How to Learn English: An Easy-to-Follow Guide
So you’ve decided to improve your English skills – that’s the first step. But what comes next? Whether you’re studying English abroad or focusing a bit more on self-development, there are several ways to ensure you’re building the right skills and learning English quickly and effectively. We’ve put together a handy list for anyone looking to boost their English fluency. Take a look.
Improving basic skills in English
English is currently one of the most widely spoken languages; it’s estimated that 2 billion people around the word use English to communicate. In order to master the English language, you’ll have to first master the basic skills, which aren’t terribly different than most other languages. Before you start your English language journey, there are a few key things to keep in mind…
- Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s important for you to make mistakes too in order to learn.
- Memorization is more effective when you study every day.
- Don’t set unachievable goals – progress happens over time, so try not to force it.
- If you don’t understand something, ask for help!
- Use English as much as you can. The more you use it, the more confident you’ll become.
These are the most important skills to focus on when learning English:
Once you’ve got these skills nailed down, your fluency will improve drastically. So let’s take a look at a few ways to improve each one individually.
How do I Improve grammar skills in English?
1. Read children’s books in English
Children’s books are designed to teach the basics of language, including vocabulary, diction (choice of word use in writing) and syntax (the arrangement of words in a sentence). They are also a great way to learn how regular and irregular words function. Of course, steer clear of the slightly more nonsensical writers like Dr. Seuss or Roald Dahl who tend to make up their own words, as it might seem sort of strange when you try to use “whisper-ma-phone” in a sentence!
3. Read regularly and from multiple sources
Another great way to improve grammar skills is to pay attention to how writers use language. Focus on reading different styles of writing, such as classical literature, academic publications, science fiction, biographies, blogs and news articles. Pay close attention to the syntax, word order, spelling and tone of voice used by the different writers.
3. Practice writing every day
Keep track of what you’ve learned and put it into writing. Make a list of any new rules or words you learn. Try your hand at writing a short story in English and practice email writing by sending emails to family and friends.
4. Learn the differences between confusing words
The English language contains many words that look and sound the same but have different meanings. Take note anytime you come across one of these words. For example:
They may look or sound the same, but each word has a very different function. It’s important to know what that difference is.
How do I develop my vocabulary in English?
1. Take advantage of the systematic review method
We all know that a memory begins to fade gradually after it forms, which means it’s in danger of disappearing completely if you don’t experience the same information again. The “oblivion” of memory becomes less likely whenever you expose yourself to something that stimulates that memory, forcing it to extend throughout your lifetime. This is why review is an important learning method. If you review the vocabulary every day, it becomes part of your long-term memory.
2. Learn vocabulary in context
Understanding context benefits all aspects of building vocabulary: learning, remembering and retaining. This means that it is never advisable to learn words in isolation without seeing them as part of a larger picture. Think of the words as pieces of a puzzle scattered on a table. As soon as the pieces are grouped together, their meaning is clearer. This is why you should strive to learn vocabulary by applying words to sentences.
3. Play word games
There are plenty of online games and mobile apps you can download to test your vocabulary and grammar skills in a fun way. And the added bonus is that these games provide you with an explanation and correction for any answers you get wrong, meaning you can learn from your mistakes.
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How do I improve my reading skills in English?
1. Select your reading level
There are several online tools to help you determine your exact reading level, so it’s worth taking the time to explore a few of these before deciding on your reading materials. The simplest rule to follow is to look for a level that is comfortable to read in but still requires a bit of effort – otherwise, you won’t develop past your current level!
2. Find the time to read
Choose a place and time you can read without interruption. Somewhere quiet, cosy and well-lit will not only help you lose yourself in whatever you are reading, but it will also be a great environment for total concentration.
3. Read at your own pace
There is no need to hurry, especially if hurrying means you’ll be less likely to understand what you are reading. There’s no difference between 100 pages and one page; what really matters is your ability to understand. Stop for a short time if you are tired or repeat what you have read if you don’t fully understand it.
4. Read sentences rather than words
Don’t stress yourself out trying to understand the meaning of each word, but rather take the time to understand how all the words work together. Try to guess the meaning from the context in which it appears in the sentence. If you encounter a lot of words you don’t know, it might be a sign that you should be reading a slightly easier level.
