Learning a language completely on my own taught me a very important secret.
And I’m sharing it with you.
A language is so much more than just its grammatical rules and basic vocabulary.
Knowing a language well means understanding a whole new culture and learning to see things from a very different perspective.
A textbook alone won’t be able to teach you how natives speak. Certain expressions—be it slang words or gestures—have meanings that you may be unaware of unless you’ve been heavily exposed to the language.
With English, it’s no different.
So if you’re keen (eagerly wanting) to improve your English, there are some very simple things you can do to help you sound like a native in no time.
In this post, I’ll talk about seven simple steps you can take to step up your learning game.
Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced learner, you’re sure to find these tips helpful and use them to develop healthy learning habits.
What You Should Already Be Doing to Learn English
Most of the activities listed in these seven steps to improve your English are meant to supplement a learning program. They’ll help you more if you already have some grasp of the basics of the language.
Below are some things you should already be doing.
- You’re already enrolled in a study program. It’ll help if you’ve already signed up for online/offline classes or you’ve created a self-study program for yourself.
- You’re somewhat familiar with the four core skills. You don’t need to be fluent in speaking, listening, reading and writing, but it’ll be beneficial if you’ve got some idea of the fundamentals (basics) of each.
- You have a basic grasp of grammar. If you have access to a grammar textbook that explains the rules of the language in a simple manner, brilliant!
- You have access to a dictionary/thesaurus. These are helpful because you’ll often stumble upon unfamiliar phrases or struggle to find the right words to express yourself.
- You take notes and periodic tests. Keep a notebook where you write down important things and keep track of your learning progress. Also, revise (review) regularly and take tests so you can remember everything you learn.
Already doing the above things? Then, it’s time for seven steps to improve your English!
How to Improve Your English in 7 Simple Steps
Learning a language has several aspects (parts) to it.
The most important ones are speaking, listening, reading and writing.
Some of us are weak in certain areas and stronger in others. Therefore, participating in activities that cover all of these aspects is crucial to becoming fluent in English.
One way to practice all these important skills is to download a language learning program like FluentU!
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Not only will you improve your English by watching videos but you’ll also get access to cool features like interactive subtitles, customized flashcards and quizzes.
FluentU brings English immersion right to your door and allows you to completely personalize your language program by creating playlists, identifying words you already know and checking your individual vocabulary fluency levels.
The FluentU app is available for download for both iOS and Android devices.
And now, if you do some or all of the seven following activities diligently (constantly and with effort), you will surely become a fast and confident learner!
1. Find English Speakers and Practice Your Communication Skills
Reading language textbooks and checking out pronunciation guides are important, but they won’t always help you speak English.
Finding a teacher, a study buddy or, even better, a native speaker to practice your English with is vital.
For Beginners: Use Websites That Provide English Tutors
There are several websites and platforms that provide on-demand language tutors to those who need it. You’ll have a personal mentor who will conduct regular classes over Skype or video call and teach you how to speak English.
This is particularly useful for beginners who don’t have access to the right offline resources or local classes in their neighborhood.
A good site for an online English tutor is Verbling, where you can look for teachers based on your schedule and budget.
Verbling is a virtual platform that connects learners with professional teachers. With teachers all over the world, you can always find someone to tutor you at any hour. Browse through teachers’ profiles to see how much they charge, their previous ratings, how long their lessons last and more.
This allows you to pick a teacher that’s totally right for you and your learning style.
For Intermediate Learners: Use Social Apps Like HelloTalk and Tandem
There are specific apps designed to help people learn or teach a language. Some of the more popular ones are HelloTalk and Tandem, among others.
Both of these are free. You just need to create an account and you’ll be connected to English speakers in no time.
Moreover, you can also volunteer to teach your own native language to other people, making it a fair exchange.
For Advanced Learners: Find Relevant Servers on Discord
If you already have a reasonable command over the language, it will be even better for you to find people with whom you can talk about topics you’re passionate about, such as video games, movies and politics.
Discord is the perfect platform where you can join “servers,” or groups, and talk to multiple people over text, voice or video about interesting topics.
You can browse websites like Tumblr and Reddit for links to relevant servers, join them and meet new people!
2. Challenge Yourself to Learn Difficult Words
The more words and idioms you know, the better you’ll be able to express yourself. No matter what level you’re at, improving your vocabulary is a must.
For Beginners: Play “Scrabble” with Friends and Study Partners
Word games are much more fun than simply memorizing vocabulary lists. When you’re starting out, playing simple games like “Scrabble” will not only help you learn new words but also make friends.
If you have an offline study group, grab Scrabble and spend a few hours playing the game.
