Have you seen “The Matrix”?
If so, you probably remember the scene where the main character, Neo, is going through his “training.”
Instead of showing a montage (collection of scenes) of him running on the beach and working out to gradually get stronger, another character simply puts a program directly into Neo’s brain.
Seconds later, Neo opens his eyes and says, “I know kung fu.”
For those of you who haven’t seen it, here’s the scene from the movie:
Now, since you’re learning a foreign language, you probably can understand why I’m mentioning this.
When I saw that scene, I thought, “Wow, I wish I could do that with German or Spanish!” If you’re reading this blog, you may have thought the same thing, only about learning English.
Unfortunately, “The Matrix” is just a fantasy, and there’s no computer program, secret potion or magic brain pill that can help you learn English instantly.
But since you’re reading this, you’ve also taken the first step: You’re motivated enough to want to improve.
Today we’ll look at 15 tips to help you improve your English, no matter how much or how little English you already know. Each tip will contain some examples and links that can help you on your language learning journey.
15 Great Tips to Learn English Quickly and Easily
1. Practice, practice, practice
As we’ve seen, there’s no magic way to learn English instantly. You’ll have to work at it a lot.
Obviously, if you’re in a class, you should attend class, do the homework and study as much as you can. Courses are good because they make you more accountable and push you to learn. But even if you’re not in a class, it’s still possible to practice when you have free time.
Fortunately, with the possibilities of the internet, it’s easier than ever to practice.
You may want to study by yourself. If that’s the case, there are many resources and tips available for you. Or if you prefer more structure, there are quite a few free online English courses that you should consider, either as a supplement to another course or as your main course.Start your free trial here!
2. The more you practice, the better and quicker you’ll learn
Author Malcolm Gladwell proposed that, in order to become an expert at something, you need to practice it for 10,000 hours.
If that sounds like a lot of hours, that’s because it is! So, start putting in the hours as soon as you can.
If you’re struggling with listening skills, you can start with a general overview of listening resources available online, then move on to podcasts or audiobooks. If you prefer to add in a visual aspect, look into movies and TV shows that will help you improve your listening comprehension.
Pronunciation and speaking are a bit more difficult to practice if you don’t have a native speaker to talk with, but they’re not impossible to improve. Begin with general speaking practice strategies, some of which you can use even without a partner, then learn more about websites that give online speaking opportunities. Then read some posts about improving your pronunciation.
Last but certainly not least is vocabulary. Maybe you want to learn more idioms or proverbs. Or perhaps you’re tired of sounding like a robot and want to learn more English slang words. Learn which words you thought were okay to use but probably aren’t!
Also, consider increasing your vocabulary related to specific topics, such as colors, sports (specific sports like soccer/football), health and fitness, food or airports. And really, that’s just the beginning!
If it seems like this tip has a lot of links, that’s the point. And don’t forget that all of the links in this section are all from one site—FluentU—and that there are many more language learning websites out there where you can learn more.
3. Find your motivation
Like any goal, learning a language is always easier and more fun if you have a reason to do so. Be sure to remain focused on that reason, since it will help get you through the times when learning seems hard.
For example, do you want to learn English to get a job? To travel? To impress a girl or guy in your class? Or do you want to learn it simply because it isn’t easy, because it’s a challenge? Whatever your motivation is, be sure not to lose sight of that motivation.
You should also recognize that you may have more than one reason for learning English, and that motivations may adapt or change with time.
4. Work hard and play hard
The tips above have hinted at this idea, but it’s important to say it: learning English is so much better if you make it fun. You should try to make a game out of it, whether that means literally playing board games to learn English, or finding ways to include gamification in your English learning.
This is admittedly a strange example, but in the movie “Billy Madison,” Billy is studying with his girlfriend Veronica (don’t worry, that video clip is safe for work). If he gets an answer correct, she takes off an item of clothing. So even though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the “strip studying” method, I do approve of the spirit of the exercise, since Billy found a way to make studying fun and interesting for him!
5. For better future output, get lots of input now
You’ve certainly noticed that in all your language classes, there’s a period of time when you do a lot of listening and some reading. That period usually comes before you start speaking and writing. Well, that’s a natural way of learning something new. Before you can start doing it yourself, you have to see and understand how it’s done.
There’s an idiom for this, too: “Don’t put the cart before the horse.” This means that sometimes you have to do things in the right order. In this case, it means getting as much input as you can first, and not stressing out about your output (which is speaking and writing)—at least not at the beginning.
One of the top ways to see how it’s done is to listen to and learn from native speakers online. This approach saves you heaps of time down the line when you realize that some of the stuff you learned in your English class might not be as commonly used as you first thought. For example, in the video below, you’ll see how English users will mix up their vocabulary when responding to someone thanking them.
You might find that you’re welcome might not be as common as you have learned. Be sure to subscribe to the FluentU English channel now to start your English journey with heaps of native (and useful) input!
6. Focus on communication first
English’s vocabulary is enormous, its pronunciation is difficult, and its spelling is a giant mess. To add to that, you’re not perfect, so you’re going to make mistakes when you’re learning English. The sooner your accept this, the better.
Have you accepted this? Good!
Now it will be much easier for you to communicate with others and get your point across. You can work on perfecting things later in the learning process.
So how can you find language partners to communicate with? Well, you can always use your classmates—if you have any—or try to find them using the resources in tips 1 and 2.
You can also find fellow English learners on Facebook or other social sites, use the internet to find other speakers and learners, or even sign up for a site like CouchSurfing.com, which can give you opportunities to meet new people in person while traveling!
