To successfully improve English, do not forget the little things.
Making small changes in the way you study and communicate can make a big difference in your language journey.
Of course, you can always improve your English in major ways by taking English courses, studying online or through immersion. These methods can be very helpful!
But there are also lots of everyday actions you can take to improve spoken English, your English writing, your listening and reading comprehension.
Read on for 17 practical, effective tips to improve English across all of those skills—the easy way!
How to Improve English 360°: Practical Tips for All English Speaking, Writing and Comprehension Skills
Consider this your 360° guide for how to improve English.
We will give you practical tips to improve English in multiple areas of communication. Not only will this make you an all-around more fluent English speaker, but it will also make you more confident when using English.
Tips to Improve Spoken English
Spoken English is fun because it allows you to communicate directly with other English speakers. It is also challenging! English pronunciation is very different from other languages, plus there are many words pronounced in a unique way! So how do you improve then?
1. Break difficult-to-pronounce English words into parts.
Long English words might be scary, but if you take a closer look, they can be broken down into parts. These parts are often easier to pronounce and sound more familiar. For example:
Wholesome = whole + some
Antiestablishment = anti + establish + ment
Psychotherapy = psycho + therapy
All you need to do is to practice pronouncing these separately and then put them back together. The trick is that you already know how to pronounce the long word because you know how to pronounce parts of it! You are improving your general ability to pronounce English words confidently and effortlessly.
2. Practice letter combinations that are giving you trouble.
When a long word includes a letter combination that you cannot pronounce, you will stumble. One way to improve is to get into the habit of practicing these letter combinations separately.
- For example, beautiful is hard to say because of its many vowels: b-eau-t-i-f-u-l. It may feel like a tongue twister. So you should focus on the /u/ sound in the middle and say it as many times as you need.
- Another example is the th combination that often gets pronounced like a t. Saying the may be easy, but saying thorough is hard. Your tongue needs to adjust to this peculiar th combination.
Any sound or letter pair could give you trouble since it is a very individual thing. The key is to recognize them and give yourself a little time to get used to them. This guide lists other tricky letter combinations found in the English language to help you with pronunciation.
3. Repeat difficult words out loud. Then repeat again.
To improve the likelihood of pronouncing English words correctly, you need to say them out loud many times. Choose a few words to focus on at a time and repeat them slowly as many times as you need.
Repeating words out loud to yourself is also important in order to get used to hearing yourself say them. It may not sound right at first, but soon you will get accustomed to even the most difficult English words.
Practice is the only thing that helps. This is best done in private so that you do not worry about how you sound!
4. Use Google Translate Listen for unknown words.
When it comes to words you do not recognize at all, Google Translate is your best friend! Even if you do not need the word translated, type it into the Google Translate box on the left. You will see a sound sign appear at the bottom, along with a microphone and a keyboard sign. Hit the sound sign and you will hear the automatic voice say the word for you.
This feature is called Listen and it is invaluable to English learners. Google Translate Listen is not always the greatest when it comes to other languages, but it gets English right every time. (Note: The software that pronounces words does so with a standard American accent.)
5. Listen to how others pronounce unfamiliar words.
If you have no idea how to pronounce a certain word, but there is a chance that someone else might say it in English conversation, listen very carefully to them. In fact, listening carefully is guaranteed to help you improve your English comprehension and speaking skills.
Once you hear the word said out loud, do not be afraid to repeat after them. If you think about it, this is actually how you learn to pronounce every word in English!
6. If you do not know how to pronounce something, take a guess!
Have you ever been in a situation where you just had to say something, but you had no idea how to pronounce it? It is common! You could be asked to read something in class. Maybe you need to ask for directions to a place with an unfamiliar name (like Leicestershire).
It can be an uncomfortable situation, for sure. Be brave and take a guess! If you pronounce it wrong, someone is likely to correct you. If not, you can always make a note of that word and practice it later in private. This is how you keep improving.
Enunciating means pronouncing your words clearly and articulately with the intention of being understood by your audience. Enunciation plays one of the most important roles in being a successful English speaker despite what your accent may be (more on your accent below!).
Sometimes even native English speakers do not enunciate enough. It takes a bit of practice, as this English public speaking coach indicates. When you speak, breathe evenly, project your voice and take your time to pronounce every syllable of the words that you know give you trouble. Not rushing will help you speak naturally and without effort.
8. Stop worrying about your accent!
Quite possibly the most important tip for improving your spoken English is to stop thinking about your accent! Everyone has one. Even native speakers have one! Regional English accents are a real thing, not to mention the differences between American, British, Australian, South African English and many others.
You may mispronounce something. You may stumble. It makes no difference and no one minds. As long as you follow tip seven and enunciate, you will be absolutely fine! Your accent will become more and more English the more you improve, and you can only improve by speaking more, so just go for it.
Tips to Improve English Writing
Spoken English may be the most difficult for English students, but focusing on improving English writing is no less important. Here is what you can do regardless of your language level!
9. Refresh your grammar periodically.
Unfortunately, English grammar rules are just like any other knowledge you obtain: if you do not refresh that knowledge from time to time, you forget it. If you write in English often, many grammar rules are always in your head. Some others may not be. This is completely normal! All you need to do is to go back to your preferred grammar textbook and flip through it every two weeks or every month.
Unlike English vocabulary or slang, English grammar rules do not change. This makes it so much easier for you to improve your grasp of grammar gradually and to improve the quality of your English writing in general.
