What you will learn:
• Why learn English at home?
• Make a plan for your sofa-based studies!
• Learn real English with films and videos
• Improve your listening skills with audio
• Hit the books!
• Learn vocabulary in your pyjamas
• Improve your spoken English at home
• Enhance your writing skills
• Stay motivated with your English
Why learn English at home?
If you want to improve your English quickly, you need to make time to study regularly and have more contact with the language. For most learners, this is a problem because work, family and social commitments often get in the way. Missed classes or study sessions lead to slower progress, which then affects your motivation and progress. Choosing to learn English at home can help create extra space for your skills to develop naturally.
3 good reasons to learn English at home:
TIME – You can save time because you do not need to travel 30-60 minutes to and from a school. This time can then be used to improve your English.
ACCESS – Everything you need is at your finger tips! You can create your own “English library” of online and paper-based study resources to use whenever you have 30-60 minutes free. This helps you make the best use of your time. If you would like a teacher, you can easily find one online.
CONVENIENCE – You can relax in the comfort of your own home and use more passive methods of learning, such as listening to English music or watching television. Using English at home is proven to help you gain fluency faster.
Make a plan for your sofa-based studies!
One of the main advantages of self-studying at home is that you have full control over how you learn English. You do not need to compromise or consider the needs of other learners. This freedom gives you the chance to study using materials and methods that are of most interest and relevance to you. Follow these tips to create the perfect English study zone at home:
- Kick back and keep it cosy!
Put on some comfortable clothes and reserve a quiet corner of your home where you will not be disturbed. This might be a desk by a window, a comfy armchair or your sofa.
- Make a simple plan and study timetable
To ensure you make good progress and schedule regular slots for your English each week, it is important that you set yourself some clear goals and realistic timescales. Think about the following:
- On which days do you have more time to study?
- Which days are really busy and best avoided altogether?
- What are your weaker skills and study goals for the next 3 months?
- How can you connect your existing hobbies or interests with English?
- Are you happy to just study alone, or would you like to practise with other people too?
- Create your own English library
Start by looking through the textbooks and other materials that you already have at home. Decide which of these resources you still find useful or interesting and put them in your “English corner”. Now think about what is missing from your library. It is worth having the following paper-based and digital resources in your collection:
- Good grammar textbook (e.g. English Grammar in Use)
- General English textbook (e.g. Face2Face)
- Selection of reading material (books, magazines, printed newspaper articles, etc.)
- Bilingual and English-to-English dictionaries
- Reference books on: phrasal verbs, idioms and other more advanced vocabulary
- Online resources: top ESL websites, YouTube channels, Facebook groups, music, films, audiobooks, podcasts, e-books and PDFs
- Connect with the culture behind the language!
If you take an active interest in the culture of the UK or USA, then learning English will be a more rewarding experience. Language and culture are closely connected, so it is often hard to understand one without the other.
Learn real English with films and videos
How many hours a week do you spend watching TV at home? Could some of this time be used to watch programmes, films or video clips in English? This can be a great way of increasing your contact time with the language and can also help you understand more about British or American culture.
A Cisco study has predicted that by 2019 video streaming will account for 80% of global internet usage. That is a lot of Friends episodes! Are you making full use of video streaming to improve your English?
If you do not have cable TV in English, then you can still watch a wide variety of films, videos and live programmes for free via the internet. All you have to do is search! Try these tips to improve how you learn English through films and video resources:
- Watch original films with English subtitles
When you first start watching films in English, it is a good idea to choose some titles that you have already seen in your own language. If you are familiar with the storyline, then you can focus 100% on understanding the English. Search on a website like IMDB.com for popular films you might like, buy the DVD locally, or do a Google search for: “watch *title* movie online free”. If you are learning British English, then check out this list of the 100 best UK films.
- Keep up with the latest news
Watching TV news in English can be difficult at first because newsreaders speak very quickly. However, if you watch news broadcasts for 10-15 minutes each day, then you will soon improve your vocabulary and listening skills. Newsreaders often repeat the same words and phrases, so this helps you remember new vocabulary and understand future stories better. Freeintertv.com allows you to watch live streams from popular English language news channels. Use the search option to find UK or US news channels and watch them free at home. BBC News is great if you are learning British English.
