You know how to speak English.
You’ve mastered the basics; you can make small conversation,
You can name everything you see, you can successfully get throughout the airport and so on.
But how do you improve?
You can speak—sure—but you want to speak with confidence.
You can see the next level of English for you, but you just can’t find the way to get up there. And you’re so bored with grammar…
So what can you do?
Stop studying English and start playing with it.
You have memorized, you have repeated, you have practiced—now you can have fun! Once you start playing with a language, you are one step closer to mastery.
Applied linguist (language expert) Guy Cooke believes:
Language play should not be thought of as trivial or peripheral activity, but as central to human thought and culture, to learning, creativity and intellectual inquiry. It fulfills a major function of language, underpinning the human capacity to adapt: as individuals, as societies and as a species (UK catalogue).
Basically, to succeed in speaking a second, third or fourth language, you must be able to play with it. By playing with a language you can immerse yourself both culturally and linguistically (with language).
Below is a list of different methods you can use to play with English. Whichever method you choose should be fun and enjoyable for you. Otherwise, you’re not really playing!
Keep trying different methods until you find one that you love. These methods will allow you to completely engage (connect) with not only the language, but also the culture of English. Some of them you can do on your own, and some of them you can use for conversation practice with a partner or two.
Just make sure that you have some fun!
1) Try out Some Tongue Twisters
What you’ll learn: Pronunciation, Accuracy
Impress your friends. Tongue twisters are difficult even for native English speakers so don’t worry if these require some repetition and a loss of saliva (spit!).
For example: “If two witches would watch two watches, which watch would which witch watch?”
Did you get that?
Check out this list for almost 600 more tongue twisters, and try making up some of your own!
2) Tune in to Your Music
What you’ll learn: Vocabulary, Rhythm, Intonation
You love English songs, but do you know all the words? Listening to music is a great way to find new vocabulary and practice your English intonation. In songs, the intonation is different of course, but you can basically understand which sounds to put stress (emphasis) on when speaking.
If you want to make sure that you’re saying the right words, check out a lyrics site.
You can also look for songs on FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.The interactive subtitles every video includes will make sure you learn while you have fun. Give FluentU a free try and see for yourself!
Want to try something more difficult?
Instead of memorizing the words of an English song, take your favorite song in your native language and translate it to English.
Challenge yourself to create new phrases in English that will correctly translate the exact meaning of words or phrases from your native language.
Bonus points if you can keep the same rhythm or at least the same number of syllables as the original!
3) Perfect Pronunciation with Poetry
What you’ll learn: Pronunciation, Intonation, Rhythm, Advanced vocabulary
Learn about rhyme (words with the same sounds in them) and where to place stress with poetry, too!
Practice reading poetry out loud to practice rhythm, or try reading with a friend who is a native speaker. Here’s a site where you can get started!
Translate your favorite poem in your native language to English. Or try creating your own poem.
Writing poetry is a difficult but rewarding process. First, practice with a shorter style of poetry like a haiku. If you’re an advanced speaker, check out this site for information on how to write a sonnet.
But be careful: a lot of vocabulary in poetry is very literary (difficult words used in literature). You might not use some of these words in conversation.
4) Improve Reading Comprehension with Fairy Tales
What you’ll learn: Vocabulary, Rhythm, Storytelling
Most fairy tales have simple plots and few characters so they are easy to remember.
English literature has roots in both German and Danish folklore so reading some stories like these will provide keys to examining English language culture in a whole new way.
After reading a fairy tale, try to tell it back to yourself or a friend.
5) Practice Thinking in English by Journaling
What you’ll learn: Grammar, Vocabulary
This will improve the vocabulary that you will use every day.
If you are trying to express something but you don’t have the vocabulary for it, you will have to look it up. This will make it easier for you to practice thinking in English.
You can also try an online journal like the “notebook” feature in italki. Sign up, click on “Community,” and then click “Notebook.” Native speakers can then see and correct your journal entries!