You can also look for online multi-player options, such as “Words With Friends,” and play with English-speaking strangers online.
For Intermediate Learners: Try Innovative Word Games Like “Catena”
If you’re bored with traditional word games like Scrabble, it’s time to play something new like “Catena.”
In this game, you have to form words using the last few letters of the previous word, while following certain rules. For instance, if the word is “permanent,” your next word could be “entertaining,” and so on.
The game has different difficulty levels and options to even play with online folks!
For Advanced Learners: Use Vocabulary Lists Containing Difficult Words
For those who are seriously interested in improving their vocabulary, a quick way to do so is to memorize lists.
Take a few words at a time, understand their meanings and try to use them as often as you can.
Here’s an advanced vocabulary list to get you started.
3. Listen to English Audiobooks and Podcasts
Learning to read in a new language doesn’t take up too much time, but listening to native speakers and understanding what they’re saying might get tricky.
This is especially true when you face trouble with accents, pronunciation and voice modulation (pitch, volume and intonation).
However, there’s an easy remedy for that!
For Beginners: Listen to English Short Stories
The more you expose yourself to English, the better off you’ll be.
As a beginner, it’s an excellent idea to start out by listening to short stories in English, such as fairy tales and children’s stories. You’ll not only get a sense of how people talk, but also learn about sentence construction and presentation.
And, these will come in handy when you’re introducing yourself, sharing an anecdote (story) or narrating an incident to your friends and co-workers.
Storynory and Agendaweb have some great resources to start out with!
For Intermediate Learners: Try Popular Podcasts While You’re Traveling
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with English, you might want to make listening to it a daily habit. You can easily do this by listening to podcasts.
There are thousands of podcasts out there, and you can subscribe to them based on your interests. Plus, you can try out podcasts that are only 15-20 minutes long and spend the time when you’re traveling to work listening to them.
You can check out “Lore”—a personal favorite of mine—where the narrator discusses the historical details behind a particular folktale or superstition. It’s pretty grisly (scary/gruesome), entertaining and informative, and it’s the perfect tool to make language learning fun.
For Advanced Learners: Try Novels in the Form of Audiobooks
Once you’re confident that your listening skills are pretty good and you’ve amassed quite a large vocabulary, you can try listening to entire English novels.
This will train you to pay attention to long narratives, understand how different characters and storylines interact and teach you a lot about how English works and how people use it.
A single novel can sometimes teach you much more than a semester’s worth of class!
If you’re looking to download audiobooks for free, Open Culture, an educational media site, has over 1,000 titles listed!
4. Watch a Long-Running Show, Preferably Without Subtitles
Watching television isn’t a waste of time.
Not only does it provide entertainment, but you also get to watch people speak English and pick up on things like body language, facial cues, flirting and so on.
For Beginners: Watch “Doctor Who,” “Good Omens” or “Sherlock”
There’s plenty of good stuff in British dramatic television.
You can start off with something short like “Good Omens,” which only has six episodes, or “Sherlock,” which is only a few seasons long. Try to watch them without subtitles, but do turn the subtitles on if it gets difficult.
And, to make it a regular habit, try watching a long-running television show like “Doctor Who.”
By watching just one episode a day, you’ll have something fun to look forward to that also doubles as an English lesson.
For Intermediate Learners: Watch YouTube Channels or Web Series
If television isn’t your cup of tea (if you don’t like it), you can also check out educational YouTube channels, like Crash Course, where you can learn a lot in a particular subject, such as astronomy, psychology or gaming.
Or, try The Nerdwriter, which provides insightful analyses (studies) about pop culture and forces you to develop your critical thinking skills.
You can even check out a web series like “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,“ a modern-day adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, “Pride and Prejudice.”
For Advanced Learners: Watch “Game of Thrones” or “House of Cards”
Finally, you can also check out long-running television shows with several characters and multiple complex storylines, which will build on your English comprehension skills.
If you enjoy medieval/high fantasy, then check out “Game of Thrones.” Or, if you’re up for contemporary politics, watch “House of Cards.”
As an added challenge, watch them without subtitles!
5. Read News Websites and Journals
If you already develop a habit of reading, then learning English becomes much easier.
However, as a language learner, you may not always have enough time to finish long storybooks, so here are some useful alternatives.
For Beginners: Follow the BBC for News
Staying up to date on world affairs is pretty important, and a good site to follow is the BBC.
The BBC covers news of all kinds, including international, travel, sports and cultural news.
Reading short news reports every day will also help develop your writing skills and teach you how to present relevant information in a brief manner.
For Intermediate Learners: Read Magazines Like The New Yorker
Magazines like The New Yorker are famous for their editorials and cultural criticism.
