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How to Learn English

This page is for people who already know some English, and can read a page like this written in basic English. It shows you how to organize your learning for maximum results. You may also want to read these 5 tips for learning English later.

Where do I start?

Why do you want to learn English?
Before you begin, or go back to, studying English, ask youself one question. Why do I want to study English? Is it because you want to, or because someone else wants you to? Like every decision in life, studying English must be something you want to do.

Set goals
If you know why you want to study, setting goals is easy. For example, maybe you want to travel to an English-speaking country. Great. Your goal might be to learn "Survival English". Perhaps you already know many useful phrases, but you want to improve your listening skills and pronunciation. Whatever your goals are, write them down.

Make an agenda
How long do you need to study to achieve your goals? This answer is different for every student. The important thing is to be realistic. If you work 60 hours per week, don't plan on spending another 40 hours a week studying English. Start off slow, but study regularly. Use material that is challenging, but not too difficult. Find out what works for you. After you have studied for a few weeks, adjust your study schedule accordingly. Do you study best at night, or on the bus on your way to work? Do you like to study alone in a quiet place, or with friends and background music? Click here for a sample 4-week self-study agenda.

Make a commitment
Learning English requires a lot of motivation. Nobody is going to take your attendance when you aren't in class. If you are sure you are ready to begin studying, make a commitment. Click here to sign a learning contract with yourself.

Have fun learning English!
The things we do best in life are the things we enjoy doing. If you aren't having fun learning English, you're not studying the right way! You can be a serious student who has fun at the same time. Make up your own rewards program to give yourself incentives to stay on task.

Study a Balance of the Four Key Skills - listening, speaking, reading, writing

Most students want to communicate better in English. If this is one of your goals, it is important to study a balance of the four major skills. Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing are the main (macro) skills you need to communicate in any language. Being very good at only one of these skills will not help you to communicate. For example you need to be able to read well before you can write well. You also need to be able to listen before you can speak. It helps to think of these communicative skills in two groups.

  • INput <<<
    • Listening (in through your ears)
    • Reading (in through your eyes)
  • OUTput >>>
    • Speaking (out through your mouth)
    • Writing (out through your hand)

It's simple. Think of it this way. First you have input. Next you have output. First you listen to someone ask you a question. Second you speak and give them your answer. First you read a letter from someone. After that you write back to them. These are examples of communicating.

Input and output don't necessarily go in a specific order. Sometimes you speak first and then you listen. Sometimes you write about something you hear. During communication, the person you are communicating with uses one of the opposite skills. Therefore, in order to understand each other, everyone must be skillful in all four areas.

Some students want to know which skill is the most important. Since all of the skills rely on each other, they are all important. However, to communicate we do use some skills more often than others. For example, about 40% of the time that we spend communicating we are simply listening. We speak for about 35% of the time. Approximately 16% of communication comes from reading, and about 9% from writing. These statistics are for an average communicator in English. Depending on someone's job or situation, these numbers may vary.

Each of these main skills have micro skills within them. For example, pronunciation is a type of speaking skill that must be practised in order to improve communication. Spelling is a skill that makes understanding the written word easier. Grammar and vocabulary are other micro skills. Micro doesn't mean they are unimportant. Macro skills such as listening are very general, while micro skills are more specific. More about input and output

For the best results, create an agenda that combines all four areas of study. Allow one type of studying to lead into another. For example, read a story and then talk about it with a friend. Watch a movie and then write about it. This is what teachers in an English class would have you do, right? EnglishClub.com has lessons in all 4 key skills (and all minor skills), as well as many outside links to help you study further. ESL Internet resources

1. How to learn LISTENING

Listen to the radio
Don't always have a pen in hand. Sometimes it helps to just listen.

Watch English TV
Children's programming is very useful for ESL learners.
Choose programs that you would enjoy in your own language.
Remember that much of what you hear on TV is slang.

Call Automated Answering Machine recordings
You can find these numbers at the front of telephone books in many English-speaking countries. Before you dial, make sure that you are calling the free numbers.

Watch English-language movies
Choose ones with subtitles, such as from ESL Videos. Watch the movie without writing anything down.

Use Internet listening resources
Every day there are more and more places to listen to English online.

Useful Listening links:

2. How to learn SPEAKING and pronunciation

Talk to yourself
Talk about anything and everything. Do it in the privacy of your own home. If you can't do this at first, try reading out loud until you feel comfortable hearing your own voice in English.

Record your own voice
This might feel very uncomfortable, but it will help you find your weak pronunciation points. Listen to yourself a few days later. Which sounds do you have difficulty hearing?

Use the telephone.

Participate in class

Learn common idioms

Understand the sounds that your language doesn't have
For example, many languages don't have the "r" sound. These sounds require extra practice.

Recognize that teachers are trained to understand you
When you get out into the real world, average people will have a more difficult time understanding you unless you practise speaking slowly and with proper pronunciation.

Practise minimal pairs

Study word and sentence stress

Practice tongue-twisters

Useful Speaking links:

3. How to learn READING and vocabulary

Read something every day
Children's books, simplified readers (Penguin), newspapers, magazines, Internet sites, novels, and much much more...

Read what interests you.
Remember that you learn better when you are having fun.

Read at the appropriate level
You want to learn new vocabulary, but you also want to understand what you are reading. If you are looking up every word, the reading is too difficult.

Review Who, What, Where, When, Why for each story you read
You can do this for almost any type of reading. Who is it about? What happened? Why did it happen? Where did it take place? When did it take place? This is very useful when you have no comprehension questions to answer. You can write or speak your answers.

Always have an English-English dictionary nearby
It is a bad habit to always rely on a translation dictionary or electronic dictionary.
Think of your English-English dictionary as your life line.
Use online dictionaries when you are using the Internet (keyword online dictionary).

Record vocabulary in your "personal dictionary"

Keep this notebook separate from other work. Record vocabulary in alphabetical order (an English address book works well because it has letters of the alphabet). Record the part of speech (sometimes there is more than one). Write a sample sentence for yourself (don't use the one from the dictionary). Review your personal dictionary (especially new entries) every night before bed.

Useful Reading links:

4. How to learn WRITING and spelling

Keep a diary/journal
Don't always pay attention to grammar. Free-writing can be very useful. It can show you that writing is fun. Have fun with the language.

Write emails in English
Stay in contact with teachers or other students.

Rewrite your local news in English
This is another exercise that can be done on a daily basis. Remember that regular activities are the best ones.

Learn important spelling rules
Remember, you won't always have a dictionary or a spell-checker handy, especially when you are writing a test. Even native English speakers need to review the spelling rules from time to time.

Learn commonly misspelled words

Learn about confusing words

Learn common English errors

Get an ESL penpal

Useful Writing links:

You may also like to check out these 5 handy tips on learning English.