Useful Tips to Improve your English

Whether you are a foreign student or a native speaker, English skills can always be improved. There are many tried and true tips for learning English. This doesn’t always have to mean sitting in the classroom and studying tricky grammar. In fact, UKCE teachers encourage you to do extra learning outside of college. It’s also a well-known fact that different people respond to different learning methods.

Read a book in English.

It should be a topic that interests you and the level should be a little difficult for you. Use a dictionary to help you, but you don’t have to look up every word you don’t understand. This is also great for improving English in a specific, technical field. Even by spending a mere 15 minutes a day, your skills can improve drastically.

Reading is a great way of practising your English in your own time. If you’re studying at a beginner to intermediate level, pick up a children’s book where the language will be easier than an adult book. At UKCE, we have a library of graded readers for every level.

Newspapers are also worth reading. Not only can you improve your English but you’ll learn about local and national goings on, which can be handy when communicating with native speakers. Free newspapers and magazines are available at every Tube station.

Guessing the meaning can work well, especially if you are interested in the topic. If you are a football fanatic for example, you probably won’t have problems understanding an English text about football.

If you don’t want to buy a book, you can register at the local library. At UKCE, we have the information you’ll need to register at Westminster Library on Charing Cross Road, just 15 minutes’ walk from the college.

Watching and Learning

Watching movies or documentaries in areas you are familiar with are fun tips on improving English. On the other hand, it’s also worth finding topics that you are not familiar with to learn new vocabulary. In any case, this will help improve listening and vocabulary at the same time. At first you can use subtitles, then turn the subtitles off when the listening part of this activity becomes easier.Have paper and pen ready as you may want to jot down useful words or phrases that you wish to learn.

Choose a film you know you will like and watch it many times, stopping to try to catch the dialogue. You can even try to act out a favourite scene with a friend – pretend to be gangsters from The Godfather or the romantic scenes from Notting Hill.

Listening to music

This is another great and fun way of improving your grasp of a language. There’s an almost endless amount of music out there to choose from, with most tracks having lyrics easily available online. You could listen to a song a day and read the lyrics along to it. If you come across any language that you don’t understand then research it. If you’re at a low level then perhaps go for some slower folk, country or acoustic music, which often has lyrics that are slower and easier to understand.

Vocabulary needs to be revised again and again. Well, what could be better than studying vocabulary by listening to your favourite songs?
Read the lyrics first and try to understand them. You don’t have to translate the lyrics word by word, just try to find out what the song is all about.

Pick some words or phrases from the song that you would like to learn. If necessary, look up their exact meaning in a dictionary. A dictionary might also be useful to find other interesting phrases with the word.

Now, to learn the vocabulary, all you have to do is listening to the song again and again (that shouldn’t be a problem if it’s one of your favourite songs).

You can listen to English radio stations and find plenty of listening sources on the internet.

Learning Grammar

Although less fun, learning grammar is an essential tool for English. Knowing English grammar inside and out is one of the top tips for learning English. This should be tackled at the same time as both reading and listening exercises so that you understand how the sentence is constructed, and can manipulate it later to suit your needs. You can try one of our grammar links below to find exercises, and UKCE recommends Raymond Murphy’s Essential Grammar in Use, which is available for another of different levels. As a grammar reference book, Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage is very comprehensive.

Keeping a diary

This allows you to utilize all of your English skills that you’ve been practicing with reading, listening and grammar. As a bonus, you can go back over your entries and grade yourself, noting where you can improve more. You can also look back and see how far you have improved.

When you’re in bed at night, look over your English notes from the day and try to memorise some vocabulary as you’re falling asleep. The first thing you do in the morning while you’re eating your cereal could be to learn a couple of new words.

Label things in your house!

This is a quick and cheap way of improving your knowledge of the vocabulary of everyday items in your home. All you need to do is buy a pack of labels and then write the name of items in your home on them, such as phone, window, mirror etc. Every time you use these objects you’ll read the word and embed it into your memory. This is great for low level learners.

Learning a new word

Whenever you learn a new word, whether in the classroom or when you’re out and about, make sure you make a note of it. Whenever you have some free time, you can practise what you’ve learned. You could even do this on your phone so you needn’t carry around a notebook with you.

It’s also worth making a note of the translation into your own language and any unusual phonological aspects of the word.
Ten English words or phrases per day aren’t too many, are they? Just give it a try. You will find that you can learn them in next to no time.
So why not take a little time each day (Monday to Friday) to learn ten new words?

