70ways to improve your English
1. Start your own English language blog. Even for people who don’t
have to write in English, writing can be a great way of properly
learning the kind of vocabulary you need to describe your own life and
interests, and of thinking about how to stop making grammar mistakes.
The problem most people have is that they don’t know what to write
about. One traditional way to make sure you write every day in English
is to write an English diary (journal), and a more up to date way of
doing this is to write a blog. Popular topics include your language
learning experience, your experience studying abroad, your local area,
your language, or translations of your local news into English.
2. Write a news diary. Another daily writing task that can work for
people who would be bored by writing about their own routines in a
diary is to write about the news that you read and listen to everyday.
If you include your predictions for how you think the story will develop
(e.g. “I think Hillary will become president”), this can give you a
good reason to read old entries another time, at which time you can also
correct and mistakes you have made and generally improve what you have
3. Sign up for a regular English tip. Some websites offer a weekly
or even daily short English lesson sent to your email account. If your
mobile phone has an e-mail address, it is also possible to have the tips
sent to your phone to read on the way to work or school. Please note,
however, that such services are not usually graded very well to the
levels of different students, and they should be used as a little added
extra or revision in your English studies rather than as a replacement
for something you or your teacher have chosen more carefully as what you
need to learn.
4. Listen to MP3s. Although buying music on the internet is
becoming more popular in many countries, not so many people know that
you can download speech radio such as audio books (an actor reading out a
novel) and speech radio. Not only is this better practice for your
English than listening to English music, from sources like Scientific
American, BBC and Australia’s ABC Radio it is also free.
5. Listen to English music. Even listening to music while doing
something else can help a little for things like getting used to the
natural rhythm and tone of English speech, although the more time and
attention you give to a song the more you will learn from listening to
it again in the future.
6. Read the lyrics to a song. Although just listening to a song in
English can be a good way of really learning the words of the chorus in
an easily memorable way, if you want to really get something out of
listening to English music you will need to take some time to read the
lyrics of the song with a dictionary. If the lyrics are not given in the
CD booklet, you may be able to find them on the internet, but please
note that some lyrics sites deliberately put a few errors into their
lyrics for copyright reasons. Once you have read and understood the
lyrics, if you then listen and read at the same time, this can be a
good way of understanding how sounds change in fast, natural, informal
7. Sing karaoke in English. The next stage after understanding and
memorising a song is obviously to sing it. Although some words have
their pronunciation changed completely to fit in with a song, most of
the words have the same sounds and stressed syllables as in normal
speech. Remembering which words rhyme at the end of each line can also
be a good way of starting to learn English pronunciation.
8. Write a film, music, hotel or book review. Another motivating
and easy way to make yourself write in English is to write a review for a
site such as Amazon or Internet Movie Database. Many non-native
speakers write reviews on sites like this, and if you have some special
understanding of the book, music or film due to your first language or
knowing the artist personally, that would be very interesting for the
English speakers who read and write reviews on the site.
9. Only search in English. Switching your search engine to the
English language version of msn, yahoo, Google etc. can not only be a
good way of practising fast reading for specific information in English,
but could also give you a wider choice of sites to choose from and give
you an idea of what foreigners are writing about your country and area.
10. Read a book you’ve already read or seen the movie of in your own
language. Although most language learners under Advanced level would
probably learn more from reading a graded reader or something from the
internet than they would from reading an original book written for
English speakers, for some people reading something like Harry Potter in
the original can be a great motivator to improve their English. To make
this easier for you and make sure that it motivates you rather than
just making your tired, try reading a book that you already know the
story of. This not only makes it easier to understand and guess
vocabulary, but you are also more likely to remember the language in it.
If you have not read the book before, reading a plot summary from the
internet can also help in the same way.
