learn english

Want to Learn English? Here’s Exactly How to Do It

“If you want to learn English, listen to music in English.”

“I knew a guy who learned English just from watching TV.”

Have you heard people say things like this?

If so, maybe it made you feel frustrated.

The truth is, learning English isn’t that easy!

Even if you already know some English, it can be hard to really learn the language completely.

It can also be hard to know how to learn. While listening to music and watching TV are excellent ideas, you’ll have to do more than that to become fluent.

But learning the language doesn’t have to be that hard if you know what you’re doing.

How you should go about learning English depends on what your goals are. It also depends on whether you want to learn by yourself or with a teacher, and whether or not you can afford to spend money on your learning.

No matter what your situation is, though, you can start by reading this post.

By the end, you’ll know what to do next.
 


 

Learn English Now: Everything You Need to Get Started!

Below, we’ll look at the best ways to learn English for different needs and goals. If you want to learn English mostly to be able to speak it, this first section should be helpful for you.

Learn a foreign language with videos

How to Learn English Speaking and Conversation (and Feel Confident!)

Learn English Speaking Online with YouTube and FluentU

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You might already spend a lot of time watching videos on YouTube. It’s the best place to watch speakers of any language hurting themselves in funny ways. YouTube videos are also some of the best tools for learning English.

But they’re even better if you learn with them using FluentU.

FluentU is a website and an app that puts the most entertaining and useful YouTube videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—in one place and turns them into personalized language lessons.

This means that you’ll hear real English being spoken, which is perfect for learning to speak it yourself—and you never have to worry about missing a word. You’ll watch authentic English videos and actively improve your skills at the same time.

Each FluentU video comes with interactive subtitles. Click on any word for an instant definition, grammar info and useful examples. The program makes quizzes for you and keeps track of your progress, so all you have to do is log on and learn.

Whether you’re learning English with FluentU or with YouTube videos you find yourself, here are a few ways you can get even more out of your learning.

Shadow along with the videos.

Shadowing is a language learning technique that can help build your speaking confidence. It’s something you can do all by yourself, and all you need is a pair of headphones or earbuds. This post explains how to go about it.

There are different ways to use shadowing. But here’s one easy shadowing exercise you can do:

  • Find a short English-language video that has slow speech throughout, and correct subtitles in English. You should sort of understand what the video is about, even if you don’t understand every word.

On FluentU, you can easily sort videos by length to find one that works for your shadowing exercises. The subtitles are provided by professionals so you can rest assured they’re accurate.

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  • Play the video while listening to it through headphones. As soon as the speech starts, start speaking along with it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand what you’re saying, or if you get some sounds wrong. Just repeat what the speaker is saying as soon as you hear it.

If you mess up, don’t worry! Try to relax, let the video keep playing and start speaking again whenever you can. If you have trouble concentrating, try closing your eyes.

  • Speak along with the video again, but this time try to read along with the subtitles as you’re speaking. It still doesn’t matter if you don’t always understand what you’re saying, or if you don’t know certain words.
  • Go through the video a third time, and this time look up any words that you don’t know. If you’re using FluentU, you can do this right in the video player, using the interactive captions.
  • Come back to the same video the next day or a few days later. Repeat the steps above. Keep coming back to the video until you can speak along with it and understand everything you’re saying.

Write down useful phrases from each video. (Focus on phrasal verbs and prepositional phrases.)

A phrasal verb is a phrase that includes a verb and an additional word or words. For example, “get up” or “go out.” Phrasal verbs are useful to learn because they’re very common in English. They can also be idiomatic, or have a different meaning than the meanings of their separate words put together.

It’s also useful to learn phrases that contain prepositions (words like “to,” “at” and “for”), because prepositions are used differently from language to language.

Let’s say you were watching Mayo Clinic’s video about eating healthy food on a budget. This video is available on YouTube (below) and with captions and learning tools on FluentU.

The first line in this video is, “Can you buy healthy foods and still stick to a budget? Absolutely!”

