If you are reading this article, it is fair to say that you already have the most important ingredient that is needed to learn a second language: ambition. The will to learn is, by far, the most important ingredient in learning a second language - and you have it. But what specific things can you do to improve your English language skills?
Below, you will find a short list of helpful tips - some surprising and some not - to help you on your way to excellent language skills. Give yourself a check mark for each of the following things that you have either done or are currently doing.
1. Establish Your Level of Ability
If you are a beginner, then, this is easy to do; but, if you aren't, you should take a language assessment test to help you establish the approximate level of your language skills. Language schools usually offer this service for free, but if you are looking for a more convenient alternative with no strings attached, look for a free English test on the internet. Of course, no test can tell you everything about your language skills but having an approximate knowledge of your level will enable you to find the right courses and learning materials for you.
2. Participate in an ESL Course with a Qualified Teacher
This tip doesn't surprise you, does it? Well, it shouldn't. Taking part in an English course with a qualified teacher and other people who are in the same situation as you is good for you and your language skills. In such a course, you will work with tried and tested learning materials under the guidance of an experienced ESL trainer as well as have the chance to practise your language skills in a comfortable learning environment. Not every one, however, has the time, money or opportunity to participate in classroom lessons. If this applies to you, you will have to make sure that you do the other things on this list.
3. Go On-line
If, for any of the reasons mentioned above, you are unable to attend an English course in person, you might want to think about the possibility of doing an on-line English course. There are several good on-line courses out there and they generally tend to be more affordable than traditional classroom lessons. A reference from a friend or a trusted teacher will help you find the course that is right for you; but be aware that, as with all distance education courses, on-line courses require a lot of self-discipline. Also don't forget that the internet offers a lot of free resources. Blogs (including ones specifically intended for ESL learners) as well as on-line magazines and newspapers offer a wealth of new vocabulary and won't cost you a single cent.
4. Use Good Learning Materials
Every ESL learner needs to have good learning materials. A good dictionary is essential. Dictionary apps are great because they have audio recordings and they are easy to access at all times - in particular in times of need! In addition to a good dictionary, you will also need what I refer to as a 'holy book of grammar' - a book that contains the basics of English grammar. Few people love grammar, but it is the foundation of speech and there is, in reality, no way around it. My favorite grammar book is the Oxford Practice Grammar by John Eastwood. You can see it among my selection of favorite learning materials to the left (in the sidebar). On top of these two basics - a dictionary and a grammar book - you will need learning materials to help you advance your vocabulary. You've already found this blog to help you do that, but a few other vocabulary books, in particular ones that focus on idioms and collocations, would be helpful. Check out my favorites to the left.
5. Watch English TV Programs
Yes, you heard me – watch TV! When I was first learning German, I watched a lot of German television programs. No, they weren't, for the most part, intellectual shows that I was watching. They were talk shows, game shows, news programs etc... – and they were full of a lot of everyday, real language. TV programs are relatively short in comparison to films and, although they don't necessarily contain the language of Cambridge and Oxford, they contain the language that is spoken on the street, at work and among friends, which is what you want to be able to understand. So sit down and watch a TV program or two every day and keep your dictionary close by so that you can look up words when you need to.
6. Do Your Homework
Whether it is homework from an ESL course or from your own independent study - do your homework! Do the grammar and vocabulary exercises and, perhaps, even complement them with your own flashcards, notes or games.
Read English texts that you like. Don't try to read long English novels on subjects that don't interest or relax you. I find reading magazines and short articles on the internet the most enjoyable. Such articles are manageable and, since you have selected the topic, interesting. Again, keep a dictionary with you when you are reading and look up the words you don't know as you read.
To really learn a language, you need to have the courage to speak it. My advice to you, as an ESL teacher, is to avoid yes-no answers to questions - when you can. Yes-no answers hinder or stop conversation. You want to practise conversation, so have the courage to expand on your answers and ask questions.
9. Reach Out to the World
Look for contact with people who speak English. If you live in an English-speaking country, go out and practise your English as you do your daily activities. If not, join English-speaking website forums (with the internet, the world is at your finger tips), local clubs, groups, schools or courses. Perhaps, if the opportunity allows it, take the opportunity to travel to an English-speaking country.
10. Keep Talking
Keep talking, keep trying, keep learning.
Could you give yourself a lot of check marks? I hope so; but, if not, you know the areas that you can improve on!
Keep working on your vocabulary and return to the English Idiom Daily Blog, check out other articles or refer to our useful links.