You already know learning a new language is difficult.
It takes years of work and practice.
But some study methods are better, faster, and cheaper.
If you are trying to improve your English speaking and listening skills, these 12 tips will save you time and money.
I’ve gathered these suggestions not only from my own experience teaching ESL, but also from talking to dozens of fluent non-native English speakers.
1) Don’t use subtitles in your native language
Watching TV and movies are a great way to practice listening.
But to be effective, don’t use subtitles in your own language. Turn them off, or use English subtitles instead.
Also, watch the right kind of programs. Don’t waste time watching action movies or horror films. The sound of gun shots, car chases, and screams won’t help you learn English.
Instead, pick shows and films with lots of conversations.
2) Reduce the playback speed
If listening to a video is difficult, play it slower.
On YouTube and on most podcast players, you can reduce the speed to 80% or 75%. This can make understanding much easier.
3) Practice pronunciation by ‘mirroring’
Mirroring is simple: listen to someone speaking English, and repeat what they say.
Don’t just say the words, however. Repeat the words and sentences exactly like you hear them.
Imitate the pronunciation, intonation, rhythm, and stress. This will improve your accent and help you sound more like a native speaker.
4) Talk to yourself
When you are alone, practice speaking.
Repeat common phrases slowly and clearly to practice intonation, rhythm, and stress.
5) Use Google Voice Recognition or other speech-to-text software
Speak into your phone or computer, and check your pronunciation with a speech-to-text application.
This can be frustrating when you first try, but your pronunciation will quickly improve. Best of all, it’s free.
6) Talk to native English speakers whenever you have the opportunity
Whenever you see a Westerner, talk to them.
Simply saying ‘hi’ can start a conversation.
You can also be more direct and simply ask, ‘can I talk with you for five minutes?’
During the beginning of the conversation, try to avoid asking common questions like, ‘where are you from?’
Most people will politely talk with you for a few minutes or more. Some people will be busy or just won’t want to talk. That’s OK.
7) Sing English songs
Singing songs in English will help improve your intonation and rhythm. You can also learn a lot of slang from songs. Even if you don’t fully understand everything, it’s still a great way to practice.
8) Do things you like… in English
I have a Vietnamese friend who speaks perfect English. He’s never taken special classes, and he’s never visited an English-speaking country.
He learned as a child by playing online video games in English.
Find something you really like to do, and do it in English. It could be music, sports, games, cooking, art, or anything else.
9) Make friends with other people who are learning English
Make friends and spend time with other people who regularly study English.
When a friend speaks English better than you, you will feel inspired to work harder.
When you speak English better than one of your friends, you will feel pride and accomplishment.
10) Have ‘English-only’ time
When you are with people who also study English, have ‘English-only’ time.
Set a timer for 10 minutes. During that time, only speak English.
After a while, increase the time to 20 or 30 minutes.
11) Join an English Club
English Clubs are places where young people go to practice English. They are typically English-only environments and often have structured activities.
Some clubs are better than others. Find one that has structured events where you feel comfortable but are challenged.
12) Join Toastmasters
Toastmasters is an international organization. People join to practice public speaking, leadership, and soft skills.
In many countries, people also join to practice English.
In order to become a member, you must be 18 years old. However, anyone can attend a meeting as a guest. Also, in many cities there are special ‘Gavel Clubs’ for students under 18 years old.
Not only is Toastmasters a great place to practice English, but it’s also a great place to network with other ambitious, goal-oriented people.
A few other tips:
- Remember why you are studying English. If you have a larger goal beyond just learning English, it will be easier to stay focused. Have a vision of what else you will accomplish by learning English.
- Stay positive and optimistic. Don’t get frustrated if you are having difficulty. Always remember, learning takes time.
- Enjoy the process. Learning English is much easier if you like doing it. Don’t practice English in ways you hate or find especially difficult. If learning is fun, you’ll remember more and procrastinate less.
Have you already mastered English as a second language? If so, what one activity helped you the most? If you are still learning, what is the hardest part? Leave a comment below and let me know.