How to Learn English Quickly: A Guide to Practicing English


Are you one of the 800,000 international students who come to America to get their university education? If you’re already enrolled in a American college or university you should have already taken and have gotten the required scores on the TOEFL® (Test of English as a Foreign Language). You may even consider yourself proficient in English, but do you feel at times that although you know “proper” English and have passed TOEFL, you still don’t quite “get” the English that your professors or your fellow students speak?

Sometimes it’s the accent that throws you off, or perhaps it’s the cultural slang or the jargon in your field of study. There are intricacies in the language that you might not pick up from an English grammar textbook. This article offers you some advice on how to get used to daily use of the English language (particularly spoken English) as fast as you can, so you can get on with your college life.

Immersion and Exposure

If you want to be able to learn English quickly and effectively, it’s not enough to put in study time. Obviously it doesn’t hurt to be familiar with textbook grammar, but you’ve got to take the time to immerse yourself in the community as well, so that you can get used to being in a place where English is the main mode of communication. Cultural and lingual immersion is the most organic way to learn any language. After all, that’s how children learn languages in the first place.

When you stay in a place where English is spoken and make an effort to use the language, you’ll find yourself speaking it in no time. Immersion gets you used to the sounds and rhythms of the language, the syntax, the accents, and the subtle nuances of the English spoken in the particular country that you’re in. It’ll also help you understand commonly used idioms and slang, and you’ll get to improve your vocabulary quickly because you’ll frequently hear new words used in a familiar context. Stay in a place long enough, and you’ll begin to have an instinctive, intuitive feel for the language.

So if you’re already living here in the US, you’re well on your way to being fluent in English. However, a disclaimer: This will not work if you confine yourself to only hanging out with people within your culture or ethnic group, as you’ll tend to revert to your native language if you do so. As an international student, you should really make an effort to make friends with people of all creeds, colors, and nationalities – and that includes Americans. One of the advantages of going overseas to study is exposure to new cultures, new languages, and new people. You’ll find that being open and sociable with Americans and other international students will help enrich and deepen the education that you’re getting here.

Still, just because you’ve immersed yourself doesn’t mean that you don’t need to practice. Immersion is the foundation, but true mastery often comes with deliberate practice – that’s why you should be making an effort to deliberately practice listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Practicing Your English Through Listening

The initial step to learning English is to listen to it. This is part of the immersion and exposure plan. If you don’t understand what’s being said, don’t worry too much about it, just try to make out the sounds of the words. Even if you don’t understand everything, as long as you’re listening actively, you’re absorbing the language.

  • If you’re engaged in the conversation, and you’re having trouble understanding what’s being said, it’s better to say that you don’t understand and get clarification than to say nothing and retreat into your shell.
  • Find an American TV series (here are some popular choices), or TV documentary series, that you think you’ll like, and get a season’s worth of episodes — make sure that the videos have subtitles in your native language. Taped episodes, box sets, and video-on-demand (e.g netflix) are better than actually watching the TV, as having the discs or files on hand allows you to rewind or re-watch a particular moment or segment. It would be helpful to find a show that revolves around your major or area of concentration, so you’ll get some jargon in too (you may have to turn to documentaries if your major is something like anthropology or sociology – not a lot of TV dramas that will be anthropology focused).
  • Play music from your favorite band and try to transcribe the lyrics.
  • Watch videos on YouTube or any video that you have on file, and pretend that you’re making closed captions for that video – write out everything that you hear.

How to Learn Spoken English Quickly – Methods to Practice Spoke English

Use it or lose it! The best way to remember new English words that you’ve learned is to use them in conversations. The best way to quickly learn English grammar is to use it (and make mistakes) everyday. Every. Single. Day. Take every opportunity to speak English. Don’t worry about looking silly – we only grow by making mistakes and getting outside our comfort zones.

  • Talk about the weather. Open up conversations with strangers at the bus stop, or at the doctor’s office, or in class while waiting for your professor to arrive. Observe how talking about the weather leads to conversing about other topics. It’s a relatively easy way to strike up a conversation with a stranger. This not only helps with your English, you’ll also develop killer social skills that will be extremely useful to you later on in life.
  • Go crazy with karaoke. Remember those lyrics that you wrote down? This is where you get to put them to good use. Even if you don’t go out to a karaoke bar, it’s easy enough to karaoke at home these days. Find karaoke videos on YouTube and sing your heart out, or even just sing along to the music you have on your laptop or phone. Just don’t sing so loud that it disturbs your roommates/roommates/neighbors.
  • Get social. Attend parties, make new friends. Talk to them. Find people who share your interests and talk about them. Americans absolutely love sports, so if you don’t feel like you have any shared culture with your non-international classmates, pick one of the big American sports (Football, Basketball, Baseball), learn a little bit about it (if you’re not already a fan), and use that as a point of discussion.
  • Go on dates. If things click, you’ll want to keep the conversation going, and going, and going… It’s actually insane how many people get fluent in a language by dating someone who speaks it.
  • Don’t worry about your accent. That’s part of who you are. Just worry about being understood. As long as your English is at the level where an everyday person can understand you perfectly, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Americans technically have an accent as well! English did come from England after all.

