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These steps won’t be easy, but they will be worth the effort as you understand more English and are understood by native speakers. Writer Louis Ramirez explains.
Text by: Louis Ramirez
Country: USA

y name is Louis and I’m from a small town in the state of Illinois in the United States. I mainly work with young professionals and have had the pleasure of teaching English to general managers of one of the biggest banks in Chile. From my experience, I think the following 10 tips will help you improve your English.

1. Go abroad

If you want to speak English, go to a place where English is spoken. When you get there, surround yourself with English speakers and do your best to leave behind your mother tongue. While you may not speak English perfectly when you go back home, a month or more will change the way you communicate.

However, the experience isn’t always all smiles and laughs. If you are going abroad to learn a language, you’ll likely stress about your accent, being understood, understanding others, and your use of grammar. Your ability to communicate in English will be tested daily.

My wife, Camila, can attest to this experience. She is a linguistics and language arts major. She doesn’t speak very much English, but knows enough to survive abroad. Prior to her first visit to the U.S., she knew only the most basic words, but when she left, she was able to communicate simple opinions, thoughts, and general daily needs. Despite the fear and discomfort the experience may imply, Camila recommends that you “shake with fear, feel defenseless, like a lost kitten on a cold winter’s night. And one day, sooner or later, you’ll be talking with a cab driver or a Metro station guard in New York City over ‘the unbearable lightness of being’.”

But don’t let the experience completely knock you down. Living in a place where you don’t speak the language is tough mentally. While you’re abroad, embrace the experience and use the language as much as possible. But when you feel worn out, indulge in articles, music, and other media in your native tongue for a brief time.

2. Take your time

Learning English is a marathon, not a sprint. You won’t be fluent in a month, and trying to be so will burn you out. Small and consistent doses of English are much easier and more effective. For example, a one-hour class five days a week is better than five hours of class in one day. You need time to process the information you are learning and time to refresh.

“In order to accomplish your goals, you need time, effort and patience. Anxiety is something that you need to get rid of in order to feel happy in the second language learning process,” says Fernanda, a fellow teacher.

So instead of getting anxious about needing to learn X amount of English by Y date, plan for your English goals ahead of time, and make sure you give yourself a fighting chance.

3. Make goals

I always ask my students what their goals are for learning English. I’ve noticed that the students with clear, realistic goals tend to progress quickly, while those without goals tend not to.

Unrealistic goals like complete fluency in a week are bound to fail. A combination of realistic, short- and long- term goals are paramount for success. An example of an easy and attainable short-term goal is to simply read something in English by the end of the day. It could be finishing an English assignment, or watching an episode of a series without subtitles. The point of these goals isn’t to be easy, but to be attainable. Accomplishing short-term goals helps your morale and can be a milestone in a long-term goal.

A long-term goal could be finishing a long book in English, or consuming some kind of media in English every day for a year. It could be passing a class at an institute, or planning a trip abroad in an English-speaking country. While some of the long-term goals can seem a bit farfetched in the present, you can attain them with the right preparation. So pick goals that challenge not only your patience, but also your ability to learn and prepare. Lastly, don’t be discouraged if you fail to reach a goal. For the next one, pick something more conservative and stick to it.

4. Speak more

English students listen all the time. They listen in class, when they go see movies in English, when they hear music in English, and of course when they are exposed to native speakers. Listening is a critical part of the learning process, but what about speaking? Taking every situation that allows you to speak and practice English improves not only your ability to speak, but also gives you an opportunity to learn something from the people you talk to.

5. Embrace mistakes

Just like children are allowed to make mistakes when learning their first language, so are you when learning English. You have a free pass to ask all the questions and get corrected all the times you can tolerate. “When learning, mistakes are the best way to notice the points you need to practice more,” Fernanda says. Making mistakes couldn’t be better for students who want to learn. So don’t feel self-conscious —talk, write, read, and feel fine about making mistakes.

6. Consume music, movies and other media in English.

When your favorite song comes on the radio or pops up on your iPod, what do you do? You sing your heart out. You find the lyrics, you learn them, you live them. Similarly, you probably can recite the best lines of your favorite movie by heart. You learn the things you love.

