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Hello,
I'd like to know whether someone is able to help me attaining a higher proficiency at English. What would be the most efficient training (especially writing) ? Reading newspapers ? Learning vocabulary (as a foreigner to the English language) ? ...
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It depends on the skills you perform the best. Some people like writing, but not speaking, i.e. great writers but poor conversational counterparts. Some like speaking but cannot write a single word. To become a "competent non-native speaker" you have to balance both skills, but far beyond a mere "communicative" purpose. Remember Tarzan could communicate so well that he finally married Jane. Emotion: smile

Context (or pragmatics) makes the difference. To know what to say in the right place at the right time is what makes someone competent. And this means not only speaking fluenty but accurately - which means grammar counts!

Vocabulary is important, so it's good to read newspapers, but books expose you to different styles you can assimilate, so you'd better read more books. Movies are good for practicing aural discrimination and learning different pronounciation and intonation styles as well as gestures (body language).

Hope this helps! Emotion: smile
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Firstly I thank you for your insightful response. It helps me to set new goals. Secondly I would like to ask how I can check whether the style I employ to compose essays, letters,.. does comply with norms, values that a native-speaker would regard as competent ?
One of my favourite books is Michael Swan's "Practical English Usage". It's a good "manual" to start with in terms of grammar and proper word usage. Style goes a bit beyond. I know there's a famous old book called "The Elements of Style", writen by William Strunk, which may help you. You can always go about the web to find sites where contributions are welcome and style guidelines are provided to authors (English Teaching Froum, for instance). Don't forget to buy you a good English dictionary for non-native speakers!

Hope this helps! Emotion: smile