- Put the telly on!
Watching television can be a great way of improving your fluency in English. TV programmes give you access to modern British or American English as it is used today. This means you can learn real native English at home without getting off the sofa! TVplayer.com lets you watch live streams of English channels from anywhere in the world. Try different types of programmes and pay attention to the accents and slang used. Soap operas and TV series can be especially good for learning how natives really communicate in English.
- Check out some channels and vlogs on Youtube
Whether you like watching cats playing keyboards, scary Russian driving or fail videos, YouTube has something for you! Short videos are easier to watch than TV programmes and films so this format is great for learning English. Try this top-10 list of the best ESL channels on YouTube and subscribe to the ones you like best.
Check out this example of an American vlog about a guy’s “colourful life” in New York. He has around 8 million subscribers on YouTube, which shows how popular vlogging has now become! Bonus tip: Click the CC button to watch with English subtitles.
Improve your listening skills with audio
Fluency in English often comes first through being a good listener. Developing your listening skills helps your understand others, build vocabulary and learn grammatical constructions. In many situations, you will learn more by listening than you will by speaking! Here are some tips to help you improve your listening skills at home:
- Learn English the funky way with your favourite music!
If you are a music lover, then you must have some great English language albums in your collection! Take your favourite songs, translate them and learn any new vocabulary or slang expressions. Print out some lyrics and sing or play along on guitar. Karaoke can be a lot of fun too when you get together with some English speaking friends! If you like this tip, check out this full guide to learning English with music!
- Radio Ga Ga
Remember the classic song by Queen? Radio may seem a bit old-fashioned these days, but it can still be a fantastic way of practising your listening skills. The genre you need is called “talk radio”. Try a Google search for “listen to radio online” and explore some websites like Internetradiouk.com or BBC World Service. Look for programmes about topics that you find interesting. Schedule in 15 minutes of radio each day and note down new vocabulary. This can be done at home over breakfast or in the evening when the kids have gone to bed!
- Download some podcasts
Podcasts offer a similar experience to talk radio, but are sometimes created especially for ESL learners. You can stream podcasts live or download them to listen to at a more convenient time. It is a good idea to build up a collection of your favourite podcasts by topic. You can then listen to the same recordings several times over a few weeks in order to remember more of the vocabulary used. To start with, check out the British Council’s series of 50 podcasts on everyday English topics and The English We Speak series by the BBC.
- Discover audiobooks online
If you find it difficult to read full books in English, then an audiobook could be right for you! Do a Google search for “free audiobooks online” to find downloadable ebooks and audio versions. Most of these will be amateur recordings by volunteers, but the quality is often very good. If possible, get a printed version of the book so you can use it to follow the audio and make notes with a pencil. ESL-bits.net has a collection of free read-on-screen audiobooks with two reading speed options. Click on the title of interest, select “Go to book index”, and then choose the chapter number to start reading. The audio versions are at the top of the page.
Hit the books!
Having a personal library of English books at home is a big advantage. However, you should be selective with the books you include in your collection. Boring textbooks, literature and magazines can really hurt your motivation to study. Remember, this is YOUR library and nothing gets in unless you say so!
- Get into grammar!
If you want to speak English correctly, then you need to make some time to study the grammar of the language. Choose a well-known textbook, like Raymond Murphy’s English Grammar in Use, and aim to complete at least 2 units each week. As a grammar reference book, Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage is a good addition to your ESL library.
- Make use of textbooks
Using a textbook can help you add more structure to your self-study programme. This is especially important if you are learning English at home on your own. Series like Face2face, English File and Professional English in Use cover a range of topics and provide practice in “the four skills”. It is a good idea to use a textbook, but only as one part of your wider study plan.
- Be a bookworm!
Many ESL learners ignore the importance of reading. This is a mistake because reading simple books and novels in English can really help to improve your understanding of vocabulary, grammar and culture. Make sure you include some good reading books in your personal library at home. If it is difficult to find printed books locally, then try online. English-E-Reader.net has a collection of over 250 free ebooks in English. Use the search options to find suitable books by level, author and genre. You can also choose between British or American books, and some even have audio versions to improve your listening skills!