7. Don’t forget structure
Despite everything I just said in tip 6, don’t forget that there are accepted “correct” ways to speak English. At the beginning of your language learning process, it’s usually best to focus on speaking and not worry much about mistakes, but when you get to more advanced levels, things like grammar, spelling and word choice do matter.
Think of language being like a building, and grammar is the structure. If you don’t have a good structure, eventually your building will collapse. Avoid that collapse by using sites like Englisch-Hilfen.de, or by reviewing other posts on FluentU that can help improve your English structure and avoid mistakes.
8. Recognize that learning English isn’t a straight line
If you’re in a class, following a textbook or using any kind of curriculum, you’ll likely find that these resources present topics and grammar points in a certain order.
Generally, things move from easier to more difficult as time progresses, but that doesn’t mean that you always have to follow the book.
There will be times that you get bored and want to find new, specific information that’s not in the book. There will also be times that you’ll have to go back and review some material that didn’t make much sense the first time around. That’s good and normal.
You should also understand that there will be some days when you feel like an invincible English-speaking superhero, and there will be days when you feel like you couldn’t complete a sentence to save your life. Those ups and downs are normal, too. Just keep working and be patient, and you’ll surely improve.
9. Don’t translate everything
As a teacher, I notice that my students frequently have this problem.
It used to be hard to look up every word in a dictionary, but with the internet and Google Translate, it has become easier than ever to get fast “translations.”
Avoid this temptation.
The reason is that if you literally translate every single word of a sentence, it will probably sound terrible to a native speaker. That’s true for every language. Word-for-word translations generally don’t take things like idioms, auxiliaries and preposition changes into account, and as a result it’s nearly always obvious when students are translating every single word.
On the other hand, if you’re reading an English text and trying to translate it into your native language, it might not be as bad. It will probably waste your time and confuse you a bit, but at least it won’t confuse the person you’re speaking to.
10. Keep a language log or journal
Either buy a notebook or dedicate a file on your cell phone or computer to your English learning experience. Every time you learn a new, important word, add it to your log, along with a definition and and example, if possible. You can also write other experiences in English if you want more writing practice.
The benefit of a log like this is that you get to practice a bit of writing, of course, but it’s also good to reinforce new vocabulary. There’s a belief that in order to understand and retain a new vocabulary word, you need to use it in context at least three times. Keeping a log can help.
Additionally, if you look back at earlier entries in your English log, you’ll be able to reflect at how far you’ve progressed—and you’ll probably be surprised and motivated when you compare that to how much you know now!
11. Be consistent and accountable
This is more of a goal-setting tip, as opposed to a strictly English-learning tip.
The fact is, you’re more likely to successfully stick with a goal and complete it if you do it consistently and if you have some form of accountability.
Like in the tale of “The Tortoise and the Hare,” slow and steady wins the race.
If you can only dedicate 15 minutes a day to studying English—but you do those 15 minutes every day—you’ll probably have better results than if you try to study for 3 hours in one session on a single day. Or how about a plan to learn English in 35 minutes a day?
At the same time, if you have learning partners like classmates or family members who know what you’re doing, they’ll be able to help push you and motivate you to keep studying and to stick to your plan.
12. Be realistic
Sure, it would be great if you could practice for 10 hours a day, but that probably won’t happen. You’ll have to recognize your own limitations, especially in terms of time, and learn to work with those limitations.
As mentioned in tip 11, if you can only dedicate 15 minutes a day to studying, it’s better to acknowledge that and to work with it, than to make grand plans to study 2 hours a day, if those plans never actually happen.
Also, be realistic about your motivations (see tip 3). If you only want to learn English for business meetings, it wouldn’t make sense to buy an English book that focuses on tourism and vacation vocabulary.
13. Know your level to improve your level
This is similar to tip 12, but in order to recognize your limitations, you first need to understand what they are.
Tests are never fun, but sometimes they’re necessary to diagnose what areas you need to improve the most. Sites like Oxford and Cambridge have their own tests, and a simple search on the internet can help you find many more.
Once you’ve determined where your skills really are, it’ll be easier to move forward in the right direction.
14. Pay attention to pronunciation from the beginning
This is basically combining tips 6 and 7 into one piece of concrete advice: Focus on pronunciation starting at the early stages, since these problems are much more difficult to correct later on.
If you correct errors at the beginning, it’s much less likely that they’ll become cemented (last forever).
Use sites like ShipOrSheep.com to help identify common pronunciation symbols and minimal pairs, and to hear and mimic correct pronunciation. While you’re learning pronunciation, also review rhyming words to help cement pronunciation patterns.
15. Technology is your friend, so use it
As you’ve probably noticed from these tips and from the many links that they contain, the internet is a great tool for language learning. I still love books, but realistically speaking, it’s much more common for people to use the internet to practice their English skills these days than it is for them to open up a textbook.
I said that there was no magic technique for learning English, but if we imagined one, the internet would probably be the closest thing to a magic pill or program to learn English quickly.
So keep on using Wikipedia (and even Wikipedia’s Simple English version), keep on using Facebook or Snapchat, keep on sending text messages, keep on listening to music on YouTube, and keep on writing! The truth is, any way that you can practice English can potentially help improve your skills, so take advantage of all the resources that we have available to us in this day and age!
If you follow this tip and the other 14 above it, you won’t instantly be able to speak English perfectly.
But they will help you improve if you follow them.
Then, before you know it, you’ll be able to open your eyes, do your best Neo impersonation and say, “I know English!”
Ryan Sitzman teaches English and sometimes German in Costa Rica. He is passionate about learning, coffee, traveling, languages, writing, photography, books, and movies, but not necessarily in that order. You can learn more or connect with him through his website Sitzman ABC.
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 recommends examples and videos to you based on the words you’ve already learned. You'll 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.