11. Read a translation into English. Another way of making sure books
are easier to understand is to choose a book that was originally
translated into English, preferably from your own language. Even if you
haven’t read the book in your own language, you will find the English is
written in a slightly simplified way that is more similar to how your
own language is written than a book originally written in English would
12. Skip the first ten pages. If you have given up with a book in
English or are reading it very slowly, try skimming through the first
ten pages or skipping them completely. The start of most books tend to
be mainly description and are therefore full of difficult vocabulary and
don’t have a clear story line yet to help you understand what is
happening and to motivate you to turn the next page. If the book is
still too difficult even after the introductionary part is finished, it
is probably time to give that book up for now and try it again after you
have read some easier things.
13. Read a book with lots of dialogue. Opening up books before you buy
one and flicking through them to find one with lots of direct dialogue
in it has several advantages. If there is less text on the page due to
all the speech marks etc, this can make it easier to read and easier to
write translations on. Dialogue is also much easier to understand than
descriptive parts of a book, and is much more like the language you will
want to learn in order to be able to speak English.
14. Read English language comics. Even more than books with lots of
dialogue, comics can be easy to understand and full of idiomatic
language as it is actually spoken. There can be difficulties with slang,
difficult to understand jokes and/ or dialogue written how people speak
rather than with normal spellings, so try to choose which comic
carefully. Usually, serious or adventure comics are easier to understand
than funny ones.
15. Read English language entertainment guides. Nowadays most big
cities in the world have an English language magazine and/ or online
guide to the movies, plays, exhibitions that are on in the city that
week. Reading this in English is not only good value, but it could also
guide you to places that English speakers are interested in and where
you might hear some English spoken around you.
16. Read English language magazines. Like books, if you can read two
versions of the same magazine (Newsweek in your language and in English,
for example), that could make understanding it much easier.
17. Take a one week intensive course. Although you cannot expect to
come out of a very short course speaking much better English than when
you started it, if you continue studying a little over the following
weeks and months, the knowledge you gained then will gradually come out
and mean that your level of speaking, listening etc. are better than
they would have been if you hadn’t taken that course. This positive
effect can still be true up to a year later.
18. Follow your intensive course up with an extensive course. The more
time you can spend studying English the better, but studying periodic
intensive courses with a few hours of study a week in between is
probably better value for money than any other system as it gives your
brain time to subconsciously learn and start using the new language you
have learnt before you introduce the next new “chunk” of language.
19. Supplement your group class with a one to one class. Another good
way to combine two different kinds of classes is to study both in a
group class and one to one. Having a one to one teacher, even if just a
couple of times a month, will mean that you can be taught exactly the
language that you need, that you will have more time to speak, and that
you can have as much error correction as you like.
20. Supplement your one to one class with a group class. The benefits
of having a group class are often less clear to students, but they
include the fact that you will learn to deal with several people
speaking at once, have a chance to practice skills such as interrupting
people, and will hear a range of different viewpoints and topics.
21. Teach your children or friends some English. Recent research has
shown that elder children tend to be a couple of IQ points above their
younger siblings, and the most likely reason is that explaining things
to their little brothers and sisters gives them an intellectual boost.
In the same way, teaching someone lower level than you the English you
already know is a great way of permanently fixing that knowledge in your
22. Ask your company to start English lessons. Even if you don’t need
to speak English at work, English lessons can be a fun and reasonably
priced way for your company to spend their training budget in a popular
23. Have English radio on in the background while you are doing your
housework. Even if you are not listening carefully, it will help you get
a feel for natural English rhythm and intonation.
24. Play English language learning games on your Nintendo DS. Although
such games can have quite random language and are unlikely to improve
your ability to speak English on their own, the next time you hear or
read the same language elsewhere it will be really fixed in your brain
by the fact you have played a game with it in already. It is also a nice
way of taking a break from your other English studies while also doing
some English. To make sure it really is a break and to avoid wasting
time learning language from the game that is not much used in daily
life, don’t bother writing down any new language you see in the game,
but just try to learn it from playing the game again.
