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  • marycostello1000

Top Tips for Learning English

From my experiences teaching English to students from different countries in person and online, here are my top tips.



Be realistic 📝

When you decide you want to learn English, it’s easy to imagine yourself spending many hours each week studying. However, this isn’t sustainable for most people, as other life commitments take over, such as work and family.


I find the best approach to be a little and often. Even just 5 or 10 minutes a day can be useful and you’re more likely to keep going with this, than something unrealistic like 10 hours per week.


Of course, there are certain people who manage to study many hours, but they are in the minority in my experience.


Less is more with new vocabulary 📒

English learners tend to make vocabulary lists, noting down new words and terms that they see and hear. The lists become longer and longer, but you can’t remember the increasingly large numbers of words that you have in your notebook or file.


I recommend focusing on fewer words at a time, which you’re more likely to remember, than trying to memorise a large number and not remembering any of them.


A good way to retain new vocabulary is by actively using it. You could write some example sentences with new words, or have a go at a short essay. If you have to write emails at work, try to include a new term or in a text message. Alternatively, you could drop new vocabulary into the conversation next time you have the opportunity to speak in English.



You don’t need to understand 100% of everything you read and hear 😊


This leads on from my last point. Imagine you decide to try to read a book in English, but you want to understand everything completely, so you look up the meaning of every single new word on each page of the book, which could be 10 words per page and would total 3000 new words for the whole book of 300 pages.


Not only will you probably not remember many of these 3000 new words, but it means that reading the book takes an extremely long time, because of searching for the meaning of every new word. The activity of reading a book isn’t enjoyable, so you get bored and give up.


Rather than trying to understand everything word for word, focus on the main idea instead and don’t get lost in all the detail. The more you learn and improve your English in general, you’ll find that the more you understand gradually.



Avoid big gaps in your learning 👩‍🎓

I often hear from new students that they’ve been learning English for a while and feel frustrated with their level or that they are struggling to improve, but in many cases they often have big gaps in their learning, from months to even years.


When we take a long gap, we unfortunately don’t start from the same point as before. Part of learning a language in addition to improving is maintaining your current knowledge and skills. As the saying goes, “if you don’t use it, you lose it”!


Try not to compare yourself with others 🤼

I’ve lost count of the number of times students have told me that they feel embarrassed speaking English in front of others, because their colleagues, friends, partner, etc. speak much better English than them. Everybody is different, with varying strengths and weaknesses and different life experiences. Perhaps your colleagues have had the opportunity to live in an English speaking country. Maybe your friend went to an international school, where all of the lessons were taught in English.


Focus on your own goals, feel positive about how much you’ve achieved so far and look ahead to the future and improving more.



Don’t feel embarrassed about having an accent when you speak English 🗣


Everybody has an accent, even native speakers. Your accent is part of you and your identity. It only becomes a problem if there are some pronunciation errors. There are more non-native English speakers these days than native ones, meaning there is a multitude of different accents out there.


It can be useful to review the basics 📚

When learners reach a higher level, they want to focus on studying more complex information understandably, because they are already familiar with the basics. However, most of my students from intermediate to advanced level make mistakes with the basics, such as not pronouncing third person “s”endings, forgetting to use auxiliary verbs (do, does, etc.) in questions, amongst other things.


In many cases, adult English learners studied the basics a long time ago at school, so they’ve usually forgotten some of what they learnt.



Learning a language generally involves a long journey 💪

I frequently hear from English learners that they want to speak English fluently in a matter of weeks/months, or they want to become perfect at English very fast. I don’t think there is a quick fix unfortunately. Think of world class athletes or a concert pianist. Their success didn’t just come overnight. It involved years of training, practice and dedication, without giving up. Yes, there are certain people who have the ability to pick languages up very easily and quickly, but it doesn’t seem to be the case in general.


There is always more to learn 📖

Nobody knows the English language 100% perfectly, not even native speakers. We might come across a new word that we’ve never seen or heard before and native speakers sometimes make mistakes in English, such as with spelling.




I hope you enjoyed reading this post.

I’m Mary, a British online English language tutor for adult learners.

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