Learning English doesn’t always have to mean sitting in the classroom and studying tricky grammar. In fact, English language teachers encourage you to do plenty of extra learning outside of school. There are a number of ways to improve your understanding of the language, many of which can actually be a lot of fun.
It’s also a well-known fact that different people respond to different learning methods. Sometimes simply sitting in the classroom or reading a course book is not right for you. It can be beneficial to do some additional work.
So if you’re keen to improve your English (or any other second language for that matter) then consider some of these handy tips to get you on your way. Not everything will work for you but, if you add a few of these ideas to your day-to-day language learning, you’ll certainly see some improvement.
1. Watch television and films in English
Not only do Britain and the USA produce some of the best TV shows and films in the world, but you can learn English whilst watching them. If you’re still getting to grips with the language at any level (from beginner to upper intermediate) then it’s worth putting the English subtitles on so that you can read along and listen at the same time.
You can also listen to English radio stations and find plenty of listening sources on the internet. Another idea would be to put English subtitles on films or television programmes from your own country so that you can read along with them in English and make the translations as you go.
2. Read English books/newspapers
Reading is a great way of practising your English in your own time. You can take one word at a time at your own pace, without your teacher peering over your shoulder. If you’re studying at a beginner to intermediate level, pick up a children’s book where the language will be easier than an adult book.
Newspapers are also worth reading. Not only can you improve your English but you’ll learn about local and national goings on, which can be handy when communicating with native speakers. Free newspapers and magazines, as well as tabloid-style newspapers which use more basic language, are perhaps better for low level speakers.
3. Label things in your house
This is a quick and cheap way of improving your knowledge of the vocabulary of everyday items in your home. All you need to do is buy a pack of labels and then write the name of items in your home on them, such as phone, window, mirror etc. Every time you use these objects you’ll read the word and embed it into your memory. This is great for low level learners.
4. Make notes of new vocabulary
Whenever you learn a new word, whether in the classroom or when you’re out and about, make sure you make a note of it. Whenever you have some free time, you can practise what you’ve learned. You could even do this on your phone so you needn’t carry around a notebook with you.
It’s also worth making a note of the translation into your own language and any unusual phonological aspects of the word.
5. Surround yourself with English speakers
If you just spend your time outside of the classroom with people from your own country, you’ll miss out on a big chance to practise English. If you try to befriend other English speakers, you’ll be forced into speaking the English language. You’ll also pick up things like slang and conversational English that you’re unlikely to learn in the classroom.
If you struggle to find English speakers, at least try and spend time with people off your course that are from countries other than your own. This way, you will still have to speak English.
6. Figure out your best time to learn
Are you a morning or afternoon person? If you can work out when your brain is at its sharpest then you should cram in your language learning at this time. Some people work best first thing in the morning and switch off after lunchtime, while for others it takes a while to get going every day.
Think about when you function best and plan your learning to suit this. For example, there’s no point taking lessons that run late into the night when you’re likely to easily lose concentration.
7. Listen to British and American music
In addition to watching films and TV, listening to music is another great and fun way of improving your grasp of a language. There’s an almost endless amount of music out there to choose from, with most tracks having lyrics easily available online.
You could listen to a song a day and read the lyrics along to it. If you come across any language that you don’t understand then research it. If you’re at a low level then perhaps go for some slower folk, country or acoustic music, which often has lyrics that are slower and easier to understand.
Once you’re feeling more confident you could go for some rap music, which is generally a lot quicker and harder to understand.
8. Language swap
In addition to learning English in class, you could find somebody who is keen to learn your own language and exchange information with them. Being able to speak a language is a gift and, whatever your mother tongue, there will be somebody out there that wants to learn it.
You can meet up and give each other work, swap knowledge and help each other progress. This is a great way of continuing your learning outside of the classroom while also saving money.
9. Practise English whenever you can
It’s incredibly important that you don’t leave your English learning inside the classroom. Make an effort to go to the library and study your notes, read and write in English, and speak to English nationals and other English speakers.
When you’re in bed at night, look over your English notes from the day and try to memorise some vocabulary as you’re falling asleep. The first thing you do in the morning while you’re eating your cereal could be to learn a couple of new words. Make sure you never escape learning.
10. Record yourself and your lesson
Make the most of the recorder on your smartphone and practise pronunciation. This is a good way of learning pronunciation because you might know it when you first hear it then forget it later.
Although your teacher might not like you to do this, and you should always get their permission, it can be useful to record lessons. As you travel home or fall asleep you can listen to it. It’s a great way to revise the information and practise listening, as well as nail down some pronunciation.
11. Get a good bilingual dictionary
A bilingual dictionary is your best friend while you’re learning English. However, beware that a lot of dictionaries out there have numerous mistakes and mistranslations. Do some research and spend a bit of extra money on the best dictionary you can find.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that a number of online translators and electronic dictionaries on smartphones can be quite poor. Teachers will find it very obvious if you simply put something through a translator – it’s normally literally translated which doesn’t always work.
12. Learn English idioms and phrasal verbs
There are a number of aspects of the English language that you’re not always going to find in an academic course book. Things like idioms and phrasal verbs are extremely common in everyday English conversations.
If you manage to learn these then you’ll find it much easier to talk and understand conversations with native speakers. Although this is not the kind of language you’re likely to use in an academic essay, it’s arguably just as important to you.
13. Write every day
Writing is a great way of using new vocabulary and getting your head around grammar. Try and write something every day using new words and grammar that you’ve learned. Even if it’s only a few sentences, it’s very important to get into the habit of doing this.
It’s also a good way of comparing your progress as you improve your knowledge of the English language. If you have access to English speaking friends or a teacher, you could ask them to look over your writing and give you some pointers.
14. Tell you teacher what you want to learn
If you’re learning English in a language school or getting private lessons, you might not always be learning what you want. However, it can be difficult for your teacher to know exactly what you want to learn unless you tell them. So if you think that they’re giving you too much writing and not enough pronunciation, for example, then you should tell them. They’ll be pleased with the feedback.
15. Remember your mistakes
You will make mistakes, there’s no denying it. Chances are that you’ll make the same mistakes over and over again. Next time that you’re corrected by a teacher, whether this is written or orally, you should make a note of your mistakes.
Perhaps you forget when to use the correct article or you get the past simple and present perfect tenses mixed up? Make a note of this and work on your mistakes.
16. Put yourself into difficult situations
If you search out situations where you must speak, read and listen that are outside of your comfort zone, you’ll be forced into using the English language. This can be one of the best ways to learn English because you really focus on what you’re saying and it gets you used to uncomfortable situations.
Try and order some food at a restaurant, speak to someone at a tourist information centre or just start chatting to a native speaker in a bar. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Getting something wrong is actually a great way of understanding why it works a certain way.
17. Change the language on your social media or smartphone
Have you ever accidentally changed the language on a device or on a website and then struggled to get it back again? We’ve all been there before. However, this can actually be a good way of learning an additional language. If you turn your Facebook, Twitter and smartphone settings to ‘English’ then you can continue to learn the language while you’re communicating with friends.
18. Be realistic
It’s extremely common for language learners to want to better their English at an unrealistic pace. Set yourself objectives but be genuine in what you can achieve. Your teacher is just there to tell you things and practise with you for a few hours a day. It’s your job to remember and correctly use what you are taught.
You cannot expect to just turn up to class for a few weeks and be able to speak the language. You must engage in lots of work outside of class and use your brain as much as possible.