5. Read with a friend
Find a reading buddy or join a book club! When you read something at the same time as another person, you can talk about what you read and make sure you understand the same ideas.
9. Use an indicator while reading
This may sound like a simple trick, but it helps – using a pointer, pencil, ruler or small piece of paper to scroll through the lines you read will help you focus more while reading. That way, you won’t get lost!
How do I improve my writing skills in English?
It’s pretty simple – to become good at something, you need to practice. Do it over and over again. This works the same way with writing. When you learn something, write it again and again to commit it to memory. It’s also worth storing those notes in one place. Not only will that keep you motivated, but it will also be a great way to track your progress.
2. Double check what you write
Writing is important, but it is pretty useless if you don’t check what you’ve written to make sure it’s correct. The Internet is a great resource, with many sites that allow you to check your grammar for free, like Grammarly. It’s also helpful to have a friend review your writing, especially if it’s an essay or presentation.
3. Don’t forget the small things
There’s no denying the importance of vocabulary when you are writing in English, but what about everything else? Make sure that you have used spaces, punctuation and lowercase/uppercase correctly when writing. These things can be easily overlooked.
How do I improve my listening skills in English?
1. Accept that you won’t understand everything
No one understands everything right away; don’t get too upset when you can’t quite grasp something when listening to spoken English. The more you practice, the easier listening will be.
2. Don’t translate literally
Translation can create obstacles between you and the person you are speaking to. You’ll have a desire to translate from the language in which someone – in this case English – is speaking to you while you listen in your mother tongue. This is normal; we want to understand everything we are told. But when you translate into your native language, you distract your attention from the speaker and focus on the translation process that occurs in your brain.
3. Use keywords
Don’t focus on details until you are sure you are able to understand basic ideas. If you can understand “New York,” “business trip,” and “last year,” you can assume a person is talking about their previous business trip to New York. This example may seem obvious, but remember that understanding the general idea will help you fill in the rest of the details because of context.
4. Listen to music and podcasts
Find audio that suits your interests in English. Listen to one podcast a day as you commute, do household chores or have a bit of free time. Don’t forget to repeat the episode until you feel you have understood it completely.
5. Talk to someone other than native English speakers
Sure, native speakers are a great resource for practicing your listening skills, but what about other people who are learning English at the same time as you? This is a great way to notice the differences between how native speakers and non-native speakers communicate in English. If you’re studying at one of our Kaplan English schools, you’ll be able to take advantage of our K +clubs, and practice your conversation skills with ESL students from around the world.
How do I develop verbal and speaking skills?
1. Think in English
Perhaps the hardest part of speaking a new language is not the language itself, but how you think about it. If you’re thinking in your native language and trying to speak English, it makes you translate from the former to the latter. The solution is to think in English. Try to use English whenever you’re reflecting on your day, thinking about what to eat, or even planning out the activities for the rest of the week.
2. Speak out loud to yourself – or with a friend!
Talk to yourself any time the opportunity arises. Even if there isn’t someone there to correct you, speaking out loud may help you catch mistakes you didn’t catch in writing and you can learn to start correcting yourself. If you prefer to have someone correcting you while you speak, pick a conversation buddy and practice together.
3. Watch movies and TV shows
Try watching English-language movies and series without translation. You can watch a movie several times to make sure you understand all the ideas and are able to focus on small details like colloquial (ordinary, non-formal, familiar) terms. Watching series is also helpful in this area as you get used to the speech patterns of the characters that are repeated in each episode, and can start to mimic some stuff like pronunciation.
4. Record your voice
Although we hear our voices all the time, we don’t know what our voices really sound like. So record your voice! Try reading a book out loud and then listen for weaknesses and strengths in your speech.
5. Slow down your words
If you want people to understand you when you talk you should slow down. You may become tense and speak quickly in some cases, but try to adjust your pacing to ensure correct pronunciation. The secret lies in clarity.
We think that just about covers it. If there is anything else you’d like to explore about learning English, give us a shout! Do you have more practical tips that you have tried and would like to share with us? Let us know on our Facebook channel or in the comment section below.
This was a long post and should have given you a good start, but if you want to find out more about learning English with Kaplan, contact a student advisor today!