10. Study your past writing to identify common errors.
If you are unsure what kind of grammar rules you need to look at, check your past writing. It could be your English homework, essays that you wrote, letters or messages to your friends.
Pretend that you are someone else reading this work and look for grammar mistakes and errors. You will likely find at least some. Again, this is normal! Work with them. Correct the errors and identify the corresponding grammar rule. These areas of grammar could use your attention. Very likely you will not make the same mistake again no matter what you write!
11. Practice writing in English every day, the fun way!
Think of all the fun technology and mobile apps that allow you to stay connected to your friends and family. Why not use emailing, messaging and texting to improve your written English?
The way to improve with technology is to practice, practice, practice. Focus on the short and fun stuff that it allows you to do:
- Email your English-speaking friends
- Send a text or two to your closest friends in English
- Ask for feedback on your work if you want, or review what you wrote after a few days (like in Tip 10) to work on your grammar by yourself
Try installing the Grammarly app on your browser. It will point out grammar and spelling mistakes you make while you are typing emails, leaving comments on social media or doing any other kind of writing online. This is a great way to learn grammar while doing the things you already do on your computer every day.
You will not even notice that you are getting regular writing practice!
12. Do not give up on handwriting!
Yes, all this technology that we have access to these days is amazing! Its advantage—being able to type and send a message of any length very quickly—is also its downside. Many people just do not write anything in their own hand anymore. It is unfortunate: handwriting has a lot of benefits!
Writing something by hand improves the amount of information you recall, helps you be more creative, spell better and memorize difficult things more easily. So use it!
Write handwritten notes to your friends. Make a habit out of writing something in greeting cards (in English, of course). Take notes in class by writing them down instead of typing on your laptop. It is a great exercise that you can do anywhere at any time.
13. Read more in English.
Reading to improve English writing? Really?
As the old saying goes, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” It is also one of the great ways to improve your language skills. Read in English. Read as much as you can and pay attention while you read!
Choose English authors whose writing style you like and notice how they write. You can learn a lot by analyzing sentence structure, word choices, even the length of paragraphs. Do not be afraid to imitate what you observe in your own writing.
Tips to Improve English Listening Comprehension
Listening as a language skill is hard. It is almost as hard as speaking. In fact, listening is one of the key skills to improve your speaking. When you understand what is being said around you, you can contribute to the conversation in a productive and competent way. There are many ways you can improve your English comprehension!
14. Watch English programs weekly.
Choose at least one audio or video program in English to watch or listen to every week. Doing it weekly is perfect because you will be able to find time for it and not feel overwhelmed by it at the same time.
It does not matter what you watch or listen to. It could be a movie, a documentary, a lecture or even an online course. All that matters is that you are getting exposure to English speech and learning to improve your understanding of it, step by step!
To make this even easier, use the English audio and video clips on FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
For example, there are interactive subtitles. You can click any unfamiliar word in the subtitles and FluentU will automatically show you an in-context definition and memorable picture. When you are done watching, there are flashcards and fun quizzes to make sure you remember the words you just learned.
There are thousands of English videos on FluentU, conveniently organized by genre and language level. That makes it really easy to find an English video that works for you every week. Plus, FluentU will suggest new videos based on what you have already watched.
Best of all, you can watch anytime, anywhere with the FluentU apps for iOS or Android.
15. Play English programs in the background.
It may sound silly to suggest to have a TV on when you work or study, but the idea is this: when you hear background noises in English without actively paying attention to them, you are actually learning to be comfortable with them. You may not understand what is being said, and you do not have to. What you are doing is training your ears to easily tune into English conversations when you need. Your brain still processes background chatter even when you are busy doing something else.
English news channels work best for this kind of exercise. You can also switch on English radio!
16. Work on expanding your vocabulary.
Improving English comprehension goes hand in hand with expanding your vocabulary. The more words you know, the easier you will be able to understand what is being said around you! Expanding your vocabulary will also assist with improving the quality of your pronunciation.
The easiest way to expand your vocabulary is to take note of the unfamiliar words you encounter (meet) and to work with them when you have the time. You can:
- Translate them
- Pronounce them out loud
- Put them in context
- Make sentences with them
You can also make vocabulary cards to go back to the new words in the future!
Another easy way to expand your vocabulary is with Visual Thesaurus. You may already know that a thesaurus is a book or resource that helps you find synonyms (similar words). Visual Thesaurus takes this one step further and puts words into visual “maps,” letting you see the connections between them.
This makes it easy to discover more about the meanings of words you already know, and to discover new, related words in the process.
17. Practice with strangers!
Since your goal is to improve English comprehension, it is very important that you practice with people you do not know as often as you can. Listening to your English teacher or your English friends is great, for sure. However, you are probably very used to the way they speak already. You are used to their accents!
To improve, you need to listen to strangers whose accents are unfamiliar to you, whose pace of speech may be very fast or very slow. Generally speaking, you can get that kind of practice by only following tip 14, but it is no substitute for face-to-face English conversations.
Local English conversation circles and Meetups are great for this. College lectures in English could also be very helpful. You may also consider attending events in English schools other than yours to get English conversation exposure in a beginner-friendly environment.
It is a lifelong process to improve English—and you as a student know how hard it can be. But it does not have to be all work and no fun all the time! By following even a few tips we described above, you will soon see improvements not only in the way you speak, write and listen in English, but also in the way you approach your study strategies and plan your daily language routines.
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.