You can already see there’s one preposition here, the word “to.” This preposition is being used as part of a phrasal verb, “stick to.” Can you tell that it means “commit [to something]” or “not give up [on something]?”

If you write this phrase down, and do the same with other prepositional phrases and phrasal verbs in the video, your list could look something like this:

  • stick to (a budget)
  • eating out
  • take up
  • slice (that) up
  • going to waste
  • go to (the grocery store)

You can see that for some phrases in the list, I included some words in parentheses. This is to show how you could note which words can be replaced. For example, the video uses “go to” for “go to the grocery store,” but you could just as easily say, “go to the park.” Instead of “stick to a budget” you might hear “stick to a diet” or “stick to a schedule.”

Use the phrases you write down to create your own conversations.

Now that you have your phrase list, try writing your own imaginary conversation that uses the phrases. Here’s a conversation you could make from the phrases above:

“Do you feel like eating out tonight?”

“Oh, I don’t know, that might take up a lot of time. Besides, I’m trying to stick to my diet.”

“Oh, that’s right. I forgot you were on a diet.”

“Yeah. I also just went to the farmers’ market this morning, and I don’t want the food I got to go to waste. I was planning on making grilled salmon and a salad.”

“Okay, that sounds good. Do you want me to help you slice up these cucumbers?”

Notice that some of these phrases are used in a different form than they were in the video. For example, the phrase “go to” is used in the past tense as “went to” here.

Practice your conversations with a partner.

Once you’ve written some conversations in this way, it would be useful to practice them with someone. If you have a learning partner who’s a native English speaker, they can check over your writing for mistakes before you read the conversation together.

If you don’t have anyone to practice with at the moment, writing out a dialogue and reading it out loud yourself will still be very good for your English skills.

Use Twitter to Practice Discussions About Live Events (TV, Movies, Elections)

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Twitter is a social media site that moves very quickly. This means that people often live-tweet (post multiple updates on Twitter about a thing that’s happening as it’s happening). One time I followed a baseball game on Twitter just by reading what people were saying about it!

One great way to improve your English conversational skills at home is to follow a hashtag (a phrase or word starting with # that allows you to see all tweets with that same phrase or word) where there’s a Twitter conversation happening about a live event, and contribute to the discussion when you can.

You may already be aware of a big event that’s happening, like an election, a sporting event or a TV series finale. Try searching for whatever it is to see if you can find popular hashtags that people are using to talk about it. For example, people sometimes use the hashtag #DebateNight to talk about political debates that are taking place.

If you don’t already have an event to follow, look at the “trending” hashtags (or just words and phrases) and see if you can find anything interesting that you’re able to access. Once you’ve found a discussion, create tweets of your own opinions and reply to other people. This is useful practice for your English because live-tweeting on big topics moves fast. It can almost be like having a real conversation.

Take an In-person English Speaking Course in Your Area

If you really want to improve your speaking fast and you can afford to spend some money, you may want to consider hiring a tutor or taking a classroom course. Here are a few different options that might work for you.

Even if you don’t have the chance to take a class that’s especially for speaking and conversation, most in-person classes will include good opportunities to practice your speaking.

Search for a local tutor.

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Wyzant is a site that can help you find a tutor near you. Go to “Find a Tutor” and “Search for Tutors.” You’ll be asked some questions that’ll lead you to a list of tutors you can look through.

Look for English classes at local universities.

Check into the English programs at colleges and universities near you. Taking a class at a college usually costs some money, but there’s also often financial aid available if you qualify for it.

Try an international language school.

If you’re okay with spending more money and really want to learn fast, there are some big language schools that offer courses all over the world or within a wider location. Some of them offer intensive courses, or programs that are meant to help you learn quickly.

Here are a few options:

  • If you’re in the U.S., you can learn English with a private tutor or small group at any of 30 Berlitz Language Centers.
  • EF (Education First) offers a variety of language courses all over the world, including full-time English courses in many American cities. These include intensive courses meant to be taken over a shorter period of time.

