What can I do to improve my English? (1/4)

In addition to their homework, students often ask me what they can do in their spare time to improve their English. Therefore I decided to gather some tips together and post them here.

In this four-part series, I’m going to talk about activities which can help you to develop your reading, writing, speaking and listening skills. This is not a comprehensive list, so if you have any ideas that you would like to share, you can post them in the comments section.

Reading

Five ways to improve your reading skills

1. Books

When thinking about improving reading skills, reading books for pleasure is the first thing that came to my mind. Books are a great way to learn new words and discover how they are used in context.

Try to find a book which is appropriate to your level. It’s good to give yourself a challenge, but if you choose something which is too difficult, you are likely to feel frustrated. You probably won’t enjoy the book if you have to look up every other word.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand every single word or phrase – the main thing is that you can follow the story and that reading the book is an enjoyable exercise for you. You will be surprised how many new words you pick up if you make a point of reading English regularly.

2. Your interests

In addition to books, there are many other things that you can read such as articles, reviews and social media pages about your favourite subjects.

What interests do you have? Find English material about these topics and read them regularly. if you are genuinely interested in something, you will be more motivated to read about it in English.

If you use social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter, “like” pages or follow accounts which post information about these subjects. In this way, you will be presented with it automatically and you won’t have to go and look for it. Having information delivered directly into your feed also increases the chance that you’ll read it because you don’t have to make a point of finding interesting English texts. You will see them as you scroll down your newsfeed.

3. Music

Although music will obviously help you with listening skills, if you can’t work out the words for yourself, there are many song lyric databases online which can be used to look up song lyrics. Clearly some lyrics are more meaningful than others but there are a lot of interesting songs out there!

If you find music that you like and listen to it regularly, you can also build your vocabulary as you become more familiar with the songs.

4. In-depth study of a shorter text

Translating shorter texts, such as newspaper articles, from the language that you are learning into your own language is a good way to make sure that you understand them. It also gives you the chance to familiarise yourself with new vocabulary and grammar structures.

5. Changing the default language of devices and websites

Think about the sites that you use regularly. Many sites, such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, can be used in different languages and if you’re going to use the site anyway, try changing the default setting to English. You can also do this with your mobile phone – just be sure that in each case, you know how to change it back to the default language again if you want to!

It doesn’t have to be for ever. You could set yourself a target such as “I will use Facebook in English for three weeks” or you could do it at weekends if you have more time then. It may seem unusual at first, but the more you use it, the more you will get used to the English interface.

Other articles in this series

Writing
Speaking
Listening

More from English with Kirsty

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Kirsty working with students



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