25. Say or think what you are doing in English as you do your daily
tasks. As you are doing your chores, try creating sentences describing
what you are doing, e.g. ‘I am unscrewing the ketchup bottle cap’. This
gets you used to thinking in English without translating, and can be a
good way of seeing what simple vocabulary that is around you everyday
you don’t know. yet
26. Watch English language films with English subtitles. For people who
can’t understand a film without subtitles but find themselves not
listening at all when reading subtitles in their own language, this
should be the way of watching a film that you should aim for. If it is
too difficult to watch the whole film this way, try watching the
(usually important) first 10 or 15 minutes of the film with subtitles in
your own language, switch to English subtitles after that, and only
switch back to subtitles in your own language if you get totally lost
following the story of the film.
27. Watch films in your language with English subtitles. If you are
finding English films with English subtitles too difficult or you can’t
find English films with English subtitles in your local video shop, this
is a good second best option. Looking for local films with English
subtitles can also sometimes be a good sign of quality, as it means the
producers of the film are expecting it to be popular internationally as
28. Watch English films with subtitles in your language. Again, this is
not as good practice as English language films with English subtitles,
but is more relaxing, can be easier to find suitable DVDs for, and is
also possible with VHS.
29. Watch the same film or TV episode over and over again. This can not
only save you money on DVDs, but will mean that you can really learn
the language without having to study it. Some comedies can also get
funnier the more you watch them, especially if you watch them with no
subtitles and so understand a little more each time you watch it.
30. Be realistic about your level. One thing that holds many language
learners back is actually trying too hard and tackling something that
their brain is not ready for yet. Checking your level with a level check
test on the internet, by taking an English language test (FCE, CAE,
IELTS, TOEIC, TOEFL etc.), or by taking a free trial level check and/ or
lesson in a language school will help you find out what your level is
and so choose suitable self-study materials.
31. Be realistic about your reading level. Most researchers agree that
people learn most when reading something they understand almost all of.
If there are one or two words per page that you have never seen before,
that is about the right level. If there are three or more on every page,
you should switch to something easier and come back later.
32. Read graded readers (= easy readers). These are books that are
especially written for language learners like you, e.g. Penguin Readers.
Although it can be difficult to find something as interesting as things
written in newspapers or on the internet, in terms of learning the
language only people who need to read for their work or an exam usually
gain more from reading things written for graded readers. Graded readers
of classic books like Charles Dickens also have the benefit of giving
you a lot of knowledge about the literature, and culture more generally,
of English speaking countries in a short time.
33. Read the whole thing with no help. Although using a dictionary has
been shown to help with both short term and long term learning of
vocabulary, the fact that using it slows reading down can stop some
people reading in English at all. Reading a whole book quickly through
just for pleasure from time to time will help you remember how fun
reading in another language can be.
34. Read and learn everything. At the opposite extreme, it can be hard
work but very satisfying to get to the end of a book knowing that you
have learnt every word in it. See other tips on this page to make sure
it is a book that is easy enough to do this with and to ensure that the
vocabulary you learn is useful.
35. Watching English children’s films or TV programmes. Although some
of the vocabulary you can learn from things made for children can be a
bit strange (lots of animal names and maybe animal noises, including
baby names for things), the fact that not only the language but the
structure of the story is simplified can make it an easy and motivating
thing to watch. Like good language learning materials, the same language
is also often repeated to make it memorable, and the use of catchy
songs etc. can increase this positive effect on your memory.
36. Read English children’s books. This is very similar to watching
English children’s movies, but with the added advantage of there being
more illustrations than adult books, which both helps you to understand
the story and makes the page brighter and more motivating to read.
37. Keep a list of language to learn, e.g. a vocab list. Even if you
don’t often find time to go though your vocab list and it keeps on
building up, just the act of choosing which words you need to learn and
writing them down on a special list can help you learn them.