How to Learn English Quickly (Ways to Speed Up Your Studies)

Is your biggest concern learning English as fast as possible? These next tips are for you!

Learn Common English Vocabulary First

One of the easiest ways to speed up your learning is by learning the words that you’ll use the most first. Here’s how to go about doing that.

Create your own word list.

Before you can start learning the most important words, you need to know which words are most important for you. So let’s begin by creating a word list of English vocab just for you.

  • Start with a frequency list. A frequency list shows you the most-used words in a language. For example, this one from EF shows you the 3,000 most common English words.
  • Plan to learn at least 3,000 of the most common words + words specific to your needs. 3,000 words is a good number to aim for to start. Of course, if you’ve already started learning English, you may already know many of the 3,000 most common words. Only include words on your personal list that you don’t know yet.

If you’re a more advanced learner who already knows at least 3,000 words, you can aim for a higher number depending on your needs. In addition to the most common words, you can also include words for talking about subjects that are of special interest to you.

For example, if you’re going to college in an English-speaking country to study science, you’ll want to add some basic scientific terms to your list.

Once you have the right words, learn them as fast as you can!

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  • How to use SRS with your word list. SRS stands for Spaced Repetition System, or Spaced Repetition Software. Spaced repetition technology helps you to learn more efficiently by having you review the information you’re studying at the best time. There are plenty of free programs with SRS that let you create your own flashcards for learning vocabulary, like Anki.

With these programs, you’ll have to type in each word and definition you want to learn. But if you’re using FluentU, you can just type the words into a field to create a deck of flashcards.

FluentU will take care of all the definitions for you, and give you special quizzes with video and images that help you learn faster.

  • How to use categories and sentences for faster learning. Once you have your word list and a way to learn it, you can still try to make your learning plan more efficient. One way to do this is to group the words you’re learning into categories. For example, if you’re learning scientific vocabulary, put all of your science words together. Then you can use these words to create sentences, like with the conversation we created above for the food video.

You can also label your words according to parts of speech, or the roles they play in a sentence. For example, nouns, verbs and adjectives. This is something else that FluentU will do for you.

Learn Cognates and Shortcuts Between Your Native Language and English

Depending on what your native language is, it may have a shared history with English. For example, many words in English actually come from French. This means that French and other languages that come from Latin (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian…) share some words with English.

These are called cognates. These words may be pronounced or even spelled a little differently, but still mean the same thing.

Even if you don’t speak a language that has a history with English, there are likely still some similarities. Many languages today have taken words from English, and English has taken words from many other languages, even if only a few.

Research the similarities between your language and English, and find out what words are similar. Learning what these words are will help you grow your vocabulary much faster.

Learn More English Vocabulary from Books

Books are another good way to help your vocabulary grow fast. Here’s how books can help you learn English faster.

Choose the right book to read for your level.

If you haven’t learned much English yet, it’s best to choose a book that’s closer to your learning level. Any easy English book will give you a lot of starter vocabulary. At the beginning and intermediate levels, it doesn’t matter so much what you read.

What matters more is that you’re reading texts that you can understand or at least figure out.

If you’re a more advanced learner, though, you’ll want to choose books about things that you want to be able to talk or write about in English. For example, if you want to be able to talk about politics, you can read nonfiction books about current events.

You can also choose fiction books—it can just be a little trickier to find a novel or story that’s really “about” a particular subject. But if you already enjoy reading fiction, going in that direction might help you get more reading done. Fiction that contains dialogue (conversation) between characters can also be useful for learning to talk about a certain topic.

Either way, you can make best use of your time by choosing a book that…

  • …really interests you.
  • …has a lot of vocabulary on a subject that interests you.

Once you have your book, there are two different kinds of reading that can help you get the most out of it.

Read extensively.

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Extensive reading is, to put it simply, reading a lot. When you read extensively, you don’t need to worry about stopping to look up words in a dictionary, or even completely understanding every sentence.