Use the weekend to revise what you have learned during the past week(s). This way you’ll enrich your English vocabulary by 50 new words per week. (That’s 200 new English words after a month!)

Best time to learn

Figure out your best time to learn. Are you a morning or afternoon person? If you can work out when your brain is at its sharpest then you should cram in your language learning at this time. Some people work best first thing in the morning and switch off after lunchtime, while for others it takes a while to get going every day.

Think about when you function best and plan your learning to suit this. For example, there’s no point taking lessons that run late into the night when you’re likely to easily lose concentration.

Language swap

In addition to learning English in class, you could find somebody who is keen to learn your own language and exchange information with them. Being able to speak a language is a gift and, whatever your mother tongue, there will be somebody out there that wants to learn it.
You can meet up and give each other work, swap knowledge and help each other progress. This is a great way of continuing your learning outside of the classroom while also saving money.

Meet friends and study English together. You can repeat your English vocabulary, do your homework together and help each other with English grammar. Studying with friends is simply much more fun.

It’s also a good opportunity to exchange ideas on studying in general. Maybe your friends have found out about a good way of studying more effectively. Or, who knows, maybe you can advise your friends on this?

Record yourself and your lesson

Make the most of the recorder on your smartphone and practise pronunciation. This is a good way of learning pronunciation because you might know it when you first hear it then forget it later.

Although your teacher might not like you to do this, and you should always get their permission, it can be useful to record lessons. As you travel home or fall asleep you can listen to it. It’s a great way to revise the information and practise listening, as well as nail down some pronunciation.

Get a Good Dictionary

Get a good learner’s dictionary. A dictionary is your best friend while you’re learning English. The best dictionaries will not only give you the meaning but also related language, such as collocations. UKCE especially recommends Macmillan’s Advanced Learners’ Dictionary.

It’s worth bearing in mind that a number of online translators and electronic dictionaries on smartphones can be quite poor.

Learn English idioms and phrasal verbs

There are a number of aspects of the English language that you’re not always going to find in an academic course book. Things like idioms and phrasal verbs are extremely common in everyday English conversations.
If you manage to learn these then you’ll find it much easier to talk and understand conversations with native speakers. Although this is not the kind of language you’re likely to use in an academic essay, it’s arguably just as important to you.

In your reading, whenever you see a simple verb close to a preposition, there is a good chance that it is a phrasal verb with a specific meaning. Tabloid newspapers as well as song lyrics are a rich source of idiomatic language.

Tell your teacher what you want to learn

If you’re learning English in a language school or getting private lessons, you might not always be learning what you want. However, it can be difficult for your teacher to know exactly what you want to learn unless you tell them. So if you think that they’re giving you too much writing and not enough pronunciation, for example, then you should tell them. They’ll be pleased with the feedback. UKCE has regular tutorials where you can make these suggestions.

Remember your mistakes

You will make mistakes, but you have to remember that mistakes are a sign that you are trying to do more in English and that you are making progress. There are some mistakes you will repeat – try to notice them and work on eliminating them. The next time you’re corrected by a teacher, whether this is written or orally, you should make a note of your mistakes.
Perhaps you forget when to use the correct article or you get the past simple and present perfect tenses mixed up? Make a note of this and work on your mistakes.

Using your Technological Devices

Change the language on your social media or smartphone Have you ever accidentally changed the language on a device or on a website and then struggled to get it back again? We’ve all been there before. However, this can actually be a good way of learning an additional language. If you turn your Facebook, Twitter and smartphone settings to ‘English’ then you can continue to learn the language while you’re communicating with friends.

Total Immersion

When you feel you are ready, go for total immersion. This means surrounding yourself with English speakers. Of all English tips, this one will test all of your skills. If you just spend your time outside of the classroom with people from your own country, you’ll miss out on a big chance to practise English. If you try to befriend other English speakers, you’ll have to speak English. You’ll also pick up things like slang and conversational English that you’re unlikely to learn in the classroom.

If you struggle to find English speakers, try joining a club, we have many links below for all sorts of interests. UKCE has a free conversation club, where you can meet people who all want to speak English.

Speak English outside the classroom as much as possible. If you live with friends who speak the same language as you, try and make ‘an arrangement’ to speak English only (for example, every day between 5pm and 7pm). Every little bit of practice will help.

Try and order some food at a restaurant, speak to someone at a tourist information centre or just start chatting to a native speaker in a bar. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Getting something wrong is actually a great way of understanding what the right word would be.

If you take control of your own learning, you will be more motivated. If you feel motivated, you will be able to learn English and to learn it well. Good luck!