Yes, languages are very much interconnected and the English language is indeed filled with numerous French words. Even if you look more closely at Afrikaans you’ll discover plenty of words that have phonetic links to English.

But despite all these marvellous similarities, learning second-language English is no walk in the park. If learning to speak a new language was easy then there’d be a lot more bilingual people!

Nevertheless, being proficient in more than one language has become a sought-after skill in this day and age. And English is now recognised as the international language of commerce.

All in all, if you are able to master English it will set you up for success in the workplace and beyond.

The wonderful thing is that learning to become fluent in English needn’t be a drag! Learning English by taking ESOL classes is much more engaging than the traditional school-level instruction that we’re all used to.

Use Your Love of Film and Television to Improve Your English

That’s right - you can improve your English while you’re sitting on your couch! No textbooks or boring spelling exercises. There are so many ways to learn and even going to the movies can be one of them.

Make the Movies a Learning Experience!

Of course you won’t be improving your reading and writing skills but watching English movies can help you to expand your vocabulary and reinforce the correct pronunciation of new words.

But the trick is to try and keep to one particular accent. This basically means that you should decide whether you want to learn British English or American English.

woman watching movie and eating popcorn
Put the fun back into learning with a movie night or a trip to the cinema! - Unsplash

If you want to speak English very well then it won’t help to mix two different accents. While you listen to spoken English your brain is subconsciously assimilating the pronunciation and intonation that you are hearing.

As you spend time watching movies you’ll be honing your listening skills and constantly learning new words and phrases that you can begin to incorporate into your conversational English.

When you start watching English films bear in mind your English skill level. It’s no good watching a complex film if you’re still a beginner. You’ll end up concentrating on the storyline rather than taking the time to learn new words and phrases.

Instead, opt for a film that you’ve seen before where you can focus on the dialogue and improve your vocabulary.

Of course if you’re already an intermediate English learner then it would be more beneficial to watch unfamiliar films. You could always turn on the subtitles in your mother-tongue if you find a film confusing to follow.

And when you are an advanced English student you can watch any film you want without the subtitles!

If you’re looking for movies with good dialogue then The Social Network or The Hangover are excellent options that will help you improve your speaking skills. But obviously it’s best to choose a movie that interests you.

At first, watching English films can be mentally exhausting. If that’s the case for you then just watch short sections at a time.

Because writing is linked to memorising, keep a notebook nearby and jot down English words and expressions that appeal to you. Then you can read through your notes from time to time and remind yourself of the new vocabulary.

girl writing in notebook and reading
Always have a notebook with you in case you need to jot down a new word or phrase - Unsplash

Turn Your Favourite English TV Series Into a Tutor

Some series are available in dubbed versions but challenge yourself by listening to the original English audio. However if this is too challenging then switch on your native-language subtitles.

Reading your home language while watching will help you to understand what the series is about and get acquainted with the main characters.

In some ways a series can be a more ideal learning experience than watching a movie because they’re broken up into shorter sections that you can watch daily.

In fact one hour of watching English television is a perfect amount of time when you’re learning English. When you use movies and series as a learning aid you have to just find the right balance that works for you.

Sometimes you may need an intense session like the challenge of an unfamiliar film and sometimes you might just have the capacity for one episode of a TV series you’re familiar with. It’s kind of like choosing between hiring a private tutor or just doing some revising on your own.

When you watch an English TV series you’re actually learning more than just language skills, you’re also being exposed to new ideas and cultures.

If you watch an episode of a particular TV series every night you’ll find yourself catching onto unique English expressions and idioms that can’t really be translated such as, “Hands down.” Or “It’s a piece of cake.”

You’ll be “killing (more than) two birds with one stone” because you’ll be learning to speak more fluently and gaining tips on pronunciation. While at the same time getting the opportunity to practise your listening skills as well as putting your reading skills to the test (if you choose to keep the English subtitles switched on).

Expand Your Vocabulary

Wondering what you can do to expand your English vocabulary? Well, there are plenty of clever ways to do this.

You could make your own flashcards of new words that you’re learning. Arrange the cards into categories and colour-code them. For instance, commonly used words could be orange.

Stumble across an unfamiliar word? Look it up in the dictionary and study its meaning. When you’re learning a new word remember to think of it in context because most words have multiple meanings that change according to their context.

Above all, the best way to enlarge your vocabulary is by speaking English.

Practise speaking English aloud to yourself as you memorise new words but most of all push yourself to communicate in English with other people as much as you can.

women talking
Spend time chatting to English speaking people, it's the only way you'll truly improve your spoken English - Unsplash

Whether you’re studying at a language school or taking online English classes you have the advantage of being able to speak in English to your educators.

You could also look for language exchange opportunities on sites like Conversation Exchange. This way you can find pen pals or practise your conversational English with native English speakers all on a safe platform.