Having said that, if you find yourself feeling frustrated because you don’t understand what a book is saying at all, you’ve probably chosen a book that’s too difficult for you. Extensive reading shouldn’t feel stressful or like a struggle. It should be a chance to relax and enjoy the language.

Read intensively.

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Intensive reading is when you really focus hard on a section of reading for a short period of time. Set aside a some time each day, or a few times a week, where you do everything you can to understand a few paragraphs or a page that you’re reading.

This means looking up any words you don’t know, and paying attention to how each sentence is put together.

This is also a good time to add any words you look up to your word list and SRS. Since you’re already reading about a topic that you want to focus on, there’s a good chance that any words you don’t understand will be useful for you to know later on.

Once you’re done with your intensive reading session, go back to just reading for fun. You may find that after concentrating hard for a short period of time, you’re able to take in more details from the text even when you’re not trying as hard.

How to Learn English Grammar (Without Getting Bored)

So now we’ve looked at how to learn English speaking, and how to speed up your English learning.

But what if you want to make your English communication smooth and confident? To write well? To know that you’re using correct grammar?

What can you do to achieve this?

Use a Grammar Checker Whenever You Write

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This is an easy way to improve your writing while catching your English grammar mistakes. Just use Grammarly or another grammar checker as you’re using email and social media.

It’ll help you correct common mistakes, and give you tips to make your word choice stronger. It’ll even explain your grammar mistakes to you so that you don’t make the same ones again later.

Write Journal Entries on Lang-8

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Grammar checkers aren’t perfect, though, so you should get your writing checked by a real human being sometimes. Lang-8 makes that easy. All you have to do is create an account and post an entry in English. Real native speakers will give you corrections and advice.

Just make sure that you correct other people’s writing, too—it’ll make them want to help you back!

Use Authentic Resources to Learn Different Grammar Subjects

An important thing to understand about grammar is that it changes over time. Some native speakers break the “rules” of English all the time and no one notices because everyone else is doing it, too. If enough English speakers use “wrong” grammar over a long enough period of time, at some point that grammar becomes “right.”

The truth is, people often don’t care if you use “incorrect” grammar, as long as they can still understand you. At the same time, using grammar in a way that’s familiar to native speakers can help you fit in with them and open up professional and personal opportunities. (It can also be important when you’re dealing with any kind of writing that’s going to be published or used in an academic setting.)

So if that’s your goal, you’ll want to learn grammar in an authentic context (as native speakers would use it), rather than just out of a book.

Below are some different resources that you can use to learn specific grammar subjects. Doing regular reading with any of these resources will be helpful for seeing “correct” grammar usage. You can then practice using that grammar by writing in a similar style.

Recipes, Wikihow: the imperative or “command” form.

Imperative language in English is used to give commands or instructions. In other words, it’s the kind of language you use to tell someone what to do.

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When you read a recipe, you want the recipe to tell you exactly what to do. For example, “Melt the butter.” Or, “Add the chocolate.”

Reading or watching recipes on Allrecipes is one way to study imperative language. When you become familiar with the kind of language that’s used in recipes, try writing your own! If you have favorite recipes that you use to cook in your native language, try translating or writing them down in English.

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Wikihow is also a good site for studying the imperative. The idea of Wikihow is that you can find articles on how to do just about anything—from freezing pears to saving a friendship. You may find some articles more helpful for what they promise than others, but they can all be useful for your English. And who knows, you might learn how to make decorative candles in the process.

Announcements and ads: the future tense.

You don’t have to go far to find announcements and ads online. Ads will likely show up wherever you’re browsing, and announcements will find their way into your email inbox. Both often give you examples of the future tense.

Ads might ask you to think of a future with a certain product. For example, an ad for toothpaste might say, “Once you experience a shine like this, you will never go back to your old toothpaste!”

Announcements for events usually describe what will happen at those events. For example, “At 7:00, refreshments (food and drink) will be served. At 8:00, we will begin discussion with our book group.” Email newsletters for bookstores, libraries, restaurants and other places with public events often include details like this, and are usually free to sign up for.

