/for themselves. These people often ask me how to study English without outside help. Come to think of it, it is very funny, because my job is to give learners outside help.
In the interest of time and effort, I make it a rule to encourage those “autonomous learners” to keep at their good work, knowing that most of them will fail.
They follow all the new ways of learning.
They keep buying new books.
They rent all the movies (and enjoy them with the subtitles).
They try to get first-hand language experience through short trips.
After all those unproductive years, they will find themselves still struggling as to “how” to self study English.
I am not too sure if this is an issue specifically for the Japanese learners. I know some of them put too much emphasis on self study to refuse to go to school or get other people’s assistance. This virtue of perseverance seems to have been rooted for a long time in its history.
I personally do not mind asking for help, though. If only I could have when I was learning English myself back in the early 1980’s. Please be reminded that in those days,…
there was not a word “the Internet,”
there were very few people from English-speaking countries living in the very countryside of Japan,
I had to take a ferry to get an English book, because there was no book shop available that sold English books in my neighborhood,
my junior high school teacher didn’t know English,
my high school English teacher encouraged us NOT to repeat his English because he knew his English was bad.
That was the environment I was studying English. I had NO CHOICE but to study for myself.
If you think this way, those Japanese citizens who are looking to self study English without outside help will not be able to do it in the conventional sense of the word “self-study.” They are living in a totally different world. With the advent of the Internet and mass transportation, you can easily make friends with native speakers of English both online and in person. Lots of schools are available if you live in a big city like Tokyo. You could even feel like studying abroad while in Japan. Why not make the most of it?
OK, let’s get back to the question “how to prepare for the TOEFL test.”
If I were to start the preparation from scratch, I would…
1) learn basic grammar, vocabulary, while reading difficult passages word by word and try to learn important sentences,
2) go to language school or do a (short) home stay in an English-speaking country,
3) read TOEFL preparation books and take the actual test a couple of times,
4) choose the prep school or correspondence course that best caters to your language level.
5) while you keep 1).
If you still stick to self-study, the above procedure 1) should be done independently. Studying grammar or building your vocabulary is only possible if you make a considerable effort yourself; whereas you get all the techniques and mnemonic aids from prep school. The knowledge you get from school, however, will not work if you neglect 1).