The Top 10 Strategies for Learning English
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The Top 10 Strategies for Learning English
These strategies are taken from my 25 years’ experience of teaching native and non-native speakers of the English language in two of England’s top-performing state and international schools.
As Head of Engineering, I helped my students not only to learn standard English but to also master the metalanguage (special terms) of engineering.
Efficient learning and self-development require the right mindset coupled with the effective use of resources. A lot of time can be wasted by a lack of focus. I aim to provide you with tested strategies and access to high-quality resources. It is your job to provide the focus and determination to succeed.
Why are you here, and what motivates you to learn English?
Here are some of the top reasons for learning English:
It is a universal language: the language of the internet, business, media, travel and much more
It opens up opportunities in education
It opens up opportunities in employment
If you are serious about being successful, you need to immerse yourself; to focus and to commit time and effort to your new venture. This approach is not about taking a one-hour class once a week and then hoping to be successful. Many students think that teachers just have to pour knowledge into their students: you attend the lesson and then you have the knowledge and understanding necessary to succeed. If only it were as simple as that. The word education has Latin roots. In its simple translation, it means to draw out or to develop. There is nothing in this definition about pouring in knowledge or understanding. So, as a student, you need to work with your teacher/s to ensure you develop your full potential, and that most certainly will take more than one lesson per week.
Without doubt, the most effective way to learn any language is to live alongside native speakers so you can immerse yourself in their language and culture. It is so important to put language into perspective by understanding culture – in this way, the language comes to life and becomes easier to learn. Also, you will have more fun along the way!
For most people, the luxury of living and studying in another country is a dream that is difficult to fulfil. However, it does not matter where in the world you live, you can create your own version of the immersive experience by surrounding yourself with English language and culture.
Whether you need help with vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, idioms, written English, business English, or a range of other issues, you need to have a strategy, a hunger for learning and access to high-quality resources.
Here are my top 10 strategies for maximizing your success:
1 Understand what makes you tick
Understand what makes you tick. This is an example of an idiom. An idiom is a phrase that has non-literal meaning. The English love to use idioms, and they can cause much confusion to English language learners. This phrase simply means to understand oneself.
We all live busy lives. You may be working long hours and have limited time for study, so it is in your best interest to understand how to get the most out of any learning experience. There are two things upon which I would like you to concentrate.
The first is based on your Circadian rhythm. There is a lot of fascinating research surrounding this topic. To keep things simple, you need to understand the optimum time of the day to study. For example, a short focused ten minutes period early in the morning might be more productive than one hour in the evening when you are tired. Take some time to consider at what time of the day you might be more productive and programme some quality learning into this spot: think quality and not quantity. If you would like to know more about sleep and Circadian rhythms, please check out this excellent article by Sam Sly
Preferred learning style
We are all individuals and we learn in different ways. If you understand your own learning preferences or styles, then you can tailor your resources to have more impact. To be clear, I am not suggesting that you just concentrate on your strengths because it is also important to develop all areas. For example, if your goal is to attend university, it may be that you will need to develop effective notetaking skills, and this may not be something that you find easy. Simply using visual resources, because you are a visual learner, may not help your notetaking skills, but perhaps using a more graphic approach might be more effective, such as mind mapping.
Some excellent websites profile your learning styles and then give you useful, actionable strategies. I recommend:
2 Have a dedicated work area
Create order and calm before you learn. Having a dedicated work area where you keep all your resources will help you to concentrate. It is preferable if this is an area where you won’t be disturbed.
3 The power of colour
Never underestimate the power of colour. Use different colours in your learning – in the form of coloured paper, page markers or highlighter pens to categorise your work. For example, you could highlight adjectives in blue, verbs in yellow, or highlight the use of the passive voice in pink. Colour helps you to remember and categorise things. It also helps to brain to associate and link concepts. In any case, life is more fun in colour. Who wants to live life in black and white?
Photo by Chiara-f on unsplash
4 Sing like an angel…or not!
My wife fell off her chair when she read this one because she is a long-suffering victim of my singing.
Singing can help develop a range of features such as tone, intonation and pace. It can also give you confidence and fluency. Singing helps to put language into context. If you have access to Youtube, a good example would be an Ed Sheeran ballad such as Perfect – you can even find examples with lyrics which might prove even more useful. Incidentally, if you are Italian, you can find the same song as a duet covered by Andrea Bocelli and Ed Sheeran, which may help.
So, sing with feeling and sing with passion: your friends will return eventually.
5 Read good literature
This is a common piece of advice. However, many learners pick up a quality English book, because they think it is what they should be reading, and then find the text too difficult, or the cultural context confusing, and so they quickly lose interest.
One of the best pieces of advice that I was given at university, when researching new topics, was to go back to first principles. In practical terms, this often means reading children’s books. As a child, I loved to read the original Ladybird books (the new versions are not the same). One such book was entitled, The Story of Metals. And years later, I still use the content and style of this book to deliver metallurgy modules to my engineering students. There is a particularly good reason why the For Dummies books are so successful: they present topics from first principles and with great clarity.
If you prefer fiction, you could try the Harry Potter books. They have the bonus of teaching you a little bit about English culture.
6 Listen to native speakers
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a trustworthy source of news and current affairs articles. The BBC also has an excellent education section for English language learners, and their resources are free to use.
7 Subliminal learning
Linked to the point above. Record an interview or listen to a podcast as you fall asleep. You can use a timer so the broadcast ends after ten, fifteen or twenty minutes. Please take care to choose an appropriate topic. If you listen to current affairs, be sure to choose a topic that is not too shocking or upsetting, so you also get a good night’s sleep and not nightmares. You may be surprised how much you learn and retain when you use this technique.
8 Create your own podcasts
A podcast is simply an audio file. There are lots of English language podcasts available – there will be a few available on my Literally England website blog in the next few weeks. You can check these out by visiting:
It is also easy to create your own. The advantage of creating your own is that you can target the topics that you need to learn. So, instead of listening to a topic where you already understand 30% of the content, you can record your own version and just concentrate on the remaining 70%.
Audacity is a free program for creating podcasts. It can be found at:
9 Become interested in etymology
No, that’s not the study of insects – that’s entomology. Etymology is the origin of words. I had the privilege and joy of working in primary schools (4-10-year-olds) for the past two years. Younger children have a real thirst for knowledge and love of learning new facts. They treat their discoveries as prized possessions. There is a small child in all of us, and knowledge is power. Become interested in the origin of words and you too will experience that joy of learning. You will see connections and relevance and language will come alive.
10 You are not alone
Just support groups, both offline and online. If you are not sure where to start, you can visit my website blog and Facebook page. Please feel free to comment or ask questions and I will do my best to help you.
If there are topics that you would like to see covered in future articles, please send me a comment.