When is the last time you received a postcard?
In the past, they were used by everyone.
Soldiers sent them to their families with photos from the battlefield.
Tourists used them to show off their trips to all their friends.
They were even used for teaching the first long-distance courses way back in the 1840s!
Hardly anyone uses them today. But we have something very similar online.
It is called Instagram.
Just like postcards, people use photos with text to share their lives with their friends and loved ones. Many users also use it to share educational information. You can learn a lot by browsing through the beautiful pictures and reading their descriptions.
We have already talked about how you can use Twitter and other social media sites to improve your English learning. In this post, we will talk about how you can use Instagram to take your English learning practice to the next level.
But first, make sure you get yourself acquainted with FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.FluentU will teach you all the vocabulary you need not to get lost in the depths of Instagram. Give it a free try and see your yourself!
What Is Instagram?
Instagram is a social network that launched in 2010. Its main aim is to let users share photos and short videos with their friends or the general public. It was first launched as a mobile app on Apple devices and then expanded to Android ones.
As of now, the social network has more than 800 million active users. This makes it a perfect platform to interact with other people, especially English speakers and learners. The mainly visual content also makes it engaging and easily accessible to people from all learning levels and backgrounds since you do not need to know a language to understand images.
But the huge amount of conversation that happens in here also makes it one of the best ways to expand your language skills and instantly learn the meaning of words by relating them to pictures.
Important Instagram Terms You Should Know
- Feed: This is the area where you will see images and videos posted by people you follow. Generally, the most recent posts are on top but sometimes other things like the number of likes and shares also change this order.
- Hashtag: Symbolized by the symbol #, these are words that help other users find relevant content. Think of them as topics or as short descriptions. They can be one word long or can even be complete sentences. Some examples include #nofilter, #picoftheday and #fashion. As you can see you do not use spaces in between words and (generally) no capitalization is needed in a hashtag.
- Profile picture: This is the picture which is attached to your account. It is supposed to be your online face. Generally, people use their own pictures, but you can upload anything at all. Instagram usually cuts the picture to make it smaller and circular.
- Caption: This appears below an uploaded picture or video. This is supposed to be the description of what you are sharing and where you type the relevant hashtags. You can also add a link to something else like a webpage or another post in here.
- Tagging: To tag a person in social media means that you have attached their profile name to a post or a comment. This has many uses in Instagram. If you are sharing a picture where your friends also appear, you can tag them so your audience will know who they are.
Every time a profile is tagged, that person gets a notification in their account. It is also used to specifically reply to a person in the comments section. If you want to tag a person, just add the @ symbol before their profile name. For example, @instagram will tag the official account of the social network to my post.
- Bio: This is the short description of your profile that everyone can see. You can use it to introduce yourself, your company or even your cause to all the users who interact with you on Instagram.
- Filters: These are visual effects that you can add to your photos. This was one of the main reasons Instagram became famous. The effects can range from making a picture black and white or even add glasses to your face.
- Stories: This is one of the new features of the social network. Stories are posts that disappear in 24 hours. They function like slideshows in the sense that instead of scrolling up or down to see the next post, you simply swipe left or right. Instagram also allows you to make drawings and add text or emoticons to your stories.
For a more comprehensive list of internet slang, read this article.
Picture Perfect! 6 Fun Ways to Learn English with Instagram
1. Follow Accounts That Focus on Teaching English
Since people from all over the world interact in this social network, it is only natural that there will be accounts which focus on English language learners. These accounts help you stay motivated, regularly post activities and vocabulary challenges and also answer queries in the comment sections.
Of course, you can also find other teachers to help you out with language learning too. Many times they are actively looking for an audience and their accounts are filled with educational materials you can use to advance your learning. Use the hashtag #englishteacher to find tutors from all over the world. Try to interact with them through comments and messages. In my experience, most of them are more than happy to clear any doubts and share general tips about a specific part of English learning.
These are all good ways to find an English learning community which can extend beyond Instagram too. Since the social network is all about sharing photos, many people share their everyday life in their accounts. As language learners, this is a good way not only to find a learning partner but also make friends and talk about interesting things.