Learning English by Being an Avid Reader

How to Learn English Quickly - A Guide to Practicing English

Immersing yourself in the English language through reading is absolutely essential – at the very least, you’ll need to have a good grasp on reading English so you can read your textbooks, midterms/exams, and lecture slides. Reading will help you quickly learn new vocabulary and expose you to different sentence structures while (hopefully) engaging and entertaining you. You’ll also get used to different styles and tones of writing, and you’ll come across common slang, idioms, and expressions that are frequently used in informal English (but are rarely taught properly in textbooks or classrooms).

Be very picky with your reading material, as you want to expose yourself to the best examples of written English. This will help you improve your grammar quickly. It will also help you learn how words are spelt and how to use words appropriately.

  • You can start easy, with magazines about things you’re interested in, comic books, advertising copy, and other bite-sized pieces of writing. Go up a notch with easy-to-read novels — try the YA genre, chick lit, or thrillers. David Levithan, John Green, and Rachel Cohn are guaranteed pleasers, as are Sophie Kinsella and Robert Ludlum. It would be ideal if you can get your hands on a Kindle or some other ebook reader for this purpose – these gadgets have built-in dictionaries. This way, you’ll only have to hover over or press any unfamiliar words to get accurate definitions. If you prefer the feel of paper in your fingers as you’re reading, that’s fine too, just keep a dictionary (or smartphone) within reach so that you can easily look up any words that you’re not familiar with.
  • Eventually, you’ll want to go beyond merely trying to understand the letters on the page – hopefully, once you read enough, you’ll be able to pick up on subtext and get to a point where you can truly appreciate the language. You might even want to re-read some of your previous favorites and see if you can tell which books you’ve read are ‘well-written’ and which are ‘poorly-written’. English does have its faults, but at the end of the day it’s the language of Shakespeare and Dickens, of Orwell and Austen. There’s beauty in the language if you know where to look – and ideally, you can get to the point where you can spot it.
  • When you feel like you’ve got a good grasp on reading English, you should increase the difficulty of what you read – higher brow publications like the New Yorker, the Economist, classic novels, newspaper editorials, etc.
  • Reading content on the internet is fine, but you should know in advance that many blogs publish stuff that isn’t written all that well. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t read this type of stuff – just keep in mind that a lot of internet content, (especially on smaller sites) isn’t necessarily well written.

Practice Writing in English – Practice Makes Perfect

Again, getting fluent in the English language involves using it. So apply whatever you’ve learned from your reading by writing as much as you can.

  • Get social. Get on Facebook and Twitter, and not just as a sharer or liker of content, but as a creator of content. Start with something short and simple, and work your way up. This is a fun way to combine something fun (social media) with something that’s useful (English writing practice).
  • Don’t get lazy with texting. Don’t use shortcuts, spell out those words, use proper punctuation in all your text messages. Same applies to emails, handwritten notes, postcards, and any form of written correspondence that you use. Native speakers can afford to abbreviate and use shorthand – but if you’re trying to improve your English, you should focus on getting it right before you focus on learning slang and shorthand.
  • Set up a blog and post on it regularly. Make it about a specific niche — maybe about a hobby or interest that you’re really passionate about. Who knows, you might even monetize it and earn some passive income from it. The important thing is just to get writing – you’ll be amazed by how many people want to get better at writing, but refuse to actually practice the skill.
  • Take (free) help where you can get it!! Use writing apps and other tools to check your spelling and grammar. Install Grammarly on your phone and desktop browser, or use the built-in spell check in your preferred word processing software. Make sure to double-check each and every suggestion before making any correction, so that you can make sure that the correction or change makes sense — we’ve all seen examples of autocorrect fails. Another tool that you can use if your writing is getting to a high level is the Hemingway App – this app is great at letting you know if you’re writing style is too dense or too vague. Most native English speakers would benefit from using the Hemingway App, so if you feel like it’s helpful to you, chances are your writing is already pretty darn good.

Free Resources

Once again, there’s no shame in taking the help when it is offered. Here are some additional resources on learning English:

Conclusion

The English language may be confusing and tricky at times, but it is used, understood and spoken in many places in the world, and will probably be extremely useful to you no matter what career you choose. The importance of English is all the more apparent if you’re an interntional student who’s going to enroll (or is currently enrolled) in an American (or British) University – after all, if all the work that you do needs to be in English, you’re not going to do so well if your English isn’t at least decent.

1.5 billion people understand English at a conversational level – that’s 1.5 billion extra people that you can communicate with if you have a good grasp on the language. It’s also the language that is most commonly used on the world stage – international businesses, cross-border organizations, and the world’s best schools almost always default to English when looking for a way to communicate. You owe it to yourself to get your English up to at least a conversational level.

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