Celebrity gossip headlines: prepositions.

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Gossip articles about your favorite movie stars and other celebrities are all about relationships between people and events. Prepositions often help to describe these relationships.

Here’s a silly made-up example of a headline you might see: “Billy Bigstar seen with Renee Marvelous at Big City Ball in New York City.”

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For real celebrity gossip content, try The Hollywood Gossip or E! News.

Personal essays, dating profiles, LinkedIn: the first person.

Personal essays are articles written by people about their personal thoughts and experiences. A lot of online magazines publish personal essays, and sometimes they get printed in books. Because personal essays are from the author’s point of view, the author writes in the first person, using “I.”

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Reading personal essays can help your use of the first person, and prepare you to write about your own thoughts and experiences. You can find personal essays on HuffPost, BuzzFeed and Longreads.

If you’re signed up for any online dating sites, like OKCupid, you can get some first person reading practice just from looking at other people’s profiles. However, keep in mind that not all profiles are necessarily using correct grammar. You also probably shouldn’t sign up for dating apps or sites just to view profiles, as lurking (hanging around without talking to anyone) can seem weird and creepy. But if you’re already using one, viewing a lot of profiles and writing your own are great practice!

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Certain social media and social networking sites can also be good for reading text that is in the first person. LinkedIn is one of the best, because it’s a social networking site for professionals. This means people will put a lot of effort into their profiles, and try not to make any mistakes.

Love songs and poems: the second person.

If you love your love songs, this is a great way to see the second person, or the subject “you,” being used. Love poems, while they might seem a little old-fashioned, can serve the same purpose.

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Look up lyrics to your favorite romantic songs on Lyrics On Demand, or just look at the popular hits. These almost always include love songs, which often have words like “love,” “heart” and “always” in the titles.

For love poetry, check out this collection from Poetry Foundation.

News, Wikipedia: the third person, passive vs. active voice and past tenses.

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When you use words like “he,” “she,” “they” or “it” to refer to the person or thing you’re talking about, you’re using the third person. Third person writing can be found in news writing and also informational writing, like the kind you find in encyclopedias.

You can get news online from the Associated Press, or any other news site you like. The English version of Wikipedia is another good place to get comfortable with the third person.

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When you read sites like this, you’ll also get practice with the passive and active voices, as well as past tenses.

In the passive voice, an action happens to the subject. An example of the passive voice would be, “The tennis champion was defeated by a newcomer.”

The same sentence in the active voice would be, “A newcomer defeated the tennis champion.” Note how in this sentence, the subject (a newcomer) performs the action (defeated the tennis champion).

This BBC article gives more examples of the active and passive voices, and explains when they might be used in news.

Generally, informational and news sources report on things that have already happened (even if they just happened), which means articles are usually written using a combination of past tenses.

Product descriptions, book and movie reviews: adjectives.

Any kind of description or review of anything—a mop, a bottle of water or the latest Stephen King novel—will probably contain at least a few adjectives. Adjectives can tell you whether something is worth buying (“good,” “bad,” “okay,” “worthwhile”). They can also give you more specific information or express the writer’s opinion. For example, you may read that the new Quentin Tarantino movie is “brilliant,” but you might not agree.

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To find reading with lots of adjectives, check out descriptions for products on shopping sites like Etsy.

Entertainment publications like Rolling Stone offer TV, movie and music reviews.

Publishers Weekly and Kirkus are great for book lovers, because they include short reviews that come out weeks before a book is published.

Product reviews, consumer reports: comparatives and superlatives.

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Consumer Reports is for people who are thinking about buying products, and want to compare products so that they buy the best one. On sites like this, you’ll find the words “more,” “less,” “better,” “worse” and other terms that compare the price and quality of products.

Advice columns: conditionals and questions.

Advice columns are regularly published pieces where people ask an expert for life or relationship advice. It can be fun to read about other people’s problems, and sometimes you might find advice for a problem you’re having, too!