Here are some of the most helpful accounts you should check out:
English Tea Break
This account is run by English tutor Natalie Christine. She generally posts images of idioms and common phrases used in English.
The posts cover both formal idioms used in the English language and also some popular phrases used in less formal settings, like “warm fuzzies.” This account is best for intermediate to advanced learners since the descriptions often use complex words like “reprimand,” which might confuse beginners.
Her post about the commonly used acronyms in online conversations is one of the most helpful posts I have seen on Instagram.
BBC Learning English
The international broadcasting giant has been actively trying to engage with its users in various online spaces. This initiative is focused on their English learning program, which already has a good reputation.
They usually post an image with an exercise in the caption. You need to give the right answer in the comments section. It is best for practicing reading, listening, grammar and vocabulary. It also provides the right answer in a separate link so you can instantly check if you guessed it correctly or not.
This post shows a short video where they interview various people in London to define the phrase “steal someone’s thunder.” In the caption, they have also linked a quiz where you can test your knowledge further. It is exactly this type of material that makes this account so valuable for learning English.
English Teacher Joe
This account is run by another English tutor named Joe Crossman. Unlike the last two accounts, he likes to put a personal touch in his posts by recording himself instead of using random images.
Most of his posts are fill-in-the-blank exercises. These posts usually have many pictures in a series where he not only tells you the right answer but also tells you why it is correct. On top of that, he lists out the correct usage of every single option in the exercise.
Apart from this, he also likes to make short videos where he gives instructions for a learning exercise and asks you to post your answers in the comment section. Then he likes to individually check the answers of everyone and helps learners correct their mistakes.
He likes to be very interactive with his followers and often encourages them to have conversations.
English Without Tears
This Instagram account is a mixture of humor and serious content. Managed by teacher Gabriela Torrens, you will see many different types of posts on this account.
There are funny comics which make jokes about the common misconceptions in the English language.
Then there are simple, practical and straightforward lists about idioms, words and grammar. You’ll also find reference material, like this chart showing the difference between direct and reported speech.
Lastly, there are short video lessons that talk about a specific topic in detail using examples.
English Outside the Box
Along with the tutor Jennifer Nascimento, you will also get to meet her whole family. She mixes her personal life in with her public profile, and the English learning exercises are always attached to a post where you feel like Jennifer is sharing a part of her life with you.
Most pictures are guessing games where you are supposed to guess and comment about the object being depicted in the post. She also has videos where she posts language listening challenges or activities for her viewers.
2. Read Short Poetry
Reading poetry is often extremely hard for English learners because they have very difficult words, culture-specific metaphors and their meaning is not obvious to anyone, not even native speakers. There are easy published poems out there, but they are either rare or meant for children.
Instagram is one of those few places where you can find simple but good poetry. Since writers have to share their poems through small photos, the length of these poems are generally short too. This makes it ideal for learners to satisfy their poetic needs without being confused and frustrated.
Here is a list of poets on Instagram we recommend:
She is one of the success stories of Instagram. She promoted her first book of poems, “Milk and Honey,” on the social network and it sold over 2 million copies. She has been a famous writer ever since. She regularly posts her poems online and has a loyal fan following. Her poems are mostly four or five lines long and they talk about her fears, desires, insecurities and her life in general.
It is fairly easy to understand her poetry since the feelings described in them is very common. She also has created a community around her poems, so an English learner can have deep conversations with a lot of people online and offline. This creates a new opportunity to use your English skills and improve them.
Atticus’ poetry is more direct and literal than Rupi’s. This might be a good starting point for absolute beginners since most of his poems are one or two sentences long, which are broken into many verses. He mostly writes about love and the pain of a failed relationship. His book “Love Her Wild: Poems” was recently published and is nominated for the Goodreads Choice Awards 2017.
Tyler Knott Gregson is a photographer and a poet who likes to write about romance. His poems are on the longer side and are ideal for intermediate learners who like to read pieces of text of medium length. His poems are also ideal for fill-in-the-blank exercises where you print out the image, memorize all the difficult words, black them out with a marker and then try to guess them correctly.
