“How Did You Learn English?”: 7 Effective Techniques to Improve Your Fluency
I’ve been asked this question often.
In this post, I’ll tell you my story.
I’ll answer the question “How did you learn English?” with specific, practical steps that you can follow.
These tips can help you become a confident English communicator and even instill a new love for the language-learning process.
Keep reading to find out seven ways I learned English and how you can use them to progress toward fluency at your own pace.
- 1. Having a Strong Motivation
- 2. Drawing Associations Between English and My Native Language
- 2. Making As Many Mistakes As I Could
- 3. Investing in a Good Dictionary
- 4. Finding Fun Ways to Study
- 5. Acting and Writing English Stories
- 6. Reading What I Loved in English
- 7. Immersing Myself in English
- And One More Thing...
1. Having a Strong Motivation
The truth is, I didn’t have much of a choice when it came to learning English. English was the language of instruction in the school I attended in my home country of India. I had to use English to understand my teachers and complete my schoolwork.
Even if you’re not required to learn English, you should have a good reason for doing so that you can come back to whenever you feel like giving up.
There are many great reasons to learn English:
- English has over one billion speakers and is the language of international business and communication, so it’s an incredibly practical language to learn.
- Knowing English opens up a whole world for you to explore, as it’s spoken in pretty much every country (especially in areas that are popular for tourism).
- You’ll likely find many more job opportunities if you know English, as many companies and businesses require that their employees speak it.
Whatever your reason for learning English, remind yourself of it whenever you get frustrated or need some motivation to keep studying.
2. Drawing Associations Between English and My Native Language
My school had some strict rules about speaking only in English during classes. This meant that although I knew three languages (Bengali, Hindi and English), I mostly spoke in English at school.
I took advantage of this by turning Bengali and Hindi vocabulary into an English learning tool. I picked up a lot of English vocabulary by looking for the English equivalents for words and phrases I used all the time in Bengali and Hindi.
Here’s how you can use this trick to expand your English vocabulary:
- Find English equivalents for the most common words you use in your native language. This makes your English vocabulary more meaningful to your daily life, therefore easier to remember.
- Practice translating back and forth between the languages to help you express yourself in any situation.
- Try to identify similarities and differences between your native language and English. This could be in their grammar, vocabulary, sentence structure, etc.
2. Making As Many Mistakes As I Could
I was lucky to have teachers who encouraged us to make mistakes. They helped us choose the right word for any particular context, allowed us to participate and ask questions freely and corrected us whenever we mispronounced a word.
Our many mistakes were a crucial part of our learning process. We weren’t shamed or punished for being wrong and we always got points for trying, because practice is the most important way to become fluent.
Here’s how you can use making mistakes as an effective learning tool:
- Be prepared to initially fail and make lots of mistakes. Understanding that mistakes will ultimately help you learn will prevent you from getting discouraged.
- If possible, look for a personal language mentor or English tutor who can identify and correct your mistakes. Direct feedback on your learning progress is very important, and one-on-one interactions will help you learn faster.
- If you’re part of a class or study group, make the most out of it by participating in class talks and interacting with everyone. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Both your language and social skills will dramatically improve once you let go of inhibitions and immerse yourself in learning.
3. Investing in a Good Dictionary
Often while reading a book, I’d come across words that I didn’t understand and would ask my father to explain them to me. He’d usually encourage me to consult an English dictionary.
He explained that a dictionary has more than just definitions—there are also pronunciation guides, word histories, synonyms (words with similar meanings), antonyms (words with opposite meanings), example sentences and other information. There’s so much one can learn just by reading a dictionary!
Investing in a good dictionary is one of the most beneficial things you can do to improve your English. Here are my suggestions:
- Keep a good dictionary on your bookshelf and have a digital version on your phone for quick reference. Refer to it whenever you come across any unfamiliar term.
- Use your dictionary to develop your vocabulary. Choose a random letter and learn a new word or simply open to a random page and choose a word that catches your fancy.
- Come up with fun exercises to remember new words. Choose five random words and try writing a story or a poem using them. Your aim shouldn’t be to create something perfect, but rather to get words on paper and to write grammatically correct and logical sentences.
4. Finding Fun Ways to Study
In school, we learned grammar and the fundamentals of language, but that wasn’t all. We watched movies, had quiz sessions, played games with our classmates and completed lots of fun exercises and activities while learning.
Taking a creative approach to language learning is essential. Constant grammar drills won’t work for most people. You need to break things up when studying a difficult topic like English so you don’t get bored and lose interest.
This is very easy to achieve thanks to all the fun English learning tools out there. Here are some ideas to get started:
- If you’re searching for a tutor or English course, try to find one that uses audio-visual material, games and other interactive activities. Learning a new language through games has been shown to have major benefits.
- Play language games by yourself or with study partners. Make it a habit to solve English crossword puzzles or have a Scrabble session with your family every week. There are also a number of word games that you can play.
- Check out English YouTube channels in areas you’re passionate about. For instance, if you like cooking, follow a chef who speaks English so you can learn new words and recipes.
5. Acting and Writing English Stories
As a kid, I pretended to be fictional characters with my friends, played role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and engaged in collaborative storytelling. My love for stories later helped me to write my own.
Storytelling and language learning may initially seem a bit far off, but they’re actually not very different. To be a fluent speaker of a language, you need to be able to express yourself and communicate efficiently.
Here are some ways to connect storytelling with your language learning:
- Try writing your own stories in English and act them out.
- You can even create a persona (character) of the confident and charismatic speaker you’d like to be and practice in front of the mirror.
- Form a study group offline or online, and meet up regularly to role-play your stories in English.
- Take advantage of activities that require teamwork. You could try joining a local theater group to improve your body language and expressiveness skills.
6. Reading What I Loved in English
I always loved learning and exploring things on my own, and while growing up I read as much as possible. My love for reading naturally improved my vocabulary and sentence construction.
With the dialogue in fiction, I got to know the finer nuances of English conversation. And by reading nonfiction, I learned lots of new and interesting facts and figures, as well as how to express them appropriately in English.
Of course, not everyone loves reading. But you can still find English materials that interest you to boost your comprehension skills in an enjoyable way like I did. Here’s how:
- You don’t have to start with huge English novels. Try an English comic book or funny English books!
- Check out some English children’s books. They’re simple and repetitive—perfect for beginners.
- If you want something short but more mature, try these easy English short stories.
- Practice with free online reading comprehension exercises.
Remember, if you can develop a love for reading, it’ll benefit you for life!
7. Immersing Myself in English
I learned over the years that if you truly want to master something, you should immerse yourself in it. English immersion played a huge role in pushing me to fluency.
I listened to the BBC news after school, read English newspapers daily and paid attention during my history lessons about Western civilization. My parents even enrolled me in the local British Council library where I got a new book to read every week and attended events and workshops.
English immersion can be just as easy and effective for you, too. Here are some ways to immerse yourself:
- Check out free language learning content from the BBC and British Council.
- Watch English-language TV shows or English movies in your free time, first with subtitles and later without.
- Use a language-learning program like FluentU, which uses clips from English media and interactive learning tools to immerse you in the language.
- Listen to songs by English bands while paying attention to the lyrics.
- Discover the amazing world of English-language podcasts.
Try to think of English immersion as an organic process rather than a part-time study activity and gradually increase the time you spend immersed.
Now that you know a bit about my story, think about your own and how you’ll tell others about your successful language-learning journey in the future.
It may take time to get there, but once you do, you’ll have your own incredible advice to offer when people ask you, “How did you learn English?”
And One More Thing...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.