Download an educational app. There are loads of apps these days that are designed to help English learners practise their vocabulary on-the-go.

Quiz yourself – a quick search on Google will reveal an abundance of quizzes you can take to challenge your vocabulary and English grammar skills.

Ultimately perseverance will be the true skill that you’ll need to hone if you want to reach your fluency goals. And be sure to remind yourself of why you began this language learning journey: becoming bilingual will expand your horizons and open so many more doors!

Have a plan in place that helps you to stay focused on your English studies but that also allows time for you to rest and give your brain a break from all the memorisation and repetition that comes with studying English vocabulary.

Keep Tabs on How Well You’re Progressing

As mentioned you can take one of hundreds of free quizzes online that will give you an indication of how you’re advancing in your English language skills.

Use technology to your advantage and see your phone or laptop as a valuable learning tool. There are so many engaging educational language games that you can download and play as a fun alternative to your regular English studies and these will also give you an indication of how advanced you are.

If you’re really serious about your pursuits in language proficiency then perhaps you should consider taking the IELTS exam.

Remember that you can choose a quiz that challenges a specific area such as English vocabulary, grammar, spelling or reading and comprehension skills.

And as always, be sure to choose a level that’s appropriate for you – too easy and you’ll be bored, too difficult and you’ll be discouraged.

Free Apps and Programmes That Help Your English Skills

There are so many free learning services available to budding English students. From the latest apps to educational programmes, it’s all worth exploring.

man using laptop while reclined on seat
Use apps or programmes to practise your English wherever you go - Unsplash

Free Programmes vs. Apps

There are many programmes available on-line and a big majority of them are for free. They cater for students of all levels and you can use a programme to focus on a particular aspect of your English studies if you feel like there’s an area that needs special attention.

If you’re looking for something that you can use to practice your English skills while you’re on-the-go then an app for your phone is the answer. Apps offer very similar learning material to educational programmes.

Before making your way to an English-speaking country it’s nice to feel prepared. Sometimes our communication skills in English can get a little rusty so downloading an app to refresh your spoken English is the perfect way to revise before immersing yourself in English in a foreign country.

Here are a few free apps for your smartphone:

  • Duolingo,
  • Babbel,
  • Memrise,
  • Mosalingua,
  • British Council,
  • ABA English,
  • BBC Learning English

Listen to Podcasts to Challenge Your English

If you find yourself at the end of all the lessons on an app you love – why not put your new language and listening skills to the test and download an interesting English podcast?

All About Podcasts

Podcasts are amazing learning resources for a number of reasons. When it comes to improving your English then a podcast is a great way to challenge your listening skills.

You could think of a podcast as an audio version to a fascinating article. Podcasts are normally done in an interview style and hosts will discuss interesting topics with various experts.

Listening to a podcast can be a very educational and inspiring experience. The wonderful thing about this type of media is that it’s free and podcasts are downloadable which means they’re great for times when you know you won’t have access to wifi.

two women seated on floor around table recording podcast
Podcasts are basically recorded conversations amongst interesting individuals - Unsplash

The pros:

  • Listen to your favourite podcast whenever you want.
  • You have the option to rewind when you need to take time to understand new words.
  • It exposes you to educated people speaking English correctly in a variety of accents.
  • Podcasts are budget friendly because they're free.

The cons:

  • Listening to a podcast requires a certain level of English proficiency.
  • Sometimes the pace of speaking is very quick and challenging to keep up with.
  • It can be tricky deciding on which podcast to listen to – there’s just so much to choose from!
  • Some accents can be really hard to understand.

Just give it a bash and see if this form of media is for you. Make a list of a couple of podcasts that interest you, download them and you may discover it’s the best way for you to improve your fluency!

IELTS/TOEFL – Which Test Is Best?

It’s a question that almost every ESOL student has to ask themselves at some point.

There is no right or wrong answer; it really depends on your particular reasons for taking your English studies to the next level.

If you’re hoping to study abroad then it’s a very relevant question. Most tertiary education institutions in English speaking countries only offer courses in the country’s official language: English.

Foreign students are required to prove their English communication skills in order to be accepted by English universities. This is measured through IELTS or TOEFL.

Comparing TOEFL and IELTS

Both tests are designed to assess four aspects of your active and passive English language skills. An active skill would be speaking and writing while a passive skill would be reading and listening.

The exams are both comprised of a written assessment and an oral assessment.

Reading and writing skills are tested with a combination of shorter questions (multiple choice, true/false etc.) and a longer written task for both TOEFL and IELTS.

When it comes to the oral section of the exams the big difference is that for the TOEFL test you will be tested via computer and your oral exam is recorded and only assessed at a later stage by a trained examiner.

The IELTS oral assessment is done in person. The examinee is interviewed by an evaluator that assesses you in real time.