This takes a completely unique approach to poetry. The poems are made using existing texts and the creators black out all the words except for the ones they want to keep. The remaining words are supposed to make a verse of a poem.
Unlike the other accounts, this is not by one person. It is a community effort, and even you can submit a poem by making a post and using the hashtag #makeblackoutpoetry in its caption.
It also provides a unique exercise for learners where they can test their skills of understanding individual words and using them in a different context to make new sentences.
3. Take the Caption Challenge
This a very famous activity in the Instagram community. In the caption challenge, a picture is posted by a user using the #captionthis hashtag and different people come up with humorous and clever captions for that photo and post it in the comments section. This post is a nice example.
English learners can test how easily they are able to describe a photo with no textual hints and use their knowledge to come up with a sentence expressing their own thoughts about it. In the comments section, they can also see how many different words can be used to caption the same image and if they are able to connect them with the photo or not.
In case you have any problem understanding how a caption relates to the picture, do not hesitate to ask other users. Most of the people will be happy to help you out, especially if you mention that you are an English learner.
4. Follow Your Favorite English-speaking Stars
Social media is a place to stalk all the famous people you love. So why not do it to improve your English?
Most of the celebrities in Hollywood or other English-speaking countries have active Instagram accounts. You will find that they probably post pictures almost daily and sometimes also reply to their fans’ comments.
As a writing exercise, you can follow your favorite stars and post one comment on their photo every day. It does not have to be more than a line long, but you should not just write one word. Before posting make sure that the grammar is correct (you can use a grammar checker) or perhaps you can ask a learning partner if the sentence makes sense or not.
Celebrities often post short videos about their daily life. These are not only fascinating for fans but are valuable for language learning too.
Some of the best celebrities you can follow on Instagram include Taylor Swift, Millie Bobby Brown and Nick Jonas. All of these people are very active and regularly post videos and interact with their fans.
5. Enjoy Educational Content
Learning English should not stay limited to learning grammar and vocabulary. You can improve your English skills while getting smarter and educating yourself about subjects which interest you.
These popular Instagram accounts provide little pieces of cool facts, one picture at a time:
The iconic magazine known for its fantastic pictures and its scientific journalism also has a beautiful Instagram account. They generally post pictures with a lengthy description in the caption. If you want to have a magazine-like experience online, then this is the place you should go to.
All English learners who love nature and culture would enjoy this account!
The American space agency needs no introduction. They post pictures about space and rockets with little-known facts. They post at least once every day, which means that you will have plenty of material for English practice.
WTF Fun Facts
Unlike other accounts, this profile posts their facts as photos. Usually, they write two or three lines about the fun fact and then add a relevant photo. This might be a more suitable account for intermediate learners as the language is simpler and the text is shorter.
History In Pics
This is probably the best place to find unique pictures that have historical importance. The focus is mainly on the 20th century since that was the time when photography became popular. The descriptions are mostly single sentences, and beginners might find this account useful for reading practice.
6. Find Funny Memes
A meme is usually an image with funny text on it that is copied and spread all around the internet. Since Instagram is all about pictures, it is not surprising that you find loads of funny memes in various accounts.
The meme is the perfect way to get quick English reading practice, especially if you are learning informal English. Usually there are barely four or five words in a single meme and they are extremely entertaining.
You can find various memes on Instagram using hashtags like #memestagram. There is a specific hashtag called #grammarhumor for memes related to English grammar. If you do not understand a meme, do not hesitate to ask for an explanation in the comments section.
And if you are a fan of the staple cat and dog memes, be sure to follow catmeme.s and dogmeme.s for thousands of them.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. I guess Instagram is proof that sometimes pictures can help you learn a thousand words instead.
So keep browsing, keep practicing and keep learning every day.
Dhritiman Ray is a writer of fiction, poetry and non-fiction. He specializes in topics like education, psychology and lifestyle. To know more click here.
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.