38. Go through your vocab list several times every day. If ticking off
words on a vocabulary list on the train to work is inconvenient or
embarrassing for you, you can keep your list of words to learn as an
entry in your electronic dictionary, as a mobile phone to do list or as a
text file in your MP3 player (e.g. iPod). Although the time spent
transferring the information between different formats like these may
seem wasted, in fact any time you spend using the vocabulary like this
will help you learn it.
39. Convert your vocab list to English only. One way to stop yourself
translating and therefore increase your speed of comprehension and
production is to learn all your vocabulary without the use of your own
first language. Ways you can write a vocab list in only English include
with synonyms (words with the same meaning, e.g. “tall” and “high”);
with opposites (“high” and “low”); with pronunciation factors such as
number of syllables (the number of beats, e.g. three for “de- ci- sion”)
and the word stress (the syllable that is pronounced louder and longer,
e.g. the second syllable in “baNAna”); and gapped sentences (e.g. “I am
not _________________ in science fiction” for the word “interested”).
40. Cross out and delete. Crossing out or deleting words, sentences or
whole pages that you have learnt can be a great motivator, and save your
list of things to learn becoming too big to handle.
41. Throw everything away and start again. One of the things that can
put most people off learning is a stack of half finished books or a huge
list vocabulary waiting to be learnt. Simply getting rid of all that
and starting again with something new from zero can be a great motivator
and get your studies underway again.
42. Label things in your house or office with post-its. The easiest
vocabulary to learn is the vocabulary of things you see and use
everyday. If you can write the names of things around you on slips of
paper and stick them on the real thing, this is a great way of learning
useful vocabulary. If you can leave them there over the following days
and weeks, this is a very easy way of revising the vocabulary until it
is properly learnt.
43. Label a drawing. For people who can’t put labels on real things,
the next best option is to take a photo of a real place in your life
like your office, print it out, and then draw lines to all of the things
you can see in the picture and label them in English with the help of a
dictionary. You can do the same thing with places you pass through
everyday like the station. Because you will see the same thing again and
again, it should be easy to really learn the words for those things.
44. Keep a diary in English. This is a popular method of making sure
you use English everyday for people who don’t often speak English and
can’t think of things to write about. The fact that you are writing
about real things that have happened to you means that any words you
look up in the dictionary will be vocabulary that is useful for you and
easy to learn.
45. Online chat. The closest thing to speaking for people who don’t
have the chance to speak English is online chat, as you have to think
and respond quickly, and the language is short and informal just like
46. Listen to the radio news in English. You can make this easier by
reading the news in English first, or even just by reading or listening
to the news in your own language.
47. Read an English language newspaper. Freebie newspapers like “Metro”
in London are usually the easiest to understand, followed by mid-brow
titles like “The Daily Express” or “The Daily Mail” in English. Popular
newspapers like “The Sun” are more difficult because of the idiomatic,
slangy use of language and the number of jokes in the headlines and
48. Write fiction in English, e.g. short stories. For people who find
writing a diary about things that happen to them everyday boring, the
best thing is to let your imagination go and write about whatever comes
into your head. The advantage of this is that if you can’t think of how
to say something in English, you can just change the story to something
that is easier to explain. Perhaps the easiest way to start writing
fiction in English is with a diary, changing any details you like to
make it more interesting and adding more and more fantasy as the weeks
49. English language exercise videos. This is quite similar to how
babies learn, by listening, watching and copying. It is also good for
50. Learn a famous speech or poem in English by heart. Although you may
never hear or get the chance to say exactly that line, having one
memorable example of an English grammatical form in your head can make
it much easier to learn other examples of the same grammar as you hear
them. It is also something you can practice over and over without being
as boring as grammatical drills.
51. Get tipsy (= a little drunk) before speaking English. This can not
only improve your fluency while you are drinking, but can also improve
your confidence in future days and weeks by showing you that you can
communicate what you want to say.