Even better, find yourself a free language exchange partner or a (paid) private English tutor on italki. Then this partner or tutor can review your writing and give you more in-depth feedback.
To begin with, try writing about your daily life. What happened today? Here are some other ideas for writing journals.
For you advanced students, Anais Nin is a great example. Although her diaries are translated from French, her writing is more like poetry, and is a great example for English learners who love the arts!
Still can’t think of anything to write about? Keep a dream journal where you write down your dreams every morning. Recording your dreams will also help you remember them better.
6) Improve Understanding of Language Culture with Jokes
What you’ll learn: Sarcasm, Tone
Being able to understand the humor in a language is an important part to understanding the culture. Manythings is a good site to find some classic jokes.
Yes, these are really cheesy (not so funny, old-fashioned) jokes, but you can see some examples of wordplay in English.
Also, listening to currently popular comedians—such as Hannibal Buress—gives you an interesting critique (analysis, criticism) of American culture, as well as plenty of slang and obscenities (dirty English words!).
7) Learn to Express Opinion with News and Debate
What you’ll learn: Vocabulary, Formal English
Do you have a lot of opinions? Learn the vocabulary for expressing them.
Watch debates and improve both your listening skills and your vocabulary. Debates are also one of the best examples of the usage of formal English.
Hold your own debates with friends. You can even write argumentative essays. Choose a topic that you and your friends don’t agree about, and find ways to explain your opinion.
But to find topics to express your opinion about, you need a source…
Reading the newspaper can be intimidating for even a native English speaker, but Breaking News English is a great website for English learners who want to read English news. The site takes real newspaper articles from sources such as the BBC and edits them down to the level of English you prefer.
Or, if you are really determined (serious, decided) to read the original news articles, you can use an edited article from Breaking News English to get a basic summary of the story before you begin to work out the heavy new vocabulary in the original article.
The lower the level, the more basic the vocabulary and the less detailed the summary is, so challenge yourself!
8) Perfect Conversation Skills with Movies
What you’ll learn: Slang, Casual speech, Describing things
Don’t just watch movies, but talk about them.
To get started, instead of using subtitles, find the movie script online and follow along as you watch the movie. Highlight or underline the lines you like. Discuss why you liked these lines; maybe you found them funny or clever, maybe they foreshadowed (gave a hint about) a later scene in the movie. Maybe you don’t understand what the character is talking about.
Or you can highlight the part in the script where you became confused about the movie’s plot. Check out Imsdb for a database of both movie and television scripts. Filmtank provides great forums for discussing film.
Once you’ve studied some great lines, get your friends together and discuss the themes, the plot, the genre and the philosophy of the film. Become movie critics for the day.
9) Increase Confidence Using Social Media
What you’ll learn: Grammar, Conversational phrases, Body language, New slang
Having native English speakers around is the ideal way to practice English using film discussion and holding debates. Having a friend who is also learning English is the second best option.
But if these people are not accessible in person, you can find them on the internet. Language exchange, movie forums, Twitter, Reddit, and all forms of discussion are happening online.
Are you shy about your English ability? You can practice your English online and increase your confidence before anyone even sees your face. Of course, nothing can beat speaking English face to face, but as you wait for the chance to practice with other English speakers in person you can build your confidence by practicing your English online.
10) Improve Understanding with Idioms
What you’ll learn: More natural speech, Nuance
The more of these you can learn, the better. English speakers regularly sprinkle these into their everyday language.
If you’re looking for a good list of common idioms, try this list. Pick a few that you like, and try them out in your next conversation practice!
Comic books are also a great place to find idioms because they are commonly written in the way people casually speak. Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson is an excellent example.
It is up to you to figure out which method works best for you.
What entertains you? What are you passionate about?
If nothing on this list looks like fun for you, try to find some more personal, unique ways to play with your English that match your interests.
So what are you waiting for? Get to that next level and start playing with English!
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.