Learning a language is one of the most rewarding things you can do. But it can also be a frustrating process.
So if you’re feeling demotivated and unhappy, get positive again with these five top tips for learning English. They’ll help you make the most of your time so you get the best results quickly.
1. Make It A Habit
Our best results (when we do anything) come from good habits. When you learn a language, you make progress in small steps. You can “speed up” this progress by studying or learning at regular times. My tips for doing this:
1. Study when your brain is best
If you’re a “morning person”, try to fit in English during the morning. Get up 10-20 minutes earlier, for example. If you’re a “night owl” then you process information better during the late evening.
The important thing is to schedule time for when your brain feels fresh.
2. Study for short periods of time
5-10 minutes of concentration is good, while 10-20 minutes is even better. You can even set yourself a timer to ring after a short period of time. The important thing is to keep this time focussed so you make the best use of every minute.
3. Give yourself a reward
Hopefully you enjoy studying because you can see your progress, but don’t forget to reward yourself with something you love after you achieve something.
When you give yourself a “dopamine” rush (= when you activate the “happiness” chemicals) you associate studying and achieving with happiness. It’s a little “mind” trick which is very effective for long-term goals, as it keeps you moving and motivated!
Your reward can be anything… a piece of chocolate, a glass of wine, a walk in the sunshine… You know what works best for you.
2. Get A Partner / Join A Community
Most challenges in life are easier when you have a friend with you – and learning English is no different. Here are three reasons why…
1. You have someone to practise with
When you practise speaking with a friend, you feel less embarrassed than if you speak to people you don’t know. You’re also practising listening – another important language skill.
Speaking and listening like this help you anticipate and process English in different situations, which will make it easier for you when you speak with people you don’t know.
2. Accountability and motivation
One of the reasons why clubs such as “WeightWatchers” works is because you have people with similar goals to you. They all want you to do well and improve, and they are all watching you! This means you are “accountable” to them – as well as to yourself.
When you have accountability (when you need to answer to other people) it can also help you become more motivated. It’s more difficult for you to find excuses for not doing something (like practising English). You don’t want to disappoint your friends or your community, so you do the work.
3. Get feedback
It’s very difficult to do something again and again if you never get feedback on how you’re doing. When you study or learn with a friend, you can ask questions, or ask them for comments. Maybe there’s something that you always pronounce wrong, or a word that you always misuse.
Feedback helps you improve and stops you feeling isolated.
3. Be Mindful And Active
When you schedule time for yourself to study English, make sure you’re making the most of this time. You’re a busy person and you want to see results quickly. Here are four ways you can use your time in the best ways…
1. Be active when you study
You might love games and English songs, but only doing these sorts of activities won’t help you. Choose activities that “stretch” you and allow you to learn new things.
Related to this is to listen actively. Don’t watch or listen to English while you’re doing something else. Concentrate on the English with ALL your senses and you’ll learn much more.
2. Be smart
If you do a grammar or vocabulary exercise and only get 7 / 10, go back and look at the question again. Do you know why you made the mistake? If you do the exercise again, will you get 10 / 10?
Mistakes are a really important part of learning a language, as they help us test what we know. When we get something wrong, it’s a good idea to analyse why, so that we don’t make the same mistake again.
3. Apply what you learn
When you learn a new word or phrase, try it as soon as you can. You might make a mistake (which isn’t a bad thing – see above!) but if you don’t use it, you’ll probably forget it.
For new vocabulary, it’s a good idea to write down an example sentence of your own with the new word, then try to use it as soon as possible. If you can’t do this, at least “review” the new word and sentence the next day, the next week, the next month, and so on.
4. Set small goals
Some goals, like learning English, are quite big goals – and they often don’t have clear results. (When do you know that you’ve learned English?) So to stay motivated, break up this larger goal into smaller, easier goals. For example:
Be able to order a meal in English
Write an email of enquiry without making mistakes
Talk to a colleague about his / her weekend without a lot of hesitation
4. Get The Right Mindset
Henry Ford said “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
What he meant is that YOU are the reason that you either succeed or fail. Now, I know that some people have a more difficult life, with fewer resources. But very often, it isn’t a lack of money to buy courses or textbooks that stops people from learning English. On the other hand, when people want to succeed, they do because they find a way – whether they have resources or not.
Here are some mindset tips that will help you succeed – whatever your personal circumstances:
1. English is a journey
Don’t give up before you even start. Every step you make will help. Even small “baby steps” are better than no step at all. Remember to be consistent, and you will make progress.
2. Understand your “why”
When you know why you want to learn English, everything becomes easier. It’s easier to keep going when there’s a reason – whether that reason is for studying, career progression, or just making new friends.
3. Believe in yourself
You can do this! You can speak your first language, so you can speak another one. When things get tough, take a moment to look back at where you started, and how far you have already come. You’ll be amazed at the progress you’ve already made!
5. Look For Shortcuts
Languages are systems for communication, and like all systems, there are easier and shorter ways to do some things.
When you can find shortcuts, you take less time to do or understand something. Here are a few examples of what I mean:
1. Learn fluency phrases rather than individual words
Fluency phrases (like collocations, or “signal” language) are easier to learn and remember because the words go together naturally. All you need to do is add the details to build sentences. It’s much easier and quicker to learn a phrase or collocation than learning each word separately.
2. Understand “aspect” for tense choice
Here’s a quick example. We use the “continuous” aspect to talk about temporary things. So in the present continuous tense, these are temporary things happening now. In the past continuous, these are temporary things which were happening around a time in the past.
There are similar rules for the perfect and simple aspects. Learn how to use these, and tense choice becomes much simpler.
3. See patterns in the rules
Here’s an example. The modal auxiliary “can” is followed by the infinitive without “to”. Because “will”,”must” and “may” are also modal auxiliaries, they’re also followed by the infinitive without “to”. You don’t need to learn the rules each time you learn the meaning of a modal auxiliary!
4. “Good enough” is better than “perfect”
For many situations, you won’t need to be perfect. Being good enough is fine. Don’t let an obsession with perfection stop you from finishing an email or making a phone call!
One of the things I love about languages is that they are social. Human beings are made to communicate! So to help you find partners and a community, I’ve just started the English Fluency Club – a place where you can connect with other people learning English…
Join the English Fluency Club! Get…
– a community of people to support and encourage you (vital for motivation)
– access to my 2 fluency programs (which also include 2 personal lessons)
– exclusive monthly trainings and workshops
– exclusive monthly group lessons
– weekly challenges
– a very special price for the first 100 members