52. Use a dictionary while you are watching a movie. Films often have
the same words many times, so if you look up important words the first
or second time you hear them, you should have learnt them by the end of
the film. It is easier to use a dictionary if you watch with English
53. Learn and use the phonemic script. Although there are many sounds
in English, there are even more spellings. By learning the phonemic
script and writing vocabulary down with it, you can both add another
stage to your vocabulary learning that should help you learn it more
thoroughly, and improve your pronunciation. It can also make things
easier for you by stopping you trying to pronounce different spellings
of the same pronunciation different ways.
54. Learn some spelling rules. Many people think that English spelling
is random, but in fact most words follow some kind of rule, e.g. the
“magic E” that changes the pronunciation of “mad” and “made”.
55. Record your own voice. For people who don’t have much or any
correction of pronunciation from a teacher, recording yourself and
listening back makes it easier to hear whether you are really making the
English sounds that you are trying to or not.
56. Use computer pronunciation analysis. Although most programmes that
claim to tell you when you are pronouncing correctly or not don’t
actually do that, listening many times and seeing how your voice changes
as you try to match the sounds and waveform given by a pronunciation CD
ROM can be good practice and more motivating than just recording your
57. Learn as many words as you can of one category, e.g. animal words.
Learning similar words together can both expand your overall vocabulary
and make them easier to learn by forming links between the words in your
58. Take holidays abroad. This is not only a good opportunity to speak
English in situations where you really have to make yourself understood
in order to live, but it is also a good motivator to study English
seriously in the weeks and months before your trip. If possible, also
try to use English even when you could use your own language, e.g. when
you pick a guided tour of a museum or historic place or when you book a
flight on the internet, and try to avoid package tours.
59. Draw pictures of the words you want to learn. Especially if you are
artistic, this can be a better way of learning vocabulary than writing
translations or example sentences.
60. Find a foreign boyfriend or girlfriend. No tips on how to do this
here, but everyone agrees that getting or even just looking for a date
in English can be a great motivator to improve your language skills.
61. Arrange a conversation exchange. Swapping lessons and conversation
with someone who wants to learn your language can be a good alternative
for those who aren’t looking for romance, or can sometimes lead onto
dating for those who are!
62. Sign up for an English language exam. Even if you don’t need to
take an exam and don’t want to or can’t take a special course to study
for it, paying to take an exam like TOEFL, TOEIC, IELTS or FCE can
really motivate you take your English studies seriously.
63. Model your accent on one particular actor. e.g. try to speak like
Robert De Niro. Students who say they want to sound more like a native
speaker have the problem that native speakers don’t sound all that much
like each other. Choosing one model can make the task of improving your
pronunciation more clear, and is quite fun. Doing an impression of that
person also makes a good party trick.
64. Use an English-English dictionary. Trying to use a bilingual
dictionary less and switching to a monolingual one can help you to stop
translating in you head when you are speaking or listening, and other
useful English vocabulary can come up while you are using the
65. Occasionally talk to or e-mail your friends in English. Many people
find this a bit false or embarrassing, but if you think of it as a
study club and set a particular time and/ or place, it is no different
from studying maths together.
66. Go to an English or Irish pub. As well as having a menu in English
and being a good way of finding out something about the culture of
English speaking countries, you might also find there are free English
language listings magazines, English language sports on the TV and/ or
foreign people you can speak to.
67. Buy a speaking electronic dictionary. Although most electronic
dictionaries are not as good as paper ones for the amount of information
they give you about each word, some of them have the very useful
function of saying the word with the correct pronunciation.
68. Learn your electronic dictionary vocabulary list. Most electronic
dictionaries also have a button which you can push to see the last 30 or
more words you looked up. By deleting words you decide are useless or
you have already learnt from this list, you can use it as a “to do list”
of words to learn that you can look at several times a day in the train
69. Switch operating system to English. Changing the operating language
of your mobile phone, video recorder etc. to English can be an easy way
of making sure you use the language everyday.
70. Set goals. Deciding how many hours you want to study, how many
words you want to learn or what score you want to get in a test are all
good ways of making sure you do extra study.