- Read more online
This can be done on your phone, tablet or computer. Decide what types of texts you want to read and choose some topics that really interest you. For example, if you love fashion and lifestyle topics, you could read a British magazine like Red Online. If you are interested in current affairs, you might prefer to read some articles from the BBC News website. If you are a more advanced learner, broadsheet newspapers like The Guardian could be a better choice to test your skills.
Use Flipboard.com (or download the app) to create your own digital magazine! You choose your topics of interest and fresh articles are added to your news feed every day. You can read online or offline via your computer and mobile devices. Try it!
Learn vocabulary in your pyjamas
When do you feel most comfortable and relaxed? At home in your pyjamas, right? Make yourself a nice cup of tea, find your favourite spot on the sofa and use a bit of downtime to improve your vocabulary skills. A few minutes a day is enough to make good progress over time!
- Label up your house!
Most people are visual learners and remember vocabulary better when they repeated see the same words written down. Buy some sticky notes and brightly coloured pens. At lower levels, you can label objects in English to learn basic vocabulary. At higher levels, you can make 10-item lists of new vocabulary by topic and put these up on the wall or door of a room where you spend a lot of time. Ask a friend or relative to give you a short vocabulary test at the end of each week.
- Get vocabulary lists from ESL websites
It is best to learn new vocabulary “thematically” – or by topic. Creating word lists yourself takes time and vocabulary builders (textbooks) may include topics that you do not need. You can save time by getting readymade vocabulary lists from websites like Manythings.org. For example, here is a large collection of word lists by topic. You can view their other vocabulary collections by using the search option at the top of the webpage.
- Learn English the smart way with mobile apps
Some of the best ESL apps focus on helping you to improve your vocabulary. For example, Wordsteps allows you to create your own word lists or copy existing lists from other users. To improve your pronunciation, you can read phonetic transcriptions and listen to audio recordings of words. This app also has an option that allows you to schedule regular tests. To discover more great mobile tools, check out this top-10 list of ESL apps!
- Organise vocabulary tests and competitions
One of the biggest problems when learning vocabulary is that the end is never in sight! If you do not use new words, then you forget them. If you do not test yourself, then you do not see any progress. Try to organise vocabulary tests or competitions with other ESL learners each week and keep score. Perhaps think of a small prize for the winner after the first 3 months! Having a “study buddy” and adding an element of competition to your studies can really help with motivation and progress.
Improve your spoken English at home
One problem with self-study is that it can limit your opportunities to speak English regularly with others. If you want to improve your spoken fluency, you need to interact in the language as much as possible. Read the following tips to find out how you can get all the speaking practice you need without leaving the house!
- Try Skype lessons with a native English teacher
Most ESL learners take Skype lessons in order to improve their spoken English with a native tutor. This is like having a personal trainer who is always there to help you make progress, correct your mistakes, and motivate you. Compared with face-to-face tuition, the internet can offer you a wider choice of native tutors at more affordable prices. You can also study from home at any convenient time 24/7. If you would like to try Skype English lessons, you can request a trial here.
By the year 2019, it is predicted that approximately 50% of all classes worldwide will be conducted via the internet. Why not try an online course to improve your English and see if it works for you?
- Get face-to-face classes at home
If you prefer a more traditional approach, or do not require a native speaker, then a local face-to-face teacher may be right for you. Tutors usually charge a little extra for lessons at home, but you will save a lot of time on travel.
- Start your own “English club”!
Find some friends or colleagues who are also studying English. Agree to meet at your place once a week to practise your speaking and listening skills. If possible, invite at least one native speaker. You can organise a regular weekly discussion club with occasional social events, like: Bonfire Night, Saint Patrick’s Day, Saint George’s Day, Halloween, etc. This is great for improving your English and is also a lot of fun!
- Connect with English speakers on Facebook
Facebook is still the world’s most popular social network and you can use it to improve your spoken English online. Start by doing a group search for “English speaking group”. Explore some groups and see what they are offering before you click to join. Speaking practice groups on Facebook are usually like an open forum where users can give their Skype IDs or arrange Google Hangouts with other members. 99% of these exchanges will be with non-natives, but this method of study is free and can help you get regular speaking practice at home.
- Game on!