Besides being fun, advice columns give you the chance to see how questions can be phrased in English. They also often use conditional phrases with “if,” because people who write in are usually unsure about whether or not they should do something. For example, someone might ask, “Would it be rude if I asked my friend to stop calling me in the middle of the night?”

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E. Jean’s advice column for Elle usually has short answers, and is often entertaining. Check it out!

Lists of rules: gerunds.

If you’ve seen the movie “Fight Club” or read the book by Chuck Palahniuk, you know that the first and second rules of Fight Club are “you do not talk about Fight Club.” This is what Tyler, one of the characters, says. Since the first and second rules are the same, you can tell that this is a really important rule.

The “fight club” is a group of guys who get together and fight each other in basements—at least, this is the easiest way to explain it if you don’t know the story.

But what if “Fight Club” was a more official kind of club—like a book club, a film club or a language learning club? Then there might be a more official set of written rules that started like this:

Rule #1: There is no talking about Fight Club.

Rule #2: There is no talking about Fight Club.

In these rules, “talking” is a gerund. A gerund is a form of a verb ending in “-ing” that’s treated like a noun. Other examples could look like this:

  • No running by the pool.
  • There is no smoking allowed in the hotel room.
  • Please refrain (keep yourself) from yelling in the bathroom.

Okay, so that last one probably isn’t something that you would actually see (though it’s a good rule to follow, anyway). Look for these types of rules posted on doors and walls when you’re out in public. See how many gerunds you can find.

How to Learn English with Apps: More Resources for Your Study Routine

Whew! We’ve already talked about a lot of ways to learn English. Along the way, we’ve covered some great apps and resources. But there are a few more apps that might be beneficial to have around for your English studies. Here’s how to use some different kinds of apps to your advantage.

Use Study Apps to Build Your Vocabulary

Here are some apps that can be used to learn vocabulary, even if you just have a few minutes a day.

  • Clozemaster is like a flashcard app, but it always teaches you words with complete sentences. There are a lot of decks for learning English, so there’s a good chance you’ll find one that teaches English from your native language.
  • Vocabulary.com lets you learn the exact words that you want to learn. All you have to do is enter them in a text box, and it’ll give you quizzes. This is another app you can use with your own word list.
  • Duolingo is a popular app that teaches English from a number of different languages. It gives you quizzes to complete that teach you English vocabulary and grammar through sentences.
  • Learn English Sentences is a very simple app. It teaches you how to structure sentences by having you put words in order.
  • Sentence Master is like Learn English Sentences, but a bit fancier! It has background music, lets you choose a level and makes putting words in order more of a game.

Use Music Apps to Listen to English-language Music

With a music app, you can make sure that you always have English-language music to listen to. Again, even if you only have a few minutes, you can still get some listening practice in!

  • Spotify is a very popular music app. With Spotify, you can build your own playlists, or listen to lists created by others.
  • Pandora is a music app that creates “stations” based on music that you like. You can start with one artist or song you like and Pandora will play other music it thinks you’ll like.

Use Reference Apps When You Have Questions About the Language

Even if you have a teacher or language partner, they won’t always be there to answer your questions. Here are some tools you can use to get your questions answered anytime!

  • WordReference is an online dictionary that includes forums where you can ask native speakers questions. The English Only forum is good not just for getting answers to your questions about the language, but also for writing practice.
  • Linguee is a site and app that can show you real-life examples of translations between English and your native language. This can be really useful when you see a word used in a way that your dictionary doesn’t explain.
  • HiNative is an app that lets you ask native speakers of a language questions about that language. You can find native English speakers here, and help them out with your native language, too.

 

If you’re made it this far, congratulations! You’re definitely ready to learn English!

Still not sure where to start? Just begin with a few of the suggestions above. As long as you create a regular routine, you’ll be learning and improving your skills. Good luck!


Elisabeth Cook is a freelance writer, a lifelong language learner and a book reviewer. You can read more of her writing on her blog, Lit All Over.

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