Their essays, articles and cartoons will encourage you to think about important issues in a new way and inform you about things of which you may have been unaware.
At the same time, you’ll be improving your English comprehension and writing skills.
For Advanced Learners: Read Magazines Like The Paris Review
For those who’ve always enjoyed reading or writing stories and poems, following a literary magazine, such as The Paris Review, is vital to develop your skills further.
You’ll get a taste of the very best of contemporary fiction and poetry, read in-depth interviews with authors you admire and discover new writers to read and learn from.
Moreover, you’ll learn to appreciate the English language in a drastically (extremely) new way and become a more creative person.
6. Look for MOOCs in Specialized Areas to Fine-tune Your Skills
Massive Open Online Courses—or MOOCs, as they are commonly called—are a great way to get access to educational resources provided, mostly for free, by some of the world’s best universities.
The best part is that you can choose courses in areas that you’re weak in and improve upon them.
For Beginners: Improve Your English Communication Skills with a Specialization on Coursera
Developing decent communication skills is very important when you’re learning a language, and if you’re a beginner, then this course on Coursera is a one-stop answer to all your needs.
It will teach you how to speak professionally, whether over the phone or in person, build a portfolio and even write official emails in English.
Taught by faculty from the Georgia Institute of Technology, this course will take approximately five months to finish.
Coursera is an educational platform that offers courses and specializations from top universities all around the world. You can either take courses for free or pay to receive a certificate at the end of your training.
Courses are taught by highly-qualified professionals and are 100% online so you can take them from anywhere.
For Intermediate Learners: Try Upper-intermediate English on edX
If you’re learning English to get a job or communicate effectively in the workplace, this course on edX, an education platform, is a must. It will provide a lot of practical tips on how to navigate an increasingly globalized world.
From preparing for an interview to writing formal letters, this is a good course that promises to improve your language skills.
Additionally, the course includes materials and suggestions for those looking to pass the Cambridge University First Certificate in English Examination (FCE).
For Advanced Learners: Try an Advanced Grammar and Punctuation Specialization on Coursera
English Grammar can get pretty confusing, and there are so many advanced rules that students are unaware of and only gradually learn.
Fortunately, there’s an amazing course on Coursera for non-native speakers that focuses on advanced topics, such as conditionals and noun clauses.
You’ll learn how to form complex and grammatically-correct sentences without any fear and gain more confidence in your English abilities.
And, if you devote just five hours a week, you’ll complete the advanced grammar and punctuation course in only five months.
7. Keep a Diary
From my own experience, I can tell you how keeping a diary and regularly writing in it has helped me be a better writer and a more self-aware person.
And, if you’re keen on improving your English writing skills, why not keep a journal?
For Beginners: Use Writing Prompts
Most people are frightened at the very prospect (idea) of filling up a blank page. They think they don’t know how to write when actually the problem is they have no idea what to write about.
The best remedy in such a case is to pick a topic and simply begin writing.
So, if you’re looking for ideas, here’s a prompt list to get you started writing about your personal life in English.
Write a paragraph or two a day before taking on something more challenging.
For Intermediate Learners: Check for Errors Using Grammarly Premium
Grammarly is one of the best free spell-checking programs out there, but they also have a Premium version with super helpful features.
If you’ve already made writing a regular habit and you’re keen to write in a lucid (understandable) and concise way that’s also free of grammatical errors, then you should check out Grammarly’s Premium plans.
A Premium account comes with a plagiarism detector, genre-specific writing checks and even vocabulary enhancement suggestions. If your professional life involves a lot of English writing, this is a must-have tool.
Whether you use Grammarly’s free option or pay for the Premium plan, this program will make sure your writing is free of spelling mistakes and typos and that it sounds great.
For Advanced Learners: Use the Hemingway Editor
Famous American writer Ernest Hemingway was well-known for his lucid, brief and immensely thought-provoking short stories. One of his most popular sayings to writers was, “Write drunk. Edit sober.”
If you’re serious about writing in English, then you must realize that editing forms a very big part of it. And, since professional editors are pretty expensive to hire, you can use this brilliant app called the Hemingway Editor.
The app will make your writing more readable by color-coding it, with different colors offering different suggestions regarding the use of adverbs, passive voice, alternative words and so on.
These seven steps are just a starting point—feel free to branch out and try new things!
The important lesson to keep in mind is to create variety in your learning routine. It will keep things engaging and challenging.
And, the more interested you are the more effort you’ll put in to learn. So, be dedicated in your studies and have fun while you’re at it. You’ll be fluent in English in no time!
Archita Mittra is a freelance writer, journalist, editor and educator. Feel free to check out her blog or contact her for freelancing/educational inquiries.
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.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.