Connecting English with your existing hobbies is a powerful way of learning the language. If you enjoy online gaming, then buy a headset and look for opportunities to play your favourite computer games with native English speakers. Role-play (RPG) or fantasy games and those involving team missions are best because they require more discussion of tactics between players – and this is done in English!
- Invite English speaking guests to stay
If you have a spare room in your home, then you may want to consider using it to host a British or American guest. Student exchange visits are often organised through schools and universities. You can apply to be added to their list of “host families”. Alternatively, you can register on a website like Couchsurfing.com and provide occasional free accommodation to visiting tourists in exchange for some English speaking practice.
- Play board games in English
This is a fun, sociable way to improve your spoken English! Invite 3-4 friends to your place and play a classic board game in English for a couple of hours. You can buy these games from websites like Amazon.com or a similar online store in your country. Here are some good ones to look out for: Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, Guess Who?, Monopoly, etc.
- Mirror, mirror on the wall – who speaks English best of all?
You do! Even if you are alone, you can still practise your English speaking skills. Try some pronunciation drills – for example, these exercises with tongue twisters. You can also read along to audiobooks, copy film dialogues or sing your favourite English songs. Making short presentations and then reading them aloud can also be a useful exercise. You can record yourself doing the above activities and then listen for mistakes in your pronunciation and grammar.
Enhance your writing skills
Many ESL learners focus more attention on speaking, listening and reading than they do on writing. However, you should not ignore the importance of this skill. A lot of communication in English is still done in writing – emails, formal letters, reports, SMS, instant messaging, etc. Here are a few tips to help you develop your written English at home:
- Find a penpal
This tip may sound like it is from the 1990s, but there are still thousands of people using penpal websites to make friends internationally! It may also be easier to find a native speaker via a penpal site than via a Facebook chat group. Do a Google search for “Penpals” and explore some websites like Penpalworld.com. Create your profile and remember to include all your hobbies and interests. Look for native speakers by country, age and interests. Send an intro email to a small number of potential penfriends and then wait for a reply. After the first few emails, you can ask your penpal to help correct your English and provide advice on new expressions to use!
- Start your own blog!
If you love writing, then why not create your own blog in English? Join a free blogging community (e.g. LiveJournal or Blogger) to connect with other writers across the world. You can write about anything you like, but the main idea is to pen all of your content in English. Your readers will tell you where you have made mistakes in your writing so you can correct this and improve your skills.
- Join some internet forums
This is another old format that has now mostly been replaced by social media. However, some forums are still very much alive and kicking! You can use them to practise your written English for free and get advice from native members who are loyal to the forums. This Wordreference.com forum contains posts from the past 10 years, but it also has users who are active right now. Members post questions about the English language and others help them with advice and examples. Try using a forum like this or do a Google search for “*subject of interest* + forum” to find alternatives.
Stay motivated with your English
Motivation can be a problem when you are learning English at home. That is why it is important to follow a clear plan, involve others in your studies (tutor, friends, family), and measure your progress. The following tips and ideas will help you stay motivated for longer:
- Prepare for an exam like IELTS
This tip may not be for everyone, but the idea is simple – an exam is a very clear target. Some learners choose to take exams just because they want to achieve a visible result. This can give your studies a more specific focus and timescale. Exams like IELTS can also be useful if you ever need to prove your level of English for work or education abroad.
- Become a teacher yourself!
You do not have to be an advanced speaker to help others learn English! If your friends or relatives need a hand with some school homework or a work email, offer to help them. One way to understand English better is to teach it to others. If you have kids, why not introduce them to English at an early age by reading them bedtime stories and singing simple songs together? When you make a positive difference to other people’s lives, you will feel better about your English too.
- Plan a holiday to the UK
Give yourself some added motivation by planning a trip to the UK. Even if your holiday is not for a year or two, the best time to prepare for it is now! Work out a route, read about cities and sights, and find out what cultural events are on. All the information you need is on the Visit Britain website. Think of your holiday as a reward – first you need to work hard on your English!
- Reward your own progress
Each time you achieve a small goal or milestone with your English, give yourself a reward. You scored 20/20 on your vocabulary test – that deserves some popcorn and a film! Your boss praised you for an English presentation at work – join your friends at a nice restaurant! This approach helps you feel that you are making real progress and that your hard work has been rewarded.