TOEFL may be completed in four hours and IELTS is only a two hour test that is split into one hour for writing and one hour for speaking.

What makes both tests so different from one another is that TOEFL takes place online but IELTS is a hand-written exam that can only be taken at specific locations worldwide.

The other factor that influences many English students’ decision is that TOEFL is geared more towards American English and IELTS is more suited to learners who are accustomed to British English.

Achieving your English Goals

Getting to Grips With Your Level of Fluency

Start out by understanding your abilities in English. Take an online assessment or simply look back on your English marks at school.

How is your spelling? Do you understand English grammar rules? Or perhaps you can speak good English but your writing skills need a boost.

Whatever your level of proficiency, there’s a perfect English lesson out there for you. But you won’t find it if you don’t take the time to figure out your skill-level.

You Need a Course of Action

You may decide to allocate specific days to a particular aspect of your English studies. For instance on Mondays you improve your speaking skills. On Tuesdays you learn vocabulary. Wednesdays are for spelling. Thursdays you learn grammar and Fridays are for practising your English writing.

pen on top of gold lettered weekly planner
Have a clear plan for your studies and update it week by week - Unsplash

However you decide to plan your studies the main thing is that you should have a plan, without one you’ll just end up getting overwhelmed.

Be consistent and you’ll succeed!

Practise Your Memorising Skills

Your brain is a muscle that can be trained and fit. If your memory skills are a little out of practice then you’ll have a hard time remembering new vocabulary words.

The good news is there are loads of memory games and exercises that really help to activate our brains.

Learn to Enjoy Your Studies

Remind yourself why you began the English learning journey and as you think of all the benefits of becoming bilingual you’ll become more and more motivated. It’s really hard to succeed at something you don’t enjoy so find the joy in learning!

Experiment With Learning Strategies

When it comes to learning a new language there are so many ways to tackle your problems. Don’t be deceived into believing there’s only one perfect way for everyone, this is simply not true because all our brains work differently.

Maybe you enjoy working independently and taking online classes in English. But someone else may thrive by hiring a private tutor.

Do you know what your learning modality is? Why not take the VARK quiz to see if you learn better by listening, seeing, writing or participating?

You’ll probably find that there are a variety of methods that suit your learning style – trust your instincts and have FUN!

Keep Assessing Your Progress

When you see evidence of how much you’ve learned it can be a wonderful motivational tool. You could do online progression tests or even challenge yourself by signing up to do the IELTS or TOEFL exam.

Consider the Immersion Strategy

UK flags in front strung up in front of building
Use the immersion technique to speed up your learning and spend time in an English-speaking country - Unsplash

There’s never been a better reason to plan an overseas trip! If you really want to give your communication skills in English a serious boost then you should spend some time in an English speaking country.

This method of jumping in at the deep end and only relying on your second language English skills to get by is called immersion and it’s an extremely effective method for improving fluency in any language.

You could do this by taking part in a language exchange program or attending an English university. Perhaps you could take a part time job or get an English speaking roommate.

Spending time in a foreign country is more than just an educational experience, it’s the chance to understand new cultures and peoples.

But if travelling to the USA or UK are not an option for you then you can put yourself in immersion experiences in the comfort of your own home by hiring a private tutor or meeting English speaking friends online.

Learning How to Pronounce English Properly

Of course the ideal way is just to live in an English speaking country but because that isn’t possible for us all, there are other ways to hone your pronunciation skills.

Listen to English as much as possible. Keep the TV on in the background (as long as it’s in English!). Switch to an English radio station or listen to an English podcast on your work commute.

man listening to music with earphones
Surround yourself with the sounds of English whether it's music, TV or conversation - Unsplash

The more you hear English being pronounced by native English speakers the better your pronunciation will become. Say new words aloud and compare yourself to the actors and news reporters that you listen to.

Take a Working Vacation in and English Country

There are visa options for some countries that allow people of a certain age to stay for longer periods. If you are able to find a job opportunity in a country such as the UK or New Zealand it would be an ideal way to become fluent in English.

But if there are no opportunities for you abroad there’s no reason why you couldn’t apply for a job at a company where you know the official language of business is English.

Becoming a Good English Writer

Some learners get frustrated with all the book learning and writing that takes place in an English language classroom.

As important and engaging at it is to practice speaking a new language, the writing aspect is equally important.

You’re only truly bilingual when you can write just as well as you can speak. In the business world your English writing skills will prove to be of great value.

The interesting thing about learning to write well is that it goes hand in hand with reading.

Reading and writing skills are so closely linked that you’ll find the more you challenge yourself to read English literature whether it’s a newspaper or a novel, your writing skills will improve.

And then of course, you just have to write, write, write! Don’t be scared of making mistakes, it’s all part of the learning process.

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Kyla

Born from a family of creatives, Kyla has a passion for the arts and interior design.