Practice makes perfect…
Use it or lose it…
Yeah, yeah, I have heard that before!
We all know that to improve English, it is important to practice a lot.
But that is not really the most helpful advice for English learners.
If you do not have some interesting, useful ideas for how to improve English, you will probably get overwhelmed or bored.
That is why we put together a list of 11 extremely practical ways you can improve your English—starting today.
You can use these tips on your own to significantly boost English skills including speaking, grammar, vocabulary and comprehension.
Let’s get started!
12 Extremely Practical Tips to Improve English Right Now
1. Use “intensive reading” strategies:
“Intensive reading” involves reading with concentration and focus in order to understand exactly the meaning of what is written. This is in contrast to “extensive reading,” which involves reading for a more general understanding, to build confidence and enjoyment in the process.
While extensive reading can be great, intensive reading is more useful to quickly improve English skills.
Intensive reading strategies include:
- Identifying key vocabulary words
- Covering up some words and guessing what they might be
- Writing summaries after reading
- Reading along with an English tutor and/or discussing the text with a friend
Make sure that you choose short reading passages when doing intensive reading, otherwise you will get overwhelmed.
2. Practice speaking in front of the mirror:
Speaking in front of the mirror can help you feel less shy when speaking in English.
Sometimes speaking English when you are not fluent can feel very strange and maybe a little embarrassing. This is in part due to not knowing what you look like when making sounds that do not exist in your own language—or if you are even making those sounds correctly.
So, watch how your lips move when you speak English in a mirror. Better yet, compare what you look like to native English speakers. For example, you could repeat some dialogue from a TV show and try to mimic the actors’ mouth movements.
Not only will this help you build confidence, but it will also help you improve English pronunciation.
3. Learn from native speakers online
Learning from native speakers online is the top way to take your English to the next level.
Sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in the same speaking and conversation routines. For this, it’s important to mix-up your speaking and use of phrases as much as possible. For example, what do you say when someone asks you how you are? Is it I’m fine or I’m good. While this is ok, there are various responses native speakers will give in this situation.
The same goes for you’re welcome. Although it is taught as the appropriate response, that doesn’t necessarily mean that native English speakers use it. Be sure to check out the video below and subscribe to the FluentU English channel to learn more daily English from native speakers.
4. Study with the “distributed practice method:”
The “distributed practice method” makes sure that you consistently improve English and have long-term success. In this method, you will have many study sessions that are very short.
This is different from “massed practice” or “cramming,” which involves studying a lot, all at once—usually right before some big exam. Aside from being really unpleasant, cramming does not help you remember information for very long. Most people typically forget everything they learned as soon as their test is over.
To start using the distributed practice method, make a study schedule. Try to study at least a few times a week and make a plan for what you want to study each day/week/month/etc. Set lots of goals for the English skills you want to improve to keep yourself on track.
5. Highlight unfamiliar words when reading:
When reading an English book, highlight words you do not know—and do not look those words up until the end of the chapter.
Then, turn those unfamiliar words into a lesson for the day.
This is a tried-and-true (well known and reliable) way to improve English vocabulary and comprehension. Simply pick out a book that looks interesting and sit down with a highlighter, pen and notebook. By the end of that chapter, you will probably have at least a handful of words to look up.
6. Practice with authentic English videos on FluentU:
One of the hardest things about trying to improve English on your own is that you do not get lots of exposure to real-life English.
FluentU is the perfect solution.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Every video comes with interactive subtitles—you can click any word for an instant definition, grammar info and useful examples.
This way, you improve English vocabulary and grammar while understanding how native speakers really use the language.
When you are done watching a video, there are fun quizzes and flashcards to make sure you remember everything you learned. This type of practice makes sure that you actively improve English with every video.
There are thousands of videos for every English level from beginner to advanced. You can easily choose videos by level and genre to find the right ones for you.
Best of all, you can take this English practice anywhere with the apps for iOS and Android.
7. Repeat English “tongue twisters”
“Tongue twisters” are strange little sentences that repeat a lot of similar sounds, making them very difficult to say—even for native English speakers. You probably have some in your native language, too.
They are great for fun, practical English pronunciation improvement. They will help you master tricky English sounds and speak more naturally.
Start slowly to make sure you pronounce each word correctly, then try to get faster and faster!
There are a number of resources to find tongue twisters. A common one is English Tongue Twisters.
8. Record yourself speaking English every day (and listen!):
This may seem tedious (boring and repetitive) but you will be so happy you decided to do this.
Use a voice recorder app to make audio recordings of your English speech every day. You can simply talk about your day for a few minutes, read a passage from an English book or newspaper, say some new English words you have learned… whatever works for you!
But do not stop there. After recording, you need to listen to the audio and try to catch your mistakes—whether they are pronunciation mistakes, grammar mistakes, misused words, etc.
This is one of the most practical and immediate ways to improve English, especially if you are learning English on your own. Without correcting your mistakes, you will keep making them and your English level will advance much more slowly.
An added bonus is that these recordings can provide an excellent motivation boost.
There will inevitably come a point during your English-learning journey where you hit a snag (stop making progress). You are not learning as quickly as you used to and complex English grammar concepts just seem too difficult. You may even consider giving up.
The audio recordings will remind you of how far you have come. There is nothing like a pick-me-up when learning English has you feeling down!
9. Memorize common homophones:
“Homophones” are words that have the same exact pronunciation but mean different things (and may also be spelled differently).
Some examples of English homophones include:
- blew — blue
- know — no
- here — hear
Salem State University has a long list of common American homophones here.
Studying homophones will improve your English conversation skills and avoid confusion. You will have a much easier time understanding English speech if you are already familiar with common words that sound the same.
A good way to memorize common homophones is to make a flashcard deck for word pairs along with each word’s actual meaning.
10. Understand SVO:
English sentence structure really is not that difficult to grasp, especially if you already speak a Germanic or Romance language, because these languages tend to be similar when it comes to grammar. Still, it is so important for beginner learners to master the SVO (Subject + Verb + Object) sentence structure as quickly as possible.
When you are able to follow Subject + Verb + Object in any given sentence, you will have a much easier time piecing together new sentences on the fly. In particular, it will be easier for you to quickly construct English sentences in real-life conversations.
SVO sentences follow patterns that look like this:
- I grab a soda.
“I” is the subject of the sentence. “Grab” is the verb. “Soda” is the object (the thing being grabbed).
- He does not clean the car.
Notice how the verb can be in the negative format.
- She danced.
You do not always need an object in your sentence. However, you do need a subject and a verb.
11. Play online English games:
Who doesn’t love a good game?
English games should be used by all levels of learners regularly, simply because they offer some relief from traditional classes or homework. They are a fun, relaxing way to improve English—and there are many places to find them online.
Some great English grammar games include:
- Fun English Games: Even games that are designed for English-learning kids can be useful to adults! There are games to practice grammar, vocabulary and even punctuation here.
- Learn English Kids: Another great family-friendly game resource from the popular British Council.
- ESL Games World: This is a particularly useful website for grammar games.
12. Make image associations and mnemonic devices:
There is a reason native English speakers heard so many mnemonic phrases as children! Mnemonics are learning devices that are designed to be easily recalled and memorized.
For example, if you have to memorize a list of vocabulary words, you might write a song that uses the words.
Image association involves thinking of images that represent an English word or concept. Since humans are very visual learners, image association makes language concepts more memorable. Image association is used in flashcards that feature illustrations of the words they are trying to teach, for example.
What did you think of our tips for improving your English skills? Learning any language takes time and effort. But with a little bit of helpful advice and mentorship, we bet you will be close to fluent in no time.
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.
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.