Camila has a friend who learned English almost exclusively through the Backstreet Boys. It was the ’90s, and they were the first big boy band of the decade.

“She learned English to the beat of Nick Carter and the boys from the back streets,” Camila says. “She didn’t need anything more than to want to understand what these boys wanted to tell her and her adolescence. For my friend, understanding the English these guys spoke was like a whisper in the night.”

Falling in love with a part of the culture is great for learning English. It doesn’t have to be a boy band or a person. It can be a song, a movie, even something like a recipe, or a piece of art. Look for a piece of culture related to English and dive in.

7. Read out loud.

Trying to translate from your native tongue to English is one of the worst things you can do. Instead, try this exercise. Pick a paragraph of a text that you can understand completely or mostly and read it out loud by yourself. The point is to teach your mouth and brain to say words and phrases in a common context. Also, this helps you work on your accent and gives you the opportunity to correct yourself without any outside pressure. You can sound out all the words as many times as it takes until you can make the appropriate sound.

“Try, if possible, not to translate one language into another,” Fernanda says. “They have their own specific (and beautiful) grammar rules, semantics and pragmatics.”

8. Find how you learn best.

English as a foreign language typically starts with a book, some vocabulary, and verb tenses. It’s the traditional method of teaching and works for a lot of students. However, it isn’t the only method worth looking into. Remember, you are in charge of your education. Take some time to see what learning opportunities are out there. If you learn better from hands-on practice, perhaps a conversation group with a side of traditional class time is more efficient. On the flipside, if you need a classroom setting to learn, look for a teacher or institute. If you need a screen to help, maybe an online class is more appropriate. There are tons of options, so find the right one for you.

9. Dismiss the grammar.

Think back to when you learned your native tongue. Very few teachers were testing grammar left and right. You likely learned through a combination of listening and reproducing the words and phrases of your peers, parents, and teachers. Native speakers don’t typically learn the real rules of grammar. So, next time you get stuck trying to think of a verb tense or sentence structure, let it slide. Absorb the rules on occasion and let the people you are talking to help you express your idea.

10. Relax.

Learning a new language can be stressful. When you start, you basically turn yourself into a child can barely count to 10 without having to pause to think. Getting ideas across the way you want to can take some time, and conversation may not be as complex as you would like. Just remember one thing: this is part of the process.

“Don’t overthink. Relax, it’s only a new language, not a monster or a zombie,” Fernanda says. “If you learned [your native tongue], you could definitely learn English.”

It’s only a matter of time before you can say what you want, how you want.




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10 Tips for Improving Your English


English teacher Louis Ramirez from Illinois, shares with us his top 10 tips for learning English.

1. Go abroad

Go to a place where English is spoken and surround yourself with English speakers.

2. Take your time

Small and consistent doses of English are much easier and more effective. It is better to take a one-hour class five times a week than a 5-hour class once a week.

3. Make goals

Students with clear realistic goals progress more quickly than students without any goals.

4. Speak more

Take advantage of every situation that allows you to speak and practice English so you can improve your ability to speak, and also learn something from the people you talk to.

5. Embrace Mistakes

“When learning, mistakes are the best way to notice the points you need to practice more,” says Fernanda, another English teacher.

6. Consume music, movies and other media in English.

You learn the things you love. Listening to something you enjoy in English will help you learn more quickly.

7. Read out loud

Read a text you can understand out loud to yourself. This way your mouth and brain will learn to say words and phrases in a common context and you will improve your accent.

8. Find how you learn best.

There are tons of options for learning English: traditional method, hands-on practice, classroom setting, online, etc. Find the right one for you.

9. Dismiss the grammar

Learn the rules, but when you are speaking don’t be too strict. Let things slide and let the people you are talking to help you express your idea.

10. Relax.

Learning can be stressful, but try not to overthink things. Relax and enjoy, after all, it is only a new language, not a monster!


 

Comprehension

Below you will find text comprehension questions. Read and listen to the text and answer the questions (we recommend you read first and then listen).

10 Tips for Improving Your English

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Grammar in Use

Below you will find PDF documents with the Grammar in Use.

Intermediate: Common Contractions

Advanced: Level playing field

Vocabulary

ESL Tips

Summary Vocabulary

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